[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online

So You're Going to Western Australia to see the Wildflowers?

Tony Cavanagh

My wife Liz and I visited Western Australia last year for several months. Despite what the locals said about it being a "very poor year for wildflowers" because of the lack of winter rain, we had a marvellous time and saw more than enough wildflowers to satisfy us. Below are some notes that may be of help to others thinking of making the big trip to the West. It is definitely worth while and the longer you can stay, the more fascinating things you will find.

Getting there

Particularly if you only have a short time, it is important to plan your trip and don't fall for the trap of trying to see too much. It is better to select a couple of areas and cover them thoroughly rather than "skimming" over a lot of country and missing many of the best wildflowers.

Obtain maps and tourist information well before you leave, not when you arrive. The "Hema" series are quite good but we found "Street Smart Touring Maps" to be the most informative. The annual Camping and Caravan Show, usually held in May at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre is an excellent place to start. The folks on the Western Australia Tourist Information stand are extremely helpful. Most of them actually work in Tourist Information Offices in various WA towns so can give you a lot of advice, information and material. Otherwise, write to the WA Tourist Office in Perth. Also speak to people who have done trips - you may have different ideas on where you want to go or what you want to see but someone who has been there can often point out traps or tell you about things that shouldn't be missed.

Where to go

This is really up to you - the time you have, your interests and how you are travelling. We went up the Northern Highway and down the Coastal Highway, detouring inland at times from this. If you have a four wheel drive, you can get to more outback and isolated places but it isn't really necessary. Most of the main roads in Western Australia are excellent, even the gravel ones, but if it rains, as little as 20 mm. then many of the inland gravel roads are closed for up to several days.

Western Australia is a big state, even after you have spent four to six days just getting there. It is over 700 km from Kalgoorlie to Perth and over 1600 km from Perth to Port Hedland via the Great Northern Highway. Carnarvon is 900 km north of Perth along the Coastal Highway, and its another 350 km to Exmouth. Esperance by the shortest route is over 730 km, further if you go around the coast. Albany is relatively close to Perth, a little over 400 km, which is why so many people do the southern part of WA and rarely go further north than Geraldton.

   Map of Western Australia

However, the Wongan Hills and country inland from Geraldton is great wildflower country. We really enjoyed the north, and Karijini, Cape Range and Kalbarri National Parks have great gorge scenery. It rarely rains and the weather in August to October is pleasantly warm and great for camping. It does become windy along the coast after October, however, apparently through to about March. The wildflowers, both along the Great Northern Highway up to about Mt Magnet where you see acres of daisies after rain, and in Kalbarri NP and around Eneabba, are spectacular.

There are several eco-tourist parks and farm stays where the owners are very knowledgeable about native plants and have wonderful displays on their properties. They offer tours for a fee and generally camping and/or accommodation and meals. We stayed at the following and can recommend them:

  • Eurardy Station (north of the Kalbarri NP turn off), which actually borders the northern boundary of the National Park.
  • Western Flora Caravan Park, about 20 km north of Eneabba and just off the main highway.
  • Hi-Vallee, about 30 km north of Badgingarra where they have several thousand acres of original bush and a huge number of wildflowers, especially among the Proteaceae and Myrtaceae (they are also close to Mt. Lesueuer)
  • Banksia Farm, just outside of Mt Barker which is north of Albany and on the way to the Stirling Ranges and the Poorongorups. They have all the Banksia species including many colour forms growing and most of the dryandras.

The area around Perth is interesting but is nearly all farmland with few wildflowers. Don't forget King's Park, and Wireless Hill Reserve on the highway to Fremantle has great views and nice gardens. There are a number of small Reserves which are listed in Simon Nevill's book on parks and reserves (see below) and some are worth a visit, eg. Boyagin Rock Reserve, Rica Erickson Reserve and Tutanning Nature Reserve.

We went south of Perth around the coast via Bunbury, Busselton and Augusta (don't miss Cape Leeuwin). The road to Albany is via the Jarrah and Karri forests through Manjimup, Pemberton, Denmark and Walpole. This area is always wet (they receive up to 1200mm annually) but the coast on a fine day is spectacular, especially in D'Entrecasteaux National Park south of Pemberton.

Albany is another delightful but wet town with a wonderful coast and many hundreds of wildflowers. It is worth spending several days there and travelling to Two Peoples Bay and other coastal areas. Albany is also the jumping off point for the Stirling Range National Park and the lesser-known Poorongorups. We were disappointed with the Stirlings - much of it had been burnt in wildfires and it had been so dry that very little was in flower. In a good season you might see several thousand species flowering.

From Albany to the east you pass through the Fitzgerald National Park (with the hills known as the Barrens), and to the east of Esperance, Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid National Parks. The most spectacular plant in this area is Banksia speciosa, which ranges from small, windswept shrubs after fires to tall trees in thickets. Right through here the coast is all granite and has spectacular bays and headlands. It is an area I would recommend if you have the time.

After you leave Esperance, you go north to Norseman and then head back home across the Nullarbor.

Sources of information

One of the frightening things about the wildflowers in WA is that there are so many plants that you look at and have not the faintest notion of what genus or even family they belong to, let alone what their species name is! The sheer number of plants (something over 8000 species) makes it all pretty frustrating but there are several good books with excellent colour illustrations which can help with identification. Often they will help you to at least put a genus name to the plant but even the biggest collection of pictures is only 900 so many species are not represented at all.

The first book that attempted to give a comprehensive coverage of the plants arranged by the different botanical areas of the state was Flowers and Plants of Western Australia by Rica Erickson et al. First published in 1973, this has long been out of print but if you ever find a secondhand copy, grab it because it really is a most useful and accurate book.

On a smaller scale but still with the organisation of the pictures by areas is Margaret Pieroni's Discovering the Wildflowers of Western Australia. This costs about $12.00 and is readily available in many Tourist Information Offices in Western Australia.

A recent excellent book of which there is a new edition is Margaret Corrick's Wildflowers of Southern Western Australia. This is less easily used because the plants are arranged by their botanical families. This means that you need to have at least some idea of a possible family, and this is not always easy to do. However, it does have over 700 photographs, of excellent quality and mostly taken by noted professional photographer Bruce Fuhrer.

Eddy Wajon's Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia is in three parts (so far) and covers three areas of WA. Plants are arranged by colour making it easier to find unknown plants. Each part costs about $20.00.

The last book worth thinking about is Simon Nevill's Guide to the Wildflowers of South Western Australia. It has been criticised for mistakes in identification of species so buy the second edition which has some of the errors from the first edition corrected. It has over 900 small format pictures and is arranged by botanical area in which a species occurs. I think the whole concept of the book is excellent as he has brief descriptions of each area and lots of 'mud maps' of National Parks and reserves as well as guides to 'good' wildflower areas and roads. He followed this book up with Travellers Guide to the Parks and Reserves of Western Australia which he published in 2001. It costs around $35.00 and has excellent maps and hundreds of well chosen illustrations, as well as being packed with useful information about the parks and what you will see when you get there.

Another really useful guide if you are going to the Badgingarra-Eneabba area is a handy fold-out map called Kwongan Connections. It costs about $6.00 and is available at CALM (Department of Conservation and Land Management) offices and Tourist Offices in the area. It contains good colour pictures of many local plants and a highly detailed and accurate map showing good wildflower roads and many areas of interest.

Lastly, you can sometimes obtain plant lists from CALM offices in the larger towns.

Also local native plant enthusiasts in places like Ravensthorpe and Esperance have produced colour booklets of the wildflowers in their districts.

A trip to Western Australia is a fascinating experience and the trip is well worth the effort. A good time is from August onwards. If you have the time, start in the north and work your way south.

From the newsletter of the Geelong District Group of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria) via Growing Australian, December 2002.


[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online - June 2003
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants