Saturday, 15 October 2016

Woylie Walk (Dryandra Woodlands)


Long considered one of Western Australia's Top Trails, the Woylie Walk takes walkers through the Dryandra Woodlands - an important reserve that preserves the original vegetation of the Wheatbelt that will soon gain National Park status. An easy stroll, this short trail passes through many different forest types over its 5.5 kilometres and features a lovely abundance of wildflowers in the Springtime. 


Distance: 5.5 km (loop)
Gradient: Fairly even and easy, with minor ascents and descents along the way
Quality of Path: Clear and easy to follow path - mainly purpose built walk trail with a section along a vehicle track
Quality of Signage: Well signed over its entire length
Experience Required: No Previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: <1.5 Hours
Steps: No formal steps
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter-Late Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Old Mill Dam, located on Tomingley Rd west of the Lions Dryandra Woodlands Village. 



Just before leaving for our eight days on the Bibbulmun Track, I received word from the Department of Parks and Wildlife that The Long Way's Better had been selected as one of their first Park Explorers - a program designed to get people out exploring WA's National Parks. To help us get out there, the department has given us free camping at all their campgrounds, and Alissa and I decided to use the opportunity to check out a park I'd been wanting to visit for years - the Dryandra Woodlands.



The Dryandra Woodlands have been given a lot of focus of late as the Department has spent a fair bit of money building a new campground at Gnaala Mia to complement the existing Congelin campground, and after seeing photos online I knew we had to stay there. Nestled in the unique and iconic woodlands of the area, Gnaala Mia is a really beautiful spot, and since its only a year old it is in fantastic condition. Given that it is two hours away from Perth make Gnaala Mia a perfect getaway, and Alissa and I agreed we would definitely come back with friends in the future.



Having come down to Gnaala Mia late on a Friday afternoon, Alissa and I had not planned on doing any walking until the next day, however we had a booking for a nighttime tour of Barna Mia - an animal sanctuary located nearby. As we were driving down Tomingley Road towards the sanctuary, Alissa and I were excited to see a large dark blob crossing the road. It was an Echidna! In all our time bushwalking and travelling in Regional WA, Alissa and I had never seen an Echidna in the wild, and we got out of the car to take some photos. The Echidna was understandably shy, and it curled up into a ball with its head buried into the ground. After taking photos we continued on our way, carefully watching the road for any other wildlife. 



Built from compressed hay, the entrance building to Barna Mia is architecturally interesting, and is designed to mimic the burrows of marsupials protected within the sanctuary.



The night tour was excellent - with special red lights, we were able to see many rare marsupials that are either extinct on the mainland or at least wiped out in the South-West, including Rufous Hare Wallabies, Boodies, Bilbies and Quendas.



Brush Tailed Possums are not actually protected by the sanctuary as they are not considered endangered, however we were told that they are notorious for willingly breaking into the santuary to live within its walls so they can freeload off the greater food reliability! This was a delightful experience that seemed to be more heavily patronised by interstate tourists. Hopefully the recent announcement that the Dryandra Woodlands will become Dryandra National Park will result in greater appreciation for this special place.



After a decent night's sleep in Gnaala Mia, eating breakfast and packing up, Alissa and I woke up to check out one of the Dryandra Woodlands' most well known trails - the Woylie Walk.



One of Trails WA's original Top Trails, the Woylie Walk starts at Old Mill Dam, and is a short drive from Gnaala Mia. The trailhead is a large shelter with a wealth of information about the walk and the area in general.



The trail initially heads away from the shelter, running concurrent with a shorter trail called the Wandoo Walk. These branch of later - ensure that you follow the Woylie trail markers.



The Woylie Walk's trail markers are clear and visible throughout the walk, making navigation very easy.



The trail does an odd loop away from the trailhead before crossing Tomingley Road just before the turn off into the Old Mill Dam's car park.



After crossing Tomingley Road, the trail passes through a stand of Brown Mallet. At Barna Mia, we had learned that Brown Mallet is the reason that much of the bushland in this area was conserved, as the highly tannic bark was used in leather making before the advent of synthetic substitutes.



The trail then skirts a boundary between Wandoo/Powderbark on the left and Brown Mallet on the right. It is really interesting to see how the different the understorey is on both sides. The Wandoo side featured a lot more shrubs and bushes, while the Brown Mallet was a lot more bare in appearance. Apparently the tannic quality of the bark makes the area around the Brown Mallet less hospitable, and the result in the more open appearance of the Brown Mallet Woodlands.



Being Springtime, there were a lot of wildflowers in bloom along the track, including the Egg and Bacon Flowers that have proven to be a saviour to many native species. These peas contain the poison Sodium Fluoroacetate, better known as 1080. While native animals have evolved to be partially immune to its effects, 1080 is deadly to introduced species and baiting with 1080 has proven to be an effective control against foxes, though less so with cats.



The trail ascends gently up a Laterite ridge, with much Brown Mallet growing along the slopes below the ridge. Although no where near as steep, the area bore a striking resemblance to the slopes of Mt Matilda - a similar island of native bushland in the Wheatbelt near Wongan Hills. 


Initially, the track passes through Jarrah forest across the top of the ridge before descending into the Brown Mallet.



The open understorey of the Brown Mallet in this area featured a hut-like structure made from dead wood. Although it was not explained and there was no way to know for sure, Alissa and I speculated that it might have been something construct for an Aboriginal ceremony in the area, though it could well have been constructed by a particularly determined walker.  



Beyond the stand of Brown Mallet the trail turns onto a vehicle track through mixed forest, with Wandoo generally on the left and Brown Mallet on the right side of the track. 



The Dryandra Woodlands get their name from the abundance of Dyandra found throughout the park. While we seemed to have missed seeing the flowers in full bloom, these flowering plants were everywhere throughout the park and were of their greatest density along this stretch of the track. 



As we continued along the vehicle track, Alissa and I were amazed by the sight of several fallen trees. Fallen trees are a pretty common sight along bushwalks in Western Australia - and this was nothing compared to the fallen Karris we recently saw along the Bibbulmun Track - but what was interesting was how neatly they had been uprooted. The tree on the left was particularly interesting as its roots seemed to have come out looking like a cylindricl puck of soil that somehow had been kept together by the roots. 


The vehicle track intersects with another vehicle track. Just before it does, the Woylie Walk branches off to the right and once again follows purpose built walk track across to the other side. 





There are a number of strikingly different landscapes along this stretch of the track, including the section above. What appears to be grassland is actually several small plants that occasionally bore small yellow flowers. 



The lower lying shrubbery in this section meant looking a lot closer to the ground. There were a number of beautiful wildflowers in this section, including the blue flowers above and a number of different orchids. 



Approaching another Laterite ridge, the area once reminded us of Mt Matilda, especially with all the wildflowers in bloom. 





After crossing a creek, the track turns right through more Brown Mallet and Wandoo. 



The track runs alongside the creek bed. This is the home stretch of the walk. 



Heading away from the creek, the Wandoo starts to disappear as the woodland becomes almost entirely dominated by Brown Mallet, again with very little in the way of understorey. These are the same woodlands encountered when first crossing Tomingley Rd.



The trail returns to the Tomingley Road crossing, thus completing the trail's loop. From here, walkers retrace their steps on the other side back to the Trailhead and car park. 




The Woylie Walk was by far the easiest walk we did over our weekend in the Dryandra Woodlands, Stirling Range and Porongurup National Parks - in fact it would be one of the easiest we've ever covered on the Long Way's Better. While it lacked the mountain views and challenge of the other walks, there was something really charming and lovely about the Woylie Walk and Dryandra Woodlands in general. It is a really peaceful and photogenic spot that, in its own way, is every bit as beautiful as the Karri and Tingle forest of the Southern Forests. Given my preference for walks of either longer distance or more challenging terrain, I can't say it is a walk I would do again, however combining it with a stay at Gnaala Mia and a visit to Barna Mia definitely made for an excellent weekend getaway - and one that I think will become increasingly popular once the Woodlands become Dryandra National Park. 

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