Caught between the flat, expansive golden fields of the southern wheatbelt and WA’s lush southwest, Stirling Range National Park does what Australia does best when it comes to nature. Rugged mountain vistas, breathtaking scenery, tough hikes, and a plethora of unique vegetation; it all works to make this adventure playground one of the clear highlights of WA’s stunning southwest.
From whatever direction you approach, the Stirling Range begins as a tumble of vibrant green hills thick with a forest of flowering plantlife as they rise abruptly from the surrounding countryside. They flow and rise into a rugged series of gnarled mountains, rocky crags and sheer cliff faces, separated by moist gullies and dry mallee woodland.
It’s located about 90km from Albany, about 330km southeast of Perth, and stretches for 65km east to west. It’s the only major mountain range in southern Western Australia, with Bluff Knoll standing as not only the highest peak in the southern half of the state, but one of the only places where snow occasionally falls.
I wouldn’t even need to hesitate to say it has to be one of my favourite places in Australia. Like the Warrumbungles in NSW or the Grampians in Victoria, both of which have a similar feel to the Stirlings, it’s one of those areas that just seems to cater for everything I’m passionate about when it comes to places like this.
From the mountains and hiking, endangered wildlife and photogenic scenery, to the rugged, wild beauty of it all, it’s the type of place I’d probably visit every other weekend, if only I didn’t live on the other side of the country.
If mountains and hiking aren’t your thing, the sheer natural beauty of the area is still worth the visit. The peaks, valleys, gullies, woodland and the variety of habitats and conditions present throughout the park support an absolute wealth of life. The region is recognised as one of the top 35 areas for biodiversity in the world, and made Australia’s natural heritage list in 2006.
Over 1500 species of flowering plant grow here, and it means that while the range may look similar from a distance, one area can be utterly distinct from another. Late spring is the best time to catch the majority of the wildflowers that carpet the mountains in vibrant splashes of colour, but no matter what time you visit something’s bound to be flowering.
Unsurprisingly, the biological haven supports a rich diversity of wildlife, too. Nearly 150 bird species have been encountered, along with healthy populations of snakes, lizards, and several endangered or threatened mammals, including a small number of reintroduced numbats.
Stirling Ranges camping
It’s all an easy drive from Albany, but if you’re sticking around, Moirup Springs campground makes a good base. There’s also two caravan parks located adjacent to the park, Mt Trio Bush Camp and the Stirling Range Retreat. There’s picnic areas dotted around the area, with Red Gum Springs and White Gum Flat shady and isolated and perfect to relax at for an hour or two.
The Stirling’s Scenic Drive crosses 40km of the range, and I’d highly recommend doing this late in the day if you can. The view from atop Central Lookout in the late afternoon is hard to beat, as the golden light really lights up the dense heath-covered hills. Be warned, one visit it can be easily 2wd accessible, but the next you could be facing some of the most bone-jarring corrugations you’re ever likely to encounter.
A hiker's playground
At the end of the day, hiking is this mountainous playground’s biggest draw, and rightfully so. Aside from the pleasantly level Ognerup Creek and Kanga walks, all of the park’s tracks require a climb.
I returned for my third visit a couple of months ago, taking advantage of the crisp early autumn weather to tick off another two of the climbs. While a few may seem a little daunting, most can be completed without too much trouble, and with a few spare days you could easily get through a good chunk of them. Well, perhaps not too easily.
Bluff Knoll is the park’s most recognisable peak, often included in lists of Australia’s best walks. It rises high above the eastern end of the range like a broken crown, its distinctive shape visible for most of the drive in.
It’s highest point is 1099 metres, and the 6km walk to the summit is easily the most popular in the park. When I last visited the car park had filled up by 9am, and a ranger had set up a barricade at the bottom and was turning potential walkers away until the crowds cleared, so arrive early if you’re visiting on a weekend.
It’s by no means an easy walk, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks from first glance. The track climbs gradually, sloping gently and diagonally up the face before rounding the peak at the back. Heath-coated ridges fall away as the wild country to the east becomes agricultural land that runs to the coast. From the summit, the views back across the rest of the park are absolutely spectacular, especially with the morning sun behind you.
A close second in regards to height, at 1052m, this walk has my vote for the most spectacular in the park, and I might even go so far as to throw it up there with some of my favourite in the entire country.
It’s shorter than Bluff Knoll, with a similar 3 hour timeframe, but unlike the gradual climb of the former, here the track starts climbing straight away and doesn’t relent. It passes through dense woodland and forested gullies, crossing jagged boulder slopes and scree fields as it climbs the windswept crest of a narrow valley.
The last section is a scramble up to the rocky crag that dominates the mountain top. Unlike Bluff Knoll, Toolbrunup has a small and definite peak, and the 360 views are pretty damn incredible, with vibrant green ridges snaking their way down to the plains below.
Mt Hassle and Trio
These are two of the easier climbs in the park, both taking a couple of hours, and are a good introduction to the area’s mountains. Like Bluff Knoll, both track heads start fairly high up the slopes, and the climbs are up well-formed tracks and rise gently enough. Both still offer some killer views, and with Hassle you can gaze up at the daunting peak of Toolbrunup, while Trio shows off some of the diverse segments of vegetation as you climb.
Mt Talyuberlup and Magog
These two sit in the middle of the range, accessed via the 40km scenic drive that runs across the park. Talyuberlup is one of the shortest walks but also one of the steepest, with the rocky crag at the top one of the more interesting geological features in the area.
Magog, on the other hand, is one of the longest, at 7km. It starts with a pleasant section through lush open wandoo forest that showcases the diversity of flora here, all the while the sheer face of the mountain looms ahead.
When you reach it, the track climbs straight up, and it’s an exhausting scramble to the saddle, although if you leave early enough the sun will be blocked for the majority of the climb. Like Toolbrunup, the views from the top stretch in all directions, taking in the entirety of the park, with the top of Bluff Knoll peeking through behind the mass of Toolbrunup. I reckon it’s easily the toughest of the lot.
The Stirling Ridge Traverse
Well, except for this. The Stirling Range Ridge Traverse runs from Bluff Knoll to Ellens Peak, and for the most part is little more than a rough track that climbs and descends 26km of gnarled mountainous country.
As far as long distance walks go, it isn’t huge, but the walk can still take 3 days to complete as you climb from peak to peak, dropping down tight valleys between every one. It’s often rated as one of the best and hardest walks not just in the state, but the country, so maybe save this one for last.
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