The holiday playgrounds of Dunsborough and Yallingup are splendidly nestled at either side of Cape Naturaliste, on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Home to the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, and part of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, the headland has views that are nothing short of inspiring. There’s a whale-watching platform on the cliffs, where you can gaze down over the bush into dizzyingly blue water and out to the horizon. The platform can be reached via various trails, one of which is paved for prams and wheelchairs. The air in the national park is impossibly fresh, and the occasional ‘roo might reveal itself through the bushland. Birdwatchers take note: lots of lovely species, including the blue wren and the endangered red-tailed tropicbird, can be seen flitting around.
On the western side of the cape you can head from the lighthouse down paved paths to see the magnificent granite formation of Sugarloaf Rock. Watch the enormous silvery waves roll in, and look out for dolphins playing in the surf.
The township of Yallingup attracts surfers from around the world, keen to try its perfect waves. With just over 1000 residents, the remoteness of this town and its peaceful bay has left it pristine. Stay in the crook of lily-lined streets behind the dunes, and wander over to the beach at your leisure, to be greeted by low-flying gulls. In winter, the gentle curve of Yallingup Beach can be a windswept wilderness, but there are also plenty of fine sunny days when the water ‘glasses off’. In summer, you can swim, surf, or enjoy a barbecue at the fantastic elevated look-out.
Along the sheltered eastern side of Cape Naturaliste is a string of tranquil beaches and boulder-strewn bays, perfect for swimming and fishing. With a permanent population of around 4000, the town of Dunsborough is ideal for families, with a decent-sized town centre so you’ll want for nothing. For active types, Dunsborough’s beautiful coastline and rural setting offer a backdrop for jogging, cycling, and water sports.
There’s a lively cafe scene in Dunsborough, and nightlife too, in town and down the road at Clancy’s Fish Pub and the iconic Caves House Hotel. The bars and cafes are frequented by locals and visitors from all over Margaret River. Don’t miss the Sunday sessions with live bands.
Eating well and drinking fine wine make this classic beach-holiday experience truly wonderful. Award-winning wineries and breweries, wonderful eateries, olive groves, and artisan producers dot the area, and provide a multitude of choice for gourmet indulgences. The remainder of Margaret River’s cellar doors are found within easy driving distance of Dunsborough and Yallingup.
- Witness spectacular seascapes along the overwater boardwalk at Canal Rocks.
- Snorkel at the secret rock pool of The Aquarium, a natural haven for colourful marine life.
- Taste premium local wines just five minutes down the road from the beach.
- Check out the local galleries – Yallingup is a paradise for art lovers.
- See amazing crystal formations on an underground Adventure Tour at Ngilgi Cave.
- Check out epic surf breaks at Smiths, Three Bears, Super Tubes, Injidup and Rabbit beaches.
- Catch herring, whiting, tailor or seasonal salmon off the beaches at Dunsborough.
- Dive the 113m-long wreck of the HMAS Swan, and get up close and personal with more than 100 fish species.
- Peace out at a day spa, or catch one of the yoga classes in Dunsborough and surrounds.
- Indulge in a long, lazy lunch at a winery restaurant on the outskirts of town.
For more, visit scooptraveller.com.au/MargaretRiver.
EAT AND DRINK
Foodies are spoilt for choice here. Start the day in chic Dunsborough, with a great breakfast and coffee, freshly roasted in-house. Along Naturaliste Terrace and Dunn Bay Road, you’ll find quirky specialist cafes that just do coffee, smoothies and cakes, plus a Dome and health food-focused cafes serving organic coffee, not to mention a couple of typical country-town style bakery cafes in the heart of Dunsborough.
For dinner, there is plenty of choice, from unassuming Asian canteens to pub-style establishments, to wood-fired pizza, fish ‘n’ chips, healthy takeaway, an Italian trattoria, and fine dining.
Diners who venture a little further out of town will be rewarded with more choice. Family-friendly seafood places, bistros, wineries, breweries, cafeterias, upmarket restaurants, and casual beachside cafes can all be found in the Dunsborough-Yallingup pocket between Commonage Road on the east side and Canal Rocks Road on the west.
When it comes to dinner, the choice is greater during the warmer months. Many establishments out of town don’t open at night, or have restricted trading hours, opening only on Friday and Saturday nights, for example. Kitchens also tend to close earlier in the winter months, so it’s always best to book ahead.
For a Sunday session, Yallingup’s beachside Caves House is a heritage-listed establishment with an ever-fresh vibe.
And don’t miss Yallingup Woodfired Bread. Handcrafted the traditional way, there’s no chemically mistreated or mechanically abused dough here. The ovens are built from volcanic stones and heated by a genuine wood fire. Baked fresh daily, the bread sells out within hours, however it appears on many cafe menus.
Grab a map and venture inland to discover a smattering of charming art galleries and cottage industries. You’ll find everything from clothing, crafts, jewellery and furniture, to every type of food: meats, homegrown fruits and vegetables, chocolate and ice-creams… you could spend a week and still not cover all the options.
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Go exploring along our beautiful coastline. My favourite spot is The Aquarium, a rock pool on the back roads of Canal Rocks. Finish up at one of our famous breweries to round off the perfect summer’s day.
Park your car at the end of Moses Rock Road and walk for 20-30 minutes north along the top of the cliffs. Head along the path towards Yallingup, to Quinninup Falls. When you get to the sand dunes, walk to the right for another 15 minutes and you’ll see a 10m waterfall, tumbling to the beach. In winter, the falls are fabulous, and wildflowers are abundant in spring. There are wonderful views to the ocean all year round.
In spring, a dazzling display of more than 2500 delicate wildflower species comes to life in the dense green coastal scrub and woodlands of Cape Naturaliste. Visit the lighthouse and its surrounding walk trails for the chance to see wildflowers in bloom on the headland, as well as whales frolicking in the waters below – truly a sight to behold! This is the perfect time of year for walking the Meelup Trail, or the Cape to Cape Track.
- Snorkel in the shallows at Meelup Beach, with its lapping, clear water.
- Watch sheep dogs round up the flocks, take part in some shearing, and bottle-feed the cute little lambs at Yallingup Shearing Shed.
- Yallingup Maze offers not just a tricky labyrinth, but also a log playground, grassy fields, a sandpit and a bouncy castle, as well as a cafe with puzzles on the tables.
- Simmo’s Ice Creamery in Dunsborough has an outdoor playground with the added bonus of the southwest’s signature brand of delicious ice-cream. It’s won a legion of fans, and the kids will drag you back for more.
- The gently meandering Busselton to Dunsborough bike path is one of the most scenic trails in the region. Maps and bike-hire information are available from the Busselton or Dunsborough visitor centres.
Brianna DelaporteMarketing manager, Australia’s South West
- Start the day with a caffeine hit from the coffee van in Yallingup carpark, and some fresh wood-fired bread from the German baker in the pink, blue and white shop at the top of the hill.
- Walk a section of the Cape to Cape Track – my favourite lookout is from the northern end of Injidup Beach, facing south – beautiful blue ocean against rust-red granite.
- Take the coastal drive from Meelup Beach to Eagle Bay, stopping for a swim in one of the beyond-perfect little bays. Between September and December, keep your eyes peeled on the horizon to glimpse whales.
- Sunset over the ocean is a must on any down-south evening. Grab a bottle and a blanket, and head to Yallingup, Smiths Beach or Sugarloaf Rock.
- Dinner at Little Fish – it’s currently my favourite place. Huge servings of beautifully cooked fish, and a warm, low-light ambience, with the hum of friends and family chatting.
TAJ’S SMALL FRIES
Western Australia’s most influential surfer, Taj Burrow, established this surf comp. The event attracts grommets from all over Australasia to the famed waves of Yallingup, in the hopes of adding their name to the prestigious honour roll of event winners. Jan.
THE X ADVENTURE DUNSBOROUGH
This off-road course is the ideal mix between triathlon and adventure
racing, powering through Dunsborough’s wilderness paradise. Apr.
JAZZ BY THE BAY
Enjoy the cool sounds of jazz with a touch of soul and funk in amazing venues around Geographe Bay, along with superb food. Jun.
TOUR OF MARGARET RIVER
For four days, this road-cycling event incorporates some of the most scenic routes in Australia. The unique pro-am format means amateur teams can compete against the very best riders in the country. Nov.
MARGARET RIVER GOURMET ESCAPE
The Margaret River Gourmet Escape is among the southwest’s most iconic annual events, and the Gourmet Escape Beach Barbecues are a highlight. They take place at the stunning Castle Rock beach, known by locals as Little Meelup. Nov.
Visit scooptraveller.com.au/MargaretRiver for more events.
DO AND SEE
CAPE NATURALISTE LIGHTHOUSE
An easy climb rewards visitors to this lighthouse with breathtaking views over the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and Geographe Bay. Friendly tour guides share stories about the modern functions of the lighthouse, how it came to be built in 1903, and the hardship experienced by the lighthouse keepers, who lived on site until 1996. Just 59 steps lead to the top, making this lighthouse accessible even for small children. Easy-to-navigate walk trails surround the lighthouse, and offer a chance to see local wildlife and wildflowers in spring.
WALK THE CAPE TO CAPE TRACK
The Cape Naturaliste headland is also the starting point of the Cape to Cape Track. The track extends 135km south through coastal heath, karri forest and woodlands, to finish at Cape Leeuwin in Augusta. It offers the walker access to sweeping clifftop views, spectacular remote beaches, limestone caves, and historic lighthouses. Rated one of the best multi-day walks in Australia by Australian Geographic, it has many access points, so it’s possible to go for a 20-minute stroll, or do the guided walk, which takes between five and eight days. Detailed guide books, Cape to Cape Track maps, short walk maps, and field guides are available for purchase from the local visitor centres.
CRUISING THE BAYS
You can’t go wrong simply cruising down to each of the bays in this pocket of Margaret River, because they are all stunning. In summer, watersport equipment is available to hire at Dunsborough Foreshore and Meelup Beach.
When it comes to fishing, Meelup, Castle Rock and Bunker Bay are spectacular spots, with ample opportunities to cast a line, sit back, and take in the view while waiting for a bite. Fishing from the beach rather than the rocks is recommended as the safest way to catch dinner. Year-round fishing equipment hire for the whole family is available from Access Fishing in Dunsborough, and they give lessons too! If it’s game fishing you enjoy, then book a local charter and head out into the deep waters to try to snare dhufish and snapper.
SUNSET AND SUNRISE
The sunsets are legendary down south, and it’s not unusual for the sky and rocks to turn bright orange. At Yallingup, watch the sunset across the lagoon out to the break, while the colour of Sugarloaf Rock against the Indian Ocean will amaze. Then get up early the next morning and watch the sunrise, just a short drive away on the other side of the cape at Dunsborough.
Learn about an Aboriginal legend and listen to the Dreamtime story of Ngilgi and Wolgine as you gaze up at limestone shawl formations. Explore at your own pace on the semi-guided Show Cave Tour, or delve deeper into the cave on an adventure tour, crawling and rock-scrambling to the underground riverbed. Koomal Dreaming offers an excellent Aboriginal tour that includes a didgeridoo performance in the cave.
DUNSBOROUGH BOUTIQUES AND MARKETS
For the serious shopper, it’s worth putting a day aside to meander the streets, which are lined with boutique clothing, shoe and homeware stores. You will be sure to find something unique. Bargain hunters, don’t miss the Dunsborough markets. A vibrant mix of local foods, crafts and entertainment, they are held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from September to June, adjacent to the Dunsborough Tavern.
In a region of breathtaking beaches, Meelup Beach is the prettiest little sheltered bay of them all. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Sardinia – the azure water is mesmerising. In summer, on the sheltered eastern side of the cape, the beach is very popular with families and paddleboarders. In winter, you’ll often find yourself alone with nature, your own footprints the only marks on the sand. Go for a snorkel, or a fish around the rocks. Up on the shady grass area, throw down the picnic blanket and cook up a feast on one of the free barbies.
FACT Meelup means ‘place of the Moon rising’, making this the perfect beach for a full-moon rendezvous.
LEARN TO SURF
In this region of world-class waves, you may want some local knowledge and someone to go surfing with. Yallingup Surf School’s friendly and experienced team of coaches offers a great way to get out on the ocean, and provides tips for all ages and stages: for the beginner,
the instructors will get you up and standing on a surfboard. Yahoo Surfboards in Dunsborough gives out free surf advice, and hires out boards ranging from beginner foam surfboards, mini mals and longboards, through to hybrids and shortboards.
Just outside Yallingup, off Caves Road, you’ll find a large car park and a narrow boardwalk leading to a wheelchair-accessible bridge over the natural canal. You can look down and watch the ocean rush through the rock channel beneath your feet. The power of the massive waves crashing in is jaw-dropping. The views from Canal Rocks are stunning, and the colours of the rocks and the clear water are just breathtaking.
Yallingup is 254km from Perth, or a drive of just under three hours via Busselton.
TIP Stop at the Dunsborough Visitor Centre to pick up a free map,
travel guide and friendly advice.
TIP Watch out for kangaroos while driving at dawn or dusk.
Jess Turner, Scoop receptionist
If I move anywhere, it will be Dunsborough.
- Breakfast is almost always made up of baked goods from Tas’s Bakery.
- Explore Ngilgi Cave, Sugarloaf and Meelup by day – all so amazing!
- Stop in at Simmos and Candy Cow in Cowaramup, they’re great places for the kids.
- Wind up at Clancy’s in the late afternoon for drinks, music and fun.
Yallingup has a great range of places to stay, many with ocean views. There are private spa retreats and hillside holiday houses, holiday parks, retreats, hotels and chic apartments, plus luxurious romantic resorts and lodges.
Accommodation in Dunsborough varies from beachside resorts, B&Bs, chalets and holiday rentals to classic camping grounds. Major supermarkets can be found in Dunsborough, making self-catering accommodation an easy choice.
Visit scooptraveller.com.au/MargaretRiver for more accommodation details.
When the Year 12 students around the state officially finish school in late November, partying teenagers descend on Dunsborough and its surrounds. Holidaying during this period is still possible – ask when booking your accommodation to see if they are taking leavers, and check specific leavers’ dates at leaverswa.com.au.