Busselton Cruise Port
Port of Busselton: An Overview
Busselton was bustling with energy when it welcomed its first cruise ship in November 2014. It had been a long time between drinks, so to speak. The once busy port shut down in 1973, but residents once again eagerly welcome the arrival of visiting cruisers.
A gateway to the famous Margaret River wine region, the coastal playground of Busselton is located on the sandy shore of Geographe Bay, 140 miles (220 kilometres) southwest of Perth on the west coast of Western Australia (WA). With large areas of national park, state forests, ancient caves and a bevy of beautiful beaches, Busselton is a popular seaside holiday spot, and its population of 25,000 swells with visitors over the summer season. The region is renowned for agriculture and viticulture, and with a growing younger population, Busselton is slowly shrugging off its image as a retirement destination.
One of the earliest settlements in WA, it was named after the Bussell family who established a cattle station in the area in 1834. The town serviced the surrounding agriculture industry before becoming a major port for the timber industry in the mid-1800s. The Busselton Jetty, the only remaining from this period, is the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere, jutting 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometres) into shallow Geographe Bay, and serves as a tourist attraction with its Cultural Heritage Museum and Underwater Observatory.
Like arms outstretched in a welcoming embrace, Geographe Bay's curving expanse of sweeping white beaches extend as far as the eye can see. Crystal-clear water and grassy foreshores shaded by towering Norfolk pines beckon swimmers, picnickers and fishermen alike, while a short distance over the headland, you'll see some of Australia's finest surf beaches, including Yallingup, host to the Malibu Classic surf competition. Head south, and an array of culinary delights and artisan products await in the Margaret River region. Indulge with olives and cheese, chocolate and nougat, beer and berries and vino and venison.
On the migration route for humpback, southern right, blue and minke whales, Busselton operates whale-watching tours from September to November, though dolphins can be seen all year.
Busselton Foreshore is the epitome of the town's beachside vibe, with playgrounds, barbecue facilities, picnic areas, toilets, showers and a network of pathways for walkers and cyclists. It takes on a fairground feel when cruise ships are in town -- with actors in period costume, vintage car displays, a mobile rock-climbing wall and bike and Segway hire services.
You could spend the whole day watching artists in residence in the Visitor Centre and taking in the 360 degree views from its lookout and exploring Busselton Jetty's Interpretive Centre, Cultural Heritage Museum and Underwater Observatory. How about taking a dip in the swimming enclosure, tanning on the sands or relaxing over a meal and glass of wine.
The Visitor Centre features an ATM and free Wi-Fi, and nearby culinary offerings include an ice cream kiosk/cafe and two great cafe/restaurant/bar/takeaway venues with views across the bay. The more traditional Equinox is nestled under huge fig trees, while the more contemporary Goose Beach Bar & Kitchen sits right on the edge of the sand with a lovely long veranda and offers free Wi-Fi. Simmo's, selling ice cream "born, bred and frozen in WA" was voted as one of the top 15 ice creameries in the world.
Margaret River Wine Region: While growing only 3 percent of Australia's grapes, the world-renowned Margaret River wine region produces more than 20 percent of the country's premium wines, which is quite an achievement given the first grapes were planted in the area in 1967. The region produces excellent cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and semillon sauvignon blanc blends, but it also is known for wonderful shiraz and a range of innovative, unconventional varietals. Of the 150 or so wineries, most are small, niche operators and include preservative-free, organic and biodynamic producers. Many cellar doors feature contemporary architecture, fine restaurants, excellent galleries and great gift shops. There is a wide range of gourmet produce there, too, along with boutique beers.
Busselton Jetty: The jetty juts into Geographe Bay, but the heritage-listed timber-piled structure, the longest in the southern hemisphere, deserves more than a few cursory photographs. The picturesque boatshed-style buildings house an Interpretive Centre and Cultural Heritage Museum, offering insight into the jetty's history as well as a selection of gifts and souvenirs. The Underwater Observatory at the end of the jetty descends 26 feet (8 metres) via spiral stairs to the seafloor. Eleven windows at various levels offer views of more than 300 species of corals, sponges, fish and invertebrates. It takes about 20 minutes to walk (or take the Jetty Train) the length of the jetty, where you can stop to chat with fishermen.
Natural Landscapes: The dramatic natural landscape to the northwest of Busselton includes the coastal headland of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, home to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, Australia's last manned lighthouse, which offers panoramic views of the park and the Indian Ocean. To the southwest is Ngilgi Cave (pronounced Neelgee), named after an Aboriginal spirit who overcame an evil spirit in the cave. Stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and shawl formations glisten under theatrical lighting, and you have an opportunity to handle crystals on the touch table. Follow the easy boardwalk or take a more adventurous tour deeper underground. A little farther down the coast is Canal Rocks, a granite outcrop that has eroded to form a small series of canals. A boardwalk spans one of the canals where, depending on the weather, waves surge underneath.
Views From Above: Take to the skies above Geographe Bay for an aerial perspective of the coastal scenery. Zoom over the jetty and your cruise ship before flying low along the beach in the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth biplane with Tiger Moth Adventure Flights (+61 0488 574 544) or experience more than a minute of freefall -- plenty of time to take in the aerial view -- during a tandem skydive before landing on the beach with Southern Skydivers (+61 8 1300 449 669). Alternatively, take a helicopter flight over the coast and Margaret River wine region with Wild Blue Helicopters (+61 8 1300 735 563).
Snorkeling or Scuba Diving: The clarity of the water in Geographe Bay makes for fabulous underwater photography during a dive or snorkel outing. The jetty pylons attract soft corals, nudibranchs and schooling fish, and a dive wreck, the purposely sunk decommissioned naval destroyer HMAS Swan, is one of the largest accessible dive wrecks in the southern hemisphere.
Food and Wine Tours: With more than 150 wineries in Margaret River, it's unlikely you've visited them all, so design your own bespoke wine, food and art tour, taking in lesser-known vineyards, or organic and biodynamic wineries, art galleries, potters, wood turners, soap-makers, chocolatiers, breweries and a distillery. Hire a car and drive yourself or book a private tour.
On Foot: The main road, Queen Street, runs from the Vasse River right to the beach, near where cruise passengers disembark. It is a five-minute walk to the centre of town. The terrain is flat, so it is very easy to stroll and check out the town's historic buildings, shopping precinct and foreshore.
>By Bike: The area around Busselton is ideal for cycling with a flat landscape and an excellent network of meandering, coastal bike paths. Bicycles are available for hire from the Busselton Visitor Centre (+61 8 9752 5800) and Electric Bike Hire (+61 0428 522 133).
By Shuttle Bus: A free shuttle bus from Busselton to the small town of Dunsborough, 14 miles (24 kilometres) away, operates on days cruise ships are in port. It leaves every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and departs from behind Simmo's ice cream bar.
By Taxi: For taxis and maxi-taxis, contact Busselton Taxis (+61 8 9752 2730).
By Hire Car: If you want to go further afield or take a self-guided drive, hire cars are available. Call Avis (+61 8 9754 1175), Dunsborough Car Rentals (+61 8 1800 449 007) or Hertz (+61 8 9791 8911).
By Charter Bus: Numerous charter companies offer small-group tours of the region, from set itineraries to bespoke tours. Make arrangements through the Busselton Visitor Centre (+61 8 9752 5800).
Best for Families: Busselton Foreshore, where cruise passengers alight, is a gorgeous white-sand beach, and with a shallow, gently sloping sea floor, is perfect for safe swimming. A U-shaped jetty forms a swimming enclosure, giving the feel of an ocean pool and is ideal for small children. Towering Norfolk pines offer shade over grassy picnic areas. The location also features a couple of cafes, an ice cream shop, toilets and showers.
Best for Nature-Lovers: As one of only a few beaches that face northeast in the area, Meelup Beach (about a 35-minute drive) is sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds, so vegetation, including tall trees, grows right down to the beach. With gentle, rolling waves, it is a popular swimming and snorkelling beach. Take a walk in the surrounding bush of Meelup Regional Park to see a variety of vegetation, including wildflowers.
Best for Surfers: Home of the Yallingup Malibu Classic (YalMal) surf competition since 1984, Yallingup Beach (about a 40-minute drive) is home to the Indian Ocean Longboard Club, but the break is "shared harmoniously by longboarders, shortboarders and all manner of craft," according to the club. Have a lesson or just hire a board and a guide to accompany you. There is small lagoon there, too, sheltered from the pounding waves, which is perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
You'll find plenty of lunch spots around town: along the beach foreshore, in nearby Dunsborough and at the cellar doors of Margaret River wineries. It's a matter of choosing from fish and chips on the beach, a quick share-plate of local delicacies in town or a long degustation lunch in wine country.
The Goose Beach Bar & Kitchen: "Goose" is the nickname of Rhys Passmore, a third-generation Busselton resident, trained chef and owner of The Goose Beach Bar & Kitchen, perched right on the waterfront near the Busselton Jetty. An eclectic range of seating options caters to every mood from cosy indoor sofas to casual outdoor settings. Enjoy a cocktail, cold beer or award-winning wine while overlooking the bay as you choose from an extensive menu of fresh produce that ranges from shared plates to overnight-roasted scotch fillet. (Geographe Bay Road; +61 8 9754 7700; open 7 a.m. till late)
Vasse Felix Restaurant: The oldest wine estate in Margaret River, founded in 1967, Vasse Felix Restaurant is run by executive chef and avid surfer Aaron Carr, declared 2015 Chef of the Year by The West Australian Good Food Guide. His focus is on fresh, local, seasonal produce prepared in a modern Australian style. Patrons are invited to a wine tasting at the cellar door prior to lunch. The adjacent art gallery presents a seasonal program of exhibitions from the Holmes a Court collection. (Caves Road, Margaret River; +61 8 9756 5050; open noon to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, closed Good Friday, 9 December, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.)
Squidlips: If you are heading to Dunsborough, enjoy gourmet fish and chips at Squidlips, rated among the best fish-and-chip shops in WA by The West Australian. Think marinated prawn and scallop skewers, homemade Thai fish cakes, tempura prawns and chilli squid. Fish comes seasoned and grilled or in Squidlips' famous beer batter, which is fried in healthier rice bran oil. (Dunsborough Centrepoint Shopping Centre, Shop 27A, 55 Dunn Bay Road; +61 8 9759 1799; open noon to 2.30 p.m. for lunch)
Where You're Docked
Geographe Bay is shallow, so ships anchor and tender passengers ashore. It's a beautiful ride across the sparkling clear waters of the bay, alongside the historic jetty with its photogenic boatshed-style buildings. Passengers alight at the Cruise Landing Jetty, known as the swim jetty, from where a temporary boardwalk stretches across the sand to the foreshore to ensure visitors do not get sand in their shoes. This is Busselton Foreshore, the town's main beach, so there is no cruise terminal. The Visitor Information Centre, shaped like a lighthouse, is located there, and it's an easy five-minute walk to Queen Street, which runs between the beach and the Vasse River.
Watch Out For
At certain times of the year, small transparent jellyfish called "stingers" may be present in the water. While they are not lethal, they can give you a painful sting. Check with residents or the lifeguards on patrol if you are worried.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Australian dollar. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for exchange rates. ATMs can be found in Busselton's main street, Queen Street, and there is one in the Visitor Centre on Busselton Foreshore adjacent to the swim jetty where cruise passengers disembark.
English is the official language. One local term you might become familiar with, depending on the season, is the "Busselton wave." No, it's not a new dance move or a friendly gesture. Visit in spring, and you may find yourself doing it involuntarily in an attempt to swat the pesky bush flies that can be a nuisance. If flies are around, volunteers offer fly spray to passengers as they disembark on the beach.
Margaret River is renowned for its world-class wines, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc semillon, so you can pick up bottles to stock your cellar.
For More Information
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Australia and New Zealand
IndependentTraveler.com: Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Travel Guide
--By Briar Jensen, Cruise Critic contributor
--Photo: Gordon Bell/Shutterstock
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