“It’s a bloody no brainer, really!”
That’s our friend, Konrad, speaking and as a garrulous barrister he never minces his words.
He was definitely not mincing his words while waving around a half-drunk Cosmopolitan in front of a backdrop of turquoise waters that were bluer than a Van Gogh painting.
Konrad was merely voicing what all of us on the 60ft pleasure boat were thinking – how come we haven’t had this experience before when it’s right here in our own back yard? We were all wallowing in our own memories of the Greek Islands, Turkey, Amalfi Coast and Sicily – but without the rubbish in the water and navigating pebbles to have a swim.
Here at Meelup Beach we were floating around in quintessential West Australian tranquillity, less than a three hour drive south of Perth, atop pristine glassy waters which were only breached by the occasional dolphin leaping about. Okay, that bit was imagined, but the idea was not beyond the realms of possibility in this water which was becoming more cerulean by the minute as the sun began going down.
As the sky turned pink we tucked into West Coast rock oysters and a charcuterie board featuring Margaret River-cured-meats and handmade cheese from Yallingup.
Michael Whyte, sales director at Howard Park Wines, did the honours with some wonderful matching wines including generous pours of Petit Jeté NV, Miamup Rosé, Flint Rock Riesling, Miamup Chardonnay, Flint Rock Pinot Noir, Miamu Cabernet and a sticky Muscat thrown in at the end.
On board were 20 others, who – like us – had experienced the beautiful landscape of Geographe Bay hundreds of times from the glorious bays and beaches but never from the vantage point of a former cray fishing boat with two chefs on board cooking up a seven-course degustation.
The reason none of us had done it before?
The Taste of the Bays Cruise has only been going since January and is the brainchild of South West Cruises – part of Sea West, the family-owned company which also runs Mandurah Cruises and similar constantly sold out experiences in Broome and Rottnest.
Sea West’s managing director and part-owner, Myrianthe Riddy lives in Dunsborough so the decision to add a $295 per person cruise in the south west appealed to her.
Riddi says the cruise is a celebration of the land and sea of the South West.
“The experience showcases the flavours of the region from the water of the region,” she said.
“The menu’s provenance is richly local. Each course is created on deck using WA seafood and produce from some of the best growers and makers in the region.
“It is quite breathtaking to observe this stretch of coastline from the water. It’s a unique perspective that is not often seen by visitors to the South West.
Riddy is not wrong. There was quite a bit of breathtaking going on amongst our group of fellow passengers as we waded through the menu, while Will Peregrine and Elodie Pires strutted their stuff in the kitchen.
Everything during the four-hour long voyage which begins at the Dunsborough Bay Yacht Club is organised with Mark-McGowan-navy-like precision.
Once on the tender which takes passengers out to the former crayfishing vessel, Reel Affair II, there is a spiel on safety procedure, housekeeping rules and a little warning for heavy imbibers, like us, not to drink too much, which thanks to Michael Whyte’s generous pours was sage advice.
While the welcome Cosmopolitan and sparkling Petite Jeté went down, most cruisers didn’t need any encouragement to don their swimmers and retreat back to their idyllic childhoods for a couple of bombies into the water straight off the back of the boat – a marlin deck in another life.
Everybody was encouraged to walk a plastic mat and plonk into the water which was just bracing enough to take the breath away. There, elbows up on the plastic mat which served as a floating bar, the crowd got to know each other while still happily sipping their drinks holding them above the plimsoll line.
“Pure heaven.” said Jake, whose dad had treated the whole family to the cruise while staying at nearby Abbey Beach Resort in Busselton.
Nigel, a Perth businessman who has a holiday home in Quindalup, also treated his entire family, who had never seen the beaches from a boat.
Normally this cruise takes in Old Dunsborough, Curtis Bay, Castle Rock, Meelup Beach, Point Picquet, Eagle Bay and Bunker Bay but weather conditions on this occasion meant the group missed out on the last three.
Nobody was complaining as they enjoyed a second dip while staff laid out elegantly dressed tables for the rest of the meal which included Blue Ridge Manjimup marron pate with Yallingup woodfired sourdough, seared Abrolhos Island scallops, Mandurah blue swimmer crab and ricotta cannelloni, with Manjimup black truffle butter and fresh bread, line-caught red emperor with gremolata, finishing with honey creamy crumble with berries, chocolate and figs with nougat.
Staff were friendly and attentive enjoying banter with the guests who were all clearly there to have a great time. Friendships were born, addresses were exchanged and as everybody piled back into the tender they all vowed they would definitely do it again.
“It’s a bloody no brainer,” said one well-oiled guest.
*The Taste of the Bays Cruise runs in Dunsborough from January to April and then moves back to Mandurah.