Sun, sand, surf Australia style

The Margaret River is Cornwall with guaranteed sun, more vineyards and no caravans. That's why it's worth the trip, says Jeremy Hart
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The Independent Travel

'Was that the place with the nurse with stars on her knickers?" giggled my kids.

We had been chatting about our month spent bouncing about Australia over Christmas and New Year. A trip that included a stopover in Singapore, a week in Western Australia, a week with friends in Sydney, New Year in the Queensland rainforest and finally some croc-watching in the Northern Territory. Even for a family fortunate to be as well travelled as mine, it was the trip of a lifetime.

Yet, one of the abiding memories (for them) seems to be of the nurse at Margaret River's cottage hospital, not for administering antibiotics to Georgia for an ear infection, but for having snazzy pair of smalls that showed through her uniform. It was like buying the kids an expensive present for Christmas and having them prefer to play with a piece of wood they found in the cupboard.

If Cornwall regularly had 36C summer days, endless beaches, dozens instead of just the one vineyard, and caravan-free back roads, I'd have felt cheated. I'd have felt that the 18-hour flight (even with a two-day stopover in Singapore), was a waste and the decision of taking two kids aged seven and five to Australia had been ill-advised. But not for a second. Particularly, when, even with the passing of time, they fizz at the memory of five days in Western Australia.

Margaret River was the kids' and my wife's first taste of Australia. We had a night in Perth, where I'd first touched Aussie soil 15 years before, but the plan was to get over the flight and the 33C temperature differential down the coast in Margaret River - Western Australia's surf and wine colony.

To compare Margaret River to Cornwall is not random. Midway between Capes Naturaliste and Leeuwin and occupying an 80-mile promontory in Australia's most south-westerly corner, it has the same end-of-the-world feel as Land's End and the same sense of independence from the rest of its adjoining country.

In the 1960s, Margaret River was a hippie surf commune where hanging out and hanging 10 were the only things to do. Now the dope and soap-on-a-rope culture has all but been edged out by the wine and cheese brigade.

In an area no bigger than Norfolk, there are 200 vineyards and 70 wineries, all of which have sprung up within 40 years. And alongside estates such as Leeuwin and Devil's Lair, a sub-culture of boutique food emporia selling everything from chocolate to cheese and chillis has also sprung up.

Not that the kids could have cared less about the haute cuisine, of course. So instead of trawling the wineries with fidgety children, we opted to ship in lots of local wine and produce to our rented house down on the beach at Prevelly, 10 minutes west of Margaret River. With us satisfied, the rest of the time was focused on what they call "fun stuff". Surfing is still a big deal in Margaret River. Bleach blonde surfer dudes in Holden Utes (pick-up trucks) happily cruise the Bussell Highway alongside the 4x4-driving wine set and we happily followed suit, our boogie boards tucked in the boot of our Land Rover Discovery.

"It was like a bath in the sea, it was so warm," said Jack, who rode the pristine waves below our house for hours. The only limitations to time spent on Prevelly beach were hunger and heat. Midday in midsummer can mean 40C - at which point we'd head for a café. It is hard to find a bad café or restaurant in Margaret River. And kids are welcomed with open arms.

There was a pattern to our holidays for a while. Vancouver, Australia, Cornwall and Bermuda. We even nearly went to the fjords of Norway. All because our daughter Georgia loves whales and dolphins. Unfortunately, she spotted the sign to the Dolphin Discovery Centre just up the coast at Bunbury before we did. At the time she was only seven and so the option of swimming with the dolphins was ruled out, but the centre runs a boat out into the Indian Ocean.

"The dolphin watching was so cool," she recalls of what was, for her at least, the grand finale to her time in Margaret River.

If it hadn't been for the World Cup and the impossibility of getting flights on my frequent flyer miles, we'd be back there this summer (incidentally, the best time for lower air fares and hotel rates in Western Australia). Just don't tell my kids.

Jeremy Hart and family flew to Perth with Qantas (08457 747 767; qantas.com), which currently offers return fares from around £990. Cape Lodge (00 61 897 55 6311; capelodge.com.au) offers double rooms from $345 (£138) per night with breakfast. For other accommodation and more information about the region, visit margaretriver.com or contact Tourism Australia (0906 863 3235, calls cost 60p per minute; australia.com). Dolphin Discovery (00 61 89 791 3088; dolphindiscovery. com.au)

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