Sunday, 28 August 2016

Lesueur & Gardner Trails (Lesueur National Park)


Combining the Lesueur and Gardner Trails, this walk is a botanical tour of Leseuer National Park - one of the greatest wildflower parks in Australia. Heading through Kwongan heathland up the short Mt Lesueur along the Lesueur Trail before looping around the Gardner Trail's circuit, this walk is filled with a brilliant display of wildflowers at every turn. A gift of WA's brilliant biodiversity, this is a must do during wildflower season.


Distance: 5 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: Fairly even and easy, with a moderately steep ascent up and down Mt Lesueur
Quality of Path: Clear and easy to follow path. Surface alternates between sandy and unevenly rocky
Quality of Signage: Well signed over its entire length
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 1.5-2 Hours
Steps: No steps, but uneven and steep paths are definitely not wheelchair accessible
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter-Late Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Lesueur National Park is located off Cockleshell Gully Rd, north east of Jurien Bay. A one way road runs through the park, leading to a car park and trailhead on the right side of the road. 



Western Australia is considered by many to have the most impressive wildflower displays in the country, and of all the national parks in the state, three reign supreme for their spectacular biodiversity - Stirling Range, Fitzgerald River and Lesueur National Parks. Although Lesueur has been on my bucket list for at least six years, it has been nineteen years since I last headed north from Perth on a road trip. As such, our decision to spend a weekend in Kalbarri served as the perfect opportunity to detour into Lesueur National Park on our way back home and tick another of Trails WA's Top Trails off my list. 

After driving down the dusty, unsealed Cockleshell Gully Road, we turned onto the sealed, one way road that serves as a scenic drive within the park. For those who aren't keen on walking, this drive would be worth doing in itself, as many of the park's amazing flowers can be seen along the drive. Roughly halfway along is the car park for the park's walk trails. The trailhead is clear and informative, offering a short 400 metre accessible section that is also shared with the Lesueur and Gardner Trails. 



Even along the wheelchair accessible path, the wildflower display is impressive, with yellow and orange flowers dominating the Kwongan heathland. On closer inspection, other colours become more visible; some species being more common than others but with no one dominating species to limit the biodiversity. 



The accessible path finishes at the Iaian Wilson Lookout, providing a lovely view of Mt Michaud and the surrounding heathland. Except for the lack of towering peaks, the landscape had striking similarities to the Stirling Range, and I quipped that Lesueur's flat-topped mesas look like someone got a massive chainsaw and cut the peaks off!



After the lookout, the Lesueur and Gardner Trails continue on through a boot cleaning station. Lesueur National Park is relatively clear of Dieback, and given its incredible biodiversity, it needs to be protected. As such, it is really important that walkers to ensure they use these cleaning stations before continuing on along the track.



The car park is right near a small hill, and we had initially thought that this would be the peak that the trail would climb up. Instead, the trail continues around the hill, leading to the point where the Gardner and Lesueur Trails diverge.



Among the more common yellow and orange flowers are pinks, purples and blues. At times, these colours burst out to the forefront while at others walkers will have to keep a keen eye out for the rarer flowers. Alissa and I kept stopping constantly to check out some of the more brilliant and unusual specimens along the walk.



The point where the Gardner and Lesueur Trails split off from each other is clearly signposted. With the Lesueur Trail going up Mt Lesueur and being longer, we decided to follow the Lesueur Trail on the right and to tackle the Gardner Trail on the way back down before returning to our car.



Although the brilliance of the flowers definitely steal the show, there are a lot of other marvels along the trails, such as the size of the Zamia in Lesueur National Park. Zamia are a fairly common Cycad throughout the South West, but I can't recall ever seeing many as large as the ones here. These looked a lot more like their majestic Cycad relatives in the Daintree rainforest - a true survivor from a time when most of Australia was a rainforest. 



Continuing along the Lesueur Trail, the path heads in a more southerly direction towards Mt Lesueur, with a clearly defined switchback visible along its slope leading to the summit.





Before reaching Lesueur's slopes, a short spur to the left leads to another lookout point.



The lookout provides expansive views to the east, taking in a stand of Wandoo Woodlands that is strikingly tall, especially compared to the Kwongan that otherwise dominates the landscape. Part of Lesueur National Park's incredible biodiversity is the result of many different soil types within the park catering to a variety of ecological niches, and this patchwork can be clearly seen throughout. 



The heath can at times be so overwhelming that its easy to ignore the finer details. Some of the most spectacular flowers are some of the least visible, with particularly stunning orchids bearing a single flower hidden low to the ground amongst the heath.



The track rises up Mt Lesueur up the switchback visible earlier along the walk. Although some of the track is mildly eroded, it is well maintained and a relatively easy ascent.



Along the slope are many flowers not seen earlier. Many stunted flowering gums were located along the switchback, providing lovely bursts of pink.



Like the Stirling Range, the weather was highly changeable; at times we were sweating from the unrelenting sun, and then at the next moment freezing cold from the chilly winds blowing in from the ocean.



As the track reaches the crest of Mt Lesueur, many exposed laterite boulders become visible. Although an entirely natural formation, their regular use in landscaping make it look like a landscaped retaining wall keeping the edge of the mountain together.



Walking across the summit of Mt Lesueur was like entering an alien landscape, with an incredibly high level of density of plants. Although Dryandras and Coneflowers seemed to dominate, all sorts of other species were successfully competing for real estate across the flat-topped mesa. Not being able to see beyond the dense heathland created the illusion that this landscape ruled by plants went on forever, making this section one of the highlights of the walk.



The trail reaches its end point at the southern end of Mt Lesueur, marked by a trigonometric station. From here, walkers can take in sweeping views of the Kwongan heathlands below as well as the farmland beyond the park's borders. 



From there, walkers retrace their steps to the earlier junction with the Gardner Trail. Walking this section again is actually a worthwhile experience, as certain flowers that were less visible on the way out can at times be seen more clearly on the way back in. 



A case in point - there were plenty of Catspaws along one section of the trail. We had completely missed them on the way up, however they were in a rather conspicuous line of sight as we were walking back. 



At the junction, walkers who have had enough of looking at flowers can go back to the car park the way that they came. At this stage, we had walked around 3 kilometres, which didn't seem long enough to call it a day. As such, we decided to live up to the blog's motto that the Long Way's Better, and return to the car via the Gardner Trail.



At first, the Gardner Trail is very similar to the section along the Lesueur Trail before it reaches the foot of Mt Lesueur, however the trail's vegetation starts to change as it heads east. 



The trail skirts past a section of the Wandoo Woodlands, with some growing in stunted or mallee forms. Given the lack of trees along the Lesueur Trail, this is a nice change of pace. Unforunately, the idyllic view along this section is ruined by an idiot who decided to carve graffiti into the tree pictured above. In a half joking moment of optimism, Alissa proffered that they may have meant to write 'FLICK' but accidentally joined the second and third letters together. That sounded highly unlikely, but then again I am totally incredulous that some 'flicker' would have had so little enjoyment and appreciation for the park that they would do something so antithetical to what Lesueur is all about. 



Continuing along, the Gardner Trail continued to be a worthwhile experience, with many other flowers we had not seen at all along the Lesueur Trail making a striking appearance. 



The Gardner Trail eventually turns left along an old vehicle track. At first, this vehicle track is a little dull compared to what we had seen earlier along the Lesueur and Gardner Trails, however it still had more wonders in store for us. 





The section of the vehicle track as it runs close to the start of the walk featured some of the most intense density of flowers in bloom, with blues, yellows, oranges, pinks and whites all blooming together in close proximity. 



Walkers exit the vehicle track along a section of purpose built walk track leading back to the car park, with a lovely collection of flowering plants right by the sign serving as a lovely farewell. 



Even then, the car park itself was surrounded by many other plant species that were no where to be seen along the walk trails themselves. Looking at some of the information panels, there were orchids and hakeas that would not flower until October, suggesting that Lesueur would be even more beautiful and spectacular in a month or two after our late August visit. 


In spite of being a short walk in fairly easy terrain, the combined Lesueur and Gardner Trails were enjoyable and very scenic. Although lacking the awe-inspiring geological wonder of places like Kalbarri or the Stirling Range, the wildflower blooms we witnessed were spectacular in their own way - and the fact that we weren't even there at the peak of the wildflower season suggests that the park could be even more incredible later in the year. Being a short distance from Jurien Bay, the Lesueur and Gardner Trails are easy to recommend, and an essential experience while holidaying along Australia's Coral Coast. 

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