South West Tour Part 3: Margaret River Bushtucker Tour

After a fantastic celebration dinner at Toby’s Restaurant, we wake up early and meet for a quick and simple breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast and coffee, then drive to Prevelly Beach, approximately 50kms from Dunsborough. We’re going on a Margaret River bushtucker tour.

Margaret River Bushtucker Tours owner/operator, Helen Lee

Our tour guide is Helen Lee, the owner/operator of Margaret River Bushtucker Tours for 21 years. She’s the full bottle on bush foods and local history and has many great tales to tell.

Prevelly Beach

Prevelly Beach, where the waves are crashing. We’ll be entering the Margaret River via the river mouth, where the water is much calmer

We put on life jackets, each grab a paddle and help carry a couple of eskies which contain our bushtucker feast. As we trudge towards the river mouth, Helen stops to pick bush herbs, telling us how some were used, not just to flavour food, but lathered up for washing. We have a taste of wild rosemary that’s growing in the sand dunes. It’s funny to think of the shrubs and scrub around us (that most of us normally ignore) as food.

Left: there are all kinds of bush herbs at the beach. Right: Helen demonstrates why they are called “shark’s teeth”

We’ll be paddling together in a five-seater canoe. As we load up the canoe and climb in (some of us much less gracefully than others), Helen begins the tale of the first inhabitants of the region and about the Bussell family, after whom the town of Busselton was named.

Choose a canoe

Choose a canoe

As the story of pioneer life unfolds, we’re saddened by the tragedies experienced by the Bussell family. We’re also amazed by their courage and survival spirit. I can imagine an epic mini series called “The Bussells”. Helen continues telling us their remarkable tale as we paddle along the Margaret River. We learn about the interactions between the white settlers and the Aboriginal people. We also learn how the Margaret River got its name.

Helen begins telling us the story of the Bussell family. Behind her, our canoe

The river current is slow. No motor craft is allowed on the river, and it’s a tranquil journey upstream on calm waters. It’s not very deep and most of the time, I can even see the bottom. Along the riverbank and to the distance we see the sad legacy of the Prevelly fires from November, when land, homes and livelihoods were destroyed. Among the houses destroyed by the blaze was heritage-listed 147-year-old Wallcliffe House, the two-storey stone, shingle and corrugated iron homestead built by Alfred Bussell.

Ducks swim over to say hi

We go ashore, and Helen points out some caves for us to explore while she sets up our bushtucker picnic.

Walking along the hill, I’m glad I wore my sneakers. There are several beehives in the craggy cliff, which we are careful to avoid

Hard to imagine early pioneers taking shelter in caves like these

We track back down the hill to where our bushtucker feast awaits. Once again, some of our group are less sure-footed than the others! But we all get down the hill safely, if not elegantly

Helen has laid out a fantastic feast for us and introduces each item in turn.

Bushtucker picnic feast

Bushtucker picnic feast

There’s bush tomato bread, bush tomato chutney and whole bush tomatoes to sample. Bush tomatoes are much smaller that a regular tomato but taste much stronger. We try native pepperberry pesto. Among my favourite items are the wild limes, farmed in Muchea, little sour bursts that are cooked and combined with salty native spinach and crushed bunya nuts to make a tasty pesto. We also try a lovely wild lime and jackfruit chutney. There’s quandong leather, dried and flavoured with honey.

There are several meats to try: kangaroo that’s been smoked for two days – it’s a very healthy product as it’s very lean with no oil, fats or cholesterol. The emu meat is also smoked and Helen tells us it’s pretty good on a pizza. There’s crocodile that comes from up North near Broome and bush turkey, softer than regular turkey. The croc is my favourite of all the meat and I can’t stop eating it. For something local and tasty but not quite so exotic, we also have cubes of Margaret River cheese. There are other goodies to try on that picnic blanket – I’ll leave you to (hopefully) discover those on the tour yourself.

But of course, the first thing we all notice on that picnic rug are the two witchetty grubs. “Oh yes,” Helen laughs. “Bert and Ernie.”

“Bert and Ernie” Who wants one?

Richard takes a bite of Ernie and turns pale. For a moment it’s like our idyllic picnic’s turned into an episode of Fear Factor. Since it doesn’t look like he’ll be finishing what’s left of Ernie and Sue’s not keen, Jennifer and I will share the rest.

“Just break it in half,” Jennifer says.
I try to do that, but unfortunately, all I manage to do is squeeze out its innards (a liquid centre!) so I’m left with a rather unappealing trail of slime in my hand. “Sorry Jen,” I say. “I’m going to have to bite off my half.” And so I gnaw off the grub’s bum and pass the rest to Jennifer, who shuts her eyes and pops it into her mouth.

I ate the bum end of Ernie. Yeah, that’s a bit of his guts hanging out in my hand

We chew. And chew. And chew and chew and chew.

It’s chewing on a rubberband or a piece of plastic bag. It doesn’t have a strong flavour. It tastes nutty, sort of like hummus. I’m chewing for much too long, but finally, I swallow the last of Ernie. And thus ends this episode of Bizarre Foods, TFP edition.

I’ve since heard that witchetty grubs taste better roasted over a fire. Oh well, should the opportunity arise…

Have you eaten any creepy crawlies? What’s the strangest creature you have eaten?

Ernie the witchetty grub

Bert the witchetty grub – that’s not a grub, THAT’S a grub

I get rid of the taste and the thought of Ernie with a fantastic kangaroo, bush lime and bush tomato chutney open sandwich Helen has made for me.

Left: Helen makes me a kangaroo and bush chutney open sandwich. Right: Kangaroo sandwich on bush tomato bread

When we’ve all eaten our fill, it’s time to pack up and head back to the river mouth.

Ours was a mini tour completed in a little over an hour; the regular bushtucker tour is done over several hours and includes more caving and even an opportunity to grab a swim.

Our canoe

MeOn Facebook on Monday I promised something very rare in this post. Here it is!

A picture of yours truly, all ready for canoeing. It’s not the most flattering outfit, I know! Thanks to Jennifer, my witchetty grub-eating partner in crime, for taking the photo.

This tour was a wonderful surprise and lots of fun. I highly recommend it for something to do in Margaret River that’s a little different. It will give you a greater appreciation for the local region and its history, as well as a taste of native foods.

Don’t worry, eating witchetty grubs is completely optional.

Margaret River Bushtucker Tours
Telephone: (08) 9757 9084
Daily pickup at Margaret River Visitors Centre.
Tours depart from the Margaret River mouth, Prevelly Beach, 12km from Margaret River.
Cave and Canoe Bushtucker Tours 10am to 2pm daily.
A great option for vegetarians as lots of bushtucker does not involve meat.
Definitely bring your camera!
Also available with the same company: Margaret River Winery and Brewery Tours.

TFP visited the Margaret River region and attended the Margaret River Bushtucker Tour as a guest of the Wyndham Resort Group. There’s still another post to come in this series.

More on bush tucker
Tucker Time – story on Landline (ABC) – celebrity chefs are getting into bush foods, supplied by businesses like this one run by Mike and Gayle Quarmby from South Australia. Includes video.

Another reason I love blogging
Blogging has given me opportunities to do things outside of my comfort zone. Last year for example, I went caving in Kuching, Malaysia. Ordinarily, the thought of exploring a dark, damp, bat poo-splattered cave would have zero appeal, but since it was part of our Kuching itinerary, I gave it a go. It was an unexpected, memorable experience I was glad to be a part of.

Initially when I saw that the itinerary for the South West trip including canoeing on Margaret River I wasn’t very keen. I’m not a swimmer, so was a little worried about being in a canoe out in the middle of a river. Jac was concerned too and urged me to talk with trip organiser Sue about it. The Bushtucker Tour people assured us that we’d all wear life jackets, the water would be flat and calm, and you can actually stand up in it most of the time. I was fine with that but Jac made me promise that if I didn’t feel 100% safe on the day, I wouldn’t get into the canoe. Truth be told, I wasn’t as worried about falling in and drowning as I was (as always) keeping my camera safe and dry. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear and the Bushtucker Tour was easily my favourite activity of the trip.

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