Living off-grid | The West Australian

They are “off-grid”, modelled on barns, hidden in vineyards, and inspired by bee hives or neighbours with farmyard animals. These are some of the unique attributes of a range of new eco-friendly accommodation in WA’s South West.

The region has long appealed to visitors for its serenity and raw beauty, so it makes sense that emerging tourism providers are trading heavily on its natural splendour and offering accommodation where guests feel like they’re entwined with the local flora and fauna.

International tourism may have disappeared, but West Australians are exploring our State in huge numbers, seeking unique experiences and accommodation.

Here are three fresh and unusual stay options for your next trip down south.

Bake your own bread in the off-grid cottage at Margaret River Heartland.
Camera IconBake your own bread in the off-grid cottage at Margaret River Heartland. Credit: Jessica Josie/Supplied

Margaret River Heartland

Amid a global catastrophe, Anita Revel’s description of her property is undeniably appealing: “We offer the chance to unplug, get grounded, and fill the lungs with fresh air”. In a year when, in all likelihood, exotic adventures to Asian citadels, European villages, and Middle Eastern medinas will remain off limits to us, simple pleasures will be the name of the game.

Instead of chasing culture shock, West Australians can soothe their souls at peaceful places like Margaret River Heartland, the “off-grid” farm stay opened by Anita Revel and Gavin Leiper. Located on this sprawling property, about 3km north of Cowaramup town, are a no-frills yet attractive two-bedroom cottage and what the owners call a tricked-out “glampavan”.

“The cottage has no mod cons — no TV, no microwave, no air-con,” Revel says. “But it does offer what we call ‘Star TV’ — millions of stars in the sky viewable due to no light pollution, and a baker’s oven under the wood fire.” The converted caravan, meanwhile, has a new kitchen, a modern bathroom with rainwater shower, an antique record player, plush day bed, a queen’s size bed, and a wood fire which will be handy in a few months from now.

Barn Hives’ eco pods.
Camera IconBarn Hives’ eco pods. Credit: Supplied

Barn Hives

They’re simultaneously new-school and old-fashioned. That’s one way to sum up the modern “barn hives” that accommodate guests at Barnyard 1978, a winery, restaurant, honey farm and now eco-lodge. This Yallingup property, owned by Raminta Rusilas and Egis Rusilas, has a cluster of accommodation pods designed to resemble both a barn and a beehive.

These two-storey, steel-and-wood “eco-pods” have a queen-bed master suite on their top floor, with a large window that offers views across the vineyard, through which chickens roam. The ground floor, meanwhile, has a bathroom, kitchen with coffee machine, dining table, lounge area and a solar-powered deck with a BBQ.

Egis Rusilas said these stand-alone pods had been designed to maximise natural light and cross-ventilation, reducing the need for air-conditioning or artificial light. Each building captured rain water individually, which was then heated by solar panels, making them “self-sustainable”.

When the temperature plummets in winter, guests can warm their pods with a pellet heater, which Rusilas described as the “cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance”. Such environmentally-friendly touches were key to the concept behind the eco-pods. Barn Hives is located just off Caves Road, about 3km south of the beautiful Yallingup Beach.

The Petit Eco Cabin blends into its serene surroundings.
Camera IconThe Petit Eco Cabin blends into its serene surroundings. Credit: Ange Wall/Supplied

Petit Eco Cabin

Joanne and Chris Davies are young parents, Yallingup grape growers and wine producers. Now they’re branching out into tourism. At their winery, Windows Estate, the couple offer cheese-making classes, wine and cheese pairing experiences, vineyard tours and now an unusual accommodation option they call their “Petite Eco Cabin”.

Like a miniature version of a European mountain chalet, this small timber cabin is the only accommodation on this property. Unlike those chalets, which are typically dark, cosy environments designed for winter, this cabin is, thanks to its many windows, wonderfully bright.

This includes three huge panes of glass which let guests sit in the cabin’s lounge, by the wood-fire, and admire the vineyard. Not to mention the unique “waterfall window” directly above the king-sized bed, which runs up the wall and then along the sloped roof, so guests can lay down and look up at the sky.

The outdoor shower and bath use rainwater, heated by solar power, with grey water then recycled and used for the property’s newly-planted fruit trees. Located on Caves Road, about 9km south of Yallingup Beach, this property has easy access to the spectacular Canal Rocks and to Margaret River town.

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Substantial rural property with quirky off-grid timber home

AS a prime livestock holding or an amazing place to self-isolate in style, this 40ha property is hugely impressive.

The substantial holding is positioned in a prime rural belt between Richmond and Sorell.

Whether you are looking for a rural retreat for your family, a long-term investment or a property to suit rural interests, No.126 Orielton Road is certainly worthy of consideration.

On offer is about 41ha of quality pasture. The property is presently used for horses, but offers so much potential for a range of uses.

Water is supplied by two dams plus bore water, ensuring an abundance of water for stock.

It is divided into smaller paddocks near the house and large paddocks on the boundaries.

In previous years, the present owner has grown lucerne on the lower part of the property and cut an abundance of grass hay from the upper paddocks.

And if that’s not enticing enough, just wait until you see the cute as a button timber home.

Views abound from the delightful residence, which is perfectly located to provide an eagle’s eye view over the whole property.

Decking on two sides looks out to Sorell and the waters of Lewisham.

The eclectic style of this two-bedroom home features high ceilings, crisp, quirky interiors and an abundance of natural light.

A wood fire keeps the property cost and comfortable throughout the cooler months.

A generous butler’s pantry is centrally located, with the kitchen, living area and a bedroom wrapping around it.

There is a well-appointed bathroom at the rear with a large step-in shower, modern tapware and a vanity.

The property is presently “off grid”, however, power can be connected from the main road if required.

Zoned “significant agriculture”, the property is surrounded by renowned vineyards and a new berry farm on the Tasman Highway.

This picturesque lifestyle property has everything and more for a family lifestyle, including plenty of space to extend the home if desired (STCA).

The property is only minutes from bustling Sorell and pristine beaches, with easy access to Hobart city and the airport.

No.126 Orielton Road, Orielton is listed with Charlotte Peterswald for Property and priced at $990,000+.

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Isolated off-grid East Kimberley wildlife carer survives low rainfall, fire and coronavirus

Poor wet seasons, fire and coronavirus are just some of the challenges Barbara Walker faces living off the grid in the East Kimberley bush.

For 25 years she has lived at Roy’s Retreat near Lake Argyle.

Named after her late husband, the reserve is the only “soft release” wildlife rehabilitation centre in the Kimberley, meaning the animals can leave the sanctuary straight into the wild from their pens, rather than being transported to a new location and set free.

There is no phone reception at Roy’s Retreat, the closest town of Kununurra is an hour away, and the property can become cut off during wet-season flooding.

During the dry season, Ms Walker hosts international volunteers who help with the wildlife and land care.

But with travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Walker is carrying out repairs and upgrades on her own.

The lack of tourists and volunteers has also meant fewer donations for the registered charity.

Barbara Walker lives off the grid at Roy’s Retreat, where she operates a ‘soft-release’ wildlife rehabilitation reserve.(ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge)

Unseasonal fires

Ms Walker cares for native animals that have been presented to the vet clinic in Kununurra.

She said the lack of travellers on the road, combined with late season fires and cane toads, have meant fewer animals have been brought in for care.

“There’s hardly any joeys now coming into the vet clinic because there’s not a lot of animals around anymore through these recent fires that we had,” she said.

The fire tore through the area around Lake Argyle in late October, coming within a stone’s throw of Ms Walker’s home and damaging land and infrastructure.

“A lot of animals died,” she said.

“This was land that hasn’t been burnt for 15 years because I have looked after it and brought the land back what it should be, but it just went up in flames in five minutes.”

Close up of old wallaroo.
Aging Antilopine wallaroo Ballerina pauses for a rest in the shade near the retreat.(ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge)

The fire also burned through the neighbouring Long Michael Plain, an area that Ms Walker has also worked to rehabilitate.

Most of the fences and gates were destroyed, and she said she will now focus on the pocket of land near her house.

“But I had two blue-tongued lizards here, and I had sand goannas that came to the camp for a feed.

“They’re all gone.”

Satellite dish and aviaries beneath towering rock face.
Roy’s Retreat would normally host international volunteers throughout the dry season.(ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge)

Poor wet seasons

Ongoing dry conditions in the north have also had an impact on the property.

The spillway creek that flows from Lake Argyle has run dry over the last three dry seasons, as the lake levels continue to recede after drier than average wet seasons.

Ms Walker is starting to boil drinking water for the first time and is no longer able to pump direct from a spring into her tank.

“Normally my spring is going the whole year round, but not now.

“So many things have changed.”

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