Golden Valley Tree Park

When I walked the Bibbulmun Track last year, one of my highlights was the day I wandered through the Golden Valley Tree Park. This beautiful park is located in the country town of Balingup, which is about 240km south of Perth. To be honest, I’d never heard of the town before I did my hike, but it’s safe to say it’s certainly on my radar now.

I remember it was a sunny winter’s morning as I followed the meandering trail through the valley of the trees. Most of the trees had lost their leaves by this stage, but the surrounding hills were the most vibrant shade of green I’d ever seen. It was a colour that became characteristic of the Balingup area, but until that day, I didn’t think such bright green earth existed in the West Australian landscape. I was left in awe and made a promise to return to the park in autumn.

Last Tuesday, I fulfilled that promise. With my garden-loving mum in tow, we set off for our road trip around 10.30am. I love driving, so it was exciting to hit the road and, especially, to be headed for the country. Despite my love of travel, I tend to go overseas or interstate for my holidays, which means I don’t explore my own backyard nearly as often I should.

There was definitely a sense of nostalgia on the drive down to Balingup, as I passed through several other sites associated with my Bib Track hike. In fact, what should’ve been a three hour drive to get to the Tree Park turned into a four hour drive, as I ended up taking the scenic route through a couple of other Bib Track towns, such as Collie and Mumballup. It was hard to believe that I ever walked to these towns by foot.

Eventually, we made it into Balingup, which was decorated with colourful scarecrows for an upcoming event. The Tree Park is located 2km out of the main town area, and when we arrived, we enjoyed the picnic lunch that we’d packed at home. My mood was instantly bolstered, not only by the food, which went down a treat after our long sojourn in the car, but also by the immediate sense of peace I felt as soon as I stepped out of the car. There were no other people around, and the fresh country air was filled with birdsong, as well as the familiar sound of farm life in the form of mooing cows and bleating sheep.

After eating, it was time to decide which section of the park we wanted to explore. I wasn’t aware on my first visit, but there are actually two parts to the park- the Australian Collection and the World Collection. We opted to walk around the latter. It was so cool to come across trees which had been transported from far-off places such as the US, the UK, China, Iran and the Himalayas.

At first, I was slightly taken aback at how brown the land was. Gone were the luscious green hills that had made such an impression on me, and in their place was a dry carpet of rain-starved earth. But the trees showcased a range of autumn colours, which was beautiful to behold. We don’t get a huge display of fiery golden leaves where I live in Perth, and I miss having the opportunity to observe that distinct, colourful change between seasons.

We wandered through an old pear orchard, which was filled with suspicious sheep ready to run if we dared to come too close. The air crackled with the sound of our footsteps treading upon a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves. The path led down to an avenue of dazzling sequoias, and culminated in two stunning golden ash trees, whose overhanging branches formed a ceiling of sunshine over a little wooden bridge.

In the end, I did seven hours of driving for a two hour walk, but it was so worth it, because if there’s one thing that always manages to lift my spirits and put me in a great mood, it’s a nature retreat!

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A Perfect Day in Ella

11th February 2017

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The most perfect day starts with a cockroach. It’s a giant one, light brown in colour, lying half-dead in the corner of the bathroom with its legs up in the air and its long antennae twitching wildly. I have a huge phobia of cockroaches, and it takes me a good five minutes to be able to approach it. My friend offers me a shoe and I thwack the critter over and over again. The bloody thing seems to be tougher than steel and refuses to be squished. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Eventually, there’s a crunch. I work up the courage to pick up the remains in a wad of tissues and quickly fling it into the toilet, before flushing it to a watery grave. And one more flush, for good measure.

Undertaking a cockroach extermination mission may not be the most ideal way to begin one’s morning, but the drama is quickly forgotten when I step outside and see this glorious view from the balcony of the Ella Paddy Field View Guest Inn.

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The day is warm, bright and beautiful, as my friend and I set off into town to have breakfast. We enter a cafe, and the waiter asks if I’m Sri Lankan as he leads us to a table. Not quite, buddy! We start the day with coconut roti, though this roti is nothing like the roti we had the day before. It’s still tasty and filling, though, which is just what we need to see us through a day of hiking through the hills of Ella.

The beautiful views begin as soon as we head out for Little Adam’s Peak, which is about a 2km walk from the town centre. We pass by several home stays and cafes, which are nestled between a colourful maze of tropical flowers, ferns and palms, before the path starts winding gently upwards through glossy tea plantations. Along the way, local women pose for photos while picking tea leaves, a snake charmer plays a pungi to a cobra in a wicker basket, and a young boy runs up to every tourist he sees, asking for lollies.

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Reaching the top of Little Adam’s Peak involves climbing some stairs, but it’s nowhere near as taxing as the climb up Adam’s Peak. This is a good thing, as my legs are still sore from Tuesday’s hike, so I take it easy. Besides, the views are absolutely spectacular, and deserve to be savoured. I have never seen such lusciously green country before in my life.

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When we get to the top, it’s not crowded, which makes it far easier to appreciate the view. We take some time to sit and simply enjoy the stunning landscape that stretches out before us, as far as the eye can see. Ella Rock lies directly in front of us, a striking formation which is softened by the vibrant vegetation that blankets it, as well as the rolling hills that surround it, rising like waves before fading away into misty horizons. I could easily stare at this view forever, and find myself rating this hike far more than Adam’s Peak. With Adam’s Peak, it felt like an experience I did to say that I’ve done it, but with Little Adam’s Peak, it’s an experience I’d come back to do again and again.

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With the midday sun starting to beat down upon us, my friend suggests visiting Cafe 98, which is located at 98 Acres Resort & Spa, a five star accommodation complex tucked away in the hills. The thatched roof bungalows which make up the property are visible from our vantage point on the top of the peak, and we make our way down towards them. Once we reach the cafe, we order a refreshing iced tea (since they’ve run out of the passionfruit juice we’re both craving), and dream about staying at the resort. How lucky are the guests, to be staying amongst such panoramic views.

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We decide to visit the Newburgh Tea Plantation after finishing our drinks, as it is only about 500m away from the resort. We don’t stay long, as the factory is closed, although we are still able to sample and buy some green tea.

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After consulting her guidebook, my friend realises that we are not too far from the famous Nine Arches Bridge, which is situated between two railway stations, at Ella and Demodara. The bridge, which is 24m high and spans a length of 91m, was built in the British Colonial period, and is considered somewhat of an engineering marvel, due to the fact it was constructed without any steel. Instead, the entire bridge is made up of rocks, bricks and cement.

We reach a lookout point and settle into some plastic chairs, as the next train is not due to pass for another 45 minutes. Conveniently, there is a juice store on site. The sun is now shining directly onto us and has reached its peak intensity, so the mango juice I order goes down a treat. While we wait, a small group of people starts to gather, and I have a chat with a Canadian lady whose husband has walked down to the tracks for an up close and personal experience. There are several people walking along the bridge, though they look like ants from where I’m seated. I’m content to observe the train from the lookout point, and fall into a drowsy reverie as we wait in the heat of the afternoon.

At 3.30pm, the train horn sounds, and shortly after, a rusty-coloured train chugs into view, its gleaming roof shining silver in the glare of the sun. It comes and goes in a flash, and with the main spectacle now over, the group of people on the bridge rapidly begins to disperse. The onlookers from the higher viewpoint also begin to leave. My friend and I follow suit, and we begin our leisurely stroll back into town.

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After a long day of walking, my friend and I stop by a street vendor and treat ourselves to a final dessert-style roti. Again, it’s completely different to the previous rotis I’ve eaten- more like a crepe- and I wash it down with a wood apple juice. Then, we buy some snacks and souvenirs from the local supermarket, before heading back to the guest inn. The perfect day ends with a delicious home-cooked Sri Lankan dinner in the evening. The view of the hills on the balcony is now cloaked by a curtain of darkness, but far off, under the pale glow of the moon, the tiny lights of a train can be seen. They twinkle like stars on the horizon, before disappearing into the shadows of the night.