Go There: Margaret River, Western Australia
Wine, wombats, and waves
By Kirk Owers
Where: The southwest corner of Australia is an anvil of coastline that gets hammered by swell from the Roaring Forties. Margaret River lies in the middle of the region, three hours south of Perth, surrounded by wineries, national parks, boutique breweries, and a smorgasbord of mouthwatering waves.
What: Margies was once a quiet rural town where a man could wander the streets on a farm animal and watch the world go slowly by. Today it's part of a bustling tourist region, which caters for wine lovers, foodies, nature freaks, and surfers. Main Break--a voluminous, wide-faced peak--is the best-known spot, but there are better options. Directly opposite lies the Box, a favorite slab for visiting pros. Up the coast at Gracetown is a grinding tube express known as North Point, and further north there are a bunch of sick waves around Taj Burrow's hometown, Yallingup. The entire coast is littered with powerful reefbreaks, which draw comparisons with Oahu's North Shore.
When: Tourist brochures talk fondly of a Mediterranean climate but fail to mention that it gets scorching hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. Autumn (March-May) has the best mix of weather and waves. The wind is consistently offshore and the swell is consistently up. During winter, the low-pressure systems smash the coast and surfers hunker down awaiting offshores or they pack up and head for the northwest desert for a month or three. Anything goes in spring, the gambler's season. Summer can be good but is dogged by onshores.
Why: Margarets has arguably the best waves and the most idyllic setting for waves in the country, and that's saying a lot. Between Cape Naturaliste to the north and Cape Leeuwin to the south, there are an estimated 75 surf spots and about 70 wineries. Helpful staff at the Margaret River Visitor Centre will supply you with a map showing most of them. There are slabs, ledges, outer reefs, and bomboras set against fields of cabernets, pinots, and chardonnays, and towering karri forests.
How: A return flight from LA to Perth will cost you about $1,400. From Perth you'll want to hire a car for the duration of your visit. You'll need reliable wheels to do the southwest; a 4WD would be handy but not necessary. Margaret River is three hours south of Perth, but it's worth stopping at Yallingup for a night or three along the way.
Places To Stay: If you want to get loaded and chase the nightlife you'll want to stay in town. There are several backpackers for folks who don't mind sharing kitchens, bathrooms, and leftover food not clearly marked with a name. At the other end of the scale, you can pimp it up at a luxury pad at Cape Lodge. Other good options include the caravan parks at Margies, Gracetown, and Yallingup, which offer cheap cabins and tent sites close to the waves.
Places To Eat: We're mental for cafés in Australia. Every town will have a bunch offering "the best coffee in town" --which means espresso-style, 200 degrees, and with enough kick to kill a horse. Good café's offer great food at reasonable prices and double as wine bars and places to attract passersby. Margies is spoilt for choice with fresh, local produce on most menus alongside the region's world-class wines and boutique beers. Too posh? Hit up the local tavern for steak and a tap beer or the local fish-and-chip shop.
Babes And Dudes: Very seasonal and very sought after. Weekends and school holidays bring them in by the vanload, but winters can be long and lonesome. Local babes fall into two categories: straight-talking, boot-wearing farmer's daughters, or straight-talking, boot-wearing hippie chicks. The Settler's Tavern in the heart of Margaret River is the place for live music, big meals, and hooking up.
Crowd Factor: Many of the well-known spots get busy. Main Break is especially popular with older locals who can be a little possessive. But there is 130km of coast to explore and more than 70 waves to find. You can surf alone if you want. Most locals are accustomed to travelers and won't bite your tires unless you act like a dick. Avoid late March when the pros descend for the Telstra Drug Aware Pro.
Stuff to Bring: If you want to surf the outer reefs, Cow Bommie, or Main Break, you'll need a gun. Not a step-up but a proper seven-foot-plus gun. Otherwise your normal shortboard will work for the slabs, beaches, and reefs. A 3/2 suit will do the job for most of the year, but a 4/3 will be handy for winter.
If The Surf Is Flat: It won't be, but it could easily be howling onshore or beyond your abilities. There's a heap to do in the region: bush tracks to walk, caves to explore, endangered fauna to photograph, whales to spot, fish to catch, and wineries to tour. If you need a city/nightclub fix, Perth is just three hours away and it rocks.