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Trip Report The Wonders of Western Australia: Trip Report & Slideshow

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We can’t seem to get enough of Western Australia’s forests and the beautiful southwest, so with a few days of vacation burning a hole in our pockets, we made another road trip south from Perth, this time concentrating on the area around Balingup and Pemberton.

For those wanting the short version, here’s the slideshow:

http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-033c-bdde-7b27?ln

Our strategy was to avoid the October school holidays AND the CHOGM/Queen’s Birthday public holiday/long weekend. This was accomplished by leaving Perth on Friday October 21 and returning on Friday October 28 (public holiday), giving us seven nights down south, yet avoiding the Perth exodus.

I can’t just drive from Point A to Point B. I must explore, so I’d done my usual exhaustive research on what to do between Perth and Balingup.

Pinjarra was a must, for a breakfast of scones, cream and jam at the Pinjarra Heritage Tearooms. Yum. For those unfamiliar, Pinjarra is about 90 minutes south of Perth via the SW Highway.

Bill was convinced I was taking him on a wild goose chase as I navigated us through the country via Dowdells Road (just past Burekup) and on to Ferguson and Pile Roads. This deposited us in the Ferguson Valley, where I’d uncovered all sorts of interesting things to see and do. He was quickly pacified as we pulled into Wild Bull, a brewery tucked away in the hills, where we shared a beer sampler ($15) and soaked up the glorious views. Lovely spot this, and good brew.

http://www.wildbullbrewery.com.au/

As we meandered along we were sidetracked by yet another brewery, Moody Cow, so of course we had to call in to talk beer and share another sampler ($14) and I couldn’t leave without photographing the steel keg urinals Bill discovered in the men’s room.

http://moodycow.com.au/

We next sought out the King Jarrah Tree in nearby Wellington National Park. This baby is estimated to be 500 years old, making it one of the oldest Jarrah trees in the world. Very cool.

Then it was on to a little gnome place called Gnomesville…

I had no idea this quirky slice of weirdness existed until a Perth local on Trip Advisor suggested it was worth a gander. And indeed it was.

As we approached the junction of Wellington Mill and Ferguson just east of Dardanup, we entered the Gnome Zone, where gnomads come to put down roots. The countless people who’ve donated these strange little lawn ornaments to Gnomesville have also left behind a slew of gnome puns, so when in gnome, do as the gnomes do.

I like weird things, and this is definitely weird. Imagine if you will, thousands of gnomes of all variety and description, scattered along the side of a road near a hamlet that’s not much bigger than the roundabout that serves it. It’s a hoot. Mere words cannot describe it, so here are a few photos to give you an idea (one little fella even shows off his XY chromosgnome).

http://tripwow.tripadvisor.com/tripwow/ta-0336-cec4-0837?lb

The Margaret River venison chorizo we saw on the blackboard menu at Wild Bull Brewery was on Bill’s mind, so we backtracked and had ourselves a nice lunch on their patio. Good stuff.

An inefficient route for sure, but we weren’t in a hurry, so gnome worries.

We eventually returned to Gnomesville and located the back road to Donnybrook that had been suggested by another TA member, who knew I was looking for a scenic drive. It was definitely pretty...orchards, rolling countryside, pastures, etc.

We zigged, we zagged; we detoured to a solar fruit factory (closed). We continued on to Donnybrook, past streets with names like Cherry Dale and Crab Apple. We located the elusive solar fruit at the Fruit Barn where I purchased some rather expensive apricot lumps – they were pretty awful.

We backtracked and continued our drive via the back roads…in this case Lowden-Grimwade Road, which became unsealed almost immediately. We never did see a town called Lowden or Grimwade, but plenty of forest and bush. It felt like a logging road, and probably wasn’t the one that had been suggested. Bill’s faith in my navigating waned again, but we eventually rejoined the SW Highway just north of Balingup.

We spent two nights at the Oakfield B&B in Balingup. It was our second stay there and just as enjoyable as the first. They do a nice breakfast.

Dinner that night was at the Balingup Tavern (booked well in advance). They do great steaks, or so the carnivore tells me. He was in red meat heaven with the Stockman ($33).

To be continued:

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    The whole idea behind staying in Balingup was to explore some of the walking tracks, as we’d not had time previously. First up was Jarrah Park, which is located about 20 kilometers west of Bridgetown along the Brockman Highway. We drove the more direct route from Balingup to Bridgetown via the SW Highway, and then turned towards Nannup, planning to return to Balingup via Tourist Road 251 (considered one of the most scenic drives in the southwest), thereby making a loop.

    It took us 2.5 hours to walk all four tracks in this peaceful state forest (3.8 miles). We had the place completely to ourselves and found plenty of wildflowers, including some orchids, which sent me on a photographing frenzy.

    We next drove to the tiny town of Nannup, where we had a lovely lunch overlooking the lake at the Blackwood Winery and Bistro...surprised to be the only customers on a Saturday. The food and wine were very good and the roses in the garden were amazing – the blooms as big as my outstretched hand.

    We worked our way back to Balingup, stopping to walk the Blackwood River Campground Loop (1.5 miles) located about 13 kilometers from town. Once again, there were plenty of wildflowers and some nice river views.

    We’d booked dinner two weeks in advance at The Bronze, a gluten-free café by day (open weekends only). On Saturday nights, the café is rented out to a couple who dish up a nice gluten-free dinner. Bill had the lamb shanks marinated in red wine and bay leaf served on creamy mash potato and herbs ($20). He said it was excellent; the lamb fell off the bone. I had the free range chicken, asparagus and creamy sweet potato pie ($20), which was also excellent. We shared the chocolate hazelnut mud cake with honey, rhubarb and thick cream for dessert ($10). The chocolate bit was incredible, the rhubarb, not-so-much. Unfortunately, the flat whites were pretty awful.

    http://www.balingupbronzegallery.com.au/

    To be continued:

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    We left our B&B and drove to the historic timber and mining town of Greenbushes, situated about 10-15 kilometers south of Balingup. I don’t know what I was expecting, but there’s not a whole lot to Greenbushes, least of all early on a Sunday morning when the Discovery Center isn’t even open. There are three hiking tracks here, ranging from 3-15 kilometers, but we settled for walking to the edge of the Cornwall open pit mine to stare into its depths.

    In keeping with our inefficient driving route, we backtracked to Balingup to walk three of the four tracks in the Racecourse Flora Reserve, where I was hoping to find more orchids (no such luck). It was humid, overcast and the flies were as annoying as all get out, making this one of our least favorite walks of the trip (2.1 miles, just over an hour).

    After a stop in the Old Cheese Factory to ogle the goods, we continued driving south to Bridgetown via the SW Highway, where we detoured to the Cidery on Gifford Road. We really enjoyed this stop. The Cidery makes some interesting ciders and some really good non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice, all made from locally grown apples. Bill also tried their beer sampler - $12.50. They serve meals too, and the plates being delivered to the dining room looked pretty good, but we weren’t ready for lunch yet. We wandered the back streets of Bridgetown for a bit, surprised that it was so much bigger than we thought.

    http://www.thecidery.com.au/

    We continued our meandering drive south. We took the Brockman Highway towards Nannup, made a left on Sears Road and slowly worked our way to Manjimup via the back roads. It was a pretty drive through state forest. We were surprised at the size of Manjimup too; we’ve been there many times, but have only skirted the town. We eventually found the King Jarrah Tree…yes, another one, this one 47 meters high, 2.69 meters in diameter and estimated to be 600 years old. We followed the short walk trail, searching for more wildflowers.

    I had a short list of things to see and do in Manjimup, but the weather turned wet and squally, so we pushed on to Pemberton, our base for the next five nights. We stayed at the Rainbow Trail Chalets (again). Nice place this.

    We had dinner at Sadie’s in the Gloucester Motel. We’ve been here before and it was good again – spicy beef curry for Bill ($24), ricotta and spinach cannelloni for me ($24).

    To be continued:

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    We were in Pemberton primarily to walk, so I’ll just summarize here:

    1) We spent the morning in the tiny hamlet of Quinninup (approx 36 km east of Pemberton). Here we walked the Orchid Walk (2.6 miles). I was hoping to find all manner of orchids, but we only saw a couple varieties we’d not yet seen this trip. Nice walk though. We also enjoyed the Karri Lake Walk (2.5 miles).

    Next up was the King Karri Trail (2.5 miles), where we saw Shaggy, the 73 meter tall, 400 year old karri tree. This track has a lot of potential, but it’s seriously overgrown. We could’ve used a machete; it desperately needs some maintenance.

    We shared a nice platter at Silkwood Winery, one of our usual spots in Pemberton. It was cold and windy, but like fools, we decided to dine on the patio anyway, which for some strange reason we had all to ourselves ($53 with wine).

    We rounded out the day with a visit to the Pemberton Hydroelectric power station, which has a mildly interesting interpretive display at a kiosk across from the parking area.

    2) We walked the 7+ mile Warren River Loop, which begins near the Bicentennial Tree in Warren National Park, about a 15 minute drive from Pemberton. The track leads through majestic karri forest and along the Warren River. It’s a gorgeous undulating walk, but frankly, we both thought it would never end. Afterwards, we drove out to the Cascades, a series of small waterfalls that flow from Lefroy Brook.

    We had lunch at Holy Smoke, a small shop/café in town that specializes in smoked and gourmet food. We both enjoyed our toasted sandwiches – smoked chicken for me, smoked bacon for Bill. Good, fast and relatively cheap ($25 with drinks).

    Our last excursion of the day was Goblins Swamp, (turn at the Carey Brook sign on Vasse Highway). We took the short walk from Goblins Campground to the swamp, hoping to find more orchids (we did). It felt kind of snaky back here and I jumped every time I saw movement or heard rustling in the bushes. And the swamp itself is downright creepy.

    3) We took the Pemberton Mill tour, which we’d missed on our previous visits. The tour runs M-Thurs and leaves from the Millhouse Café at 9:30 am, which also takes the bookings ($10 each). It was just the two of us and a family with small kids. The tour was simultaneously fascinating and depressing. It broke my heart to watch karri trees being reduced to wood planks for shipment to Europe. I so love forests and trees…I also love beautiful products made of wood. I’m one big fat oxymoron.

    We had a lovely lunch at Hidden River Estate (it just occurred to me that I still don’t know where the ‘hidden river’ is). Bill opted for their “icon dish” again, the Prawn Laksa, which he said was excellent ($24). My first choice wasn’t available, so I settled on the Curry Chicken Kerala ($28), which was good, but…how can I say this nicely…not visually appetizing.

    After lunch we visited Lost Lake Winery, where we sampled the goods and discussed every topic under the sun with one of the owners, including logging. She said the loggers don’t fell trees within 100 meters of the road in an effort to keep things pretty. She suggested we take a walk across the way to look at a logged area, which we did. It was certainly naked with no trees, but at least it had had time to grow over and was green and full of wildflowers. I’d rather have trees though.

    On the way to Gloucester Nat’l Park, we sought out nearby Gloucester Ridge, Pemberton’s first winery. I suspected it was closed, but I wanted to investigate. We have fond memories; this is where Bill discovered marron and where we first learned about the gem of Windy Harbor. Sadly, the vineyard is gone; it’s being converted into a residential estate.

    We had the whole park to ourselves for awhile. On a whim, Bill decided to climb the Gloucester tree again, a decision he regretted the next day. We’ve both previously climbed all three of the area’s climbing trees, and I reckon once was enough for me.

    We followed the Burma Tourist Drive, just because it’s there. We drove as far as Moon’s Crossing, where the road disappears into a rocky river. We figured our Corolla wasn’t up for that nonsense, so we turned back.

    4) Intermittent rain. We drove ~30 kilometers south to Northcliffe, where we located the Remembrance Trail near the sad decaying cemetery. Or so we thought. The path is poorly marked, narrow and overgrown. We walked until it became nearly impassable, bailing after 25 minutes.

    Next up was the Hollow Butt picnic area just outside of Northcliffe, where we walked the Marri Meander and the Twin Karri Loop (~2.4 miles). We really enjoyed both of these trails through the forest; there were loads of wildflowers!

    Then it was back to Northcliffe for a late breakfast at the Hollow Butt Café; a generous plate of bacon, eggs and toast for Bill, a tasty scone with cream and jam for me, flat whites for both. Very good ($26 total).

    The pouring rain in Northcliffe didn’t bode well for walking, but we forged on anyway, driving 27 kilometers south to Windy Harbor and then into D’Entrecasteaux Nat’l Park, which was, miraculously, sunny and rain-free.

    Here we walked the Coastal Survivor’s trail along the cliff tops from Point D’Entrecasteaux to the settlement of Windy Harbor via Cathedral Rock (3.7 miles return, took us 1:45). It’s a lovely walk through the dunes with fabulous beach and ocean views and loads of interesting flora. Unfortunately, it was also a serious fly-a-rama, so we eventually pulled out the fly nets. Funny thing about fly nets…I feel stupid wearing one for about five minutes… and then I’m just glad I have it.

    I just couldn’t pass up another chance to photograph Salmon Beach (especially with the sun out), so we made a stop there before driving back to Windy Harbor, where we poked around and explored all the nooks and crannies before returning to Pemberton.

    We had a very late lunch at Holy Smoke, smoked trout pate and crackers for Bill ($10), smoked chicken sandwich for me ($10). Good again.

    To be continued:

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    The Queens Birthday, a public holiday and long weekend; time to get out of Dodge.

    We left Pemberton via the SW Highway, planning to work through that list of sights in Manjimup along the way. We sought out One Tree Bridge (the remains of the original bridge from 1904 made from a single karri tree), Glenoran Pool, and Four Aces (four ~230 year old karri trees that stand in a single row). We left the Manjimup area via Vasse Highway and worked our way to Nannup, surrounded by rolling countryside and forest. At Nannup we joined Tourist Drive 251 to Balingup (again). We called in at the Heritage Cheese Company for samples, which inevitably led to purchases of their pepper cheddar and chili-garlic cheddar, good stuff.

    Then it was short stop in Balingup at the Mushroom Café for caffeine. The little town was hopping with the public holiday crowd and loads of motorcyclists, glad we weren’t sticking around.

    We drove the SW Highway north to Kirup, planning to make yet another scenic detour via Upper Capel Road, which we couldn’t find. Instead we took Capel Street, which turned out to be a wise decision as it eventually joined Upper Capel Road. We followed it through rolling hills and pasture – definitely a pretty drive. We detoured (as we do) at the Real River Company Cidery, where we walked the grounds, explored the former goldfields and sampled the goods (we liked the Cidery in Bridgetown much better).

    Our drive continued, taking us past the Donnybrook Quarry and its mysterious assortment of stuffed toys attached to the fence and the trees surrounding it.

    We rejoined the SW Highway at Donnybrook, and eventually turned onto Boyanup-Picton Road for a wee bit more scenic countryside (skirting Bunbury) before turning back onto the SW Highway for the final leg. The Perth exodus was in full swing, with heavy traffic headed south for the long weekend. Stomachs growling, we stopped in Pinjarra for another round of scones, jam and cream.

    Eight hours after leaving Pemberton, we were back in Perth. Gnome again gnome again, jiggity-jig.

    ----------------------

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    Another fun report Mel. Cracked up at both the keg urinals and the gnomes.

    Did your husband stand watch as you took the photos of the urinals? Or did you draft him into service and make him take the pics?

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    Thanks for another amusing and informative report. I would not have liked to make that survivors walk without a track. That heath country looks thick. Loved the pictures, particularly the flowers.

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    Melnq8, haha, I just enjoyed the slideshow of your visit to gnomesville! Thanks for that glimpse. I just browsed your trip report on the wonders of western australia. Saving this to read more thoroughly later.

    My mind is still boggled about planning our spring visit to Australia. It will be our first visit to Australia, ever. We've been to New Zealand several times, but never to Australia.

    This would be a September or October trip. So many questions I want to ask you, but first we are looking at airfare & flight itineraries to make sure this will work for this year. We usually start planning a lot sooner! But it took us forever to catch up with things at home after spending a month in South Africa in September 2013.

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful detail-filled trip report!

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