There are some country towns that you never grow tired of, and Pemberton 343kms, from Perth set deep in the heart of the Southern Forests is one of those towns.
Every time we visit we find something new to do or see, and at any time of year the town exudes a quiet charm. It’s a sleepy town and yet full of life, particularly bird life, and if you enjoy outdoor pursuits and a lack of humanity at large, then it’s the holiday spot for you.
Spoiler alert! Two guest posts from ZigaZag readers are waiting in the wings to be published – they give totally different points of view, so check back for more about Pembers next week, won’t you?
Things to do in Pemberton
We set off on a rainy winter’s day for a short weekend break ‘down south’ and after a misty drive passing through Donnybrook, Balingup, Bridgetown and Manjimup we were greeted by warm hospitality at The Pemberton Hotel, (one of the Best Western hotel chain). Later on we would have a decadent lunch at Silkwood Wines, but more of that later.
You might also like: 10 Things to do in Pemberton and 21 Awesome Things to do around Pemberton and the Southern Forests
Our road trip from Bunbury threw up lots of interesting things including a Shoe tree, 8kms north of Manjimup at a small place called Palgarup!
We felt it had ‘lots of sole!’ I can’t tell you all about the witty banter which followed on Facebook as I live Tweeted and Instagramed, suffice to say that there was mention of it being a “Bootiful tree” and someone asked was it a “Sandalwood or a “Gum Boot tree”.
‘But Why?” someone else asked, and the reply was that, “Footwear advertisers must be branching out.’ Then someone remarked, “I’m sure you will finally twig!” To which I replied “What a Karri on,” because of course the Southern Forests are known for their ghostly giants, the Karri trees.
History of the Shoe Tree
Ian Peacock, a rustic furniture maker, decided to do something with the huge pile of unwanted shoes that had been discarded by his growing grandchildren and he started nailing shoes of all types and sizes to the large gum tree at the front of his house on the South Western Highway.
Friends, locals and tourists soon added to the pile leaving bags of old shoes outside his home and now it apparently gets photographed by people from all over the world.
Oh Holy Smoke!
Our first stop in Pemberton had been recommended to us by friends.
What a fabulous first stop of the day. At Holy Smoke cafe we had hot coffee and Lumberjack cake, which was so good that I don’t think I can ever forget it. Suitably refreshed we browsed around the beautiful gardens nestled amongst the tall karri forest and popped into the adjoining gallery; the Pemberton Fine Woodcraft Gallery which is right next door.
It’s a rammed earth gallery showcasing high quality art and sculpture, fine furniture and fabulous wood-crafted items made from local timbers. Rosalind Piper, one of the owners, told us a little of its history.
“We came back to Pemberton from Oman and bought the gallery in June 2013. The premises had been purpose built in 1990 out of local wood but the gallery had gone to rack and ruin. The garden and pond were overgrown, and we stripped the building back and cleaned it up to expose rammed earth and fine carpentry.”
Lunch at a gorgeous winery
After a drive along Pemberton’s country lanes, through tall damp forest and then over hills and dales reminiscent of England complete with fluffy white sheep and glistening lakes, we arrived at Silkwood.
I have to admit that I’m a big fan of this winery and restaurant, and have been several times before taking friends and family for long lunches. It never disappoints.
Wine Tasting in Pemberton
We started with a wine tasting at the cellar door, and the lovely Carla explained all the wine terms and effortlessly guided us through a selection of fine whites and reds. My favourite was the Silkwood Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot which is a premium sparkling wine made using the traditional French Champagne method. It’s complex, fresh and zesty with soft creamy bubbles. Loved it!
“The sparkling wine goes really well with most things, but particularly with back-packer food, like instant noodles,” joked one of the staff members who has been back packing around Australia.
Silkwood Winery and Restaurant
Dave particularly enjoyed the Silkwood Original Zin liqueur which is best described by suggesting Christmas Cake, Turkish Delight and Spice.
We bought bottles of our favourite wines to take home, but have to say that the Silkwood Wine list is strong all the way through. All the grapes are grown on the estate and the wine is produced at Silkwood.
The restaurant is bright and lively, ideal for group or family gatherings. When we arrived it was busy, vibrant and warm with a woodburner glowing at one end. The inside area with the cellar door overlooks a gorgeous decked area which in turn overlooks sweeping lawns, a large lake and forest beyond. If you really can’t leave then there are 4 luxury chalets (5*) within stumbling distance.
Chef trained with TV Celebrity chef Rick Stein
Most interesting though was that a new chef had just started at Silkwood. Dan Gedge started his career as an apprentice with TV celebrity Chef Rick Stein in Cornwall, working at Rick’s restaurant in Padstow for 8 years.
“I like to produce classical flavour combinations with little surprises,” he told me, “And I always use the best of the best – I also don’t like to over complicate things. Marron and avocados come from a farmer up the road, everything is fresh. I believe that 4 or 5 things on a plate is enough.”
To begin with we were given olives and fresh sourdough. We couldn’t help but be impressed with the flavour of the olives.
“They’re handpicked by our staff in Margaret River and infused with rosemary in olive oil,” explained Anne Marie, the chef’s wife.
Following which we had a gastronomic feast of duck rillette, scallops, pink snapper and succulent steak – with all the trimmings. I’m not a food critic, but I do know what I like, and there was nothing not to love about the way our lunch was cooked or presented.
Lunch turned out to be rather a long affair. The fabulous food, great wines, warmth of the fire and the friendly staff turned early afternoon into late afternoon when the weather turned cool again and we returned to Pemberton.
The Best Western Pemberton Hotel
The Pemberton Hotel sits grandly on the main road going into the town and looks out over a lovely stretch of trees beyond which is karri and jarrah forest. Rooms with balconies take advantage of the view and as you enter the reception area you might be forgiven for thinking that you are entering a rain forest. Two huge paintings of forest and parrots adorn the high walls, and local timber is evident everywhere in the hotel’s construction.
Clean and Comfortable Rooms
Rooms are clean and comfortable with plenty of space and there’s free wi-fi which of course I was glad of. The pub was buzzing and we enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening in the atmospheric bar where the walls are adorned with old artefacts and historic pictures from the past. In summer you’ll enjoy the al fresco dining area, but in winter there’s a log fire to be enjoyed.
The hotel has an interesting history. It was originally built in nearby Greenbushes in the early 1900’s and known as the Courthouse Hotel. In February 1926 an application was granted for the transfer of the license from Greenbushes to Pemberton. The Pemberton Hotel was opened in April 1926 re-built from materials transported from the former Courthouse Hotel site in Greenbushes. In 2000 the rammed earth motel units and Cafe Mazz were added.
After an undisturbed night’s sleep we woke early for breakfast as Dave was ready for the 40km bike ride along the Munda Biddi trail from the Gloucester Tree to Northcliffe. A hearty breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, cereal and a cooked breakfast set him on his way – and I would suggest the hotel as a great pit-stop for breakfast if you’re doing a road trip and don’t have time to stop overnight in Pemberton.
We shall return, and friends are already booked on our recommendation to visit this weekend.
Pemberton Short Stay things to do
Silkwood Wines, Restaurant and 5* Luxury Chalets. Channybearup Road, Pemberton. Cellar Door and Restaurant. Award winning wines. Deck over a lake. Open Friday – Monday 10am – 4pm. Bookings essential. Tel: 08 9776 1584
The Best Western Pemberton Hotel offers accommodation in 30 modern motel rooms adjoining the hotel. Two rooms have facilities for the disabled. All of the rooms have balconies and most have views across to the karri and jarrah trees of Pemberton town park. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, except for Good Friday and Christmas Day. Open wood fires in the lounge and TAB bar. Cafe Mazz and the alfresco dining area have a bright modern atmosphere and gas heaters for warmth during the colder winter months. Coach and tour groups are welcome for accommodation or meals by prior arrangement. Tel: 08 9776 1017
Pemberton Discovery Centre - I met the lovely Toni owner of Pemberton Discovery Tours on Sunday morning, and we realised that we’d been stalking each other on Facebook! I love it when online friendships become offline! You’ll find that Toni and her husband Graeme offer all sorts of things ranging from various day tours and hikes, to hire car, camping gear and bike hire, mini golf and a gift shop.
The fabulous Discovery Tours, beach and forest Eco adventures are definitely on my wish list – in half a day you travel in a 4 x 4 to the Yeagarup Dunes, the largest landlocked sand dune system in the Southern Hemisphere and visit old growth Karri forest, get to sea wildflowers in season (Sept-Nov) and drive down to the Warren River as it reaches the Southern Ocean. You’ll find the centre on Brockman Street. Tel: 08 9776 0484
Holy Smoke and Pemberton Fine Woodcraft Gallery. Dickinson Street, Pemberton. Woodcraft Gallery and adjoining cafe selling smoked products, gourmet foods. Offers free tastings. Tel: 08 9776 1741
The Lavender and Berry Farm – expect lake views, farm animals, a garden cafe, gift shop, lavender, berry and honey ice cream (among others), pancakes and scones, gardens with birdlife, and four rammed earth chalets with fireplaces. While I was sitting in the cafe a Bandicoot scuttled in rummaging for crumbs, and I spotted blue wrens and silver eyes in the garden by the lake. On Browns Road, Tel: 08 9776 1661
“People travel from Perth just for our signature dish of pancakes and scones,” Pete the owner told me.
More about Pemberton
I’ve written before about Pemberton; about the trails, the trees to climb and many more attractions, and today’s post is certainly not indicative of the only things to do in the area. So you might also like these posts: 10 Things to do in Pemberton and 21 Awesome Things to do around Pemberton and the Southern Forests
Disclaimer: My night was courtesy of The Best Western Pemberton Hotel, and lunch was courtesy of Silkwood Wines.