Travel Story Walk into Southern Forests is a step back in time

Less than a three-hour drive from Perth, Donnelly River Village is the ideal place to get away from technology and be closer to nature.

Once a hard-scrabble tin-mining and group settlement town, Greenbushes, thanks to the world’s growing demand for lithium,  is enjoying a new lease of life and stepping out of the shadow of its bigger and more glamorous cousin, Bridgetown. And it’s conveniently on the way to our haven at the Donnelly River Village.

We leave Perth for Greenbushes about 6am, turn off the Forrest Highway just before Bunbury and meander through the picturesque towns that dot the South Western Highway, enjoying the sweeping Blackwood Valley views with the old disused railway line to Manjimup a constant companion — there are hopes that it will be put back into service, taking trucks off the road and opening the region to rail tourism.

We arrive in Greenbushes about 8.30am and start the day with a hearty breakfast at Tasty Edibles, right on Greenbushes’ main drag.

Our aim is to complete the 15km Greenbushes Loop, which starts and ends at the centre of town.

Unfortunately, the weather gods are not smiling on us. It’s early August, cold and bleak with steady rain.

A much more comfortable option would be to spend the morning at the excellent Greenbushes Discovery Centre an interactive museum that has rave reviews and is well worth the $5 admission price.

But walk we will, and soon we’re heading out of town on a flat forest track. It’s late winter and a few wildflowers are out, wattle of course, and some soap bush and native wisteria. Come spring the dormant banksia groves and grevillea will burst into bloom. Greenbushes marks the start of karri country and before long we are under the canopy of towering giants and we hear that familiar eerie swooshing sound that heralds another rain band.

At ground level our progress in slowed by pools of water and fallen saplings, with understorey birds, wrens and robins, keeping us company.

The track gradually narrows, and we start to work our way upwards. Soon we join a section of the Bibbulmun Track where on a clear day the valley views would be magnificent. Here we pass some abandoned mining infrastructure. After about 6km of undulating terrain we peel off the Bibbulmun and head back towards town.

In this part of the forest we are treated to the birds that make the district famous — black cockatoos. First, we see the vivid red tails of the forest cockatoos and later, as we come closer to the town’s swimming pool, the white-tailed varieties — Baudin’s or Carnaby’s, we’re not sure. To the untrained eye it is almost impossible to tell them apart but those in the know say they can be identified by the sound of their calls. Waterbirds greet us as we near the wetlands and soon we hear the muffled rumble of mining machinery as we reach the edge of town.

Tempted as we are to stay on for another coffee, we opt to head to our ultimate destination, the Donnelly River Village, via Bridgetown.

On a better day we may have done some of the walks around Bridgetown, always pleasant rambles incorporating heritage buildings and the Blackwood River. The Bridgetown-Greenbushes Visitor Centre (in Bridgetown) has an excellent walk trails guide, which details a host of walks in the greater area including Greenbushes and the Hester Forest, towards Boyup Brook.

Instead it’s a quick stop at the bakery before we cross the Blackwood River and turn on to Brockman Highway for Donnelly River. 

On a merge point of the Bibbulmun Track and the Munda Biddi Trail, the Donnelly River Village General Store is a revered institution among walkers and cyclists. It’s where they collect parcels, or enjoy the fresh food, reasonably priced meals and good coffee. 

And as well as stocking up on hiking staples, there are plenty of “luxury items”, a welcome change from trail mix and dehydrated food.

The abandoned mill town’s buildings are now a part of a co-operative and are always heavily booked, especially in the cooler months. 

In its heyday the villages had a school and was a thriving hub deep in the southern forests ... the huge karri log that once was a feature of Kings Park came from there.

Many trail users rest a few days in the cottages, and there is also affordable bunk-house-style accommodation for those after a break from tents and shelters.

Popular with families, the village has an abundance of safe tracks to explore, and the legendary flying fox is popular with kids of all ages.

We’ve booked a cottage for two nights. Every time we stay here there is a flood of nostalgia. The weatherboard and fibro cottages with their outside toilets will be familiar to many who had late-60s early 70s childhoods.

There’s the holy trinity: laminex, lino and louvres. There are chunky light switches, old bone-handled cutlery, the Metters wood stove in the kitchen, along with an old but serviceable electric model — if it wasn’t for the microwave and the smoke alarm you would swear you had gone back in time.

The village’s isolation is a big part of its appeal. There is no television reception, or mobile phone and net coverage. Basically, it’s a case of amuse yourself with books or board games.

Our stay is over a weekend, which coincides with the free wine (topnotch local drops) and cheese social hour, while next door there is a movie night for the kids ... a different era.

The persistent rain rules out the fire pit, so instead we’re happy sitting in front of the wood-burning heater in the living room. 

Another drawcard of the village is the tame wildlife, an array of forest birds, kangaroos and emus. The emu chicks we saw in October have outgrown their downy stripes and are now half-sized versions of their parents. As for the roos there are fewer joeys in pouches than last time and the ones we see are pink and hairless, barely weeks old.

The animals can be fed with special mixes available from the general store, though at times they can be very persistent. Bear that in mind if eating outdoors.

Despite being somewhat isolated amenities and public-transport wise, geographically the village is roughly 25km from Bridgetown, Nannup and Manjimup, making it perfect for daytrips to the region’s acclaimed wineries and other attractions. 

As well as enjoying the various trails, around the village, we drive about 10km out to the Bridgetown Jarrah Park, a lovingly restored area and one of the few places where jarrah, karri, marri and blackbutt can all be seen together.

The jarrah park is a series of looping trails, walks can be as short as 2km or up to 10km, along burbling creeks. 

It’s a must for those with botanical leanings and there are flora information sheets available at the walks’ starting point.

Less than a three-hour drive from Perth, the Donnelly River Village is the ideal place to get away from technology and be closer to nature and there’s no better way to ease into it than taking in Greenbushes and Bridgetown on the way.

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