IT’S A BLOODY long way from anywhere, but Perth rewards visitors with a smorgasbord of weekend escapes not far from the city limits. From epic beach runs, quiet, out-of-the-way national parks, and locations right near the city, there’s a destination for all tourers. So don’t stand and plan, go west and check out these five excellent destinations.
BIG TREES and big adventure await those who visit Warren National Park, located 15km from Pemberton, inland from the southwest coastline of WA and around three hours’ drive from Perth. The ‘big trees’ are, of course, WA’s famous karri trees. These massive eucalypts grow straight, tall and true up to a height of 90m. Interestingly, early settlers used some of these tall trees as lookout points for spotting bushfires. Visitors to the park can actually climb up three of them, following a route via metal pegs that were hammered into the trees, before reaching the top and being rewarded with all-encompassing views over the surrounding national park landscape. It’s not for those adverse to heights, but it’s an amazing experience if you’re up for a bit of a challenge.
The most popular touring route through the 3130-hectare national park is the Heartbreak Trail, so named due to the hardship experienced by those who cut the track into the rugged, rocky terrain (created to aid in bushfire fighting). Visitors get the benefit of all that toil, as the one-way 12km drive is steep (and can be slippery in wet conditions), but is a cracker, dropping down to the Warren River (some great stopovers along this section are beside the rapids of Heartbreak Crossing) before ascending the other side through more karri-dense forests. You can also link into a longer journey, dubbed the Karri Forest Explorer, an 86km route that winds its way through other areas of karri forest outside the park.
Camping in the park revolves around two sites (fees apply), both of which are located off Maidens Bush Trail. Draftys Campground has 22 sites and a cool camp kitchen that houses gas barbecues and other cooking facilities, as well as excellent lookout decks from which you can check out the Warren River. Warren Campground, a smaller six-site location (some sites are riverside, others are a bit farther back in the bush), has wood barbecues (you have to supply your own firewood) and is slightly more isolated and remote. For keen paddlers (canoe or kayak) Warren Campground also offers a put-in point to the river of the same name, with more lookout platforms above the launch site.
15km SW of Pemberton
Canoeing and kayaking
The national park is a fantastic destination for waterborne adventures, with three canoe put-in points dotted along the Warren River. Along with the aforementioned Warren Campground (and its stairs right down to the water), you can access the river at Maiden Bush and Blackbutt and then get down to the fun task of exploring the park via the river. The Warren River is a Grade 2 waterway, meaning it has some small rapids dotted along its length, so you will need some previous paddling experience.
Bushwalkers are also well catered for at Warren NP The 10.5km Warren River Loop includes plenty of hills as you pass dense karri forest on your way through the Warren River Valley, and the rapids at Heartbreak Crossing make a nice food stop, as does Warren Lookout.
Mountain bikers can ride the vehicular tracks in the park or, if you’re a bit keener, the nearby (free) Pemberton Forest MTB tracks will keep you entertained for a day, with its mix of beginner through to more testing tracks. For anglers, the park is a bit of a goldmine, with trout the catch of choice – or you may get lucky and snare a marron (freshwater crayfish or yabbie).
Warren National Park is a park with plenty of big stuff in it, from the huge karri trees to the many opportunities for outdoor activities and off-road touring. Even though packing all that gear – bikes, canoe, fishing gear and camping equipment – can be a painful task, the effort here would be well worth your while.
CLAIMED to be the most popular national park in WA, this 19,092-hectare giant lays its claim to that crown thanks to the gigantic shed-load of activities available: surfing, swimming, diving, hiking, cycling, touring, camping, fishing and more. There’s also the epic landscape combination of pristine coastline abutting the often-ferocious swells of the Indian Ocean meshed with heavily timbered forest behind the dunes. Throw in the added bonus of historical homesteads and lighthouses, as well as some amazing caves (thanks to the Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridgeline), and it fills that cliché of something for everyone. To that effect, the park is a long-weekend destination at a minimum, but, thanks to its manageable distance from Perth, that just gives you the excuse to return more than once… and you’ll definitely want to.
The park has four campgrounds – Boranup, Point Road, Conto and the recently-completed Jarrahdene – with all of these being of the first-arrive, best-score type. Point Road has probably the most appeal to off-roaders as it is accessed via a 4x4-only track and is a small campground (it has space for roughly seven tents) sheltered from winds on the edge of the Boranup karri forest, with access to the nearby coastline via Point Road itself.
Conto, with 116 campsites, is ideal for larger groups and those after a bit more space along with some ‘luxuries’, such as a campers’ kitchen, tables, toilets and barbecues. Plus, it’s right next to Conto Springs Beach. Boranup is another small campground (only seven sites) located in the middle of Boranup karri forest, so if you want a bit of solitude (here or at Point Road) you’ll need to be quick, especially in summer and school holiday periods.
Jarrahdene campground is a schmick new addition to the bush accommodation options in the park, with the first stage of what is a $2.7 million investment opened in late January this year. The campground is south of the Margaret River and nestled beside the historic site of the Heritagelisted Jarrahdene Mill, which was built in 1896. The campground has 24 campsites, each with its own table and firepit, with five toilet blocks and four sheltered barbecue areas scattered throughout.
The Cape-to-Cape walking track is rated one of Australia’s best multi-day hiking experiences and, as its name suggests, it travels between Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in the north and its Cape Leeuwin counterpart in the south (both these open to visitors). The full distance is 135km, but you can walk a number of the track’s sections as daywalks or even shorter ambles if you wish.
There are numerous beaches for swimming or diving. The more sheltered Cape Naturaliste and Shelley Cove in the north offer ideal swim spots for families; as does Bunker Bay, located on the northern side of Cape Naturaliste. Anglers can fish all along the coastline and offshore (in your own boat or with a fishing charter). Expect to catch salmon, snapper, tailor and dhufish, but be aware of bag limits. Surfing is super-popular with the Indian Ocean swells regarded as top-notch by wax-heads worldwide. Margaret River, Guillotines, South Point and Gallows are just some of the surf spots, and there are myriad others.
Away from the coast and it’s time to head underground. The park contains numerous caves, with visitors able to explore any number of them, including Calgardup and Giants Cave. For those not up to an independent caving experience, you can opt for guided tours of Mammoth Cave and Lake Cave.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park is packed with stuff to do. Our best advice is to tackle a long weekend first in the north, then return a few more times to spend weekends in the south, before exploring the park hinterland. And then do it all again.
36km W of Busselton
Canoeing and kayaking
THIS national park, around five hours’ drive from Perth in the lower southwest of WA, is part of the larger Walpole Wilderness Area and sprawls across the Shannon River basin. The park is relatively new, having been gazetted as a national park in 1988. Before this, ‘The Shannon’, as it is colloquially known, was a former logging area, but even that was only recent in terms of European history in Australia – with a severe timber shortage to address following World War II, the WA state government was desperate to find new sources. The Shannon area’s rugged terrain (a mix of wetlands, heathlands and steep hills) meant it was deemed inaccessible – or, only at great time and cost – but the desperate need for timber soon saw that change and, by the late 1940s, timber cutting had begun, with a mill built in what is the northern section of the park. A town farther south was also built to house the workers and their families.
53km SE of Manjimup
Canoeing and kayaking
Again, it is the mighty karri tree that dominates the park, but visitors will also find stands of jarrah, paperbark and blackbutt scattered around the area. The park is a definite must-visit for those keen on checking out the various tall timbers, but there’s plenty more to do here as well including a number of bushwalks, canoeing in the Shannon River, and the 50km Great Forest Trees Drive. This dirt-road route kicks off just north of the South Western Highway from the park’s day-use area and takes visitors on a winding journey through the wildly varied landscape that is contained within the park, before it reaches Shannon campground (the location of the former township). From old- and new-growth karri and jarrah, the track traverses heathland, vast sedgelands and areas dotted with rugged granite outcrops. WA National Parks has installed a number of signposted information stops along the drive, and there are plenty of stopping points to access views of the park.
Highlights in the northern part of the drive include Shannon Dam and Shannon River, both great locations for canoeing and bird-spotting. The dam was originally built to service the mill and town of Shannon and as assurance of water supply in times of drought. The dam is also the start-point for some of the park’s bushwalks (more later). From Shannon Dam, the drive continues south taking you to the excellent Snake Gully Lookout and then on to Big Tree Grove where – you guessed it – you can gawk at the amazing height of the karri trees. Then, it is on to the campground.
Shannon NP’s campground has just been upgraded and now has more than 60 campsites, suitable for everything from tents through to big caravans. Amenities are impressive with hot showers, gas barbecues and upgraded walking tracks nearby. It’s a far cry from the 90-house township that was once here; the houses circled a communal area and the town included a butcher, baker, post office, school and church, among other amenities and services. Running water was non-existent back then, as was electricity after midnight, but the township trundled along happily until the mill’s closure in 1968. The surrounding forests were logged for a further 15 years, until 1983, after the town’s houses were sold off and removed from the area, before the eventual gazetting (as mentioned) of the park (there are still some remnants – introduced trees, house footings – dotted around the campground).
Besides paddling the dam, the other popular outdoor activity in this park is bushwalking. The Rocks Walk Trail, at 5.5km, is a cracker, with the undulating path taking you through the ubiquitous stands of karri, as well as across small creeks and onto the track’s highest point, the boardwalked Mokares Rock, a granite outcrop that supplies expansive over-forest views. Other tracks include sections of the Bibbulmun Track (WA’s long-distance trail), the Shannon Dam Trail (3.5km) and the aptly-named Great Forest Trees Walk (are you sensing a theme yet?).
It’s a lesser-known park, but for those keen to check out some of WA’s more recent history, as well as the still-wild landscape, Shannon NP is well worth a weekend.
IT’S A WEEKENDER goldmine south of Perth, and Wellington National Park, around 2.5 hours’ drive away, is yet another example. The 17,000-hectare park contains the ubiquitous jarrah, marri and blackbutt timber, as well as the spectacular Collie River valley gorge, Wellington Dam, and – in season – up to 300 species of wildflower. The park is packed with adventure and leisure opportunities including camping, swimming, paddling (raft/canoe/ kayak), fishing, swimming, cycling and bushwalking.
Wellington NP has two campgrounds: Honeymoon Pool, which lives up to its name in terms of being pristine; and Potters Gorge, which has just been upgraded. Honeymoon Pool campground is set right beside the pretty Collie River and has 20 tent-only sites, along with wood barbecues (there are gas-operated jobbies in the day-use area next to the campground), as well as picnic tables and toilets. It’s a great camp location for the beautiful river views and surrounds, and also for a swim in warmer months.
Potters Gorge has copped a redevelopment, the result of the WA government’s Parks for People caravan and camping initiative which has seen $21 million invested in getting people outdoors and camping in national parks (NSW, take bloody note). The result is impressive, with 55 sites within the campground that cater for small, medium and larger camper-trailer/vans and caravans, or you can just set up your tent on the tent pads at each site.
The campground includes a mountainbike pump track, walk paths designed for “mobility-impaired visitors” and direct access to the Sika Trail, a dual-use (MTB and walking) track that links to other tracks in the park as well as to the park’s kiosk (drinks, food and MTB hire is available here), located at the nearby Wellington Dam. Unsurprisingly, with all these facilities and an encouraging attitude to outdoor activities in the park, the campground is very popular.
The activities are many, with mountain biking popular thanks to the pump-track, the fire trails to explore and the 40km Mt Lennard Mountain Bike Trail Circuit. Smartly, the circuit offers six trail loops for all levels of riders, starting at a 4km loop and going through to the longest, at 11.5km, so definitely load up the MTBs for this weekend destination. A more MTB touring-oriented trail is the section of the long-distance Munda Biddi Cycle trail (this links Perth to Albany), which makes for a great few hours riding if you have younger kids.
The Collie River (and to a lesser extent, Wellington Dam itself) offers tons of water-based activities, with canoes and kayaks the best way to explore this waterway and/or the dam. The nearby Preston River is also worth a paddle, but be aware of that river’s rapids (or just portage around them). You can also fish in the river and dam, with trout (rainbow and brown) and cobbler two prevalent species. There’s also the chance to catch marron (freshwater crayfish), but only in season (January-February).
For those who like to get vertical, there’s some climbing and abseiling at The Quarry. When Wellington Dam was built during the 1930s, The Quarry was the source for the rock that would make up the dam’s wall. Now, it’s a cracking climbing destination (you will need to book beforehand) and is located just below the Dam’s cafe.
Off-roading in the park is relatively straightforward on the main tracks and roads, but there is a sweet loop that takes in the 4x4-only Lennard Track, Sailors Gully and the Jump-ups, with Lennard Track in particular a great drive as it follows alongside the Collie River.
Bushwalking is popular in the park; tackle Jabitj Trail if you’re up for a challenge. This 12km-return jaunt takes you from the Dam kiosk to Honeymoon Pool and then back. It’s a relatively straightforward jaunt, but make sure you take water and swimmers (for a cooling swim in the Collie River). Kurliiny Tjenangitj Trail is, at 9.5km, a shorter loop and leads to a lookout that offers great views across the valley. The Sika dual-use trail is another 9.5km loop that winds through stands of jarrah on its way north from the kiosk to Potters Gorge. Again, don’t forget the swimmers.
In terms of weekend escape bang for your bucks, Wellington NP is hard to beat, especially at it’s only 2.5 hours’ drive from the city. Being able to go for that last morning swim and still have plenty of time to pack before returning to town is the icing on the cake.
10km W of Collie
4WD and adventure motorcycling
Canoeing and kayaking Swimming
BARELY an hour from Perth, this 1800-hectare national park is a popular day-trip destination for Perth residents, but it really deserves at least two days if you’re a keen bushwalker, paddler or angler. Off-roading is at a minimum, but the park’s main feature is the Swan River which runs through the park and offers great swimming, fantastic paddling (kayak or canoe), and the chance to explore the river’s edge on foot. In the winter months the water level is higher, resulting in some cracking sections of rapids to negotiate (the famous Avon Descent – a white-water paddling event – is held each August). In summer, when the river is generally lower, the park’s three deep pools – Syd’s Rapids, Walyunga and Boongarup – are popular swimming holes. You can float around them on a Lilo, or take a leisurely canoe trip downriver. For anglers, the river offers the chance to throw a line in for trout, which isn’t a bad way to bag a feed for the night’s camp.
The national park is characterised by spectral flooded gum trees running along the side of the river. As you move up the valley slopes the vegetation changes to more open wandoo (white gum) woodlands, before you encounter impressive examples of jarrah trees up on the ridgelines. For lovers of wildflowers, springtime sees the landscape transform into a kaleidoscope of colour as the numerous varieties of wildflower bloom.
According to WA National Parks, Walyunga NP contains one of the largest aboriginal campsites and one that was still used by the local Nyoongar people late last century – there are claims it has been used as a meeting place for more than 6000 years. This site is located at the western end of Walyunga Pool, which is located at the end of the road of the same name.
For bushwalkers young and old, the park’s tracks are ideal. For families, the flat 5.2km Syd’s Rapids Trail (leaving from Boongarup Pool) leads to some of the sections of rapids used in the Avon Descent, which can be seriously challenging in high-water conditions. The Echidna Trail – an 11km loop that will take three to four hours, and starting from Walyunga lower pool – is more of a challenge for experienced bushwalkers. The rewards of this walk are the chance to stroll through fields of wildflowers (when in season), as well as along the Swan River’s banks, before you ascend through heathlands on the way to the steep summit of Woodsome Hill (the views over the Avon Valley are brilliant). Keep an eye out for the park’s rich birdlife (black-faced cuckoos, parrots and galahs) while you take a breather before the descent. Other walks include the Kingfisher and Kangaroo trails, with the Kangaroo Trail (4km; easy grade) involving some rock-hopping across creeks, while the Kingfisher – at 8.5km and a medium grade, longer alternative to the Kangaroo – travels through wandoo woodlands.
The campground here is a first-come, first-served arrangement and is around two kilometres from the Swan River and is a small site that has fire-rings and basic bush camping facilities – in other words, the perfect spot to escape the popular visitor sites within the park.
30km NE of Perth
Canoeing and kayaking
Walyunga NP may be a small ‘blip’ on the radar of off-road tourers, but it offers all we love in regards to tranquil bush camping settings, oodles of bushwalking and some fantastic swimming and paddling opportunities. Plus, it’s all within an hour of the bright lights of Perth!