This week’s post is more akin to a photo essay than a general trip blog as we’ve recently completed a few days within a very special Australian National Park – the Fitzgerald River National Park. Hopefully by now you’ve seen our encounter with the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo that we had fortuitous encounter with, now here’s the rest of our stay in this great park.
I can vaguely remember once reading about these new types of “special reserves” 6 or 7 years ago and to my surprise then, have been around since 1972.
There are two UNESCO Biospheres in Western Australia of 14 in total throughout Australia, and a total just over 600 globally.
Perhaps some of you are thinking thinking what is a Biosphere and how does it differ from a national park? In rudimentary terms, a biosphere is seen as International significance, not only of national importance, and a biosphere falls under a specific management and care plan as defined by the United Nations scientific body.
The first and largest of the WA biospheres (the other being Prince Regent Nature Reserve in the Kimberley), is the Fitzgerald River National Park (FRNP) – a park we briefly touched on in our last post – Six Legged Tripod. The below WA national parks and wildlife map illustrates it’s enormous size and sits halfway between Albany and Esperance.
Mt. Leseuer National Park near Jurien Bay could be regarded as similar in flora diversity if a fraction of the size, with FRNP one the largest and most botanically significant national parks in Australia.
Within the parks boundaries, 20% of all Western Australia’s flora species are found here featuring more than 2200 species of plants, 75 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
And it was from our initial FRNP visit that we decided we wanted to go back into the park and explore some of the more remote areas it has to offer. This meant changing our schedule around a little and perhaps cutting out altogether a stay down at Cape Arid, the furthermost eastern point from Esperance in a couple of weeks time in order to reach Kalgoorlie between 2nd – 4th of February as we needed to do.
So we lock the new route changes in and set off on the 269km round national park trip from our previous site in Bremer Bay to Hopetoun (via Ravensthorpe) and in honour of David Bowie’s passing, we all happily listen/sing along to David Bowie’s Greatest Hits along the way with Major Tom & Fashion being clear favourites with the boys. After re-stocking supplies in Ravensthorpe (strange old Nickel Mining town), a quick breath test from the local police, soon enough we arrive in Hopetoun mid afternoon, however things quickly didn’t strictly go according to our initial plan.
Winding the clock back a few days …we had just experienced a 3 straight days of solid rain whilst in Bremer Bay – 55mm to be exact. The rain system hit the entire WA south-west region and part of the gold fields further to the north (including Menzies) and with it, brought some minor flooding also. According to one national park ranger we had a lengthy chat with in Hopetoun, he mentioned the amount of rain for this time of year in these parts was a 1 in 10 year rain event and thus, a very unique occurrence. 50mm+ this time of year in summer is apparently a “big deal” and quite rare. For us, it was rather lovely though witnessing the remarkable sudden change in how this fragile and arid landscape responds to rain and we marvelled seeing dormant rivers and streams spring back to life. It was also a novelty for us to drive through large pools of water across the road which we haven’t seen for months.
The welcome rain however now affected our camp site plans in Hopetoun. We had wished to camp within the national park itself to make access easier and quicker, however was now very wet with a lot of water still lying around and all but 1 of 6 accessible park roads were now ‘closed’ – perhaps for weeks the park ranger mentioned. Great!
To Plan B: we first checked out the local Hopetoun beach caravan park which didn’t get the most favourable wrap in Wikicamps however we decided to check it out nonetheless – sometimes you never know unless you go and take a look around yourself. When we arrived it didn’t look too promising from the outset. The camp ground owners that were sitting back over a beer and politely instruct us to take a leisurely drive around their (very run down) 15 hectare site. So we conduct a precarious lap through the maze of this places tight twists and turns, weaving in and out of peoples tents and other ramshackle erections, disused boats, skirting around and under low lying and overgrown Melaleuca’s (towing our 3.2M high van), negotiating blind corners, through large pools of water …we couldn’t find a big enough spot and couldn’t wait to get out of the place. So we move on.
To Plan C: We had also read of a little caravan site adjoining the back of a small retirement village called ‘Wavecrest’ with a small number of very large drive through camp sites with A/C, clean basic amenities with it’s own licensed pub just out of town near the local wind farm – so we headed over their to check it out. We take a quick squiz and it was fine with only one other camper – brilliant!
This site would be our home for the next 4 nights whilst we further explore FRNP.
Our first morning started out like this.
Not a bad sunrise you would say. However you should have seen it 5 mins earlier before I scrambled to take this shot.
The first day back in the park and because of the road closures we could not get at the points of interest we originally planned back in Bremer Bay. After delving into all our maps, and the many brochures available on this park (4 in total) we decided to grab some BBQ stuff and head across the park to Four Mile beach near Mt Barren and throw a few snags on a hot plate. Afterwards, we headed up into the lower hills that skirt the rugged coastline to take in the views from various lookouts dotted on the map whilst slowly making our way out to see Hammersley Inlet. Some wildflowers had literally overnight began emerging taking advantage if the rare rain event – time of plenty as they say. It was a magical place to be and the next best time other than spring.
Later in the afternoon, we picked out one of the local beaches to dip our feet in the chilly southern ocean at West Beach next to Cave Point. (Please see map above if interested to see where all these places are) The sand down here is like caster sugar – even finer. It’s very white and highly squeaky under foot, even when wet. The boys were highly amused by it and often went crazy scurrying around in it like puppies touching sand for the first time laughing their heads off.
Billowing clouds from the south were again moving slowly in but not before we got to shoot a small group of Crested Terns sitting on a rocky coastal outcrop. They didn’t seem to mind me being close to them as they would take flight momentarilly and then within a few seconds land back on the same spot again. What a delightful seabird they are.
On the way back out of the park we noticed a new storm was building from the north west (which eventually hit us back at camp just after 7pm) but not before quickly shooting this 3 x stitched image Pano on the way. (Sony A7R and Leica 50mm f2.0 Summicron).
We drive out to Point Anne from Bremer Bay. It’s a bit of a hike of approx 70kms each way but a thoroughly beautiful one at that. The park is big. Not as big as some of the inland desert parks but the core of the park is 297,000 hectares with the buffer and terrestrial zones nearing 900,000 hectares.
Few wild flowers are in bloom at this time of year with exception of the Royal Hakeas and the Baxters Banksia left over from October’s last bloom.
The Baxter has the typical Banksia seed cone as all Banksia’s, however the their leaves have an odd shape about them as though someone has used seckatuers on each leaf.
After about an hour on mostly good roads out of Bremer Bay, we come to a turn off to Mt Maxwell – 2.5kms return. We decide to drive up the small and corrugated dirt road to the end. We arrive at a small turning circle / makeshift carpark where we found a shoe cleaning station (for die-back disease control) and the dense native bush was abuzz with what we thought were numerous VERY large Rhinoceros beetles the size of a finch darting across the thickets. These guys were enormous. (No luck in catching one to photograph I’m afraid and the noise they made flying around was like a piece of old farm equipment in dire need of a service. Amazing)! We all walked up the 450m return trail hearing and seeing the beetles flying around and checked out the fantastic views from the small summit. We’re now really starting to gain a better appreciation of how physically large this NP really is and more importantly, why this part in particular is botanically important. A few photo’s later and we head back down to the D4, then back along the corrugated road.
We soon arrive at Point Anne just after midday. An often remarked “world-class” land-based whale watching spot where two hard-wood erected viewing decks have been purpose built to literally 30-50 metres from where calving mother whales (and hopeful bulls) come right up against the shoreline in Winter time. The NPaW have gone to considerable effort here and have clearly invested a lot of tax payers money in a large effort to attract more park visitors. (However, we are still in the Xmas holiday period and we only saw three other cars all day in the park).
Regardless, the facilities at point Anne are the most modern I have seen in any national park anywhere, with facilities such as; inclement-weather huts, clean wind resistant free Gas BBQ’s, clever wind breaks, clean eco-toilets, fresh drinking water and very well thought out paths to lead you all around the site. We soon fire up the BBQ and throw down a couple of butcher-made snags that were purchased/cryovaced when back in Denmark. They were not bad, but not the same as Eastern Road’s Butcher in Warrawee standard – can’t have everythingl!
After lunch we check out both whale viewing platforms and also walk the pebbly stoned beach. We had soon noticed the weather was changing rapidly and could see a storm approaching from the north. We decide to pack up, head back to the carpark and get on our way just before Huey sends it down. After a little thunder and lightening and a few drops of rain, the storm quickly abates and the natural light starts to quickly change. We see some lovely landscapes scenes from the various light changes – often stopping along the side of the road (not many other cars out this way) and take a few images – such as the one above of Mt Barren (West) which is the 2nd highest point in the park of 502M above sea level.
It was soon after this we had our special encounter with the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo’s and just before nightfall we arrive back to Bremer Bay. What a great day and we all discussed it at length over the dinner table that night.
For the next 3 days however, it rained almost continually and apart from the odd wet visit to Blossoms Beach 7kms away to see what was happening down there, and for the first time of the trip, we really didn’t do much at all.
We all played Uno, scrabble, watched a movie or two (the boys watched Footrock Flats one day and Celia and I had to put up with the Dave Dobyn theme song [“Slice of Heaven”] for days thereafter). I caught up with trip notes, blogging and photo processing in Lightroom …and Celia was engaged in some quality time for a change with personal writings of her own.
When the rain cleared, we had our first wood fire BBQ in a while (due to all the fire-bans of late) and the following day packed up ready to leave for Hopetoun. For the first time in almost 6 months on this trip, discovered some things in the van were a little wetter than normal. We noticed a leak in our front external storage box and a exhaust fan in the bathroom was also leaking, but manageable. The rest of the van was fortunately dry.
Our stay in Bremer Bay however had been a nice one despite the 3 days of rain.
Whilst in Bremer, we also managed a catch up with Ray & Maureen for dinner at the local sports club which was nice. We saw every beach in the Bremer area, no injuries with the boys were recorded, we spent some time in the national park and not least of all, were always well looked after by Caravan Park owner David Harden and his trusty red cattle dog, Zac. Thumbs up boys, well done!
Back again across to the other side of the national park in Hopetoun.
The rain, while a wonderful occurrence, however had thrown a spanner in the works with our hiking plans due to all the road closures and eliminated 75% of what we came over to this side of the NP to do – so all the maps came out once again. Before turning in, Celia and I had come up with another new plan and we get some sleep looking forward to the next day.
After the lovely sunrise, later that morning we head out to four mile beach just passed the parks ranger station at the only NP entrance open.
Like other points of interest within the park, this place was like so many others in the park and set up extremely well. Very modern and quite fancy actually and the DPaW have built a large detailed concrete outline of the south-west coastline depicting where Antartica was once connected to mainland Australia at the point of where we were standing – very cool the boys thought, and it was. (because it was too large and sitting in the ground I didn’t take a photo of this unfortunately – would have been a perfect situation for a drone/camera though!).
A few more beach visits further into the park later in the afternoon as well as a stop off at a couple of lookouts on the way makes it all too obvious why this park is special.
The following day we rise to an overcast sky (no sunrise) and looking forward to the hike we’ve planned up the grade 4 Mt Barren (East) climb. We arrive in the car park around 1:45pm to find no other cars.
The first 400M is on a timber boardwalk and then turns into a steep trail on mostly rocky quartzite outcrops through banksia forests with Finches, Wrens and yellow throated honey-eaters all around the place. It was very noisy. We reach the summit about an hour into the walk with the last 300M or so more of a scramble up granite boulders on which were scattered King Skinks seeking any last sun rays they could find. The summit has some fine 360deg views across the great southern ocean and out across the national park as far as the eye could see and it’s here you really appreciate just how large this wonderful park is. On the way down we pass more lizards (and a frog) and came across a lone hiker and soon after we made it park to the car park with a shower of rain. It got us wondering how the hiker faired on the wet rock and being solo on such a walk.
That night over dinner back at the van we all reflected on the day and spoke at length about the joys and risks of challenging hiking especially when not naturally observant of the potential dangers around you and what one must always be mindful of to minimise risks. I noticed Aidan in particular on one summit section of east Mt Barren which had at least a 25M sheer drop on one side, seemingly not bothered in the slightest by the exposure let alone present risk. Lochie on the other hand is overly cautious and is naturally aware of exposure and their danger but Aidan appears to be the opposite and requires work. I mention this because Aidan loves this type of self-challenge and we love allowing him to experience this sort of stuff – but with guidance, knowhow and safeguards of course. And with this we’d hope a soon/natural safeguard tendency will emerge safeguard himself without us watching him 100% of the time. (I ponder what Aidan will think when he re-reads this observation in 5, 10 or even 15 years from now)?
I suppose it’s experiences like this is why natural beauty draws in some of us with that desire to explore, challenge and to push boundaries that typically make the whole experience far more rewarding and memorable. We hope we can do many more hikes like this on the remainder of the trip and into the future – especially if they are in a national park even remotely like Fitzgerald River National Park.
Geoff & Celia