September 3-11, 2011
Perth to Balingup:
We leave Perth early under an ominous September sky, our travel enthusiasm mildly dimmed by the creeping crud. Bill’s felt poorly for weeks, I’m beginning to, but we’re financially committed, so we go forward as planned.
Lynyrd Skynyrd serenades us as we ease south on the Tonkin Highway, zig onto the Albany Highway, then zag onto the South Western Highway. We briefly stop in Armadale, hoping to collect some area walking maps at the Visitor’s Center for future use, but alas they’re closed, which sets the theme for the whole trip (M-F 9-5, Sat & Sun 11-4).
We skirt the western edge of the Perth Hills and enter the Peel Region, lush and green from the winter rain. We pass a new development of cookie cutter houses fringing the Darling Scarp and we’re soon in the country, surrounded by vibrant green pastures, a smattering of yellow wildflowers and the ever present dull sage of the ubiquitous Australian gum tree. We meander past horse and alpaca farms, endless bright white rail fences and an abundance of signs advertising veterinarian services.
The country calms me. It’s peaceful and serene, the chaos of the city a distant memory. Ninety minutes after leaving home, we pull into Pinjarra, one of WA’s oldest towns. I’ve been told that the Pinjarra Heritage Tea Rooms is an obligatory stop…scones have been promised. Within minutes we’re camped at an outside table, overlooking the gorgeous garden and slathering cream and jam onto massive tender scones….oh my. An obligatory stop indeed, and very much worth skipping breakfast for ($8.50 each - two scones, cream, jam and a large flat white) - lovely. We wander the grounds, peruse the handicrafts at the gift shop and admire the quilt display at The Old Schoolhouse, chatting up one of the 70 strong quilt club members.
We pepper each other with questions as our journey continues….”Exactly how long is the Darling Scarp?” “Where do you suppose that train is headed?” We enter Waroona, greeted by small, pink blossom-covered trees lining either side of the highway, which begs yet another unanswered question…”Are those cherry trees?”
Before long we’re entering the town of Harvey, which conjures up images of beef, oranges and cheese; all well represented in this town of less than 3,000. A previous visit to Harvey found us exploring the Big Orange; today we go for the cheese, calling in at Harvey Cheese (HaVe) for some samples. The herb garlic feta and Moroccan feta manage to penetrate our congested sinuses, so we purchase a few blocks. I can’t leave the premises without photographing their resident camels lounging on the front pasture.
We resume our drive through farmland and rolling hills, the sun and dark clouds battling it out above. The next town is Brunswick Junction, immediately announcing itself as a dairy community through its cow embossed street signs and a massive Peters Creameries factory.
The plan is to stay on the South Western Highway and skirt Bunbury, but somehow we end up on the Bussell Highway, obviously missing a turn, but not quite sure how it happened. So we continue towards Capel, cut across to Boyanup and soon we’re back on track.
Before long we’re entering the Apple Capital of the Southwest, Donnybrook. I wouldn’t mind spending some quality time here, but there isn’t any, so we do the tourist thing and take some snaps of the apple light posts and the apple themed businesses before moving on, Bill commenting that it all feels rather “New Zealandy, except for the trees”.
We arrive in Balingup, a small town situated at the entrance to the Blackwood River Valley in a region known for its timber forests, fruit farms, wineries, handicrafts and festivals. It’s taken us five hours to drive the ~240 km from Perth.
Our first stop is Fre-Jac, a kiosk selling coffee, sandwiches and pastries located in the Packing Shed, on the main street of town. I’ve heard good things about this place and the accompanying restaurant, which unfortunately is currently only open for group bookings. The carbohydrate fest continues with an apple turnover for Bill, a chocolate croissant for me and a couple of flat whites ($16.50). Neither of us is particularly impressed; we wonder what the fuss is about.
A sign for the equally touted Old Cheese Factory Craft Centre beckons; I must have a look. We find a shop packed floor to ceiling with handicrafts, artwork, jarrah and marri wood furniture, antiques and assorted junk. I love marri, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation. I’m drawn to a unique marri plant stand, the price of which doesn’t make me cringe; I decide to mull it over.
We pop into the Visitor’s Center to enquire about dinner options. A phone call determines that the only restaurant open for dinner is fully booked. Just as we resign ourselves to a meal of cheese and crackers, the woman helping us remembers that the Balingup Tavern is open Saturday nights; she helpfully calls and makes a booking for us.
The Balingup-Nannup scenic drive (Tourist Drive 251) is at the top of my “must do” list, so we take the advice of our dinner savior, who suggests we drive it in reverse. We travel from Balingup to Bridgetown via the South Western Highway, turn onto the Brockman Highway (Tourist Drive 252) to Nannup, and then connect to the Balingup-Nannup Road, which follows the Balingup Brook and the Blackwood River. Technically, the ‘scenic’ bit is the 41 kilometers between Balingup and Nannup; it’s been called one of the most scenic drives in WA’s southwest.
And scenic it is. Lush green rolling hills and pasture, a very full, tannin-rich frothy river (hence the black color), heavy forest – it’s positively gorgeous. We detour to Jarrah Park, an area of massive jarrah, marri, sheoak and blackbutt trees and a couple of walk trails that I’d love to explore, but there’s just not enough time. Instead we soak up the gentle sounds of the forest; the birdsong, the flow of the river, the wind in the trees.
It’s love at first sight as we pull into flower-filled Nannup, aptly called The Garden Village. Beds of blooming tulips are on every corner of this pretty little town. We wander and take some snaps. It doesn’t occur to me until much later to consult my meticulously gathered notes, when I discover that the Nannup Tulip Farm was open and in full bloom that very day. Arghhh…
Two hours later, we’re back in Balingup, having enjoyed every single one of the 113 kilometer loop.
We check into our accommodation for the night, Oakfield B&B (king ensuite, $160). My detailed review can be found here:
Within minutes we’re on the expansive porch of our B&B, rugged up in our fleece, sipping a glass of wine as we watch the sun set over the peaceful countryside. We’re entertained by Ben, the energetic resident Border Collie who repeatedly runs up and down the fence line, trying in vain to get at the sheep on the other side.
We end our day at the Balingup Tavern (Mallard’s Restaurant), where we’re overfed while being entertained by the hilariously flamboyant proprietor. He darts between tables encouraging customers to finish their heaping plates of food by shouting “you can do it you lot!” Bill’s massive sirloin is overcooked (which happens a lot here in WA, perhaps his ‘medium rare’ sounds like ‘medium well’ to the Australian ear?), but he tucks in anyway and proclaims it excellent ($30), cleaning his plate. I barely make a dent in my humongous plate of tapas, which could easily feed an army ($19). Note to self: Next time, share something. As we depart and thank our host, he responds with “Bloody you’re welcome very much” and wishes us “Happy Balingup”. Love that guy.
To be continued...
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Savoring the Southwest: A Western Australia Road Trip
September 3-11, 2011