The Great Southern

Only hours from Australia’s western capital, The Great Southern is a region that draws travellers from around the globe to sample its sights, tastes and experiences. Part 1.

Discover the world’s largest wildflower collection, follow an open-air public art trail, or take a walk amongst the clouds. It’s time to set the cruise control and discover the Great Southern, a region as vast as it is spectacular.

Danielle Costley

Danielle Costley and Bewley Shaylor

10 May, 2019

This is the heart of the Great Southern, where soils are fertile and farming is its lifeblood

Just three hours from Perth lies a region that offers up a kaleidoscope of colour, tastes and experiences that will immerse any traveller. This is The Great Southern, a part of Australia with its own unique feel.

Drive along Albany Highway through the townships of Brookton, North Bannister and Williams, where you are ensconced amongst the seemingly endless jarrah and marri forest. Soon you will reach Kojonup, a place where the trees disappear and are replaced by wide, open pastures and vast, blue skies. 

This is the heart of the Great Southern, where soils are fertile and farming is its lifeblood. Explore vistas of open farmland, walk wildflower trails, climb ancient granite rocks and experience life in the tiny townships that form the backbone of this magnificent region.

During Spring, these outback plains are carpeted in more than 12,000 species of wildflower and the pink hues of the salt lakes glisten from the winter rains. 

Drive east for half an hour and you will arrive at your overnight destination – the Premier Mill Hotel in Katanning.

This newly opened boutique hotel oozes style and elegance. Located in the most unlikely of places, this former 19th Century flour mill has been immaculately restored as a 22-room boutique establishment, with original flour grinders and milling equipment proudly on display. Its minimalist rooms feature lavish white linen on the king beds, electrical insulators doubling as clothes hangers, smart-wired access, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, rustic wooden beams, and Aesop product in the bathrooms. It is impressive, to say the least.

Take the glass lift or the heated staircase to your room and if you’re feeling peckish, wander downstairs to The Cordial Bar where you will find a good selection of locally crafted wines and drinks to quench your thirst. From the kitchen, there is a small selection of share dishes, ranging from olives, nuts and charcuterie boards to arancini balls, salt and pepper squid and crispy chicken wings. A Dome café is also located unobtrusively downstairs. 

As I depart Katanning the following morning, the forest soon gives way to low-lying plains and salt lakes that shimmer invitingly in shades of fairy floss pink. The rosy hues set against the clear blue skies and vastness of the Australian outback is simply breathtaking. Suddenly, I feel very small. 

In less than an hour I am in the tiny township of Pingrup, where the landscape is dotted with salmon gums, their trunks a kaleidoscope of oranges and coppery reds. Galahs and cockatoos let out a piercing screech, as though to signal my arrival. 

Three giant beacons greet me as I approach this small settlement. These 25-metre high grain silos have been painted by Miami artist, Evoca1, with photorealistic images depicting daily farming life. The silos, which are visible from remote highways and treetops, feature images of the town’s iconic Pingrup races, its Merino sheep, its people, cattle dogs and even a tractor found on the main street of town. Each brush stroke has captured the essence of this community. It is breathtaking.

Three giant beacons greet me as I approach this small settlement

This open-air art gallery is part of a public art silo trail, with more murals painted on silos in the nearby townships

“Creating an artwork for a community that reflects that community, so that they really connect with the artwork is really rewarding for me,” he says.

This open-air art gallery is part of a public art silo trail, with more murals painted on silos in the nearby townships of Newdegate, Ravensthorpe, and my final destination, Albany. 

The Store café on the main street, which is serving lavender infused coffee with a side of scones, is a charming spot to relax before continuing your journey south.

I drive along Chester Pass Road for one-and-a-half hours and arrive at the Stirling Range, home to one of WA’s highest peaks, Bluff Knoll. Snow falls occasionally here, not that you’d know it on this balmy summer’s day. This towering mountain, which is over 800 metres tall, has a well-marked bush track that will take you on a trek to the top in three-kilometres. But, be warned, you must like steps. And ruggedly spectacular scenery.

There are many prehistoric looking plants on this trail, which is not surprising given the mountain’s origins date back some two billion years, give or take. Finally, I arrive at the top of Bluff Knoll, with stunning views to the south coast and across to the vineyards in the west. 

The clouds drift by ever so slowly, their wispy tendrils constantly forming new shapes with each breath of wind. They are so close, I can almost touch them. I really am walking amongst the clouds and it has been worth every single step.