Saturday, 16 January 2016

Meelup Trail (Meelup Regional Park)


Linking Dunsborough to Eagle Bay, the Meelup Trail leads walkers along the coast to beautiful secluded beaches and impressive granite rock formations. The imposing Castle Rock is the highlight of the relatively flat and easy walk in the coastal heathlands, and serves as both a great beginners trail and a less intense, bite-size taster for walkers considering doing the Cape to Cape Track. 



Distance: 7.4 km (one way)
Gradient: Fairly flat with very little change in elevation
Quality of Path: Excellent, clear and well maintained.
Quality of Signage: Reasonably well signed. There are large panels at the start of the trail and trail markers all along the way. The trail from Dunsborough to Point Piquet is very easy to follow, but becomes a bit confusing from there to Eagle Bay. 
Experience Required: No Previous Bushwalking Experience Required. This would be a very good trail for beginners.
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Very few steps, mostly flat
Best Time to Visit: All year round, though best to avoid in stormy or very hot weather
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Trail starts in the outskirts of Dunsborough on Hurford St. The Meelup walk trails can be accessed from the corner of Hurford St and Gifford Road, however the car park at the north-eastern most part of Hurford St is the best place to park, and faces the Dunsborough foreshore. Walkers can either return via the Meelup Trail to their car, arrange for a taxi or park a second car at the end of the trail near Riedle Park in Eagle Bay (corner of Gypsey St and Meelup Rd).  



While January is often peak walking season in colder places like New Zealand, Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains, January and February are the worst times of the year to be out walking in the Perth outdoors. With fires having burnt through lovely sections of the Bibbulmun near Dwellingup and just about destroyed the town of Yarloop, it goes beyond being merely uncomfortable heat with the potential of heatstroke - it can be potentially deadly. 

Further south, the weather can be a lot more hospitable, which is why Alissa and I made the most of our time visiting friends in Margaret River and headed out to Dunsborough to walk the Meelup Trail in mid-January. The Meelup Trail is well known for its connection to the Cape to Cape Track, as its 7.6 kilometres from Dunsborough to Eagle Bay is the first half of a trail that leads to the Cape Naturaliste start of the Track. The start point for the Meelup Trail is fairly easy to find, and has a car park conveniently located near the trailhead on Hurford St. 



While the weather was considerably cooler than Perth, it was actually quite a hot and humid 31ÂșC day to be doing a coastal walk, especially with the low heathland providing little in the way of shade. The upside of the lack of significant overstorey cover was that it gave us clear views of the beautiful granite rock formations all along the track. Those who have walked the Cape to Cape or visited sectional highlights like Sugarloaf Rock will recognise this kind of landscape, though the Meelup Trail's formations are at a somewhat smaller scale.



The quality of the track itself is very good, and is clearly well maintained. One of the unfortunate aspects of this area is that many sections of the low heathlands are affected by Dieback, with signs alerting walkers whenever entering an area infected with Dieback. Surprisingly for regular Bibbulmun Track walkers, there were no boot cleaning stations along the way, suggesting that even the areas without any confirmed infection are possibly a lost cause from the spread.



During the first few kilometres of the walk, the trail features several short turn offs leading to a number of small secluded beaches that can only be reached from the trail. Often the smallest and rockiest of these were the most charming, and were deserted save for passing paddleboarders making their way along the coast. 








The most impressive feature of the trail would have to be Castle Rock. Not to be confused with the more famous Castle Rock in Porongurup National Park, the Castle Rock in Meelup Regional Park has a similarly tower-like shape - but in every other way reminded Alissa and I of a smaller version of Sugarloaf Rock. Being hot and not wanting to be out in the heat for any longer than necessary, I didn't get a chance to climb to the top but would love to if we were to walk this trail again.  



Given it was the dry summer period, many of the brooks and streams in the area were no longer flowing, including this one beneath a bridge leading to the nearby Castle Bay.



Being one of the larger beaches along Meelup Regional Park, Castle Bay is now a fairly popular beach with families, however it once served as the home of the Castle Rock Co. Whaling Station. This cairn at the western end of the beach marks its former location. 



From Castle Bay onwards the beaches are larger and more heavily patronised, however there are still some rugged sections that divide up the beaches. This point is called Sail Rock, though I suspect the feature must have been beyond our view as there was nothing particularly sail-like about what we saw. 



Meelup Beach is the heart of the Meelup Regional Park, and is even more popular with families than Castle Bay. As we walked along the trail, there were more cars parking, suggesting this beach was going to be even busier as the day progressed. 



A nice feature of Meelup Beach is that it is also where Meelup Brook runs into the ocean, and the brook had not dried up in the summer months. I can imagine the stream being even prettier in late winter. 



Gannet Rock was the last of the major rock formations along the coast, with the trail continuing on in a fairly straightforward manner until Point Piquet car park. At this point, we found the trail was not as clear and well signed, however found our way back to the trail as it ascended away from the beach. 



This section features the only real ascent of the trail, and even then was not exactly long or difficult. 



The hill featured some nice rugged granite formations, and was a worthwhile reason for the path deviating up and inland. 



Unfortunately the trail again became a bit vague after descending the hill, and we ended up walking along the beach for a section before feeling the difficulty of walking on soft sand was probably not right and heading back inland. Still, the beach walk had some nice features and is a worthwhile deviation considering the trail in this section is quite removed from the beach. 



Finally, we reached Eagle Bay, with a well shaded boardwalk leading to our destination. Initially, we had planned to walk back to the car from here however the heat had drained us of any interest in walking back the way we came, and we instead called a taxi back to Dunsborough. Being hot, sweaty and having lost the trail twice made us a bit grumpy at this point, and I remember thinking the walk was a slightly underwhelming. After cooling down and looking at the photos, I came to admit that there is a lot to like about the Meelup Trail, with Castle Rock being reason alone to hike this trail. It has so much of what makes the Leeuwin-Naturaliste area such a beautiful part of the world, albeit at a smaller scale. This smaller scale and the easiness of the terrain makes this a superb walk for beginners, and a great taster for more rugged coastal walking in the South West. 

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