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Epic Aussie Road Trip Part 10: The Southern Forest (Walpole, Pemberton)

November 13, 2010

Driving from Denmark

After leaving Denmark we made our way toward another attraction I was looking forward to, the Tree Top Walk. Unfortunately, it started pouring down rain and I was worried we were going to have to skip it. We decided to drive down to the area anyways just in case it stopped raining, and that maybe we would wander around the free walk on the ground below if it didn’t stop. We took our time, sitting in the car and reading for a bit, and then the rain seemed to slacken to nearly a stop.

We jumped on our chance and made our way over to the visitors center. We were a bit unsure if we wanted to spend the $20 ($10 each) to do the walk, so we first went on the free “Ancient Empire” walk on the ground among the trees. (A school group had also gone in just ahead of us and we weren’t keen to sway above the trees with them!) The regular walk was nice, with plenty of big tingle and karri trees to marvel at, plus many with big gaps in their trunks to stand in. Some were absolutely enormous, especially some that were now fallen.

Giant tingle tree

The walk, and the improving weather, led us to the decision to do the tree top walk. And we were so glad we did! You walk up ramps, up and up into the trees. The highest point is at 40m (around 120 feet) and it’s amazing being up there and touching the branches of these huge trees that you would normally just stare up at from their big trunk below. The views were great, and the sun came out which was perfect. Birds were flying right by us, oblivious to the fact that we were up way higher than we belonged!

The ramps are a little bit scary, as they are built to sway and they definitely do! To look down at the supports and see them swaying is a little bit scary. I think Oscar’s favorite part was that the walkway was grated so you could see down below you as you walked — a very weird feeling! We also found that all the trees looked like they were growing at a crazy tilt from up there… not sure what the optical illusion is on that one, but it’s very strange looking!

From the Tree Top Walk we drove on to Walpole, another town in the trees, but it seemed there wasn’t much there except for the Tree Top Walk (which is really not there but in between Walpole and Denmark). We decided to continue on our way toward Pemberton, thinking we would stop and camp in one of the national parks on the way.

Oscar in a giant tingle

We made our way up to Shannon National Park, which looked like a nice place to spend the night. However, when we got into the park we realized that camping there would cost the same (or more) than it would cost for us to stay in a caravan park with good facilities and power! (You have to pay an $11 park entrance fee, plus $9/adult for camping.) The campsite was right on the edge of the park so it wasn’t even a very immersive experience. It was self-registration also but was missing the necessary envelopes, plus we didn’t have the exact change, so it just seemed like it wasn’t going to work out for us.

It was getting late though (the sun sets pretty early in WA since they don’t do daylight saving!) and we knew we wouldn’t make it all the way to Pemberton (not to mention the kangaroo risk would be very high in those areas), so our only hope was to stop at the only little dot on our map anywhere nearby, Quinninup, which the map marked with the sign that there was a caravan park though we knew nothing more about it. We made our way up there and followed the caravan park signs.

Oscar up high in the trees

At first we thought it looked incredibly sketchy (calling Quinninup a town might be overstating it), but as we pulled into the big grassy park area, we were welcomed by a woman living in the park and she seemed friendly. We pulled in and I almost immediately spotted a kangaroo hop along near the forest in front of our van. I decided to do a walk around, and after walking just a few seconds down the lawn to an empty area, I spotted tons of kangaroos. They all stood up and stared at me, hopping a little bit away and then resuming their feeding.

One was huge, a couple had babies, and eventually they hopped away toward the forest. I walked back toward the car, but spotted some more on the other side of the van near the little playground, so I went over there. Again there were many of them, a few with joeys in their pouches. Most of them would stop and stare at me, or hop away, but one seemed to have absolutely no problem with my presence. I slowly inched toward it, but it didn’t even flinch. After a few minutes I was able to come right up to it (and see its adorable joey which was leaning its head out of the pouch to munch on grass!) and the kangaroo didn’t have a care in the world that I was so close. (See video below.)


Up amongst the trees

In my walk I also spotted a blue-winged kookaburra, which I was pretty excited about, but despite my following it around it managed to elude me without me getting a photo. Oh well.

When I returned to the van Oscar was making dinner, and then we were approached by our neighbor. He and his wife were what most Aussies call “Grey Nomads.” They were retired, and for the past three years they’ve lived in their caravan, traveling around WA. He invited us over for coffee/hot chocolate after we finished our dinner. So after we finished up we went over and they showed us into their caravan (very nice! They even had a dishwasher!), and we sat and talked for a while.

They explained to us why some of the kangaroos were afraid and some weren’t. Apparently it’s not too uncommon for a kangaroo to be hit by a car while she has a joey in her pouch, and the people in town will rescue the joey and raise it. Eventually they release the ‘roos into the forest near the caravan park, where all the wild kangaroos are, and they integrate for the most part. But you can also tell which ones were raised by people because they don’t hop away (so obviously the one I got close to had been raised).

Mamma and Joey Roo at our caravan park

They also gave us some tips on places to visit and places to stay. It seems we’d missed out on what would have been an extremely valuable resource on our trip (though now it was obviously a little too late), which they called “The Bible.” It was the CAMPS book (they had Camps 4, though now there is a Camps 5) which lists al the free and cheap camps all around Australia. They recommended a couple to us that were on our way, which was very helpful. In fact, the next night we stayed at a site they’d recommended, which was only $12 and in a pretty nice location next to a river.

The next morning we continued on our way toward Pemberton. The drive was absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by giant karri, marri and jarrah trees. Pemberton itself was a cute town, easy to walk around and with a nice bakery.

We decided to try out a couple of the wineries in the area, as Pemberton is supposed to be the new “up and coming” wine region. The wineries were all very nice and in beautiful spots, and while it seems they are definitely anticipating (or hoping for) a boom, we were the only people in both the places we visited. We first visited Lost Lakes Winery, which was in a really pretty spot but was very laidback. Their cellar door was just a bar and some ratty couches that their cute dog was playing music chairs with. The woman that did our tasting was even wearing a sweatshirt (it was cold, though, as it was still on and off raining and she did explain that they were preparing for a wedding the next day).

Another mother and joey, not minding me at all

After that we visited Salitage Winery, which we enjoyed much more. The guy doing the tasting there really insisted that Pemberton was on the up and up. He said the vines had all been planted a little bit later than Margaret River, but  that only a few years ago Margaret River was a little town like Pemberton and then it just suddenly blew up (we heard this many more times while we were there). The only big difference is that Pemberton is a cool climate wine region and Margaret River is warm climate (which could also have a big influence on tourism). Also Margaret River is a much easier short trip from Perth.

Overall, we thought Pemberton was a cute town, but as the woman at our caravan park had described it the night before, it might have had too much in the way of “visions of grandeur.” Everything was expensive, and we wouldn’t have dreamed of staying the night in a caravan park there at the prices they were asking! Instead we drove a bit toward Augusta and the Margaret River region and stayed at Alexandra Bridge, the cheap campsite recommended to us.

This is part 10 of a 12 part series. Read the rest of the Epic Aussie Road Trip series or watch the video to drive across Australia in 2 minutes.


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