I love it when you stumble upon completely out of the ordinary things. Travel is just as much about the unexpected surprises as it is the bucket list items.
We had one of those moments driving through the Karri forest of Pemberton in Western Australia, 3.5 hours south of Perth and 2.5 hours south-west of Margaret River.
We were sitting in the back of a 4WD vehicle with Pemberton Discovery Tours. Savannah and Kalyra giggled like mad beside me as we bumped along a rugged dirt road through the Warren National Park, bucking back and forth like a prized rodeo rider.
Giant karri, marri and jarrah trees towered over us on the side of the road.
Karri forests are found only in the South West corner of Western Australia and the Pemberton region is one of the best places to experience some of the tallest trees in the world.
We stopped for awhile to walk along the road and feel a deeper connection to them. They definitely called me to hug them.
Graeme, the owner of Pemberton Discovery Tours and our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about the area and shared many stories about the history and flora and fauna of the region.
After some time driving through this magnificent forest that was leading us to the ocean, it parted to reveal a giant area of shifting sand dunes.
They form a ten-kilometre-long body of sand being blown inland, swallowing the forest at a rate of about 4 metres each year.
The Yeagarup Sand Dunes are the largest land-locked mobile dune system in the southern hemisphere and a sight to stumble upon.
It is protected so there was no sand boarding fun, but we had plenty of fun running up and down the dunes with the kids.
We then piled back into the 4wd and cruised across the sand dunes to the ocean.
The views as we hit the peak of the least dune over the ocean was wild and rugged. A different ocean perspective to what we’d experienced on the West coast of the state in the Margaret River region.
We jumped out of the car for awhile on a wild deserted beach where the Warren River gently enters the sea.
This area is part of the D’Entrecasteaux National Park, a huge, wild and largely inaccessible national park protects almost the entire coastline between Augusta and Walpole and the hinterland dunes and forests 10 – 20km inland.
You can only get here with your own 4WD or on a tour with Pemberton Discovery tours. If you are doing it yourself, you need the confidence to drive through deep sand.
Graeme has tag-along tours and had to help guide a crew drive up and over the sand dunes as the driver wasn’t skilled enough to do it.
Half-day Pemberton Discovery tour
This is a great family owned tour company to see the forest, the sand dunes, and the ocean in these difficult parts to get to. Tours last four hours and include morning tea.
- Website: PembertonDiscoveryTours.com.au
- Cost: Adults $115pp, Concession $99pp, Family (2A & 2C) $310, Children (U14) $55pp
Thanks to Graeme for hosting us as a guest on his tour!
Other things to do in Pemberton
Pemberton is a cute historic timber town in a valley surrounded by the karri forests of the Gloucester National Park.
There is plenty to do in the area: scenic drives, 4WD adventures, gourmet food and wine, trout fishing, hikes and just enjoying the fresh forest air.
It’s 3.5 hours drive from Perth and after spending five months along the stunning West Australian coastline, it was awesome to head inland a bit
Karri Forest Explorer Drive
The Karri Forest Explorer Drive is an 85km circuit that starts just outside of Pemberton and winds through some of the south-west’s most magnificent karri forest.
Explore it at your own pace.
Stop for a picnic at Big Brook Dam, see Beedelup Falls from the suspension bridge, go bushwalking, or fishing, or just sit and take in nature. (We attempted to see the falls, but there was little water running!)
Pemberton Mountain bike park
Pemberton Mountain bike park is right near the swimming pool in town. It’s a very short walk or bike ride from the Pemberton Caravan Park. There are 17 kilometres of single track, a jump and pump track.
We took on one of the beginner tracks with the girls. Kalyra loved it and begged for us to do it again and again.
Although there were a couple of sharp turns, and bumps it was a pretty easy track to navigate. At the end of it, we went to the small jump park area to take on some of the bigger mounds of dirt.
The Big Brook Dam
The locals favourite swimming hole to cool off in. The dam was built in 1986 to supplement the Pemberton town and Trout Hatchery water supply.
Craig took the kids their for a dip and a play on the sandy beach area, and there’s also a 4km walking and cycling trail that follows the shore.
Hidden River Winery
On the way to the Big Brook Dam is the Hidden River Winery. There are plenty of vineyards in the Pemberton region, but this is the only one we visited. And we were impressed.
There’s a covered sitting area on an elevated deck with pretty views over a small dam and karri forest and farmland
The quinoa salad I had made my top 10 list of best meals in Australia (I’m still yet to write that post!) It was sensational and perfect with a bottle of unwooded chardonnay.
Hidden River’s varieties include Chardonnay, Shiraz and Merlot. There is a small cellar door for tasting.
- Open Weds – Sun, 10am – 4pm
Climb the giant fire trees
If you are fearless and have nerves of steel (unlike Craig) and really steady feet, climb one of the infamous fire lookout trees.
The Gloucester Tree, Bicentennial Tree and Diamond Tree have reo-bars spiralling up their trunks, the tallest standing 75 metres off the ground. I can’t believe in a country dominated by rules and regulations, that climbing these trees is even allowed?!
There are no safety features in place at all and the gaps between each rung are huge.
I was tempted to climb to the top for incredible views over the canopy, but I only managed to reach a few rungs up before the realisation of what I was doing hit me and I chickened out.
I knew if I kept going, I was likely going to freeze and then be completely screwed.
I totally loved watching the fearless ones climb up, but not when my own children attempted.
“Get down from there right now!”
Kalyra went further up than any of us. My heart races just thinking of it.
If you’re brave enough then do it, because it will make a pretty awesome story.
The Pemberton Caravan Park is right in the centre of town and is on the edge of the mountain and next door to the Mountain Bike Park. It’s very serene with campsites right near the stream. We stayed in an ensuite cabin, which was a little too cramped. I think I would have preferred to camp.
There are plenty of bush camping sites within the area. Warren River Campsites are located via Heartbreak Trail off Old Vasse Rd and approximately 17km from the centre of Pemberton. These campsites are relatively new and have pit toilets and fire pits in season. Camping fees do apply.
Pemberton Discovery tours also offer a glamping experience in the Warren National Park.
- Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk
- Go swim at Elephant Rocks
- 9 beaches in Margaret River you must set foot on
Plan Your Trip to Pemberton
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Have you been to Pemberton? Share any of your tips in the comments.