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Guide to the Southern Forests

Guide to the Southern Forests

The Ancient Empires Walk, part of the Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre

PLACES TO GO

Pemberton

Located around 325km south of Perth, pretty, central Pemberton has become
a popular holiday destination for people looking for a convenient base in the southwest. Its surrounding old-growth forests are a peak drawcard; there are five
national forests within half an hour’s drive (Gloucester, Warren, Beedelup, Shannon and D’Entrecasteaux). It also has a growing number of wineries and food producers – the cool climate is excellent for chardonnay and pinot noir, and local delicacies include trout, marron and black truffles. Accommodation ranges from  motels and cosy cottages, to luxury eco-chalets and campsites – both in town and in the national parks. The town itself is fairly unassuming, just a collection of shops and businesses along one side of Vasse Highway, and a pretty park along the other, but the grand old pub is worth a stop. A tourist railway that takes you from town to the Warren River Bridge, the Pemberton Tram is one way to appreciate the forest scenery (it’s particularly lovely in spring when the wildflowers are out). The ride, just under two hours long, departs twice a day, with a stop at The Cascades waterfall. Another popular activity in these parts is tree climbing – including scaling the three remaining pegged fire lookout trees (Gloucester Tree, Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree and Diamond Tree). Taking on the land-locked sand dunes at Yeagarup in a 4WD, cruising the river and walking the forest trails are also popular, as is mountain biking, especially on the portion of the Munda Biddi Trail that passes through the region. Hit up the Pemberton visitor centre on the main street, (08) 9776 1133, for updates on the best canoeing, mountain biking, fishing, bushwalking and camping sites.

Yeagarup dunes.

 

Windy Harbour

Windy Harbour is the perfect place to disappear. The tiny coastal holiday settlement around 55km south of Pemberton is part of the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. Much of the nearby national park is accessible only by 4WD, although Salmon Beach and Windy Harbour can be accessed with standard vehicles. If you’re limited for time, the best way to see the sights is via the road to Point D’Entrecasteaux (off Salmon Beach Road). The drive takes you along the coastal cliffs and has stunning views. You won’t find any luxury resorts here; accommodation is mainly privately owned, low-key cottages (some sleep up to 10 people) and a camping ground, which has only six powered sites (the non-powered sites are more secluded and quiet), plus a small general store, toilets and showers, (08) 9776 8398.

Walpole

Walpole, 66km west of Denmark, is a great spot to stay if you’re looking for a low-key town with pretty surrounds – its laid-back vibes have attracted tree-changers and silver-haired hippies since the 1960s. There are plenty of chalets, farm stays,
and campsites in the national parks, plus a motel in town and two holiday villages. Walpole is tiny, and while there is a handful of places to eat in and around town, it’s not known for its nightlife, so choosing self-catering accommodation is a good idea for an extended stay. If you are looking to get away from the heat, crowds and frantic pace of everyday life, there’s no better place than the Walpole Wilderness. The Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre caters to a wide variety of tastes, abilities and ages: whether you’re into walking, photography, art, canoeing, fishing or swimming. The centre covers an impressive 363,000 hectares, and provides access to three iconic natural sites. The first (and perhaps the best known) of them is a walk amidst the forest canopy of ancient tingle trees at the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. Next up is Mount Frankland South National Park, where you’ll have the chance to see (and snap, so don’t forget your camera) views like no other – the park also features the newly completed Mount Frankland Wilderness Lookout. Last but not least is the Swarbrick Art Loop, where you can contemplate the 39m long Wilderness Wall of perceptions. All three sites feature unique interpretive displays and have great facilities for visitors. TIP For something different, why not hire a houseboat and explore the Nornalup and Walpole inlets? The boats sleep four to 10 people, and don’t require a skipper’s ticket to operate: a quick induction will teach you everything you need to know.

Walpole Inlet (photography Michael Hemmings).

 

Gloucester National Park

Only 3km south-east of Pemberton, Gloucester Park is a beautiful example
of a southwest karri forest. It’s very popular thanks to its star attraction – a 60m-high climbing tree – and the park caters well for all its visitors with plenty of walk trails, undercover picnic tables and toilets, plus barbecues and a brand-new lookout deck at the series of rapids known as The Cascades (the park’s other standout feature). The Gloucester Tree was pegged and made into a fire lookout in the 1940s. It’s a steep, scary climb and definitely not for those with fragile nerves (especially on a windy day when it tends to sway a bit). The view from the platform at the top is fantastic, however, and worth the effort (you can get a completion certificate from the visitor centre). There are a number of walking trails, three or four of which set out from Gloucester Tree. You can walk a moderate 6km portion of the Bibbulmun Track from the tree to The Cascades (just look for the yellow triangular markers). The Lefroy Brook Loop Walk is a less challenging 30-minute walk along the brook and through karri and marri trees. Fishing is also allowed in the park – The Cascades rapids are a good spot to fly-fish for rainbow trout (although there’s a ban on catching trout from July to August). The rapids are also a nice spot for a picnic. There is no camping, and a park entry fee of $12 applies (can be paid at the entry gate and covers all parks in the area for 24 hours).

D’Entrecasteaux National Park

Just 20 minutes’ drive from Pemberton, D’Entrecasteaux National Park hugs the south coast from Augusta to Walpole, and is where the locals go to escape. The majority of its sandy tracks are accessible only by foot, mountain bike or 4WD. The park is home to the Yeagarup Dunes, the largest land-locked mobile dune system in the southern hemisphere, which is advancing into the surrounding forest at a rate of four metres a year. Three rivers flow into the park – the Warren, the Donnelly and the Shannon – feeding several lakes, swamps and inlets before emptying out into the sea. The wild waters make for ideal surfing conditions, especially at the northerly tip of Black Point, a local hotspot. Bring your tent or campervan and set up base at Windy Harbour (accessible to 2WD vehicles, as is the Yeagarup Lake camping ground near the legendary dunes). This unassuming hamlet comprises 220 cottages, or shacks, mostly occupied by locals, although some are available for private rental.

The Gloucester Tree (photography Abigail Workman).

 

Manjimup

The rich soils and Mediterranean climate of this region, 307km from Perth, produces a wealth of produce including vegetables, stone fruit, Perigord truffles and, more recently, green tea leaves. In the dams and streams are plenty of trout and marron. Not surprisingly, Manjimup is now a popular destination for food-loving tourists, and nature-loving tree-changers. The town itself is fairly nondescript, but has everything you’ll need, including a nice range of cafes, restaurants and takeaway options, and a number of cellar doors. The accommodation options include a couple of motels and caravan parks, a backpackers’ hostel, and plenty of B&Bs and privately owned chalets. National park and forest make up 80 per cent of the shire, and the towering stands of karri and jarrah can be explored on foot (the Bibbulmun Track), on bicycle (the Munda Biddi Trail) or by canoe (the Warren River, although be warned, in winter, that becomes more like whitewater rafting). Stop in at the historic mill towns of Deanmill and Donnelly River to learn about the importance the local timber industry had to the area or, for a different type of forest appreciation, climb the 51m-high Diamond Tree Lookout. 

THINGS TO DO

Waterfalls

The Cascades is located 3km from Pemberton in Gloucester National Park, and the spectacular Beedelup Falls is situated 22km west of town on Vasse Highway. South of Northcliffe, Lane Poole Falls gushes over 12m of boulder granite along the Canterbury River. Fernhook Falls, located along the Deep River near Walpole, is another magnificent sight in winter.

Fernhook Falls, Walpole (photography Katrina Bartley).

 

Manjimup Timber Heritage Park

This brand-new facility, officially opened in July 2013, cost $1.14 million to build –
and it’s worth every penny for families in the region. Let the kids run wild on custom-made playground equipment including a massive climbing net, cubbies, slides, rides, sculptures of local animals and – drumroll – a 40m double-cable flying fox. They may never want to leave. There’s also outdoor gym equipment, barbecues and picnic spots. The park is open daily from 9am to 5pm from April until September, after which it remains open daily until 8pm. Entry is free.

Yeagarup Dunes

There are several ways to explore this 10km body of sand near Pemberton; by 4WD (this is only suitable for experienced drivers due to the isolated and chancy terrain), on a guided trip with a local tour company (check with the visitor centre for details), or by foot (take the sandy track leading to the dunes from the car park at Yeagarup Lake). But be sure to take note of where you are at all times – it’s easy to get lost, and you’ll need to follow the same route out.

Canoeing/Kayaking

Canoeing is a big pastime in the Southern Forests. The Blackwood River is the longest continually flowing waterway in the southwest and offers up plenty of challenges – think rapids, bends, rocks and submerged trees – so pay attention. Skilled paddlers will also get a kick out of Warren River in Pemberton, courtesy of its snags and outcrops. The Frankland River in winter is popular for whitewater rafting (but the rapids at Circular Pool should really only be tackled by those with superior skills.) During flood weather the river’s an altered experience, so approach with extreme care.The protected Broke Inlet, near Walpole, is also a safe, calm spot. Paddle from the towns of Nornalup, up the prestine Frankland River to Monastery Landing where karri forest towers above the river. Sample Mount Frankland National Park via Deep River (a main tributary of the Walpole and Nornalup Inlets, also good for kayaking and canoeing options). Visit www.water.wa.gov.au for information on river conditions.

One of the local dogs trained to sniff truffles.

Eating

There are plenty of gourmet treasures waiting to be unearthed in Manjimup, including the Perigord truffle – or ‘black gold’ as it’s known in these parts. The season runs from late May to early September, and the highlight of the calendar is the Truffle Kerfuffle, celebrating the marvellous fungi each year in June. If you prefer sweet rather than savoury treats, don’t miss Manjimup’s Cherry Harmony Festival at the end of the year (see Events, opposite). From June to July, keep a lookout for opportunities to pick your own Pink Lady apples at participating orchards, and to try specially created dishes featuring the home-grown star at local cafes and restaurants. The Manjimup Farmers’ Market is held at Manjin Park on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Cycling

The longest continuous off-road cycle trail in the world just got even longer. A new section of the Munda Biddi Trail, extending to Pemberton, was opened in April 2013, meandering its way through the region’s picturesque forest. Try the easy 3km distance from Pemberton to the Gloucester Tree, with the option of continuing further down the track for a full or half-day ride. More adventurous types might like to take on the 127km journey from Manjimup to Northcliffe, which passes through a town each day (meaning you can pack light). 

The Blue Cruiser trail at Pemberton Forest Mountain Bike Park (photography Jake Hannah).

 

FISHING

The rugged coastline that is the D’Entrecasteaux National Park attracts serious anglers, with its plentiful tailor, salmon and mulloway. While best tackled by 4WD, the park also has 2WD access at Salmon Beach and Windy Harbour. Shoals of salmon can often be spotted from Tookalup Lookout at Point D’Entrecasteaux – one of the few areas of the park accessible to 2WD vehicles and also the starting point for many walk trails. Freshwater trout and redfin perch can be hooked throughout the year and the highly sought-after marron is plentiful during open season (check dates at www.fish.wa.gov.au, they change annually). WA’s trout-fishing epicentre can be found at Pemberton’s Warren and Donnelly rivers, but if you snag a redfin perch be aware they’re a serious pest in this region and it’s illegal to throw them back in the water if caught – luckily they’re good eating. Walpole is surrounded by one of the first marine parks in Western Australia. The Walpole and Nornalup Inlets Marine Park supports the highest diversity of fish species in any WA estuary, with about 40 marine and estuarine fish species to be found in the park’s waters, the most common of them being black bream, King George whiting and flathead. A variety of sharks and rays are also found here. The inlet system and surrounding area provide a diverse mosaic of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Fringing habitats include forest, heathland, swamps and beaches. Inhabiting this diverse landscape are some 150 bird species, including hooded plovers, pelicans, ospreys, swamphens, ducks, and many more water, shore and sea birds.

Local fly fishing (photography Stonebarn).

 

WILDERNESS WALKS

Warren River Loop Walk | A picturesque 10.5 km trail of moderate intensity. The loop takes in old-growth karri trees and pretty river scenery. Take a dip in the water if you’re feeling brave, or pause at the lookout for sweeping forest views. It begins at the Bicentennial Tree, which is a 15-minute drive from Pemberton.

Shannon Dam Walk Trail | About a half-hour drive south of Manjimup, this easy 3.5km track is a well-kept secret. Shannon Dam was once used to supply the nearby settlement with water. Now it’s a tranquil spot surrounded by pristine forest. Wander along the trail (it should only take an hour or so), or try canoeing on the dam. Picnic facilities are also available.

Point D’Entrecasteaux CliffTop Walk | This is a short walk (just 1.3km) but the scenery is sensational. Leading along the clifftops near Windy Harbour, it takes in views over the Southern Ocean. Great for spotting whales from May until November.

The Bibbulmun Track | The holy grail for bushwalkers. Hop on the trail around Pemberton or Donnelly River Village. Popular day walks include the 18.9km stretch from Beedelup Falls to Big Brook Dam, and the 21km journey from One Tree Bridge to Chappels Bridge and back. The famous track is easily accessed from towns in the region. You can try full- or half-day trails near the Gloucester Tree in Pemberton, or a scenic three-day hike from there to Northcliffe. Further south, the Bibbulmun encounters the diverse ecosystems of the Pingerup Plains and the Southern Ocean. Near Northcliffe, day walkers can witness stunning coastal scenery on a 14km return trek between Mandalay Beach and Long Point campsite.

Warren River, near Pemberton (photography Australia’s South West).

 

THE LIST

  • Go four-wheel-driving at Yeagarup Dunes
  • Spot the whales at Windy Harbour
  • Try a truffle in Manjimup
  • Have a picnic at Big Brook Dam
  • Climb the Gloucester Tree
  • Ride the new section of the Munda Biddi Trail
  • Photograph the falls in Gloucester National Park
  • Go fishing at Salmon Beach

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

EVENTS

Whales
Southern right whales migrate between June and November, putting on an awesome show for wildlife-lovers. The clifftops at Windy Harbour and Point D’Entrecasteaux are good viewing spots, where you can watch them jump, splash and generally be majestic sea mammals.

Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival
Once a year, the town of Manjimup cuts loose during cherry season. The event isn’t just for locals – each year thousands of people turn up. The program has grown to include street theatre, markets, special guests and the famous Long Table Lunch. Like all good country town festivals, this one features plenty of non-foodie events too – there’ll also be a cherry pip-spitting competition, a vintage car parade, log chopping, a bucking bull and a dunk tank. Oh, and lots and lots of cherries – obviously. Dec.

Truffle Kerfuffle
As part of the food festival – this year held at Fonty’s Pool – you can pull on your gumboots and get your hands dirty taking part in an organised truffle hunt, or sit back and take it easy, sampling local delicacies such blue ridge marron with truffle-infused butter or hot chips doused with truffle aioli. Jun.

 
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