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Guide to Geographe & Bunbury

Guide to Geographe & Bunbury

Lavender fields (photography Erindale Lavender Farm).

PLACES TO GO

Bunbury

Bunbury is WA’s second-largest city, but it still retains its friendly, country-town atmosphere. It’s a great family destination, particularly in summer, thanks to its easy access to Koombana Bay, the ocean, and the Leschenault Inlet (it’s sometimes called the City of Three Waters). There’s everything from modern luxury hotels and self-contained apartments, to campgrounds, private houses to rent and homely B&Bs, and many are just a stroll from great beaches and the central CBD. Head to the Marlston Waterfront for casual cafes and art galleries overlooking beautiful Koombana Bay (where you can often see the local dolphins) or enjoy Victoria Street’s ‘cappuccino strip’ for cafes, restaurants and a growing number of boutique shops. There are also a number of great walks around town; a boardwalk at Mangrove Cove picks a path through the state’s southernmost mangrove colony, the 12km Heritage Walk takes in 28 historical sites around town, and a recent street-art project has seen many city walls transformed into colourful artworks. Grab a map of the artwork locations from the visitor centre, or you can look online at www.sixtwothreezero.com/map. There’s also a speccy new entertainment centre that plays host to a lively program of big-name theatre productions and music gigs. Back Beach, which runs along Ocean Drive, is the place to go for swimming, snorkelling, surfing and fishing. Families will love an eco cruise with the award-winning Dolphin Discovery Centre, or a visit to the Bunbury Wildlife Park where kids can pat the resident kangaroos, wombats and emus.

Bunbury Lighthouse.

Collie

Smack bang in the middle of jarrah forest, hills and farmland, Collie (named after the river) is a great country escape for active families, with plenty of nature-based attractions nearby. The settlement is well kept, with a number of old buildings still standing, but it’s also embracing the present – construction is underway for a new public art gallery in Collie that should be completed in early 2015. Collie is proud of its heritage as a coal-mining town; visitors can check out the Collie Underground Tourist Mine, a replica mine experience that shows how coal is an integral part of Collie’s history. Head to the local visitor centre to book a tour, (08) 9734 2051, or pick up details for the self-guided heritage walk. Collie’s pretty landscape can be explored on foot – the 10km Collie River Walk is popular – but there are also a number of multi-use trails. The Collie to Darkan Rail Trail (starting 20km out from Collie) is 46.5km long and used for walking, cycling and horseriding, while the Mt Lennard Mountain Bike Trails include six loop trails. Parts of the Munda Biddi Cycle Trail and the Bibbulmun Track also pass nearby. There are plenty of places to stay in town but the camping areas in the scenic surrounds are worth considering. Wellington Dam in the Collie River Valley is a well-known tourist destination, with numerous picnic spots (and camping opportunities at Potters Gorge).  Fans of water sports can pitch a tent at Stockton Lake, while Wellington National Park is especially busy during marron season (January and February), but check for permits and limits at www.fish.wa.gov.au.

Harvey

Harvey is located on a river, halfway between Perth and Margaret River. It’s a fairly big country town, fuelled by agriculture; think dairy and cattle farming, and citrus-growing orchards (a cheesy photo at the Big Orange is a must). You can stay in the hotel attached to the pub, the caravan park, or a number of private homes for rent, but a farm stay is a great way to get among the natural beauty of this pretty farming region – the kids will get a kick out of helping to feed the animals. Check with the visitor centre for options, (08) 9729 1122. Local highlights include visiting the reconstructed cottage where Snugglepot and Cuddlepie author May Gibbs grew up (you can also have a meal in the cafe, and the wander the lovely gardens and the wineries that surround town). It’s a short drive to nearby beaches, and the region is home to gorgeous jarrah forest that offers lots of walking trails. The town’s three dams are also popular with picnickers, anglers and water-skiers. Demographer Bernard Salt is a fan; he named Harvey ‘The Best Tree Change Town’ in WA. More sombre, but still fascinating, is the Internment Camp Memorial Shrine, where you can learn about Harvey’s wartime Italian connection.

Harvey Farm (photography Cynthia Dix).

Donnybrook

Within half an hour’s drive of Bunbury, Donnybrook is known as the southwest’s Apple Capital; the orchards make for beautiful scenery when in bloom around October, and the Apple Festival over Easter is pretty fabulous. In town there’s
the Big Apple structure, and kids will enjoy the Apple FunPark – the biggest
free-entry fun park in Australia (grab a photo with the huge, and slightly intimidating pear and apple figures). While you’re in town be sure to visit a lavender farm and the wineries. You’re guaranteed great food, because aside from the fresh fruit and vegetables, the local dairy and beef products are also topnotch, as is the marron; the town even has its own Food and Wine Festival in November. If you want to stretch your legs, take the Lions Sandhill Walk that passes through Ryall’s Nature Reserve. The track is just under 5km and will take about two hours to complete. Another walking option just southwest of Donnybrook is the Ironstone Gully Falls, ideal for a picnic (especially in wildflower season). This southwest nook is steadily becoming more popular so the number of places to stay is increasing, with chalets and bed and breakfasts available (just be sure to book ahead), as well as a few lovely farm stays. If you’re holidaying on the cheap, keep in mind that fruit pickers might fill up some of the less expensive options at certain times of the year.

Ferguson Valley

Set among picturesque farmland, Ferguson Valley and the town of Dardanup are just a 15-minute drive east of Bunbury. The valley is one of WA’s up-and-coming wine regions, with standout vineyards making wine from alternative, heat-tolerant varietals like tempranillo, malbec, petit verdot and grenache. Besides the wine, it’s also jam-packed with art galleries, breweries, and heritage sites – grab a heritage trail map from the visitor centre, or check at www.fergusonvalley.net.au under Brochures, Maps and Documents. Accommodation ranges from farm stays (many with animal feeding and pony rides for the kids) and luxury bush chalets, to charming B&Bs. Be sure to visit the somewhat bizarre Gnomesville, where more than 3000 garden gnomes have migrated from all over the world; you can buy your own gnome from the visitor centre in Dardanup to add to the collection. While you’re there, visit the Wellington National Park, home of the centuries-old King Jarrah Tree, or get a glimpse of the town’s pioneering roots with a tour of the Dardanup Heritage Park.  

Gnomesville (photography Cynthia Dix). 

 

THINGS TO DO

Diving

The big-ticket dive spot of this region is the Lena, an illegal fishing vessel that was scuttled in 2003. Sitting 18m deep in clear water 5km off Bunbury, the wreck
offers massive swim-throughs and an open engine room, with its motors still in situ – it’s said to be the most complete wreck in the southern hemisphere. You can download the coordinates from www.lenadivewreck.mysouthwest.com.au. Blade Coral (12 nautical miles offshore from Binningup) is another good spot, where you are likely to see crayfish and dhufish. On a good day the visibility is 35m plus. Keep in mind the boat ramp in the area is most suited to vessels under 5m. There are small, isolated reefs off the coastline where you can catch crayfish in season (try Peppermint Grove Beach, Hastie Street Beach, or around the Hutts in Stratham – they all offer good shore diving, too). There’s also a reef line running from Bunbury to Busselton about four miles offshore, but it can be difficult to find (take a sounder and look for a sudden rise in depth of about a metre to two metres). Spear fishing is allowed, but check www.fish.wa.gov.au for sanctuary zones where it’s banned, and for exclusion periods (in 2014, they’re from October 15 to December 15). There are also a number of local operators offering charter dives.

Fishing

From December to April, you’ll catch silver bream, tailor, sand and yellow fin whiting, herring, flathead, mulloway, gardies, small shark and salmon from Myalup and Binningup Beaches. Launch your boat from Binningup to chase dhufish, baldchin groper, skippy, pink snapper, nangai and King George whiting. The Estuary and The Cut at Australind are other great fishing spots where you can find flathead, flounder, gardies and herring in summer, King George whiting from February to April, and mulloway through summer and autumn. Skippy, tailor and whiting run all year. The rivers and dams are home to rainbow and brown trout, but bag and size limits apply. Redfin perch are also plentiful and have no bag limit because they are considered a major predator to juvenile marron, so you can take as many as you can hook. You can put out drop nets, scoop and snare marron yourself in the Collie River during the month-long season in summer (check with the Department of Fisheries for the exact dates) but you’ll need to get a licence and use only legal equipment (visit www.fish.wa.gov.au for more information). In the Glen Mervyn, Logue Brook and Harvey dams, you can only snare marron using a bushman’s pole. If you do manage to bag yourself some of these tasty treats, keep them alive in a shaded, damp sack until you are ready to cook. Place them in the freezer for a few minutes to anaesthetise them before dispatching them quickly with a sharp knife between the eyes.

Fishing in Collie.

Paddle the inlet

The calm waters of Koombana Bay and the Leschenault Inlet are great for stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. If you’re wanting to paddle out of season, it’s often best to bring your own board – aside from Dekked Out adventures in Australind, (08) 9796 1000, not all of the hire operators are open year-round. Check with them for dates. At the inlet (located on the foreshore near the flood gates – look for the flags), Dolphin Aquatic Hire, 0410 948 877, has stand-up paddleboards, pedal boats and kayaks available from November to July, and during the September school holidays. If you paddle over to the jetty near the playground, you may see the remains of a small shipwreck.

Swim with a dolphin

Bunbury is famous for the dolphins that have been visiting since the 1960s, making a visit to the Dolphin Discovery Centre well worth your time. The centre was founded in 1994, and includes a discovery pool, aquariums and 3D 360-degree digital ‘dolphinarium’ that plays short films. From October to April, you can even swim with dolphins in the bay, on a guided tour with a marine biologist ($149). For those who would rather not get wet, there’s the option to view from the boat.

Swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Discovery Centre (photography Tourism WA).

 

Surfing

If conditions are right, there are a few places that throw up decent waves, although they don’t reach the same lofty heights as those further south because the swell is partially blocked by Cape Naturaliste. In Bunbury, head to Back Beach, south of the surf club, for consistent waves. At Hungry Hollow (also in Bunbury) there is a reef that occasionally allows a decent break. BP’s is another good spot further north of the surf club near the harbour (off Casuarina Drive), or try Binningup, 30km to the north of Bunbury. Winter is the best time to head out when the sand bars have built up and the swell is bigger (in summer it’s pretty much non-existent). Check conditions at www.seabreeze.com.au.

Camping

The Geographe region has great places to camp, many of them near waterways where you can fish, swim, kayak and waterski – all ingredients for a great family holiday. The campsites in this region’s national parks are all under $10 per night (per person), payable to the ranger. In the Leschenault Peninsula Conservation Park, (08) 9735 1988, the site near Belvidere Beach has 11 spots among the tuart forest, and each has a table and a campfire barbecue (wood is supplied). There are also toilets, and a gas barbecue is a short walk away at a day-use area near the inlet ($7.50 per person per night). The Cut campground, 8.5km to the south, at the end of the peninsula is walk-in only (or you can drive your boat) but your efforts will be rewarded with a lovely quiet site near the water. Toilets, tables and barbecues are provided. To go bush, Hoffman Mill, 27km north-east of Harvey (and also $7.50 per person per night), has large sites in the trees, with flushing toilets, tables and free gas barbecues (wood fires are also allowed). It’s closed at certain times of the year and there is no swimming allowed (it’s a water catchment area). Logue Brook Dam is popular for camping, with toilets and wood barbecues. For more comfort (showers, a camp kitchen and gas barbecues) there’s a tourist park with campsites for tents and caravans, plus cabins, (08) 9733 5402. Caravans can access Hoffman Mill, Potters Gorge and Stockton Lake. 

Cycling

Hit the coastal paths surrounding Bunbury which, if you have the time and stamina, can take you all the way south to Cape Naturaliste. The cycle paths offer breathtaking coastal scenery with cliff and rock formations along the way. For mountain-bikers, the challenging Grizzly Trail in the Wellington National Park near Collie is a single-track path that takes you through 6km of jarrah forest, with log rides and bermed turns for the experts. If you’re keen for a long-distance challenge, you can join the Munda Biddi trail at many of the towns near Bunbury, including Collie, Boyanup and Donnybrook, and take in the wildlife and undeveloped corridors of forests.

Cycling in Collie.

 

Waterskiing

With all its dams, rivers and lakes, this region is a magnet for waterskiiers and skurfers. Some sites close during the warmer months if water levels are too low, so call the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPW) Collie office on (08) 9735 1988 to check before setting off. Always stick to official waterski areas (marked out by the yellow marker buoys), and ski in an anti-clockwise direction. You’ll also always need to have a person onboard (not the driver!) to keep an eye on the skier. Jet skis are not allowed at many sites – check with the DPW for details.
Stockton Lake | 7km east of Collie on the Collie-Darkan Road, is a rehabilitated open-cut mine now used mainly for skiing. TIP Take some eye drops, because the water is mildly acidic and can irritate your eyes. There are also free campsites and toilets.  
Logue Brook Dam | 10km south of Yarloop, is another good spot, but in the warmer months the water level can be too low. You can launch your boat from ramps at either the north or south side of the dam (there’s also a kiosk with toilets located near the south ramp, and wood barbecues). Camping is allowed too (fees apply).
Glen Mervyn Dam | 18km south of Collie, is a great ski location, but also popular for swimming and fishing, and there are wood barbecues, picnic tables and toilets (plus a campground). 
Potters Gorge | On Wellington Dam, this is the region’s newest ski area. There are some nice bushwalking trails and fishing is also good. Facilities include barbecues, tables and toilet, plus camping is allowed (caravans can access, too). 

Stockton Lake, Collie.

 

THE LIST

  • Add your own gnome to Gnomesville
  • Take a photo at the Big Orange
  • Sample the wine in the Ferguson Valley
  • Take a tour of Collie’s tourist mine
  • Swim with the dolphins in Bunbury
  • Have a picnic at Ironstone Gully Falls
  • Go stand-up paddleboarding in the Leschenault Inlet
  • Book a farm stay with the kids in Harvey
  • Scuba dive the Lena wreck
  • Scoop marron in the Collie River
  • Canoe at the Wellington Dam

All these events and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo

BEST SWIMMING SPOTS

Back Beach | The most popular beach in Bunbury, at times attracting large waves. It is patrolled by surf lifesaving intermittently.
Koombana Bay | A calm, shallow beach suited to families, with barbecues and toilets.
Dalyellup Beach | A good stretch of family-friendly beach, located just south of Bunbury in the suburb of Dalyellup.
Peppermint Grove Beach | Towards Capel, this quiet, uncrowded beach is known for its clear waters.
Black Diamond Pool | Not far from Collie, this ex-mining pit is now a popular swimming spot with amazing turquoise-coloured waters.
Honeymoon Pool | A bit of a trek into Wellington National Park, but worth it for the pool surrounded by low-hanging trees.
Minninup Pool | On the outskirts of Collie, forming part of the Collie River, this spot is a good place to stop for a paddle, barbecue, or picnic.
Wellington Dam | A good swimming spot, and great for exploring by canoe or kayak. 

The Geographe coast.

 

EVENTS

Dardanup Bull and Barrel Festival
This Dardanup event is a load of fun for families! There’s a children’s activity marquee and animal nursery, camel and pony rides, wood-turning displays, remote-control trucks, and even cooking demonstrations. The Goat Race is a particular highlight (you can cheer on your goat!). Enjoy the fun for all ages during the day, and during the night revel in the festival finale – the lighting of the fire sculpture. Here the crowd roar as the ‘bull’ burns. Oct.

The Brunswick Show
Held annually, this festival celebrates the diversity and vibrancy of the region with a huge range of stalls and live entertainment. Taste local medal-winning wines, beers and produce, enjoy the midday street procession, admire local art, and peruse the many market stalls. Oct.

Geographe Crush Wine Exhibition
Celebrating the wines grown from Harvey in the north to the hills of Collie, Dardanup and Donnybrook, and down to Capel and Busselton, visitors will be able to sip and taste their way through some fantastic
award-winning wines and food. Nov.

XXXX Gold: Bunbury Cup
This annual horse race attracts huge crowds, with locals even pulling a sickie to be there. Ladies can frock up for the fashion on the field competition. If you’re planning on grabbing a table in a marquee, make sure you get in early (they sell out quickly). Mar.

Krikke Boys Race
This epic event – for lovers of fast cars – is held every year at the Bunbury speedway. Speed fans can treat themselves to high accelerations, mud, smashes, burn-outs and a feature racing event. Mar.

Groovin The Moo
This widely adored music festival – known also as GTM – takes place in Bunbury
and is one of the most celebrated events in the southwest, attracting hordes from all over the state. The line-up is comprised of alternative pop and Triple J regulars
(local and international) . The bands attract a laid-back crowd, which makes this
a popular event year after year. May.

Willow Bridge Estate (photography Wesfarmers).

 

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting there | The Geographe region is an easy two-hour drive from Perth via the Kwinana Freeway and Forrest Highway. Most of the inland towns are accessible via turn-offs from Old Coast Road or South Western Highway. There is clear signage along the way. South West Coach Lines operate daily bus services from Perth. There is also a train service to Bunbury from Perth.

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