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The Coast Less Travelled

Our Trails

The Coast Less Travelled

The morning light, as you drive towards Bremer Bay from Katanning and skirt the north-eastern edge of the Stirling Ranges, tints even the barest stubble gold; paints even the earliest shoots after the rains bright green; reflects on the trunks of the salmon gums with a coppery pink glow that’s almost orange; and all this against the blue-grey shadowy backdrop of the ancient mountain range.

Even on a clear day, Koi Kyennu-ruff (‘mist moving among mountains’) will have the wisps of clouds around their peaks that the Goreng Noongars of the plains believed were a sign of the ancient spirits keeping watch. It’s a scene that could have been painted by Monet or Van Goh, and that was rendered lovingly on the many canvases of artist Bella Kelly. Kelly, and the many local artists she influenced, tended to paint the view of the ranges framed by two white gums or salmon gums, and as you roll through Gnowangerup and Borden on your way down, you’ll see why: that’s the view you’ll most often get.

Our trail takes us from the southern Wheatbelt, down onto the Esperance plain, and to the rugged southern coast. This is still Goreng Noongar country, and Bremer Bay is the place where the mob from Ongerup and Borden would travel down to camp, spear salmon in the surf, and meet with the Wudjari people from the east. It’s also the place where some of the first settlers came to establish homesteads in the mid-1800s.

You’ll notice one of these early homesteads, Mongup, as Borden-Bremer Bay Road crosses the Bremer River. George Moir purchased this property from his uncle George Cheyne in 1858.

On the way out to the museum, along Wellstead Road, you’ll pass the yandil forests. This tree can only bee seen in isolated pockets through the South-West, and its timber was prized for its high tensile strength, which approached that of iron.

Leave plenty of time to explore the Wellstead Heritage Museum, though. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll turn another corner and find more treasures. The vast collection is housed in what was the old Wagin goods shed. The shed was bought for $400, transported down, and re-assembled on site. With the variety and sheer number of items from our colonial past on display (over 5000), it’s easy to find yourself in a state of contemplative awe at the resilience of the people who made their lives in these places.

The beauty of a place like Bremer, which is on a peninsula, is that it’s always blowing offshore somewhere. Regardless of which way the wind is coming from, you’ll be able to find a sheltered beach to enjoy a pristine marine environment the equal of anywhere in the world. Your mission to find the perfect beach, however, should start at Tooreburrup Hill. From here, you can look out over the Southern Ocean, west to Cheyne Bay and Albany, east across Doubtful Island Bay towards Hopetoun, and inland north all the way to the Stirling Ranges. You can then choose from Bremer Beach, Back Beach, Short Beach, Blossoms Beach, Banky Beach and Native Dog Beach. If the weather is cooperating and you like snorkelling or diving, Back Beach is one of the best places in the world to see leafy sea dragons.

There are some shops in the main settlement, across from the Wellstead Estuary, including a general store. If you follow Cuneo Drive south-west from Bremer Bay Road, you’ll find the rock cairn that was used by the Wellsteads to signal passing vessels that there was cargo to pick up from John Cove. When road transport improved, the need for sea transport in the area declined, so the cairn fell into disrepair. However, it has been rebuilt by locals in recent times.

On the way out of Bremer we turn right and head north on Gairdner Road, towards the small town of Gairdner, on the South Coast Highway, and then continue north to Jerramungup and encounter another foundation family name in these parts – Hassell. Jerramungup Station was part of the two huge landholdings that John Hassell owned, the other being in Kendenup. Following World War II, the government bought the station and offered parcels of land as part of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme, and the townsite was gazetted in 1957. History buffs can see the original Hassell Homestead from the road near the Gairdner River bridge if you want to drive 5km east on the South Coast Highway before heading back west towards home.

To make our way back to Katanning, we head west towards Ongerup on the Gnowangerup- Jerramungup Road. On the way back across to Ongerup and then Gnowangerup, you’ll have the afternoon sun painting the Stirling Ranges a slightly different hue. The sun filtering through the rare air in this part of the world changes the colour of the landscape as the day grows long. Today has been golds and greens, the deep blue of the Southern Ocean, bright white beaches and now the rusty orange of the setting sun on Koi Kyennu-ruff. Time for dinner.