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The Margaret River Region
DunsboroughThis picturesque and productive region is located close to the very south-western corner of Australia, and extends from Dunsborough and Busselton in the north to Augusta in the south. Bodies of water frame the region, with Geographe Bay and the Indian Ocean to the north, and the Southern Ocean sweeping beyond Cape Leeuwin. Western Australia's capital of Perth lies approximately 250 km north of the region's northern border. The climate is maritime, with the temperature rarely rising above 32 degrees Celsius in summer. In winter the temperature range is generally between 11 and 18 degrees Celsius.

There are more than 60 wineries in the region, and as with all premium wine areas it has a strong gourmet food industry, as well as many restaurants and cafes. Many of the region's vineyards are clustered in the region's north between Cowaramup and Yallingup, with another concentration situated between Margaret River and Witchcliffe. As a starting point for wine tasting you might like to try the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre, located on the Bussell Highway in Cowaramup. There are wine events all year round, with the highlight being the 10-day Margaret River Wine Region Festival, held in early November.

Another strong attraction of the area is the surfing. There are over 75 top-class breaks along the coastline between Capes Naturaliste and Leeuwin, and rarely are there flat spells. The roaring forties push the swells from 1000 km to the south, and by the time they get to the beaches and reefs of the region the quality is high, with breaks to suit all standards of surfer.

Around 20 km or so south of the town of Margaret River you'll find several limestone cave systems - Mammoth Cave and Lake Cave, with Jewel Cave and Moondyne Cave a little further south. At the Mammoth Cave you can take a self-guided CD-ROM tour, while a feature of Lake Cave is the high-tech Caveworks Interpretive Centre. The drive to the caves is an attraction in itself, along the aptly named Caves Road. This road follows the line of the coast, along almost the entire length of the coast, beginning north of Augusta and winding all the way up to Dunsborough. It takes you through karri forest and the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, by vineyards, lookouts, coastal walking trails, picnic areas and arts and craft stores.

The southern end of the region is bounded by Cape Leeuwin and the town of Augusta, the third oldest settlement in WA. The Indian and Southern Oceans meet here, an excellent vantage point for the two bodies of water being the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Like many towns in this region Augusta has a selection of pristine beaches, perfect for swimming, fishing, surfing, diving and boating. The town was built on farming and the timber and whaling industries, all of which you can investigate at the Augusta Historical Museum. Just north of the town is Hamelin Bay, with its eye-catching limestone formations, and an opportunity to see stingrays up close, drawn in to the bay by the scraps tossed into the water by local fishermen.

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park runs along much of the 120-km long cape to cape coast. Most roads throughout the park are sealed, some are gravel and suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles, but access to the more secluded surfing and fishing spots is by four-wheel drive only, due to the rough limestone that makes up the surface of those roads. Scenic lookouts are numerous, one of the viewing highlights of the year being the whale watching in the months between April and June and October to December. The whales pass close by the coast, and at Cape Naturaliste there is an excellent viewing platform to watch these magnificent creatures pass by. Other sea creatures to marvel at are dolphins, and in the months May to June the waters are alive with large schools of Australian salmon on their annual spawning run. On land walk through karri forests at Boranup, or admire the carpet of wildflowers, particularly in the month of September when the deep blue karri hovea, old man's beard, yellow cone bushes and yellow patersonia bloom. The park abounds in walks, ranging from a relatively easy 2 km, 40 minute walk up to the 140-km long Cape to Cape Walking Track. Brochures on all the walking trails are available at Cape Naturaliste, Yallingup and the Margaret River township. Cape Naturaliste affords sweeping views of the coast to the south and of Geographe Bay to the east. A fine place to stay to explore the northern reaches of the park, the wineries and caves is Yallingup. It has safe places to swim, snorkel and dive, and is close to Canal Rocks, a unique rock formation popular with photographers and fishing folk. Ngilgi Cave, west of the town, is a popular spot, steeped in Aboriginal lore, and which offers a variety of tours, plus an interpretive centre outlining the history and legend of the cave.

Forty-eight km north of Margaret River, and to the east of Cape Naturaliste, is the town of Dunsborough. Adjudged Western Australia's Top Tourism Town in 1999, Dunsborough is situated by Geographe Bay, and is ideal for families with its quiet coves and sandy beaches. Try Meelup, Eagle Bay and Bunker Bay for fishing, swimming and snorkelling, and for the divers the HMAS Swan and artificial reef off Meelup Beach is the largest accessible wreck in the Southern Hemisphere. Tours for all standards of diver are available. Geographe Bay is a playground not only for humans, but also southern right, humpback and pygmy blue whales, and bottle nose dolphins. Watch them from the shore, or book a closer look on a tour boat.

Further east along Geographe Bay is Busselton, a multiple winner of the Top Tourism Town award. The town's visual signature is the 2 km long wooden jetty, the longest in Australia, beloved of scuba divers and snorkellers for the rich variety of fish, sponges, invertebrates and coral that call the waters around the jetty home. A tourist train along the jetty runs between 10 am and 4 pm. Near the end of the jetty is the Busselton Underwater Observatory, a chamber holding 40 people that extends 8 metres beneath the water's surface, providing a unique look at the marine life around the jetty. Like its coastal cousin Dunsborough, Busselton is blessed with safe and calm beaches and bays, with the same opportunites for whale and dolphin watching.

Whether it's love of food and wine, relaxation or adventure, there's something for everyone in this beautiful part of the world. Travelmate has accommodation to suit a range of budgets in the Margaret River region.

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