Exploring the Great Southern

While the South-West of Western Australia in the summer is undeniably amazing,  with no shortage of white sandy beaches to stretch out on and trails to explore, there is also something attractive about jumping in the car and heading down south in the cooler months. Lush green landscapes, clear cool days and red wine by the fire make for a fine weekend away, and that’s exactly what Ollie and I jumped in the car to experience this winter. Our destination of choice was Denmark, a small town resplendent with natural beauty right in the middle of WA’s rainbow coast.

We headed down on a sunny Friday morning, with our fingers crossed that the good weather would hold up for the next couple of days. Cold I was prepared for, rain was definitely off the wish list! We took the coastal route down, stopping in Bridgetown for some baked goods. Pies made for a tasty lunch, although didn’t live up to other country bakery pies that I have had in the South-West – there is some tough competition out there! Bridgetown is a nice place to stop a while though – a highlight was stumbling across a puzzle museum  which, among other interesting things, claimed to have the world’s smallest puzzle. Seeing the whole main street yarn-bombed also made for an interesting walk!

Our second stop on the way down was at Fernhook Falls and Rowell’s pool in Mt Frankland South National Park. These falls are not so tall but they are pretty impressive in the winter when large volumes of water flow under the bridge and across the boulders, whipping up foam and bubbles as a result of the saponin (broken down tree matter) in the water. Further along, you can sit a while and watch the water placidly swirling around Rowell’s Pool. We had the area with the falls to ourselves for a good hour, and enjoyed the intermittent sunshine and hopping across the rocks to enjoy different vantage points.

After that, it was onwards to the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. This is a really amazing attraction that allows you to take a 600m walk on a specially constructed walkway, and as the ground drops away beneath the walkway you find yourself at heights of up to 40 metres, wandering through the canopy of the tingle forest. It’s a pretty special experience even if it’s a little nerve-wracking for those who aren’t fond of heights (yours truely), particularly when the walkway starts moving in the wind!

After this, we continued on to the Ancient Empire boardwalk, where we saw plenty of red and yellow tingle trees – some up to 400 years old!  The highlight was the Old Grandma Tingle, looking like it has a wrinkled, knobbly face at its base, and all the trees that you can walk straight through the middle of.

That night for dinner, after settling into our lovely chalet at Celestine Retreat, we headed a few km’s out of town to Boston Brewery for dinner. I gather this brewery has been open for a while, and it was pretty buzzing even on this cold Friday night! We managed to score a spot close to the fire in the middle, and settled in for some beers and a good feed. Much to my pleasant surprise, when we ordered our beer paddles we got given a choice of beers! A rare occurence in my experience. From my selection, I enjoyed the ginger beer and nut brown ale the most. On the food front we shared the brewers paddle, the arancini and chicken wings all of which were delicious – I would highly recommend a visit!

The next morning we woke up early for a day out exploring in the Albany area. Before we got on the road though, we dropped past the the Denmark Bakery for some breakfast (sausage rolls are apparently breakfast food for Ollie!) and grabbed some coffee from Mrs Jones (more on that later). A short drive by South-West standards and we were there, and the first stop was a wander around the town and a quick visit to the farmers market which, while great for locals with no shortage of fresh fruit and veg, didn’t have as much picnic-type food (read: cheese) as I had hoped. Probably a good thing though, given how much food we had lined up for later that day!

Next on our list was the wind farm just out of Albany, which is more exciting than it sounds as it’s located on a beautiful part of the coast. You can go for a walk here along part of the Bibbulmun track, which winds its way along the coast and inland to get up and close to those giant wind turbines. They are actually really graceful when you get up close to them – I find them quite soothing and peaceful when the wind is blowing lightly. After we soaked up some sunshine there for a while, we moved on to check out the Gap and the Natural Bridge, the former being as fierce and amazing as I remember from visiting as a child.  On the way out we stopped at Cable beach – beautiful views of the lighthouse and and some a nice place to stop a while and watch the waves crash against the rocks.

After all that walking and sightseeing we had worked up quite the appetite, and so we made our way back into Albany to have lunch at Liberte which, in their own words, is a a Parisian inspired cocktail bar serving great booze & fun French Vietnamese food. We had a very enjoyable lunch here – pork belly, chicken wings and truffle fries with mayonaise all went down very easily. What was even better though was the cocktails – I had the house special, a Hammer and Fizz with gin, aperol, passionfruit, lemon, sugar, egg, soda and orange blossom, while Ollie had a refreshing ginger beer.

After that, the weather turned a little unfriendly so we made our way back to our chalet, grabbing a bottle of local wine en route, and soaked in spa bath for a while with a glass of red. That night, we had dinner booked a Kirby’s – a fine dining restaurant located at Rickety Gate Estate. It is usually only open Saturday’s and Sunday’s from 12-4, but opens once a month for a special dinner service. The menu here is a fixed price for three courses, with a choice of 3-4 dishes for each course.

Well, this was a truely amazing experience! We were greeted at the door and shown to our table, with some menus, a wine list and water promptly popped down in front of us. The winter menu was full of warm, hearty dishes and the only unfortunate thing was that it featured beans and lentils quite heavily which meant Ollie couldn’t eat a lot of it! I was free to dine to my hearts delight though.

I won’t go into the menu in detail because we tried so many things, but some standouts for me were the beef and guinness tartlet (that melt in your mouth pastry!) and the creamy mushroom and gorgonzola arancini on the tasting plate, the tender lamb shank I had as a main, and the absolutely sensational gratin dauphinoise with garlic, nutmeg, double cream and parmesan. Also worth a mention is the layered Persian orange and almond cake with mascarpone and orange blossom syrup which I thought would be my least favourite thing on the dessert plate but which blew my mind! We also had a really lovely bottle of Pinot Noir selected for us by the sommelier to accompany it all. After all that, we practically rolled out the place and fell asleep as soon as we got home!

The next morning, although I was surprised that it was possible to eat again, we stopped a while at Mrs Jones cafe to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. I had the eggs benny with delightfully soft bread and perfectly poached eggs, while Ollie has the most amazing looking buttermilk pancakes topped with bacon, bananas and maple syrup. The high expectations bought about by the visual presentation were matched the the flavours – light fluffy pancakes and that tantalising combination of salty and sweet in the bacon and the maple syrup. Brunch heaven!

After this, we braved the wind and intermittent rain to visit Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks/Elephant Cove. A real stand-out of the Great Southern region, these beaches are shielded by mammoth rocks which makes them calm, even in the wiliest of weather conditions. Still, I wouldn’t have relished the though of submerging myself in the chilly waters of the Great Southern Ocean, and was very impressed by the one brave soul swimming laps in Greens Pool – brrrr! Getting my feet a little wet running through the gap in the rocks between waves to check out Elephant Cove was definitely enough for me!

After all that adventure, we stopped off at Elephant Rocks cidery where we tried 8 house ciders along with some chilli nuts. The ciders were not quite to my taste – most of them were a bit too tart or dry – but I did really enjoy the chilli nuts and the icecream we had afterwards. There was also a soccer golf course on-site, on a very sodden paddock, that we made our way around. Unfortunately I slipped trying to show off with a running kick on the second ‘hole’ and soaked myself from head to toe which was very amusing for Ollie but made was rather uncomfortable! I did soldier on and finish the course though, which I think is worth a mention.

That was that, and the next morning we were up early to check out and get on the road back to Perth. We grabbed some sausage rolls and doughnuts from the bakery for sustenance (I had come around to Ollie’s way of thinking about breakfast!), and I picked up a great coffee from Ravens to keep me awake. We also got some spinach damper from the bakery which made for a very yummy breakfast the next day!

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