According to online sources, Pemberton in WA’s southeast is one of the most visited places in the state for its natural beauty and things to do. My first port of call is always the local info centre to get a grasp on what’s in and around town.
With an arm full of brochures and a head full of information I was ready to explore, but not before time spent in their museum out the back. Here you can grasp on to what went on around the area over 100 years ago to present times, where there’s a host of memorabilia, photos and displays.
Pemberton is a quiet town where they serve boutique wines and beers at the local, pies and cakes are still hand made and the few shops still have that country feel about them. I headed just down the back of the town where the old restored rail station is and wandered around the steam engine, round turntable, diesel engines and huge low loader crane, and finally, the disused tram that once ran tourists along the line years ago.
The tram and trains don’t run anymore but it's still pretty cool to wander around. Predominately, the rail was built in 1926 through the forest to Northcliffe when the timber industry was booming, transporting goods to newly opened-up farmlands and moving loads of timber out.
For 50 years it was an important link but ran at heavy losses - it was only the timber industry that kept it alive, just, however from around 1961 things went downhill with bridge fires, buildings sold and moved away and in 1986 the last train ran. Today a majority of the bridges, sheds and stations are either heritage listed or highly significant. A tourist tramway used to run part of the line showcasing the area but sadly this closed in 2023.
One of the most popular things to do out of town is the Karri Forest Explore a scenic drive that loops around many of Pemberton’s attractions that’s well signs posted. Surrounded by National Parks ( don’t forget to buy a pass ), there’s a stack of timber-related points to go and find.
FIRE LOOKOUT TREES
In the early 1930’s, local forester Don Stewart proposed using the tallest Karri trees in the surrounding forests to spot fires and give those on the ground a fighting chance if a fire broke out.
His mate Jack Watson scaled 40 trees to find the biggest in the area and between 1937 to 1952 eight were selected for fire tower use. Large steel pegs were hammered into the trunks to form a ladder curling their way to the top where a small cabin was built. Today, two of these trees can still be climbed, while another can be seen but decay at the base deemed it unsafe to climb. Climbing these trees definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted as there are no safety harnesses or no rails to grab onto, it's one step at a time both up and down.
The most famous is the Gloucester Tree, which it proudly stands 53m high with a metal platform at the top giving climbers views across the surrounding forest, after climbing the 153 pegs to the top. The other Karri tree is the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree in the Warren Np where it’s 65m high and has 182 steel pegs to the top. The last one that can be found is the Diamond Tree, but with rot in the tree the fire lookout hut was taken off the top, a replica hut is nearby so visitors can see just how the lookout men spent their time.
4WD TRAILS AND CAMPING
I found most of the trails surrounding Pemberton just nice touring tracks but at the information centre, I was told about the Heartbreak Trail in the Warren NP. Like most things in the area, it was well signposted and easy to find where this 12km one-way track descends into the Warren River Valley.
Apparently, this steep track was hand cut to make a clear path for firefighters to access the river and the name reflects the hardship of the job. To be honest, coming from the east coast I found it not too steep to drive down and low range wasn’t needed, might be different in the wet and it's not suitable for trailers.
Down in the valley, the Warren River comes close to the track at several points and there are two shady campsites to choose from. Both Drafty’s and Warren camps have river access which is perfect for launching a canoe in the dark talon-stained water, both have day-use areas and a simple drop dunny.
With a lot of NP camps in the area, there’s no booking, it's first in and pay at the self-registration stations at camp.
Nearby is Brockman’s saw pit which is believed to of been dug by convicts around 1865 for the nearby homesteads. Remarkably the pit was found in 1972 by forest workers complete with jarrah logs, sawn flitches an axe and a saw.
No forest can survive without water and surrounding Pemberton I found a handful of places to enjoy watery sites. Beedelup Falls is one of the area's major attractions in winter, where the falls are in full flow and over the rock shelf, other parts of the year they do slow down.
There’s a viewing platform at the top, as well as a 600m loop along a boardwalk and suspension bridge down across the bottom of the falls. Then there’s the Cascades where apparently it can change from a gentle flow to a raging torrent after heavy falls. It too has a top viewing platform and a 1km loop track to view the rapids down the basalt rock.
Big Brook Dam was formed in the 1920s, and was the original town's water supply, today it can be used for swimming and fishing. Talking to some kayakers at camp, they frequently cruise down the Warren River getting picked up further downstream towards the ocean.
After a few days of exploring the immediate areas of Pemberton, I headed 40km south into the D’entrecasteaux National Park for what I was told there was a maze of 4wd sand tracks to explore. The park has a 130km coastline frontage and was named back in 1792 by a French Admiral who spotted a point jotting out from the coast.
There are a few different ways to enter but I came along the Yeagarup Track and headed towards the coast. You’ll need a good map or GPS to navigate your way through the park where inter-looping tracks are just everywhere. Apart from the stunning coastline to explore, there’s fishing, old huts to find, some of the best camping spots in the south to relax at, and different lakes and rock formations to find.
Now while this area may not have the hardcore offroad scene that some may want, it's a bloody beautiful place to stay, explore and relax for many days. The options depend on what you want to do or see here at Pemberton. This is a place where time doesn’t seem to matter.
Pemberton is roughly 300km southeast of Perth in what is called the heart of Karri country, the home of the giant trees. One of the most visited towns in the SE of WA, Pemberton has a cool Mediterranean climate with rich earth allowing for a diversity of plants and animals.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
It’s a place where you can indulge in rich food and wine, camp in secluded and stunning forests, paddle the still waterways or head south to the maze of sand tracks where a 4wd is needed and fish off remote and isolated beaches. For those not scared of heights you can climb several old fire tower trees where only your lack of fear will stop you from falling. There’s plenty of walking and mountain bike trails to explore plus the history of old Pemberton. The 1000km Bibblulmun walking and mtb track pass through Pemberton as well as the Munda Biddi Trail which is a world-class offroad cycling track.
Pemberton has an amazing visitor information centre where the staff are willing to share everything there is to offer in the area. For a donation, there’s also a museum in the info centre to get your senses alive before heading out into the wild to explore. The information centre can be found in Brockman St, Pemberton or by calling on ( 08 ) 9776 1133. Online they are at www.pempertonvisitor.com.au
A must is to buy a NP pass for each park you enter. If visiting a few parks it might be worth investing in a WA parks pass where you’ll get day entry to most parks in the state.