29 February 2012
Let's start at Windy Harbour, in D'Entrecasteaux National Park. This is one of only two coastal locations in the area that you can get to in a two-wheel drive vehicle. The other is Salmon Beach, and you won't want to miss that either – especially if you're up for a bit of ocean fishing. The Windy Harbour Campground is a popular spot, but it's not free. It costs approximately $11.50 per adult, plus $6 for one of the six powered sites (if you can get one).
The power is limited – it's solar-based, and you can't plug in anything with an element, such as a jug or hot water system. You'll end up defaulting to gas and torchlight (guess how we know this). Windy Harbour settlement has about 200 cottages, and there is a general store there. Still, your best bet is to stock up with supplies at Northcliffe, a half-hour drive away.
The night we arrived there were only half a dozen vans in residence, and one of them was there for the long haul. A lady basking in the sun told us she recently had a knee replacement, and decided that Windy Harbour would be a nice place to recuperate. She didn't want to do much more than sit in a chair and relax.
Once we'd set up, we had a bit of time before darkness fell, so we made our way to the kilometre-long Cliff Top Walk and battled our way along in the wind. There's a good reason it's called Windy Harbour! The view here was spectacular, especially as the sun got lower in the sky and cast an orange glow across the rocks. We could see Salmon Beach spread out below. It looked smooth and inviting, so we went back the next morning.
We didn't fish, we just walked along the beach and enjoyed the unspoiled beauty of the National Park surrounds. If you'd like a swim, there's a more sheltered beach at nearby Cathedral Rock, and there are two more short walks you can do. There's the 400m Pupalong Loop and the amusingly named Coastal Survivors Walk (it's one way and just under 3km long.)
From Windy Harbour we drove to Pemberton, which is a charming small town surrounded by very tall timber. They are the tallest trees in WA. We're talking about the awe-inspiring Karri Forest. It's hard to stop gazing up at these monsters. If you're driving, pay close attention to the road. There's not a lot of space between you and the trees. A lapse in concentration could see you getting too closely acquainted to the forest.
Pemberton is right in the middle of three national parks: Gloucester, Warren and Beedelup. As you can imagine, this is a keen bushwalker's seventh heaven. If you're spending some time in WA, and likely to visit lots of national parks, you might find it more economical to buy either an $80-per-vehicle annual pass or a $40 four-week holiday pass.
The Gloucester National Park is a great place to immerse yourself in. Tall trees aside, there are all kinds of flora and fauna, including wild flowers and orchids. While you're there, pay a visit the famous Gloucester Tree on Burma Road. This is one of eight karri trees used as fire lookouts between 1937 and 1952. The Gloucester Tree is one of the three that remain available for visitors to climb. At 72m in height, this is the world's tallest fire-lookout tree.
The climb is quite challenging and not recommended if you're not in top health, and especially if you're not good with heights! You haul yourself up the tree via a spiral of spikes, and you will have to be prepared to share a spike at some stage with someone going up or down. Even if you don't climb, you'll enjoy watching others do it.
Rob undertook the challenge and made it up and down without a problem. He moved to the outer edge of the spikes when he crossed paths with other climbers. "Great view," he reported when he reached terra firma. "I can see why the tree was perfect for fire-spotting. There's a 360-degree view right over the top of the trees to the horizon. You get a real concept of the whole area. Well worth the aching thighs!"
You couldn't have got me up there for any money. 72m tall, with only a flimsy-looking bit of mesh on the outer edge of the spikes protecting me? No thank you. There were hordes of school children scrambling up and down like monkeys. We were a bit surprised that school kids were allowed to climb a tree of that height without harnesses or safety gear. They were supervised by teachers, and the kids that we saw were all exercising care. Still, the experience seemed to be at the opposite end of the scale to today's super-safe playgrounds!
Following the tree climb, we both thought it would be a terrific idea to go in search of the Lavender and Berry Farm at Pemberton. Rob was tired and I was stressed from watching him climb – it was time for some famous berry pancakes! Here's a friendly tip: unless you're extremely hungry or a very big bloke, order a small size. I couldn't finish mine. Rob managed, but only just.
If you're not in the mood for berries or pancakes, the café serves other food as well. Also, the owners don't charge for casual visits. You can use their lovely grounds and gardens for a picnic. Spend a lazy hour or two by the tranquil lake, watching the wild ducks. If you have kids with you, they'll love meeting the alpacas and the miniature horses. Don't miss the gift shop either, you'll find great lavender products and crafts, as well as home-made jams and fruit vinegars, pickles, chutneys, syrups and honey.
As you travel around Australia, you'll find plenty of berry farms. You'll see more than one outlet specialising in lavender, and hundreds of little gift stores. What makes a place different is the enthusiasm of the owners and their effort to be unique.
The Lavender and Berry Farm at Pemberton is definitely special. You get really good vibes because of the owners' generosity and obvious love of their grounds. Also, we couldn't resist getting our photo taken next to the sign that said "Don't feed the animals. They are too fat."
After a long lunch and a walk around the grounds of the Lavender and Berry Farm, we headed back to Pemberton Caravan Park. We needed to take care of a bit of housekeeping before happy hour. We caught up with our fellow travellers, and found out that while we were out, several of them had boarded the scenic tram at Pemberton Railway Station. They rattled along through the karri trees, over a whole series of trestle bridges and across various rivers and streams. They were full of interesting anecdotes about the area, thanks to their keen tram driver. They'd even been able to get out at the Cascades and the Warren River Bridge for a while to explore further.
Obviously, this was a fun outing that they'd all enjoyed, so Rob and I put it on our to-do list. We'd already agreed that we wanted to return and spend more time around Pemberton. We hadn't visited any of the wineries this time around (since we'd done a lot of that at Margaret River) and it looked like a great place to launch the kayaks. Paddlers have the river, lake and estuary to choose from.
The next day found us back on the road heading for Denmark, via Walpole and the Valley of the Giants. If you're like me and not crazy about the idea of climbing an endless series of spikes to view the Karri Forest from up high, then you can drive to Walpole and visit the Valley of the Giants and their famous Tree Top Walk. Here you'll be able to give your neck a rest from gazing up, and go for a comfortable stroll through the tops of these majestic karri and tingle trees, via a 600m lightweight bridge. Don't worry if suspension bridges make you queasy. With this one, there's not too much sway, and the staff keep a good eye on the number of people on it.
When you get back to the bottom, another treat awaits – the Ancient Empire Walk. This is a boardwalk that winds through a grove of old tingle trees. Some are actually more than 400 years old. If you have ever felt a bit gloomy about the idea of growing older, this is good for the soul. What's a mere six or seven decades in comparison to four centuries?
When you walk along this path, you can see where the valley's name comes from. The tingle trees are truly giants – you'll be standing next to some of the most enormous trees in the world. Make sure you take a few photos of the trees, and of yourself walking around and through their bases. Talk about feeling small!
Finally, we continued on our way to Denmark. We had the words of another caravanner ringing in our ears: "Don't forget to try one of the Denmark Bakery's pies!" Apparently they'd won plenty of awards, including Champion Gourmet Pie Maker of Australia at the Great Aussie Meat Pie competition in 2010. Clearly, we could not pass through Denmark without sussing them out. We found a convenient spot to leave the van and walked up to Strickland Street to see if those pies were as good as they sounded.
The main problem was choosing which pie to eat. They had won gold medals for their Thai Jungle Chicken, Vinda Roo, and Seafood Chowder. I had Jungle Chicken; Rob steered away from his usual beef pie and tried the Seafood Chowder. Were they worth the awards? We thought so, but you really should try one for yourself. It's a great way to finish up the Windy Harbour to Denmark stretch of south-west WA.
• Eat a picnic in the grounds of the Lavender and Berry Farm, Pemberton
• Enjoy a self-guided walk around historic sites in Denmark (pick up map from the visitor centre).
• Have a BBQ and spend the day at Big Brook Dam, 4km from Pemberton.
• Berry pancakes at the Berry and Lavender Farm, Pemberton.
• Climb the 72m Gloucester Tree.
• Explore the walking trails in the Gloucester, Warren and Beedelup National Parks.
• Swim in the Circular Pool at Walpole.
• Have an award-winning pie for lunch at the Denmark Bakery.
FROM PERTH TO WINDY HARBOUR:
375km, 4hrs and 45min. Follow the South Western Highway south to Quinnip and take the turn off to Windy Harbour along Wheatley Coast Road.
PEMBERTON VISITOR AND TOURIST CENTRE
Brockman Street, Pemberton
Ph: (08) 9776 1133
DENMARK VISITOR CENTRE
73 South Coast Highway, at the intersection of Ocean Beach Road
WORDS BY MARG AND ROB MCALISTER PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRETT SHEARER