Driving from Margaret River to Denmark to take in Western Australia’s southern forests – home to majestic karri forests and arboreal attractions such as the towering Gloucester Tree and Treetop Walk in the Valley of the Giants – is a breathtaking drive of three and a half hours although you can make a full day of it.
Driving from Margaret River to Denmark, some 275 kilometres away, in southwest Western Australia – a region branded ‘The Great Southern’ – takes around three and a half hours if you drive direct, nothing in a state where road trips can take weeks. But there’s enough to experience along the way to make a full day of the drive.
Stop to climb a tree or three on the way and you can drive it in one long day if you leave at the crack of dawn. If you’re a lover of climbing trees, slow travelling, tree hugging and forest bathing – what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku or ‘taking in the forest’ – you could really take your time and spend a few days driving from Margaret River to Denmark.
Former logging towns such as Manjimup and Pemberton, which rebuilt their economies around sustainable tree plantations and nature tourism after clear-felling was reduced in 2001, offer the chance to experience some of the planet’s last stands of temperate old-growth forest while providing wonderful opportunities for scenic drives, walking, and canoeing at Blackwood River.
If you’ve done our Perth to Margaret River drive and then checked into gorgeous lodgings to spend a few days exploring the Margaret River region, you could drive through Blackwood State Forest to Nannup and Bridgetown before heading south to Manjimup and making a detour to Pemberton before continuing onto Walpole and Denmark.
If you’re travelling directly from Perth you could also stop briefly at Bridgetown and Manjimup before hanging a right to take in Pemberton before continuing southeast to Walpole and Denmark.
If you explored the Margaret River region from Cape to Cape, finishing in Augusta or Hamelin Bay, one of Western Australia’s best beaches, then you could drive through Blackwood State Forest to Nannup and Bridgetown before heading south to Manjimup and making a detour to Pemberton before continuing onto Walpole and Denmark.
Driving from Margaret River to Denmark to Take In Western Australia’s Southern Forests
Driving from Margaret River to Denmark you’ll cruise through wooded areas that host some of Australia’s most majestic karri forests, towering trees and canopy walks. Here’s where to stop en route.
Blackwood River Valley – Bridgetown, Nannup and Manjimup
If you’re driving from Margaret River to Denmark, whether it’s from Margaret River Town or from Augusta, take the Bussell Highway and/or Brockman Highway to Nannup and then onto Bridgetown and Manjimup, or directly from Nannup to Manjimup.
If driving directly from Perth you could also take the Southwestern Highway to Bunbury and then continue to Bridgetown, then Nannup and Manjimup. Scenic roads link all three riverside towns in the Blackwood River Valley.
Nannup, 60 kilometres southeast of Busselton, is a former loggers’ town idyllically set among gentle wooded hills. Call into Nannup visitor centre on Brockman Street for information on the most popular local activity, canoeing on the lower Blackwood River.
If you have time to linger, Blackwood Canoeing offers self-guided one- to five-day trips on the lower Blackwood River, starting 27 kilometres south of Nannup.
From Nannup you can drive south to Pemberton, or if you have time, follow the pretty tree-lined Brockman Highway east 46 kilometres to historic Bridgetown, another mill town that has developed a reputation for its superb organic produce, especially its marvellous marron and olive oil.
Bridgetown visitor centre on Hampton Street has information on local producers. The main street is worth a wander to browse its craft shops and have a Devonshire tea at a café. If you’re heading directly to Pemberton, from Bridgetown you will head south on Southwestern Highway, turning right on Vasse Highway to Pemberton. Otherwise…
Timber turned truffle town Manjimup, 37 kilometres south of Bridgetown, was predominantly a commercial centre for local farmers, however, over the last decade or so it has become famous for its truffles, which you can try and buy at The Truffle and Wine Company on Seven Day Road. During the winter truffle season, you can participate in some truffle hunting and savour truffle themed menus in their Truffle Restaurant.
Drop into Manjimup visitor centre (Rose Street) for information on good bushwalking, scenic drives and woody attractions nearby.
There is plenty of forest bathing and tree hugging to do here, starting with a 600-year-old King Jarrah Tree, 3 kilometres from town; a 51metre-high karri Diamond Tree Lookout, 10 kilometres south of town, which, like Gloucester Tree, you can climb if you’re brave; a 100 Year Old Forest, 20 kilometres from Manjimup; One Tree Bridge which was created from a single karri tree felled in 1904 to cross the Donnelly River; and 22 kilometres west, Four Aces, a quartet of colossal 350-year-old karri trees standing in a row, accessible from the picturesque Graphite Road.
Set amid lush green undulating farmland and lofty 400-year-old forests, pretty Pemberton’s tiny main road is lined with quaint cafés, craft shops, and art galleries, while the surrounding area is home to boutique wineries, trout farms and walking trails.
Take a stroll through Pemberton’s town centre, stopping at shops and galleries such as Fine Woodcraft on Dickinson Street, one of the best for handcrafted wood in the Southwest – even the building has been constructed from local timber, while the splendid crafts, from bowls to carvings are made from reclaimed wood or wood rejected by the mills.
Time your visit so that once finished browsing, you can take a ride on the old diesel tram through the forest from Pemberton to Warren Bridge along the old logging railway, rattling over rickety timber bridges that span trickling brooks that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.
Karri Forest Discovery Centre and Pioneer Museum are situated in the same building as the Pemberton Visitor Centre. www.pembertontourist.com.au Karri Forest Discovery Centre has an excellent, interactive exhibition on the surrounding environment and its fauna and flora and is an essential stop before you head into the forests.
In the same building the fascinating Pioneer Museum has a life-size settlers hut and artefacts from the pioneering period, along with some fascinating photographs and other memorabilia.
From Pemberton, drive to Gloucester Tree in the Gloucester National Park, 3 kilometres from Pemberton’s centre. You will see the sign-posted road to the right as you leave town.
The 61-metre tall Gloucester Tree, just southeast of Pemberton, is the area’s most popular attraction. A spiral of horizontal stakes form stairs up to a platform on what is the world’s tallest fire-lookout tree.
While most travellers visit with the intention of scaling the tree, few courageous people actually do it. If you are scared of heights, do not attempt the climb. Instead, enjoy the surrounding karri woodlands by driving beneath the shaded canopies or strolling the many walking trails.
Return to Vasse Highway and drive for 31 kilometres to the Southwestern Highway. Turn right and drive 118 kilometres to Walpole.
While there is little to see at Walpole itself, it is located in a pretty setting and makes a great base for those who want to take time to explore the lofty forests, sheltered bays, tranquil inlets, and ocean lookouts accessible from the town.
On the South Coast Highway, on the approach into town, the Walpole-Nornalup visitor centre is a good place to pick up information about scenic drives and walks.
If you only have time to visit one beach, then make it the splendid, windswept white sands of Conspicuous Beach. This is relatively accessible via a track 6 kilometres west of town.
Continue driving east along what is now the South Coast Highway until you see the sign and left turn for the Valley of the Giants.
Valley of the Giants
The ancient forest of colossal karri and tingle trees that comprise the Valley of the Giants is one of the region’s most popular attractions and the Tree Top Walk is an essential experience.
This impressive feat of engineering consists of a 600-metre (1,968-foot) wheelchair-accessible walkway, which rises to a height of 40 metres (131 feet) above the forest floor. While the walkway is safe, those with a fear of heights may be made anxious by the bridge’s swaying (it is closed in high winds) and might prefer to follow the Ancient Empire Walkway along the forest floor.
The massive trees on the Tree Top Walk and in the Ancient Empire are mostly different types of eucalyptus trees, growing as high as 30–80 metres (100–260 feet). Red tingle (Eucalyptus jacksonii) and karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) are the most common here, as well as yellow tingle (Eucalyptus guilfoylei) and marri (Corymbia calophylla).
The walk on the forest floor through the Ancient Empire heads through a grove of veteran tingle trees, which are unique to this area. Some of these can grow to 70 metres (230 feett), with a diameter of 4.5 metres (15 feet).
Return to Highway 1, which at Walpole becomes the South Coast Highway and continue driving east to Denmark.
We’ll cover Denmark in the next post in this series on Southwest Western Australia or The Great Southern.
Where to Stay on The Way from Margaret River to Denmark
Where to Stay in and Around Manjimup
Located just six kilometres out of Manjimup, historic Dingup House was built in 1870 and sprawls across 45 acres of manicured lawns, bucolic farmland, and eucalyptus forest. The original heritage homestead has fireplaces and rooms filled with antique furnishings, including wrought iron beds. An outdoor barn has been converted into an atmospheric dining room cum bar, service with warm and welcoming, and the delicious meals feature plenty of local produce, including the region’s famous Manjimup truffles. Loads of activities on offer, from hiking and canoeing to tennis and golfing.
Book Dingup House online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Stonebarn is a true retreat, sleeping just 16 in a luxurious converted barn set within the forest and overlooking a small lake. Service is very personal and the food is wonderful – as you’d expect from a property with an on-site 2,000+ tree truffiére. Since we stayed shortly after they opened, Stonebarn has also become a popular wedding venue so book well ahead. Off Telephone Road, near where Southwest Highway crosses Warren River. www.stonebarn.com.au
Where to Stay in and Around Pemberton
Pemberton Old Picture Theatre
Built in 1929, this vintage cinema has been converted into cosy holiday apartments, with homey living areas, kitchens, some original features, and framed retro movie posters. While it may not win any design awards, it’s centrally located in Pemberton with cafés and galleries within walking distance. Corner Ellis and Guppy Streets, Pemberton.
Book the Pemberton Old Picture Theatre online with our booking partner Booking.com.
Just a ten-minute drive from the Truffle and Wine Company, the Kingsley Motel has 30 clean, comfortable, ground floor rooms with free WiFi and parking. Unlike most motels in the region, the Kingsley has been spruced up with whitewashed walls and decked out in contemporary furniture and art. It’s a good base if you’re in the area for some truffle hunting and exploring the area’s wineries.
Book Kingsley Motel online with our booking partner Booking.com.