The Great Southern wine region sits in the heart of Southwest Australia, where almost 8,000 unique plant species can be found. Among these species, 80% are not found anywhere else around the world! This region is identified as one of 25 original global hotspots for wildlife and plants, sprawling across a plethora of beautiful landscapes comprising forest reserves, mountain ranges and pristine beaches.
My recent visit to the Great Southern brought me to Porongurup National Park. Porongurup is one of 5 sub-regions and its National Park is a central attraction. Porongurup National Park is located 50 kilometre North of Albany. It is difficult to miss this 12-kilometre long range and a walk through the trails, climbing up its 670 metres peak is central to appreciating the wine region and be treated to an exhilarating, panoramic view of the sub-region.
Much of this region is undisturbed over hundreds of millions of years, without ice or glacier influences, thereby allowing the evolution of local plant and animal species over time. As for the Porongurup rocks, its massive granite domes, noticeable from a distance, were the result of the uprising of molten rock pushing away the overlying, softer surface rocks and sediments, and causing fractures in the process. Over time, natural weather forces erode against these fractures, slowly sculpting round shapes and deep incisions that we see today. The Castle Rock and Balancing Rock attractions are two excellent examples such a process creates.
After driving close to an hour from where I was staying in Denmark, I arrived at the car park entrance at the bottom of a 3km up-slope climb to Castle Rock and the adjourning Granite Skywalk. The Porongurup range was noticeable from a significant distance whilst I drove towards it, initially revealing itself through the tree line and gradually, majestically rising up, proudly displaying its bright grey granite peaks. It was a beautiful warm summer day with clear blue skies. I've been told that one can see as far as Albany and Mount Barker from the peak in such conditions! The excitement was building throughout the journey!
I began the hike at a brisk pace, eager to get to the peak. The karri forest offers shade to the strong sun with a light undergrowth and a wide path, making the hike easy. After covering 2km, the slope gets steeper with the loose soil sediment gradually becoming a hard granite ground. You know you're getting close! The forest floor gets thicker too with shrubs that grow onto a trail that is getting narrower.
A cool wind suddenly breaks onto the trail as you approach the top. Enormous, smooth granite rocks welcome you together with clear blue skies. On the left, I see the Balancing Rock which stands strong against winds and time. Ahead, others were clambering up, with difficulty, over and between the giant granite rocks. A hundred metres mix of climb, ginger steps and semi-crawls, testing one's dexterity, brings you to the bottom of a metal ladder up onto the Granite Skywalk.
The prize at the top of the ladder? A breathtaking view into the horizon, overlooking pristine forests, idyllic pastures, family farms and select plots of vineyards. The strong winds continually lift your spirits, seemingly to say "good job!". To the west, Mount Barker rises lazily. To the North, the massive Sterling Mountain Range stands proudly like an elder brother to Porongurup. It was a marvelous view. It was inspiring and it was rewarding.
Standing at the top and looking across the Great Southern, you can't help notice its potential. There is so much headroom for growth and development. The ideal climate and soil conditions coming together to produce exceptional wines and with nuances across the sub-regions for amazing diversity. Several vineyards actually are located within a short drive from Castle Rock, offering you the opportunity to taste wines that capture the essence of the Poronurup range!
I'm so glad I made this hike a part of my itinerary, in between vineyard activities and business meetings. Immersing in a wine region's experiences and learning its natural and cultural history are important things to me, when enjoying its wines. I just simply cannot imagine it otherwise.
Join me this March to visit the Great Southern. I will be making a trip back to be a part of Taste Great Southern festival, a month-long event comprising lots of music and gourmet activities. And we can climb up to Granite Skywalk together. It's just so much more fun with great company!