If you were scratching your head when the Dome Cafe Group decided to build a luxury boutique hotel in Katanning, you weren’t alone.
More than 270km south-east of Perth, Katanning is known for wheat and sheep farming.
Beyond that, both West Australians and visitors probably don’t know much about it.
Despite its inconspicuousness, this is the town where the group bought a dilapidated flour mill —now 127 years old — for $1, painstakingly preserving some of its inner workings and spending millions of dollars restoring the building.
And so, when the Premier Mill Hotel opened its doors in July, the group had to give people a reason to visit.
As well as creating an incredible hotel rich in history, it has made Katanning a destination in which to base yourself while you explore WA’s Great Southern.
You can find a booklet titled Day Trips to Explore the Region in each of the hotel’s 22 rooms, curated especially for guests.
It suggests nine different trails that place Katanning at their centre, from the Track Back in Time trail for history buffs — taking people out to Wagin, Woodanilling and Beaufort River — to the Coast Less Travelled trail, visiting Borden, Jerramungup and Bremer Bay.
Each trail is a day trip, with the longest about a 425km round trip from Katanning.
Our visit is short — only overnight — so we opt to take in a small part of the River Wine Trail, which suggests eight wineries plus other attractions.
As we begin the journey from Katanning, it’s hard not to get lost in the scenery.
Sheep and cattle dot the rolling, green paddocks, turning their heads to watch as traffic passes by.
Hectares of golden canola fields break up all the green.
Our map gives exact distances to each turn-off and point of interest along the trail.
We stop at The Kodja Place in Kojonup, where Aboriginal elders Bill Riley and Colin Clinch cook a lunch of kangaroo steaks and Johnny cakes (or hot Johnnies) — a fried damper, a bit like a scone, served with quandong chilli sauce and other condiments made with ingredients from the land.
They talk us through the history of the place, including the Stolen Generation. They say they want to share these stories, not to confront people but as part of the healing process.
Another elder, 83-year-old Jack Cox, gives us a tour of the centre, sharing stories of his life in the area and how much it has changed.
We decide to visit two wineries, and Alkoomi Wines is our first stop.
Chief winemaker Andrew Cherry and owner Sandy Hallett greet us at the cellar door to tell us about the tasting process.
Sandy tells us wine is in her family’s blood. She grew up on the property, which her grandparents, Vic and Netta Lange, bought in 1964.
They used it as a mixed grain and livestock farm.
Netta named the property Alkoomi, a local Aboriginal word meaning “a place we chose”.
Sandy’s parents, Merv and Judy Lange, planted the first hectare of grapes in the early 1970s and yielded their first vintage in 1976. They went on to win many awards, including the coveted Jack Mann Memorial Medal for outstanding contribution to the wine industry in 2005.
Sandy and husband Rod took over in 2010, and one of their three daughters has taken a keen interest.
Our second winery is Frankland Estate, run by Hunter Smith.
Sandy calls ahead to let Hunter know we’re on our way.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re walking through the doors of a less conventional cellar door, where Hunter greets our small group.
He advises people to call ahead to make sure someone is at the cellar door, because they’re always busy on the estate.
It’s off the beaten track, so traffic isn’t regular.
It’s well worth the visit, as Hunter takes us back to where the tanks, cases and barrels of wine lie.
He pours the tastings straight from the barrels and tanks, so wine lovers can experience the differences in their offerings on the journey through the wine-making process.
Our taste of the River Wine Trail is just enough to whet the appetite. So it’s handy that all but one wine stocked at the Cordial Bar at the Premier Mill Hotel is from wineries in the region.
Although we didn’t have enough time to complete an entire trail, what I saw is enough to entice me to return, hopefully in the near future, to explore more.
The Stirling Mountain Drive, which includes a climb up Bluff Knoll, is high on my list of trails to tackle next.
- For more on tours and lunches at The Kodja Place, see kodjaplace.com.au or phone 9831 0500.
- For Alkoomi Wines, go to alkoomiwines.com.au or phone 9855 2229. For Frankland Estate, see franklandestate.com.au or phone 9855 1544.
- Rates at the Premier Mill Hotel are from $265 per night. premiermillhotel.com or 6500 3950
DisclaimerClarissa Phillips stayed at the Premier Mill Hotel as a guest of Taste Great Southern. They have not seen or approved this story.
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