Dwellingup – an old timber town with new life

Dwellingup timber

Dwellingup, just over 100 kilometres from Perth, hides from plain view, off major roads. You need a car or a motorbike (or a pushbike for the  energetic and time-rich) to get there. No public transport passes this gem of a place, established as a mill town in a jarrah forest.

First gazetted as a township in 1909, it competes with no other holiday town in Western Australia. If you are looking for a genuine Australian bush holiday, forget elegant Margaret River and its wineries. Don’t look at bustling Busselton or far-away Esperance, in spite of its beautiful beaches.

Instead, head for Dwellingup. I wrote about my recent holiday there in this blog post ‘A little bush town and trips down memory lane‘.

In the area around this little bush town, you’ll find an escape from the city; breathtaking bush beauty; adventure; bike, walking and canoeing trails and access to Aboriginal culture. You will be warmly welcomed by the community.

Check out the Dwellingup Trails and Visitor Centre for information. Watch the clever interactive display or select pamphlets from the stands. Find out about the history, culture, accommodation, tours and environmental information of the area. The tourist centre is located between the the station for the Hotham Tourist Railways and the Dwellingup hotel.

Advertised as ‘Where the trails meet’, at Dwellingup you will find access to the Bibbulman Track (a famous walking trail). It stretches 1000 kilometres, from Kalamunda to Albany. The Munda Biddi Trail (for bush cycles) also passes through Dwellingup. Trails and tracks are clearly signposted. Hikers and bikers can use the basic camping huts spaced regularly along the way, but need to carry everything they need.

Bibbulman Track near Dwellingup

Aboriginal connections

According to local Aboriginal tour guide, Maitland Hill, the Aboriginal name ‘Dwellingup’ means ‘place of running water’. A major waterway, the Murray River, runs seven kilometres from the town. Maitland says,

My connection to Boodja (country) runs along an Ancient Dreaming Trail known as a Songline to Aboriginal people. I live on that Songline in a small town called Dwellingup which is in the tribal region of Wilman, so I call it ‘my country’, and it was my grandfathers’ country before me. Dwellingup is a sacred spiritual dreaming place, and I am the Nyoongar Elder living there’.

You can check out Maitland’s website with more history and details of tours of the local area here. I wrote a blog about Songlines here.

Dwellingup fires

In February, 1961, bushfires raged across several areas of Western Australia. Following a week of heatwave conditions, nineteen lightning strikes in the Dwellingup area caused fires which burnt out 150 000 hectares (1500 square kilometres).  Heavy rain caused by a tropical cyclone further north eventually extinguished the blazes.

The fires razed Dwellingup and five other nearby mill towns – Nanga Brook, Holyoake, Banksiadale, Marrinup and Karridale. Although so much damage occurred, no lives were lost.

Dwellingup was the only town rebuilt. The sites of the other affected towns are clearly signposted. I first camped near the Murray River at Nanga Brook in the 1970s. Then we could see old fruit and deciduous trees which once grew in gardens around the houses.

Accommodation and facilities

Dwellingup does not boast luxurious hotels. However, it does offer a range of accommodation which ranges from a caravan park to very comfortable chalets, cottages and a resort. By far my favourite, though, would be to camp in a tent close to the river seven kilometres away. 

The information centre provides facilities for people in transit on the trails to enjoy a hot shower. They can also wash their clothes, access free WiFi, and recharge their devices.

A general store and service station  provide necessities. A range of cafes and coffee shops serve a range of delicious meals, although some operate only on weekends. The Dwellingup community owns the charming, newly refurbished hotel. There’s also a wine bar just outside town.

A fruit stall with cafe attached, in the middle of an orchard, provides fresh fruit and vegetables. As a young woman, I bought fruit fresh from the orchard. When John and I went there for coffee there we saw eight long rows of raspberry vines. The fruit was beginning to mature. Someone told us that when the fruit ripens, the owners encourage customers to pick their own. 

Things to do in Dwellingup

Dwellingup tourist resource says,

Visitors to the region will discover a beautifully designed adventure-focused tourism resource entirely dedicated to making a visit to Dwellingup and its surrounds an unforgettable experience.’

Here’s a list of some of the things to do in Dwellingup and the surrounding area. 

  • Walk around the township and enjoy the variety of houses. They range from original timber mill dwellings to more sophisticated (and still charming) newer houses. Note other quaint buildings
  • Bushwalk. See amazing wildflowers in spring
  • Hike along part of the Bibbulmun Track
  • Watch (and listen to) the many birds all year around
  • Hire a bike and ride one of the trails
  • Swim in the Murray River
  • Hire a canoe (or bring your own) and paddle on the river
  • Use the skate park
  • Experience a treetop and zip line adventure at the Nanga Mill campground
  • Look out  for kangaroos, emus and Carnaby’s black cockatoos.
  • Visit the Caraholly Orchard Sunday markets. (Open every Sunday during school holiday and one Sunday a month at other times.)
  • Visit the Dwellingup Forest Discovery Centre. This community run hub nurtures learning, the arts, natural environment and local heritage. It includes an art gallery
  • Browse and shop in the art gallery, gift shops and at the silversmith (weekends)
  • Attend the Pumpkin Festival and the Rose Festival each year
  • Travel on the tourist railway deep into the forest (weekends)
  • Explore the remnants of the Marrinup Prisoner of War Camp
  • Further afield, explore Marrinup Falls or Oakley Dam.


Dwellingup is one of my favourite places. I’ve spent many happy holidays and short breaks in the town and by the river. There is so much to do and see that it takes a few visits to get a full picture of the town and its environs, and to enjoy all that can be experienced.

I’d love to know if you’ve been to Dwellingup, and your opinion of it. Please leave a comment.


5 replies on “Dwellingup – an old timber town with new life”

    1. Absolutely, Sue. I’ve travelled a fair bit in Australia, and Dwellingup seems like the quintessential Australian bush town, although perhaps a bit less tidy than others! That’s part of its charm.

  1. Wonderful Maureen and though I am aware that Dwellingup is ‘down there,’ I didn’t realise it was so close to Perth. I will remember that sometime in the future when I am looking for a place to go for a country sojourn. It sounds delightful. I especially liked the connection with the Aboriginal Culture and the thought of camping along the river in a tent. And yes, my Dad and Mum use to take us girls on a holiday from the farm every year. Owning a caravan was the exception to the rule in those days so we felt very fortunate.

    One year we did a trip through the whole of the SW through Dwellingup, Pemberton and down as far as Denmark. I was quite young, but loved Pemberton and as Dad loved photography, he took lots of photos of us all in Pemberton and places in between. There may be some of Dwellingup too, but I was too young to remember all the photos and places. Pemberton and climbing the Gloster tree was a highlight, but I think only Dad went to the top and maybe my eldest sister. I probably went up about 20 steps, but that was exciting. I value that my parents took us on these adventurous trips. Very special memories for us all growing up and wonderful to hear about how you use to get your fresh fruit from the orchard from when you were young and that you were able to go there again now so many years later.
    Glad you had a lovely time there this year Maureen, I am sure you are much refreshed and inspired by your recent visit.
    Wonderful and thank you for sharing your story

    1. Dear Tricia, Thank you for your lovely comment. You really should check Dwellingup out. It’s a lovely place and every time I go there are subtle shifts and changes. It will never be a typical South West town. There’s no beach close; no wineries or fine dining. Everything is still rough and bush-like, and that’s what I hope they preserve, in spite of new facilities and the trails and tracks.

      We had a caravan when I was young, too, and we also went on wonderful holidays. But I didn’t go to Pemberton or Denmark until I was an adult. My parents loved fishing and crabbing, and our little van hugged the coast from Geraldton to Busselton, sometimes to Yallingup, but that was rare. I think you and I must have been privileged kids to have parents who taught us about adventures (the Gloster Tree, for example), and sleeping and living in a caravan. I have tried to instil a sense of adventure into my children and grandchildren. With some success, especially with one or two of my children.

      Thank you again. It’s always lovely to share with you. xx

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