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Balingup's Best Kept Secrets

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by Carolyn Hopping (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published June 10th 2014
A dynamic creative community in WA's south-west
Nestled within the idyllic Blackwood Valley and surrounded by green, rolling hills, Balingup is one of Western Australia's most picturesque villages. Located just 65 kilometres south of Bunbury, the town is easily accessible from the state's major population centres, making it an ideal spot to connect with the natural world and rejuvenate oneself, after a busy week in the city.

Prior to European settlement in 1859, the Balingup area had been, for thousands of years, the home of local Noongar people, who lived a simple harmonious life subsisting off the bounty of the land. While colonial settlement brought agriculture in the form of orchards and dairy farms to the area, these days tourism is a growing source of income for many residents. Attracted by the pristine natural environment, thriving arts scene and strong community spirit, a growing number of 'tree changers' are also setting up house in the area, bringing with them a unique assortment of small businesses and cottage industries that act as a further drawcard for visitors.

As an arts enthusiast, what first struck me about Balingup, when my family and I drove through town, was the charming and quirky scarecrows created by local artists scattered here and there along the main drag. Their goofy smiles and daggy clothes brought a smile to my face while the sheer number of them enticed me to stop the car and get out for a closer look. As can be seen in the town's visitors centre, Balingup has adopted the humble scarecrow as its logo and their image appears everywhere on local tourist brochures and merchandise. Their unpretentious forms also reflect the laid-back ambiance of the town and its inhabitants. While many towns that market themselves as artists' havens tend to be a little elite and condescending to the lay-person, Balingup is refreshingly down-to-earth, despite the large number of creative folk who have set up house locally.

While it's small in size, there is much to see and do in the local area, and whether you're a solo traveller, a loved-up couple, retirees or a young family you'll be sure to find more than enough to keep you entertained. Alternatively, if you're wanting a total break and desire to do nothing at all, I can't think of any better place to simply chill out.

The following paragraphs contain a few ideas about what to do and where to go during a visit to beautiful Balingup.

Unlike many small towns in rural Western Australia, Balingup is 'alive and kicking' with a wide range of small businesses. As well as a handful of conventional retail outlets, there are many boutique destinations such as art galleries and studios, antique shops, cute little cafes and other similarly quirky places.

A favourite of mine is Rero's Upcountry Collectibles, one of the first shops on the left-hand side as you drive into town from Bunbury. Situated in an old-fashioned shop-front, it's chock-a-block full of all sorts of eclectic retro goodies ranging from furniture, kitchen wares and old books to gardening stuff, bric-a-brac, orphaned dolls and much more. It's one of those places where a hour or more can whizz by as you trawl through all the vintage ephemera creatively displayed on shelves, thrown in baskets and stacked up on the floor.

Other cool spots to look out for are The Village Peddlers, Balingup Goldsmith, The Packing Shed, Jalbrook Alpaca and Knitwear Gallery and Misti Gems, although there are lots of other small quirky places which will also be sure to tempt you. Be sure to pop into the Balingup Visitors Centre as you amble along the main street. While the friendly volunteers will be more than happy to share their local knowledge, you can also purchase local art or cute scarecrow souvenirs.

Another favourite stop is Tinderbox Herbals which purveys a huge selection of gorgeous locally-made herbal concoctions, ranging from ointments and other first aid necessities to luscious personal care products, herbal teas, cosmetics, baby care products and even aphrodisiacs. While the products themselves are of a high quality, the store itself is an absolute delight. The old-fashioned shop-front (formerly a general store) has been painted a lovely burnt orange colour that can't be missed from the road, and its earthy interior features polished hardwood floors, rustic bush furniture and lovely local art.

Finally, if you're an art-lover, the Old Cheese Factory at 2 Nannup Road can't be missed. The largest art and craft centre in Western Australia, it's a great spot to purchase something beautiful for your home, get a unique gift for a friend or simply admire the work of local artisans.

A Garden-lover's Paradise
As a town adorned with quirky and colourful scarecrows, Balingup inevitably possesses a strong affinity with gardening. Its temperate climate and regular rainfall make it a gardener's paradise and there are many beautiful gardens in town, both public and privately owned.

Every autumn and spring, visitors descend upon Balingup for the Festival of Country Gardens, a celebration of gardening at which local gardens, ranging from cottage style to grand designs as well as native, are opened to the public. Events connected with the festival include garden visits, workshops and guided walks. To learn more, take a look at the Festival of Country Gardens website.

If you're visiting Balingup outside of the festival, be sure to drop in at Golden Valley Tree Park, sixty hectares of beautiful landscaped parklands situated just two kilometres out of town. Whether you're visiting Balingup for a day or a weekend, this heritage-listed park is the perfect spot for a picnic or short walk through the century-old collection of trees from around the world. To learn more, go to the Golden Valley Tree Park website.

Birdwood Park on Brockman Street is another good spot for a picnic. While you're there, be sure to stroll along the Avenue of Honour, which was established in 1932 to honour local servicemen who lost their lives during World War I.

Located on the South West Highway, the Village Green is also a great family stop, with picnic tables, barbecues, public toilets and a cool adventure playground. For those passionate about growing their own fruit and vegetables, a visit to Balingup Community Garden is also recommended.

Balingup Village Green
Balingup Village Green

Family-friendly Festivals and Special Events
Balingup loves to party and throughout the year the town hosts an great assortment of family-friendly festivals. Whether you're into history, the arts, children's literature or gardening, there is sure to be something that you'll find interesting.

Balingup Small Farm Field Day takes place every April, and is a must-do for anyone who's ever considered escaping the city for a tree-change. A huge range of stalls highlight various products related to gardening and country living, while demonstrations and hands-on workshops introduce visitors to skills related to sustainable small farming and cottage industries. Demonstrations that are generally part of the field day include sheep shearing, woodturning and working sheep dogs, while plenty of family-friendly entertainment is provided such as bush poetry recitations, local bands and other performers. Kids are also well catered for with pony rides, craft workshops, a climbing wall, cooking fun, circus skills workshops and other cool free activities.

Another wonderful family festival, this time focusing on children's literacy, is held in town every July. Telling Tales in Balingup has been designed especially for children aged four to thirteen years old, and features a terrific range of interactive workshops presented by Western Australian writers and illustrators. These include a range of topics that include storytelling, creative writing, illustration and bookbinding.

Anyone with a lingering fascination for the romance and chivalry of the Middle Ages may want to consider heading down south on the fourth weekend in August when the two-day Balingup Medieval Carnivale is held. A celebration of this vibrant and diverse south-west community, it's held in the grounds of the Balingup Community Centre and includes a street parade, jesters, jugglers, jousting, markets, music, and merriment. To enhance the mood, everyone is encouraged to turn up in their best medieval attire. To learn more about this unique event, take a look at the Balingup Medieval Carnivale website.

As mentioned above, Balingup's many beautiful gardens come to life during the spring, and a great time to visit them is during the Festival of Country Gardens. Affiliated with Australian Open Gardens, many private gardens are also open for tours around this time of the year - a great opportunity to pick up some tips from the experts.

Also popular is the Jalbrook Concert, held each year in November on the Jalbrook Estate at Lot 1 Jayes Road. Situated in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by towering eucalypt forest, the concert has been held since 1999 and continues to grow from strength to strength, attracting some of Australia's most talented and best-loved performers. Have a look at this website to learn more.

A Great Spot To Learn Something New
Balingup is a vibrant and unique community, and its residents are a talented lot who love to share their skills with others. Throughout the year there are regular courses and workshops held around the town, including ones in yoga, meditation, natural healing, art, jewellery-making and cooking. Classes and workshops are also part of the above-mentioned festivals. Check out their websites to find out what's happening at each, this year. To learn more about other courses being held in the Balingup area, give the visitors centre a call on 08 9764 1818.

Whether you're a budget-conscious vacationer or you like to take your breaks in style, Balingup offers a wide range of great accommodation options. With its artsy village ambiance and picture-perfect setting, it's not surprising that cosy bed and breakfast getaways are particularly popular here. To enjoy a nurturing sojourn at one of Western Australia's premier retreats, Jalbrook Cottages may also be just what you're looking for. Take a look at their website to learn more.

For campers, a lovely peaceful spot is the Transit Park, situated under tall shady trees near Balingup Brook. Bookings and payment can be made at the town's general store. If you're looking for a spiritual retreat, the Origin Centre is a tranquil budget-conscious alternative, affiliated with the Coorain Buddhist centre next door. While there is no set payment to stay at this unique retreat, donations are appreciated and guests are expected to contribute a little time each day to keep their room and common areas clean. To find out more, go to the Origins Centre website.

The above-mentioned places are just a few of many available around Balingup. To learn about others take a look at the Balingup and Districts Tourism Association website.

In a nutshell, Ballingup is a delightful little hamlet to visit at any time of the year. Whether you're looking for a private retreat, a romantic interlude, the chance to attend a creative workshop, or simply a glorious weekend doing nothing much at all, a visit to this magical village in Western Australia's beautiful south-west may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Why? It's the perfect spot to escape from the city rat-race
When: Any time of the year
Phone: (08) 9764 1818
Where: Approximately 240 kilometres south of Perth
Cost: It depends on what you do
Your Comment
I love the scarecrows
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12643) 3294 days ago
Hi Carolyn,

Thankyou . . . we’ve just read your recent write up about Balingup in ‘Weekend Notes’ – Fabulous!

We own Balingup Heights Hilltop Forest Cottages . . . and are also heavily involved as volunteers in the Balingup Visitors Centre - BADTA.

We have an event coming up in the July School Holidays which we hope you might be interested in – ‘Telling Tales in Balingup’ – a weekend festival of children’s story telling. I can send you relevant information including:
• Event poster
• Media Release
• Montage of photos from last years event.

We operate the event ‘on the smell of an oily rag’ as they say and don’t have dollars to spend on paid adverting. However we’d love to chat to you if you think there is some other way of helping!

Look forward to hearing from you,

Cheers - Deb
by deb (score: 0|4) 3280 days ago
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