Monday, 31 August 2015

Echidna Trail (Walyunga National Park)


The longest of the five walks in Walyunga National Park, the Echidna Trail takes walkers along the Avon River before heading up the valley into less explored areas of the park. Featuring expansive views of the Avon Valley and Perth in the distance, the trail is also one of the best in Perth for spotting grazing kangaroos. This trail is at its finest in late winter/early spring with the waters flowing and the park's wildflowers in bloom.


Distance: 11 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: Starts flat then becomes more difficult, with a steep hill as the trail leaves the river, and a few other hills along the rest of the route. 
Quality of Path: Clear and well maintained. Uses vehicle access tracks for the later part of the walk 
Quality of Signage: Well signed. There are large panels at the start of the trail and trail markers all along the way, especially at more confusing intersections. 
Experience Required: Bushwalking experience and general walking fitness are recommended given the steep ascent and the remoteness of the some of the furthest reaches of the trail. 
Time: 3 Hours
Steps: Very few steps, mainly near the beginning.
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter/Early Spring
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park fees apply. 
Getting There: Access to the park via Walyunga Road, off Great Northern Hwy in the Swan Valley. I recommend starting at the first car park to the right as it offers excellent views of the rapids near Walyunga Pool.



Located in the Swan Valley, Walyunga National Park is a short drive north of the main Swan Valley winery district on Great Northern Highway. The park is locked between the hours of 5pm and 8am everyday. Walkers should take this into account, especially if you prefer very early starts. After passing through the gate, the first car park on the right leads to Walyunga Pool and the start of four of the five trails in the park.



The first section of the trail is rightly dominated by the Avon River, and features didactic panels with information about the area's Aboriginal heritage. As with most national parks in the Darling Scarp, Walyunga is at its best in late winter/early spring, as the Avon River is at its fullest during this period. Walking the trail in summertime and early autumn can be somewhat underwhelming, with a lot of exposed river bed.





All four of the trails starting at Walyunga Pool follow the same route to Boongarup Pool before branching off in different directions. At this point the Echidna Trail can be walked in an anti-clockwise or clockwise direction. The clockwise direction is the easier of the two options, however we tend to walk the anti-clockwise direction as it follows the river for a bit longer to begin with, and features a nice pay off of a lovely view after a particularly steep climb.



Although the river continues to dominate on the right hand side of the track, there is just as much to see all around. The trees along the trail are home to many birds, and Alissa and I stopped to watch these three cockatoos and a galah having fun flying around the branches of a dead tree near the river.



While white water canoeing is the main attraction of the park, the rocky outcrops to the left of the path make the area enticing for a bit of bouldering. Enthusiasts can make the most of the opportunity by climbing here as quick side trip.



Just as the trail heads inland, the last glimpses of the Avon show a shallower, rockier and faster moving section of the Avon River - a fitting finale for the river-dominated part of the trail.



The trail heads away from the river up a steep vehicle track. The ascent really gets the heart pumping, and in summertime the heat can make this section not much fun. Walkers choosing this option instead of the clockwise direction might be wondering why they didn't go with the easier option.





The reason for taking the harder ascent is the pay off at the end. A bench is located at the top of the track, and is a perfect place for one to catch their breath.



The view from this spot is one of the best along the entire walk, taking in a sweeping view of the hills and the Avon Valley. While sitting here, Alissa and I were treated to a break in the clouds opening and lighting the hill closest to us, painting the grassy slope in a vivid shade of green. The result can be seen in the photo above.



Continuing on the trail, walkers pass through a grassy area near the boundary fence between Walyunga and some private properties beyond. While in this grassy area, you are almost certain to run into a mob of kangaroos casually grazing. On one occasion we also saw an escaped goat walking around this part of the walk, obviously enjoying the opportunity for a good feed!



Looking closer at the grasses reveals a field of orange flowers in bloom (as well as the odd invasive weed). While Alissa and I were not sure if these orange flowers were natives, they provide the grassy area with some additional interest.



The grasslands eventually give way to a dryer area of exposed laterite, with some excellent examples of wandoo lining each side of the track.



The track continues its rise to Woodsome Hill. Being the highest point in the park, Woodsome Hill features a Firetower that appears to still be used. Access to the public is unfortunately not available. While I understand why there is no access to the topmost tower, a viewing platform similar to the one used at Mount Wells on the Bibbulmun Track would make be a great addition to this part of the trail.



Beyond Woodsome Hill, the track descends to views of the Swan Coastal Plain, with the city of Perth in the distance. This area of the track features some of the best wildflowers in the park.





While yellows dominate, a closer look reveals blues, oranges, reds and other colours in the low scrub. These photos were taken at the very end of winter, and some flowers were yet to bloom. This section gets even more stunning by mid-spring. Unfortunately, by mid-spring the Avon River is far less impressive and there is always going to be a trade-off between wildflowers and rivers when deciding to visit this and many other parks in the Darling Scarp.



As with the river section, this wildflower section is much less impressive in Summer and Autumn. This photo shows what Walyunga looked like in March 2015. Instead of beautiful wildflowers, the bush here is mostly dry with a colour spectrum ranging from dull green to khaki. Its an interesting contrast, but its far from Walyunga at its best.



Following the wildflowers, the trail is an easy descent back to Boongarup Pool. This completes the main loop of the trail, with just the short return walk back to Walyunga Pool left.



This return section allows some final glimpses of the Avon River, and being later in the day walkers are likely to encounter kayakers paddling in the area.





Walyunga National Park is one of the better parks in the Darling Scarp, with lovely river and valley views, wildflowers and encounters with native wildlife. The Echidna Trail takes in all these things, making it the best walk in the park. Timing is crucial when it comes to seeing the park at its finest however, as the farthest reaches of the park can look a bit dull and lifeless after a hot, dry summer. A lookout at Woodsome Hill would serve to improve this situation, but I think the chances of such an addition are fairly slim. As it stands, the trail is a lovely, slightly challenging walk with some of the best white water views in the Perth region, and a day walk we would happily do again. 

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