bush walks WA

WALKABOUT 3: Yanchep National Park

Just 50 km north of Perth is the 28sq km Yanchep National Park, one of nearly 300 Bush Forever sites, an initiative in WA to protect and preserve important landscapes. Important due to the loss of much of the natural environment of the Swan Coastal Plain to urbanisation and agriculture.

A wonderful mix of sedate lawns and “heritage” buildings from its days as a resort from the 1930’s, to wilderness of kwongan heath, towering forests of Tuart and Jarrah, lush wetland vegetation and species rich Banksia woodland.

We headed up there to camp out in the jeep and tackle a couple of the longer trails that the park has to offer. With temperatures in the 30’s we wanted to avoid hiking in the mid day sun so leaving Perth early we were on the 14km Yanchep Rose track by 7, enjoying the light of the ” golden hour”.

The beautiful grass trees , Xanthorrhoea, can live to be 350-450 years old growing at a rate of about 2 cm a year. It takes them 20 years before they even form a trunk but they are made of strong stuff, able to withstand the inevitable bush fires, in fact often flowering profusely after burning. Much valued by the Aboriginal people for food, fire sticks, fish spears, nectar and glue they can grow in very nutrient poor ground thanks to the mycorrhizal network of symbiotic fungi amongst its roots helping to take up nutrients.

We had to cross a main road before heading off on sandy tracks through the banksia shrub to discover a couple of WW2 radar bunkers recently well graffitied to commemorate that history.

After a drink and a snack we moved off again, crossing a wide sandy track, meandering slightly up and down and twisting this way and that through the varied, but usually prickly, vegetation towards a limestone outcrop in the distance.

Climbing up allowed us a fine view over a huge area of untouched vegetation. Worryingly though we could make out a forest of cranes towards the coast. One of the biggest threats to the park and its fauna is the continuing fragmentation and loss of habitat due to land clearance for infrastructure and housing.

With temperatures rapidly rising and still before 9am we carried on round the loop, marvelling at the variety of plant forms and thinking how special it would be in the spring when so much is in glorious flower.

There were usually signs of the prescribed or planned burning done to reduce the amount of dry wood fuel on the woodland floor and so avoid catastrophic fires like the ones in 2019 that swept through the area. Burnt gum trunks sprouting vigorous suckers and blackened grass trees. You could tell how long ago the fire was by the length of the ” grass skirts” billowing out from below the fresh fronds.

Crossing the public highway again we were soon back in the Park centre, passing one of its tourist attractions the Cabaret Cave, a large limestone cave rentable for functions for up to 200 people since the 30’s and one of 450 known caves in the Park.

After a cooling shower at the parks camp site we explored the central area. Like all good tourist honeypots, and this was one – attracting over 250,000 visitors a year, there was a tea room, ice cream parlour, gift shop, masses of picnic areas and even a pub, restaurant and hotel – which was heaving by lunch time, banging out the roast beef and yorkshire pud buffet carvery.

There was also a non native koala compound with their non native gum food source, an area that hosts Aboriginal culture talks and demos and a tree-top adventure centre. All very unlike the usual Australian Parks wilderness approach. Formed in 1969 from the pre existing hotel resort they decided to roll with it and now have a golf course and even helicopter rides on site.

The 255 ha Loch Mc Ness wetlands area is a particular treasure with big areas of sedge swamp, Yanget ( the Nyoongar peoples name for bulrush and source of the Park name), 50ha of open water and swamp Banksia and Paperbark edging woodland. Seemingly shallow the bottom is an unconsolidated peat mass through which water flows to a depth of 6m. Many other wetlands have either been filled in or subjected to pressures of pollutants and clearing.

We are not good at spotting birds but the wetlands and woods are home to many. Grebes, swans, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, parrots, honeyeaters and kingfishers can all be found. There were plenty of Western Grey Kangaroos on the lawn of the campsite when we set off on the 12.5km Ghost House Trail early next morning.

This walk was through a different landscape than the day before, being predominantly forest of big Jarrah and Tuart with lots of she-oak, paperbark, mallee and banksia with a verdant understory.

About half way round we overlapped for awhile with the Coastal Plain Trail a 52km linear walk that has 4 huts along its length to overnight in. We came to one, the Shapcotts Campsite complete with rainwater tank and long drop toilet. Soon after we came upon the supposedly haunted ruins of an old house but no history was supplied.

The walk continued in a loop back through some more open heath then a rising and falling lumpy limestone track above the wetlands before finally contouring the top of Loch McNess on boardwalks over the lush and verdant vegetation.

In no time we emerged onto the manicured lawns of the Yanchep Inn and hurried back to the campsite to shower away the sweat and dirt of the trail. With the temperature set to rise higher into the 30’s and the sea only 15 mins away an easy decision was reached.

Yanchep lagoon was a safe spot to chill. With a reef just offshore to calm the waves and a life guard station supplying ample shade it was an ideal ending to a couple of days hiking in the heat.