ANGIE TOMLINSON enjoys walks and wineries in the heart of the Great Southern.
The world’s grandest trees form a canopy. The tweet tweet of birds is the backdrop to our panting as we make our way up the steep trail surrounded by these mighty karris. Suddenly, as if nature has flicked the switch, we step onto granite.
The karris are gone and here are breathtaking views, granite boulders and wildflowers.
To the north is the distinctive outline of the Stirling Range.
Close is the weathered ancient granite that make up the round-topped peaks of Porongurup National Park.
We can spy Albany and its protected harbour in the distance and the patchwork of green farmland that surrounds this small, 12km-long national park.
One of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, Porongurup was formed more than 1200 million years ago, the hard granite is all that is left of millions of years of weathering.
The karri trees too are somewhat of an abnormality.
Separated from the rest of the State’s karri forest about 5000 years ago, they have evolved to become a slightly different genetically.
For me, Porongurup is all about walks and wine. Two of my favourite things.
The tourism jewel in the crown is the Granite Skywalk at Castle Rock. The skywalk is a special bit of engineering, clinging to the vertical rock face high on the mountain.
Installation took a team of riggers to abseil down the rock face and drill the anchor points before the skywalk spans were helicoptered in and lowered by pulleys to the riggers.
The climbing, relatively easy 44km return trail (one to three hours) traverses yate, marri and karri forest. Towards its end is the famous Balancing Rock — a feat of nature’s engineering.
While easier than some of the other walks in the region, what makes this trail a class 5 is the last section, which will see you scampering over boulders and up ladders. There are plenty of handles and foot rests in place to make it not too hard if you’re reasonably agile.
Vertical flat granite slabs, as if sliced by a knife, edge the views across the karri trees and farmland before the 6m ladder to the steel skywalk. Its views are outwards to farmland and down through the grid walkway to the forest floor.
At the trailhead in the Castle Rock day use area is the Walitj Meil (Eagle Eye) Trail, a short 1km loop with information signs that will give you plenty of insight into Noongar stories, flora and fauna of the area, as well as views of the Stirling Range.
While the Granite Skywalk is the star attraction, other walks are no less spectacular. At the Tree in the Rock picnic area, which is exactly what it says on the box, there are three good hikes.
Hayward and Nancy Peak Walk is a 5.5km loop that climbs steeply with karri trees above and moss and lichen at your feet before traversing the rounded granite mountain peaks, including the main peak of the park, with views for days.
The 2.5km Devil’s Slide climbs steeply up the rock face to bring hikers to the highest peak of the park.
Surely if there is one wine region (or sub-region in this case) that punches well above its weight, it would have to be Porongurup.
Here, you can find James Halliday’s 2019 wine of the year at Duke’s Vineyard.
Castle Rock Estate has picked up a swag of awards, even at one stage taking out Halliday’s winemaker of the year.
But here you will not find multinationals and sprawling cellar doors.
Porongurup wineries have inner-workings on show, you’ll see machinery and infrastructure.
The cellar doors are small and quaint and most (if not all) are family-run wineries where more often than not you’ll be greeted by the owners.
Without exception, every winery I went to had views either to the neighbouring Porongurup Range, or across to the Stirling Range. Sometimes both at once. A refreshing change from the more famous regions are bottle prices.
While you are unlikely to find super-cheap drops, most of the wines sit around the $20-$30 mark and for the quality, are excellent value for money.
If you manage to exhaust the nine Porongurup wineries (some are open by appointment or casual hours), Mt Barker is just down the road and also offers some excellent wines.
Park entry fees apply for Porongurup National Park. A day entry pass costs $13 per vehicle ($7 concession). Longer passes can be purchased if you will be visiting nearby parks including Stirling Range, West Cape Howe, Torndirrup, D’Entrecasteaux, Fitzgerald River, Gloucester, Greater Beedelup, Shannon, and Warren national parks and Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve.