An unusually scenic main road
Minor back roads are generally more scenic than main highways ... but there are exceptions to that rule, such as this delightful section of Highway 1 in Western Australia's deep south. It may be a main road, but the curvy undulating route through magnificent forest is as enjoyable as many scenic drives you need to detour for.
The section I'm referring to is on the Southwest Highway (national route 1) between Manjimup and Walpole. The whole road is pleasant, but the part that really floats my boat is the section south of the Northcliffe turn-off, through the Shannon National Park and to the south of it.
So what makes it a scenic drive? Big trees are the obvious drawcard. Karri trees - the world's third tallest tree species - are native to this corner of Western Australia and nowhere else. The road goes through some magnificent expanses of these majestic giants, in many places growing very close to the road and enclosing it in a sort of tree-canopy tunnel.
It's not all karri, though. The giants alternate with patches of jarrah, marri and low-growing heathland according to local conditions. One minute you're in regular jarrah, then the mix will tend towards mostly karri, then open out into a stretch of smaller trees and shrubs.
Further south the karri congregates onto granite hills ... thickly wooded islands in a sea of open heath. Driving towards one of these, the light suddenly dims upon plunging into dense karri, as if entering a tunnel.
In other words, the scenery changes. Plenty of tall trees, but enough other trees and environments to mix it up and make the ride more interesting.
The one thing you won't find is human civilisation. There are farms near the road at the Manjimup end, and a couple near Walpole, but otherwise the whole route is unpopulated native bush. Mostly state forest or national park.
But wait, there's more. The road itself has enough twists, turns, hills and gullies to engage anyone who enjoys the sensation of driving on scenic country roads. If there is any other traffic, it is normally light enough to not detract from the journey.
Getting stuck behind a caravan is the most likely annoyance, with overtaking opportunities being almost zero. I avoid popular periods and have never had to follow a caravan, but long weekends and holidays could be different. If slow traffic gets in the way, letting it get ahead by stopping in one of the roadside rest areas is an option ... and an opportunity to breathe the clean air.
Much of the road is also rather narrow. The bitumen surface is wide enough for one lane each way, but with little room to spare, no firm shoulder for much of the route, and often with trees close to the edge. To me this minimises intrusion into the environment and makes it more attractive. Like a minor back road, but with a sealed surface.
However, to the Main Roads Department, the narrowness makes it hazardous. Some widening is planned ... which would require knocking down some of the trees that make it so scenic. I think it's safe enough if you stick to the speed limit, or slower if wet, and stay alert and focussed. But it seems that not everyone drives like that. The lack of room may not itself be a hazard, it just means there is little margin for error if something were to go wrong.
A few points to note ...
- The scenery is equally good in either direction, however the lighting and colours can be better appreciated when driving south due to not facing towards the sun as much.
- Photo opportunities are sadly lacking in the more scenic sections due to the lack of safe places to pull over. The photos on this page are stills extracted from video recorded by a dash-mounted GoPro (hence the lesser quality of the large versions).
- There is no mobile phone reception, for any network, in the central section of this route.
- Driving with headlights on, even on a sunny day, makes it easier for other drivers to see you coming (and keep to their side of the road) in the frequent patches of deep shade.
- Being off the road by dusk is wise if you don't want the surprise of wildlife jumping out in front of you.
This lovely piece of highway is both a pleasant driving experience, and an exception to a rule. In a country like Australia with so many undeveloped and unpopulated areas, not all the best scenic drives are away from the main roads.
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