A very sudden and unexpected change occurred walking towards Donnelly River Village. Up until that point, the trail traversed jarrah country. In a forest conservation area we noticed a number of large gum (marri) trees. We’d only seen a handful of big ones so far: all these forests were logged during the 19th and 20th centuries after the European arrival, so almost everything we have been making our way through has been secondary or regrowth forest.
That in part has also contributed to the monotonous character of the landscape. In times before there was a bigger variety of life: more plants, more animals would thrive under the canopy of the big trees. In addition, their regrowth is threatened by dieback disease, a fungal infection that left few jarrah forests unaffected. So it’s not only that the landscape here is not always breathtakingly exciting, it’s also that we humans have severely degraded it.
Back to the sudden change. Something new appeared: an unusually tall, pale tree. A karri, seemingly out of nowhere. One karri, another one, we crossed a road and suddenly we were in a different world that turned ever greener and taller in a mere few hundred meters.
Karri’s are Australia’s giants, like the kauri trees of northern New Zealand. Unfortunately, they also suffered the same fate: when Europeans came in they took them out and exported them to a global market hungry for timber. Of course they took the biggest and most beautiful trees first, leaving only a few of the true giants standing for us to witness today.
But even though the biggest ones are gone, the karri forests are still a mighty sight to behold. Just the forest middle growth reached far above our heads. Neither of us seized to be amazed that day, feeling tiny in the middle of those large and tall trees. Birds were singing amidst the green. And then suddenly, surrounded by it all, Donnelly River Village popped up.
I had been sprinting to reach the general store before closing time. I ended up too late, though there was still a lot of people in there. Am I that lucky today? I went in and asked, though felt a bit as if I was crashing a party. Everyone had wine and snacks were on the table.
“Are you still open?” “Sort of, what are you after?” “Just a few small things to put in my pack.” “Sure thing, and where are you staying?” The woman explained the options and I said I’d wait for PJ. “Would you like a glass of wine while you’re waiting?”
Stunned by this surprisingly wonderful end of a long day I chatted with some people until I spotted PJ in the rain. “Hey PJ, party’s in here!” Moments later he also had a stunted appearance holding his glass of wine and we listened to the fascinating story of how two seperate groups of friends had discovered that the entire village was for sale, found each other and bought it. You don’t meet someone every day who’s owning a village tucked in the middle of a grand karri forest. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard on our wanderings.
We listened to the history of the place and to the stories of tame emus and kangaroos. We slept in, wanting to have a look at those, and get a small meal at the store. We woke up to kangaroos sunbathing on front lawns and a parade of emus walking by. We didn’t leave until noon, after the necessary kangaroo petting had been done. Donnelly River Village, one of the most surreal and unreal places on the planet disappeared into the forest again as soon as it had appeared.
Karri country remained almighty through to Pemberton and Northcliffe. On magical foggy mornings while walking along hillsides trees doom up from the hidden valley below, reaching above the trail. A tall stand flanks the benched track on either side, silently guarding on our passage. They encircle both towns with beautiful forest borders, as if the settlements are on the edge of something of a time past.
The daily kangaroo now comes about every other day, and they’re better at hiding in between all that tall green. We passed by a shy little ant-eater that though alarmed by our presence found a meal too good to pass by. The cockatoos are back after a while of absence, though no pink ones yet. Birds in many shapes and colours come around the campsites early morning and just today and emu with two chicks was straying on a back country road. A bad almost hit me face frontal at dusk and rare frogs have been croaking in creeks. But zero small marsupials like the numbat or wombat. Not bad, though.
We took our final two rest days in Pemberton and are now heading straight for the finish line in a 16 day marathon session. It’ll be the longest unpaused period of walking both of us ever had. Onwards and southwards.