Most Western Australians associate a weekend “down south” away from Perth with places such as Margaret River, Dunsborough, Busselton or even as far as Albany and Denmark. Judging by the strange looks people have given me over the past few weeks when I’d tell them my plans for the long weekend that just passed, I think it’s safe to say that very few people would consider the town of Bunbury as a holiday destination.
But to Bunbury a group of us went for a much needed girls’ weekend away. Only 2 hours from Perth, it’s a bit of a closer drive than other places down south, a bit more affordable and admittedly, a lot quieter – we spent a lot of the weekend wondering where everyone was. Plus you escape the traffic jam a lot earlier than those venturing further south. The locals are incredibly friendly and it’s a super easy town to get around – the Airbnb apartment we rented was only a 10 minute walk to town as well as to the beach.
What’s interesting is that time and time again, you’ll hear people say things along the lines of: “There’s nothing to do in Bunbury.”
And I say to that: what a load of bull. Maybe that was the case 20 years ago but hey, there is a little thing called “progress”. And I can provide plenty of reasons to prove all the naysayers wrong and convince you to check out this lovely coastal town for yourself.
1. Discovering the Ferguson Valley
Only a 25 minute drive from Bunbury, the Ferguson Valley is one of those places no one really seems to know about. Or at least I didn’t know about it. But after studying this guide full of hikes to do in and around Bunbury, we decided to drive out to Crooked Brook Forest for a 10 km hike. Initially it was good fun as we stumbled upon beautiful fields of yellow wildflowers and saw kangaroos bouncing around. But after 2 hours of walking and with the rain approaching, we felt a bit unsure as to how close we actually were to our endpoint. So we ended up turning around and walking back the way we came, not the most fun thing to do in the world. Some big safety lessons learnt: take a printed, detailed map especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area or take someone a bit more experienced with you. Finally, be aware that the signage in this forest isn’t the greatest so I’d recommend maybe just doing a smaller hike on the signed paths closer to the car parks.
After our morning hike, we drove back to Bunbury, stopping for lunch at a pub in the little country town of Dardanup. Typical of a country pub, the portion sizes here are humongous and the staff are very friendly.
Next time: After doing some reading, I’ve discovered Ferguson Valley is home to a whole lot of wineries, making this area a good alternative to the busier Margaret River region. There’s also Gnomesville, home to over 3000 gnomes. What with all the galleries, breweries, farms and hikes in this area, you could probably spend an entire week in this area and still not have seen everything.
2. Dolphin Discovery Centre
Bunbury is home to the Dolphin Discovery Centre which is completely run by volunteers. You can go out on a boat to see the dolphins or $10 will get you a pass to the interaction zone on the beach where you can play with any dolphins that come in. Unfortunately what with the weather still being very wintery in WA at the moment, there weren’t any dolphins around in the bay. However the zone pass will give you two more visits to use in the future. Apparently the best time to visit is during the early mornings in the summer.
In saying that we still had a lot of fun checking out the aquarium. I met several Nemos, Dory and a few octopus, seahorses and even a baby shark.
3. Bunbury town centre – searching for street art and breathtaking views
We initially set out for a walk around town to hunt for street art and along the way, ended up discovering a whole lot of lookouts and beautiful views of the town and the Indian Ocean.
Along our way, we managed to stumble upon Bunbury Senior High School which overlooks the ocean. I am jealous to death of these school kids. Small tip: next to the art class is the perfect vantage point for some good photos with ocean views, although I’m not really sure if we should have been there but it’s all in the name of good photo opportunities!
4. Plenty of good places to eat and drink
We stumbled upon a lot of really cute, quirky and fascinating places to eat and drink along Victoria Street, that runs through the town centre, also regarded as the “Cappuccino Strip”. For a small city, they certainly punch above their weight with all the different cuisines and options available – Japanese, Nepalese, Italian, Irish/English pubs – you name it, you’ll probably find it on this street.
One such place was the Creamery where good gelato and cheesy ads seem to collide. You can even buy clothes here!
To end our wonderful weekend, we tucked into dinner and cocktails at the Funkee Monkee restaurant which does some very interesting twists on Indian cuisine such as the deconstructed samosa and pizza made with naan bread (although it apparently just tasted like pizza).
Needless to say we had a fantastic, relaxing and rejuvenating weekend away from Perth and with so much more left to discover, I would most definitely return to Bunbury for another long weekend.
“Don’t knock it before you try it”: I guess one of the key takeaways from this is that when you hear prejudices from others about a place, keep an open mind and don’t knock the place until you’ve tried it for yourself. If you haven’t been won over during your visit, that’s OK but at least you made the decision to go there and form your own opinion before letting others influence you too much.
Making the effort to explore and research a place: Maybe because there haven’t been a trillion articles written about Bunbury, it would be easy to assume that there’s nothing to do there. But sometimes a little effort is required – whether that be researching what kind of things there are to do or just getting out there with your explorer’s cap on, going with the flow and letting the place surprise you. Believe me, we were constantly presented with surprises in Bunbury – for example, we certainly weren’t expecting to come across any tapas/cocktail bars there.
So for all you Perth residents who might want to try something a bit different from your usual haunts in good old Margs or for those of you planning a visit to Western Australia, I definitely encourage you all to put Bunbury on your radar.
About Bunbury: Bunbury is a port city in the Geographe Region of Western Australia. With a population of 75,000 people, it is the 3rd largest city in the state after Perth and Mandurah.
Getting there: Bunbury is about a 2 hour drive south of Perth (175 km). You can get there by either driving along the Kwinana Freeway which turns into the Forrest Highway or if you live in the eastern suburbs of Perth, it may be quicker to take the South-Western Highway which joins on to the Forrest Highway closer to Bunbury.
There is also a train service that runs daily between Perth and Bunbury with quite a few stops along the way, including stops in the Perth metro area at Armadale and Byford.