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Guide to the Blackwood River Valley

Guide to the Blackwood River Valley

Blackwood River rapids (photography Sharyn Blom).

PLACES TO GO

Balingup

This town has its own quirky style – you’re likely to spot scarecrows, jester heads, medieval horses and riders, or even an old-fashioned St Nicholas, depending on the time of year. With so many fun events, it means that any time is a good time to visit Balingup. On the outskirts of the settlement are old-growth forests, winding rivers and hills, with wineries and local producers close by. The Bibbulmun Track runs down the main street (past the visitor centre) so Balingup is a common halfway stop for walkers, and many of the nearby accommodation operators offer pick-up and drop-off services. The Oak Grove Walk is a great option for those who aren’t keen to walk too far. It’s a 1.5km loop through the heritage-listed Golden Valley Tree Park, with trees from all over the world, and a top picnic spot, as is the village green, with its kids’ playground. Transit Park is a good choice for campers, meanwhile. The three parks have barbecues, toilets and shaded areas. Aside from walk trails, active visitors can try their hand at croquet (Sundays at 9am in summer and 10am in winter) or lawn bowls (Sundays at 1.30pm). There’s also the local golf course and the tennis courts (court hire is available from the General Store). If you’re keen for fishing, the locals suggest dropping a line in along the Balingup Brook for redfin perch, but don’t forget to grab a freshwater angling licence from a local Australia Post Office first.

Boyup Brook

Boyup Brook is home to the state’s largest country music festival, but if you aren’t visiting at the right time, you can get your fix at Harvey Dickson’s Country Music Centre, which also hosts an annual rodeo weekend. The music shrine has an extensive collection of memorabilia, including the Record Room, dedicated to Elvis Presley. Around town, the kids will enjoy the mysterious (and slightly disturbing) holographic sculptures, as well as the Pioneer Museum and the Carnaby Collection of Beetles and Butterflies at the Tourist Centre. If you’re looking for wildlife, the kids will love the orphaned kangaroos at Roo Gully Wildlife Sanctuary, just out of Boyup Brook. Trigwell Bridge, when the water level is high, is a good spot to begin a canoe trip through town, but with its many underwater snags it’s not advisable to swim there. Boyup Brook Billabong has its own rock pool and is ideal for a bush picnic. You’re likely to see blue wrens or robin red breasts (they flutter about the ample foliage). Sandakan Park (behind the town hall) is a more central spot, with free barbecues and a large shaded playground. At Music Park you can exercise your dog, and there’s also outdoor gym equipment. You can take the Bicentennial Walk Trail that leads to the park. Of the many walk tracks, the path from Flax Mill is among the best: it follows the old railway line for about two hours through farming land to finish at Newlagalup Pool. For a complete list of walking trails, you can pick up a brochure from the visitor centre.

Balingup visitor centre.

Bridgetown

With quaint preserved buildings and manicured gardens, this town appears stuck in a bygone era; the old gaol and visitor centre provide information for those fascinated by history. Take your time and wander the length of Hampton Street, where you’ll find craft shops, cafes and galleries; and also the Bridgetown Hotel with to-die-for steak sandwiches. The Brierley Jigsaw Gallery, also on Hampton Street, is said to be the largest collection of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and features one of the smallest jigsaws in the world. Bridgetown is also known as Fridgetown due to its chilly winter weather, and consequently locals have yarn-bombed (wrapped in yarn) some of the trees. It’s added some vibrancy to
the main settlement and, according to good-humoured residents, keeps the saplings warm. You can also enjoy the Bridgetown Winter Festival through June, July and August, with events every weekend. For accommodation, you can park your caravan or camp at the grounds down by the river, or stay at a heritage hotel, motel or one the many B&Bs in and around the town. The visitor centre has maps of the local walk trails and also a wildflower guide. The Mining Heritage Walk is a great short trail (3km) that meanders through jarrah bushland and weaves past old mining shafts, tunnel entrances and trenches. It also passes the heritage buildings in Greenbushes.

Nannup

With shopfront verandahs, weatherboard facades and a chilled vibe, Nannup has plenty of similarities to an old school version of Margaret River (it was even used to portray Margs in the 70s for the surfer movie Drift). On Warren Road – the main drag – you’ll find cafes, craft shops and the bakery. There’s plenty of accommodation, including self-contained cottages, cosy B&Bs (great for winter) and a handful of bush retreats. If you’re short on reading material, head to the Book Nook where you can borrow books for free (you can also leave any unwanted books here). The town also prides itself on its gardening abilities, with tulips, roses and various other flowers adorning the surrounds throughout the year; the annual Nannup Flower and Garden Show in August is popular. Aside from the colourful blooms, there’s loads more for outdoorsy folk with the Munda Biddi Trail running right through the town. Nearby are the Old Timberline Trail, Kondil Park trails, the Karri Gully Walk Trail and River Walk Trail. St John Brook Conservation Park is also a great spot, and there are camping and picnic facilities, toilets and barbecues. If you are looking to swim, Workman’s and Barrabup pools are great in summer. Both are located in the St John Brook Conservation Park, 7km out of town. For a cheeky skinny dip, you can head to Cambray Pool (also known as Cambray Siding). Although it’s not ‘officially’ a clothing-optional spot, that hasn’t stopped regular nude bathers over the years. Like all waterholes around these parts, take care when entering and exiting the water. TIP Be sure to stop at the supposedly haunted old bakery at night. Locals swear they’ve heard the sound of a cash register ringing, pots and pans banging, and even the smell of bread baking. Spooky!

Black cockatoo at John Brook Conservation Park (photography DEC). 

 

Blackwood River

The river is the largest in the southwest and is best accessed from Bridgetown or Nannup; it’s ideal for birdwatching, canoeing and kayaking. Sues Road and Warner Glen Road are accessible by bitumen road, or there are 4WD tracks if you’d prefer
a private spot for a picnic or a spot of fishing. Beginning in Bridgetown, the Blackwood River Walk is the best way to see the popular waterway; it’s a 2km track that crosses over the suspension bridge (it’s great for cyclists, dog walkers and joggers). If you’re braving the rapids in a canoe or a kayak, planning is essential. Experts advise that fast-flowing water between Bridgetown and Nannup can pose real dangers from hidden snags. Downstream from Nannup is less hazardous, where you can meander through beautiful karri, jarrah forest and farmland to camping grounds at Sues Bridge. There are different sections of the river marked off so you’ll be able to choose an appropriate route, but if you’d prefer to paddle with an expert there are fully escorted canoe tours into the beautiful stretches of the river. You can get the inside nod on Blackwood River conditions from local operator Neville Hamilton on (08) 9756 1209. September through to mid-December is said to be the best time to fish in the Blackwood, when the river’s renewed with the winter rains. Bridgetown to the Great North Road is considered good to catch rainbow trout, which are restocked annually by the WA Dept of Fisheries. Balingup locals try the Balingup Brook for redfin perch. Make sure you’ve got a freshwater licence from the Department of Fisheries (also available at Australia Post offices).

THINGS TO DO

Swimming

There are plenty of waterholes along the Blackwood River, and most can be adjusted to satisfy thrill seekers by securing a rope swing into the water (if it’s not dangerous, of course). Near Bridgetown is Greenbushes Pool, which boasts a picnic area and wheelchair-friendly boardwalk. A camping area at Workman’s and Barrabup pools is closer to Nannup and popular for a dip or canoe trip. Throw a line off the viewing platform and try your luck at catching lunch – marron are a popular find in these waters (be sure to grab a licence first) – or take up the photo opportunity. You can take advantage of the shaded barbecue areas, camp overnight, or stay in an eco-friendly hut to make the most of this sanctuary.

Kayaking in Nannup (photography Willerin Nannup).

 

Bibbulmun Track

The ultimate on-foot challenge is the Bibbulmun Track, which runs right through Balingup but begins in Kalamunda in the Perth hills. A visit to the Balingup stretch of the track is a great experience, even if it’s just a leisurely stroll. Walkers will discover displays of wildflowers in the spring, and unimaginably huge trees that appear nowhere else in the world. Along the track, you’ll weave through marri and yarri specimens that give way to the forest of enormous karri, the second-tallest flowering gum in the world. A highlight of this section is the Blackwood River and the pine plantations of the valley. Southampton Bridge (15km south of Balingup on Southhampton Road) offers access to the Blackwood campsite, which is perched high above the Blackwood River and boasts outstanding views.

Canoeing

Hire a canoe from Boyup Brook Flax Mill Caravan Park ($9 per hour), or closer to Bridgetown at Maranup Ford Caravan Park ($20 for two hours) or the Bridgetown Caravan Park, and make a beeline for the river. Even in summer you can paddle down long pools. Launch at Sues Bridge or Warner Glen Bridge and head downriver from Nannup where the Yarragadee Aquifer refills the river to keep it flowing all the way to Augusta. To plan your ultimate canoe experience, head to the Bridgetown visitor centre, which has a comprehensive trail map to canoe the Blackwood River.

Kooky attractions

The region has some quirky appeals, which make for an interesting day trip. Harvey Dickson’s Country Music Centre in Boyup Brook is an historical and oddly charming place where Elvis memorabilia and tons of records are enjoyed by curious tourists and music enthusiasts alike. Puzzle fanatics will get a kick out of seeing the rare collection of hundreds of jigsaw puzzles at Brierley Jigsaw Gallery in Bridgetown. Visit the kingdom of Balingup – the town opens its gates every year in late August to host two days of medieval fun and mayhem with characters from and re-enactments of life in the Middle Ages. Or get amongst The Mythic Mazes of Nannup for a truly unique experience, where the myths and legends of old come together in native Australian gardens (please don’t feed the Minotaur!).

Balingup Medieval Carnivale.

 

Local music scene

Famous for its extreme love of music, the regular festivals are wholeheartedly supported in the region, and include the Blues at Bridgetown Festival, Blackwood River Chamber Festival and the Nannup Music Festival, where local, national and international artists are brought together to celebrate everything from blues and country to orchestral and chamber music. Aside from the big annual events, locals have plenty of live music to choose from on a weekly basis, with pubs such as The Cidery, Balingup Tavern and the Bridgetown Hotel hosting musicians from across the South West. If you’re keen to move your feet, check out the 100-year-old Yornup Town Hall where once a month there’s a family dance (children under 12 gain free entry). Bring along a plate of supper and enjoy some great old-time dancing. You can also bop away at Greenbushes District Hall on Friday nights when there are line-dancing demonstrations and workshops.

Mountain Biking

Accessible directly from Bridgetown, Cougar is a 24km mountain-biking, cross-country and free-ride loop trail that runs through the Hester Forest reserve and includes a single-track, log/plank rides, jumps, technical climbs, and tricky descents. Also running through the Hester Forest is the Elephant Trail, a 28km circuit for the more advanced riders. It’s an old-school cross-country and mountain-biking trail with plenty of climbs, guaranteed to give a good workout. The RooDog Loop, covering 29km of Hester Forest is mostly cross-country, and suits hardtail or short travel race bikes, mainly riding pea gravel, sand and clay. Map and trail handouts, plus bike hire are available at LifeSPORTS in Bridgetown, (08) 9761 4578.

The Blackwood River area is renowned for its country music (photography Cynthia Dix).

 

Munda Biddi Trail

The Munda Biddi Trail is a world-class off-road cycling experience with multiple access points along the 1000km circuit. The Nannup section is a scenic trail suited to all biking levels, commencing at the old railroad bridge and making a loop – you can head out along the Sidings Rail Trail to Cambray Siding and return via the Old Timberline Trail. Providing some challenges with narrow and steep sections, the scenic 37km trail, is mainly flat riding along compacted earth and coarse gravel.

FISHING

For fishermen and women keen to explore the waters of the southwest, rainbow and brown trout, and redfin perch can be found in the Blackwood River, upstream of Alexandra Bridge, Bridgetown, Balingup, Nannup and Norilup Dam. Bag limits apply to trout, but redfin perch – which threaten other species – can be caught with happy abandon: it’s actually illegal to return them to the river. Good spots for cobbler fishing can be located at Boyup Brook at Willinarrup, Asplin Siding and Jayes Bridge (16km from Boyup Brook). Make sure you have a freshwater fishing licence, which can be obtained from an Australia Post Office, the Department of Fisheries, or online at www.fish.wa.gov.au. The season is open from September 1 to April 30 each year. The Blackwood River is also home to WA freshwater marron, sought after by chefs and diners all around the world. The short marron season starts on the second Friday in January and ends midday on the first Sunday in February. Strict size and bag limits apply, fishing within 50m of the waterline of marron waters and using only legal marron gear as specified by the Department of Fisheries. Check details at www.fish.wa.gov.au.

Relaxing near Bridgetown (photography Tourism WA.

 

WALK TRAILS

The Boyup Brook Town Walk (wheelchair friendly) and Kondil Park Wildflower Walks are great for wildflower enthusiasts during spring; but if the floral path is not your thing, stick to the New Zealand Gully walk trail with its natural waterways, or
the Mining Heritage Walk for a hit of history. Discover wonderful walks through the
St John Brook Conservation Park just outside Nannup, with the Perup Forest Ecology Centre (about 50km south-east of Boyup Brook) boasting five fascinating walks that give you the chance to observe nocturnal wildlife such as the chuditch, woylie, tammar wallaby, ringtail possums and southern brown bandicoots. There are walks suitable for all fitness levels around all the towns, with the ultimate challenge being the Bibbulmun Track, running right through Balingup. The Grimwade Road Circuit (12km) follows the Bibbulmun Track north through jarrah forest and pine plantations before easing along a sealed road through rolling hills and farmland back to Balingup. 

The Old Timberline Trail (photography Jeff Henderson).

 

LOCAL EATS

If you haven’t experienced the smooth, creamy goodness of sheep cheese you’re missing out. You can get your fix just outside Nannup (12km to be exact). As well as cheese, at the local producers you’ll find fresh fruit from the vintage orchard, handmade preserves, local olive oil and honey, Best of all, you might stumble across a cooking class or a cheesemaking course. Pink Lady apples are used to make the lip-smacking cider in Bridgetown, and are well worth a taste during your visit. You’ll also find plenty of hearty, country-inspired food at the local cidery, where history buffs should also check out the photographic display and plantation tools, which recognise Bridgetown’s pioneering past. If you’re a fan of live music, plan your visit for a Friday evening when local musicians entertain the crowd. The Blackwood River Valley is also home to more than fifty vineyards and more than 450ha of vines, which produce wine varieties from full-bodied shiraz through to riesling and semillon. Check the Blackwood Valley Wine Association website for a wine map and complete list of vineyards, www.blackwoodvalleywine.asn.au

THE LIST

  • Canoe down the Blackwood River
  • Visit the wineries and producers
  • Go fishing for trout and redfin perch
  • Have a swim at a waterhole
  • Go on a scenic walk
  • Head to a music festival
  • Stop by the haunted bakery
  • Admire the flowers at the Garden Festival
  • Check out the scarecrows
  • Go mountain biking
  • Walk the Bibbulmun Track

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

EVENTS

Nannup Garden Festival
The locals go nuts for flowers, as seen at this annual festival with its floral displays, floral art and plenty of tips on gardening; there’s a quilt and craft display, too. Activities are well priced (many are free!) and are held in sheltered marquees or buildings around town. Aug.

Medieval Carnivale
This epic annual event in Balingup, held on the last weekend in August, is adored by both adults and kids. Step back in time a few centuries, with the street parade, jousting, jesters, music and plenty of entertainment. You can even get into the spirit of the day yourself and dress up in your finest medieval costume. Aug.

Nannup Festival of Art
Immerse yourself in the arts during the three-day festival. For art enthusiasts there are photography and sculpture exhibitions, workshops and an art prize. Those more keen to observe the festivities rather than partake will enjoy the street entertainment and artisans’ fair. Sep.

Harvey Dickson’s Rodeo
The atmosphere in Boyup Brook will be electric as cowboys roll into town to test their skills. An adult pass will set you back $30, with $25 for pensioners and $5 for kids (children aged four and under are free). If you’re booking online, bear in mind there is a $3 booking fee. Oct.

Southwest Food Bowl
The two-day festival in Nannup celebrates the produce and producers of the South West region. There are expos, Meet the Farmer guided tours, Farmers’ Big Breakfast, and plenty of drawcards to encourage school groups to visit the region. Oct.

The Festival of Country Gardens
The fair gives visitors the opportunity to visit around 30 local gardens, as well as providing a host of stalls that feature garden-related products including new tools, artefacts with a garden theme, and powered garden equipment. Roses, succulents, fuchsias and many other types of plants will also be available to buy. Nov.

Boyup Brook Country Music Festival
This five-day event makes up the biggest country music festival in Western
Australia, and features a wide range of both national and local artists. Along
with the variety of live country music perfomances, the event also includes
dancing, a street parade, awards and Western Australia’s biggest bush-poets breakfast. Feb.

Nannup Music Festival
The festival is held in various locations, with several ticketed venues featuring the main artists and lots of free entertainment at other venues. Check out nannupmusicfestival.org. Mar.

A Bridgetown orchard (photography Dan Paris).

 

Getting there

The trip along South Western Highway from Perth to Bridgetown will take almost three hours; the route also passes through Balingup. To venture onwards to Nannup, take the Balingup-Nannup Road, which is also a scenic route. The best (and newest) way to get to Margaret River from Nannup is via Mowen Road, which has recently been sealed. If your tastebuds are tingling, be sure to allow extra drive time to sample fresh goods.

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