It’s funny how we can easily overlook a place that sits right under our very noses. “Ferguson Valley, where’s that?” I’ve heard too many times from Perth locals. Yet only 1.5 hours out of the city and 20 minutes east of Bunbury lies one of WA’s best-kept secrets — a fertile valley of green rolling hills, quaint vineyards in cool valleys, quality restaurants with amazing local fare and boutique breweries offering signature craft beers and sprawling sun-soaked beer gardens.
While it may lie in the shadows of its world-renowned sister, the Margaret River region, Ferguson Valley is small but it punches way above its weight. Wine and beer aside, there’s also plenty of meandering forest and riverside walks, newly developed mountain bike trails, galleries and a splash of local history too.
At the gateway to the valley and perched near the Ferguson River lies the quaint and historic town of Dardanup, whose Indigenous forebearers named ‘low lying ground by the water.’ With a 2km Heritage Trail that outlines the local Noongar people’s history, it also follows the footsteps of the early pioneers, showcasing 12 historic locations across the townsite.
Dardanup also happens to be home to one of the best bakeries in WA. Voted the 2023 Winner of Best of the Southwest Pie Award, ‘Dardy’ Bakery is a treat for the senses with every imaginable sweet or savoury pastry in which to indulge.
Taste and graze
Think of wine country in WA and most folks will call to mind the vineyards of Margaret River and its global, gourmet fare. While its famous grape-growing region to the south boasts a reputation for chardonnay and sauvignon varieties, located in the south west of WA, Ferguson Valley produces its very own world-class varieties of shiraz, tempranillo, semillon and chardonnay. With more than two dozen boutique wineries to select from, your biggest challenge is where to start your wine tasting road trip.
With glass of wine in hand, perch atop the Darling Scarp — with stunning vistas over the valley — under an olive tree. Sample the delightful local produce with a taste and graze plate or languish in a long, lazy lunch with friends while tuning into some live acoustic music. The Moorish-themed Green Door Wines, so named after its green door imported from Fez, Morocco, even offers cooking classes and a nod to Spain with its Paella Sunday specials.
At Ferguson Falls, we didn’t spot any waterfalls but if the buzz outside on the grassed seating area was anything to go by, this was the perfect place to be. One of the pioneer vineyards of the region, this winery/cafe has become somewhat of a beacon to all pizza lovers. Delicious, artisan stone-baked Italian and American pizzas will greet your nose well before you get to the front door. They scooped up the gong for the Gold Plate Award in 2017 for Best Pizza and after tasting one myself, it’s not hard to see why.
We later parked ourselves downstairs in the courtyard at the family-run Hackersley Estate. Warm and welcoming, this slice of paradise in the valley has not only a Gold Plate-awarded restaurant and cellar door but was granted ‘5 Star Winery’ status by James Halliday in 2013. Oh, and the views aren’t bad either. Overlooking verdant, green hills, grazing cattle and kangaroos, we basked in the glorious autumnal sun, feeling like we hit the jackpot with our chai lattes and warm, freshly made chocolate cake. Truly the stuff of holiday decadence.
Walk (or cycle) this way
For those who like to get out of town and get among nature, the picturesque Ferguson Valley delivers in spades. From the quaintly named Crooked Brook Forest that weaves its way through jarrah forest just out of Dardanup to the more rigorous 12km Jabitj Trail, there are several trails of varying steepness and lengths, depending on your fitness.
The Collie River Walk is a lovely stretch along the riverbank’s surrounds while Wellington National Park is home to a vast network of walking and mountain bike trails weaving through jarrah, marri and yarri forest.
For those who prefer two wheels to get about, the Pile Road Network at Mt Lennard serves more than 40km of diverse trails, with three new ones added recently and more to come.
Wet your whistle
Whatever your tipple, whether it be handcrafted beers or a local drop of fine wine, Ferguson Valley has plenty to satiate the fussiest of imbibers. If a pint is your preference, take your pick from the Bush Shack Brewery or Wild Bull Brewery, both providing plenty of specials and paddle tasters to mix things up.
At Bush Shack Brewery, sample a twist on the normal with a Chilli Beer Pilsner, Chocolate Milk Stout, Milky Ale, Spelt Beer, Strawberry Blonde Hazy Pale Ale or Twisted Lemon Lager. Wash your drink down with some shared bites, big bite mains or burgers out on the deck or the grassy gardens to catch the winter sun.
At the Wild Bull Brewery, Kolsch, Hazy IPA, Porter, Pilsner, Berry Sour and Ales are the order of the day with plenty of great food on offer too.
Reflections of a dam
Camping in the bush for four months was a labour of love for renowned artist Guido van Helten while he took to work on his epic concrete canvas of Wellington Dam.
Sprawling across 8000 square metres, it’s the world’s largest dam mural — an epic feat that saw van Helten suspended from platforms and abseil ropes above the water with no scope for a first draft. Completed in February of 2021, what van Helten painted for the first time on those vast walls is what you see today.
His mammoth work, titled Reflections, depicts six different paintings — migrant workers who built the dam, mine workers, local kids, a handful of Aboriginal children from the nearby Roelands Mission and an Aboriginal couple chosen from an original 1890 photo.
Selected from a pool of 47 other Australian artists, before he commenced his larger-than-life task, van Helten spent weeks engaging with community members and ensured his artwork colours were mixed to blend in with the local granite and the area’s natural environment.
The best place to check out the mural is from the viewing platform with 360-degree views, cross the bridge for a different perspective or take the Collie Mural Trail which takes in artworks, linking the town of Collie with Wellington Dam. The kiosk at the dam offers free hiking maps and there’s plenty of parking for large vehicles and caravans.
If you fancy staying overnight, Potters Gorge Campground is a quaint spot on the shores of Wellington Dam that offers 60 large campsites. Nestled in among jarrah and marri forests, it also caters for small, medium and large camper vans or caravans. The smaller Honeymoon Pool Campground with 20 sites has room for small campers only. Both campsites fill up fast, however, and must be booked online.
Gnoming around the valley
When a roundabout was being built back in 1996 to alleviate a local Y junction traffic hazard some 19km from Dardanup, an unknown resident placed a gnome at the junction to oversee proceedings. In either an act of solidarity or a shared passion for the quirky, other garden gnomes soon began to mysteriously appear overnight.
When the gnomes outstayed their welcome at the roundabout and were deemed a distraction to drivers, they were moved across the road, where local man Kevin Campbell laid some paths to accommodate the new arrivals.
And so, the Hamlet of Gnomesville began. Now home to over 5000 of the eclectic little creatures from different corners of Australia and the world, there seems to be a gnome of every kind. Rock star, raunchy, biker or wizard gnome, wander around and you’ll see little people in red hats for as far as the eye can see. From this once sleepy little hollow, this peculiar hamlet, it seems, gets bigger by the day.
The lake that defies its name
Standing on the shores of a still and calm Black Diamond Lake on a sunny day, you’d be forgiven for scratching your head as to how it got its name. Staring back up at you is no black hole, but a gorgeous expanse of turquoise blue, reflecting the sky and lush tall trees that hug the expansive lake like a giant mirror.
For over 100 years, Collie has been synonymous with coal mining, an industry in decline as WA leans into renewable energy. The former Black Diamond Coal Mine serves as a reminder of times past and while it was in its heyday during the late '40s and ‘50s, it has long been repurposed into something completely different.
Since its decommissioning, the pit was filled with water, and with the winter rain over the years, formed an expansive and deep well surrounded by lush forest. When the sun hits it, the calcium carbonate beneath the surface creates an alluring colour and sparkle, earning the lake its reputation as one of WA’s most-prized watering holes. It's a great spot to enjoy a paddle, so bring your swimmers, paddle boards or canoes and enjoy the beautiful water.
Just a short drive away, Stockton Lake and Lake Kepwari are also worth a visit with both offering camping and plenty of parking space for camper vans and caravans on their shores, as well as picnic tables and barbecue facilities.
Big events in the valley
Bull and Barrel Festival
Celebrating its 20th year, this annual festival sees Dardanup’s population swell to 15,000 as crowds flock to celebrate the Valley’s diverse offerings. With this year’s theme of ‘Back in Time,’ a huge wine tent will be in full flow while Bunbury’s Cuprum Distillery will serve the gin aficionados. For the cider fans, Runamuk Cider Co will accommodate.
With free entry and activities all day, there will be 150 stalls of food, market wares, live music, dog shows, demonstrations, craft and antique collectibles. Giant illuminated puppets are on parade from 7:30pm before the festival finale kicks off — the spectacular burning of a giant, 12 metre wooden bull.
This year’s festival kicks off on 7 October from 10am to 8:30pm. For more info, head to bullandbarrel.net.au.
Open Gardens Trail
For the green thumbs, the Ferguson Valley Open Gardens Trail celebrates all things spring in the last weekend of October (28–29), showcasing six gorgeous and well-tended native gardens in all their splendour, full of flowers and fabulous, idiosyncratic garden art.
Caravans and camper vans welcome
Waterloo Village Caravan Park — 12km from Dardanup
Taralea Farm — 7.7km from Dardanup
Stockton Lake — 8km from Collie
Lake Kepwari — 10km from Collie
Potters Gorge Campground — 28km from Collie
Dardanup Hall — three nights only with access to public toilets and drinking water
Bush Shack Brewery
P: (08) 9728 3553
P: (08) 9724 000
Ferguson Falls Wines Cafe
P: (08) 9728 1616
Ferguson Valley Visitor Centre
P: (08) 9728 1551
Green Door Wines
P: 0413 650 995
Hackersley Estate Wines
P: (08) 9728 3033
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