Start - Serpentine National Park
Length - 5.8km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 185m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Black Boot
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 22nd August 2020
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - Serpentine National Park is an hour's drive from Perth and is located off South Western Hwy. Follow the signs from the main road and beware of the opening/closing times for the gates.
The Hike - In 2020 I've put aside some time to re-hike some old trails and give the pages a good refresh of photos that truly reflect the experience. As part of this I spent the morning hiking Kitty's Gorge with a side trip up to Baldwin's Bluff, totalling about 24km in the day. If you have the legs for it then it's a great combo and provides some extra perspective of the Serpentine River Valley that you wouldn't get just hiking Kitty's Gorge on it's own. With a busy car park full of day trippers enjoying Serpentine Falls, I avoided the crowds and discreetly made my way to the start point of trail, located on the south eastern side of the day use area. I wasn't alone as a couple of guys also started at the same time and being a warm day I was intrigued by the outfit choice of one (basically a thick tracksuit).
I let them get a little way ahead so I didn't have them in all my photos, instead concentrating on shooting the first of many varieties of wildflowers I would find along the trail. My only two visits to this trail have occurred in early autumn so were not the ideal time of year given the lack of wildflowers. Keen to experience the trail in all its glory, little did I know how great it would be all the way to the top. Initially though you follow a wide 4x4 track that previously I had come across a lone kangaroo. With high traffic on the trail, this was unlikely so my gaze shifted to the undergrowth in search of wildflowers and it wasn't hard to find them. Apart from the common Golden Buttercup, I found some beautifully scented Karri Hazel and the striking looking Lemon Scented Darwinia. Also hiding in the leaves were a couple of late season fungi that had survived through the winter. As I was finishing taking photos on my hands and knees, a couple passed me coming down and wondered what all the fuss was. As I looked back they were on the side of the trail where I was with phones out taking photos. It's so easy to miss the details even if you're paying attention, I found the same thing coming back down, being unable to located orchids I'd seen on the way up.
Rounding a corner and exiting the 4x4 track, you are pointed up the hill by an old wooden sign and this is where the climbing begins. As it was getting quite warm I was glad to find the trail somewhat sheltered from the sun and the temperature noticeably dropped as you entered the thick Karri Hazel dominated undergrowth. The rocky path leading up the hill means that for the most part you won't have the stable footing you get on a regular single track but this is just a minor inconvenience. As seen from Kitty's Gorge, this area is home to a few mature She-Oak trees that at the time of my visit had the male flowers in bloom (orange fluff that grows near the needles). I love She-Oak so this was a real treat to see all throughout the valley below Baldwin's Bluff. You can see all the way up the hill to where you are going to end up and the soundtrack of my visit was a pleasant gurgling of the nearby brook that the path runs parallel to. Eventually you reach a point where the brook passes under the track and you get the only visual of flowing water on the trail.
At this point the trail opens up a bit and you arrive into the Wandoo Woodlands that differentiate this trail from Kitty's Gorge. This is where the wildflowers and orchids really started to explode with a great variety of colours, shapes and sizes. First I saw some Donkey Orchids hidden away behind a log, followed by some stunning Granite Petrophile, a Fuschia Grevillea and some Common Forest Heath (although I may have the names slightly wrong). Every 10m or so it seemed like a new variety popped out of nowhere and I was having a blast. While the wider views weren't as spectacular as my previous visits thanks to some dull grey skies, the wildflower display more than made up for that. In my mind I've always thought of this as a fairly short and easy climb where in the blink of an eye you will be done with the climbing and reach the summit but at nearly 6km return, this is no stroll in the park. After 1.5km of climbing you eventually reach a right turn that marks the end of the uphill. This is weirdly the highest point of the hike with a gentle descent taking you along the ridge line before a slight uphill again to what is a false summit.
The flatter section was a welcome relief in the midday warmth and with a fairly wide and exposed single track taking me all the way to the turnaround point, my focus was now on spotting an echidna. There were ant hills dotting the trail and sure signs that this was echidna paradise with lots of diggings in the undergrowth. I passed a couple of ladies heading in the other direction followed by a man who surprisingly knew my name. It turned out to be Mike Farquar from Redtail Bushwalkers that I've interacted with plenty of times online over the years but have never had the privilege of meeting. What better way than on a hike enjoying a lovely trail and for Mike this was his first time at Baldwin's Bluff despite his extensive walking experience. We discussed the possibility of an echidna sighting and Mike said that the afternoon is when they really come out, something I suspected and helped to calm my expectations somewhat. We said our goodbyes and I ventured on towards the end, ever hopeful of more great wildflower discoveries and maybe a chance encounter with a spiky monotreme.
The wildflowers continued to amaze with Blue Leschenaulitas, Morning Iris and Purple Tassel making an appearance. I passed a couple of slow moving families that took their time dodging puddles and eventually reached the famous lookout where you get sweeping views of the Serpentine River Valley. It's a fantastic visual representation of how far you've come as down below you can see the tiny spec that is Serpentine Falls and further upstream is the little concrete arrow shaped dam you see on the Kitty's Gorge Walk Trail. With my zoom lens I was just about able to get Serpentine Falls in decent quality but it's always difficult in winter here thanks to the glare of the sun in the northern skies. Taking a few photos of the amazing views, I continued on and over the small hill to reach the lookout on the other side. A rather large rock cairn has been constructed on this side of the hill to mark what really isn't the summit because you have to descend down to reach it, so in the end it's just a pile of rocks. I picked this spot to have a rest as it's well sheltered from the sun and I was hoping I'd be left alone for a while longer by the families I passed getting here. After photographing the sweeping views to the west that take in the Swan Coastal Plain and the farmland extending all the way to the coast, I noticed a large clumping of drosera that were different to the typical sundews and vine varieties you usually get.
These look like they unfolded from a thick stem and rose up maybe 30cm from the ground. I'm endlessly fascinated by drosera and had great fun photographing their sticky pads, noticing that these plants had been very fruitful with their catch, having captured many small insects. While dashing between clumps of drosera, I completely missed spotting a series of Spider Orchids that were hidden in plain sight. Really baffled at how I could have missed them, I started to snap away not realising what all this time spent here would cost me later on. Happy with my collection of photos and looking forward to sharing them in this post, I turned back and started my journey back to the start. After snapping a few more wildflowers I came across a family heading the other way and the young boy kindly let me know that they had just passed an echidna a minute previously. Just my luck I thought as the dad confirmed that it was probably well into the bush by now. Still hopeful, I walked really slowly, listening out for a rustling sound that never eventuated. I did spot a Blue Fairy Wren and a New Holland Honeyeater but that's a poor consolation prize for an event I've been waiting six years for. Can't really complain given the current climate and in the end I had a great time photographing the numerous wildflowers that call this area home.
Final Thoughts - After being somewhat disappointed at the extensive weed population all along Gooralong Brook and the Serpentine River on the Kitty's Gorge Walk Trail, this was a breath of fresh air.
While fairly simple in design terms, walking up a hill to a lookout and then taking the same route back down, this is a really enjoyable trail when the wildflowers are out.
Was I disappointed that I missed an echidna by a minute? Of course but I'll see one eventually and the wildflowers more than made up for that.
Being a little more accessible and a lot more natural than Kitty's Gorge makes this trail the perfect addition to a visit to the day use area of Serpentine National Park. Pack a picnic and make a day of it in late winter and all throughout spring, you won't regret it.
Get out there and experience it!
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