A couple of weeks ago, my husband booked a surprise trip to the tiny town of Quinninup to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. We stayed in an old raised timber cottage surrounded by karri forest on the banks of the aptly-named Karri River.
It was beautiful; the kind of place that provides an immediate sense of calm. Mismatched furniture sat proudly upon floorboards and a handmade woven rug in the tiny living room. As the sun was absorbed by inky blackness, Aaron set to work placing rough-cut logs, kindling and newspaper into an old pot belly stove. Flames became fire, fire became warmth. Perfect remedy to the encroaching south west chill.
Despite it being springtime, the nights were cold and quiet throughout the entirety of our stay. Perfect for red wine, warm blankets and filling meals eaten fireside. We spent lazy days in the small towns of the south west, exploring vineyards, caves, abandoned logging trains and open patches of forest. It was blissful, in every sense of the word (*the cow second to the right has the best cowlick I’ve ever seen).
Though I’m not intending this post to be another Mess Guide (like my previous Margaret River and Melbourne posts) I thought I’d include a few snapshots, links and travel tips from our stay; mostly for those who are interested in exploring more of Western Australia’s south west.
Despite dozens of trips over the years, it’s still one of my favourite places to go for a holiday. I mean that; wine country, fresh air, organic food and plenty of open space to walk, breathe, stop and… just exist. When I think of recuperation, I think of the south west. I’m blessed that it’s only three hours from my hometown. On our second day in Quinninup, we took a drive to the nearby town of Pemberton. In a patch of karri forest, we discovered winding pathways, tiny creatures and hand-etched trees.
Approximately 500 metres from the road, there was also a timber hut constructed from fallen tree bark, branches and vines. It looked reasonably old, but remarkably intact. An adjacent fallen tree propped up half of the hut with its momentous stability. The whole structure conveyed a sense of history, creativity and ‘story’ that will forever be unknown to us; a sharp contrast to the growing scrawls of history on this karri tree:
Our journey brought us to a winding unsealed road in search of organic sourdough from Yallingup Woodfired Bread. Aaron had visited this bakery during a previous trip to the south west but largely forgot where it was; after some navigational adjustments, our car pulled up beside a hand-painted concrete sign:
The bakery uses an honor system for payment: choose your bread and drop your pennies in an earthenware bowl. It’s trust and simplicity, country style. The way life used to be.
That evening, we ate bread by the fireplace, each chunk dipped into local Mount of Olives extra virgin olive oil and toasty Providore dukkah. Each mouthful was washed down with a new favourite wine from Stella Bella vineyard, the 2009 Serie Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon: deep, dark vine-ripened fruits, mellow oak and fine tannins with a lingering finish.
Snuggled under blankets, we watched three episodes of the largely unappreciated Firefly (which we’d brought from home; I’d still barrack for a continuation of this series) before drifting off to sleep.
Our second day in the south west was mostly spent touring vineyards and caves, with a breakfast stop at the Margaret River Bakery (regular readers will know that I adore that place).
As the sun dropped in the sky, we stopped in at the ‘Pemby Pub’, also known as the Best Western Pemberton Hotel. We drank beer by the open fire before feasting on gnocchi, calamari, chips and coleslaw with tinned baby beetroot.
The timber furniture and emerald carpet oozed old-style country hospitality, accentuated by a request from the bar staff that we ‘chuck another log on the fire’. I loved everything, even their unidentifiable red sauce (Aaron’s guess was barbecue, mine was sweet chilli mixed with plum). Everything tastes better in the country air.
The last two days of our trip were spent in a beach shack in Augusta where we were joined by our good friend Paul. We took a road trip to Dunsborough beach and spent an hour exploring the sand dunes, rocks and sea foam.
The south west has some of the most beautiful, unadulterated beaches in the world. No fancy cafes, water fountains or throngs of sun-baking teens. Just air, sea, sand and windswept grass with an occasional fisherman by the coastline.
Our remaining time was spent seeking out boutique vineyards, jetties and cafes that Paul hadn’t tried yet. We also took advantage of our beach shack’s positioning by the Hardy Inlet, where moss covered jetties gave way to sea bird nests, tranquil lookouts and pelicans on rocks.
With Paul’s help, we found Pierro vineyard, nestled in an idyllic patch of lush garden. The boys tasted premium Chardonnay whilst I explored an old country farmhouse, a rambling vegetable garden and knobbly vines. I’m a little obsessed with ochre, rust and crumbling aged timber.
We also stopped in at the Berry Farm Cottage Cafe for boysenberry pie, scones and bird watching. This was my first sighting of an Western Australian blue wren. Fascinatingly delicate and vibrant.
Our last night in the south west was spent at Russell Blaikie’s Muster Bar and Grill. We dined on snapper, eye fillet, dukkah-baked pumpkin and pork belly with two bottles of earthy Shiraz.
It was a beautiful celebration of the week-that-was; a week of little responsibility, ambrosial calm, luscious greenery, perfect simplicity. Sometimes I wonder why we city dwellers have made life so unnecessarily complicated. I’ve renewed my wish for a house in the country someday, surrounded by an organic vegetable garden, dairy cows and scratching chickens.
In the meantime, it’s back to the hamster wheel. I’m due at work in thirty minutes and I’m still in my pyjamas. Until next time.