Since moving to the Middle East in 2012 we have joined the ranks of expat families who make the summer pilgrimage back to their home land for a much needed reprieve from the intense summer heat. For us, this means replacing 45 degrees and humidity with the rather cooler climates of the Perth winter before travelling four hours south by car to my parents home in Mount Barker, Western Australia in the heart of the Great Southern region.
Unlike other well-trodden tourist destinations in Australia, Great Southern remains a relatively hidden gem; stunning beaches, beautiful mountains and endless rolling hills with vineyards. Even in the depths of winter the temperature tends to stay above 15 degrees and although rain is regular, it’s not constant.
The highlight of Great Southern for Mr Globetrotter and I though is undoubtedly the wineries, most offering cellar door wine sales in exquisite wines. With several different sub-climates in the region there is a huge variety to chose from. We are slowly making our way through the 70 plus wineries on offer!
We thought attempting a wine tasting tour around the region would be an impossible task this year with three little people in tow, but we were amazed how well equipped most cellar doors were in dealing with children. Clearly, family outings are not just expected but encouraged. Here is a taste of what to expect for kids at some of our favourites;
Harewood Estate, Denmark
Our personal favourite on this trip for its huge selection of award winning wines, and their generosity in providing us a carton of ‘expired’ tasting bottles! We only had Baby J with us on this occasion but they assured us they can put on ‘water tastings’ for their junior audience to keep them involved or they are happy for children to explore the vineyards.
The Lake House, Denmark
As well as a big box of toys inside they have an outside swing set, some exceptionally nice ‘vinofood’ and some excellent coffee if you need a change from the grapes with a beautiful waterfront setting, well worth a stop.
Ducketts Mill, Denmark
Now this one can actually be a trap for parents, it is jam packed full of not just wine but overly expensive chocolates, fudges and ice creams all in temptingly close reach of little hands. They did have some lovely platters but also an abundance of signage “no outside food”, “no touching” – not so easy to sit back and relax; a little play equipment would really help them keep kids off things they don’t want them on and give it a warmer friendlier feel.
At the time we visited in August they had no dedicated children’s facilities as such but have recently advised they now have a picnic area open ideal for a family afternoon outing. Located on the Albany Highway in central Mt Barker it is an easy stop (and with some decent drops too) to get you in the mood of things. (Update July 2016: Great new cafe facilities, kids playground and kids packs make this a superb family stopping point – as well as the continuing great wine)
Willougby Park, Denmark
The undoubted winner for all round family entertainment has to be Willoughby Park Wines which doubles with Boston Beer Co providing microbrewery beers for those who prefer their hops to their grapes. Behold, not only a big indoor play corner, an amazingly large playground where parents can relax enjoying a brew in the winter sun while supervising the kids.
Other activities for kids in Great Southern
Despite the cool days, one of our favourite activities is visiting the stunning southern coast beaches. Too cold for swimming but perfect for splashing and sand castle making. Some of our favourites are Madfish Bay, Little Beach (Pictured), Goode Beach and Emu Point.
If your little ones love wildlife, a must not miss is Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary, a rescue centre for kangaroos but also with a speckling of farm animals, rabbits, even some dingo pups! It is run by volunteers and entry is free of charge but they are always willing to show you around, let you feed the kangaroos and answer all your questions. It might be slightly off the beaten track to get there near the tiny township of Perillup but even with a donation it’s still a sight cheaper and better value than the newly opened and quite sparse Discovery Bay in Albany.
A few tips for incorporating kiddies on a wine tasting tour
* Don’t forget to include pit stops that are just for the them – the region is relatively well punctuated with play parks in all the larger towns – a nice one in central Denmark with a short walk to the waterfront, Eyre Park in Albany has an excellent range of play equipment and even Mount Barker has a great sized nature playground for letting off steam.
* A big word of warning, most vineyards have dams or lakes for irrigation that are not fenced off; no matter how many vinos you’ve enjoyed, keep an eye on your kids at all times.
* And of course always heed the advice ‘whose the skipper?’ The various vineyards are well spread out across the district so you will need a designated driver.