Sunday, 29 May 2016

Ghost House Walk Trail (Yanchep National Park)


Long considered one of Perth's Top Trails, the Ghost House Walk Trail leads walkers from the manicured shores of Loch McNess to the wilderness areas of Yanchep National Park. Exploring the wetlands landscape in the Swan Coastal Plain, trail highlights include wildflowers, birds watching, the ruins of an old house, limestone cliffs and caves, as well as a koala colony near Yanchep Inn. 


Distance: 12.4km (loop)
Gradient: Mostly easy, level terrain with a few gentle ascents and descents. 
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained, with some sections uneven due to limestone
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, although there is no indication at the Wetlands Walk that this is a spur from that trail, and signage is non-existent from Dwerta Mia onwards back to Yanchep Inn. 
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required, however the 'Wild about Walking in Yanchep NP' brochure is essential for first time walkers given slightly unclear signage at start and end of trail.
Time: 2.5-3 Hours
Steps: A few formal steps towards the end of the trail, and some uneven sections on limestone
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter/Early Spring, but okay from mid Autumn through to late Spring
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park fees apply. 
Getting There: The trail is within Yanchep National Park. Travel north on Wanneroo Rd to the national park entrance. Although the trail can be started from various car parks, I suggest the main car park facing Yanchep Inn as the best starting location. 



Yanchep is one of the strangest National Parks in Western Australia. Like Royal National Park in New South Wales, Yanchep is something of a throwback to an earlier era before wilderness values became the overriding principle of park management. Building an Inn right by an important wetland, landscaping the area with manicured grass, turning a cave into a kitsch functions centre and introducing a colony of animals not native to the area would all be considered environmental vandalism if suggested in a new park, but are intriguing reminders of differing values from another time.


In spite of the less than natural values of the most visited sections of the park, much of the Yanchep National Park is still a wilderness, with the Ghost House Walk Trail exploring these more pristine areas. As a spur of the Wetlands Walk Trail, the Ghost House Trail does not have an obvious starting point, however I suggest parking in front of Yanchep Inn as it allows walkers to start by exploring this area first. I've done this walk three times, and on every occasion I've been greeted by kangaroos happily munching away at the grass in the morning hours. On this last occasion (May 2016), Alissa and I encountered two kangaroos boxing, a sight that would definitely have pleased the large number of tourists that visit the park each year.


Walking in a clockwise direction, a path goes along the banks of Loch McNess, offering lovely views of the wetlands. The birdlife in the area is incredible, and the park would be a bird watcher's delight.


As the path around the lake curves west, a sign identifies that this is the start of the Wetlands Walk Trail. This shorter loop takes walkers around Loch McNess, with the Ghost House Walk Trail beginning as spur that branches off later.


Being right along the lake, the landscape is very lush, with a large understorey of bracken ferns.


I first walked the trail in 2010 after a significant bushfire had gone through the park, and many of the trees still show signs of the damage the fire caused. Nevertheless, the overstorey includes a number of large, mature examples of Jarrah and Tuarts. A particularly interesting tree has grown in a strange twisted shape that curls over the path.


I always think of the tree as an important landmark, as the Ghost House Trail's junction is a short distance after. It is very clearly signed with its own yellow markers as well as markers indicating that it is one of TrailsWA's Top Trails. Indeed, this was one of the original Top Trails and predates the current TrailsWA site by many years.


Much is often made about how some wildflowers are always in bloom in Western Australia. While we didn't encounter many wildflowers the last time we walked this trail in January 2016, many flowers were indeed in bloom by late Autumn, including these bright yellow flowers.


The trail in this section often rises away from the wetlands, but returns on occasion to offer walkers excellent views of the reed-filled lakes between breaks in the woodlands.


This section features a combination of muddy, loose sand and limestone. With recent wet weather, the sand was not much fun to walk on but was not unduly difficult. Regardless of weather conditions, walkers should take extra care due to the unevenness of the path as a result of the limestone peaking out beneath the surface.


Being the Swan Coastal Plain, it is interesting to see coastal plants coexisting with species more commonly seen along rivers systems. After a section of relatively dense Jarrah and Tuart-dominated woodlands, the track gives way to a more open Wandoo-dominated landscape, with Pigface flourishing in the low grasslands.


The trail's namesake feature is a short distance away from the Pigface-filled grasslands, and is the remnants of an old and long abandoned house.


Much of the building seems to have collapsed over the years, with trees, grasses and vines having reclaimed the area. Having grown up in Cockburn, the Ghost House reminds me of the ruins that lie alongside Lake Coogee.


Not long after the ruins is Shapcotts Campsite. When I first walked the trail in 2010, the hut had just been burnt down and has since been rebuilt. Bibbulmun Track walkers will recognise the design as the rammed earth variant of the Nornalup-style shelter that is currently being used to replace the huts burnt down along the Track. Shapcotts Campsite is part of the Coastal Plain Walk Trail, a multi-day trail that extends from near Bullsbrook to Yanchep.


Facing the front of Shapcotts Hut is a faint trail leading to limestone cliffs and shallow caves, and is well worth checking out. There is a path leading up to the top of the cliffs, however I chickened out after seeing a large bee hive attached to the cliff wall with many bees buzzing about.


From Shapcotts, the trail heads east back to Loch McNess. Just as the Ghost House Trail branches off the Wetlands Walk Trail, the Coastal Plains Walk Trail branches off not long after the campsite.


The vegetation in this section seems to be dominated by coastal heathlands, presumably due to the shallowness of the soil. The limestone in this section is the worst and most uneven along the entire trail, and walkers should pay extra attention to their footing while here.


Again, there was a profusion of wildflowers even at this time of the year.


Heathland eventually give way to woodlands once again. Some of the Jarrah and Tuarts in this section are very tall and mature specimens, looking more like the taller trees in Dwellingup than the scrappy Jarrah often found closer to Perth along the Darling Scarp.


At the trail returns to the main day use areas of the park, walkers will encounter a landscaping maintenance area complete with piles of different soils, as well as this old, long disused bunker.


The Ghost House Trail eventually joins the Yanchep Rose Trail. The Yanchep Rose Trail is designed with wildflower viewing in mind, and Alissa and I were gifted with superb views of Banksias along this section.


The trail then leads to the car park for Cabaret Cave, a natural cave that has been converted into a most unnatural functions centre. The cave is closed to the public, but can be hired out for functions and parties.


The trail seems to end at Cabaret Cave, but there is a further marker that indicates walkers should follow the path rather than continue along the road back to Yanchep Inn.


This trail leads to the start of the Dwerta Mia Trail - a worthwhile sidetrip into Boomerang Gorge. This was once a cave system that eventually collapsed, and there are information panels along this walk that explain the significance of many features.


The small cave of Dwerta Mia is the main feature of the walk. Meaning 'place of the wild dog', it was thought to be the home of dingoes and evil spirits by the Aboriginal people living in the area.


Returning back from Dwerta Mia, the trail becomes very unclear however if you use the Tram pictured above as a landmark and follow the path by the building it is next to, you should see a trail in the bushland just beyond some powerlines. This trail leads back to Yanchep Inn. If not, don't worry - signage along the roads clearly indicates which direction the Inn is.


While at Yanchep Inn, walkers should make the most of the opportunity by checking out the koala colony within the park. Not native to the west coast, the koala colony is another of Yanchep's less than natural features, but one that seems to be very popular with tourists based on the number of visitors we encountered along the boardwalks of the colony.

The Ghost House Walk Trail features an excellent assortment of sights along its 12 kilometre loop, ranging from the wilderness of the wetlands to historic sites like the namesake Ghost House. Side trips to check out Dwerta Mia and the koala colony are definitely recommended, and round out a walk that is fairly unique in Perth. While there are better and more challenging walks in the Perth Hills, the Ghost House Walk Trail is arguably the best of the walks in the Swan Coastal Plain, and is really the best way to experience what Yanchep National Park has to offer.

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