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Bucket List - Things to do before you leave the South West

We are often asked by guests what are "The Best" things to do in the Margaret River region during their stay.  There are many tourist attractions in the area including wineries, breweries, restaurants, chocalate factories and so on, but often the guests are looking for the less obvious experiences that are still representative of the region.   Over a number of years there has emerged a few favourite things to do, so we thought we would create a "Bucket List" of things you really must see and do during your visit to our beautiful corner of the world.

  1. smiths beach smallThe Beach.  Western Australia is blessed with many spectacular beaches with stretches of pure white sand fringing pristine blue waters and rugged granite and limestone features.  Our region has its share of wonderful beaches, in fact there are two quite contrasting types of coastline in the region, with the north facing beaches in Geographe Bay enjoying calm blue waters and pure white sand perfect for family swimming and the west facing coastline between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin being characterised by rugged coastline of granite and limestone cliffs, and large swells that roll unencumbered over thousands of kilometres of ocean before crashing on our shores.  These swells are what give Margaret River its reputation as a surf destination.  Our pick of the swimming beaches in the region would be
    • Meelup Beach near Cape Naturaliste, a beautiful small sheltered beach set in front of a National Park bush area, when sitting on the beach here on a quiet day it is easy to imagine this environment before man arrived.
    • Smiths Beach which although its on the west facing coast is quite sheltered, this is a much longer beach, with some swells that allow a bit of body surfing at one end.  Smiths Beach has a cafe just back from the beach.
    • The main beach at the end of Queen St in Busselton is also worth a visit with recent upgrades to the public open space fronting the beach generating a sophisticated cafe board walk style environment
  2. bsn jetty length smallBusselton Jetty and the Underwater Observatory.  Busselton Jetty lays claim to being the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere at just over 1.8km.  It has recently been rebuilt and is now enjoying the results of a significant upgrade of the public open space along the beach surrounding it.  There is a train running its length for those who don't want to walk, and at its end is the underwater observatory - a heavy concrete structure of 9.5m diameter that allows you to see the fish and the magnificient soft corals and sponges that grow in the 8 metre deep waters.  The underwater observatory allows you to see what used to only be accessible with scuba gear without the hassle, definitely worth a visit.
  3. The Lighthouses.  At  the northern and southern end of the region are lighthouses.  You should visit at least one and take the tour to get an insight into the life of the lightkeepers and how hazardous navigation was before satellites and electronics took all the guess work out of it.  The view of the coastline from the top is spectacular and if you visit at the right time of the year you will be able to see whales as they migrate up and down the Western Australian coast.
  4.  The Whales.  As the whales migrate north in autumn up the Western Australian coast to over winter in the warmer waters and then south again in spring to the rich feeding ground of the Antarctic summer they have to get around the Capes.  The land running between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin is basically in their way, so as they come down the coast they come really close in to shore around the Capes.  When I say really close I mean 500 metres off shore in 10 metres of water, we have had whales swim underneath our anchored boat with only half a metre to spare between them and the hull.  As they pass under the boat they roll over to eye us off.  Whale watching tours are run seasonally from Dunsborough and Augusta and you really have to experience the size and grace of these creatures before you leave.
  5. boys caving smallThe Caves.  The Margaret River region lies on what geologists call a limestone karst, simply put this means we have a limestone layer over the top of a layer of granite-gneiss.  The limestone was formed when huge sand dunes blown ashore to heights of up to 200m started to stabilise and solidify.  The limestone is easily eroded by water, so as the rainwater percolates down through the sand and limestone it eventually hits the impenetrable granite layer and has to make its way to the ocean forming caves as it travels.   There are a number of caves open to the public with lighting, walkways and stairs to improve the experience and minimise the impact of visitors.  They are an other worldly experience and in many places very pretty.  You should visit at least one of the caves while you are here - the major tourist caves are -
    • Ngilgi Cave (Yallingup) - My memory of Ngilgi is that it was not the prettiest cave (although it has some really nice formations) but it is definitely the deepest with one chamber above another you seem to be able to descend forever finding ever more rooms.  Ngilgi has a cafe, and offers both semi guided and self guided tours. Ngilgi is the only tourist cave located at the northern end of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge.
    • Lake Cave - a quite small but very pretty cave with spectacular formations suspended above a lake.  Lake cave has an interpretation center with retail area and tea rooms, so its a great place to go if you are travelling with older relatives who would prefer a cup of coffee and some cake to the climbing needed to get in and out of a cave.  Guided tours.
    • Mammoth Cave - as its name suggests Mammoth Cave is a very large place.  It is the easiest to access - least climbing but also possibly the longest walk through - you actually emerge through a doline (roof collapse) on the other side of the road and walk back to the car park through some very pretty Marri forrest.  Self guided with recorded information.
    • Jewel Cave - bigger than Lake Cave and rivals it for beauty Jewel Cave is another site with a large interpretative center, retail area and cafe.  Set in the Karri forest it offers a walk trail through the forest in addition to the cave.  Guided tours.
    • Calgardup Cave - Unlike the one mentioned so far Calgardup is run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and is a little less commercial.  This is a self guided, unlit cave (torches and helmets supplied) with a seasonal lake covering the floor of three caverns.  This cave still has platforms, walkways and railings, but there is less for anyone not participating to do on the surface.  This cave is also used by adventure groups who abseil through a solution tube in the ceiling to access the cave floor.
    • Giants Cave - Another self guided unlit cave run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.    With similar facilities to Calgardup Cave, this one is for the fitter visitor as there is some climbing up and down ladders and a few tight spots to negotiate between the massive caverns.  My boys enjoyed Giants immensely.
  6. Local Produce, Arts and Crafts - The Markets.  Margaret River is renowned for its wonderful variety of local produce, arts and crafts, but in our opinion it is hard to get a genuine experience in the commercial establishments set up for tourists.  We think the best way to see a representative sample is to attend one of the local market days
    • Margaret River Markets - located at the Margaret River Education Campus Lot 272 Bussell Hwy Margaret River and run every Saturday from 8 until 12 midday.  Possibly the biggest market in the region.
    • Vasse Markets - located at the corner of Bussell Hwy and Kaloorup Rd.  A smaller market run on the   1st, 3rd and 5th Saturday of the month - 7:30 until 12 midday.
    • Foreshore Markets - located at Signal Park on Marine Terrace in Busselton run every 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday 8 until 1pm.