Pemberton firing on all cyclinders

JOHANNA CASTRO

The fire in D'Entrecasteaux National Park, 15km south-west of Pemberton, in December burnt some 13,500ha of bush. It has been contained in the national park and is now safe. It has not affected communities, infrastructure or roads, and has left the historic mill town untouched and still very much open for business.

Julianna Hill, from Pemberton Visitor Centre, confirms that everything is up-and-running from a tourist perspective.

"However, it's always wise for tourists to listen to local media news and check with park rangers or the visitor centre if they are planning to camp or walk in the national parks," she said.

David Meehan, parks and visitor services co-ordinator for the Donnelly district Department of Environment and Conservation, says there are no restrictions placed on either people's movements or the key recreational sites, but the fire has burnt a section of the park from Yeagarup Beach track in the south, north-west to Scott Road.

"Both sides of the Donnelly River have been burnt, from the Donnelly boat landing to the river mouth at the ocean, including the area around the Donnelly River huts - which were back-burnt but are secure and safe.

"The fire is now contained and relatively safe but is what we would still call 'live' and we continue to monitor and patrol the fire for any flare-ups."

Related: 10 THINGS TO DO IN PEMBERTON

Fires were the last thing on my mind when I travelled to Pemberton for the weekend. With an annual rainfall estimated at about 1350mm, Pemberton can't help being green, but it's the ghostly white of the karri tree trunks which struck me as the predominant colour of this town, 335km south of Perth.

Sandwiched between vast tracts of huge trees and three national parks (Gloucester, Warren and Beedelup) you might be forgiven for thinking that the historic mill town itself is a mere blip on the forested horizon and wonder what the attraction would be to trek deep into the South West to visit an old timber outpost.

But a trip of just three nights staying at Karri Valley Chalets was long enough to open my eyes to just how much there is to do in and around Pemberton and at the same time discover what an inherently relaxing environment it can be.

I climbed a tree, enjoyed a lazy lunch at a wine estate, watched kangaroos and emus browsing at sunset, stood alongside giants, giggled in the company of cheeky parrots and rosellas, meandered to a waterfall, biked into the forest, took a tram ride, booked a river cruise, and in the heat of the day walked around a big dam shaded by an abundance of stately trees.

What I'd like to do now is return in winter and curl up in front of a log fire with a good book and a bottle of Donnelly River Wines pinot noir.

Walking and biking in the Beedelup National Park, near the southern end of the Darling Scarp, is therapeutic. Lost in thought as we wandered under the green canopy of the tallest trees in WA, which rise from the deep red soils extending in a belt from about Manjimup to Denmark, I felt as if surrounded by timber monsters with misshapen faces contorted by wooden burls and buttresses and I was back in the fairytales of Grimm.

I was also surrounded by ferns and mosses near a stream which cascades over a waterfall and, at the risk of sounding gushy and romantic, it was a fairyland.

There were peppermint trees, and chorilaena, which apparently smells like hops. There was a lemony fragrance in the air - the ranger's notes on the information boards allude to lemon-scented darwinia.

Idly, I wondered if the convicts who built the Vasse Road between Pemberton and Nannup last century could smell this too as they toiled, no doubt in much harsher conditions.

Closer to town is Big Brook Dam, and after trying some world-class, cool-climate wines, we're up for an afternoon stroll. A level pathway leads around the dam's 4km girth, and there's a small, sandy swimming beach as well as a picnic area with barbecue facilities. Soft light filtered through the trees at dusk and apart from the rustle of a slight breeze, the air was devoid of any noise pollution save for the sound of a bird calling, or the plop of an insect on the water. Pure magic.

"There's a fishing competition on today at King Trout Restaurant and Marron Farm and the first prize is $5000," one of the helpful ladies in the visitor centre told us the next day. I looked at my pink T-shirt and white cut-offs - did I look like a fisher perhaps, or was this one of the most important events of the year?

In any case, Pemberton is the place for trout farms, and fisheries have restocked the rivers with semi-mature trout, while perch and marron can also be found in the rivers and streams.

Personally, I'm more into walking and bike riding, and I found out there's a mountain-bike track and BMX course situated down by the old railway, but we decided to cycle from our chalet to Beedelup Falls, taking in a section of the Bibbulmun walking track where we had to carry the bikes in a couple of places, before heading out to the Vasse Highway and on to Channybearup Road.

"Pemberton is also a great farming area, particularly horticulture," Erin from the visitor centre had explained earlier. "We have many different crops, from potatoes, to cauliflowers and avocados."

I began to wonder if this is a modern-day Garden of Eden as we cycled through sylvan countryside, our worries dissipating.

On a warm, fly-less day we stumbled upon Silkwood Wine Estate, with its rambling driveway winding through vineyards alive with guinea fowl. Interestingly, guinea fowl are used at Silkwood as a biological means of controlling insect pests around the vines, so reducing the use of chemicals.

The lake, was filled with - wait for it - trout, that we were encouraged to feed, as the chef prepared a gourmet tasting platter for two. As a fan of sauvignon blanc, I was keen to try the Silkwood variety with lunch and it didn't disappoint; the Heritage sauvignon blanc 2009 is crisp and classy, exudes obvious aromas of gooseberry and watermelon, and, not surprisingly, has won two gold medals.

And at the cellar door you might find another of Silkwood's treasures, Lucy, who found her way to Pemberton from the UK during her backpacking gap year. Here she met her husband, fell in love, and then came back to live.

"Just another holiday romance," Lucy laughs before adding, "And I couldn't have ended up in a better place."

I was tempted to agree with her, as we gazed across the lake and pondered what to do before making a mad dash to the Pemberton Tramway.

Twice a day, at 10.45am and 2pm, the Pemberton Tram runs deep into the forest, starting from a quaint, historical station reminiscent of a scene from the film The Railway Children.

Brian, both driver and guide, offered a torrent of information about the history of the timber railways, logging, the medicinal properties of trees, and Pemberton itself.

"The Pemberton timber mill was established in 1913 for the production of railway sleepers used in the construction of the Trans Australia Railway," Brian told us as the tram trundled through a siding of bright pink and white watsonias, then on past the first mill houses built in Pemberton in 1920, before heading over six restored timber bridges and stopping at Cascades waterfall.

The karri forest we passed through is only about 90 years old, which is young considering karri trees can live up to 450 years.

Our next quest was, of course, to climb one, and later on I'm puffing and panting my way to the top viewing platform of a fire lookout, the 61m-high Gloucester Tree.

"About 3000 people climb the Gloucester Tree each year. No one's ever fallen during the actual climb," Erin from the visitor centre assured me, although this is not an easy climb and it's wise to adhere to the safety information.

With adrenaline pumped and wellbeing stoked, I felt quietly confident that my worries had dissipated and I could resume the routine of daily life, buoyed by the therapeutic effect this little town had had upon me.

FACT FILE


• For any further information about the fire, contact Department of Environment and Conservation in Pemberton on 9776 1207.

www.pemtram.com.au and 9776 1322.

www.donnellyriverwines.com.au and 9776 2016.

www.silkwoodwines.com.au and 9776 1535.

www.donnellyrivercruises.com.au, 0427 771 018.

www.pembertonvisitor.com.au and 9776 1133.

www.karrivalley.com.au">www.karrivalley.com.au and 9776 2018.

www.stonebarn.com.au and 9773 1002.