Donnelly River by Jo Castro

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time, it’s only human.

A familiar crushing feeling grips your heart and leaves you wanting to throw in the towel. Sometimes we need to get away from it all for a break, to give ourselves time to put things in perspective, and distance can be a great solver of day to day problems.

Get away from it all

I know someone who has recently sold their business and is taking a year’s sabbatical.

How lovely would that be?

But as I sit here surrounded by heaps of books, bits of paper and a thousand ideas that I want to blog about, along with a long list of ‘jobs that must be done’,  I know for most of us a whole year off is just not going to be possible.

I’m feeling overwhelmed today, and the familiar itch to get away from it all has reared its unsettling head. And with the weekend looming my thoughts turn to “Where” rather than “How”. I want to get away from it all, please.

What does getting away from it all mean for you?

Does a wooden cottage hidden deep in a forest of giant karri trees where kangaroos, emus, kookaburras and parrots hop around your verandah each morning, sound good to you?

Donnelly River by Jo Castro

A few weeks ago we went to Donnelly River Mill in South West Australia, and it ticked all the ‘get away from it all’ boxes.

Not a shopping mall in sight, cars replaced by bicycles and walking boots, and wait for it … no cell phone connectivity whatsoever! Is that not far-from-the-madding-crowd bliss?

A place where you can  settle into a rhythm of sun up and sun down, sipping red wine around a wood fire  at sunset in winter and getting up early, in your swimmers to play in a large dam during the summertime?

Have you been breathing longingly, “Ah Yes” to all of this? If you have then a weekend away at a remote holiday village like Donnelly River Mill might just be your ticket.

Donnelly River Village is heritage listed, and it’s a place that’s well, like a well kept secret. Something that only Hansel and Gretel might find tucked deep in a woodland wonderland with breadcrumbs leading them to it.

Donnelly River by Jo Castro

Woodland Wonderland

We arrive at lunchtime on a spectacular, sunny winter’s day, and enjoy quiche and salad at the Donnelly River Café, where bright yellow, red and white bunting is flapping in the slight breeze. We’re surrounded by friendly, attention seeking emus and kangaroos hoping for food, which we buy for $2 a bag. There are children on bicycles running around and laughing, and blue fairy wrens peck around the legs of the wooden table as we enjoy our lunch on the balcony of what was once the old village store.

Donnelly River by Jo Castro

Wind chimes clink behind me and for a moment I’m taken back to a mountain village in Nepal, miles and miles from anywhere. But the beauty of Donnelly River Mill is that despite its remoteness, you are in fact quite close to a lot of places, well at least relatively speaking.

Where is it?

It’s only 1.5 hours from Bunbury, make that 3.5 from Perth, nestled between the Blackwood River Valley and the Southern Forests regions. Donnelly is also the mid-point of the world famous Bibbulmun Walking Track and Munda Biddi mountain bike trail

It’s an easy drive through the forest to the quaint south west towns of Bridgetown (26kms), Nannup (34kms) and Manjimup (25kms), which host regional festivals such as a Writers Festival, and the Bridgetown Blues and the Manjimup Cherry Blossom Festivals.

And the feeling you get of being miles and miles from anywhere once you arrive is perfect for a total ‘max and relax’ weekend.

Vulture billboard

Back to basics but still comfortable

There are 36 cottages in all. We stayed in Conifer Cottage which is cute, comfortable and basic, but was well stocked with everything we needed for a weekend away. It offers three bedrooms, a small bathroom which smells of garden flowers, and a living, dining, kitchen area with a wood burner and an old wood stove along with an electric oven. There are also wooden sash windows, the kind that I remember from my Grandmother’s house when I was a child.

I felt as if I’d stepped back into the late 50’s or early 60’s, immersed into living history that hasn’t yet become ancient, something still within grasp of my own lifetime although  I feel a stranger to it.

What some fun we had hugging steaming mugs of coffee and sitting on the wooden balcony which juts out almost into the arms of the forest, as we fed the kangaroos  and parrots that were tame enough to eat from our hands. Should I mention the laughs we had lighting the wood burner – we managed to set off at least three smoke alarms, but the warm as toast fire was well worth it in the end.

What was it like in the old days?

Once upon a time Donnelly River  was a timber mill. It was in operation  from 1951 until 1978 and the village once used to house the workers and their families.

Donnelly River by Jo Castro

There’s the old social club, a village store and the village school which sits in the middle of the oval of houses that surround it. A couple of old diesel pumps and a rusting truck as well as the dilapidated old mill, leave you in no doubt that you have stepped back into living history.

Sitting by the blazing log fire I wonder what it was like in the olden days; the men at work in the mill, children at school, and the women probably busy at home some perhaps working at the mill too. It was probably a hard, isolated life, and yet idyllic in many ways.  I imagine the gossip, the highs and lows, the births, deaths and marriages – such a different environment to industrial England after the war, with its rows of tiny terraced houses cheek to jowel in busy cities where children played not in a forest surrounded by wildlife, but on streets right outside front doors – maybe, hopscotch and football on tarmac and cement.

What can you expect at Donnelly?

Expect back to basics, not luxury, for here you’re stepping back in time to the simpler days of the past, and if you don’t like the sound of childrens’ laughter, then Donnelly River may not be for you.

Donnelly River by Jo Castro

“It’s the simple things that people find enjoyable at Donnelly,” says Rob Wallis, the Village Manager. “Getting back to nature, a simple philosophy.”

Donnelly River Mill
Lee and Rob Wallis, the friendly Village Managers

And simple pleasures they are, with walks a plenty, a plethora of wildlife, a large dam with its own beach where you can swim in summertime, and a mass of activities to choose from.

Enjoy the Simple Pleasures

Plumes of smoky grey wood smoke spiral into a cerulean sky. Although the winter morning is misty as we set out for a walk around the dam and then along the Bibbulman track. I clap my hands together, gloved now and wish to return in summertime  for days spent lazing with a good book by the dam. Tonight I know will be chilly, star filled, without light pollution. Serene.

At Donnelly you have to slow down, put your feet up, laugh with the kookaburras, feed kangaroos, and make friends with an emu or two.  There are no distractions like shops or cinemas close by. Walk along a bush trail and then why not have an afternoon nap? Chop wood for your fire at night and snuggle up with a good book before getting into a bed warmed by an electric blanket.

Donnelly River Mill
Rob and Lee Wallis with Ramsay, one of the pet sheep currently resident at Donnelly River Mill.

Donnelly’s a retreat from the daily grind of life. There are no TVs, phones or internet in the cottages and the village is out of mobile phone range. If someone wants to phone you, they’ll need to leave a message for you at the store, or you can phone from the payphone.

Get away from it all, Donnelly River by Jo CAstro

10 reasons to visit Donnelly River Mill

You enjoy getting away as a family and enjoying the great outdoors.

You find getting back to basics fun.

You enjoy Australia’s wildlife

You like being energetic. Activities on offer:-  a swimming dam (5 minute walk), lots of bush trails, bikes for hire, a flying fox, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, basketball, quoits, darts, pool table and board games.

You’d like to walk a section of the Bibbulmun Track or cycle part of the Munda Biddi.

You’re great at cooking snags on the barbie and like home cooking. Each cottage has a barbecue and the Donnelly River Café has a small daytime menu of home cooked food available.

You enjoy history, particularly Western Australia’s heritage.

You enjoy a glass of wine. Most Saturdays (check first) there is a free movie, popcorn and soft drink for the kids along with a complimentary wine and cheese tasting at the Village Store for grown ups. What a pleasure not to have to worry about driving – in fact probably the biggest worry would be getting mugged on the way back to your cottage by a kangaroo!

Get away from it all, Donnelly River by Jo Castro

Fact File

The General Store is open 7 days a week from 8.30am – 5pm and serves tea, coffee and lunch from 12 – 2pm. Linen hire is available on request. Basic groceries are stocked.

Get away form it all, Donnelly River Mill
The General store, open during the day and also on Saturdays evenings for complimentary wine tasting and cheese and biscuits (check first).

Donnelly is collectively owned by a large group of community minded people and their families.
The group got together and pooled their resources in 2009 when the village came up for sale after 25 years of being run by two private owners.

Where do you go to get away from it all?

Please follow and like us:


  1. Looks like a great place to unwind. We travelled down as far as Albany and Denmark when we lived in Perth over 30 years ago. I am trying to remember if we went there. I do remember a place with an actual mill wheel. Does Donnelly River have one?

  2. Jenny Buzer

    Loved the billboard. We just spent a couple of days in the Tankwa Karoo Park. We did not see one other person or car while we were there. No cell phone connections, not even electricity in the huts – candles and fires. Bliss. Long way from Bunbury though!

  3. Have seen some of the pics on FB I think? It looked enticing – ahh, Africa! Candles and fires, lots of game and a good braai or two. Yes, a long way from Bunbury!

  4. There’s an old dilapidated Mill which is all cordoned off. I think there is an old mill wheel. Albany and Denmark are lovely places to visit too – I wonder how much they’ve changed in 30 years? Probably heaps. Thanks for commenting here 🙂

  5. Wow, a collective!! That’s a great idea – and I strongly suspect the only way we’re going to save some of our Aussie heritage, with government at all levels too strapped for cash to provide anything other than window dressing. And a sign saying they provided it …

    Looks like a great place to visit – but we’ve spent so long in the Kimberley, it might just have to wait until next year!!

  6. Hope you can visit one of these days, Red. That’s if you can ever tear yourself away from the Kimberley! Yes, a collective is a great way to go with regard to protecting Aussie heritage, and at Donnelly they are definitely doing something right. Thanks for dropping in to comment 🙂

  7. No Mill Wheel hidden away, Jan. As my hubby explained with just a little exasperation, “Jo it was a timber mill, not a water mill!” Oops!

  8. Great post Jo – it takes us right into the feel of Donnelly. We stayed there overnight a few years back after a couple of days on the Bibbulmun Track. A nice hot stew, a glass of red, a warm fire, a few laughs and good company. Lovely.
    Donnelly really takes you back to basics, and makes you think on what life would have been like in the early days.
    Getting out in the bush, if only for a walk, is my best unwind medicine. Should be more of it!

  9. You are so right. Getting out in the bush and back to basics is the best tonic there is!

  10. Munda Biddi is on our biking bucket list so great to know about places like this

  11. Jules from Rockingham WA

    we love Donelly River, we’ve been going there since our boy’s were little, they are now teenagers and still love going to see the kangaroo’s, emu’s, using the flying fox, going for bush walks, walks to the dam, sitting by the wood fire playing board games, sipping wine on the verandah.

  12. Ahh that sounds lovely Jules. So nice to have a place of family memories.

  13. I love Donelly River because there’s lots of fun stuff to do there and it is the best holiday place I have been to, and is great for families and friends to relax for a couple of days in peace and quiet 🙂

  14. Been there 3 times and love everything about it. My daughter who loves her electronics, found out we were planning to go again and she was very excited. We managed to feed a possum last time and flying fox is good value. Took the kids on a bike ride last time and a walk at night through forest. They love it all. Love your zigzag post Johanna.

  15. Thank you Paul. It’s great that you enjoy Donnelly River so much. It is a special place and great for kids – so glad you liked the post about it too 🙂

  16. Ingrid Rickersey

    Great comprehensive, entertaining post Jo … What a fantastic idea … I could stand a lot of that

  17. Thanks Ingrid – yes I think you’d enjoy. (By the way the smiley face and wine at the end of your comment sadly didn’t display) but I get what you meant 🙂

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It