Katanning isn’t the first WA tourism destination that comes to mind.
The town, in the heart of the Great Southern region, first settled by Europeans with the arrival of the Great Southern Railway in 1889, has established itself as a rural hub for crop and livestock farming, but it also has plenty to offer the curious traveller.
That’s particularly the case since the crumbling 127-year-old Katanning flour mill was given a two-year multi-million-dollar restoration and opened as the luxury Premier Mill Hotel in 2018.
It’s become very much the focus for an inland Great Southern tourism experience – and as part of that experience has developed a series of one-day tours, based around Katanning to highlight the region’s beauty, industry and history.
The hotel has created several beautiful little booklets which guests are free to take from their rooms. They outline various aspects of the hotel’s history, a guide to the Great Southern’s wine region, a printed map of the day tours, and the hotel services.
They can also be found online at premiermillhotel.com/our-trails.
The day tours are a fabulous way to get a better understanding of this lesser-known region of WA, particularly while travel to other states and overseas is restricted.
The hotel is certainly a stylish spot to base yourself for a few days to get out and about with trips that offer insights into the region’s Noongar history, Lake Dumbleyung, Castle Rock’s Skywalk with its fabulous views over the mountains, the more than 90 world class wineries in the region and of course, Bluff Knoll, one of the rare places in the state that gets a smattering of snow.
Discover Katanning is the first tour on the list – and it makes sense to get to know a little about the town where you are based with either a walk, cycle or drive.
This takes in the local historical sites including the museum and arts centre, along with Kobeelya House, an extravagant property overlooking Katanning, built in 1902 and now used as a conference centre and retreat, and the ruins of the Piesse family vineyard.
There’s also a nod to the town’s multicultural nature with its mosque; to leisure where an impressive building is one of the biggest single span structures in the Southern Hemisphere; an all-ages playground and the largest undercover sheep saleyards in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Coast Less Travelled is a drive to Bremer Bay and its beautiful beaches, skirting the north-eastern edge of the Stirling Ranges through Gnowangerup and Borden, taking in the rural landscape set against the ancient mountains. It explores the Goreng Noongar country and some of the more recent European history at Peppermint Grove where the first house built in the region stands among a group of faithfully restored buildings from the 1800s.
The Mountain Wine Trail takes in the spectacular Porongurup Mountains with its surrounding farmland and unique habitat for flora with 10 species of plant found nowhere else and fauna that are relics from Gondwanaland.
The region has also developed a spectacular reputation for its cool climate wines, in particular Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Many of the wineries here offer lunch to accompany their wine tastings.
The Eastern Waterholes takes in a circular route from Katanning through Broomehill, Gnowangerup, Ongerup, Pingrup, Nyabing and Badgebup before returning to Katanning.
Highlights of the journey include the start of the Holland Track which early gold miners used to make their way to Coolgardie, the heritage buildings of Gnowangerup, including the open-air farm machinery museum and Noongar heritage museum, the Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre for the endangered birds, and the pink Chinocup lake system.
A Track Back in Time heads to Kojonup and its award-winning Kodja Place, an interactive visitor centre that blends the heritage of the Noongar people and the history of the pastoral families who opened up the land, then to Carrolup which gave birth to the unique art of the Carrolup kids and to Lake Dumbleyung where in 1964 Donald Campbell travelled at 444km per hour to break the world water speed record.
The River Wine Trail is a half-day drive that explores the wine country of Frankland River and crosses paths with explorer Thomas Braidwood Wilson whose reports on the area encouraged settlers to move there in the late 1850s.
A Stirling Mountain Drive focuses on the splendid Stirling Ranges and spectacular views and takes in the history of the region including the Lily Windmill, one of the biggest traditional windmills built in Australia and the only operational flour-producing windmill on mainland Australia.
A Day in King George Sound heads south to the port of Albany, the first European settlement in Western Australia. It was settled in 1826 by Major Edmund Lockyer, aboard the brig Amity. He claimed the whole of New Holland for Britain.
The drive to Albany takes in the town of Mount Barker with its Federation era buildings and once in Albany visits the National Anzac Centre, and the rugged splendour of Torndirrup National Park.
An Outback Mission takes in some of Australia’s famous rabbit-proof fence as it heads northeast through Dumbleyung, Dudinin, Jatarning, Kulin, Lake Grace and Kukerin before heading back to Katanning.
Historic buildings, rolling wheatbelt fields, and the Tin Horse Highway with its humorous sculptures in paddocks mark the journey.
A Walk Among the Clouds is geared toward walkers of various fitness levels wanting to climb the peaks of the Stirling Ranges and Porongorups.
The Premier Mill Hotel has enough options to keep its guests busy for many days and is an ideal way to get a thorough introduction to the lesser-known parts of The Great Southern.