Dunsborough is a sleepy coastal town sandwiched between hubs you may have heard of — Busselton and Margaret River — in Western Australia’s famed south-west region. Yet despite being caught in the middle, Dunsborough holds its own as a dreamy destination.
Home to 5000, the unhurried town offers a sense of adventure in every, well, sense. Located along the blissfully blue shores of Geographe Bay, Dunsborough is a short hop, skip and jump to life’s simple pleasures such as world-class beaches, renowned wineries, stunning sceneries, and gourmet food experiences galore. And if life truly is all about balance, Dunsborough is the perfect place to gauge just that.
A MELTING POT
Heading to Dunsborough, just 250km south of Perth, is an easy choice with city slickers like my friend and I looking to treat ourselves to more than just a quick road trip getaway. At first, Dunsborough appears like any other low-lying coastal town with a few walkable streets dotted with independent retail shops, cafes, and restaurants. Of course, I couldn’t forget to mention the town’s carb factor, with the Dunsborough Bakery wafting smells of freshly baked bread into the crisp, coastal air since 1941. Heaven.
But besides the town centre’s old faithful, appreciation for beautiful landscapes intertwining with epicurean tastes — food, wines, beers, and lots of gins — is all bit too convenient. Am I complaining? Not the slightest. Would my waistline bear the brunt of my indulgence? You bet.
Over the years, Dunsborough has become a springboard to some of the best flavours found in the region. And now, it takes on that role in a literal sense with its latest offering, Taste of the Bays.
The new South West Cruise weaves the area’s picture-perfect scenery with a seven-course progressive dinner on a 60ft boat cruising the crystal blue waters of Geographe Bay with the ancient Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge in its sights. Talk about great pairings.
“Eat everything they offer you,” coach driver Trish urged us with great enthusiasm as we slowly pulled into the Dunsborough Bay Yacht Club to board the boat. “And drink everything they offer.”
Wise words but don’t worry, Trish, this busload doesn’t need much convincing, I thought as we bid farewell to the mainland just after 3pm. Such anticipation for the goodness that was to come: regional wines and seasonal produce served with locally caught seafood such as oysters, scallops, crab, marron, and the catch of the day. I didn’t know which would make my heart sing more: seeing the family-favourite holiday destination from a new angle or getting pampered with healthy amounts of omega-3 and wine?
The afternoon and sunset cruise sails by the region’s most famous beaches from Dunsborough to Bunker Bay, passing by Meelup Beach and Eagle Bay — all worthy of an Instagram hashtag. Between feeds, we were encouraged to make the most of its crystal-clear waters and really, how could we not? We anchored at Meelup Beach, its seas glistening under the afternoon glow, with ripples in the seabed noticeable from above. The decision to jump in was as clear as day.
In fact, it was encouraged to take the plunge with enthused crew members passing around plastic glassware so we could fully immerse ourselves in living the high life. I joined a few thirsty punters on a fluro yellow floating foam pool mat, sipping on Howard Park’s Miamup Chardonnay like indulgent castaways. We didn’t need to be saved anytime soon, we just needed more wine!
We soon got reeled in by a big fish — the one sizzling on the barbeque — and hurriedly made our way back on board to enjoy another course plated by the onboard chef. Tough life, I know.
Drinks continued to flow as the sun slowly retired for the day. We didn’t get to see the sunset over the sea as we faced north, but that moment wasn’t missed. Swirls of pastel purples, peach and blues soon illuminated the cloudy sky as we made our way back to land. A spectacular end to what was already a sensory overload.
DIP, SIP, EAT, AND REPEAT
It was always going to be a hard act to follow from the unique way to experience Dunsborough. Thankfully, the morning after did not disappoint with a visit to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
Located 12km north-west of Dunsborough, the park is famed for its rugged cliffs, granite headlands and spectacular coastline. It’s also a great spot to strap on the hiking boots and go trekking with the start/end of the legendary 123km Cape to Cape trail nearby at Cape Naturaliste lighthouse.
But stopping short of reaching the headland’s rocky tip and its 20m-high beacon of light is the protected paradise, Bunker Bay. The bay’s calm blue waters and bountiful white sands set the expectation to lose a few hours to rounds of beach, retreat and repeat. Just BYO umbrella.
There’s a cafe on standby, so if respite is needed, just make a quick dash for a feed or drink, and then happily continue to sloth on the sand.
But in a place like this, it’s hard not to be tempted to beach hop. We soon uncovered the diamond in the rough, Point Picquet, in Meelup Regional Park. The hidden gem is surrounded by red ochre rocks, beautifully littered on land and at sea.
To arrive at its pure shores, you need to walk between bushes or side-step rocks. But it’s worth the careful trotting. Absent of crowds, this small inlet is perfect for making a splash in solitude. The only other signs of life I saw were native waterbirds, screeching from their throne: a three-metre-high rocky outcrop at sea.
I didn’t know what made us move on more — the soundtrack of unrelenting squawks or the rumbles of my stomach.
Less than half an hour’s drive from Dunsborough is Providore. Consider it a gourmet marketplace neatly stacked with provisions that would excite any foodie. High end relishes, seasonings, marinades, pasta, olive oils, spice mixes, and wines — it’s all here. To leave empty-handed would be denying your future self an epicurean feed on the go. Although its pantry staples are on the higher end of the budget, what isn’t is its lunch offering.
Providore is home to perhaps the Margaret River region’s most cost-savvy scenic lunch. Sip on a glass of its award-winning Rosé with a gourmet continental roll for $20, just one of its seasonal meal deals. And if you really want to go all out, there’s also the Margaret River Chocolate Co, a short stroll away. Dangerous.
It was nice enough just to kick back under its lush verandah and enjoy views of the vines as we drank its sweet fruits. And with the smells of freshly roasted coffee filling the air, I knew we would linger on a little longer.
A TOAST TO THE TOWN
There’s no shortage of beautiful sceneries within the Margaret River region. Still, some places can take you further afield, like Spain.
Cellar door Cherubino offers wine tastings in its charming two-storey Spanish-style build, surrounded by greenlit vines. Owned by renowned wine marker Larry Cherubino, the cellar door is filled with award-winning drops sourced from grapes across the southwest region.
Lounging outside between disused wine barrels, we were quickly transported to The Mediterranean, basking in sun-kissed weather and Spanish countryside feels. We opted to purchase a 2017 Margaret River Semillon bottle with our European cheeseboard platter. A pleasant gastronomic trip that required no passport.
We soon followed the winding Caves Road, a scenic drive populated with over 100 naturally ornate underground limestone caves formed around one million years ago. But I would be more interested in the recent vintage that dots the road above ground: vineyards.
Swings & Roundabouts is another must-visit winery, popular for its laidback ambience in a rustic setting. It also lives up to its playful name, with the cellar door featuring tables with swing seating overlooking the Yallingup winery. After a round of wine tastings, I went straight to unleash my inner child, nabbing a swing at the table. Devouring a wood-fired pizza while taking in the gently rolling hills on the horizon was a rewarding way to cap off the day.
COASTING THROUGH LIFE
Another thing that perked me up in the morning was a long walk along Dunn Bay. The shallow beach is easily accessible from town, just off Geographe Bay Road. It’s not as picturesque as the beaches previously mentioned but is a great way to soak up the coastal housing and only dream.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my actions would soon mimic what I was about to see at Hamelin Bay.
Just 86km south of Dunsborough is the region’s version of peak hour. Curious stingrays are frequently spotted doing laps up and down the coast, appearing like hovering diamonds just metres from the shore. If lucky, you may have one flirt with you, with the tip of their wings sometimes appearing out of the water as if to say hello as they go about their daily grind. Ngari Capes Marine Park’s famed wildlife viewing spot also boasts inviting turquoise waters for swimming, but just be mindful of the barbs.
To make the trip come full circle, we headed to Meelup Beach for an early evening barbeque, just 5km out of Dunsborough. Come sundown, its foreshore area slowly becomes occupied with hungry kangaroos, such loveable lawn munchers along the beach’s grassy knolls.
There are plenty of barbeque spots, some even secluded between bushlands, to savour the moment dining with ‘roos in WA’s other Lucky Bay.
If you time your visit right, you may even get treated to witnessing a moonrise. The moon appears like a giant golden egg as it gradually emerges over the Indian Ocean. And I can assure you, after seeing that vision and with the memories of Dunsborough, you’ll be able to rest easy.
South West Cruises
P: (08) 9586 1136
P: (08) 6274 4040
Swings & Roundabouts
P: (08) 9756 6640
Dunsborough Lakes Holiday Resort & Caravan Park
P: (08) 9756 8300
Hamelin Bay Holiday Park
P: (08) 9758 5540