Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Esperance, & the National Parks of Prongurup, Stirling, Fitzgerald & Cape Le Grande

Apart from Albany, Esperance is the next biggest town on the southern coast of WA. With a population of  30,000 the following pics will show you why that number could double in the southern summer :) We were there in early Nov & the weather was still only a chilly 23* max with a decent wind blowing. Only the southerners would find this warm & we northerners would be staying out of the surf. The town also supports a huge grain industry with triple trailer trucks rolling into town 0600 - 2200 - past our van park - wrong choice of van park again :(

Esperance has a long jetty - I never did find out why the last few mtrs at the end of the jetty is separated from the rest - deliberate tourist attraction is my guess. Under the jetty is a favourite place for sea lions to take time out from fishing. I think the under the jetty is Sammy the sea lions home :)

The said split jetty -with a gap > 50 mtrs wide

As Esperance is on the coast line, she of course will have a beach or 3..... This is called 'Great Ocean Drive'.
Magnificent beaches & bays for that summer relaxation.

There's a lookout on a hill on the edge of town to view the town & 1 of the beaches.
The port area is in the centre of the pic & the jetty is further up the pic - the split section actually looks much further apart than from down on the jetty. There's a beach along the esplanade for those who want to walk to the beach, but the waves are less intense there.

Or you could take a drive to some glorious beaches less than 15kms out of town that has some surf - with the sand & waves look more inviting. From the lookout you can see the many bays of the coast line.
This is West beach, just a few kms from town. There's even a  cycle track along the Great Ocean Drive.

A closer look at  part of West beach

Blue Haven is in the same bay as West beach, but in a protected spot against the southerly winds. I haven't played around with the colours in this pic - what you see is the real thing :) That's a rocky point you see around from the sandy beach.

Lookout / roadway at Blue Haven with the cycle track below & looking towards West beach / bay.
There's  a fine line to the right of centre, that's the tower at the lookout we were at earlier for views of Esperance.

Just 7 kms from town is Salmon Beach. You need to step over a shallow rocky shelf from the sand before reaching the surf.

Twilight beach was voted Australia's best beach in 2006 is only 11 km from town.
Beautiful :)

There was even a schools surf school here at Twilight Beach.

Further along this picturesque drive was Observatory Point. There wasn't a beach here, but a lookout over some beautiful rocky outcrops & Is. This area is apparently a great place to see the Southern Wright Wales during their winter migration.

For obvious reasons there's 10 Mile Lagoon. A protected area for smaller swimmers. That's a rock shelf, worn down over millions of yrs by The Southern Ocean.

During our travels we have visited numerous National Parks. In the last few weeks it has been no different & we've seen some magnificent national parks.  I decided to separate them from the Southern Coast - besides most of them here are inland any way.

Porongurup Nat Pk (pronounced prong grup) is just 40 kms north of Albany. The granite in the Porongurup range is more than 1,000 million yrs old. It is a small park - just 12km long, several hundred mtrs wide & 670 mtrs at its highest peak. The park encompasses over 18 peaks, with 13 of them named. Over 90% of the park burnt in a wild bushfire in 2007 which is very sad as where there were wildflowers under the Karri forest trees, some areas are struggling with weed control.

We climbed Castle Rock. It was only 1.5 kms from the car park, but the gradient was from 260 mtrs at the car park to over 600 mtrs in that 1.5 kms. Quite steep & challenging on the stamina. I had to take dozens of breaks to rest the aching calf muscles.
Views from the top of Castle Rock. Unfortunately it was a smokey day due to a burn across the highway.
As is in several other national parks, Die Back is a problem. Die Back is caused by a fungus that when carried on vehicle tyres or peoples shoes affects the tree roots & the trees start dieing in the canopy area mostly. What a devastating effect it has on the forest. Once there, it is very hard to rid the area of the fungus. There is growth on the lower parts of the trees, but slowly the tree is dieing. The fungus has been in the SW of WA since early European settlement. So the die back is slow.

Once at the top, there was also the Balancing Rock. A huge granite boulder balances on another boulder. Amazingly we were able to just push the boulder a fraction ...............................(not) 

To get to the top of Castle Rock was a further difficult climb through a narrow crevice. My knees didn't enable me to go further up. Those who do make the last climb get to walk along a man made walk way over the granite boulders. 

Rod managed to climb the last few mtrs & this is the great walkway bolted into the granite.

This pic is by placing the camera against the floor

After climbing down, I took this pic looking up, unfortunately the stairs are now over exposed once I change the crevice exposure.

This was a great spot for our picnic lunch.
 More boulders sitting precariously next to each other.

The next day after a good long rest ...... we chose an even longer walk..... similar gradients to the previous day, but the stops were to look at the magnificent scenery along the way. We headed for 2 peaks in the 1 walk trail.
 The 1st part of the 5.5km (approx 3 hr )  trail had a Karri tree growing out of a granite rock.

After climbing & meandering for sometime, we managed to get to the 1st peak - Hayward Peak. Nothing really significent in the granite peak except for  plain granite rock covered partly in moss & some shrubs growing.
What was spectacular was the views to the north ... that's the Stirling Range National Park ... another 40 kms in the distance. 

 We could also see in the distance Devil's Slide - another peak. The granite in the foreground is what I described above.

Hayward Peak joins Nancy Peak, without having to go all the way down the 1st to get to the next peak.
 At this point in time we thought we were nearly there - up to the top of Nancy Peak......
 Along the way we were surrounded in lush shrubbery - many in flower still. But the die back is evident - or it could be the result of the bush fire in 2007 mentioned earlier. 

Once we reached the previous sets of boulders, we were confronted with another higher set of boulders :(

 Pretty views indeed.

Then there was another higher set of boulders again. Devastating to our psychic :(
 This is the final set of boulders - not before time as the storm clouds were starting to build up in the north west at 1100hrs.

 Once we reached the highest point of Nancy Peak, we had magnificent views of Devil's Slide reaching higher than Nancy Peak. We had a very steep decent of a few 100 mtrs to the valley floor between the 2 peaks. I was certainly very pleased we didn't start the walk from that end :))
 These magnificent views were from the top looking towards the south. Albany is in the distance 40 kms away.

 After an early lunch we decided to take a short drive to a nature reserve, supported by the locals. The storms that had been building decided to turn slightly & came straight for us, when they seemed to be blowing in another direction 45 mins earlier. I think this happened due to the Porongurup Range.
 I didn't think about it at the time, but on the way back along a 5 km dirt road, we had to clear away a dead tree that had blown over the full width of the road from the ferocious wind whipped up from the storm. Clearing away dead timber in the rain was our main focus & I didn't think to take a pic of it.

After 2 lovely days @ Porongurup Nat Pk, we headed another 40 kms north to Stirling Range Nat Pk.
Geologists say the Stirling Range formation was deposited between 590 - 540 million yrs ago. The sedimentary beds that form the range began to rise within the last 100 million yrs. The main roads with in the 60 km wide  national park were ancient rivers. There are over 14 Mts that are over 700 mtrs high, with 2 over 1,000 mts.
This pic was taken whilst driving into the park. The stormy weather unfortunately continued for our 2 day stay there. The cloud is covering the 1052m high Toolbrunup Peak.
We climbed 847m Mt Hassel mid morning after recommendations from the van park reception. The track was quite rough & gravelly, but the flora around us was quite pretty. I had to take frequent stops due to the steep gradient - 1.5 km walk trail with 600 mtrs to the top. It was a good thing the the plants were pretty whilst I took frequent breaks.
That's the road down there we were on 1 hr ago :)

Mid afternoon we went in search of some orchids along a flat trail. I had to search hard & ignored some stalks that were in fact orchids - stems that look like asparagus with tiny little orchid flowers up the 15 cm stalk. Quite amazing.

Whilst out, another storm was brewing - esp around Bluff Knoll, tallest Mt in Stirling Range. The Mts are magnets for more storms than 10 kms away at the van pk where the rain fall is 1/2 than that on the Mts.

These 3 are Carnaby's Black Cockatoo - endangered in most areas of SW WA.

Behind our van had more great views of another Mt - The Abbey @ 732m.

The next day we headed for the tallest mt of Bluff Knoll @ 1095 m high. The walk trail was good & the upward gradient not as taxing as the day before. I still needed plenty of stops :)  Take some pics, admire the view etc :)  We still had to climb 600 mtrs to get to the top ( starting ht was 360 mtrs) The expected climb was 3.5 kms & 3 -4 hrs.
Along the way these creepies were covering our trail.

Admiring the views whilst recovering the calf muscles & catching breath.

We're almost up in the clouds that are still hanging around - this is the view towards the van park 10 kms away - almost basking in sunshine

As we climb higher - we start having cloud around us
Then we stayed in the clouds - every thing was wet including this spiders web.

We had no idea how high we had gone, but some guys coming down thought we still had another 1.5 hrs & were 1/2 way :(    They were saturated from the constant cloud, they saw nothing at the top & after sitting for 30 mins waiting for the cloud to clear, we decided to retreat.
Rod's pondering whether we go back down.
After 20 mins going down, the bl.... weather started to clear.

That's the peak in cloud from earlier ..........
Of course the cloud is almost cleared as we reach the bottom :(
Doesn't it look glorious up there.

The vegetation around us was really pretty.

Later that day, I spoke to a lady who passed us going up when we were going down. They reached the top basking in rather warm sunshine. I also found out from a guide that the section we had reached was in fact over 800 mtrs up. That made me feel better. :))))))))))))))

After lunch we decided to take the 100 km scenic drive around & through the National Park. We had glorious views of several of the mts. The flora was also very pretty.
Mt Trio is over 856 mtrs high.

A look out on the western side looking towards the many peaks of The Stirling Ranges.

I think this is Mt Magog also 856 mtrs - I can also see at least 6 1/2  faces amongst the exposed granite :)

Almost near the eastern side at another lookout, looking towards the west this time

Another couple of Mts going under cloud
If we'd have been in the Stirling Ranges several wks earlier I would have seen over 10 species of orchids. You need a good eye in spotting them as they blend in well under bushes etc. I was shown these Dragon orchids by 1 of the guides in the van park.
Once you know what you're looking for, it's easy. This is a Dragon Orchid, almost finished flowering.

The next national park we visited was Fitzgerald River National park - about 1/2 way between Albany & Esperance on the southern coast. Die back is a major problem in a lot of WA's national parks. Fitzgerald River is trying to control the spread of the fungus - we had to wash down the car & van at the designated place outside the park.
Almost a good car wash :)
This National park is over 329,000 hectares, much of it not accessible to the public. There are 62 species of plants endemic to the area & 48 species rarely found any where else. I only recognized 1 of them as being endemic to that area .........

Magnificent coloured leaf & patterns of the Royal Hakea. It was growing in a lot of the areas we wnet to, but I'm surprised it isn't found any where else.

The basic camping ground - 'Quaalup Homestead Retreat' has a 40 hectare property, mostly of new growth shrubs from  the previous few decades. This used to be part of an old sheep station from the 1850's called Quallup. The plant life was pretty & "Edna" the emu accompanied me on the whole 1 hr nature trail walk I took. She stayed her distance not getting any closer that a couple of metres. She hung around the vans & could be heard periodically through out the night. Edna also followed me on a bird walk in the other direction the next morning, waiting patiently until I moved on after standing in the 1 spot for over 15 mins. What a loyal pet - I wonder what she's like when there's snakes around?
This is Point Ann - a popular area for whale watching whilst Southern Right whales calve in the bay during winter.

The national park has 3 peaks - all the same name Barren - West, Mid & East Mt Barren. That's Mid & East Mt Barren in the distance across the bay.

Rod insisted he take a pic of me - shame I had a mouth full of food. The flies & native bees were really bad there, so the nets were used once again. (Most of southern WA was a mass of sticky flies, so there was no shame in wearing the fly net :)  )
Rod decided he'd climb West Mt Barren - just a couple hundred mtrs up - it  took him less than an hour to return for the top.

That's the car park down there :)

Views to the southern ocean

Our last national park in the southern regions of WA was Cape Le Grand National Pk. Cape Le Grand is only just under 32,000 hectares & an hrs drive SE of Esperance.
The south-west section of the Park is dominated by rock outcrops of gneiss & granite. These form a distinctive chain of peaks including Mount Le Grand (345 m), Frenchman Peak (262 m) and Mississippi Hill (180 m). Exposure by erosion & movements in the earths crust over the past 600 million yrs. The sea levels were also some 300 mtrs higher about 40 million yrs ago, so the 3 large peaks would have been under water.
 This is Frenchman Peak.

The largely granite shoreline and white sand beaches are picturesque features of the area. There are several bays with beautiful white sandy beaches & granite outcrops.
This is lucky Bay - where there is a popular camp ground. These were the views down from our camp spot.
Lucky Bay gets it's name from Captain Mathew Flinders when he took shelter during a storm when exploring the southern parts of Oz

This largish bird is the ugly Pacific Gull, but it looks like an albatross in flight.

More of Lucky Bay. It was still too chilly to swim. So beautiful is Lucky Bay that even the kangaroos laze on the beach.

Lucky Bay from the camp ground

There was plenty to explore around Cape Le Grand, like this area called Thistle Cove - a moderately easy 1.5 hr walk from Lucky Bay up & over more boulders.

Another granite rock formation @ Thistle Cove. Woof woof .

We took a drive to Hellfire Bay. Doesn't that water look beautiful against the granite.

Mt Le Grand was just another large round boulder in the ground that happened to be 345 mtrs high.
Cape Le Grand beach was just another white sand beach that stretched for 20 - 40 kms towards Esperance. No pics of these as they didn't look as special as the above pics :))

On our way back from Cape Le Grand, we stopped for me to take a look at a lake near the road not far from Esperance.  To my amazement there were hundreds of black swans in various sizes................, some ducks & pelicans, but mostly swans. This is just 1 section of them.
I would have loved to have had more time to explore this area, as there were 3 other medium sized lakes near this 1. But we were on our way to the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie. 13 * hotter than the temps we'd been experiencing the previous 6- 8  wks.
That's all for the southern parts of WA. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring it all - well apart from the chilly windy weather - even in the national parks.

Next is Kalgoorlie & The Nullabor Plains.

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