Dwellingup is a hugely popular place, only an hour and a half drive from Perth, making it the perfect getaway for a weekend, whole week or even just a quick day trip. It is a small town located in the middle of the Western Australian bush, with a river that flows right through the middle.
Over the last few years Dwellingup has become a huge playground for outdoor recreation. Opportunities include hiking, camping, mountain biking, canoeing or kayaking, tubing, white water rafting, fishing, swimming, tyre swings, 4WD tracks and more.
I’ll be perfectly honest. The only place I have ever stayed in Dwellingup is at the camp sites, and a highly doubt that I will ever stay anywhere else in Dwellingup, simply because you miss out on too much by doing so. I think that if you want to stay in luxury accommodation you may as well do it on the beach in a 5 star resort, but that’s just me.
If you don’t want to camp, then you can stay at a Caravan Park, a bed and breakfast or even luxury chalets. As mentioned above however, these tend to be closer to town, meaning your intense experience with nature is severely limited. Some people prefer this, but considering the cost you have to pay for it, I will take camping any day! The whole idea of Dwellingup is to be out and about with nature!
There are quite a large number of campsites available (Nanga Mill, Yaragil, Baden Powell, Charlies Flat, Stringers and Tony’s Bend). Most of these campsites are located within a hundred meters of the river, with spectacular views. Some are designed to support over a hundred campers, whilst others only offer 3 campsites or less. The rangers have brought in a booking system because Dwellingup gets incredibly busy at Easter, Australia Day, Christmas and school holidays. Something to point out is that the gravel roads can be very slippery, especially if you haven’t driven much on gravel before. The speed limit is 40 km/h and the rangers will kick you out of you go too fast.
We stayed at Nanga Mill in Easter, and the rangers began to turn away people who wanted to camp and even just visit for the day after the campsites were full and it became very busy. I find you can still have a lot of fun when it’s busy, but it’s often better to pick a quieter time of year to visit! Some campsites have concrete fire rings to use, but many don’t. You have to pay to camp in the camping areas, but it’s only a few dollars each night (a fraction of what you would pay to stay in a caravan park or chalet!)
As I have mentioned in previous posts about Camping, being prepared will make or break your trip. Most of the campsites have at least one drop toilet, but make sure you bring your own toilet rolls, just in case. Having a comfortable mattress to sleep on, a warm sleeping bag, a waterproof tent and an easy way to cook each day are just a few of the vital parts of camping. I have been on trips with total disorganisation, and the result is a trip that could have been great fun becomes a total burden.
The Murray River runs through Dwellingup, and is used for canoeing, white water rafting, tubing, swimming, fishing and even rope swings. Some parts are quite shallow, whilst others you would struggle to reach the bottom. A number of rapids exist in the river, which is why so many take to canoes in the wet season. In summer, the river drops off considerably in height, making it hard to get along much of the river with a canoe.
Throughout the whole year you can catch Red Fin Perch and Trout in the river. If you are over 16, you need a Freshwater fishing license, but it is well worth it! Most of the rope swings get removed for safety reasons as well, but they can be great fun if they are sturdy and safe.
Generally the best time to go canoeing or tubing is just after a very heavy downpour (usually in between June and September). In saying this, if you are just there to have some fun then there is always water at Island Pool and various other open spaces. The canoeing in Dwellingup can be extremely challenging if you have not done much of it before. Knowing the right technique and being confident can be the difference between manoeuvring around the rocks in fast flowing water and getting tipped over amongst the rocks.
There have been a number of serious injuries in the river at Dwellingup when canoeing or kayaking. The bottom line though is to tackle what you are capable of, and leave the rest. There are often trails where you can drag your canoe around the rapids, and unless you are confident these are a great option. There are even a few rapids which are banned today, because they are simply too hard (Baden Powell one). Most of the river is flat calm and fairly slow flowing, but there are of course a few rapids here and there.
Munda Biddi trail
The Munda Biddi trail is a bike track which starts off in Mundaring (just east of Perth). ‘Munda Biddi’ means ‘path through the forest in the Nyoongar Aboriginal language’. In many ways it is very similar to the Bibbulmun track, but only for bikes. There are quite a few camp sites as well as huts that you can stay at, a lot of bushland to enjoy and lots of hills to ride up and down.
The main track is easily done by someone who is capable on a bike, and if you are looking for something a little more extreme you can try the Downhill Mountain Biking tracks in Dwellingup, or find tracks that lead off the Munda Biddi trail. I will put another post up later on going into more specifics of the Munda Biddi Trail, because it is well worth the mention.
Like the Munda Biddi Trail, the Bibbulmun track meanders through the bushland of Western Australia, and is freely accessible to the public. It starts in Kalamunda (a small suburb in the hills of Perth) and ends in Albany, on the south coast of Western Australia. It is almost 1000km’s long, and has over 48 huts that you can sleep in. The track passes through a huge number of towns, and some scenery which will blow your mind (make sure you take your camera!).
There are very few people that do the track from start to finish; most will do bits and pieces here and there, which is what I have done. For those that are experienced and comfortable you can camp or stay at the huts, but if you organise it well you can even stay in the many towns that you walk through. Most people use the towns to refill their supplies (water, food and other bits and pieces) anyway, so don’t be surprised to meet people in town that are doing the same track. The track is for walkers only, and is marked with a yellow triangular sign with a snake on it.
Some of the places the track goes through include Dwellingup, Collie, Donnelly River Village, Pemberton, Walpole, Peaceful bay and Denmark. It truly is an epic adventure, and as long as you are well prepared you will have a lot of fun. Again, I will make a separate post about the Bibbulmun track, because it is so popular!
4WD Tracks in Dwellingup
What makes Dwellingup so much fun is that regardless of when you go there is something to do. If the water levels are too low, take a rod, a bike and your 4WD! The 4WD tracks in Dwellingup include a large number of hill climbs, mud runs and just general play areas. There are places that highly modified cars will struggle and many places where an all wheel drive car with a bit of clearance would be fine. Most of the tracks can be found in the area where the camp sites are, but be sure to check with the ranger in regards to where you are allowed to drive.
Many of the tracks are next to the Downhill Mountain Bike tracks (on the left as you enter the gravel road), and they continue to the top of the hill. There are quite a number of tracks elsewhere, and the easiest way to find them is to get a map either from the ranger station or from the Dwellingup information centre. If you head a little bit passed Dwellingup you can find a big circle 4×4 track which is easy for most vehicles, and some very secluded and nice camp sites.
In summer, many of the hill climbs are very dusty and slippery, but they are still good fun. Some become almost impossible when it’s wet, because the mud is thick and full of clay. Of course, you will have a lot of fun trying, but stick to the tracks.
Dwellingup Downhill Mountain Biking
Every year Downhill Mountain Biking competitions are held at Dwellingup. Of course, there is good reason for it; many of the tracks are challenging and difficult but most of all great fun. I must point out that these tracks are not for the inexperienced; there are drops, uneven ground, jumps and tracks that come very close to the trees. If you want to give it a crack, take each new track slowly as there are a few drops and unexpected obstacles!
Again, finding these tracks can be a bit of a pain. The harder ones tend to be on the left side of the gravel track as you drive in past the ranger’s station. There are a few if you turn right over the bridge on the way to Nanga Mill, and then head first left up the hill. We found the best way to do it was to have a driver and a trailer. You drive to the top of the hill, pull the bikes out and ride down, and the driver picks you back up again at the bottom. The hills are quite long, and extremely tiring to ride back up!
As a kid I have very fond memories of the good old tyre swing into the river. Some people refer to them as Tarzan ropes, but the rangers have removed most of them, and for good reason. The risk is that if someone is injured on one then they could be at fault for leaving them up.
Many are not maintained and are very risky because of rope that is weak. We have built our own, but it’s a good idea to pull them down after you leave. The best place to do it is on a steep bank with very deep water. If you find one that’s already made, give it a careful inspection before you try it, and test the water. You can get very seriously hurt if it’s not safe.
Fishing in the Murray River
The first time I ever did any freshwater fishing was in the Murray River, in Dwellingup. We hired out some canoes, took the rods and just drifted for fish. If you know much about fly fishing, there are some good places to try it. We managed to get a few Red Fin Perch (which are a pest and are not allowed back into the water, regardless of their size) which cook up very well.
You can get a number of trout too, but patience is the key. I found it very relaxing as well; it’s quiet and very enjoyable. If you have a Marron license (and it’s the right season) you can try your luck for these too. There are a lot in the river, and it’s not hard to get a good feed.
Not every campsite will have a designated concrete fire ring. After politely asking the ranger if we could have a fire in the open we were able to clear away any flammable material and warm up with a small one. Previously, Dwellingup has had some huge bush fires which have threatened and damaged homes and put hundreds at risk, so don’t be surprised how strict the rangers are.
If it’s out of season, you can’t have a fire, regardless of how cold it is. You need to bring your own firewood, as the rangers will get nasty if you take it from the bush. If you don’t have a fire ring, ask the ranger if you can build your own safe fire. If they see you are intelligent and responsible chances are they will let you. I can’t stress the importance of being careful though, because the bush down there burns like paper.
Hiring equipment for Dwellingup
Many people don’t have the equipment for Dwellingup (including canoes, kayaks, mountain bikes, hiking gear, camping gear and various other bits and pieces). There are a number of places that you can go to hire these things, but a great one can be found on the main road, called Dwellingup Adventures. You can get a bike for about $20 a day and a 3 person canoe for about $40. They will even deliver and pick them up as you need, and give you guided tours if you want to pay extra.
It’s really worth hiring what you need, unless you have better equipment yourself. You will have a lot of fun riding and canoeing around Dwellingup. You have to pay a small deposit which is kept as security if anything goes wrong with the equipment. It’s all fairly robust and good quality as well, which helps because they take a beating!
Weather at Dwellingup
To make this short, it’s often quite cold in winter (freezing at night) and very hot in summer. It’s easy to swim in summer if you get hot, but you need to take good clothes in winter time, because it can get very cold. It rains quite a lot in winter which gets rid of the dust, and the bushland looks much better at this time. I have been at various times of the year and enjoyed them all; you just need to be prepared for the conditions.
If you like the whole adventure thing then Dwellingup is your playground. Even if you are just looking for a relaxing weekend away, Dwellingup has a lot to offer. It’s a brilliant place for tourists as well because there is enough isolation and nature is literally on your doorstep! I have found that Honeymoon Pool in Collie is a very similar place to Dwellingup, so that’s always an alternative.