Carpets of wildflower colour to wander in

Photo of Mogens Johansen

Water and sunshine is Mother Nature’s recipe for a good wildflower season. But it is not an exact science and although many of the areas have received good rainfalls, generally they have received less than the average winter rainfall this year. I’m heading out to see what this season has to offer at some of the choice spots along the Coral Coast...

Water and sunshine is Mother Nature’s recipe for a good wildflower season. But it is not an exact science and although many of the areas have received good rainfalls, generally they have received less than the average winter rainfall this year.

I’m heading out to see what this season has to offer at some of the choice spots along the Coral Coast.

It’s going to be an interesting trip through some of the most botanically diverse bush areas in WA.

I make an early start from Perth and about 2 1/2 hours later, I’m ordering a flat white and a toastie at the Jurien Jetty Cafe.

Refreshed and refuelled, I pop into the visitor centre to check the latest updates on where to find the flowers at Lesueur National Park, which is only a short 25km drive north-east of Jurien Bay. I’m told that although it’s early in the season, there are signs that it could be a good season.

I’m directed to head north, out of town and right onto Jurien East Road, then left onto Cockleshell Gully Road (a well-maintained dirt road) before turning into a one-way sealed 18.5km loop road into the park.

Lesueur National Park boasts more than 900 species of flora. Some 111 species are endemic to the region; the park has 10 species of declared rare flora and nine of them are only found in Lesueur.

You won’t see any carpets of flowers here. It’s all about diversity, and the best way to see and enjoy the flowers is to get out of the car and explore.

The loop road is a beautiful drive and there are plenty of places where you can stop and enjoy the views and flowers.

There are three walk trails in the park, and two of them are at the Drummond Recreation area, where I stop for a better look around.

The Gairdner Walk trail is a 2.5km loop, the Lesueur Walk Trail a 4km return trail to the top of Mt Lesueur. Both trails start at the same spot and the first 250m of the trail is wheelchair accessible and offer nice views of Mt Lesueur at the park from an elevated lookout.

The Yued Ponar Walk Trail is a 7.1km loop located at the Cockleshell Gully picnic area, which is further along the loop road.

All the trails in Lesueur are Grade 3, which means they are suitable for most ages and fitness levels but they may have short steep hill sections and rough surfaces.

I choose the Gairdner loop, which offers varied terrain with beautiful views and plenty of flowers. But it appears to be a bit too early in the season for the full display. Well satisfied and impressed with Lesueur, I head north along Indian Ocean Drive for my first overnight stop in Geraldton. It’s a beautiful day and flashes of yellow wattles along the roadside are a sign that there’s spring in the air.

A perfect day greets me as I head north from Geraldton. It’s a lovely drive through the rolling hills near Northampton. Lush green farmland with wheat and golden canola flash past my car windows as I head towards Kalbarri, where I’m keen to check out the new Kalbarri Skywalk. And, of course, to see what the flowers are like around the gorges and along the coast.

The Kalbarri National Park, like Lesueur, is a treasure trove of flora. About 800 species of flora burst progressively into bloom throughout the year, so there is always something to see. There are nice displays of banksia, wattle and grevillea along the roadside as I head through the park.

I check out a couple of the recommended walks. Both are a visual feast, with spectacular landscapes and early signs there will be a decent display of flowers in coming weeks.

Mushroom Rock Nature Trail along the coastal cliffs is a 3km return loop from the carpark, down through a gully to Mushroom Rock on the coast and back. The flowers here are just coming into bloom and many of them are tiny. My favourite little flower from this walk is the Murchison Magic.

Out at the gorges, I begin with a walk down to Nature’s Window. It’s a busy place with people queuing up to take pictures, so I continue past and walk part of the 9km Loop Trail, where I’m rewarded with stunning views of the Murchison River gorge and several small patches of everlastings eking out a living among the red rocks.

My next stop is at the new Kalbarri Skywalk, and it really is impressive and well worth a visit. Two massive boomerang-shaped cantilevered platforms reach 25m and 17m out over the gorge, offering bird’s-eye views of the Murchison River 100m below. The Skywalk precinct at the old West Loop Lookout has been totally redeveloped. There’s a new cafe, which offers casual dining and takeaway food next to the viewing platforms.

The Nanda traditional owners have been closely involved in the development and their story and influence is clearly evident in the design.

The Skywalk is accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Another day dawns and I’m heading inland to see if I can find the carpets of wildflowers the northern Wheatbelt area is renowned for. It’s a scenic drive as I head east through the Chapman Valley towards my first stop Mullewa, where I have arranged to meet Emma Chambers at the visitor centre.

Emma is optimistic that it will be a good season. “It’s a little early but we had about 30mm of rain a couple of weeks ago, so everything is budding up, so from around mid-August there will be real carpets of everlastings,” she says.

I was hoping to see the wreath flowers at Pindar, but Emma tells me they are not quite ready to flower yet. Instead, she sends me to the Mullewa Bushland Trail, which starts and finishes at the town’s scenic lookout, where she says there are several orchids out.

The 2.4km trail is an easy walk although the ground is quite rocky.

There are small pockets of everlastings, and indeed some orchids. My favourites are a cluster of three white spider orchids and a couple of donkey orchids. Conveniently, the staff and volunteers from the visitor centre have placed biodegradable ribbons on some of the shrubs where the orchids are, so they are easier to find.

There are two scenic wildflower drives near Mullewa. Emma takes me out to the start of The Northern Loop, where she shows me one of the season’s first blooms of pink everlasting carpets by the junction of the Yuna-Tenindewa Road and Geraldton-Mt Magnet Road. She has brought her boys, David and Andrew, and their friend, Sahara Flannagan, along for the ride, and I manage to get some nice photographs of them among the wildflowers.

I’ve been looking forward to my next stop at Coalseam Conservation Park, roughly in the middle between Mullewa and Mingenew. I last visited in August 2016, when they had a bumper wildflower season and virtually the whole park was awash with colour. Driving into the park on this occasion is a little disappointing by comparison. I have to remind myself that I am visiting several weeks earlier in the season but there are signs that there will be some nice carpets with several displays of pink everlastings, yellow pompoms among the wattle scrub at Miners Campground.

Later, in Mingenew, I meet Shire chief executive Nils Hay for an update on how the season is shaping up in his area. He says that although it hasn’t been a terrible year, it hasn’t been great.

“I’m channelling most of the farming community here when I say we can always have more rain, we did have a good soaking a couple of weeks back but it is fair to say it has been an average year until now,” he says. He thinks it will be mid-August before the season really kicks off but adds that there is still heaps to see now.

“The orchids are out and for the enthusiasts who like to get in there and fossick around for orchids, there’s certainly a lot of interesting things to see, but for those who want the big carpets of flowers for their Insta shots — give it a few weeks.”

I check out Depot Hill and Mingenew Hill and see similar promising signs to Coalseam and Mullewa before I gravitate to the Mingenew Hotel for a well-deserved pint and what will have to be the biggest and best chicken parmigiana I’ve had in a long time.

On the drive back to Perth, I call in at Three Springs, Carnamah, Coorow and Badgingarra.

I see many nice flowering shrubs along the roadside and the everlasting carpets are starting to appear.

You probably get the picture by now. Basically, I am visiting a bit too early in the season but that’s the problem when you’re trying to put together a wildflower guide to coincide with the start of the season.

That said, if you are heading up to the Coral Coast area now, you will see heaps of flowers.

It may not be a bumper season, but even an average season is pretty good.

In the national parks at Lesueur, Kalbarri and Badgingarra, you can see the flowers from the car but to really see them in detail, you have to leave the comfort of the car and go for a walk.

The orchids, in particular, are tiny, so you have to look carefully for them. But that makes it all the more rewarding when you do see them.

In the Midlands, they will roll out the carpets for you in so many ways.

There is a nice loop between Geraldton and Moora. It’s called the Wildflower Way and includes a host of heritage-focused interpretative sites, museums and walk trails.

You can head north from Moora via Coorow, Carnamah, Three Springs and Mingenew and return via Mullewa, Morawa, Perenjori and Dalwallinu.

Make sure you check in at each town’s visitor centre, where you will find helpful staff that can point you to the best locations to find flowers.

And while you’re there, don’t forget to ask about some of the other attractions because, it’s not all about wildflowers, there are heaps of “must-visit attractions” along the way.

You can, for example, swap some legal tender for some of the award-winning rum and gin at Illegal Tender Rum Co in Dongara, stop for coffee, lunch and delicious treats at the Mingenew Bakery or try out Carnamah’s latest attraction, the One L of A Good Feed cafe ... and there is, of course, some excellent museums.

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