Most tourists to Western Australia prefer to spend their time in Perth and Fremantle, perhaps additionally making the three-hour drive south to Margaret River.
But for an unforgettable experience – also including incredible wines – steer your hire car southeast and take a few extra days to explore the Great Southern.
A leisurely 4.5-hour, 420km drive from Perth (about an hour less if you are coming from Margaret River), the Great Southern is renowned for its pristine coastline and ancient mountain ranges.
It’s also Australia’s largest wine region, spanning more than 17,000m2, and home to 70 wineries. The climate varies from continental in the Mount Barker, Frankland River and Porongurup sub-regions to a strong maritime influence in the coastal towns of Albany and Denmark. Warm days and cool nights with plentiful rainfall results in wines of elegance and complexity. Key varieties are Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
And to break up the winery visits, there are countless activities for all ages whatever time of year you travel. Join other gourmands at the Taste Great Southern wine and food festival in May, and from June to November watch the whales migrate.
Bask in the magnificent wildflower displays during September and October at the Bloom festival, and in summer enjoy snorkelling in crystal-clear waters or savour fresh oysters as the sun sets over the majestic King George Sound.
To make the most of your road trip to the Great Southern, we’ve designed a busy two-day itinerary with overnights at both Denmark and Albany. Such a short stay is not nearly enough to enjoy what’s on offer in this vast region however, so a longer, more leisurely visit is recommended.
How to get there
Fly to Perth, Western Australia’s capital, then hire a car and drive 420km southeast to Albany (4.5 hours). Or take a one-hour flight with Rex Airlines to Albany, where you can collect your hire car.
My perfect trip to the Great Southern
DAY ONE – from Albany
Stroll along Middleton Beach until you arrive at Emu Point Café and enjoy a hearty smoky beans breakfast bowl while overlooking this unspoiled stretch of coastline. Recharge your coffee and sourdough at Bred Co before setting off on a wine and food trail, beginning at the weekend Albany Farmers Markets. Stock your picnic basket with local seafood, meats, fruit, heirloom vegetables, cheeses, honey and macadamia nuts and drive 40km north to the Porongurups, home to some of Australia’s finest Rieslings.
In the Porongurup National Park, where granite sentinels 1.1 million years old stand watch over the vines, Castle Rock Estate offers one of the most picturesque views of the Stirling Ranges from its quaint cellar door. The Rieslings are internationally renowned for their beautiful floral characters, distinctive stony minerality and driving acidity.
If time permits, walk through the ancient forest and climb the Granite Skywalk, a suspended walkway on the huge granite outcrop of Castle Rock, which gives the nearby winery its name.
Mount Barker and Frankland
Drive west for 30km to Mount Barker and arrive at Plantagenet Wines, the region’s founding winery, which has been lovingly converted from an apple packing shed. Now in its 50th year, the winery’s flagship is undoubtedly the rich and textural Aquitaine Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy a glass with lunch from the café, which offers platters, sandwiches, pizzas and salads.
A trip to the Great Southern is not complete without a drive inland to the Frankland region. It’s a 70km journey, but worth it to visit Western Australia’s coolest wine-growing region.
There is a range of tasting experiences at the newly refurbished Alkoomi Wines cellar door, including some interesting cuvées on its enomatic system – the 2017 Jarrah Shiraz is remarkable. Savour the wines alongside a cheese board of local produce, either on the expansive lawns or by the roaring fire.
Not far away is the beautiful organic vineyards of Frankland Estate. Its Isolation Ridge Syrah displays wonderful structure, weight and complexity, while the Rieslings, which can age up to 20 years, have an intense fruit ripeness balanced by rounded acidity. Book ahead for a behind-the-scenes tasting experience with the winemaker, where you will learn about organic farming methods while barrel tasting upcoming vintages and current releases ($25).
Take in the rising peaks of Bluff Knoll and Mount Trio as you make the 120km return drive to Albany and arrive in time for a pre-prandial drink at Due South (see Address Book, below) to watch the sunset over the bay. Then take a stroll to the eclectic belle époque surrounds of Liberté (see Address Book, below) where Parisian-Vietnamese fusion cuisine awaits.
DAY TWO – from Denmark
Enjoy a wholesome breakfast at Mrs Jones Café before following the winding stretch of road to Singlefile Wines. You can choose a Coco d’Vino tasting flight of three artisan Cuvée Chocolate bars paired with matching wines ($15), or book a Sense of Place vineyard tour including a tasting of back vintages and barrel samples ($59). And don’t leave without trying the flagship Family Reserve Chardonnay or small-batch Porongurup Pinot Noir.
Towering jarrah and marri trees line the road as you journey to Harewood Estate, perched atop rolling slopes of vineyard. The idyllic cellar door views are best accompanied with a tasting of its Flux Pinot Noir or aromatic Porongurup Riesling.
Work up an appetite and soak up breathtaking views in the Tree Top Walk, set 40m above ground in the 400-year-old forest of tingle trees – Eucalyptus jacksonii. This is the only place in the world where you will find these mesmerising giants.
Views and vines, food and wine
The first grapevines in the Great Southern were planted at Forest Hill Vineyard in 1965. This family-run estate has forged an enviable reputation for crafting world-class wines, particularly its ageworthy Rieslings and Chardonnays. The Block 1 Riesling, made from the original vines, brims with focused acidity and lingering, powerful flavours.
After a tasting in its stone cellar, head upstairs for a feast at Pepper & Salt (see Address Book, below). There are stunning views from the balcony, where the forest welcomes the sea.
Wander along the main strip to Tea House Books, a quaint bookstore, gift shop and café. An exquisite selection of sweet treats beckons at Dark Side Chocolates, including those flavoured with native Australian bush ingredients.
If you’re still feeling peckish, complete your evening with tapas and cocktails at Flame Trees (see Address Book, below).
The Great Southern: your address book
Where to stay
Secluded cottages nestled in a stunning private nature reserve, close to Lowlands Beach and West Cape Howe National Park.
Address 322 Tennessee Road South, Lowlands
A warm welcome and country hospitality is guaranteed at this boutique hotel, which has bountiful breakfasts.
Address 33 Barry Court, Albany
Overlooking the waterfront, this familiar hotel chain has stylish decor and is a short walk from the town centre.
Address 3 Toll Place, Albany
Where to eat and drink
A modern restaurant at the magnificent Princess Royal Harbour. Its bottleshop and wine list are as extensive as the impressive menu, focused on fresh, seasonal produce.
Address 6 Toll Place, Albany
Open Thursdays to Mondays, 11am-10pm
This Parisian-themed restaurant and bar at the historic London Hotel boasts a decadent Vietnamese-French fusion menu using local seafood and produce. An enviable wine and cocktail list too.
Address 160-162 Stirling Terrace, Albany
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11.30am-2.30pm and 5pm-9pm
An impressive restaurant at Forest Hill Vineyard, offering unparalleled views complemented by soulful, subtly spiced dishes inspired by the chef’s Fijian-Indian heritage.
Address Forest Hill Vineyard, corner of Myers Road and South Coast Highway, Denmark
Open Thursdays to Sundays, 12pm-3pm (Fridays also 6pm-9pm)
This intimate speakeasy-style bar and bistro serves cocktails, tapas and a good selection of beers and wines.
Address 3/27 Strickland Street, Denmark
Open Daily, 4pm-11pm
Other activities and shops
National Anzac Centre – for many soldiers, this site was their last glimpse of Australia before sailing off to fight in World War One.
Albany Picnic Provisions Trail – a self-drive journey where you’ll meet the producers of fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat.
Busy Blue Bus – tours, for the days you don’t want to drive.
Sandalwood Shop – skincare, beauty and lifestyle products plus a relaxation space.
South Coast Woodworks Gallery – works on display and to buy from small independent designers.