After crossing The Nullarbor from east to west and arriving in the Western Australian town of Norseman, we realised the large size of the western state and that we still had a further 800km (equivalent to another day’s driving) to travel to the southern forest region of Pemberton. We made camp overnight by a tranquil river in Ravensthorpe, a small town that sits between the better-known towns of Esperance and Albany. It was a breath of fresh air to be out of the car, we would have been quite content to stay there a few days longer as it was so beautifully quiet and restful. However, we had booked three nights in a self-contained chalet on a small farmstay in Pemberton, and we were due there the following afternoon.
After a good night’s rest, we packed up the tent at first light and drove on. We had grown quite weary of driving these long distances and gradually the cracks in our character were beginning to show as we became downright impatient and cranky with one another. We had naively underestimated just how far it was not only to cross The Nullarbor, but then also the vast state of Western Australia. Fortunately this second break from tent dwelling could not have come at a better time and to our delight the chalet turned out to be magnificent. On our arrival we were warmly greeted by Sophie Zakolar, chef and co-owner of Foragers Field Kitchen. She directed us to the group of chalets perched right on the edge of the bushland, each amply spaced apart from the others. They all had their own names including 'Marron', 'Chestnut', 'Angus', 'Delaware, and 'Hass' and finally our chalet for the next couple of days, 'Truffle'. What a delightful sight it was for us worn out travellers to have a roof over our heads for a few of nights with fresh linen, plump pillows, an ensuite bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen. Sophie knocked on the door an hour after we arrived with freshly baked sour dough, hand churned butter and home made strawberry jam as our complimentary breakfast basket for the next morning. It seemed to evaporate the tension of our long drive in an instant.
Pemberton is one of the largest towns in the Southern Forest region, surrounded by national parkland filled with imposingly tall and wonderfully endearing Karri trees. We spent the next three days exploring this beautiful region and its local community. On our first day we didn’t want to go anywhere fast and instead relaxed in our very comfortable chalet, with a slow morning and a simple cooked breakfast enjoyed on the lovely deck overlooking the farm and forest. In the afternoon we took a stroll around the Foragers Field Kitchen property to see the farmhouse, the kitchen garden, the orchard and the many farm animals including a variety of hens, ducks, a jersey cow, a pet rabbit and some very contented looking Wessex Saddleback pigs. There was also an abundance of wildlife, content to be observed from a distance, including vibrant, emerald green parrots and inquisitive kangaroos.
That evening being New Year’s Eve, we got dressed in our finest clothing and leaving our rubber thongs, sunhats and fly swatters in the chalet we meandered up to the restaurant for a fancy dinner. It was exciting to be eating out, and Sophie’s reputation for cooking local and seasonal produce from the surrounding region had me salivating. The dinner was a shared table experience, five courses of delicious food including cauliflower, marron, avocado, duck, blueberries, parsnip, leeks, peaches, lavender honey ice cream and salted lemon shortbread. At the completion of the meal Sophie emerged from the kitchen, rang the bell to get the contented diners attention and proceeded to warmly and passionately share her inspiration for each dish and the local produce that had been featured. To say I enjoyed every single minute of this evening would be no exaggeration, it was so inspiring and a highlight of this delicious adventure we were on.
After dinner we took a five minute drive into the main street of Pemberton to witness the local fireworks display in celebration of the new year. We stood on the footpath outside the local pub in this small country town, amongst about three hundred other locals, tourists, backpackers and revelers, and witnessed a grand effort by the local blokes. Donned in welding helmets and masks to prevent injury, they scurried to and fro lighting the crackers, it was simple, it was loud and it was perfect. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one – HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Well rested and well fed, we felt refreshed and greeted the new year with renewed enthusiasm, ready to explore the Pemberton treasures. A scenic drive through Warren National Park to see the sixty five metre tall Bicentennial Tree and the Warren River with fishing, picnicking and camping spots dotted along the picturesque Heartbreak Trail was a welcome escape into nature. Road-side produce stalls popped up every now and then, as did wildlife such as emus and kangaroos freely roaming the forests. Later in the day we walked through the gorgeous town of Pemberton with its wide main street, heritage cottages and barrels of potted colour lining the footpaths. I spotted a gorgeous Jacaranda tree in full flower. Behind it was a backyard clothes line filled with lots of colourful washing drying in the sunshine and beyond, a vibrant turquoise painted outhouse, all forming a wonderful pop of colour amongst the brown dirt roads and the grey trunks of the towering Karri trees of Pemberton.
Back at the chalet we enjoyed our final evening of extravagance, now refreshed and ready to hit the road again in a much happier state of mind. As the light began to fade, the kangaroos came out from the edge of the forest to forage for their tea and the fields took on a golden glow. We had packed the car and boat in readiness to depart first thing in the morning, and heading south to the bottom of the coast of Western Australia to a place called Peaceful Bay. What awaited us was some of the most beautiful coastline, beaches and bays Australia can boast and we had all the time in the world to enjoy them.
© Excerpt from Our Delicious Adventure - Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel by Jane Grover