Busselton is different from your average holiday hub. The coastal town 222km south of Perth is the gateway to the famed Margaret River region — a place of great temptations, peppered with producers of world-class wines, cheeses, chocolates, craft beers and spirits. In other words, the finer things in life.
Adding to its fine reputation are the town's pleasures of its own. Nestled in Geographe Bay, Busselton is a popular spot for fleeing Perth city slickers, particularly families, to rest up along sheltered shores. The town thrives by the water with its revamped foreshore, ocean swimming enclosures, cycle lanes, playgrounds, and alluring unspoiled beaches.
I did what many Perth people do for a weekend — headed 'down south' to 'Busso' to get acquainted with living life in the slow lane: a lane that stretches further than you think.
Meeting an icon: Busselton Jetty
Western Australia has many historic engineering marvels, but the south-western town captures the imagination by a long stretch. You may have seen it already on Western Australia brochures or memorabilia: it's a landmark that's hard to forget — or miss.
The Busselton Jetty defines the town's coastal scenery. Four nautical blue A-framed shacks featuring white tin roofs and framed windows align the jetty's entrance. These picturesque shanties wouldn't be out of place in Scandinavia: striking, simple and very much hashtag-worthy. But what is beyond these iconic blue builds is what makes the jetty memorable.
If someone mentions a casual stroll along the jetty in Busselton, expect that walk to be lengthy. Big things in country towns are mostly gimmicks, but this one is in a league of its own. Busselton Jetty extends a whooping 1.841km over the Indian Ocean. (I highly recommend packing comfy shoes to walk its length.)
Its landmark status goes beyond the town, with the heritage-listed timber-piled jetty the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. But the jetty wasn't initially destined to be the wooded serpent of the sea that it is today.
Busselton Jetty (Image Tourism WA)
A short history of Busselton's lengthy masterpiece
The jetty was originally built in 1865, elongating a 'measly' 161m. It was initially used to service export and trade in the south-west. A railway line was added in 1911 to cope with the growing timber trade.
Over time, with steam-powered boats utilised over sailboats and shore drift, extending the jetty into deeper waters became necessary. It took nine extensions for the jetty to reach its current length just short of 2km.
Busselton's long and winding port officially closed in 1973 with the remainder of the decade unkind; funding ceased maintaining the structure, and 1978's Cyclone Alby wreaked havoc, destroying 700m of the jetty. Locals were distraught with the devastation caused, setting up a community fund to help restore the jetty back to its former glory.
These days, the engineering marvel is managed by the not-for-profit Busselton Jetty Incorporated with ticket sale proceeds to access the jetty going towards maintaining the heritage-listed structure.
One long laneway
There's a wealth of things to do and see along the Busselton Jetty — after all, it covers a lot of ground,?ahem, sea.
Accessing the jetty is the price of a coffee — $4 per adult for a jetty day pass; a single child is free. Admission permits access to dive, swim, snorkel, drive or walk the jetty.
Beyond the entrance, it's less than half an hour's walk to the near end of the jetty. If time is not on your side, take the less strenuous route — hop on the Stocker Preston Express electric and solar-powered train to travel 1.7km of the jetty's length.
Busselton Jetty (Image Tourism WA)
I opted for the latter, taking a seat on the open-air locomotive bearing a resemblance to the famous cartoon choo choo train, Thomas the Tank Engine — only red. I felt connected to the jetty’s trading past, journeying along parched planks —?plonk, plonk, plonk?— to reach the end of the line (the train is wheelchair accessible). It’s a relaxing way to take stock of this icon and enjoy 360-degree views and be wind-swept.
At the jetty’s end is another wonder. The Underwater Observatory is one of six worldwide, descending eight metres to reveal an artificial reef. A multi-hued confectionary assortment of the sea, the vivid spectacle features colourful corals, sponges and over 300 fish species. Down here, it’s never a dull moment.
You can learn about what lurks at sea on tour. Just shy of two hours, the guided tour takes visitors to its 9.5m diameter observation chamber to learn about the coastline’s frequent flippers, including whales and sharks. There’s also a chance to experience life underwater with virtual reality goggles.
On a side note, construction has commenced building the new?Busselton Jetty Village and Marine Discovery Centre dubbed ‘The Village’, scheduled to open in July 2023. The centre will also include a cafe to replenish energy levels and indoor and outdoor seating areas to enjoy the unusual moment out at sea. Its previous bold whale-shaped design, unfortunately, got cut.
Dive on in
Instead of viewing the jetty’s colourful universe from behind the glass, you can mingle with it. I couldn’t resist an opportunity to don the flippers, snorkel, and 5mm wetsuit to get up and close to the jetty’s residents. Snorkelling off the jetty is suited to intermediate snorkelers.
As I entered the cool waters from the jetty platform, I was advised by a local to spend my time nearby the pylon’s vibrant palette of micro-life. The water’s visibility was in my favour, clear enough to notice the ocean floor below me.
Pylons appeared as vertical forests. I felt like I was viewing every colour under the sun, discerning the micro-life clinging to the wooden structures. An orange nudibranch specked with black and white dots caught my eye among the yellow and blue corals.
If you want to spend more time underwater, Swan Dive offers a Busselton Jetty dive experience, including night dives. There’s also an option to visit the HMAS Swan wreck. The 140m long, world-class dive wreck rests up to 30m below sea level and attracts abundant marine life.
For something more novel, there’s the undersea walk by SeaTrek. Don a dive helmet and breathe comfortably while walking along the ocean floor, gazing at Busselton’s peak hour swimming by.
Post pier bevvies
Back on the mainland is something else that warrants a look into. Shelter Brewing Co is moments from the jetty, overlooking the greenlit foreshore and bay area. The locally owned brewhouse’s large shed is a beacon for social gatherings — and brews. Visit the jetty but not stay for the drinks: rookie error.
Shelter Brewing Co (Image Tourism WA)
As I entered the state’s sleekest shed, I marvelled at the abundant natural lighting, the airiness and the beachside views. The mess hall is filled with ample seating; wooden tables cover most of the concrete floor and are opposed by massive silver beer tanks that loom over the red bar counter. Quite easily you could lose a few hours sipping, eating, people watching and repeating. Often the venue has live entertainment on its wooden podium. When not in use, hip lounge seating takes its place.
General chatter and merriness filled the soundscape as I headed upstairs to get the best of both worlds — the view and the vibe. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with choosing froths, so I opted for the tasting paddle, selecting four brews — cider, red ale, lager, and a limited-release sour beer.
The tastings were complemented by a sizable gastro-pub grub (much needed after the oceanic workout walking back from the jetty's tip) and hand-cut chips that made me contend with being a human seagull; they are seriously addictive and I couldn't stop myself pecking! The menu also features other hands-on fares: wood-fired pizzas, share plates and hearty burgers.
Around the Busselton Foreshore there is much on offer.
Three playgrounds are spread across manicured lawns, suited to kids of all ages. It includes a fantastic shipwreck adventure playground and a 'whale head' emerging from the ground. Many barbecue facilities have shaded areas, so you could imagine the place as a hive of activity come weekends for low-key socialising.
Don't expect big waves to hit its pristine shores — the beach is shallow and calm and is perfect for a carefree frolic. Opt to make a splash in the swimming enclosure if you do not want to potentially flip your feet with passing dolphins. The Busselton Skate Park also adds to the area's leisure opportunities and cycle paths. And that is precisely what Busselton wants you to do — get out there, stretch your legs and go the distance.
Busselton’s big events not to miss
Busselton Jetty Swim
Each year the jetty is a marine mantle to the Busselton Jetty Swim. Since 1996, the event has attracted ocean kickers to swim 3.6km around the jetty, with more than 4000 competing annually.
Complete the race solo or as a team. If 3.6km is too much, there are options to participate in the One Mile swim — start one mile out at sea and swim back to shore, Simon's 500m Shortcut Swim and the kid's 222m swim, suited to ages 8–12.
Margaret River Open Studios
Another significant event to attend is the annual Margaret River Open Studios. Now in its 10th year, Australia's largest open studios event sees studios and venues across the region, including Busselton, open their creative hubs to the public. Meet and see artists in action, creating their next masterpiece in some of the region's hidden spaces. The event runs from 9 to 24 September.
P: (08) 9754 0900
Busselton Jetty Swim
Margaret River Open Studios
RAC Busselton Holiday Park
P: (08) 9755 4241
Shelter Brewing Co.
P: (08) 9754 4444
P: 0439 108 760
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