Margaret River and Pemberton: Family Australia Trip Part 3

Finally, finally, finally I am getting around to posting about our time in Margaret River and Pemberton — hands-down the best part of our trip to western Australia.

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There is so much for everyone in the Margaret River Valley

Margaret River Valley

After our spectacularly fun day at Busselton Jetty, we piled back into our Holden wagon and headed 50km to the Margaret River Valley.  Ahh, Margaret River . . . my favorite part of Western Australia (and I should know, it was my third time visiting)! From the wine, to the caving, canoeing, camping, abseiling, surfing, and much more, this place is most definitely off the hook.  If you are an adventurous traveler who loves the outdoors, Margaret River is for you.  If you are a wine aficionado who enjoys beautiful vineyard settings, Margaret River for you.  If you are a beach bum who loves a great surf (as well as a Great White or two), Margaret River is for you.  Honestly — this place has something for everyone.  I would go back again, and again, and again.  You get the point.

Our digs, Bussells Bushland Cottages, in Margaret River were perfect.  P-E-R-F-E-C-T. The cottages happened to be everything we were looking for – cozy, kid-friendly, and privately situated in the bush, yet still only a five minute drive to the township.  Every morning and late afternoon we went on a bush walk around the property.  Every time we went out, we encountered kangaroos in their natural habitat, as well as beautiful birds (there was a feeder in front of our cottage that the kids could fill with seed every day).  Every evening, we built a fire and read our night time stories in the living room together.

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Kangaroo-spotting out the back door of our cottage

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Why, hello there

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So many beautiful birds in this part of the world! This feeder was right in front of our cottage.

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Fires by night in our cozy bushland cottage

And during the days? Wow. We did a lot.  Here are some of the things we did — all of which we recommend:

1. Visited local wineries and breweries.  Our favorite? Cheeky Monkey Brewery.  They had a fantastic, shaded playground just adjacent to the brewery and indoor/outdoor restaurant.  The kids played, ate, played again, and all the while we sampled the libations.  This place is first class for families. If you stay at Bussells Cottages, by the way, they will give you a list of wineries and breweries in Margaret River upon check-in.  The list denotes which wineries and breweries are kid-friendly.  Super useful.

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Excellent playground at Cheeky Monkey Brewery (other great pics can be found at Kids Around Perth)

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Kate enjoying her first vegemite sandwich!

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Super-healthy kid fare at the brewery

2. Went caving.  So many GREAT caves in the area (Lake Cave, Jewel Cave, Ngilgi Cave, to name a few).  When I traveled to the area years ago, I abseiled into caverns and crawled my way through some tight spaces.  It was phenomenal.  With young kids, that’s not doable.  What is doable, however, is a visit to Caveworks, a visitors center that allows kids to learn about caves and try their skills at crawling through an artificial cave.  Logan and Kate spent over an hour walking and crawling through the artificial cave and looking at the eye-catching photos of caves around the world.  The visitors center is attached to a real cave (Mammouth Cave) and you can go out on the deck and take a look down into the cave, getting a sense for just how spectacular the caves really are. If your children are old enough (I’d say they’d need to be at least 5-6 years old), you can venture on down for a real caving experience.

3. Lunched at the beach (Yallingup Beach, to be exact).  Stunning, to say the least.

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Yallingup

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Oh, just another drive along the coast of western Australia

4. More than satisfied our sweet tooth at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.  I think the photos say enough.

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You know they enjoyed it when the clothes have to be removed . . .

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Chocolate fondue – check. Chocolate-covered fork in hair – check.

5. Fed kangaroos, llamas, and more at Sunflowers Animal Farm.  Do not miss this.  This was a huge highlight for the kids.  In fact, we went twice!  Sunflowers also offers a farm stay.

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Feeding crazy-haired llamas at Sunflowers Animal Farm

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Little lambs . . . so sweet

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In the bunny pit

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This is why we came to Australia. So cool.

6. Meandered into Margaret River Township for dinner and a trip to the local candy store.

7. Went on many bush walks in the area, spotted marron (crawfish), and played on local playgrounds.

Alas, we only had three wonderful, fun-filled days in the Margaret River valley.  So much to do, but so little time!  If we had been able to extend our time, we also would have visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, ventured into the Yalingup Maze, the Yallingup Shearing Shed, and given the Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park a go.

Pemberton

With Margaret River (sadly) behind us, we headed to Pemberton — the last stop on our  journey.  Total distance is about 140 kms and takes about two hours.

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Doing our farm stay duty by feeding the donkeys!

Pemberton was the perfect final stop on our trip.  It is slower and quieter than Margaret River, but the bush is perhaps even more spectacular. There area offers a multitude of bush walks of varying distances and difficulty.  We did a 3km hike with Logan (three at the time) and Kate (18 months at the time).  Logan managed the hike on his own, while Kate rode in the Deuter Kid Comfort II.  The karri tree forests are really something special and shouldn’t be missed.  Another classic activity in the area is taking a tram ride deep into the forest.  Logan and Walter did this one afternoon and loved it.

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All aboard! Pemberton Tramway takes you deep into the karri tree forest

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Forest gazing

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Marron-spotting

We chose to do a farm stay in Pemberton at Pump Hill Farm Cottages.  It was right up Logan’s alley — riding on a tractor-pulled hay wagon each morning to feed horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks — what more could a little boy ask for?  The playground at the farm stay was fantastic as well.  Our cottage was located in front of the playground — so we grilled dinner while the kids played.  It was a welcomed mix of entertainment for the kids and relaxation for the parents. If you make it to Pemberton and you are traveling with young kids who love animals, Pump Hill is the place.

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Quaint farm stay cottage — just across from a great playground for the kids

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Beautiful horses just across from our cottage

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Getting properly dirty at the playground (see our cottage in the background?)

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Feeding donkeys in our pajamas — one of the perks of a farm stay!

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Someone is happy about this tractor-pulled hay wagon ride!

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Pure joy.

After two nights in Pemberton, we headed back to Perth in one day (with a stop in Bunbury for lunch).  The drive was fairly easy, but we were all fairly sad to be leaving our best vacation to date.  Western Australia.  What a magical place.

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A Family Vacation to Western Australia – in Three Parts

If ever we’ve made a great decision about family travel, it was our decision to spend 11 days in western Australia this October.  Aside from its utterly phenomenal natural beauty and spectacular wonders (caves, beaches, vineyards), it was exactly what we needed after a year of domestic-only travel in Thailand.  The kids ADORED it.  To the point that Logan asks me almost every third night at bedtime if we can go back, stay there “forever and ever and ever.”  The children were exposed to so many new things, and we’ve all made wonderful memories as a result.  I hope many families follow in our footsteps (it just so happened we got the idea from family friends who had done the same trip in July), because it truly was a wonderful experience.  In case you need more coaxing than the above, below, in my opinion, are the best reasons to visit (especially if you are coming from a big Asian city):

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Beginning our Australian adventure in King’s Park, Perth

1.  Green space, green space – everywhere:  Oh my goodness the GREEN SPACE!  Logan and Katelyn spent the entire 11 days (aside from the time on the plane) running around parks, playgrounds, farms, forests, vineyards, and beaches.  They exhausted themselves physically.  As a result, they ate like beasts (we could not get dinner on the table fast enough!) and slept like angels every night.  They loved it.  It was wonderful to see them so physically active.

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Running through King’s Park in the center of Perth on a beautiful afternoon

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Enjoying the popular dog beaches!

 2. Playgrounds:  There are playgrounds – good, safe, creative playgrounds – literally on every corner.  On beaches, at breweries, at farm stays, in every town center – you can’t miss them.  We would almost always couple a lunch or an activity with play time on a playground afterwards.  And these playgrounds?  They are designed in the form of things like pirate ships, they are well-maintained, they have toddler swings, they are safe even for little ones, and there are lots of kids enjoying them, so plenty of chances for parents and children to interact.  Seriously, it was a novelty for us how fast time went by after the kids spent two hours playing at a playground after lunch or some time at the farm.

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Enjoying time at a beach playground at Busselton Jetty

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This was the coolest swing ever! It could go so high!

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Just one example of an awesome playground at a brewery/winery

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Getting properly dirty at a playground in Pemberton

3. Animals:  Logan (now 3.5 years old) and Katleyn (now 1.5 years old) have always loved animals.  In Thailand, we try to teach them a safe balance between liking animals, but being wary of soi dogs, cats, and monitor lizards.  But in Australia, there is wonderful wildlife everywhere!  At three of the four locations where we stayed, the children interacted with animals constantly.  Two of these locations were farm stays with chickens (or “chooks” in Australian speak, as we learned), horses, sheep, donkeys, ducks, dogs, alpacas, emus — you name it.  The third location was in the Margaret River Valley where wild kangaroos spent time right outside of our cabin.  There were plenty of bush walks that we could go on throughout the day to see more!  We had a bird feeder (and provided bird seed) on our front porch that the children could fill up and watch beautiful birds come by.  Finally, we went to a Dolphin Discovery Center to see some aquatic life and an Animal Farm where you could see and feed all kinds of animals (think kangaroos, pigs, bunnies, chicks, etc.)  It was really cool.

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Want to feed an alpaca with a funky haircut? You got it.

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When in Australia . . .

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Bunnies!

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Feeding the horses at our Balingup Farm Stay

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Feeding donkeys in Pemberton

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Enjoying the animals at our farm stay in Pemberton

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Kangaroo-spotting out back of our cabin in Margaret River

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Feeding chooks

4. Activities:  We had a nice full eleven days, but even this wasn’t enough time to do everything western Australia has to offer!  We introduced the kids to the beautiful beaches (they especially loved the dog-friendly ones), spectacular caves, nature walks in Karri tree forests, the Busselton Jetty (and its train).  Oh, there is so much to do!

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Searching for marron on a nature walk in Pemberton

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Nothing beats a trip to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory!

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Clowning around on the Busselton Jetty Train

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Discovering how wind works at the jetty

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Exploring a local swimming hole near Balingup

5. Ease of cabin rentals/farm stays for larger families:  Every location we rented was a home or a cabin with two or three bedrooms.  Most of the cabins had bunk beds (you have four children?  no problem!) and they all had living and dining areas, real wood fireplaces (this was a true highlight every night for us – chopping wood and lighting the fire), and great Aussie grills.  So much better than renting two hotel rooms!  The place is set up for family travel, I’m telling you.

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Farm stay cottage in Pemberton

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Starting our evening fire in Margaret River

6. “Short”, direct flight from Bangkok:  This summer we opted out of the insufferable 24-hour journey back to the U.S. and instead opted for the 6.5 hour direct flight to Perth on Thai Airways.  Great flight times (you leave around 8am and arrive around 3pm) and the icing on the cake?  There is only a one hour time change!  You – and the kids – won’t even notice the time difference = no time wasted!

Okay, so I have whetted your interest yet?  In my next two posts, I’ll share our itinerary (details of the flight, car rental, locations we visited, places we stayed, and activities we did).  Are you thinking about it?  Don’t think too much, just do!  It is a really wonderful way to spend a family vacation.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen our children happier than they were running free in western Australia.  Pure joy!