With travel plans being thrown out for the year and being furloughed from work due to Covid-19, news of limited intrastate regions opening saw my girlfriend and I lock in a road trip straightaway.
Rita and I originally hoped to do the road trip to Exmouth I’d planned with my east coast friends, however the restrictions didn’t allow for this, so we planned an activity-filled road trip through Western Australia’s Great Southern Region instead.
Our six day itinerary included everything from autumn leaves to karri forests, national park and mountain hikes to rugged coastline, gorgeous beaches and tree and rock climbs.
We left Perth on the Monday the restrictions were released and headed for Donnybrook stopping at the trusty Crooked Carrot on the way for a coffee. We’d hoped to visit an apple orchard in Donnybrook but it was closed. To make up for it we stopped into Solarfruit and tasted some of their sun-dried fruit products – chocolate covered peach is my recommendation!
We continued on to Balingup where we walked through the Golden Valley Tree Park and enjoyed the autumn colours and falling leaves. There are three routes you can walk, we only did one deciding it was enough to see.
Once we reached Nannup, we braved the cold and set up our picnic lunch across from the bowls club. After lunch we ventured to Kondil Park and walked the 3km route – it is known for wildflowers but we were definitely out of season.
We struggled to find Tank 7 Lookout but found our way after asking the shop attendant at the local bottle shop. My little Mazda ‘Maz’ had to make it up a long red dirt track hill to the top; her first off-road experience of many for the trip. Once we were at the top we took in the view over the countryside of Nannup. It was a really windy day so not so enjoyable but it would be a nice spot for a picnic on a calmer day.
We were then onto our last stop for the day where we checked into our AirBnB in Bridgetown. We checked out Suttons Lookout next to the power station which wasn’t worth a visit and went for a walk along Blackwood River where we enjoyed the reflections of the afternoon sun.
With restaurants and pubs reopening from today also, we took advantage of this and booked dinner at the Bridgetown Hotel. The whole idea of social distance dining is a bit disconnected and not the same ambience we’ve grown to love. Hopefully it’s not too long before things get back to normal.
We made our way to Manjimup and visited One Tree Bridge, an uprooted tree with a bridge above it, and the Four Aces, four tall karri trees in a row. The Four Aces had a short circle trail through the area. Following we grabbed a coffee from Southern Roasting Co in town and drove the heritage trail to Deanmill. We are a little unsure why someone would choose to walk this as it wasn’t an interesting drive.
We did a drive by Diamond Tree, which is closed for climbing, and stopped for a private visit at Warren Grange Fresh Produce which Rita had organised. Owner Rick told us about the farm and showed us some of the seasonal produce. We were sent off with a bag full of garlic, pumpkin and squash – thanks Rick!
Following this we immersed ourselves in the karri forest with a picnic lunch in Gloucester National Park followed by a 12km return hike of the Bibbulmun Track to The Cascades. The hike took us through different parks and across various streets and we reached 7km with no cascades in sight. So defeated, we decided it was best to turn back and return.
Once we returned, we found enough energy in us to climb Gloucester Tree, 61m high. With metal stick-like steps and wire circling the step, there’s not too much from stopping you falling. Having seen a few people journey all the way to the top, I had high ambitions and probably ventured further than I would have if I had not seen them get that far. I made it to about 2m from the top and had a freak out, making my way back down slow and steady. I definitely wouldn’t say I could enjoy the view from the steps!
We started the day with our final tree climb and Pemberton adventure at Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree in Warren National Park. Sitting 75m tall and with fresh legs I had high hopes. When we arrived we noticed there was a platform midway up the tree as well as at the top, and our new goal quickly became the middle platform instead of the top, which we both achieved. At least we could take in that view today.
On the way to Walpole we were taken through Northcliffe where a herd of cows were journeying along the road and created a bit of morning traffic for us. We journeyed down a red dirt road to Mandalay Beach looking for the shipwreck. We didn’t find the shipwreck and got rained on in the process.
We stopped into Walpole for a coffee and scones at Walpole Top Deck Cafe. The scones were nice and fluffy, the service on arrival not so welcoming but I’m sure they are still finding their feet from all the restrictions.
Next up was Conspicuous Cliff lookout. Originally we were going to walk from Conspicuous Beach to Rame Head, which was 7km return, but with off and on rain, our long walk yesterday and a date with wine later, we decided to bypass the walk and head straight to the lookout by car. It was a nice outlook over the bay, and the area is also used to whale watch.
We explored Valley of the Giants on the other side of Conspicuous Cliffs between Walpole and Denmark, wandering the grounds and Tree Top Walk to take in the ancient tingle forest for $21 per adult. I must say it was a little underwhelming compared to the forest experiences we have already had, and could do with an adventure add on like a flying fox or tree climb experience.
We tried to stop into the Denmark Chocolate Company but it was still closed so we continued on to our very exciting moment of the day – wine tasting and lunch at Singlefile Wines. Wine tastings had just reopened provided you were having food at the same time. We ordered the cheese platter and added some of our own picnic food and whiled away the afternoon on cosy chairs in front of the fireplace. It was absolute bliss and the team took very good care of us letting us taste the full wine list.
We checked into our Denmark accommodation and then went chasing oceans from Ocean Beach to Lights Beach and Parry Beach. We really wanted to explore Green Pool and Elephant Rock in William Bay National Park but the national park was closed so we will have to save those for another time.
That night we managed to book the last two seats for dinner at The Denmark Tavern. They were taking restrictions very serious sitting us our 1.5m apart. It was a very cosy venue for a cold autumn’s night and really generous servings.
We started the day bright an early with a sunrise walk up to Monkey Rock, which provided 360 degree views over the Denmark horizon from the coast to the parkland. It was a lovely way to wake up, even though the air was very cold and we could have done with a coffee. There’s a bit of climbing once you get to the rock which is fairly easy, though a little slippery with the morning dew.
After breakfast we grabbed a pastry from the Denmark Bakery and stopped at a part of the Wilson Inlet to enjoy our breakfast. We somehow ended up at a private jetty section of the inlet, to some surprised looks by fishermen, but we enjoyed our pastry and the serenity and then got on our way.
On route to Albany we stopped at West Cape Howe National Park along another dirt track and enjoyed the views overlooking Shelley Beach, quite extraordinary and beautiful! We only did a drive through as unfortunately it was too cold to make our way down to the beach for a swim.
Next up was the Albany Wind Farm, which we were both quite surprised about. It wasn’t so much the windmills, but the entire grounds of native bushland and a gorgeous rugged coastline. There is a 20-minute walking trail around the grounds with the opportunity to get up close to one of the windmills.
The Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park was a little underwhelming from ground level. It always looks so amazing in drone shots. The water at The Gap was dramatic to watch. Natural Bridge was simply a natural rock bridge and perhaps would have been more interesting if the tide was in.
Further into the national park were the Blowholes, which was a 1.6km return walk down hill from the carpark. Water sounds and spray come through the granite rock when the swell is big. On this particular day the swell wasn’t very big so we only got a few swooshes.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch and some relaxing downtime at Emu Point Beach, which was much needed after so much time on the road and all our activities. We read, napped, put our feet in the water… it was absolute bliss.
After checking into our accommodation in Middleton Beach, which was a great choice for our stay, we went for a beach walk back to Emu Point which was nice to have our feet in the sand and water instead of our sneakers. Once we were back we enjoyed some wine whilst watching the sunset and grabbed take away fish and chips from Hooked on Middleton Beach. The grilled fish was very fresh and flavoursome.
Today we embarked on our mountain hike of Bluff Knoll. We hadn’t even realised it had been closed since Christmas and this was the first day it reopened to the public, so we were very lucky with our planning. And we were very lucky with the weather, although a cool day, the sun was shining and the sky as blue as ever.
Bluff Knoll is located within Stirling Range National Park, 100km north of Albany, and is the highest peak in Western Australia. The 3km trail to the top Bluff Knoll Summit took us 1-hour 15-minutes which we were pretty proud of. The sign at the beginning of the trail estimates 3-4-hours return for the hike.
At the top we took in the views, scenery and had some snacks. Being the end of autumn and a clear day, it was cold and windy up the top, so be sure to pack some layers.
We made our way back down the mountain a lot quicker and treated ourselves to lunch at West Cape Howe Wines in Mount Barker. We enjoyed an antipasto platter, pepperoni pizza and a wine tasting. We whiled away a couple of hours here and tried to have a lie down and read our books on our picnic rug but were constantly interrupted by the cute winery dogs.
We stayed in Mount Barker for the night and checked out the Mount Barker Hill Lookout before settling in for the night. There wasn’t much to it, a simple view of the countryside.
Our last adventure of the trip was one of my favourite. We visited Porongurup National Park, 28km from Mount Barker, and hiked to Castle Rock and Granite Skywalk. The 4.4km return trail takes 1-3 hours to explore. Having hiked forests and mountains in this last week, we managed to arrive at Castle Rock in a little over half an hour.
Once you arrive at Castle Rock, you have to climb up and through a few rocks with the help of some handles. You then get to a tall ladder which takes you to the Granite Skywalk and amazing views around the national park. We took some time to take in the scenery and really savour our last adventure of the trip.
We drove home via Albany Highway, which was definitely a more boring option than the start of our road trip through the karri forrest, but it was the main way home. We stopped into Kojonup for a bakery lunch and coffee, and were going to do the Kojonup Rose Maze but it was closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
I had a wonderful time exploring so much beauty that our state has to offer. It’s amazing how little of Western Australia I have explored and there is something quite nice about being able to focus on it this year. Our adventure filled jam-packed days were complemented by nana nights in bed shortly after dinner and making a plan for the next day.
I’m definitely embracing the newfound freedom we have to travel our state. Last weekend my family and I took advantage of more regions opening and stayed in Cervantes, just over two hours from Perth. And next week Rita and I will set off on our road trip north to Monkey Mia – I decided not to go as far as Exmouth as my available time has been reduced due to a return to work. Travel diaries will follow soon.