The South West regions of Geographe, the Blackwood River Valley and the Southern Forests are home to some of Western Australia’s great destinations. Rather than whizzing by them on the main freeway, discover something new by taking the road less travelled. The South Western Highway – or Harvest Highway – connects these regions, winding through a beautiful countryside of rolling hills and historical towns tucked deep within the valleys.
With journey times ranging from 90 minutes to four-and-half hours, these destinations make for the ideal mini-break from Perth.
Agriculture is at the heart of the South West, creating a rainbow of colour and a hive of activity through the changing seasons.
As Western Australia’s food bowl, the South West is bursting with citrus, apple, pear, nashi, stone fruit, vegetables and berries, which can all be found growing on the beautiful farms that line the highway and minor roads.
With produce this good, it’s no wonder the quality of food at nearby restaurants and cafes is renowned for being top notch.
Southern Forests is known for its cool-climate wines of extraordinary quality. With more than 50 vineyards and charming cellar doors, it has become a premium wine destination.
Geographe, one of Australia’s most diverse regions, also has several wineries producing award-winning drops, from typical varieties such as riesling, to small-batch productions of lesser-known ones like malbec. If you want to taste something different, there’s every chance you’ll meet the winemaker and be able to get hands-on with the produce.
Lake Ballingall, Collie.
The Blackwood Valley wine region is a hidden jewel, with beautiful towns, rivers, forests and trails to explore.
If beach holidays are your thing, Bunbury offers a stack of possible activities. On the Geographe coast, and surrounded by water on three sides it has great swimming beaches, and plenty of hire gear and charters so you can get amongst it.
What makes Bunbury a standout tourist destination however is the dolphins. They are friendly creatures, living in Koombana Bay, and often make an appearance on the beach on summer mornings.
Water is everywhere in these regions, and often under-utilised by anyone other than the locals and savvy visitors. Amazing fresh waterways abound and make great retreats, while natural waterholes and cascading waterways are found in the stunning Wellington National Park near Collie.
Western Australia’s longest continually flowing river, the Blackwood, winds its way through the valley, the bushland wilderness and towns. Enormous dams, perfect for stillwater sports, are found just out of Harvey, while others that are ideal for swimming can be found all the way through the lush green region. Pemberton also has a fantastic natural swimming pool, as well as the Warren River. If you’re planning to swim, canoe, kayak or even cast a line, check the current conditions and licensing requirements at the visitor centres, and heed the warning signs.
The South West’s jarrah and marri forests are well worth a look, but it’s the soaring karris and tingles that will have you in awe. See them at their most spectacular, skyscraping glory in the Southern Forests. Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole are the places to go for karri, and the Valley of the Giants, just outside of Walpole, has amazing tingle trees.
In true adventurous Western Australian style, where ’one must conquer all’, rungs have been hammered into trees, so you can climb to the top of three of Pemberton’s karris (the highest is 72m). A suspended walkway has been erected not far off, so you can walk through the forest canopy (albeit in a much more civilised fashion) at the Tree Top Walk. The views and sense of achievement are worth the effort.
One of the South West’s biggest drawcards is the abundance of wildflowers blooming across the fertile ground in spring. The forest floors come alive, carpeted in coral vine and native wisteria, dotted with lovely orchids and bright fungi. Woodlands are also fantastic viewing areas and usually full of orchids and kangaroo paw. Down by the coast, the colourful heath and shrub land provide romantic walkways.
For sporty types, this region offers adventure thrills, fantastic golf courses, horse-riding and rock climbing. The off-road Bibbulmun Track and Munda Biddi Trail are great for scenic treks or rides, traversing the countryside through forests, farmland and alongside rivers. Each is about 1000km long and stretches through the region from Mundaring (in Perth’s Hills) to Albany (in the Great Southern). Rather than going end to end, most people walk or ride sections of the track, all of which are found in these regions.
No matter your taste or holiday style, the sheer diversity of WA’s South West ensures a magic and memorable experience.
Manjimup (photography Elements).
Lovely undulating hills, forests and farmlands flank the eastern side of Geographe. Water surrounds it on all other sides, with the cosmopolitan city of Bunbury nestled on the western coast. Just 90 minutes from Perth, Geographe has a number of great national parks that dominate the landscape, together with beef and dairy farms, vineyards and orchards.
The Geographe wine region is fast becoming known for its fabulous wines and picturesque landscapes. Foodies are flocking to the area for its excellent dining options in the wine country, and also in Bunbury itself. A vibrant city with cafes, wine bars and restaurant strip, Bunbury has several top hotels, serviced apartments and holiday parks. Fun farm stays and chalets, lakeside or forest resorts, and bed-and-breakfasts can also be found out in the countryside.
Blackwood River Valley
Steep, imposing hills dominate the landscape of this valley, bisected by the winding Blackwood River. This is the region of colour, vibrancy and quirkiness. Themed landscaped gardens flourish, with many private gardens open during spring and autumn. Quaint country towns are the order of the day, their streets decked with window boxes and artworks, while high-jinks country events are the norm. The steep hills offer outstanding views across valleys, with gorgeous cottages, chalets and bed and breakfasts, some situated down by the river. Historic country hotels and lodges in town also provide fantastic country charm.
Big national parks have long been the attraction of the Southern Forests, with fantastic walking trails, scenic drives and camping grounds among tall karri forests, wildflowers, and pristine waterways. Awesome mountain-bike trails, canoeing, tall climbing trees, and sand-dune tours offer adventure bait. With excellent cool-climate wines and local produce, the forests have become an outstanding food and wine destination. Chalets, farm stays, resorts and hotels all take advantage of the stunning landscape of woodland, wine country and farmlands.
DID YOU KNOW?
The three climbing trees in Pemberton were originally pegged (that’s to say, hundreds of pegs were driven into the bark so people can climb to the top) so they could be used as fire lookouts across the forest. You might even get to the top and see a ranger with his lunch, a bottle of water and some binoculars!
Only in WA Here’s a few for the list; the Bibbulmun Track is the longest walking track in the southern hemisphere; Bunbury’s mangroves are the furthest south; and the climbing trees are the tallest.
Up to 3000 garden gnomes have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves – some with quirky messages – at Gnomesville in the Ferguson Valley. It is well worth a visit – even funnier after a day in the wine region! Feel free to add your own gnome to the growing population.
WHEN TO GO
SUMMER | Bunbury is gorgeous in the summer. The dolphins are frequent visitors and the alfresco dining down the main street on balmy nights creates a buzz. Lakeside accommodation is lovely in Burekup and Pemberton, as is camping by the rivers, canoeing and swimming.
AUTUMN | Deep, warm autumn hues decorate the Blackwood River Valley. With calm, mild weather, this is the best time to visit for bush-walking, mountain biking and other activities.
WINTER | Unlike many areas, winter is a good time to visit the South West. Morning mists cover the landscape and the hills are a vibrant green. Cascading rivers and waterways can turn to raging torrents, and are
a sight to behold. Winter flowers such as tulips create a blaze of colour, while cosy log fires in your accommodation, wineries and restaurants will keep you warm throughout.
SPRING | This is the season of colour and festivals. Wildflowers bloom, Monet-inspired country gardens open their gates to the public, and event after quirky event will have you feeling alive while providing an insight into the region’s amazing people, wine, produce and art.
Erindale Lavender Farm.