From the mid-80s to the early noughties, it was my annual ritual to fly over to Perth for some much needed R&R. A friend and fellow journalist John Weir was based in WA’s capital, and he was always my local guide.
A couple of single blokes at the time, initially the quasi-holiday involved taking in a few of Perth’s popular sights, attending a thoroughbred race meeting or two and – dare I admit – hitting the nightlife strip of Northbridge. Well, so much for the R&R!
But I did come up for air on one occasion, contemplating writing a memoir while unwinding in a secluded eco lodge in idyllic Margaret River, south-west of Perth.
Eventually Weiry hung up his writing pad and pen, and ventured into the hotel industry, becoming part-owner of a couple of local pubs as well as the owner of a tavern in Northbridge – oh, the irony!
I was best man at his wedding, much to the chagrin of his Sandgroper mates, and speaking of weddings, there was a touch more finesse to the Perth trips after I also married, in 1995. Boat cruises up and down the majestic Swan River, meeting the quokkas on Rottnest Island, long lunches at Hillarys Boat Harbour on the Indian Ocean and fine dining at Coco’s Restaurant in South Perth became the more regular occurrences.
But now there’s another chapter in my WA travel chronicle, albeit under rather different circumstances.
A recent hit and run mission to WA to review two camper trailers manufactured in Perth led me to the quaint township of Dwellingup, around 110km south of Perth.
CTA tested a Camprite Campers TX6 MKII, followed by a Follow Me Campers Pentecost at Lane Poole Reserve’s Nanga Mill camping ground, 6km south of Dwellingup.
Energetic CTA photographer Nathan Jacobs and I set out from our digs in downtown Perth along the Kwinana Highway – around 70km of direct, if not rivetingly scenic, travel, bypassing Mandurah before branching off to Pinjarra and on to Dwellingup, which certainly compensated in the aesthetic stakes.
Even passing rapidly through Pinjarra was a trip down memory lane. As a horse-racing aficionado, it evoked flashbacks of the last time I’d visited this town, almost 30 years earlier with Weiry, to attend the Pinjarra Cup.
The historic township of Pinjarra, one of WA’s earliest settled localities, is also home to some of the region’s finest heritage buildings as well as the meandering natural beauty of the Murray River.
But I’m certain Dwellingup and the surrounding hills have created a new reminiscence – it’s difficult not to feel immediately nostalgic about a place where people can connect with nature.
The area’s forested hills also offer an exciting range of walking, mountain bike and 4WD trails, as well as easy access to the Bibbulmun Track and Munda Biddi.
The Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s greatest walking trails. Stretching 1000km between Kalamunda and Albany, it traverses a range of landscapes from tall forests to the rugged southern coastline. And the Munda Biddi Trail extends more than 1000km from the Perth Hills to Albany. It boasts a range of purpose-built cycling trails, unrivalled by any other long-distance cycle trail in the world.
Dwellingup is close to the pristine beauty of Lane Poole Reserve, which offers some of the best camping and caravan experiences in the Shire of Murray, at the centre of the Peel Region. Thousands of visitors each year are drawn to its picturesque jarrah forest to picnic, camp, walk, canoe, cycle or simply relax. The winding waterways of this region’s Murray River are a focus for water-based fun and adventure, while walkers and mountain bikers can find trails of varying length and difficulty. Excellent campgrounds cater for groups in caravans, camper trailers or tents.
Lane Poole Reserve is a key conservation area for the Murray River Valley in the Perth Hills. Covering nearly 55,000ha, it is the largest reserve in the northern jarrah forest, ranging from the heavily forested valley slopes and rock-rimmed pools of the Murray River near the Darling Scarp to the more open, undulating jarrah and wandoo woodlands further east. The reserve is named after CE Lane-Poole, the state’s first Conservator of Forests and a devoted conservationist.
The reserve protects about 500 species of native plants, which provide important habitat for threatened species such as the quokka, noisy scrub-bird, woylie, chuditch (quoll) and western ring-tailed possum. You may also glimpse the threatened Baudin’s and Carnaby’s black cockatoos feeding high up in the forest canopy.
No surprise, then, that it’s a popular destination offering a wide range of nature-based recreational activities and visitor facilities based around the Murray River. This is the longest permanent river in the jarrah forest and one of the few major rivers in the Darling Plateau that hasn’t been dammed for water supply. During summer, the river provides a tranquil setting for swimming, canoeing, and fishing. As water levels rise after winter rains, the river swells providing small rapids ideal for white-water rafting.
Around the time of the CTA assignment, Hotham Valley Railway’s preservation society was celebrating a 40-year anniversary of HVR Steam Rangers at Dwellingup. Activities included normal Steam Ranger services along with various locomotives and carriages available for viewing.
Ironically, I’d spent a week on annual leave in the Margaret River region with my wife, Meredyth, only a month prior to my WA assignments, and that was the epitome of relaxation. We also spent a couple of nights in South Perth and even had a low-key breakfast at Coco’s, before heading home to Melbourne.
To be truthful, that particular trip was also a pilgrimage in memory of my mate Weiry who tragically passed away in 2003 – when my perennial sojourns to Perth came grinding to an emotional halt.
They say time heals all wounds but I don’t believe it for one second. It’s taken me more than a decade to summon up the courage to revisit some of my favourite haunts of that city – which naturally included Weiry’s former Northbridge tavern Novak’s, now an Irish pub.
So perhaps it’s for the best I have a new WA favourite. The next time I’m on the left coast for pleasure, I’ll be making a beeline for the natural treasure that is Dwellingup and soaking up more of the Peel region.
I’d love to have a camper trailer I could call my own in tow. Perhaps a Pentecost, which gains its sobriquet from a river located in the Kimberley region. Mind you, I’d also give my right arm to have my trusty chaperon along for the ride!
- Dwellingup is located around 110km from Perth and can be reached via Kwinana Freeway/State Route 2 and Del Park Road.
- Dwellingup annual events – Dwellingup Log Chop (February); Dwellingup Pumpkin Festival (March); Dwellingup 100 Mountain Bike Race