We departed Perth on Monday morning and drove down to Margaret River. It’s a fair hop – around 250 km – but the roads were fairly clear and we made good time to Bunbury, where I’d originally planned to stop off, so we pushed through and made it to Margaret River in time for a spot of lunch at the Settlers pub, before checking into our accommodation and doing a bit of shopping for essentials. We then walked up the road in the evening to Katch Up, a local seafood restaurant, where I had marron and Nicola had a snapper.
Our first full day in Margaret River, and we’re off on a tour of indoor activities as the weather forecast is for dry, yet still quite cool temperatures. Unlike the heat of Perth, where we spent the weekend, it’s several degrees cooler down here – to the extent that I was back into long trousers. we headed out immediately after breakfast to get down to the most south-westerly tip of Australia, Cape Leeuwin, home to Australia’s tallest mainland lighthouse. We climbed the 276 stairs to the top as our guide explained about the construction, manning, and operation of the lighthouse, before it was automated in the 1980s. We looked out for whales but didn’t see any, but did see a hawk out looking for its lunch.
After a quick beverage we drove up to Jewel Cave, one of the four main tourist caves in the region. Jewel cave is known for having the longest straw, a type of stalactite, in Australia, and the second-longest in the world. There’s also all kinds of other stalactite and stalagmite formations, naturally enough. We walked down some stairs to get through the cave complex, some parts of which we had to duck under or around but no particularly tight bits, so we were OK just in street clothes and didn’t need to get hard-hatted and boilersuited, or anything like that. Our guide explained all about the various types of formation and the conditions which led to their particular shapes.
We took in a quick lunch at Café Boranup before checking into the second excursion, Lake Cave. This is entered through a doline, which is a collapsed cave, so we had to descend several hundred stairs just to get to the beginning of the cave system. Lake Cave, as its name suggests, is a wet cave system (Jewel Cave is dry), and once you get down to the water all the walkways are on the same level, natch. It’s not as big a cave system as the Jewel, but there are some spectacular formations there. They also change the lighting effects and switch off the lights completely at one point so you can see what real darkness is – you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face.
This formation is the star of the show - it's two columns (stalactites and stalagmites that have joined together) formed on a base of sandstone, which has since been eroded away by the water. The former floor of the cave now sits above the water level - that's its reflection you can see immediately below it.
We’d caught the last tour of the day there at 3:30pm so decided to call it a day there, and drove back to Margaret River. We parked up and explored the town centre a bit more so that we could decide on dinner locations for the rest of our week here.