I had my heart set on Balingup in Autumn so we could visit the Golden Valley Tree Park to view the autumn colours.
Autumn is one of the best times for a trip to Balingup and Donnybrook. The colours are beautiful and the apples are crisp and there are heaps of things to do in the area.
Below I have outlined some of the best things to do in Donnybrook, and some of the best things to do in Balingup as well as where to stay and how to get there.
How to Get There
Donnybrook and Balingup are both located on the South Western Highway. If you are heading south from Perth, you would go down the Kwinana Freeway (past the turnoff to Yalgorup National Park) and on to the Forrest Highway. Take the Bunbury bypass and from there you turn onto the South West Highway. Once you get to Bunbury, you are only about thirty minutes away from Donnybrook.
Donnybrook and Balingup are both excellent places to stop for a break if you are doing a longer drive between the South Coast of WA (Walpole or Denmark) and Perth.
Camping in Balingup
There are a few different camping options around the Balingup and Donnybrook region.
Balingup Transit Park
This was our first choice of where to stay, but it was completely booked out when we wanted to go. It is a tiny little park with only seventeen sites, run by the Balingup Visitor Centre. Located right in the centre of town near the Balingup Brook and the Bilbbulman Walking track, it has a maximum stay of three nights. For more information follow this link. We would like to return here another time.
Wright’s Bridge Campsite
Wright’s Bridge campsite is a small campsite with only 12 sites, run by the DPAW (Department of Parks and Wildlife), located near the Blackwood River. You cannot book this site, so you need to be prepared to find an alternative place to stay as it may be full.
It was full when we arrived at about midday on the Saturday of a long weekend. However, we had until the Tuesday off work, so on Monday, when everyone else was heading home. We packed up our camp and headed there for our last night.
What a great spot, each of the 12 camps is tucked away in the middle of the bush. Best of all, in the cold weather, we were able to have a campfire. Em made a little friend who would ride her bike over to our camp to enlist her help for a task (to collect gumnuts, or stones or something else) and then ride back to her own camp.
Surrounded in a clearing by tall trees, tree ferns, fallen logs and a few wildflowers, my imagination was running wild (let’s face it, you don’t have to be 3 years old to have fun in the bush!)
There is something about being surrounded so closely by a beautiful forest that makes me wildly happy. The natural sounds of the forest – the chirping birds, the wind in the leaves, and the sound of crunching leaves underfoot – left me feeling calm and content. We were doing the sort of camping that I love.
Kirup Caravan Park
Since Wright’s Bridge and Balingup Transit Park were both full when we arrived, we had to wing it. Trusty wikicamps had our back and led us to Kirup Tavern which had an 8 bay caravan park at the back.
The added bonus was the $7 Margaret River cleanskin wine that they sold, which was delicious. They also sold the ‘famous’ (according to Rick) Kirup Syrup which is a cleverly named homemade red wine. I stuck to the cleanskins and Rick enjoyed a few Kirup Syrups since we were in the area.
We did feel like the Caravan Park was a little bit ‘dodgy’, but we never felt unsafe. Most people that were staying there stopped only for a night passing through. There was one couple who seemed to be there long term, but they were quite nice and gave us a huge bag of persimmons when we got chatting with them one day.
We did enjoy our time there. The owners of the tavern were friendly and its location, midway between Balingup and Donnybrook ended up being the best location for our little weekend away. And, it was cheap. We paid about $25 per night.
Things to do in Balingup
There was plenty to do in the Balingup area. The town is dotted with scarecrows which Em found a real novelty. The main street is lined with cute and quirky little shops which we enjoyed browsing. The Balingup Brook passes right through town, and so does the Bilbbulman Walking Trail. The main reason we had decided to visit was because of the Golden Valley Tree Park.
The Golden Valley Tree Park
The park is split into two distinct areas. The Native Gardens and the World Gardens. We had come particularly to see the World gardens for the autumn palette.
It is a large park with marked walking trails that you can follow. We followed the Pear trail and the short Sequoia trail and also did a part of the longer Oak Grove trail (Em was getting tired by this stage so we didn’t complete it).
The walking paths all crisscrossed each other, so it is also possible to just ramble. It was an amazing park to play, walk and exercise our imaginations.
Good Old Fashioned Fun
Rick and Em played with the fallen autumn leaves, throwing handfuls of them in the air, while I took photos of them in a shower of leaves (seriously, fun.)
It was cold when we were there so a long walk was good to warm us up. We spent our time looking for freshly spawned mushrooms and searching for Fairies and Elves.
We were pointing out little holes in trees where they could be living and saying, ‘I saw that fairy, did you see it? It was wearing a blue dress!’ and Em would peer in and say, ‘Yes Yes I saw it, it was in a blue dress!’
We found a huge leaf and made a mask for her, which she had a great time playing around with. Our daughter disappeared behind the mask and became a monster instead!
It was a great place to engage her imagination and we created some wonderful memories together. These are the times that I hope are embedded into her psyche creating a solid foundation for the person she will become.
The Native Gardens
We moved to the Native area of the park to eat our picnic lunch of tuna salad with toasted almonds and roast pumpkin, eating to the sounds of loudly mooing cows who were on a nearby farm.
We didn’t spend as much time in the Native area and would like to return again another day. There are also 3 walking tracks through the Australian collection and the area showcases a huge range of trees from all over the country.
History of the Park
The park was nice and we enjoyed our walk. For some reason I had expected something a bit different. I had thought it would be more manicured like a botanic garden, but it was a lot more casual then that. It was a passion project that evolved over time. It had previously been a working farm and the original owners began collecting all sorts of trees. Once they passed away, it became the Golden Valley Tree park.
How much does it Cost?
Entry is free but you are asked to provide a donation in a lockbox. All donations contribute to the maintenance of the park.
Things to do in Donnybrook
Where we stayed in Kirup was right in between Donnybrook and Balingup, so we got to explore both towns. Donnybrook is the slightly larger of the two and the one that won Em’s heart, because of the amazing Apple Fun Park.
Apple Fun Park
The Apple Fun Park is a huge park with play equipment complete with turrets and slides and all sorts of different areas for different aged children. While we were in the area it became a part of the daily routine. Em had so much fun there that we couldn’t drive past it without spending at least an hour in the park each day.
Donnybrook Apple Picking
Donnybrook is the apple growing region in the South West and apples were in season while we were there. One of the days we were there we went apple picking. It was $10 for a box and I swear we got at least 15 kilos of pink lady apples and a few granny smiths too.
We loved picking our own apples and it was a very popular activity with heaps of families parked up doing the same. Pink Lady apples were first grown in Donnybrook and the town is filled with them. When we came home I made stewed apple which we ate with toasted hazelnuts and ice cream (which was delicious) and I dried the leftover apples in the dehydrator so we ended up with jars full of them. We were still eating them four months later and they are a new and delicious addition in my homemade muesli.
A Scenic Drive to Gnomesville
There are plenty of nice drives through the area. One afternoon, when Em fell asleep in the car, we decided to just drive and see where it would take us.
We ended up in Gnomesville near Dardanup, which totally blew our minds. We got out of the car to have a look and were absolutely astonished at how huge the area was.
After a quick look around we hopped back in the car and stumbled across a local Brewery – the Bush Shack Brewery.
The sun was shining and they had a guy on guitar playing the blues. Em ran in, stood right in front of him and started dancing her little heart out. I hope she never ever loses the ability to let herself get completely lost in the moment. Within minutes a couple of other kids were up there dancing with her and it just goes to show that having fun and enjoying yourself is infectious.
Rick got a tasting paddle and I took my pick of the six small beers and he drank the rest. We moved from the tables to the grassed area and Em ran around trying to make as many friends as possible. After we finished our drinks, we started the drive back to camp and put the Dardanup region on our list of places to visit.
After our pack up it was only a short and scenic drive home. It was the perfect long weekend getaway with a mix of town and bush, activities and relaxation. We will definitely be heading back to the region soon.
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