I'm like a child in a sweet shop. Actually, I'm more excited than that. I've just walked into The Natural Olive Oil Soap Factory and it's like an Aladdin's cave.
On one side there's an array of soaps, lotions and scrubs and on the other, tasty edibles, all made using the base ingredient grown on Vasse Virgin olive trees and oil sourced from groves around WA.
Our itinerary for the day, which is in the middle of a four-day trip to the Wilyabrup area of Margaret River, features things to do in the famous wine region, without visiting the wineries. Not that there is anything wrong with a trip to a vineyard or two, however, today is for the children - providing the adults are happy too.
So, first up is the olive farm. The Natural Olive Oil Soap Factory and Vasse Virgin are based in the same building on Puzey Road. They started making soap in 1993 when the owners' three children were diagnosed with eczema and dermatitis. The only way they could guarantee a natural product that wouldn't upset their children's skin was to make their own.
There is a very stylish sink at the end of the room with various soaps and scrubs to try and my two children have a great time washing their hands to find out which product they like the best. Having made best use of the wash facilities, we move to the edible side of the business.
There are so many things to sample, we are spoiled for choice. There are several varieties of olives, flavoured olive oils, infused balsamic vinegars, salad dressings, dukkahs, mustards, tapenades and dips.
The selection of infused olive oils is vast and includes ginger, basil and lemon varieties. Everything is delicious, a highlight is the passionfruit vinaigrette, sweet yet astringent and perfect for drizzling on a rocket salad. I have to drag my five-year-old from the macadamia and sun-dried tomato pesto, she tastes so much I think I might be charged for a jar.
The next stop is meant for morning tea, however, when we arrive at Gabriel Chocolate, we decide we probably don't need anything else to eat. We also decide that it would be impossible to come to a chocolate shop and not taste anything, so we plump for a hot chocolate. Gabriel's prides itself on producing its chocolate from bean to bar, the chocolate bars are single origin made using cacao beans from around the world.
The showroom isn't as large as its better-known Margaret River competitor but there's a good selection of chocolate to taste and our hot chocolate is excellent. There is a lovely seating area outside, and the large stretch of lawn enables the girls to run around while we finish our drinks.
I grew up in Scotland and I am used to steely grey sea and the sky going from black to grey to white. I have lived in Perth for almost two years now and each time I visit the beach, I have to pinch myself. The white sand, cyan sky and turquoise through to navy of the sea, still take my breath away. Our next port of call, the beach at Yallingup, is no exception.
The beaches of Perth are pretty special, but the addition of the rugged coastline and huge waves makes me appreciate the view in this part of WA even more. According to the plaque beside the impressive surfer statue, Yallingup, the Wardandi Aboriginal word meaning place of love, is where surfing began in the early to mid-1950s.
A small band of pioneer surfers from Perth were attracted to the much larger waves of Yallingup. It was from those humble beginnings that surfing in WA evolved to what it has become today. The girls aren't yet champion surfers but they enjoy a paddle for a while. At the side of the beach there is a play area with ship-inspired equipment. A great alternative when the kids have tired of the sand and sea.
A dose of exercise and sea air has whipped up an appetite, so we head south to Olio Bello for lunch. We find a table in its olive tree-shaded courtyard and order salmon, brie, red onion and caper pizza and an exceptional dish of crab linguine laced with home- grown olive oil and a sprinkling of chilli. Olio Bello's food is delicious and, again, there are plenty of free tasters in the shop.
Our final activity of the day is Yallingup Maze on Caves Road. Very friendly and helpful staff explain the aim is to complete four sections of the wooden maze before making your way to the centre. It's not as simple as it looks, especially when you realise there are a few hidden doors to find.
If you get tired of going round in circles, you can take a break in the cafe, where there are plenty of table puzzles to try out for free, or go further afield, as your entry fee allows you to come and go as you like on that day.
We never got to the middle of the maze, but then there is always next time. And, believe me, we will be back, the area has lots to offer, for the children . . . and the big kid in you too.
• Olio Bello, 36 Armstrong Road, Cowaramup, 9755 9771. Open 7 days from 10am to 4.30pm. oliobello.com.au
According to Aristotle, the four elements that formed the basis of existence consisted of air, fire, earth and water. According to my daughters, Nina and Anya, the Four Elements Farmstay, tucked away in a leafy corner of Wilyabrup, formed the basis of a thrilling first family holiday in the South West.
Four Elements is the result of eight years of hard work by Peter and Samantha Davies, who built four two-bedroom chalets, each named after one of those elements, on land which was once a stud farm. They also rear animals and are developing an orchard. The result is a safe enclave with a grassy expanse at its centre where children can run around and make friends while adults chill on their verandas, enjoying the stillness and mottled sunlight that I, as a Margaret River beginner, found quite magical.
There’s not much that gets Nina out of bed before seven o’clock, but a goat does. They keep a herd on the farmstay and, as Sam explained, they will eat anything. Bananas seemed a particular favourite as scraps of food were quickly ferried outside by the eager eight-year-old, with her five-year-old sister rushing along behind with a bag full of bread crusts.
Once the goats had been satisfied, it was off to see the rabbits, then the chickens and the chance of finding some freshly laid eggs for breakfast, then a quick hello to the rather more cautious sheep. And finally Hogan the horse, who would be waiting patiently for some grass or a slice of apple. The smile on Nina’s face as she returned to the chalet for breakfast was worth the price of the holiday alone.
For me, the priceless part of the holiday came at night, when I looked up at the heavens. Having spent the first 38 years of my life in Scotland, with its perma-grey cloud cover for months on end, I thought the stars were good in Perth. But the light show at the Four Elements took our breath away.
Our immaculate chalet was virtually self-sufficient in energy thanks to a solar system, wind turbine and generators powered by the waste vegetable oil from Lamont’s restaurant in Yallingup. There was also a wood-burner to keep it cosy in the winter months.
So where to go on our three full days away? Well, not very far actually. For in a radius of few hundred metres, we found the type of eating and drinking that this region is renowned for.
Just around the corner, or a short trek through the sheep field, was Bootleg Brewery. A sampler pack of its six main ales was quickly purchased when we arrived. After taking control of the sampling, I reckoned the stand-out was the Settlers Pale Ale, with the Hefe German-style cloudy wheat beer not far behind.
A slightly longer walk in the opposite direction took us to Knee Deep winery. Attentive and friendly staff made a great first impression, and this was bettered only by the food. Pan-seared scallops with a beetroot, quinoa and pine-nut salad and balsamic glaze, followed by sharing taster plates with chicken liver parfait and rosé syrup, paperbark-wrapped bert (baby camembert cheese), pork belly rillettes, almond and eggplant baba ganoush…all washed down with ice-cream, a sensational sorbet trio and a bottle of its fine cab merlot.
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