An unexpected e-mail offering a long holiday weekend special at our favorite Balingup B&B sets the wheels in motion. A quick note to Numbat to check on the current fly situation (not bad he says), and a not-too-miserable weather forecast seals the deal. Within hours we’re booked at Oakfield B&B, simultaneously looking forward to a spontaneous getaway and questioning the wisdom of traveling on a long weekend in the middle of summer.
We leave our home in the Perth ‘burbs in the thick of the Friday morning commute. We crawl along the Mitchell and Kwinana Freeways…thinking that we should have taken the Tonkin. We cross over to the Tonkin near Armadale and eventually find the South Western Highway and head south, our favorite direction in WA.
The lush green from previous trips is long gone. The dog days of summer reveal a thirsty collage of wheat, ochre, rust and the ubiquitous dull sage. Butterflies flit and dart in front of the car; I don’t ever remember seeing so many. We finally leave the traffic behind, now passing sheep, cattle and horse farms.
Before long we’re pulling into Pinjarra, looking forward to scones and coffee. It’s a colossal fail. Details here, comment #4:
We press on, dejected and scone-less, chugging through rural WA via orchard-lined Williams Road, towards Dwellingup, where we seek out Newbliss Winery. Here we’re treated to a spirited chat with proprietor Joann, who regales us with humorous stories and assorted Aussie-isms between pours. She’s a hoot and a half. We tell her about our disappointing stop in Pinjarra and she points us to Millhouse Café in the center of town, where we’re well looked after by owner Rachel who sets us up with a pretty good scone.
We’re soon turning on Nanga Road towards Lane Poole Reserve, where we poke around for a bit and watch some kids having an absolute ball in the pools. Bushwalking tracks beckon, but in this heat we’re not even remotely tempted.
We move on, planning to cross over to Harvey via the back roads, but once again Google has misled us. Instead we follow a squiggly road to Waroona, home to the Angry Snappa (fish and chips), The Odd Angry Sock (laundromat) and the Bite Me Bakery, where we rejoin the SW Highway.
Signs for wineries dot the crunchy looking landscape; G-Spot Ice Cream gets its usual laugh as we pass through the dairy town of Harvey.
We make our second Google guided mistake as we turn left on Martin Pelusey Road and proceed to follow a convoluted detour skirting some road construction. Where the heck are we? We eventually intersect the road we’re looking for, Ferguson, but only after crossing Waterloo, which we should have taken in the first place. We’ve made a big circle. Oh well, so it goes.
Our destination is Saint Aidan Winery in the Ferguson Valley, which I’ve scoped out for lunch. We sample a few wines then settle in at a table on the patio. We wait…and wait…and wait. Long story short, the food is very good, but the service is slower than molasses in a northern hemisphere January. We want dessert, but we’re out of patience, so we take a pass.
We’ve only recently discovered the Ferguson Valley, so we take advantage while we’re in the area. Soon we’re calling into Ferguson Falls Winery, where we like the cheese much more than the wine. Into the esky goes some nice feta and Romano.
A sign for Willow Bridge Estate catches our attention, so we follow it, ending up in a building that feels more like an office than a cellar door. We’re soon the proud owners of several bottles, including a funky wooded Sauvignon Blanc that we can’t decide if we like or not, but reckon more research is needed.
We backtrack to Dardanup and continue south. Fruit orchards appear; trees laden with peaches, plums, oranges and nectarines. A sign framed by large apples welcomes us to the fruit growing town of Donnybrook, a town that interests me, but we never seem to leave enough time for. We see signs for ‘slashing’ – gruesome images of farm animals and sabers come to mind...perhaps someone in the know can tell me what that means (?).
We arrive in Balingup nine hours after leaving Perth. Yeah, I know, it’s a three hour drive, but the journey’s the thing, is it not?
Our first stop is at the Old Cheese Factory, which I know from past visits is a veritable treasure trove of interesting things. It’s closed; no hint as to when it might re-open. We see this a lot in WA – no business hours posted - and it frustrates the heck out of me. I just don’t get it.
There’s just enough time to relax on the wraparound porch of our B&B for a bit before heading to the Balingup Tavern, where we’ve booked dinner. This place is carnivore nirvana, light eaters need not apply (I was much relieved to find a Caesar salad on the menu). Mr. nq8 is looking forward to a humongous medium-rare hunk of sirloin. It’s not to be. Sirloin yes, medium-rare, definitely not. Once again they manage to overcook it, even though we point out while ordering that the last time we ate here they overcooked the steak, and we specifically request that they please, please not overcook it this time. It falls on deaf ears.
We retreat to our B&B to watch the sun set over the rolling hills of Balingup.
To be continued…