The enormous timber arches that span the South West Highway as you enter Manjimup are a giveaway to the town's heritage, because this is the entry point to the great southern forests.
SOUTH WEST HOT SPOTS
Its history is inextricably wound up with the timber and logging industry, a business that was populated by hardy pioneers back in the 1950s when life was tough in the remote regions of the South West. These days the town feels laid-back, almost magical if you take the time to wander its leafy surrounds and let it weave its spell.
Timber is synonymous with Manjimup, but then so are truffles, that rare delicacy sought after for gourmet cooking. The Pink Lady apple was developed in Manjimup and although timber is the main industry it's closely followed by fruit and vegetables, while on the leisure front there are scenic bike and walking trails, with parts of the southern Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun tracks easily accessible.
At first glance, though, Manjimup is a pit stop, perhaps for petrol or coffee, on your way south to Pemberton or Walpole. It's only if you visit in December that you will be surprised by the purple rain of the jacaranda trees. Should you arrive a little earlier in spring you'll be treated to shows of delicate wild spring flowers that pop up in the forests and if you visit in late July you'll be in time for the rarefied truffle season.
I visited after Christmas when my better and far more energetic half Dave decided to cycle 90km from Manjimup to Nannup along the newly opened most southerly section of the Munda Biddi track. The track meanders its way through karri forests and along the Donnelly River through some picturesque but challenging single track bike trails. My job was Support with a capital S, but a little exploration was not out of the question.
It was a mist-swirling morning and nothing was yet open except for the gates of Manjimup Timber and Heritage Park which is set on 10ha of natural bushland. Pathways lead under shady trees to various exhibits as well as the State Timber Museum (which depicts the history of the timber industry and logging), the Bunnings Age of Steam Museum and the Historic Hamlet, a selection of replica buildings that offer a peep into the hard but simple life of the early pioneers.
My first designated rendezvous with Dave was at One Tree Bridge about 23km from Manjimup. It's a picturesque clearing showcasing a (defunct) old bridge originally built from one huge karri tree felled in 1904, which was in use until 1943. Dave emerged from the trees an unhappy biker because his chain had snapped and he'd had to push his bike for about 7km. We regrouped and talked tactics at nearby Glenoran Pool where there are picnic tables and a cool natural swimming spot. Then we drove back to Manjimup and got the chain fixed at a bicycle shop in the town centre and we decided that Manjimup was magical, conjuring up a new bike part just when we needed it.
When I'd waved Dave off into the forest once more, I visited Dingup Church which was built in 1896 and used as a school and church by early settlers, after which I spent an interesting time imagining stories of the past from fragments of information on the headstone inscriptions at the Pioneer Cemetery.
Our next pit stop was to be at Donnelly River Village which is set on 61ha and surrounded by State forest about 25km from Manjimup.
The drive took me through farmland and thickly wooded areas along ribbons of tarred road where even though it was Christmas holiday season, I encountered few cars.
The Kimberley may have vast open spaces of big sky and distant horizons to make you feel insignificant, but the South West can also make you feel very small and remote from civilisation with its lonely roads, endless forests and scattered habitation.
A sign announced the village; a preserved historic town now a nature-based holiday destination. Here the air was still, devoid of man-made noise, quiet except for the intermittent sounds of nature. It felt a little spooky, as if ghosts of the past are alive and well, but then I'm sure many holidaymakers would disagree because this old mill town is now a popular destination, particularly for families with children who are after the shack-in-a-forest experience with safe biking and play areas. And 400m away is Donnelly Lake, also surrounded by karri trees and a pleasant spot for barbecues, swimming and canoeing.
There's a feeling of living history and an almost reverential silence to the place, as if some kind of magic might be at work. Silence would not have been a word much used in the 1950s when the timber industry was thriving. In those days the noise of steam locomotives, the cracking of axes against hard wood and the grinding of saws would have been the predominant sounds.
There is a general store which also houses a cafe, and next door are the original workers' club rooms. There are 36 self- contained, heritage-listed, weatherboard cottages for holidaymakers which were originally the timber workers' homes.
Dave set off for Nannup in a thunderstorm and wind lashed through the karri trees. Given the weather conditions I was worried about his safety, but he made it to Nannup a couple of hours later, only a little worse for wear, as if protected by the magic of Manjimup.
10 Things to do in and around Manjimup
1. Climb a tree - just 10km south of Manjimup is the Diamond Tree, 51m high, still used for fire management.
2. Have a barbecue or a picnic at Fonty's Pool on Seven Day Road. Go to fontyspool.com.au.
3. Be amazed by the King Jarrah Tree about 3km from town - 600 years old, 47m high and 2.69m in diameter.
4. Play Golf at Manjimup Golf Club on Perup Road. Visitors welcome. See manjimupgolfclub.com.
5. Go for a walk around Manjimup Timber and Heritage Park.
6. Try your hand at trout or marron fishing (in season) at One Tree Bridge and Glenoran Pool.
7. Have lunch, taste wines and learn about truffles at the Wine and Truffle Co on Seven Day Road. Visit wineandtruffle.com.au.
8. Pick fresh cherries November to January. Attend the Cherry Festival in December. Go to cherryfestival.com.au.
9. Visit historic Dingup Church and the Pioneer Cemetery.
10. Witness the Manjimup 15,000 International Motocross Spectacular, held each year in winter.