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Trip Report Savoring the Southwest: A Western Australia Road Trip

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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.

Photos: 1-19

To be continued...

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    Love the expression "cookie butter" houses, Melnq8. Just loving your travelogues as they create wonderful pictures in my mind. Look forward to the next instalment.

    Have started entering some photos into worldisround - hope to finish and post this weekend.

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    Thanks guys - that's cookie cutter dottyp, although I do like my butter. I look forward to seeing your photos.

    I'm waiting for TA to add my review for our accommodation in Pemberton before I post the next installment. I like to include the linkes to my reviews and there's no link to post just yet.

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    Balingup to Pemberton:

    Rested and fed, we’re on the move, seeking out the heritage listed Golden Valley Tree Park, home to an impressive assortment of native and introduced trees. We log several miles, exploring trails in both the World Collection and the Australian Collection.

    Then it’s a return visit to the Old Cheese Factory for a second look at that marri plant stand, which I think I’ll buy if it fits into the car. ‘Lo and behold they offer free delivery to Perth, so my decision is made easy; I make my first marri purchase.

    Craving caffeine, we pop into the Mushroom Café, where the hopeless chocoholic spies an enticing mini chocolate mud cake, completely enrobed in chocolate icing and topped with a chocolate swirl…resistance is futile. We share our breakfast dessert on the café patio; it doesn’t disappoint, it’s as good as it looks ($12.60 with two flat whites).

    We finally drag ourselves away from charming Balingup just before noon, driving to Bridgetown via the South Western Highway. The countryside is awash in yellow blooms, storm clouds threaten above. We gas the car and we’re on our way, passing through the tiny town of Manjimup, known for its timber, cherries and black truffles. Intermittent rain pelts us as we drive beneath a canopy of majestic, towering trees, the fickle sun occasionally filtering through the wet branches overhead. We’re soon on the outskirts of Pemberton, turning right onto Channybearup Road.

    Our destination is Silkwood Winery, a favorite from past visits. We’ve verified they’ll be open, but we’ve forgotten about a little thing called Father’s Day; they’re busy and we have no booking. Oops. No worries, they’re able to accommodate us after a short wait.

    We while away the afternoon on Silkwood’s patio, overlooking the gardens, gazebo and lake while nibbling on an impressive platter – spring rolls, prawns, chorizo, cheese, bread, crackers, assorted dips, fruit, etc ($39.50), washed down with a bottle of their 2008 Chardonnay, most of which we take with us for later - ($14).

    Stomachs full, we seek out Mountford Winery/Tangletoe Cidery, hoping, (but not really expecting) to chill out with their “Free live music on Sundays from 1-5” and a glass of something. Nope. Unsurprisingly, it’s a summer thing only, although nothing in our Pemberton tourist literature indicates this. So, we locate our digs for the next four nights, where we chill out, watch the birds from our patio, soak in the spa tub and finish that bottle of wine. My review our accommodation, Rainbow Trail Chalets, can be found here:

    Photos 22-34

    To be continued...

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    We set out to explore the wonders of Pemberton, an unassuming timber town once ranked #3 on a list of Ugliest Towns in Australia. True, it doesn’t look like much on the surface, but we love this area. Pemberton is surrounded by incredible karri forest (the largest trees in WA and the third largest hardwood tree in the world) national parks, rivers and, oddly enough, sand dunes! The region produces avocados, trout, marron (freshwater crayfish) and some lovely wines.

    Having missed them on previous visits, our goal today is to explore the Yeagarup Dunes, some 20 kilometers southwest of Pemberton.

    My predictably poor navigational skills cause us to miss the turn and overshoot our turnoff by about 12 kilometers. Once we figure out that we should have zigged instead of zagged where Vasse Highway and Old Vasse Road meet, we find Ritter Road and drive the rough, unsealed 11 kilometers to Yeagarup Lake, which is located within D’Entrecasteaux Nat’l Park (pronounced don-truh-cast-oh).

    A 4x4 is needed to explore the dunes, and there are operators in Pemberton who offer tours, but we’ve got calories to burn, so we park at the lake and walk. We follow the 4x4 road on foot, eventually reaching a wall of sand that bizarrely rises from the forest. We climb, and as we crest the top of the dunes we’re assaulted by a fierce, cold, sand-pelting wind. We wander, we photograph, we watch a few 4x4 vehicles negotiate the dunes and disappear, presumably headed towards Yeagarup Beach. We’re clueless as to the walking distance to the beach, but no matter, the wind has whipped itself into an absolute frenzy and the ominous blackening sky convinces us to turn around. So it’s back to the car to pick the sand out of our teeth (three miles return, 90 minutes).

    We spot a few emu as we work our way back to town, where we pop into Millhouse Café for coffee and cake, chocolate peppermint for me, carrot and pineapple for Bill (both good, $20 with two large flat whites).

    I recall that Fine Woodcraft Gallery on Dickinson Street stocks some interesting goods, so off we go, but it appears to be closed…permanently, as does the coffee shop next door. There’s no indication of this in any of our visitor’s info and the gallery’s website is up and running, so I have no idea what the story is (never did get around to asking at the Visitor’s Center, maybe it’s seasonal).

    We seek out the 100 Year Forest, located on Smith’s Road about 10 km from town, passing several ponds and lakes that are practically bursting their banks. The word ‘lush’ comes to mind yet again; the countryside is impossibly green. We walk the .75 mile Wheatfield Loop, a nice little trail that leads through tranquil old karri forest.

    The weather can’t make a decision. One minute it’s squally, the next the sun is out. We head to nearby Gloucester National Park, hoping to photograph some parrots. We toy with the idea of climbing the Gloucester Tree, having conquered it, the Diamond Tree and the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree a few years back, but the weather isn’t in our favor and we’re not all that keen, so we pass. We walk, we explore. I sneak up on birds, managing to get a few good shots of a Western Rosella and a Ring-Necked Parrot. Mel is happy.

    While at Silkwood the previous day, we’d verified that they’d be open for lunch again today, so we head that direction. Our hearts sink as we see a ‘closed for maintenance’ banner at the entrance, having planned our day around an encore visit. Arghhh…Why a business would choose to do maintenance on one of the only four days they’re open is beyond me. Bill is not happy.

    Note: Pemberton has its fair share of dining challenges. It’s a small town, with a population of ~757. Café/restaurant hours are odd and somewhat sporadic, depending on time of year, day of the week, how the cook feels on a given day, etc. It pays to plan well, yet still expect surprises. BBQs are included at many Pemby chalets for a reason.

    Discouraged, we return to our chalet and embark upon the Rainbow Trail, a section of the ~965 kilometer Bibbulmun that begins a short walk from our doorstep. The trail is muddy, but we don’t care, we happily tromp away. It’s just the two of us…and countless chirping, singing, laughing, screeching birds. I so love the birds.

    As we return to our chalet, we spot two girls in school uniform climbing trees at the edge of the forest. They’re accompanied by a dog grappling with a branch and a cat tentatively creeping through the wet underbrush. It’s scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and we can’t help but smile.

    Dinner that evening finds us at Sadie’s in the Gloucester Motel, where we enjoy a surprisingly good meal. My detailed review can be found here:

    Photos – 37-53

    To be continued...

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    The night is chilly and we surprise ourselves by turning on the heat. Self-catering be damned, we head to the Millhouse Café for breakfast; bacon, eggs and toast for Bill, a muffin for me, flat whites for both (good, but nothing to rave about, $28). The skies are moody and indecisive again, but at least it’s dry.

    We gas our chariot ($1.52 per liter!), hop on the Vasse Highway and drive the 27 kilometers to Northcliffe, once again surrounded by magnificent looming trees. We call in at the Windmill Gallery, where we become embroiled in a lengthy discussion with the proprietors, passionate activists who bend our ears with talk of government programs, highway funding and other fascinating topics. We eventually escape, armed with an excellent area map and some helpful local information. We head to Understory, one of the reasons we’ve come to Northcliffe, which ironically, is directly across the street.

    Formerly the Southern Forest Sculpture Walk, Understory has been on my radar for some time. We exchange $11 per person for headsets and a tiny MP3 player and begin the 1.2 kilometer audio-guided walk through the forest. As is the case for most art, some of it’s interesting, some of it clever, and some of it downright weird. If the audio presentation is any indication, these artists take themselves very seriously…their explanations of what inspired their work drags on and on and on…I hear flies buzzing around in the recordings and I can almost envision the artists doing the Aussie Salute as they drone on. This reminds me that fly season is just around the corner, oh joy.

    Having survived the chatty artists, we drive 16 km east to Boorara Conservation Park, which boasts 610 hectares of virgin karri and marri forest. We follow the unsealed Boorara Road to the Boorara Tree, a disused fire lookout and one of the last built in the region. We park, then walk the wide, well formed track to Lane Poole Falls. It’s seriously green; we feel as if we’re in the rainforest; I wonder about leeches…surely there aren’t any leeches??? Handrails are provided for the final 200 meter descent to the river; it’s not particularly steep, but it’s very slippery. We’re rewarded with a thunderous waterfall; there’s plenty of water due to the winter rain, but not much in the way of height, it’s basically just a big rock. It’s a good one though.

    We have the track entirely to ourselves; the sounds of the great outdoors envelope us, birdsong, the eerie squeaking of trees rubbing against one another in the wind…and the occasional human curse as our feet teeter beneath ankle-breaking gumnuts. It’s blissfully cool, no snakes, no flies, just us…and those magnificent Australian birds (3.12 mile loop, 90 minutes return).

    We backtrack to Northcliffe and locate Wheatley Coast Road, which we follow towards Windy Harbour. The landscape suddenly changes. Gone are the towering trees, replaced by red dirt and faded green shrubs – quite a contrast. Soon we’re at one of my favorite places, pristine and remote Salmon Beach in D’Entrecasteaux National Park. I love it here. It’s rugged, windswept and completely deserted.

    We wander the beach and explore all of the overlooks, gazing at the coastal cliffs, walking the Pupalong Loop and wishing we had two hours to spare to walk the Coastal Survivors Walk.

    We return to Pemberton to watch the birds from our patio and take some snaps of Coco, the resident kangaroo. Then we head to town for dinner at the Pemberton Hotel. It’s busy, service is incredibly slow and the food just isn’t all that good. Bill goes for the T-bone and mash, I have the vegetable soup and chips ($41 total). Then it’s back to our lovely chalet for a soak in the spa tub.

    Photos: 54-62

    To be continued…

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    It’s our last full day in Pemberton and we’re on a schedule. We’re out the door early, hoping to fit in a bit of exercise before the 11 am Salitage Winery tour (daily, FREE!).

    Within minutes we’re at Big Brook Dam, referred to as one of the most picturesque places in karri country, six kilometers from Pemberton. The sun is shining, the frogs are croaking and it’s shaping up to be a nice day. Ever vigilant for swooping magpies, we walk the easy paved trail that circles the dam, and take the side track to the arboretum, making a four mile loop (90 minutes). It’s a lovely walk. We have the dam and the track completely to ourselves, although there’s activity in the car park as we leave.

    Early for the Salitage tour, we chat with the owner’s daughter Sarah and have a few samples. Winemaker Patrick then treats us to an exceptional tour; we have him entirely to ourselves. The man is a walking, talking wine encyclopedia; the information and knowledge he generously shares is incredible. We return to the cellar door to finish our tasting and depart with a bottle of their 2009 Chardonnay (made from wild yeast) and their 2007 Pinot Noir. Fantastic.

    Next up is lunch at Hidden River Estate, which has been enthusiastically recommended by the owners of our accommodation. We’re told they make a fabulous Prawn Laksa and a meal there is not to be missed, so we dutifully investigate; we’re not disappointed. It’s a wonderful find. My detailed review can be found here:

    Our next goal is to find Goblins Swamp, a locals ‘secret’. We’d tried to find it on a previous trip, but after a fruitless search we figured the locals were just messing with us by sending us on a snipe hunt. We reckon Goblins is in the same category as drop bears and forests where lamingtons grow on trees.

    Our directions are vague. We wander along the Vasse Highway, not sure exactly what we’re looking for. I need a loo, so we turn onto an unmarked road and follow it back to a campground, and what do you know – it’s Goblins! It does exist! We park, and then follow an unmarked track to an unmarked swamp (.66 mile return). It’s exactly as it’s been described, a swamp full of gnarly trees in murky, black water. It’s a wee bit creepy.

    We drive further into the forest, and stumble upon the departure point for the Donnelly River Cruise, where we explore for a bit before moving on.

    It’s beer thirty, so we work our way to Jarrah Jack’s/Woodsmoke Wines & Café. Bill once said that Jarrah Jack’s makes the best wheat beer he’s had outside of Germany, so we figure an alfresco beverage in their garden overlooking the vines is the perfect way to round out the day. Their website and our visitor’s guide indicate they’re open from 9-5, yet once again, we’re met with a closed sign at the entrance. No wheat beer for us!
    We learn later from our accommodation owner that they’ve been closed for some time, something do with tax issues. It’s not a complete loss though, because I spot a gorgeous vibrant blue Splendid Wren, which I unsuccessfully attempt to photograph.

    Photos: 63-73

    To be continued…

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    I love the birds, too, Mel. The Australian birds are so interesting and colourful. I was highly intrigued with the plumed whistling ducks in Kakadu. In fact my nephew, an ornithologist who is developing an international reputation (hark at the proud auntie!), saw and photographed some in Napier, New Zealand in the weekend. Didn't know we had them here, unless these few followed me home! I have quite a few photos of birds I took last trip that need identifying.
    I'm hoping to see plenty of interesting birds while I'm in Sydney.

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    Hi dotty. I'm sure you'll see loads of birds during your visit. Beware the swooping magpies if you're coming in the spring though - a four year old boy was just blinded by one. Scary stuff.

    Just yesterday I saw an interesting bird with a red wattle in Kings Park (Western Wattlebird, maybe?). I can never get close enough to figure out what they are, not that I'd know anyway.

    Are you having any luck with Picasa? I've been pulling out my hair trying to make a movie, but I've just about lost patience.

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    Pemberton to Denmark:

    It’s time to leave Pemby, but there’s no hurry. Millhouse Café beckons one last time; Bill has the same as before, I opt for beans and toast. The $9.50 price tag leads me to believe I’ll get something special, perhaps homemade baked beans on thick crusty bread? Ah, no... I’m presented with two slices of toasted white sponge and a dish of Heinz beans, straight from the can. Lesson learned, ask first.

    I enquire about the Timber Mill tour, which departs from the Millhouse, but we’ve missed it by mere minutes (9:30 am).

    Before leaving the area, we explore the Gold n Grape Gallery, located on the Vasse Highway towards Manjimup. We ogle their beautiful, but stupidly expensive wares, such as an $8,000 jarrah wood table. Thanks, but no.

    Then it’s back to Pemberton and on to Northcliffe via the Vasse Highway, the sun casting long shadows across the road through the trees. We snigger as we pass the Hollowbutt Café; turn left on Wheatley Road and then right onto Middleton, a new route for us. We’re surprised that the speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour on this skinny little road. It’s straight, but bumpy; massive trees come right up to the edge, we feel like we’re flying through the forest, it’s a bit unnerving. We skirt vibrant green pastures, spot a few emu and before long we’re turning onto the South Western Highway towards Walpole.

    A sign announces the 23 kilometer Great Forest Tree Drive; we detour, following the unsealed road into Shannon National Park, where we stop for a short walk at Shannon Dam. We continue our drive, tuning in to the park’s informative radio commentary which helps us identify the magnificent jarrah, marri, karri, blackbutt and sheoak trees that surround us. It’s a lovely drive. We muse about how much of WA one would miss if they never left the asphalt.

    Back on the bitumen, a sign announces we’re entering Mount Frankland National Park. There’s very little traffic, just an occasional passing car. The landscape constantly changes, lush one minute, thirsty the next, and then back to fertile green. The tall trees re-appear as we approach Walpole, we’re once again surrounded by giants.

    Our fingers are crossed as we approach the hamlet of Nornalup, willing the Teahouse to be open, but not optimistic. Big smiles all around as we arrive at our favorite Nornalup establishment, which IS open, yippee! Bill orders two live marron, split and sautéed in the half shell, served with a fennel, orange and apple salad ($36). He has to work for his food, using a crustacean cracker and his fork to get at the meat, but I’m told it’s good. I choose the effortless potato leek soup with ciabatta bread and roast garlic oil ($11.50). There’s room for dessert too, chocolate espresso cake for Bill and lemon sour cream cake for me ($8.50 each), flat whites for both. It’s a veritable feast, and excellent all the way around.

    It’s just too nice a day to pass up the opportunity to re-visit the Valley of the Giants and the Tree Top Walk in the Walpole-Nornalup National Park, so that’s what we do. We pay $10 each, work our way up the suspended walkway and meander high amongst the branches of enormous tingle trees. We also take the Ancient Empire walk, which leads beneath, and in some instances, through, these massive trees. The sun is shining, it cool, and it’s the busiest place we’ve seen on our trip so far.

    We continue our drive to Denmark via Bow Bridge, which eventually joins the South Coast Highway; we pass fields of creatures that look like deer or antelope, but we can’t tell which. We pull into the Toffee Factory minutes before they close, but in plenty of time to pick up a few trays of their luscious toffee to munch on later.

    We continue our drive to Denmark and seek out our accommodation for the next three nights, Hillview Chalet on Scottsdale Road
    Note: I wrote a detailed review for this chalet, but for some reason it didn’t meet TA’s guidelines (maybe because it’s a private rental). I didn’t keep a copy of the review and they didn’t return it, so I need to start from scratch. Suffice to say, it was well located and comfortable, but it could use a bit of maintenance.

    Our evening was spent soaking up the country ambiance, watching the antics of a kookaburra and enjoying a soak in the chalet’s outdoor hot tub.

    Photos 76-84

    To be continued…

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    Eating Denmark:

    Having walked most of the tracks in/around Demark on previous visits, this time we’re here to eat. Our wish list of dining establishments exceeds our available days, so some hard choices will have to be made.

    I’ve heard mention of the award winning pies at the Denmark Bakery, so we decide to investigate. Three years living in Australia and we’ve still not embraced the concept of meat pies; when this North American thinks pie, she thinks chocolate satin, lemon cream cheese and key lime… not beef mince, lamb, seafood, kangaroo and offal. We peruse the menu, but even die hard carnivore Bill can’t be tempted into trying a meat pie, award winning or not, so we both select a feta, ricotta and spinach roll made from spelt ($17.40 for two, plus two flat whites). We eat our bagged breakfast at the outdoor seating area while sipping flat whites from paper cups. It’s not the breakfast experience we were hoping for, but it works. The rolls are okay, but really bland…I doubt they’ve won any awards.

    After a quick stop in Denmark’s fabulous visitor’s center, where we learn that Forest Hill Winery is open for dinner on weekends, we head that way to peruse the menu for a possible dinner booking. We had an excellent dinner here a few years back and wouldn’t mind an encore. At Forest Hill we’re told they don’t serve dinner anymore, just lunch. We suggest they pass this information on to the visitor’s center.

    The next few hours are spent exploring the Pentland Alpaca Stud Animal Farm ($12 each entry), which is bursting with animals. James and Clancy the koalas are available for petting and posing, a rescued joey hops around at will, there’s a spanking new baby lamb, dozens of soft, tiny bunnies and guinea pigs, and several baby goats who repeatedly escape from their enclosures and greedily snatch our bags of pellets. Kimba the camel farts in her sleep as we look on, causing peals of laugher. Pentland is basically a petting zoo, but it appeals to my inner child; I like it here.

    It’s time for some chocolate, so we drive to Swiss Annie’s Chocolate Lounge on the South Coast Highway, some 9 kilometers west of Denmark.

    This place has fascinated me since we first discovered it last year. Not because of the chocolate, but because it exists at all, in the middle of seemingly nowhere and with little evidence of patronage. I wonder how they stay in business. It’s new, and a bit posh, the overhead must be scary. But never mind, we’re here for the hot chocolate. I choose the Venezuelan 72% dark, Bill goes for the Belgian milk chocolate. We retire to the patio and are each brought a dish of chocolate pastilles and a bowl of warm milk, which we then mix ourselves. It’s certainly good, but it’s gone in a flash and a bit dear at $9.50 per cup. We enjoy the lovely setting for awhile, and then depart, having no legitimate excuse to stick around.

    After driving out to the Denmark river mouth to watch the pelicans for awhile, I insist on checking out The Dark Side, yet another chocolate shop (who knew a town of this size could support two chocolate shops?). This one is located right in town, and was mysteriously overlooked (or more likely closed) on our previous visits. We peruse the display case, amazed at the interesting flavors…single malt scotch, orange, lime, and chili, mango and lime, etc. They’re painfully pretty, some in the shape of echidnas… and all incredibly tempting. I control myself and purchase only three, which I share with my beloved spouse.

    Lulled into a pleasant chocolate coma, it’s time for a late lunch. Recalling a tasty nosh at Poacher’s Ridge Vineyard in Mt Barker a few years back, we figure it’s time for another visit, so we head north via the Denmark-Mount Barker Road, fingers crossed that they’re open as advertised. They are, and we’ve got the place to ourselves. We sample the wine and enjoy a leisurely lunch on the patio overlooking the countryside and the distant Porongurup Range, under the watchful eye of a laughing kookaburra. It’s absolutely idyllic.

    Bill starts with the potted smoked trout served with Turkish bread and vegetables ($16). I don’t eat fish, so I sip Riesling and watch. He says it’s fantastic, just like last time.

    We both order the blackboard special, chicken breast with macadamia and bacon stuffing served on a potato cake with savory apricot sauce ($23). Lovely.

    The pièce de résistance comes in the form of our shared dessert; panna cotta with berry coulis ($8.50). Oh. My. God. This decadently rich slice of heaven, this orgasm on a plate, completely vaporizes. It’s sooooo good. We risk making complete pigs of ourselves (as if we haven’t already) and order a second serving. It’s absolutely fabulous.

    We eventually waddle off, with a case of Riesling no less, which is delivered to our car via the owner’s quad.

    We backtrack towards Denmark, but turn east when we reach the South Coast Highway, seeking out the South Coast Woodworks Gallery, where we find more beautiful and sensuous wood products. Oh, how I’d love to fill my house with some of this gorgeous Australian timber.

    All the eating has worn us out; it’s back to our chalet to digest, soak in the hot tub and watch the ducks.

    Photos 86-92

    To be continued…(but almost finished!)

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    Oh dear, Melnq8, you're trying to sabotage my weight-loss plans with your descriptions of delicious food. Loved the sound of the petting zoo - they are so wonderful for 'city' kids to meet farm animals.

    I gave up on worldisround as most of my photos couldn't be uploaded even though I had compressed them! I have now installed Picasa 3 on my notebook, and have finally started a web album. I am taking a leaf out of your book and doing a section at a time. I am also going to make an album of the unknown birds in the hope that someone can name them for me!

    Looking forward to your next instalment of Savouring the Southwest.

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    Eating more of Denmark:

    We wake to a beautiful, cool sunny day. Bill is craving Eggs Bennie, so we drive to town and settle in for breakfast at the Denmark River Bistro. I want something light, but they don’t do light here, so I select the only non-meat, non-egg offering…pancakes with ice cream, maple syrup and mixed berries (yowsa!). I know even before I see my food that I won’t be able to finish; a little bit of pancake goes a long way for me; but I still gasp when my heaping plate appears. It’s good; I do my best, but very little gets eaten, there’s just no room ($29 total with two large flat whites).

    We walk the streets of Denmark, noticing that there are a surprising number of cafes for such a small town (we count five).

    Back in the car, we meander. We follow Inlet Drive to the river mouth, where we walk a path to, well, nowhere; it just abruptly ends past a caravan park. We watch a large cluster of pelicans out in the water feasting on something, and then continue our drive, following Inlet Drive to no where in particular, stopping for several unidentified short walks along the way. We eventually join Ocean Beach Road and explore Ocean Beach Lookout (where the Wilson Inlet and the Southern Ocean meet), and every other nook and cranny, until we reach the end of the line, Sinker Bay.

    We backtrack to Lights Road and join the South Coast Highway. Our destination is William Bay National Park, some 14 kilometers west of Denmark. Although we’ve been here before, that first glimpse of Greens Pool makes me catch my breath. It’s stunning…shallow turquoise water, white sand beach, smooth granite boulders, all fringed by hills of dark green. The colors and textures simultaneously contrast and complement one another. It’s a sight to behold, it truly is.

    We soak up the glorious views. We walk across the boulders to Elephant Rocks and soak up some more. Two youngsters brave the cold water and frolic in the sea beneath us; they look like they’re having a ball.

    I could stay here all day, but we move on, driving east towards Denmark, and then wending our way to Scottsdale Rd via a network of country roads. Pastures are green, lambs are plentiful, grape vines are beginning to bud. Our destination is Karriview Wines, yet another favorite from past visits; we have fond memories of some nice lunch platters from here. As is our luck, they only offer platters during the summer months, but having heard the magic word ‘chorizo’ we do the next best thing and order the dips plate for two. We settle in at a table on their patio overlooking the somewhat bleak-looking vines, celebrating our last full day in the Southwest with a bottle of Panchame, Karriview’s answer to champers.

    We’re brought a plate of dips, some of which I recognize from the grocery store. There’s also a small dish of chorizo, some marinated capsicum, pepper dews and bread. It’s a bit of a disappointment. We pass on dessert, suspecting we’ll have better luck elsewhere. We’re charged $50 for our food, which hardly seems good value ($76 total with champers).

    Next up is nearby Harewood Forest, where we follow the easy 1.2 kilometer path through the trees. It’s a nice little walk with information boards that explain the area’s history and flora. This is a great walk for those with limited time.

    Late afternoon finds us at The Lake House for that aforementioned dessert. The setting is glorious, flower filled gardens, a lake with ducklings, distant grape vines. We share a slice of decadent chocolate mud cake with mulled red wine sauce at a picnic table on the lawn – the perfect fattening end to a beautiful day ($18 with two large flat whites).

    We’re winding down, but I can’t leave without a drive along Mount Shadforth Road, for what I consider the best views in Denmark. We stop near the former Observatory Resort to gape down the valley. It’s a feast for the eyes; sweeping green pastures which drop to the forest and join the Wilson Inlet, which is separated from the Southern Ocean by the Nullaki Peninsula. Wow.

    Photos 97-113

    Denmark to Perth:

    It’s time to go. We’re up and out early. We drive to town and then walk through it, looking for the busiest café, figuring the locals know where to go. McSwenney’s it is, poached eggs with salmon for Bill, a savory muffin for me, flat whites for both. It’s just okay, nothing special, so much for our locals theory. ($25 total).

    We’re on the road by 8:30, following the South Coast Highway towards Albany, and then turning onto the Denmark-Mt Barker Road, which leads through a tunnel of trees fringed by green pasture. We enter the Shire of Plantagenet, first surrounded by forest and agricultural land, then mile after mile of vineyards. We zig on Muirs Highway to Mt Barker; amazed at the sheer number of naked grape vines, which appear to stretch on forever.

    We pass humongous West Cape Howe Winery, turn left onto the Albany Highway and settle in for the 353 kilometer drive to the Big Smoke. The vines disappear, replaced with field after field of blindingly bright yellow canola; I must stop for photographs.

    The Stirling Range appears to our right, then more swaths of eye-popping, knee deep canola; it’s sensory overload. The number of roadside crosses is disturbing, particularly those in clusters. It’s a poignant reminder to take care.

    We make a wee stop in Kojonup. Some poor guy is scraping off the remains of a ring-necked parrot, which apparently tangled with his headlight. Messy. Kojonup looks interesting, but we push on.

    The big trees gradually disappear; the lush green is gone, the landscape looks thirsty. The canola is back with a vengeance as we pass through Williams; the bright yellow a startling contrast to the muted colors of the countryside.

    The Darling Range comes into view as we approach Bannister; we notice considerably more kangaroo carnage than we saw further south, and a heck of a lot more traffic.

    The city chaos is back. We make a second attempt at collecting local walk trail information from the Visitor’s Center in Armadale, successful this time.

    Five hours after leaving Denmark, we’re home. It’s time to start that diet.

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