Visit Western Australia’s nature playground – Walpole and the Southern forests
From the serenity of giant timber forests to the tranquil waters and inlets there is plenty to keep the family entertained staying in stunning Walpole, Western Australia.
This post is part of our series Discover Australia – come and see all our family-friendly Australian travel articles including How to Road Trip South-West Western Australia
Top Family Things to Do in Walpole and the Southern Forests
Situated on Western Australia’s southern coast, today we are talking about the unique natural region that lies between the Margaret River on the west coast (we will cover this magical family destination in more detail next week!) and Albany and the Amazing South Coast region further west. Heading north, the Southern Forests area covers up to Manjimup and Bridgetown, as well as Pemberton and the D’Enrecasteaux National Park.
Walpole is approximately 400kms south of Perth or between 4.5 to 6 hours drive depending on what route you take; coastal via Bunbury or perhaps the more scenic route through Dwellingup and the forests of Lane Poole Reserve. It is also day trip distance if you are staying in Albany or Denmark though given how much there is to actually do out of the car, we recommend allowing yourself a couple of night stay – even if just seeing the highlights!
It’s the perfect place to come for a lush green city escape in one of the world’s most unique biodiversity hotspots.
The options for exploring the region really are endless, and if you’re fully equipped with your camping gear staying a weak or two in nature is the ideal way to explore. Our visits in recent years though have been restricted by the wintery weather and the fact we are flying in from overseas so we’ve relied on day trips and self-catering accommodation (see our top family recommendations below).
So with preschoolers through to school-aged kids in mind, here are our top tips on regional family entertainment in the Southern Forest of Western Australia!
Admire the tall timber
Certainly, the major selling point for our little desert-dwellers coming to this corner of the globe was to explore the tall timber. There are many Karri, Jarrah and Tingle tree forests in the region, much of which you can see from a drive-through Highway 1.
If you’d like to head off the road for a closer look, however, here are some of the best stops with relatively easy bush walks.
Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk
Valley of the Giants is the regions most recognised tourist attraction. 600m of suspended walkway – at its highest point 40m above ground level – takes you closer to nature than ever before. The raised treetop walk runs in a loop and it doesn’t take long to walk (depends how far ahead of you children are racing!).
I recommend you do it at least twice, once looking up and once looking down to get your full value, you will be amazed how much more you notice the second time!
It’s pretty pricey for what it is but a unique attraction for this corner of the globe. It’s also stroller and wheelchair friendly making it a great family attraction.
The Ancient Empire Walk is part of the same complex as Valley of the Giants. It might not be clear at entry as you are fairly guided from one attaction to the next but this ground level walkway is actually FREE to enter via the gift shop. A favourite here for the kids is Grandma Tingle, an ugly old gnarled stub of a tree! (Don’t tell Grandma Globetrotter!)
We also loved that you could walk through some of the giant tingle trees here. If you don’t make it to some of the other attractions we mention below, you will at least get a pretty good taster with the Ancient Empire Walk. Free tours can be joined daily at 10.15am, 11.30 and 2pm (weather dependent) but with 3 energetic kids and an otherwise elderly crowd, I decided not the right thing for us to do!
Additional School holiday programs also run. Best to check current schedule with Parks WA.
Walpole-Nornalup National Park
A visit to the Walpole-Nornalup National Park is a great way to trek amongst the tall timber with some shorter walks possible for little legs.
The Giant Tingle Tree is a relatively easy short walk for most capabilities. It is partly paved so stroller/disabled accessed to the tree itself, and a short bush track to complete a full loop of about 20-25 minutes depending on little legs.
There are plenty of signs to read along the way, those with an interest in history will delight in learning about the regions ancient past and unique biodiversity (I had 1/3 paying attention as I read, I call that a parenting win).
You can also walk sections of the Bibbulum Track from here.
(Do you remember pictures of cars driving through a giant Tingle Tree? Sadly this tree collapsed several years ago due to over-tourism – so most of these trees are now only to be admired from afar).
Mount Frankland Wilderness View Lookout
Mt Frankland is accessed via North Walpole Road, sealed for part of the journey before you hit gravel, it’s a good track still for 2WD vehicles.
From the car park, you can take the lookout walk, a short few hundred meters away, easy for wheelchairs and strollers. With older and more energetic kids you can take the more strenuous walk and climb to the top of Mt Frankland. There are ladders to help you up and some spectacular rewarding views from the top of the giant granite hill. A fence is in place to prevent little ones from being tempted by the sheer drop below.
Swarbrick Forest Art Loop
A rich and tumultuous history between logging and conservation in the region lead to the creation of Swarbrick Art Loop. On the site of the former protest camp, the Wilderness Wall of Perceptions is the highlight. It features inscribed forest-related quotes from the past 100 years, with dates of political events relating to forest management and wilderness.
I thought by its quirky nature this one would be a real winner with the kids, but they were obviously not in the mood the day we last did the loop and really didn’t “get” the art (OK, a lot of it neither did I!). Art is of course, open for interpretation.
Still, an easy walk and pleasant forest experience for those less inclined for longer treks it only takes about 15 minutes on a flat surface.
(Note when people talk of the Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre – it is the trio of Valley of the Giants, Mt Frankland and Swarbrick they are referring to – there’s no big building per se!)
Smaller side stops around Walpole
If time permits, these are some smaller and pretty stops to make (though you may not fit all these into one day)
- Fernhook Falls – a pretty stop on the return road from Mt Frankland
- Circular Pools – here the river currents form in circles and the water froths to look like a giant coffee cup! A fun natural phenomenon and an excellent little picnic stop.
- Great Forest Trees Drive – if little legs have had enough and you prefer tourism by car this is a great scenic side stop on the highway between Walpole and Manjimup, 2WD accessible.
Other Tips for Families exploring around Walpole
- Toilets are on-site at all locations – various conditions so be prepared for the long drop!
- Many of the dirt tracks are designated one way. Save yourself some backtracking by working out which order you will visit everything first!
Whale Spotting near Walpole
There are several spots along the southern WA coast that are ideal for whale spotting so pack the binoculars, particularly July to November.
Midway between Nornalup and Peaceful Bay offers plenty of good opportunities.
Conspicuous Cliffs is also a good vantage point. If you want a walk to on the beach here though, do be aware of a steep 800m or so walk and it is a surf beach so quite rough. You can, however, drive right to the beach in a 2WD car making it one of the more accessible across this section of coast. There’s a picnic shelter and lookout about 100m from the car park.
Other water activities near Walpole
WOW Wilderness Cruise comes incredibly highly commended via relatives and friends, although we still have not been able to fit it in yet. It commences at 10am daily from the jetty near town and lasts 2.5 hours. Host Gary Muir takes you through the regions nature and history on a fabulous and fascinating excursion back in time with some amazing humour and storytelling.
Donnelley River Cruises, operating in the D’Encastreaux National Park are also a highly commended ecotour company that takes you from the Jarrah and Karri forests, through the wetlands, to the limestone cliffs and the Southern Ocean. With a focus on ecology and geology, you will get a glimpse of areas of Western Australia completely unreachable by car. Cruises operate morning or afternoon on alternate days.
Another beautiful beach stop is Mandalay Beach, about 13kms south-west of Walpole (look for the sign to Crystal Springs). From the car park its a short boardwalk to the lookout. On a calm day, you may also be able to see the Norwegian ship the Mandalay visible through the waves – so bring your binoculars!
The beach is accessible here but be warned, winds are strong and the water rough; like many of the Southern Ocean beaches, it’s more one for admiring from a distance than swimming. With young children, you should really stick to the inlets in this area of Australia.
Peaceful Bay to the east of Denmark can be a calmer beach stop – though brace yourself for the chill no matter what time of year!!
Further Reading: How to road trip Western Australia with kids
Things to do in Pemberton with kids
At the absolute heart of timber country is Pemberton. There are equally as many attractions here as Walpole but we have not covered this area in as much detail – we will do in future so for now, here’s just a taster of top attractions:
The Gloucester Tree – One of the tallest trees in the region, the Gloucester Tree is one of 8 historic fire lookout towers – three which can still be climbed. No longer operational but you can climb the 61 metres lookout deck. I still remember climbing to the top of this as one of my greatest childhood achievements – and I have the certificate to prove it!! The tallest is, in fact, the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree at 75m tall, about 15 minutes outside of Pemberton off the Vasse Highway. Note you will need to purchase a National Parks pass to visit these trees.
Jarrah Jack Brewery & Woodsmoke Estate – comes highly acclaimed as a good stop for families. As well as the obvious beer tasting, they have indoor and outdoor play areas. Usually open Thursday to Sunday but Open Thursday to Tuesday during school holidays.
Big Brook Dam – it looks more like a lake but with its own sandy beach to play on as well as swimming, this is a really popular summertime spot that Perthians love to come to when escaping from the peak summer heat. There’s also a 4km long forest walk and cycling path around the dam.
RAC Karri Valley Resort – with its waterfront views is one of the highly acclaimed local accommodation options for families on the Vasse Highway.
Things to do in Manjimup with kids
Heading an hour further north from Walpole you will find the timber-town of Manjimup. With a steep commercial logging past, it’s future is more framed around the amazing food to come from the region. It’s most famous for it’s Pink Lady apples and Black Truffle!
The number one family highlight though is the Timber & Heritage Park. Our Globetrotters could not love it more, its always on the annual “to do” list every year we head home! The centrepiece is the giant slide and viewing platform, but there’s also a flying fox and huge cubby/climbing tower, with a beautiful playground themed around local animals, and in the hotter months a wading stream.
Elsewhere around Manjimup, if you haven’t quite had your fix or tall timber the King Jarrah Tree is a very easy short loop walk close to town. For a longer stretch of the legs, or the Manjimup to Deanmill Heritage Trail, surfaced for the first 1km then an easy flat gravel track if kids want to take bikes. In the summer Fonty’s Pool is popular.
You can learn more about visiting the Southern Forests at www.southernforests.com.au or pop into one of their visitor centres in Walpole, Manjimup, Pemberton or Northcliffe.
Walpole Western Australia Accommodation
It is possible to see a lot of these attractions as a day-long “drive-through” visit but we’d thorough suggest making a couple of day stay of it to make the most of what the region has to offer and enjoy the tranquillity and disconnection (yes data is very patchy!!)
Top Recommended Walpole Accommodation for families
We recently reviewed the “Luxury Glamping” tents at Coalmine Beach Holiday Park. A beautiful coastal inlet, we can thoroughly recommend this as a top location for families and various cabins and camping options. You can read our full review here.
We also liked the look of Rest Point Holiday Village for family-friendly facilities (who doesn’t love the giant bouncy pillow?!) or Che Sara Sara Chalets can cater for larger groups up to 3 bedrooms. If you’re looking at a standalone holiday property, try Tree Elle Retreat, about 15 minutes east from Valley of the Giants and near Peaceful bay Bach – there are several lofthouses here that can sleep from 6 to 8 guests.
Note that some motels claiming to be “treetops” are not actually immediately adjacent to the Valley of the Giants treetops walk no matter how well they may describe this; expect a small drive no matter what!
There are, of course, numerous camping options in the region – we will confess camping in WA is not our area of expertise! We would love to hear from you if you have a favourite camping area in the Southern Forests to recommend
Where to eat and drink near Walpole with kids
Despite its big reputation, Walpole is actually quite a small country town, therefore dining options are fairly limited. I would suggest buying in food if staying in self-catered accommodation (there’s an IGA in Walpole for supplies, but do note it’s country opening hours).
Otherwise locally the Walpole Hotel puts on a reasonable dinner spread between 6-8pm with a kids menu. If visiting during the day there are a couple of eateries you can try including Tingles Bakehouse fairly near to the Tree Top Walk turn off on the South Coast Highway. Peaceful Bay Fish & Chips also comes recommended although we missed this on our last trip!
Have you visited Walpole and the Southern Forests in Western Australia? Are there any other great family gems that you think we are missing?
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Disclosures: This is not a sponsored post, all the establishments mentioned are based on our own experience. This page does contain affiliate links that if you make a purchase through may earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read our full disclosure policy here.
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