Margaret River & Southern WA Tops Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019

We all know how good Margaret River is. Now global travel authority Lonely Planet has today named Margaret River & Southern WA as the number-one Asian-Pacific destination to visit in the year ahead.

Expanded this year to include Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Best in Asia Pacific is Lonely Planet’s fourth annual agenda-setting list of the region’s 10 best destinations to visit in the next 12 months.

Prevelly sunset

Prevelly Beach in Margaret River, taken last week

Announcing Margaret River & Southern WA’s top-ranking, Fleur Bainger, writer for Lonely Planet enthuses: “Take one look at Meelup Beach and you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life: the West Australian bush parts to reveal ocean the hue of a Bombay Sapphire bottle, which is typical of the coastline stretching from Margaret River to the state’s south. Beyond the sand, some of the country’s slickest wineries, breweries and restaurants lie between tracts of tall-tree forest and kangaroo-dotted farmland.”

Bainger adds: “Locals have long felt their turf rivals the east coast travel trail; now, 17-hour direct flights from London to capital city Perth put it at Europe’s fingertips. Adding to the argument are coveted food and culture-amped festivals, from Gourmet Escape to Truffle Kerfuffle and Taste Great Southern. There’s also amazing surf, whales aplenty and DIY coastal hikes with paved sections, improving accessibility for all.”

“Asia Pacific has it all,” says Lonely Planet’s Media Spokesperson for the region, Chris Zeiher. “Its food delights the senses, its forests and seas teem with life, and its cities fizz with culture and creativity. Our experts have explored this vast region’s highlands, islands and everything in between to find the best places to visit this year.”

truffles in Manjimup

Me holding prized truffles after a truffle hunt at Australian Truffle Traders in Manjimup

Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019 is available online, with accompanying articles to each destination, at lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia-pacific.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia Pacific 2019

1. Margaret River & Southern WA, Australia

It really is a destination that has it all. Read my posts on the Best Winery Lunches and Best Brewery Lunches, you can also read my articles on Margaret River on MargaretRiver.com.

Not forgetting other parts of Southern WA, Manjimup for one is very close to my heart – I work on the annual Truffle Kerfuffle event which you can read about here.

 

2. Shikoku, Japan

“This somewhat off-the-beaten-path haven is finally being discovered by non-Japanese visitors, with an increasing number of international flights winging into the main cities of Takamatsu and Matsuyama.”

 

3. Bay of Islands & Northland, New Zealand

Northland is the cradle of the country’s culture and history – both for the indigenous Māori people and for the European settlers who followed them. The two formally came together with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, and 2020 sees the 180th anniversary of that key nation-building event.”

 

4. Singapore

Singapore was one of the brightest stars in the 2018 movie blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, and the Lion City is hipper and hotter than ever. 2019 offers a chance to participate in the city’s bicentennial, but also to celebrate more than 700 years of Singapore’s rich, diverse history.”

 

5. The Cook Islands

“A visit to the Cook Islands, 15 tiny islets, far-flung over a swathe of the deep-blue, breezy Pacific Ocean, is bound to rejuvenate even the most jaded. And locals on the main island, Rarotonga, are welcoming visitors off an increasing number of international flights to their Polynesian paradise.”

 

6. Central Vietnam

Hue’s vibrant cuisine showcases the city’s imperial legacy, while south in Hoi An’s storied laneways, local dishes include fragrant cao lầu noodles. Seafood stars in nearby Danang, and the city alongside the Han River is becoming one of Vietnam’s most exciting urban destinations.” Read my posts on Vietnam here.

 

7. Fiji

“From solar-powered resorts that serve locally harvested food to coral reef restoration projects and limited plastic usage, this vulnerable island nation has moved headlong into eco-tourism. October 10, 2020, will mark the island nation’s 50th year of independence, called ‘Fiji Day’

 

8. Palawan, Philippines

“These are the heady days when new air routes and upgraded roads make it easier than ever to explore the dramatic seascapes and wildlife-laden jungles of the slender 400km-long main island (also called Palawan) before it inevitably becomes more developed.”

 

9. Beijing, China

Beijing is changing fast as the new decade approaches. In a bid to battle the smog, an eco-friendly bike-sharing scheme has launched, and the rapidly expanding subway is expected to reduce traffic congestion. High-speed links will soon race passengers to the extraordinary, Zaha Hadid-designed, starfish-shaped Beijing Daxing International, the world’s largest airport, which is slated to open later this year “

 

10. Cambodia

“The skyline of Phnom Penh is on the up, bringing sky bars and designer dining; the Southern Islands are generating a beach buzz thanks to new boutique and luxury resorts; colonial-era vestiges are under restoration in Battambang and Kampot; and in remote areas like Koh Kong and Mondulkiri, wildlife spotting is drawing visitors off-the-beaten track. New airlines are making connections between Siem Reap and the South Coast smoother, with hydrofoils whisking people to the islands.”

What do you think about Lonely Planet’s Top 10 list? Do you agree?

How many of these places have you been to? Leave your comments below or on Facebook.

Why you shouldn’t miss the Gourmet Escape this year

The countdown is on for greatest food and wine festival in the county, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape this year held from 16 to 18 November 2018, and in the event’s six-year history, this is not one to miss.

Why go this year?

In my opinion, the biggest reason to go this year isn’t Nigella Lawson or Rick Stein. Next year, the Gourmet Escape will evolve to align with the State Government’s strategy to drive more tourists to Perth (to fill all the new hotel beds), so a new element will be added in a different location, namely, in the Swan Valley. The Gourmet Escape will also take place next year in Margaret River and they say it’ll be similar … but one can never be too sure. That said, this year’s line up is as epic as ever with so many amazing dinners, lunches, talks, cooking demos, book signings, masterclasses and more – you’d be crazy to miss it. Besides, FOMO! We all know that feeling of seeing everyone else post about an epic event.

I’ve posted in the past some simple steps to follow to make the most of your Gourmet Escape weekend – read it here.

The major festival component, the Gourmet Village, returns to Leeuwin Estate Winery on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November from 11am to 6pm, where visitors can sample the best food, wine, beer, cider and produce the Margaret River region and WA has to offer.

Festival goers can meet some of the world’s most-loved and respected culinary talent including Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, Skye Gyngell, Ashley Palmer-Watts and more as they appear at attractions within the Gourmet Village throughout the weekend.

A party vibe is assured with live music across the weekend, provided by some of WA’s most exciting artists, including DJ Rio De Niro who will be resident DJ on the Chef’s Amphitheatre on both days.

This year will see the return of some of the Village’s most popular attractions and installations along with new experiences for both the budget-conscious and the high flyers.

Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

What’s new at the Village this year:

  • Kids 16 and under gain free entry and there’s plenty to keep them entertained.
    (I’m not sure how I feel about this. I like that most people don’t bring their kids to the Gourmet Village – it means the parents can relax for once and enjoy themselves, and for the non-parents out there, there’s no need to tolerate other people’s little darlings running around or whining that they are bored / hungry / tired / hot / sick, or worse, wandering off causing panic, etc. I say, parents, have a day off and leave the little ones if you can.Just imagine all those uninterrupted conversations you can have. p.s. I love my friends’ kids, it’s fun when they are free of them.)
    .
  • The Little Kitchen Garden will prove the Village isn’t just for grown-ups. Children, and the whole family, can learn the importance of food and community. Each half-hour class will introduce children and their parents to the pleasures of growing and cooking their own food. Note keywords: “and their parents” – this isn’t a babysitting service or a kids club.
    .
  • Consuming Conversations – an intimate gathering with some of the world’s most influential foodies, hosted by food writer Max Brearley.
    .
  • The Wine Hub – a series of informal and engaging wine tastings hosted by acclaimed wine critic Nick Stock.
    .
  • The West Winds Gin Masterclasses – Over 50% of the botanicals used in The West Winds Gins are indigenous to Australia. Visitors can learn more about their blends, the distilling process and enjoy a range of tastings in these informative and interactive masterclasses.
  • Regional Flavours – cooking demonstrations hosted by Rebecca Sullivan (from Warndu) with local chefs showcasing local producers from around Margaret River and beyond.
    .
  • MasterChef 2018 finalist and local Samira Damirova will be keeping her MasterChef mates Reece and Brendan busy as they serve her delicious menu at her pop-up restaurant – Lavash by Sam’s Foodie Goods.
    .
  • Black Brewing Co farmhouse ale & food matching – guests can sample limited release farmhouse ales by Black Brewing Co, paired with food matchings from their Caves Road Collective kitchen and learn about this lesser known seasonal beer style that’s rapidly growing in popularity.
    .
  • Wine & Sign – the most fun anyone is likely to have at a book signing. Limited tickets still available for Rick Stein’s session – includes a copy of his new Road to Mexico book and a glass of wine.
Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village good times

Good times at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape Village

Popular returning attractions and experiences:

  • Chef’s Amphitheatre – hosted by multi-talented comedian, actor and TV and radio presenter Matt Okine. Guests can enjoy on-stage demos, talks and taste-offs by some of the world’s best food talent – this year appearing in pairs for even more entertainment. Includes Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, Monica Galetti, Ashley Palmer-Watts, Skye Gyngell, Laetitia Rouabah and more.
    .
  • The Butchers Block presented by Australian Good Meat – Past My Kitchen Rules winners Will and Steve will host meat mastery cooking demos and meat and wine pairings with canapés and more.
    .
  • Meet the Makers – festivalgoers are invited to talk and taste wine with some of the sharpest palates in the game including Emma Farrelly (State Buildings)  and Chris Morrison (award winning sommelier, wine communicator and educator)
    .
  • Bar Felix – a fusion of food and wine innovation and a sophisticated refuge featuring Vasse Felix wines, a wine school with the makers and delicious meals from their chefs.
    .
  • Leeuwin Estate Wine Theatre – an immersive food and wine pairing experience featuring five iconic Leeuwin Estate Art Series Wines perfectly matched with seasonal canapés.
    .
  • Devil’s Lair Winery and Masterclass – guests can meet the winemakers and take a masterclass with matched cheeses.
Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

Study Italian in Bergamo

My last trip to Italy was to study Italian in Bergamo. I’ll backtrack: I’m a part-time student (just 3 hours per week), studying Italian at the University of Western Australia (UWA), one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious tertiary institutions. I’m about to finish my second year toward a Diploma of Italian Studies (and I should be studying now, not blogging!). If I’d chosen to add some core Arts units, I’d be able to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Italian, but I already have a Bachelor of Arts, so I’m just doing the Italian major subjects. And for Australians, you can do this through HECS rather than pay upfront fees. Winning.

As part of the Diploma, we had the option to do a study exchange in Bergamo, a beautiful medieval hilltop town about an hour north-east of Milan. This is what inspired and motivated me to enrol at UWA. I travelled to Bergamo with my sister-in-law Marnie. She was the one who first enrolled at UWA and when she told me she had, I thought to myself that I just had to do it with her because I wouldn’t be able to cope listening to her talk about it for the next three years.

Bergamo walls

Corso di Italiano per Stranieri

In July, for three intensive weeks, I attended the University of Bergamo every day for 5-6 hours of class time in a course called Corso di Italiano per Stranieri. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, when every spoken word is in Italian, which requires extreme concentration to understand and learn, it’s more than enough. To say it was exhausting is an understatement, but it was also exhilarating. At the end of each day, I was mentally drained, but that didn’t stop me going out every night for an apertivo or dinner. After all, I was in Italy to fully immerse in an Italian experience, it would’ve been rude not to. Plus the apartment we were staying in was hideously small and like a sauna in the humid Bergamo summer.

It was a harsh start at uni. We had a test, a really hard test actually, on our first day. This test graded students into five levels. Marnie and I both placed in level three. There were about 20 other students in our class who came from all over the world – Holly from Leeds, Amaya from Spain, Victor from Russia, Tatiana from Brazil, Teodora from Serbia, Egita from Latvia, Natasha from England, Raquel from Portugal, Taco from Perth, just to name a few. We had a great group. Our main teacher Luisa was just gorgeous and made the classes fun with lots of group activities and games. Our other teacher Claudia was more traditional in her teaching methods, which at times made the classes feel like they were never going to end.

Extra activities organised by the University of Bergamo included Italian films on Friday evenings (no subtitles!), a choice of drama or singing (I chose drama and made my acting debut playing an Australian student in Bergamo), visit to the Accademia Carrara (magnificent art gallery), a walking tour of the historic town and a walk in the Bergamo hills (didn’t go).

The University building itself was situated just outside the ancient city walls and it was new, modern with great facilities. It also had an amazing view over the valley of Bergamo. La cafeteria was meh – il caffe (coffee, espresso lungho per favore) was fine, thank God, but the food was what you’d expect in a Uni cafe, cheap. There was no way I was going to endure substandard food, after all, I was in Italy and I wanted every meal to be memorable (for the right reasons).

 

Bergamo & Day Trips 

Bergamo is beautiful. Perched on a hill, the narrow cobblestoned streets and stunning architecture attract lots of visitors making the Città Alta, the old town, quite touristy but no less beautiful. Città Bassa, the lower town, is where you’ll find better shopping, better value restaurants and a truer working-life Italian experience.

Città Alta, Bergamo

Our favourite go-to Cafe for breakfast – un cappuccino e un brioche (2 Euro) was Bar Perry, just down the hill from the University. We had breakfast there just about every day. The brioche or rather croissant was the best I’d ever had – crisp flakey outer and light but buttery soft inner. They also do a fantastic lunch – un panini con buffola mozzarella e pomodoro for 4 Euro and plates of pasta for 6 Euro.

Bergamo Bar Perry panini

For dinner, the best place we found was Dal Carlo, around the corner from our tiny sweatbox apartment. Marnie and I were charmed by the restauranteur Carlo who treated us like old friends and made a fuss that we were Australian. The food was always excellent, well priced and the atmosphere lively.  Marnie loved sitting on the deck outside surrounded by beautiful Italian buildings. We didn’t discover Dal Carlo until our second week and then ate there about five or six times. We watched the World Cup final there also on their big screen.

Dal Carlo ravioli

Dal Carlo terrace, Bergamo

I also loved the no-fuss Trattoria Giuliana d’Ambrosio with their handwritten photocopied menus that changed daily, sensational polenta bergamasca (polenta with buckwheat – so good), amazing buffet for contorni (salad and vegetables) and the set price for two (16 Euro) or three courses (20 Euro). We ate there twice, once on a Monday, and both times it was jam-packed. It’s nothing fancy, but a place run by an eccentric woman and like her, it’s full of character while the food was rustic and tasty local dishes.

There are loads of day trips you can do from Bergamo – we went to San Pellegrino on our first weekend and totally indulged in one of Europe’s best spas, QC Terme di San Pellegrino. Simply heavenly. It was so good in fact that our day trip turned into a weekend away when Marnie and I both refused to leave, booking a last minute hotel so we could spend more time at the spa.

We also spent a weekend in Varenna on Lake Como, and after the course had four days at Lake Iseo, a very beautiful smaller lake that attracts far more Italian tourists than western tourists. There we stayed in the plush serviced apartment hotel in the centre of town, the BorgoLago Suites – highly recommended for space, comfort, location and service. It was like a luxurious palace after our tiny Bergamo apartment.

Marnie and I at a Lido in Lenno, Lago di Como

If you’re an Italian student or a complete beginner wanting to learn Italian in Italy, I can highly recommend the Corso di Italian per Stranieri at the University of Bergamo.  Era una bellissima esperienza.

Lago d'Iseo sunset

Sunset at Lago d’Iseo

Top tips

  • Organise your accommodation in advance and through the University – ask lots of questions including distance to University, air conditioning, bedrooms and beds. Ask for photos. We did just that – our accommodation was cheap, and if I was an 18-year-old, I probably would’ve been fine sleeping on polyester sheets in a small single bed shoved in a corner of a tiny windowless “lounge room”. Remember UWA students should pay no more than 350 euro per person – we only discovered that after we’d accepted and ended up paying about 30% more.
  • Organise some day trips and get out of Bergamo – there’s so much to see! Plus it makes you feel like you’ve had a break. The uni also organises lots of extra outings.
  • Find a good place to eat like Dal Carlo or Bar Perry. Become a regular and make Italian friends for richer experience.

Have you got any Bergamo suggestions? Email me!

If you’re going to Bergamo or thinking of going, feel free to message / email me with any questions.

 

Other options

If you don’t want to do a serious course through a university, there are plenty of other options to learn Italian in Italy. One option I love the sound of is OzItaly – a long-term placement service that matches you with a host Italian family where you spend a few (agreed number of) hours per week teaching them English in return for lodging.

If cooking is more your thing, then check out courses offered by the cutest little cooking school in Southern Italy, The Awaiting Table. They also do courses where you cycle to wineries, specialist cooking courses, olive oil making, tomato sauce making and more.

In Franciacorta, near Lago d’Iseo

Ten moments of greatness during the Margaret River Pro

Now, if you’ve been living under a rock you might’ve missed that the Margaret River Pro 2018 was cancelled by the World Surf League (WSL) on 18 April 2018 after two shark attacks happened 15km north of the event. With beached whales to the north and south of the event site, together with some high profile surfers publicly voicing concerns about safety, the WSL made the call the cancel the event.

Before going on, I’ll disclose that the Margaret River Pro is a client – I was engaged again by Surfing WA to manage the local PR for the event.

Naturally, having worked closely with the event team, I was devastated for them, a truly disappointing way to end the event. If you’ve ever worked in major events, you know what’s involved – the many months of hard work, many hours of working around the clock (what weekend?), the logistics, the Gov approvals, dealing with sponsors, vendors, stakeholders and the community, and managing the media (my job).  On the flip side, had the event continued and a pro surfer was attacked, that would have been so much worse. So I understand the decision: better to be safe than sorry.

Despite the anti-climatic end to the Margaret River Pro, there were some epic moments to remember both in and out of the water, I suppose like discovering a barrel while surfing a wave of disappointment. Here’s my top ten of great things that happened during the 2018 Margaret River Pro:

  1. Watching the world’s best tackle North Point – some say it’s one of the best waves on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) and that was clearly demonstrated during Round 1 of men’s competition at the Margaret River Pro. North Point is known for some of the longest and most intense barrels in the world.

    North Point wave

    North Point, Margaret River. Photo: joliphotos.com

  2. Witnessing history being made as the WSL CT women’s Round 1 competition took place at North Point for the first time ever. Tatiana Weston-Webb was most impressive scoring a 9-point wave and the highest score of any surfer, both male and female, at North Point.

    Tatiana Weston-Webb at North Point

    Tatiana Weston-Webb at North Point. Photo: WSL/Dunbar

  3. Hosting the first-ever surf off between third-placed WA Trials finishers Jack Robinson and Jerome Forrest – the winner of the surf off, Jack Robinson, earned a place in the Margaret River Pro replacing injured WSL CT surfer Caio Ibelli who broke his foot the day before the competition started.

    Jack Robinson at North Point

    Jack Robinson surfing North Point, Margaret River. Photo: joliphotos.com

  4. Cheering for locals competing on their home breaks. Margaret River’s Jack Robinson made the most of his opportunity impressing everyone as he competed on one of his favourite waves, North Point. Dubbed the unofficial King of North Point, Robinson caught barrel after barrel, no doubt putting the fear in some of the pro surfers who were hoping not to be matched against him in Round 3 and beyond. Kael Walsh was another local wildcard who shook things up in his maiden CT event taking down CT world title challenger Matt Wilkinson to progress into Round 3.

    Jack Robinson

    Wildcard Jack Robinson (AUS) advances directly to Round 3 of the 2018 Margaret River Pro after winning Heat 3 of Round 1 at North Point, Margaret River, WA, Australia. Photo: WSL/Cestari

  5. Watching local surf inspiration Bronte Macaulay, the only West Australian on the WSL CT, rip, shred and generally look impressive on her home waves, earning herself quarter finals spot – she really shone at Main Break during Rounds 2 and 3. Unfortunately the competition was cancelled before she had a chance to possibly finish with her best career result to date.

    Bronte Macaulay surfer

    Bronte Macaulay. Photo: joliphotos.com

  6. Saving a life. A member of the public was knocked unconscious while surfing at South Point on Saturday 14 April, a break opposite the bay to North Point where the Margaret River Pro was taking place. The surfer went under and was spotted face down in the water by someone in the car park and the quick-thinking local promptly called Margaret River Pro’s safety team leader at Water Patrol Australia. Jet skis were immediately deployed and they brought the surfer to the North Point competition site where the event doctor and ambulance treated the man and administered oxygen. He was airlifted to Bunbury Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. Had it not been for the swift actions of the Margaret River Pro safety team and WSL medics, it almost certainly would have been a fatal surfing accident.

    Water Patrol Australia North Point

    Water Patrol Australia North Point. Photo: Instagram WaterPatrol_australia

  7. It’s been heart-warming to see the community rally together to support a fellow surfer and Margaret River Pro site crew member, Alex Travaglini, who was attacked by a shark while he was surfing (on a day off) at Cobblestones, 15km north of Surfers Point. Surfing WA and WSL donated signed surfboards from John John Florence, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo, Jeep Leader vests signed by Stephanie Gilmore and Julian Wilson, merchandise packs and more which, together with other donated items from local businesses, were auctioned and raffled at a fundraising event held at The Common in Gnarabup on Friday 20 April raising almost $11K.  A Go Fund Me page for Alex has raised in excess of $15K to date.

    Raffle and auction items

    Some of the prizes on offer to fundraise for Margaret River Pro site worker Alex Travaglini who was attacked by a shark. Photo: WSL / Cestari

  8. Hearing that Alex Travaglini is going to make a full recovery after he was attacked by a shark attack near Gracetown. Fellow surfers who were on the scene applied tourniquets to his legs and paramedics commented that those actions almost certainly saved his legs and possibly his life. Good news indeed. A reminder that Surfing WA offers free first aid training designed for surfers – just 2.5 hours in duration, it could save a mate’s life. Visit http://www.surfersrescue365.asn.au/ for more.

    Alex Travaglini fundraising

    Alex Travaglini Go Fund Me page

  9. Trawling through social media seeing world-famous surfers enjoying themselves in the Margaret River region. Sebastien ‘Seabass’ Zietz went abseiling, John John Florence visited caves and lunched at Leeuwin Estate, surfing siblings Owen, Tyler and Mikey Wright lunched at Robert Oakley Winery, Lakey Peterson and Joanne Defay had a behind-the-scenes tour of Stella Bella winery and WSL commentators enjoyed lunch at Aravina Estate. John John Florence had three floats at Floating Europhia (it’s amazing if you haven’t tried it). Some ventured further afield, Stephanie Gilmore was spotted at Rottnest Island with Sally Fitzgibbons and Coco Ho and Owen Wright with his family did a road trip to Kalbarri, staying in WA for a week after the event. Adding to the warm and fuzzies are the messages of support for Margaret River posted by some surfers after the event cancellation was announced.

    John John Florence at Floating Europhia.

    John John Florence at Floating Europhia. Photo: Instagram floating_euphoria

  10. Seeing the awe and delight on the faces of local kids who watch the contest and line the fence waiting patiently for autographs and selfies with their surf heroes. The groms are Western Australia’s future surf champions, quite possibly future Olympians, and seeing them so inspired is always one of the biggest rewards of staging the Pro and this year was no exception. New WSL partner Hurley immersed themselves in the community running the surf club for local groms, managing the surf caddies and taking some pro surfers along to join the Hawks Margaret River Junior Football Club training session.

    Kael Walsh signs autographs

    WA wildcard Kael Walsh signs autographs for groms. Photo: Pronto PR

Since WSL cancelled the Margaret River Pro, many of the world’s best surfers posted that they are looking forward to returning to Margaret River next year, and we’re looking forward to hosting them.

The Margaret River Pro has a long history holding surfing competitions and there is one more year in the contract with WSL.

coco ho instagram

WSL CT surfer Coco Ho on Instagram stories – love you WA

 

Emotions and elation at inaugural Margi Gras

I have spent the better part of the summer working on a beautiful event called Margi Gras.

Emotions were high and the 700-strong crowd elated at Margaret River’s first Margi Gras proudly sponsored by The River Hotel.

Attendees witnessed the region’s first public same-sex wedding on February 10, 2018, when Rebecca Hannan married her long-term partner Sunny Michelle Hannan at the free event that came to fruition as a celebration of equality.

Margi Gras 2017

Margi Gras Sunny Michelle and Rebecca Hannan with Perth Drag Queens. Photo: Jennifer Eliot

The bridal party, along with Perth Drag Queens, arrived in style to the Margaret River Cultural Centre Lawns via a 12-car motorcade that included a 1939 Buick, a black 1950 Mark V Jaguar, a 1955 Mustang, a pink 1960 Thunderbird, a red 1966 Thunderbird convertible à la Thelma and Louise, a grey and white 1964 Chevrolet Belair and a red 1967 Buick Wildcat Sting.

The pair was married under the gazebo in front of the Augusta Margaret River Shire building that was styled with sashes of colour fabric and beautiful fresh flowers and foliage by Miriam Avery.

Photo: Jennifer Eliot

Margi Gras founder Rebecca Hannan said the day could not have been any better.

“The support shown by the community has been nothing short of overwhelming – there were 55 businesses that came on board and a dedicated committee who helped pull it all together,” the professional speaker, coach and trainer said.

“It really made me feel proud to be a member of this community and I’m honoured so many came out to celebrate equality and be a part of our wedding.

“I think Margi Gras has shown that Margaret River is a welcoming place for LGBTI holidays and a wonderful destination for same-sex weddings – I highly recommend it!” laughed Rebecca.

The crowd roared when Sunny thanked all those who voted ‘yes’ during speeches.

Perth Drag Queens entertained the crowds. Photo: Jennifer Eliot

Margi Gras’ MC Jordan Bruno who recently won Mr Gay Pride Australia said Margi Gras was a very special event.

“I love Western Australia and Margaret River and I’m really honoured and proud to be involved in Margi Gras, which sends are really strong message that everyone is entitled to be themselves,” said Jordan, an LGBTI activist and ambassador and a semi-finalist on MKR 2016.

“I feel like we’ve witnessed a little bit of history watching the region’s first same-sex wedding – the whole event had such an amazing vibe.”

Margi Gras 2018

Rebecca Hannan, Jordan Bruno, Sunny Michelle Hannan. Photo: Jennifer Eliot

People signed the dedicated Margi Gras Love and Messages wall, ate delicious food by Willow Grill, drank MargiGras-Rita cocktails and Queer Beer and enjoyed the entertainment by Perth Drag Queens, a surprise Elton John act, Bellyvision belly dancers and the Margaret River Big Band. Children’s entertainment included Kaptain Quirk as Bubble Man, unicorn rides and a giant bouncy castle. Ed Scissorhands added glitter to hair and faces to create a Margi Gras look.

The newly weds were given a cheerful send off with attendees eagerly forming a 100-metre long human archway.

Perth Drag Queens Creative Director Scarlet Adams said she immediately said yes when asked to be involved in Margi Gras.

“Margi Gras is such a fabulous event and the crowd at the After Party were one of the best we’ve performed in front of. We had a ball and can’t wait for next year already!”

Photo: Kelly Harwood Photography

The party continued until late at The River Hotel to a near-capacity crowd as the troupe of five from Perth Drag Queens had the place rocking and everyone dancing as they performed numbers that included ‘It’s raining men’ by Gerri Halliwell, ‘Stop’ by the Spice Girls, ‘Turn back time’ by Cher, ‘Get outta my way’ by Kylie Minogue and ‘It’s my party’ by Jessie J.

The River Hotel business partner Phil Thompson said that Margi Gras was a terrific addition to the region.

“The event was fantastic – we’re thrilled to be a part of it and I’m looking forward to future events,” Phil said.

The night ended with local Mick Marlin from Cape Thunderbirds dressed as Dame Edna Everage being crowned the Queen of Margi Gras, winning the competition.

Visit www.margigras.com.au for more information.