It turns out that the bulk of our trip through Western Australia is within what is Australia’s only declared global biodiversity “hotspot” (one of 34 in the world).
Of course being declared a biodiversity “hotspot” indicates that the area is in trouble retaining its unique and diverse ecosystems. However, a positive is that the region is now a focus for government, community and environmental organisations through the formation of the Southwest Australia Ecoregion Initiative*.
The area we were about to travel through, heading east from Augusta through to Esperance, saw the declaration of a series of national and state parks and nature reserves as part of the solution.
This is good news for the visitor as recreation and tourism is part of the vision for the use of the land. So, whilst you need a 4WD to get to the pockets of real wilderness, there are wonderful drives for 2WD vehicles, as well as many walking trails.
For example, we took in part of the Karri Forest Explorer Drive near Pemberton to see the wonderful karri forests, which are much denser than those we’d encountered previously at Boranup.
The drive was a feel-good experience, one that lifts the senses, so much so that we lashed out on roadside fresh produce! MKR and Masterchef – eat your hearts out!
The other town associated with the national parks in the region is Walpole. It is located at the top of two beautiful inlets that are, in the main, surrounded by national park.
The Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre comprises three parts – Swarbrick Art Loop in Mount Frankland South National Park, Mount Frankland Wilderness Lookout and the tree-top walk known as the Valley of the Giants. It has an elevated walkway through huge tingle trees – great if you don’t mind heights!
Tingle trees can grow up to 75 metres tall, develop a large base but have a surprisingly shallow root system.
Emerging from the wilderness areas via the South Coast Highway brings you to Denmark and Albany. With its wonderful King George Sound, Albany is the major town of the south coast, and its history, pre and post European arrival, is well presented at the museum – worth a visit!
Albany to Esperance is quite a drive – approximately 5 hours. There is a junction 13km above Albany central where you can choose to take the South Coast Hwy or, and this is my recommendation, continue on the Chester Pass Rd to take in the beautiful Stirling Ranges.
It remains a flat drive through the pass and adds only another 10 minutes to the trip. The Stirling Ranges, the only “mountains” in the southwest region, have played a vital part in forming the biodiversity of the region. Apart from this – it’s an absolutely stunning drive!
After taking in the flower show at Ongerup, we broke the drive up with an overnight stay in the small town of Jerramungup.
The next morning was a revelation – we rejoined the South Coast Hwy to head the 114kms to Ravensthorpe. It was one long stretch of wildflowers – the best roadside display of the whole trip! At last, the brochure images realized – fantastic!
Ravensthorpe also had a flower show happening. It is the central event for 2 weeks of celebration in the town during September, which includes an art show. Allow time there if you can.
A vital part in the formation of the Southwest Ecoregion biodiversity is the granite underlying the area. An hour’s drive east of Esperance is Cape Le Grand National Park which has spectacular granite outcrops.
Another highlight of Cape Le Grand is the stunning beaches. Lucky Bay is the better known …
… however we were given the tip to visit Hellfire Bay. It is truly special, with its white sand …
… and pristine water straight in from the Southern ocean.
Esperance is a wonderful town. A truckie with whom I spoke later on the Nullarbor Plain calls the town home, and he pointed out to me that even with a population of near 10,000 there are no traffic lights. Is it this that gives the town its magic? Or maybe it’s the 8 beautiful beaches so close to town; or perhaps it’s the 100 odd islands of the Recherche Archipelago offshore.
Whatever, it was with some reluctance that we left Esperance to start the journey north to Norseman and on to the Nullarbor. Still, a dream was about to be fulfilled and I was certainly looking forward to the experience.
* read more about the Southwest Australia Ecoregion Initiative at http://swaecoregion.org/
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