Living in Bristol I was lucky enough to one day, somewhere in the not so distant past, meet an Aussie lady who became a very good friend of mine. I was gutted when she left to go home for 6 months; there were tears falling (mine!) as we had one last cup of soy matcha latte each. But when I started thinking about getting away from it all for a bit, leaving my job, being the responsible 30 year old I should be… Australia became a real option, and I’m sure it was also right at the top of the list because I could go visit my faraway pal for Christmas. So, that’s what happened.
I flew into Perth where she lives at the moment but her family are from Busselton which is a few hours further south from Perth down on the west side of this huge chunk of land, so after work ended for the break, we jumped in the car and headed off. I feel like the west side of Australia is really underrated. Travellers flock all over sure, but the more obvious route for backpacked visitors is the east side, where as down here there are some incredible beaches, fantastic wildlife and very lovely people, and I’ve heard further north up the coast it’s even more beautiful. It’s earmarked for future travels of mine.
I spent a week with some great people, loads of dogs and I caught up with my buddy. We ate a lot of salads and grilled veggies. My Christmas dinner was very different from last year; instead of a plate of gravy-covered, potato-heavy (delicious though obviously!) vegetable feasting, I had a bio-cheese salad bagel and a beer on the beach. It had to be done! If you’re over here for the big day, you’ve got to make sure you get in the sea whilst everyone at home is shivering because the weather is freezing!
Although most supermarkets do carry vegan products now, the further into the country you get, obviously less is available. Despite this Busselton has an amazing little veggie-friendly cafe Mana Kai. We enjoyed a couple of lunches here. There are burgers, wraps, loads of salads and nibbles, as well as raw desserts. They also make creamy coffees, offered with a variety of plant-based milks, as well as smoothies and juices. It’s really obvious to me that the raw food movement is a big thing here down under. The temperature and weather really suit it, and also there are a lot of bikini clad people here. I think if I’d grown up in this culture I’d be more into it too. Health is important here.
My friend had the falafel burger, and I had the tempeh one. I’m seeing a lot of it around here, more so than at home and I was thinking maybe it’s because of the close(ish) proximity to Indonesia. A lot of people holiday in Bali and places like that so perhaps veggies are more used to it. Tempeh isn’t eaten in the same quantities as mockmeat or tofu at home and isn’t as readily available or is treated with suspicion but it’s more popular here and people know how to cook it well. It makes me want to eat it more in my diet. Food goals!
We had also stumbled across another raw foody place in Margaret River a few days previously, The Margaret River Juice Company, again providing crunchy and flavoursome salads, breakfast bowls, juices, smoothies, raw food balls and dessert slices. The salads here were really tasty and imaginative. There was a nut based dressing on one, and green paw paw which I hadn’t tried in another. Another example of playing with Asian flavours well, and also making raw food taste pretty special. No limp lettuce in sight!
But ace salads isn’t the main draw to the southwest, the Margaret River region is best known for its wineries. I was more than excited that we had earmarked a day for going to try some of these grapes for ourselves! Luckily online here I had discovered a list of vegan friendly wineries. Quite a few people don’t realise that wine is often clarified with isinglass from fish, or even egg or milk, not ideal for a vegan like me, but as we set off I was happy knowing that some of the places we would go would definitely have something veggie to sip.
This area is stunning, and it hurt my brain a bit driving through countryside that more resembled vineyards in France than what I had expected from Australia. This is a really diverse and interesting country for sure. When you call into wineries for a tasting they will let you try a small amount of wine, I tried a few whites and reds in each, with the hope you will like one enough to purchase. You can smell the wine, swill them around on your tongue to taste them and then spit them out… But I failed the expert test and just drank and enjoyed them!
The first place that we called into was Cullen Wines who are a biodynamic, carbon neutral, sustainable winery. All of their wines were suitable for vegans. I’ve got to be honest, I’m no wine buff, so I’m going to struggle to write about this, but what I can say is my friend bought me the most easy to drink, smooth white wine from here. Probably the best white wine I have ever tasted. There is also a little restaurant on the estate and I’ve read, although I didn’t ask, that they can provide a vegan lunch with a gorgeous view if you give them notice. Bonus. There are gardens here that explain their philosophy too which is interesting.
We next moved on to Sandalford Winery. All of the wine estates are really close together so you can hop between them very easily indeed if you are driving about. I was so impressed to see a detailed allergy list but also it’s very useful for veggies and vegans stuck up next to the bench. Not all were vegan here, but at least I could try the ones I wanted to with confidence. Rose is not my thing, but I found a refreshing, smooth wine here to buy. Trying wine before you buy is clearly the thing to do! Purchasing it on the land where the grapes are grown and bottled is also lovely.
We had a lunch break at Bootleg Brewery. It was impressive to see a vegan option marked on the menu. It’s not something I necessarily would have expected. Although not the most exciting option, a quinoa salad with the haloumi removed but at least I could share lunch with the others out of the trip. The brewery were also informed when I asked which beers were vegan, in fact, I was able to ask the brewer as he was on site, as was the microbrewery. There’s also a really large outdoor seating area with a huge pond. Pretty picturesque in the sunshine.
We took a bit of a curveball next ducking into Vasse Virgin, an olive oil skincare company producing all sorts of things from soaps to creams, chocolate to flavoured olive oils. As you can imagine, I was in my element slathering gorgeous olive oil handcreams on, and tasting olive samples. My favourite was an avocado and lemon myrtle cream and I so wanted to buy it, but my logic prevailed unfortunately. One backpack only! Everything is made on site and the lady who I asked about animal products within the soaps said that most of shop’s contents is vegan, she named a couple of soaps that had milk in, and nothing is tested on animals. She even said many of the people who work there are veggie and vegan. It was pretty impressive. I bought a coffeebean dark chocolate bar, which I am saving for a chocolate needing moment! If you’re ever here, you need to visit, it’s brilliant.
I was really relieved that the wineries I had suggested were delicious. I always feel a bit anxious when I suggest something that is vegan and perhaps not the usual, popular or familiar choice, as obviously I want to show off this lifestyle to its best. We called into one winery that did not provide any vegetarian wine (not one I suggested but one of the better known ones) and were told that we would struggle finding ANY places in this area that would be able to offer me anything. I’ve got to admit I felt a little bit triumphant informing him that actually I knew better and there were plenty!
The best of which perhaps was Woodlands Wines which we called in at last. A small and exclusive feeling winery, this estate does not invite large wine tours to call in, instead enjoying providing a really friendly and intimate service to smaller groups or individual wine lovers. I asked if the wines were vegan and was excitedly told they were, and often they tell people, and it isn’t treated as interesting so I almost felt as though they were pleased I had asked and cared that they were. As I’m sure you’re aware… This isn’t always the reception vegans get! With sweeping views of gorgeous vines covering the hills behind we tried some fantastic wines. We also asked all our wine related questions that we had been discussing throughout the day which were answered in detail and at leisure. We found out that the wines are all named after friends and family of the people who own Woodlands which is cute and again reinforces what a family-run, small-scale, welcoming place this winery feels like, but the wine is totally worth buying. In fact we all bought a bottle, Margarets and Emilys if you’re interested, and left feeling really happy. So thanks Woodlands!
It was a really great day, and indeed, week. I feel very happy and privileged that I have such a good friend as Danieka, and feel very grateful to her kind and lovely parents for having me to stay over Christmas and for letting me temporarily become part of the family. We spent time relaxing on the beach together, her dad took us Aussie animal spotting (which was ace!) and she showed me some good things about the place she grew up in. It was also a pleasure to meet her siblings, her friends and her many pets! This picture where I was hysterically laughing sums up my mini-break over in the southwest for me; busy, a little bit crazy, but full of all of the fun. Mega grateful. Now all I’m left hoping is that the one bottle of red I have left doesn’t break in my bag as I head over to Adelaide!