Have you seen the movie Drift? Or are you planning a trip to WA’s South West to Margaret River?
Even though the movie was released in 2012, I’ve been meaning to write about both for a very long time. So if you are planning a trip to WA’s South West – I implore you to see Drift before you go. Whether you are a local or a tourist – I guarantee it will add a much deeper layer of context to the glorious coastlines, the region you are about to explore and the people you will meet there.
Set in the ’70’s in the area now established as Margaret River in Western Australia’s South West; Drift encapsulates the dreamy, sandy, outlaw spirit of Australia’s surf culture as well as chafing up against small town conservatism and criminal element that lingers in pockets of society today while shaping the story as to how some of the world’s most recognized Australian surf brands found their feet. If you travel there today you will find it all – surfers, board shorts, hippy sentiment and (if you don’t plan well) pricey accommodation straight out of the ’70’s, too.
But, Drift. I see so much of my own father in this movie. He dropped out of Wesley College in Melbourne when he was sixteen and drifted himself across the country to follow his passions as an avid surfer, yachtsman and speed boat racer in the early ’60’s in Perth. He was a man perennially beset with wanderlust. Despite an undying love for his country (and the mighty Indian Ocean) after seeing the movie Endless Summer, he was galvanized into shaping his own life into an odyssey of chasing the summer sun and experiencing foreign lands. He and my adventurous mother set alit across the world (much like Sam Worthington’s character in Drift) travelling – and towing me – through a succession of countries before settling permanently in British Columbia, Canada.
His stories about his youth in Perth were of crazy parties, living in a share-house surf shack off Cottesloe Beach (now a millionaire’s neighbourhood) with a rotating cast of mates with names like Fearless Fred and Demi Peace. Whenever we would make the long journey home to Australia he would insist no matter what the day’s events held – that a trip to the beach was in always order.
He’s a sweet old man now, but he never lost his passion or West Aussie zest for the ocean. Whenever I’d drop round the house, I’d just follow the music humming out of his workshop; Bill Haley and the Comets, Chet Atkins or Arrow playing, with him in his zen place meticulously sanding down the hull of his latest model yacht just like the characters sanding their boards in the movie. I suppose had we more surfable beaches in Canada it would have been a longboard. The ocean, his crafts, travel and creativity were among the things that sustained his soul and still do. I guess that’s why Drift, the movie resonates so deeply with me. It’s a story that feels in a way, interwoven with my own.
MY SOUTHWEST ROADTRIP PICKS:
Having made the trip to Australia’s South West successive times – both for fun or to visit extended family who have lived out there since the early ’80’s; let me share with you my favourite spots to eat, sleep, explore or just drift down south…
GREAT EATS: Samudra Organic Restaurant
Located in Dunsborough, Samudra is the most unique place to stop in for a quick bite when you are seeking something light, fresh and fulfilling having likely spent the last three hours on the road, if driving down from Perth. As you might guess it’s both Vegan and Vegetarian in fare. But good food is good food – I recommend Samudra as a gluten-eating, carnivore who just happens to love veggies. Apart from the woodsy, open air restaurant Samudra offers a full service wellness & yoga retreat. They are licensed to serve local beer and wine, have amazing salads, veggie burgers, wood-fired pizza and desserts. Need more convincing? The gift shop and gardens are worth pulling off the highway for a quick peruse or a moment of Om.
(I feel compelled to mention that there is a meat pie shop across the street for those in your company that can’t be converted to a veggie wrap even for one meal. But I urge you to give that a pass and try Samudra instead.)
WHERE TO STAY: Pullman’s Bunker Bay Resort
There is a wide variety of places to stay in the South West. Mostly B&B’s, motels, rambunctious family-focused holiday resorts and clinical serviced-apartment style accommodation circa 80’s/early 90’s. I’ve had the chance to stay in several spots now, but in a stratosphere above the rest, Pullman’s Bunker Bay Resort is by far the jewel of WA’s South West. It’s only slightly more expensive than most places, but the value, the property and the level of service is nothing short of spectacular. I’ll never book elsewhere having stayed here. Yeah, I know. It’s not roughing it on the side of the road in a sandman with a can of beans on the campfire but I’m fairly sure surfers like Kelly Slater or Laird Hamilton aren’t doing much of that either, these days. But, where ever you choose to stay, don’t go without firmly booked reservations. Accommodating spontaneous visitors is not a hallmark of travel to this region and without a reservation you could well end up sleeping in the car.
The resort consists of modern, yet rustic chalets crafted with pine and rock looking out onto the ocean overtop of a trail of bushland and trees. Each comes equipped with a huge kitchenette and everything you could need for a fabulous meal if you are bringing your own groceries. There is even a barbecue onsite in the gardens, deep soaker tub, internet, a fantastic gym, spa, tennis courts and a balmy pool, heated in which you can swim year round. The meal we had at the restaurant was the best dinner of our whole stay. The staff were attentive and service was sharp and the whole experience downright divine.
Here’s a few pics from previous visits…
Australia’s South West is much like Napa Valley in California. I dare you to drive more than a few kilometres in any direction without diverting into one. The area used to be primarily farmland, creating over time some of the richest soil, coupled with the ideal microclimate needed to grow grapes and vint some of the finest wines in the world. My favourite of all time is Voyager Estate. Helmed by the late Michael Wright, the Cape Dutch architecture and perfectly manicured gardens are a must see. They have an estate tour and set menu lunch at $75 per person. The cellar door is open from 10 to 5, daily. My favourites are the Chenin Blanc and the Chardonnay – a refreshing change from the ubiquitous sav blonk commonly found around Perth. (Mind you they do a fabulous, SBS of their own…)
And on the way there, be sure to drive through the breathtakingly sombre Boranup Karri Forrest in the Leeuwin-Natraliste National Park off Caves Road. Like the Redwood Forrest of Northern California, these eucalyptus are some of the tallest hardwoods in the world. Stop, sit quietly and meditate on the sounds of nature for a few moments. It’s like taking a trip back to the Dreamtime. That place that Aboriginal Australians speak of as a place beyond time and space in which the past, present, and future exist wholly as one. If it exists anywhere in our modern world – it’s here under the ancient canopy of jarrah and eucalyptus in the hush of the bush.
THE SURF SPOTS: Gnarabup & Surfer’s Point, Prevelly Beach, Margaret River
Whether you come here on a rainy winter day or at the height of summer, Gnarabup and Prevelly are two of the most spectacular beaches you can visit the world over. The day I visited and snapped these pictures the ocean was broiling and there were two brave surfers out in the chuck with nothing but open ocean between here and Cape Town. The wind was ferocious and over the space of half an hour we experienced pounding sheets of rain, heavenly rays of sun and gale force winds that whipped my hair into a mohawk. Located ten kilometres outside of the small township of Margaret River, this is the place where legendary surfers from around the world come to compete and inspire generations of kids to pick up a board and bond with the ocean. Even if you don’t surf there are miles of tracks to walk (Cape to Cape Track) and beautiful bushland to trek with some of the most haunted looking windswept trees I’ve ever seen. The off season is my favourite time to visit but if you want to catch the pros in action visit check Margaret River Surf for updated events in the area.
DRIFT BY LOCATION (Courtesy of the Perth Now)
Nannup: Main street used as the main street in Seacliffe, the fictional town where the Kelly family lived.
Karridale: Old building used as the school in the movie and the scene of a schoolyard bust-up early in the film.
Gracetown: Cowaramup Bay Rd is the scene that greets the Kelly family when they decide to stay in Seacliffe.
North Point: Where JB parks his bus and the nighttime party scene plays out.
Cowaramup Bay boat ramp: Used to launch the boat when the Kelly brothers and JB went searching for a big wave to surf.
Surfers Point, Prevelly: Exciting surfing action for the contest at the end of the movie was filmed here.
Augusta: Kelly family home is located in Flinders Bay, Augusta.
Grunters surf break: From this location you can see where Jimmy transforms from a boy to a man while surfing.
Bunker Bay: Where Gus camps out.
Yallingup Beach Rd: When Jimmy and Lani had their talk in the car, they parked along this stretch. When JB tours his surf movie, they can be seen driving over the bridge on the way into Yallingup.
You can watch Drift on Netflix or Apple TV or, come visit W.A. and create your own version and memories here in Australia’s magical South West…