So many guests of the Margaret River Discovery Co. tell me they are travelling on from Margaret River to other parts South West, that I thought I’d write a blog about this journey as its one that Mr & Mrs Margaret River Discover Co love to do on our days off.
Margaret River is regarded as the ‘jewel in the crown’ but the whole bottom left corner of WA, referred to as the ‘South West’, is worth an extended visit. The suggestions of what to see and do below are by no means definitive, they are barely even the highlights. They are more of our personal favourites after doing these road trips for many years. See the information centres in each of the towns for a more extensive list of attractions in each area.
ARE YOU A FOODIE?
In colonial times (the late 1800s) the region was settled for farming and forestry and this is still true today. As well as broad scale farming (think dairy, fruit and vegetable crops and, of course, wine grapes) there are also niche produce industries that you may stumble across as part of your visit. If you’re interested in knowing more about some of these farm gates and whether you can pre-plan a visit, order a copy of Danielle Costley’s book Beyond the Farm Gate http://www.margaretriverpress.com/shop/leisure-and-lifestyle/beyond-the-farm-gate-by-danielle-costley/
But down to business.
Rightly or wrongly, most of my guests seem to focus on Albany as the key stop after Margaret River. It’s a great destination and a logical point from where you make the return drive to Perth.
THE FAST ROAD TO ALBANY
The quickest way to drive to Albany from either Margaret River or Augusta is via Manjimup and then the Muir Highway. It’s roughly 350km which will take a minimum of four hours, without stops. The roads are good but often narrow with little or no shoulder, and you should definitely take the drive a bit slower to keep an eye out for kangaroos and other hazards that pop out on the road.
But while you can make that drive in four hours it is a little uninspired. The journey can feel long and the feedback I receive from guests is that Albany, while great, was not their highlight of the southern coast. If this is your annual holiday, you should consider taking a bit more time along the way and making the most of the small, genuine towns along the way. Any one of these stops may turn into an unexpected highlight of your holiday.
THE BEST WAY TO DRIVE FROM MARGARET RIVER OR AUGUSTA TO ALBANY
All roads lead to Nannup!
If you leave from Margaret River, head east on Mowen Road for about an hour.
If you leave from Augusta take the Brockman Highway. Both of these are good ways to reach your first stop.
Nannup is a very quaint and traditional little town. There is a music festival in March, a tulip festival in October and outside of those weekends, it is a quiet stop. There are a couple of cute cafes that do a good coffee or scone with jam and cream during the day but night time dining is scant so avoid Nannup as a dinner stop.
Things to do and see in Nannup:
- If you want to stretch your legs you could check out a few of the stops on the Nannup Heritage Trail or walk from town to the Blackwood River that runs to the back of town. There is a tree in the river that marks how high the floods have come over the years.
Leaving Nannup, head south on the Vasse Highway (if you came in from Augusta it’s a short backtrack) towards Pemberton. It is 78km and will take about 1 hour.
Pemberton is another old mill town that has been pretty much unchanged for decades. There are a couple of nice cafes on the main street if you didn’t already fill up in Nannup. Take a drive up some of the side streets to see the original mill workers’ cottages that are still used today.
Things to do and see in Pemberton:
- Climb the Gloucester tree, in the Gloucester National Park 2km from Pemberton Town. In the 1930s and 1940s a series of lookouts were built in the top of a few very tall Karri trees, and were used to spot fires. You can climb 61m to the top lookout of the Gloucester tree… if you’re brave enough. If you’re not brave enough to climb to the top, just admire the Karri trees within the area. Fees apply to enter the National Park ($12 in March 2017).
- From town turn into Golf Links Rd which is the beginning of the Karri Forest Explorer Drive, and head out to Big Brook Dam. There’s a nice walk path around part of the dam which can be a good place to stretch your legs.
Leave Pemberton head east on the Vasse Highway, towards the South Western Highway. If you particularly loved climbing the Gloucester Tree, there’s another lower lookout tree, the Diamond Tree, a bit further out of town. Turn right onto the South West Highway and continue to Walpole. This leg is 125km and will take about 1.5hrs. You will pass through some beautiful forest, some of which was burned in a big bushfire in 2015 and is now regenerating. Keep an eye out for stunning wildflowers but if you want to stop for photos look for a safe place – cars are travelling at up to 110kph along this road and aren’t expecting a tourist to suddenly brake for a photo stop.
Walpole (also referred to as Nornalup) is on the south coast of WA, and is on the Nornalup Inlet. The town and its surrounds are famous for the Tingle and Karri trees in the old growth forest that are so big the area is referred to as The Valley of the Giants. And away from the forest the coastline is truly spectacular. Walpole and its neighbour Denmark are some of the Margaret River Discovery Co’s favourite areas to escape to and there are some ‘must do’s’ to experience around here.
Things to do and see in Walpole:
- Visit the Golden Wattle bakery. It’s a personal favourite. It’s not gourmet but they do a tasty bacon and egg sandwich and delicious vanilla slice. The breakfast of champions after a night’s camping.
- From town, take a short drive up the hill into the Walpole Wilderness National Park. Stop at the look out then continue up the hill to the Giant Tingle tree. This huge Tingle tree, which was hollowed out by fire, is now accessible by an 800m boardwalk loop.
- One of the best things you can do in Walpole is the WOW Wilderness Tour with Gary Muir. He is Mr Walpole! And will provide a fascinating insight into the area wowwilderness.com.au
If you have been on the road long enough, Walpole is a good spot to stop for the night. It is a very basic small country town but there are several accommodation options around this area. Book very early if you are travelling during WA public holidays or school holidays as this part of the world is very popular.
Between Walpole and Denmark are some very special places and you should take your time to enjoy these rather than rushing through. To the north are the forests, to the south is the amazing coastline. Put on your explorer’s cap and be prepared to give some things a try.
Leaving Walpole, continue east on the South Coast Highway and follow the signs for the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. It’s about 26km (27 minutes) from Walpole. This is a MUST DO!
- Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk www.denmark.com.au/details.aspx?_Operator=276
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the canopy, you need to head up! Fees apply (about $21/adult in 2016)
From the Tree Top Walk backtrack to the South Coast Highway. (If you turn left out of the attraction you will miss the turnoff to the….
- Conspicuous Cliffs. At the carpark you’ll wonder what could possibly be worth this much effort. Yes, there are stairs. Yes they are worth it. It is a highlight you won’t want to miss and you might find yourself standing there for quite a while. From the lookout, see if there are any dolphins surfing in the waves or, further out, if any whales are on their migration.
Leaving Conspicuous Cliffs, there are a number of beautiful bays and beaches on the way to Denmark. Stop off and explore depending on your time frame but the one you shouldn’t miss is:
- Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks at William Bay. There’s a circle walk that is well worth taking. Take your bathers for a swim at Greens Pool if the weather is fine. See if you picture the herd of elephants wading in the waters at Elephant Rocks.
William Bay to Denmark is about a 20 minute drive.
Denmark is a small and charming town that all of my guests love and comment on. It’ll probably be the highlight of your trip so you might want to take that on board when planning your accommodation stops. You’ll want to stay here at least one night before heading to Albany.
The town is set on the Denmark River inlet and its compact layout makes it very easy (and pleasant) to explore on foot.
Things to see and do in Denmark:
- Walk the Mokare Heritage Trail. This 3.6km circle trail takes you from town, along the river to the Harding River inlet. There are bridges at each end where you cross the river.
- For a more strenuous activity do the Monkey Rock hike. Take Ocean Beach Rd out of Denmark and turn onto Lights Road. The carpark is signed. It is a short but steep climb then a scramble over the rocks to enjoy a stunning view of the Denmark coast.
- If you haven’t already had enough time in the car, the Mount Shadforth and Scotsdale scenic drives are both enjoyable and will take you past many of Denmark’s wineries.
- For dining, there are plenty of options but our favourites are the restaurant at the Lake House https://www.lakehousedenmark.com.au/ or the Boston Brewing Co. (Willoughby Park Winery) http://www.willoughbypark.com.au/. There’s also a very good ice creamery in the centre of Denmark town.
There are a couple of routes for the drive from Denmark to Albany. We prefer to take the Lower Denmark Road which is a 76km drive, because that way we can visit some of the beaches at West Cape Howe.
- A gravel track will take you out to Shelley Beach where, on weekends, you can sometimes see model gliders being flown or paragliders in training. National Park fee applies.
The Lower Denmark Road takes you all the way into the old whalewatching town of Albany. In comparison to the towns you’ve seen along the way, Albany is a thriving metropolis. On top of the many activities in Albany and its surrounds, there are regular events too.
Our favourite things to see and do in Albany:
- The National Anzac Centre needs no introduction nationalanzaccentre.com.au/ Afterwards, head up to the Mt Clarence Desert Corps Memorial and Padre White Lookout for amazing million-dollar views of Albany.
- The amazing but treacherous natural attractions of the Torndirrup National Park; the Natural Bridge, the Gap, Salmon Holes and Blow Holes. $12 vehicle fee applies. Adhere to the safety signs.
- If you have a lot of energy after all that driving, consider the Bald Head hike. It’s strenuous and you need to be prepared with good hiking shoes and plenty of water. http://trailswa.com.au/trails/bald-head-walk-trail/print
- I’m going to offer a tip – a new gem of an eatery – that we discovered on our most recent visit to Albany. It’s the Laneway Bar at the Six Degrees hotel/restaurant. http://sixdegreeshotelmotel.com.au/laneway-bar.html It’s budget style but fabulous food and was the perfect stop for us after the long Bald Head hike.
- Drive along the beautiful Princess Royal Drive for a truly spectacular view.
- Visit Little Beach, recently named one of the best beaches in Australia.
- Stake a patch of white sand at Middleton Beach. Swim in the shelter of Ellen Cove, or walk towards Emu Point until the surf beckons. Embark on the Middleton Beach boardwalk.
- Taste some of the fabulous Great Southern region wines, spirits, locally made beer, farm fresh yabbies and trout, olive and sandalwood products. If you are lucky enough to time it right you should try and find some fresh shucked Albany oysters.
- Witness the elegance of giant windmills at the Albany Wind Farm, and the miraculous 360-degree views afforded by the surrounding walk trails.
- Drop into some of our famous wineries for a wine tasting, or taste W.A.’s first single malt whiskey. http://www.distillery.com.au
- Discover the richness of Albany’s whaling history at the only museum of its kind in the world to be housed in a formerly fully-operational whaling station. Ironically you can now spot migrating humpbacks and blue whales from the shore, or see them up close on board a whale watching cruise.
- Saturday or Sunday morning, Albany hosts bustling farmers markets (Albany Farmers Market and Albany Boatshed Markets) offering the freshest local produce and seafood, live entertainment and arts and crafts.
And as a final disclaimer… as with all travel in WA and beyond. Use common sense and consider your safety on all of these drives and activities.
Margaret River Discovery Tours
Sean Blocksidge is the owner operator of the Margaret River Discovery Company, an avid photographer, blogger and South West WA ambassador. In 2010 he won Western Australian Guide of the Year and his tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years.