Walpole (including Nornalup)
Isolated and beautiful town mixing coastal scenery and dramatic forests.
'You have got everything here, wonderful forest scenery, mountains, landscapes, seascapes, boating, fishing. It is one of the most beautiful single sights I ever saw in all my life. It is a fascinating place, I donšt know of any that affected me in the same way', was the way Professor Wilson, the Assistant Director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, described the area around Walpole when he visited it in 1920.
Located 441 km south of Perth, Walpole is located on one of the most dramatic and unusual stretches of coastline in Australia. It lies in that rare zone between the cliffs and beaches which are washed by the southern ocean and the vast karri and jarrah forests of the South West. This is isolated country which remained unsettled and uninhabited until well into the twentieth century.
The first people to explore the coast near Walpole were the Dutch who were duly followed by the French and British. None of these explorers, as they travelled along the coast, felt any need to stop in an area which, from the sea, appeared inhospitable and barren.
There is evidence that the sealers and whalers who worked along the coast actually stopped in Nornalup Inlet but, from the sea, it needed a very close investigation of the coast even to realise that the inlet existed. It was hidden from view by Rocky Head which seemed to an extension of Bellanger Beach.
The Walpole River was discovered by Captain Bannister in 1831 when he was exploring an overland route from the Swan River colony to Albany. Governor Stirling decided to name the river after a certain Captain W. Walpole.
The first party to explore the Nornalup area was led by William Preston and arrived in the area in 1837. Preston was followed in 1842 by William Nairne Clark who rowed into Nornalup Inlet and was overwhelmed by what he saw.
'On the right bank,' he later wrote, 'there were high towering hills - here the vegetation was luxuriant, wattle trees, tall ferns and wild vetches growing amongst trees of magnificent growth - some one hundred feet high of enormous girth and as straight as a pole'.
In 1872 Governor Weld visited the area and was equally effusive in his praise, 'The countless grassy knolls and undulations are enlivened with the bright turquoise blue of the dwarf lobelia. The peppermint is greener than most Australian trees - whilst within the valleys, black stemmed shockheaded xanthorrea fit the Western Australia character unmistakably.'
But even such glowing reports could not entice settlers to the area. The area was finally settled in 1910 by the Pierre Bellanger and in 1911 by Frank Thompson. But the real period of settlement was in the 1930s when Sir James Mitchell (Premier of Western Australia) created the Nornalup Land Settlement Scheme to provide city people with work during the depression. Applications to come to the area were high and in August 1930 the first fifty men arrived.
There is an excellent book Full Fifty Years and Fifty Very Full Years: The Walpole Land Settlement 19301980 by Mary Tapley which tells the story of this extraordinary experiment. Her account of the arrival of the first settlers is a reminder of how tenacious people were during the Depression.
'On arrival at Nornalup in the late afternoon, the first group of men were taken by truck to the Main Camp, or Walpole as we now know it, and issued with tents. The poor fellows were already soaked to the skin by rain that had not ceased from the time they left the train, and putting up their tents in a deluge must have seemed the last straw.'
In spite of this inauspicious beginning the men persisted and slowly the land was cleared. The tents were replaced with simple homesteads and they began to make a living.
On 5 April 1933 the townsite was gazetted as Nornalup. The locals did not like the name and wanted it changed to Walpole however the government pointed out that there was already a Walpole in Tasmania. The tenacious local citizens found that, in fact, there was no Walpole in Tasmania and on 7 August 1934 the name Walpole was officially gazetted.
Today Walpole and Nornalup are tiny settlements which exist basically to service the surrounding rural area where beef and dairy cattle and professional fishing dominate. In recent times the towns have benefited greatly from an increase in tourism.
Things to see:
Major Tourist Attractions
Tourists are attracted to the area because of its scenic beauty and its unspoilt quality.
The major tourist attractions in the area include Mount Frankland, the big Tingle Tree at Hilltop, the Knoll Drive, the Nuyts Wilderness Block, the Valley of the Giants, Conspicuous Beach, Fernhook Falls and Mandalay Beach nearly all of which exist within the boundaries of the superb WalpoleNornalup National Park.
There is a delightful and detailed book In Praise of a National Park: The Origins and History of the WalpoleNornalup National Park which has been written by Lee & Geoff Fernie. It is a history of the establishment of the WalpoleNornalup National Park and the remarkable sequence of events which ensured that this piece of coastline was protected from clearing and commercial development.
CALM describes the park as 'The Frankland and Deep Rivers drain the forested hinterland, emptying into the broad and sheltered waters of the inlet.
'The National Park protects a variety of forest and coastal environments, and their dependent animals and plants. Major forest trees are those common to the South West with the addition of the giant red, yellow and rates tingles, a slow growing hardwood restricted to this area. Red-flowering gum, a popular garden tree, grows naturally only here.'
North of Walpole on the North Walpole Road is Mount Frankland, a granite monadnock, which is surrounded by karri forest.
Hilltop Lookout Road
The Hilltop Lookout Road which runs north off the South Coast Highway east of the town offers superb views over Nornalup Inlet. The road passes through dense karri and tingle forests. On the drive it is worth noting the rare sight of a hollow tingle tree growing in a sheoak forest.
The Knoll Drive which starts east of Walpole is a circuit with views over Walpole Inlet and the magical experience of karri forests reaching down to the sea.
Nuyts Wilderness Block
Located to the southwest of Walpole, and only accessed by walking track, is the Nuyts Wilderness Block which is currently the only listed wilderness area in Western Australia. The tracks through the region are restricted to bushwalkers and wind across the native countryside to vantage spots on Point Nuyts.
Valley of the Giants
3 km east of Nornalup is the famous 'Valley of the Giants', an area noted for its rare red tingle trees with their buttressed roots and massive trunks. There are also stands of karris in the park. There are a number of picnic spots on the circular road which winds north from the South Coast Highway.
The drive to Conspicuous Beach combines red flowering gums (in season) with rugged cliffs which contrast with the quieter beaches in the area such as Peaceful Bay and Mandalay Beach, both of which offer the visitor scenic views and excellent fishing.
There is an interesting Coalmine Beach Heritage Trail which starts at the Pioneer Cottage Museum in Pioneer Park and winds its way around Walpole Inlet to Coalmine Beach on Nornalup Inlet. It is a short 3 km trail which passes through wetlands and forest and has a number of interpretative signs on the track to recreate what the area must have been like in the 1930s.