Fleur Bainger’s ode to her special, go-to, getaway destination.
Sure, I love nature, but wrapping my arms ’round a trunk has never been my thing. But there’s something about you, you Great Southern gem, that’s made me want to embrace nature like a hippie who’s just discovered quinoa…
The truth is, I needed to get away. (Giving myself little more than two months to plan my wedding was, I admit, a little hare-brained.) And being distracted by your rocky dimples, your dreamy, turquoise pools and your pale, textured sands seemed like the perfect solution. As soon as I saw your clusters of karri trees, straight as a ruler, tall as a skyscraper and dappled in sugar and cinnamon hues, I knew I’d escaped to the right place.
With just two weeks to go before the big event, Denmark, I was in a state. I still had to review the caterer’s menu, book in a cleaner, convince my dad not to wash the car windows yet (“not until the day before, Dad”) and make sure my husband-to-be had bought a wedding outfit (“and not from an op shop, OK babe?”). But as I drove in your direction – a paradise so few know of – I shed the piles of to-do lists as the kilometres curled around the odometer.
It was pitch black when I arrived at my weatherboard retreat. A window-side orchestra of croaking frogs, serenading the stars, mimicked old rocking chairs and bongo drums. I dozed off to the chorus of deep reverberations.
Margaret River regret?
“We get people coming here all the time, saying ‘why didn’t I spend more time here and less in Margaret River?’,” boasts my host at Karma Chalets, Beverley Ford, who’s as bright as the next morning and fiercely parochial. She and husband Don travelled the entire coast of Australia before settling on Denmark. “What we have in WA, people don’t really appreciate how beautiful it is. You barely see a footprint on these beaches,” she says.
She has a point, Denmark. You’re like Clint Eastwood to Margaret River’s Robert Redford: a bit more rugged, a little less accessible but just as photogenic – and I clocked that twinkle in your eye. Plus, you’ve got credibility. The south western chunk of WA is the only internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot in Australia, one of a mere 34 on the planet.
You’ve got a greater diversity of rare and endangered plants, animals, reptiles and invertebrates than anywhere else in the country. Something like 8000 wildflower species grow here – in season, they dot the land like confetti. Thank goodness I don’t have to choose my wedding bouquet from that selection.
I learnt this while trekking your Bibbulmun Track, which traces the Great Southern coastline with views that reach the curve of the earth. At nearly 1000 kilometres long from end-to-end, it’s the Gibb River Road of walking trails, and the longest in WA. I don’t actually have eight weeks to cover the lot, but a four-hour jaunt with hiking guide and all-round-good-guy, Dr Dave ‘The Adventure Doctor’ Bomba made for a nice intro.
“A mate at my farewell barbecue told me about WA’s Denmark, and I just laughed because he was never that strong on geography,” recalls the former university lecturer, who left Wollongong in the mid 2000s to pursue his love of the outdoors. “But then I looked it up, and I became more and more interested in it.”
On arrival, he knew this was where he wanted to hang his hat and, with wife Lenore, set up two companies – one offering day treks, and one offering multi-day hikes. “It’s all about chilling out, getting away from the concrete,” he tells me, with a subtle glance at the smartphone in my pocket. “Some people, it takes them a few days to put the gadgets away and get free.”
Mine might still be attached to me, but it’s out of range, and that’s a delicious feeling.
The rockpool for giants
The trail pops out at Greens Pool in William Bay National Park. It’s like a rockpool for giants, with massive, rounded boulders bulging from the ocean’s surface, reminiscent of brown hippopotamuses. In summer the postcard-worthy bay is bustling, but it’s WA-busy, not Bondi or Surfers Paradise busy. The sheltered, transparent water is blue like Bombay Sapphire gin; in certain lights, there’s a hint of emerald Tanqueray. The powdery sand just begs me to spread out my sarong and relax with a book.
Instead, Dr Dave suggests I head around the corner to the more secluded Elephant Rocks beach, reached via a gap in two multi-storey spheres of granite. I scamper through them the moment the brisk, ankle-high water is sucked out by petticoat-edged waves.
In the car park, my mobile catches a signal and starts pinging with texts and emails. I turn it off; I have better things to do. Namely, quaffing pinot at Singlefile Wines – I have to choose my wedding wine list, after all. It’s just outside of Denmark’s artsy, green-leaning village, and is run by a banker, a naturopath and a pair of former geologists who are as warm as the toasty, buttery chardonnay they cellar.
In fact, the drop inspired critic James Halliday to name the winery ‘Dark Horse of the Year’ in his 2013 Australian Wine Companion Awards. With cool-climate neighbours including Howard Park and West Cape Howe, Singlefile is doing well to stand out. Its forest-fringed estate is certainly no handicap. Nor is the sight of the resident geese that march, in single file, around the property.
I wind up my solo Thelma and Louise mission with a much-needed (and deserved, right?) R&R session. How could I not when Denmark is, per-capita, the wellness capital of WA? – a hangover from the hippies who moved here 30 years ago, and who are credited with inspiring its friendly, chilled-out vibe.
Faster than a shot of wheatgrass
Beverley, who happily describes herself as a ‘conservative’, lowers her voice and tells me “the touchy-feely people believe Denmark is the crossing point for two ancient meridian lines”, which apparently deliver some sort of special, soothing aura that boosts your wellbeing faster than a shot of wheatgrass.
While there’s a smorgasbord of chakra, clairvoyant, reiki and ‘soul retrieval’ options, I decide to keep things simple and head to Karisma Spa. The name sounds a touch tie-dyed, but the experience is all sophistication: I lie encased in their pamper pod as a Vichy shower sprays my body with delicate droplets. After my skin is salt scrubbed, feet kneaded, shoulders unknotted and face cleansed, I’m a new woman.
Before I hit the road, I give in to curiosity and check my phone. My fiancé has texted excitedly to say he has bought his outfit – from a shop. Mum has emailed to inform me Dad forgot to pay the deposit on the wedding venue, but she’s sorted it out. Phew! The caterer has sent through the canapé menu and my sister has finished designing our invites. Life feels, largely, under control again: I might just pull off the rapidly organised wedding of my dreams.
And if it all gets too much, I’ll just turn the car around and escape to you, Denmark. Can we continue our affair after I tie the knot?
• Denmark is a four-and-a-half hour drive from Perth, or you can fly to nearby Albany with Virgin Australia and hire a car for the 40-minute trip into town.
• We stayed at Karma Chalets, which has 10 lovely self-contained, eco-certified huts with valley views and inquisitive native birds that like to hop on the pine balcony. From $165 per night for two people; 08 9848 1568.
• The on site Karisma Spa offers a range of massage, facial and beauty treatments for men and women. 08 9848 1568.
• To hike with Dr Dave on the Bibbulmun Track, book through Out of Sight Tours. 08 9848 2814;
• Fully inclusive packages of various durations, or pick-up and drop-off services can be arranged through Dr Dave’s other company, Wilderness Getaways. 08 9848 2814.
• For general information on hiking the Bibbulmun Track.
• Dine on the best gourmet fare in the region at Pepper & Salt Restaurant at Forest Hill Winery. 08 9848 3053.
• The award-winning Denmark Bakery does great pies. 08 9848 2143.
• For tasty, simple pub food, go to the Denmark Hotel. 08 9848 2206.
• Sample the pinot or chardonnay at Singlefile Wines. The winery is accessed via Scotsdale Scenic Drive, which links up more wineries than you could visit in one session, including Howard Park Wines. The tall karri trees bordering the road are an added bonus.
For more information contact the Denmark Visitor Centre on 08 9848 2055.