The Story of McLeod Tours, Margaret River
The McLeod farm in Margaret River has been in the family for more than 100 years, and is where Neil McLeod’s story begins. You might even say tourism was in Neil’s blood from the very start – as well as running the farm, Neil’s father Dudley worked as a caves guide at the now-famous Lake and Mammoth Caves, while his mother Bernice worked at the Margaret River Hotel, built by Neil’s Grandfather Bernard McKeown in 1936 and run by the family for 36 years.
For Neil and his brothers, life on the farm was extraordinary, spending their days trapping rabbits (which often ended up on the dinner table), catching yabbies, climbing trees, riding horses, kicking the ‘footy’, and escaping the neighbour’s bull. There were of course a few chores like milking the cows, but overall, life was good.
Financially however, things were pretty tough on the farm, so in 1963 Neil’s father travelled north to Exmouth for work. The following year Neil and the family joined for a three-month trip.
For Neil, Exmouth was an untouched paradise. The warm days, blue skies, red land and turquoise waters were so different from the heavily timbered, high rainfall dairy farm they’d left in Margaret River. Exmouth’s natural attractions were a wonder.
At the time the US Naval base town was still in its infancy. Family accommodation was limited to tents in the Caravan Park, so it wasn’t until 1967 that the family returned. Neil finished his last two schooling years in the newly commissioned township, and then arrived his first calling – already a well-versed horseman, life as an Australian stockman begun!
From dawn until dusk Neil and his fellow stockmen would work on horseback, away from the homestead for five to six weeks at a time mustering the station’s cattle. Fossil Downs, a sprawling outback station, covers a million acres of the remote, rugged and beautiful Kimberley region – it would take around nine months to muster completely. While working the station Neil met the likes of Billy and Martin Chestnut, Joe Nugget, and Isaac and Jack Button, indigenous stockmen who taught him the ways of the Australian bush and surviving the outback.
The years that followed were packed with change and adventure. Neil became the first ever apprentice at the Naval Communication Station in Exmouth, played football with the East Perth Football Club, and worked the North West, from Karratha to Port Headland, Shay Gap, Exmouth and Geraldton. At 23 he embarked on a 12-month overseas journey to the US and Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom, experiencing extraordinary hospitality from complete strangers on his way.
Nothing would prepare Neil for the adventure to follow though. Finding himself back in Exmouth working as a commercial fisherman, he landed his biggest catch – his wife Coralie, who had returned to the town during her mid-year study breaks. They started dating, and the rest is history!
Neil and Coralie married in 1980, and two years later their first son Daniel was born in the mining town of Newman, where Neil was working and enjoying coaching and playing with a local Football club. After a five-year stint however, Exmouth once again beckoned and the young family returned to see Neil become a fireman on the Harold E Hold Communications Station for the next ten years – during which time they also welcomed three more sons – Hayden, Casey and Lincoln – to the family.
Life took a wonderful turn up in Exmouth with the decision to purchase a small safari tour operation that Neil called Ningaloo Safari Tours; the surrounding natural assets inspired the tour name Top of the Range Safari. Two world-class natural assets were included in the tour’s major attractions – the spectacular and rugged Cape Range National Park, and the underwater playground of Ningaloo Marine Park. Neil’s mother would bake cakes for the trip – her famous boiled fruit cake and orange cake with lemon icing became folklore! Today guests of Neil’s Sunset Kangaroo Safari are still treated to the delectable flavours of the orange cake, served on the banks of Dudley Creek.
Over the 19 years Neil and Coralie ran Ningaloo Safari Tours they hosted guests from all corners of the world. They were also visited by film crews and a number of well known TV programs – The Great Outdoors, Healthy, Wealthy & Wise, Breakaway, 60 Minutes, Michi Roman (Japan) and Swiss TV. Perhaps one of the most notable experiences though was a visit from Elle MacPherson and her then-boyfriend Arki Busson, who Neil and Coralie with Neil’s sister Leonie hosted on a private and exclusive five-day camping safari at Warroora Station.
The tour wasn’t only recognised by TV programs and special guests; In 2001 Neil was named the top tour guide in Western Australia, awarded the coveted Facet Golden Guide at the Western Australian Tourism Awards.
By 2005, three of Neil and Coralie’s four sons were living in Perth for study or work. They made the decision to sell-up for the South West, and returned to Margaret River permanently. Neil was back where he came from, and after some hard work including building their new farmhouse on the old family farm, life begun once again – this time with newly started Margaret River with Neil McLeod.
Margaret River with Neil McLeod started with half-day scenic and cultural tours of the Margaret River region, but it wasn’t long before tours of the local wineries and breweries made the list that quickly expanded to the broad range of tours on offer today.
Neil’s favourite tour – the Margaret River 3 Day Escape. Full of signature experiences, Margaret River highlights, and a few hidden gems too, Neil loves taking the opportunity to return the extraordinary hospitality he fondly remembers from his early travels. He’s also incredibly fond of his Kangaroo Sunset Safari – kangaroos, the family’s famous orange cake, and a custom-fitted 1962 4 Wheel Drive Bedford Truck – sometimes it’s the simpler things in life that bring the greatest joy!