I came to Collie, 200km south-east of Perth, to change my perceptions. It is known to many as an industrial, hard-hitting workman's town — the latter blatantly true with yellow visors hard to miss — but when I finally drove away from Collie, I felt as if my mood peaked at ultra-zen. I felt a sense of awakening, an epiphany where it all just clicked, and my previous views about Collie were banished. More than anything, I discovered that Collie is a retreat for the soul and adrenaline spirited.
With a history steeped in coal mining, it may have been previously hard for many people, like myself, to see 'the powerhouse of Western Australia' in a new light — one not fuelled by coal. Instead, I discovered it is one for the wicked. The town of 8,000 takes the unofficial crown as the south-west adventure capital, with world-class mountain bike trails and former mine-sites turned natural pools. One could expect to have the absolute pinnacle of cheap thrills in its pleasant, untamed wilderness setting.
The town has struggled to shake off its industrial tag and be seen as a holiday destination — until now. Things are changing, the wheels are in motion, and not just of the larger-than-life Tonka trucks that dot the industrial landscape.
“It's a big secret that's becoming not so much of a secret anymore,” Collie Caravan Park owner Lorna tells me of Collie's metamorphosis.
With the establishment of world-class art galleries, winery estates, and new outdoor activity offerings, Collie is embarking on its next chapter — one that’s worth bookmarking for the next getaway.
ROOS, BREWS, GINS AND VINES
It was like an anticipated scene on a movie set when pulling into Harris River Estate: verdant vineyards paving the way either side of the burnt-orange pebbled road with soaring jarrah forest slowly emerging from the horizon as I neared. What a marvellous introduction to Collie.
My visit started with good taste as I stepped foot into the innovative Harris River Estate, six minutes' drive north from the town centre.
“My father is a bit of an entrepreneur,” Misty, daughter of Collie's resident liquor craftsman, estate owner Karl Hillier, proudly disclosed as we discussed estate's three different tipples.
The self-proclaimed 'jack of all trades' family vineyard opened in 2005 with wine the first thirst-quencher of choice, soon followed by a micro-brewery and gin distillery.
Off the bat, I went in for what cemented Harris River Estate's status as the area's much-loved vineyard. I savoured the drops of its award-wining Classic White. It's a crowd-pleaser, combining notes of Chardonnay, Verdelho and a bit of Viognier. The latter is deemed a risky grape to grow, but it pays dividends for the estate with the clean, smooth finish a popular pour amongst visitors to the estate, myself included.
Those not in favour of the grape are not just left to enjoy the stunning setting that the Harris River Estate provides. In collaboration with Indigenous start-up, Beeglu Moort (meaning Freshwater People), the estate latest tipple, Boodja Gin was born. The unique gin is resourcefully crafted, aligning botanical flavours with the six Noongar seasons. Moving from the bar to the great outdoors, I enjoyed my gin tastings perched along the wide wooden balcony that overlooks the estate, including the on-site dam. Harmonious vistas and beautifully curated distilled drops — I was living the good life.
By then it was sundown, and I observed kangaroos traversing the now golden estate, zigzagging their hops through the vineyard. Roos, brews, gins and vines — a distinctive combination that fuses well together.
DISCOVER NEW TRACKS MOUNTAIN BIKING
Whereas the favoured after-work activity along the south-west coast may be riding waves, here in Collie, it's about riding rugged land.
Mountain biking is a pastime favoured by locals and is also one of the fastest-growing extreme sports. Last year, the Western Australian government announced a ground-breaking, most advantageous $10 million-dollar investment in epic trails in Collie, the biggest of its kind in the state. Over 100km of world-class mountain-biking trails are to be developed, snaking around Collie, its namesake river and stretching into Wellington National Park.
Collie is to become the premier destination for mountain biking, with the town having one of the highest elevations in the state.
As a beginner on the thick wheels, I trailed my way through low lying shrubbery around the town, getting cheap thrills crisscrossing small hills, which in my mind were mountains. I had the drive and power to conquer them, thanks to the aid of an E-bike. With that extra push, I comfortably meandered my way along the outskirts of the Collie River, soaking in the woodland ambience. 'Cheating' my way through Collie on board the E-bike was the perfect way to see the other jewels of Collie in quick succession — hidden river beaches, thick woodlands — without the leg muscles becoming unforgiving.
A CULTURAL AWAKENING
Collie has entered a new era filled with immense colour and artistry pizazz.
Collie Art Gallery is the prized cultural hub of town. Opening in 2015, it is the only A-Class public art gallery to have opened in the state since the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth. It is also home to one of the richest regional art awards in the country with the recent, Collie Art Prize reaching a total prize pool of $69,000. No small venue, its sleek, flawless design covers 150sqm of gallery space with an additional studio to allow for exhibitions to appear on the international radar.
Recently, it has been announced that nearby Wellington Dam will soon be the canvas for the world's biggest art mural. It’s 12,000sqm, measuring 367m by 34m, and is to undergo a vivid transformation with local influences of the region's flora, fauna and Noongar artwork purposed for the one-of-a-kind urban art — a great feat for the regional town building on its artful reputation.
But it isn't just about making headlines in the art world. The gallery supports work from regional artists, with crafts, paintings and sculptures from talented locals on display — a heart-warming bonus for the community to admire the creative eyes and gifted hands of its peers.
A short stroll from the gallery is a visit to Collie of yesteryear. Coalfields Museum and Historical Research Centre along Throssell Street provides an insight into Collie's past.
I slowly strolled through the historic building's treasure trove made up of 15 sections of beautifully cluttered trinkets and memorabilia of Collie's past, with old signage, record players, children's toys, and even a working barrel organ! It was as if the region surrounding Collie had a garage sale and piled its contents into the museum as an eclectic mix of artefacts.
“What we want is things that we know the story of, with many of the items in the museum having a known story of where it has come from,” volunteer Allison told me as I made my way through the intriguing, living museum.
PAY ODE TO ITS COAL MINING HISTORY
It wouldn't have been a complete visit to Collie without understanding the town's coal-fuelled mining history.
Heading deep into its past, I went to visit the town's Replica Underground Coal Mine located in the Collie Visitor's Centre. Putting on my hard hat, I was led through the mine by tour guide Jim, a retired miner with over four decades of experience.
I followed Jim's torchlight into the depths of the replica mine, providing great insight into the conditions of underground pits during the 1950 and ’60s. It was a stroll into the past, with leftover machinery and equipment aiding the industrial time warp. Jim's eyes lit up when recalling stories of how miners used to play tricks on each other. Golden memories, it seemed, of what occurred in the depths of darkness.
DISCOVERING THE HEART OF COLLIE
Strolling around Collie's main centre was a quaint affair.
The Central Park has undergone a makeover in recent years with the former parking lot now centre point for R&R. With manicured picnic lawns and a modern kids’ playground, it's an inviting hub for all (and one to make the inner child go wild with envy!). Giving the park unique flair is the beloved 'Shell', a performance space hosting community events, with the Collie Art Gallery peering through its wooden door opening.
To fuel my energy levels for the day and following a local recommendation, I hopped on board to visit the town's eye-catching pop-up coffee vendor, shamrock heritage train carriage, Wagon 537. Central Park's iconic wagon has become a popular meeting point to grab a cuppa and unwind in the town centre. It's worth the double shot of caffeine and picture taking.
The town's main shopping thoroughfare, Forrest Street, is a treat for quirky items. Around the corner housed in an old video store is Retro Respection, a kitsch store of retro pieces. Walking through, I felt as if it was the adult version of being a kid in a candy store with the amount of flashy treasures at my disposal.
NATURAL POOLS and ARTIFICIAL LAKES
Collie may not have the coast, but it doesn't need it. What could feel more like being in a countryside oasis than taking a refreshing plunge in a hidden inland pool? Luckily in Collie, I could choose where to dip in the most picturesque of settings.
Although Collie's natural pools have become Insta-famous, their beauty requires no filter. The abandoned, former open-cut mine sites turned natural pools, Stockton and Black Diamond Lake, are now Collie's premier water playgrounds. They are most photographed too, with the swimming holes two of Western Australia's most Instagrammed locations for their too-perfect-to-be-true, photoshopped-like blue-hued waters. (Please note, visitors swim at their own risk due to the water being mildly acidic and susceptible to bacteria as a result of previous mining activity.)
Located five minutes' drive west of Collie, Black Diamond Lake appears to be opaque, teal in colour with its calm waters ever-glistening. Ten minutes east of the town centre is its bigger sister, Stockton Lake. The lake's azure hues match brilliantly with its off-pearl white cliff limestone walls, often broken by the roots of trees above the former mining site.
It seems like Collie locals live by the motto 'no rest for the wicked', as come the weekend, both lakes are a hive of activity with tubes, pool noodles, canoes and small boats with water-skiers dotting the inland sea. This was evident with the amount of caravanners' parked along the fringes of the lake. Adopting the apparent, silent manifesto of Collie, I too was not going to rest, even if I was immersed in such a serene setting.
I hired a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) from the local tour operator, TraaVerse to have my moment on Stockton. Thankfully, I shared the stunningly blue lake with less than a handful of people and a few swallows. The sounds of my paddle strokes were interrupted by the infrequent horns blaring from the nearby highway — a stark reminder and reality check of where I was despite my pleasure state.
The yin to Stockton's soothing yang is its neighbouring motocross complex, proving the wicked and the relaxed can take advantage of Collie's unique landscapes.
Away from the roads, bikes and mines is the area's natural love sonnet, Honeymoon Pool. Located 27 kilometres west of Collie in Wellington National Park, the deep freshwater pool has received iconic status in the region for its idyllic setting. Overhanging peppermint, karri, jarrah and marri eucalyptus trees beautifully adorn the pool, providing ample shade and seclusion for the much-loved swimming spot. BBQs, picnic spots, and a campground for tents also populate the banks of the pool, an encouragement to stay that bit longer.
Feeling blissful as I splashed in Honeymoon Pool's waters, I knew I didn't need extra encouragement to extend my stay in Collie. It had already won me over, and I was keen to linger on.
COLLIE RIVER TOURIST PARK
Phone: (08) 9734 5088
HARRIS RIVER ESTATE (CHALET ACCOMMODATION)
Phone: (08) 9734 4042
HONEYMOON POOL CAMPGROUND
$15 per adult per night
$9 concession card per night
$3 per child per night