Summer in the south west is best enjoyed from the back of a boat. Preferably someone else’s boat, and definitely with a private chef handing you oysters.

Sunlight glints off my friend’s earrings and the scent of grilled barramundi wafts as we lounge, Riesling in hand on a vivid yellow float mat. We’re in eight metres of water off Meelup, water so clear you can see ripples in the sand at the bottom.

We’re aboard South West Cruises’ Taste of the Bays, a progressive dinner cruise aboard a customised 60ft sightseeing boat – where the star of the show is Western Australian seafood.

South West Cruises

The Margaret River Region has an extensive coastline with 130 kilometres of beaches, bays and rocky points.

We’re cruising Geographe Bay between Dunsborough and Eagle Bay, a magnificent stretch mostly protected from prevailing afternoon breezes.

We float past places named by Captain Baudin’s 1801 expedition – Geographe, Picquet, Naturaliste. While the iridescent water, harissa-hued granite and bountiful food couldn’t tempt the French to stay two centuries ago, surely an afternoon’s indulgence aboard Reel Affair II would have swayed them.

Back to present day and the region’s maritime influence that winemakers agree is key to their success. The Margaret River wine region is bounded by ocean on three sides; Geographe Bay, the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean.

While Birak and Bunuru’s hot days ripen the grapes, the afternoon sea breeze cools them down, allowing the fruit to develop great flavour and character. Sit on the sundeck tasting freshly-shucked oysters and you’ll feel that cooling influence and wonder why you don’t do this more often.

We moored briefly at Meelup and a dozen of us plunged into the brine, then lazed on that floating mat. Beaming staff passed us our wine glasses (non-glass) – who knew this swim could get even better?! I’ve spent many a hot afternoon on Meelup’s sandy shores, but I’d choose this any day.

It was a win for all when South West Cruises appointed Executive Chef Tony Howell for the 2022/23 season.

You’d know his name from the luxury Cape Lodge brand, and his beaming grin from photos plating up crayfish. But rather than rattling pans in an artificially-lit kitchen, Tony has stepped on board to design an exquisite menu showcasing the region he knows best.

“As a dining concept, this is incredibly unique,” Tony said. “It’s one of those rare experiences, almost like a dream. When I first travelled on the cruise in Dunsborough, I was blown away. It was just stunning and like nothing else I have seen as a chef.”

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Tony’s menu tells the story of the abundance found in this corner of Western Australia. The region is brimming with amazing produce from the land and sea. Think Dunsborough lobster, Torbay asparagus and slow-cooked Albany lamb. Plus wine, of course – more on that in a moment.

This isn’t your standard stuffy degustation. There’s the barbecue on the back of the boat, tantalising cooking smells, barefoot staff topping up your glass and the roaming style of it all. A glorious, generous show of hospitality – no room for pretentiousness here.

The first couple of courses were served cocktail style as we motored from Dunsborough Bay Yacht Club to the first, pretty bay. You can chat to the chef as they sizzle Abrolhos Island scallops on the grill, Castle Rock in the frame, or climb a couple of steps to the sundeck to bask beneath brollies and revel in the finest panoramic view.

It’s here I ashamedly admit that I don’t eat the full gamut of seafood. Happily, and with a few days’ notice, the chefs swapped in some vegetarian options and a braised beef dish, and I was stoked as a seagull with a chip.

I was fortunate to have Michael Whyte representing Howard Park Wines aboard our cruise. He’s a delightful man and able to impart the kind of awareness that heightens your enjoyment of a wine.

If the food tells a story of the fishermen and farmers, then the wine caresses the verdant vineyards between Yallingup and Mount Barker. The menu and wine list are in sync, and we sipped a range of Howard Park’s premium drops, from their Petit Jeté bubbles through to a Miamup Cab Sauv with dessert.

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Just when you think it’s been a perfect afternoon, the sun sets over a myriad of moorings, painting the sky pink, purple and orange. We pause to snap photos of the sunset, before it’s time to shuttle back to the beach.

Tony Howell sums it up beautifully; “It’s like when you shut your eyes and say, ‘take me away to a place that I’ve never been and blow my mind'”.

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