I've never stayed at Walpole. To my shame I have always driven through it to somewhere else. The line of uninspiringly functional shop and cafe buildings set back off the busy highway and framed by carparks, does not make for a picturesque country town. A coastal town, it lacks the vista of an inlet lapping at its doorstep.
Walpole offers fuel for vehicles travelling through and, modest food and even more modest accommodation. But all around are lovely rural retreats, ideal in autumn to unwind with a book and a bowl of soup before the fire.
I've snatched three days for a break, and thought: "Why not visit Walpole?" Indeed. My mission is to walk along the Bibbulmun Track that meanders around the town - one day in the forest and one day along the coast.
Walpole is surprising. First impressions are of a one-horse town strung along one side of the South Coast Highway. Then I discover Coal Mine Beach and Rest Point . . . and I discover Nornalup Inlet is on the doorstep, only it's completely hidden by dense scrub.
Coal Mine Beach, a 20-minute walk from town, is a campsite plus holiday village shaded by peppermint trees and a safe haven for youngsters to wade, play and explore. It's extensive, with every amenity for holidaying families. Rest Point, a 5km drive, is bathed in a golden glow on my late arrival, an unfair advantage for an already beautiful spot.
Perched between forest and inlet and facing the tall-timbered Walpole knoll, it is the place time forgot. Holiday-makers from the 1930s or 1950s would find it familiar; unsupervised kids, barefoot, grubby and wet, whooping in chase, dads in singlets preparing boats or lines and mums chatting on the landing or at a picnic table. In front of tree-hidden cabins and the old-fashioned, two-storey "boarding house" is a wide, grassy swathe extending to the beach, bookended with 30m trees at the water's edge.
Walpole's inlet remains open to the sea, assuring fish constant passage and fishers consistent catches. Just a glimpse, but it is at once serene and exuberant.
Day one sees me at the Bibbulmun Track, at the end of my street, well before 8am. It takes me through salt plains of uniform scrub, past Coal Mine Beach and the hot and dusty tidal flats to the highway that edges the forest. This road is Narnia's wardrobe.
On crossing to the forest track I am immediately enveloped in a cool and shady world. Soon the track veers off the shared logging road and goes up. . . and up. A much-needed rest stop is Hilltop Lookout where, way in the distance, the Frankland River feeds the inlet.
There's an instinct to keep taking rhythmic steps one after the other; a feeling that moving is achieving. But to stop, to sit and listen and let the forest close in, is the prize. Birds are louder, more visible and the light more at play.
Beyond the Great Tingle Tree I pass through what my guidebook says is the finest stand of giants - karri and tingle in the Southern Forest. I agree. Near the Frankland River Campsite, generally the end of a day's hike, and armed with just a camera, water and mixed nuts, I realise it's time to retrace my steps.
Day two's walk starts mid-morning, partly because of yesterday's exertion and because I keep stopping to look around on my way to Conspicuous Cliff, aptly-named as the triangular-shaped attic atop its broad cliff face is visible miles out to sea. What a magnificent beach. Under the cliff a long crescent of sand, halved by a tumble of limestone rocks, stretches to a flattened headland, providing rolling surf. High-placed platforms provide views of occasional whales, the surfing beach and surrounds, including a stream.
I meet bleach-haired teenagers, boards under arm, fixed on the middle distance searching for the right break (or courage). I ask for directions.
There is no track. After an hour of dogged determination back and forth I find 5cm of the top of the marker post covered in sand drift. It leads me over the dunes where the heathland is decimated. A hot bushfire has left white ash, black twigs and flies.
The track is hot, dusty and smelly but several kangaroos happily nibble at the first green shoots.
I call it a day and console myself that if not the track, the natural splendour of Conspicuous Cliff has been worth it.
Between walks I relax under peppermint trees watching wrens at play, chatting with Dietrich and Birgit, German retirees and inveterate travellers from Bonn (30 trips to Thailand is proof). They have seen more of Australia than most Australians.
I wander around water and forest: Nornalup, the giants of the Tree Top Walk, Circular Pool, Peaceful Bay and Knoll Drive near Walpole. Further afield lies Mt Frankland, Swarbrick and Fernhook Falls.