Getting the jump on tourists
Canoe tour of Margaret River.

Not many locals gave Neil McLeod much hope with his new tourist venture - showing tourists kangaroos on his family property in Margaret River.

Surely people wouldn't pay to see roos?

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"They all thought I'd been in the sun too long," Mr McLeod says with a laugh.

But the long-time tourist operator, who had run safari tours from Exmouth for many years, knew what he wanted to do when he moved back to his family property in Margaret River five years ago: he was going to supply what the overseas market demanded.

"The question we were most often asked," he says of his time in Exmouth, "was, 'Are we going to see a kangaroo?' "

Now, he shows the tourists the 150 or so kangaroos on the 48ha property from the back of his rare 1962 Bedford truck on his Sunset Kangaroo Safari.

"We don't cull roos here and we don't feed them, either. It's more like a national park," he explains.

In the middle of the tour there is a stop for a cup of tea from his billy, and a visit to what he confidently expects is the oldest living tree any of his guests will have seen. It's a grass tree at least 7m tall. Given that grass trees generally grow on granite only 25mm a century, Mr McLeod tells his awestruck visitors, he calculates it's around 4000 years old.

The kangaroo tours are only in their second season. "It's still developing," he says, "but it gives (tourists) a completely different experience."

Mr McLeod also organises other tours of Margaret River, including a three-day tour from Perth, aiming to help visitors "pick the eyes" out of the best of Margaret River in a relaxed fashion. "Otherwise, they're doing it blind," he reasons.

Another perspective of Margaret River can be gleaned from an award-winning Cave and Canoe Bush Tucker Tour along the river itself that has been running far longer - for more than 20 years, in fact.

The tours run every day of the year except Christmas Day and attract a wide age group. Our engaging and knowledgeable guide George Richards told us the youngest member of his tours was just five weeks old, the oldest just shy of his 89th birthday.

We were 13 in number, a mix of Aussies and overseas visitors keen to see the river after which the town is named.

Divided into three canoes, we enjoyed a leisurely paddle upstream, making several photo stops along the way.

In all, we canoed about 4km and Mr Richards kept us entertained with stories of the past and information about the surrounding flora and fauna.

For some, the highlights were the caves we entered and the tunnels we saw and (for a few of the adventurous amongst us) crawled through.

For others, it was the dinky-di bush tucker lunch of emu, kangaroo and, yes, witchetty grubs (the taste, for the record, is something like almond and seafood, with the texture of scallop).

But for others, it was the fascination of watching a dugite devour a goanna in the bush near our canoes.

I went on the four-hour-long tour thinking it might prove too long.

In fact, time flew by and it was worth every minute.


FACT FILE

• Neil McLeod's tours: toursmargaretriver.com.au and 9757 2747.
• Canoe-Bushtucker Tours: bushtuckertours.com and 9757 9084.

The West Australian

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