Feast Al Fresco in the Forests

Go beyond Margaret River and enjoy a locavore lunch in Western Australia's Southern Forests.

Fancy a feast of fine food and wine in scenic surrounds? Then head to Margaret River. Thanks to fertile soils and a Mediterranean climate, this verdant area 3 hours south of Perth is heaven for foodies. The gourmet delights don’t stop there: there is more fabulous produce on offer in the adjoining Southern Forests region, famous for its soaring forests of karri and tingle trees.

Country Welcome

Slow down, take your time: in the towns of the Southern Forests, there’s no need to rush. Expect a warm country welcome, gorgeous rural settings, and a surprisingly rich heritage.

From the charming colonial quarter to the bustling waterfront, Albany is never boring. The town has a fascinating history: as well as being the place where the first European settlers set foot in Western Australia, Albany has been home to whaling stations and convict prisons.

If you are keen to explore the area’s white-sand beaches and sheltered inlets, Denmark makes a great base. Wine buffs take note: this former timber town is also an easy drive from some of the area’s award-winning wineries.

Surrounded on virtually all sides by national park, Manjimup makes for a great green retreat. Work up an appetite by bushwalking or with a spot of trout fishing, then feast on the area’s farm-fresh produce.

Nestled in the heart of tall timber country, Pemberton has a thriving local craft scene; take time to check out some of the woodwork galleries. The area’s forests and streams offer plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming and hiking.

Padre White Lookout situated at the top of Mount Clarence, Albany Heritage Park.
National ANZAC Centre, Albany

Eat Local

Supercharged by endless sunny days, the fruitful soils of the Southern Forests offer up a rich bounty. Head to the farmers’ markets for plenty of paddock-to-plate options, before dropping in at a cellar door or two to discover the area’s acclaimed wines.

Manjimup Farmers Market is the place to pick up everything from freshly-baked sourdough loaves to heirloom vegetables, local olive oil and Pink Lady apples, which were first bred right here in Manjimup. The market is held on the first and third Saturday of every month.

Good food deserves good wine, and Pemberton’s wineries are here to help. Drop in at acclaimed cellar doors such as Salitage Wines and Lost Lake Wines to sample their cool-climate wines, including rich pinot noirs, crisp chardonnay and smooth cabernet sauvignon.

For a true taste of the Southern Forests, give local delicacies such as freshwater trout or marron – a crayfish celebrated for its delicate flavour – a try. If you are visiting between June and September, you will be able to feast on another local treat, fragrant black truffles.

Local chef cooking at festival in the Great Southern Region
Seafood bouillabaisse using fresh local produce from the Great Southern region.

Spectacular Settings

There’s something magical about these great southern landscapes. Thick forests where trees soar 40 metres into the sky, reed-fringed wetlands, and coastal cliffs with dramatic views are just some of the scenery that is waiting to be explored.

Know this: when we talk about tall tree forests, we’re talking TALL. The forests around here are filled with centuries-old karri trees and tingle trees, some of which soar as high as 70 metres. Gaze up at them in awe or, for a different perspective, venture up one of Pemberton’s climbing trees, originally used as fire lookouts.

One of the world’s great walks, the Bibbulmun Track runs for more than 1000km, with the southern section running through gorgeous coastline. On its way through the Southern Forests, it takes in ever-changing scenery, from misty valleys to hardy heaths. Smaller sections of the walk make for great half-day or full-day hikes.

Blazing carpets of colour fill the Southern Forests from September to November, when the area’s wildflowers spring to life. While the vivid red and green of kangaroo paws and the magnificent purple of native wisteria are eye-catching, keep an eye peeled for more delicate blooms, including many species of wild orchid.

Tingle trees in the Valley of the Giants.

Life’s a Picnic

It’s always picnic o’clock in the Southern Forests, with temperatures that stay firmly in the 20s for much of the year. Grab a blanket and basketful of goodies, and find yourself a tranquil picnic spot – preferably one that offers some inviting pre- or post-lunch strolls. These hidden treasures fit the bill.

If you were asked to picture the perfect beach, you would come up with something very like Greens Pool, near the town of Denmark. A perfect curve of pure white sand, sheltered on either side by protective rocks and lapped by clear green water, this sheltered cove is picnic heaven. After lunch, take a dip, explore the rock pools, or enjoy the gentle stroll to Elephant Rocks.

Aerial view of Bald Head, Albany.
Local seafood, Albany

They weren’t kidding when they named it Valley of the Giants. Near Walpole, this tingle forest is home to some of the tallest trees in the Southern Forests. To work up an appetite, follow the Ancient Empire boardwalk which meanders around, and even through, massive tree trunks; if vertigo is not an issue, admire the view from on high from the Tree Top Walk.

Calm one minute, raging the next. That’s the transformation that the tranquil Lefroy Brook undergoes at a spot called The Cascades, outside Pemberton. The rapids are at their most spectacular in winter, but this quiet spot surrounded by karri forest is a lovely place to relax in any season.

Originally published by Fairfax Media.

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