Start - Walyunga Pool Car Park
Length - 11km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 332m
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Black Boot
Entry Fee - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 14th June 2014
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - Walyunga National Park is located north of Perth along the Great Northern Hwy. The Walyunga Rd turnoff is 15km from Roe Hwy and there are several car parks to choose from.
The Hike - After a couple of months of grey clouds, wet weekends and overcast days, the famous sunny Perth winter day has made an appearance. What a day for the sun to come out as I headed out to the Swan Valley to tackle the Echidna Trail in the Walyunga National Park. Having been given a tip by a Senior Ranger for the Department of Parks & Wildlife I made the long drive from Fremantle and after an unexpected traffic jam on the Roe Highway I arrived in the Swan Valley. Usually the home of wine tours, cheese & chocolate indulgence and a brewery lunch or two, the Swan Valley is not thought of as a hiking destination in Perth.
Driving up the Great Northern Highway I could see the hills on my right but they didn't look that high or that challenging. Even as I spotted the turnoff for the Walyunga National Park I couldn't see any reason why this was graded a moderately difficult hike that could take 4-5 hours. As you pass through the gates of the national park (it is only open between 8am-5pm daily) the landscape opens up before your eyes into a hidden world that you would not imagine exists as you pass it on the highway. Stopping at the little hut that serves as the payment collection point ($12 entry fee per vehicle) I paid my fee but with no pen I couldn't fill in the envelope so winged it with a blank ticket and hoped the ranger trusted I had paid (he did). The official start of the trail is in the Walyunga Pools car park so don't make the mistake I made by continuing on to the Boongarup Pool car park. Once you have everything ready head down to the Avon River and the information board that marks the start of the 11km loop.
The start of the trail is a picturesque stroll along the banks of the Avon River past a few rapids that are part of the famous Avon Descent. Look for information plaques every hundred metres or so with facts about the local flora, fauna and native Aboriginal people (the Nyoongar). Once you get to the Boongarup Pool car park keep following the river until you hit Syds Rapid. There is easy access down to the rocky edge of the river and ample spots to take a great photo or two. As it was morning I was shooting into the sunlight but still managed to get a couple of decent snaps. The trail takes a departure from the river at Syds Rapid and this is where the real hiking begins as you start to ascend. It's a steep gravel road that takes you high above the river valley and you start to get a better view of the national park as the trail heads towards the northern border.
On the other side of the river there is a railway line and I was lucky enough to spot a goods train speed snaking its way through the landscape as I was taking a photo of a very young tree (see gallery). After a quick fill-up of water I started climbing again. The best way to mentally approach this part of the trail is to just assume that it climbs forever. It doesn't look steep but the hills are unseen for most of the time and you do climb over 200m vertically in less than 2km so you want to pace yourself, especially if it is hot. Your reward when you get to the summit of the first hill is a greeting by a mob of kangaroos. In the early morning sun there were a few families roaming around and while they did run off as soon as they heard me they didn't move far and I even got a good shot of a curious straggler. The trail makes a left turn along the northern border and you continue to climb (still 90m to go vertically).
It is a more gradual climb so your legs can recover and you can catch your breath as you look out over the hills to the north. The trail dips rather rapidly (don't get your hopes up) and you start to come across signs of civilisation with the sight of a newly constructed house on the very edge of the park fence. This is an unfortunate blight on the landscape as Perth becomes more developed and people start to demand more secluded retreats. What was also unfortunate was the incessant drone of a chainsaw coming from a nearby property that spoiled the serenity of the hike. Reaching where the new house has been erected at 200m above sea level you can understand why they wanted to build their house so close to the national park as the views back towards the park are stunning. Take the 4x4 track that goes to the left and you soon come across a flat rocky outcrop that is a great spot to stop and take in the views.
With my headphones inserted to drown out the chainsaw I continued on the final climb and up towards the highest peak in the area, Woodsome Hill. This section is only 50m vertically and your legs should be well prepared by now. Once you reach the summit you find a viewing tower that unfortunately is off limits to civilians. One can only imagine the views from the top but getting up there is prohibited and without safety gear, very dangerous. The good news is that this will be the last of the climbing for now so you take a deep breath and enjoy a well earned drink.
The descent follows the 4x4 track again and I found that several of the trail markers were missing so don't worry if you think you have missed a turn-off. As far as I am aware there is only one trail so as long as you follow the 4x4 track you will be fine. After a short while you start to see through the tree line the stunning vistas of the plains of the Swan Valley out towards the Indian Ocean. As you are distracted by the views the terrain flattens out and you can really enjoy the enormity of the coastal plain. With the forest making way for open scrubland and the occasional clumping of trees, the trail again begins to climb for the final time.
The landscape on this climb is a little haunting with remnants of bushfire blackened trees lining the track but a healthy growth of young trees surrounding their base. By the looks of it (and evidence I found later on the trail) there was a deliberate bushfire lit a few years ago. The good news is that nature is coming back stronger and I sight another mob of kangaroos bouncing through the scrubs. From here it is all downhill and you can really relax and enjoy the walk from here on out. Put on a upbeat playlist and daydream the last few kilometres away. On a sunny day like today you can't help but feel happy in the comfort of nature and a warm sun on your back. The trail eventually meets up with the Boongarup Pools car park and you can meander along the final stretch of the Avon River back towards your car with memories of another great hike in the Perth Hills.
Final Thoughts - The Echidna Trail is another spectacular hike that gives up some of the better views of the trails I have visited so far this winter. The difference in this trail to others is the sense of space you get being mainly on 4x4 tracks. The trail only has a couple of sections in heavy forest so the great views are never far away.
I am not sure who decided the hike takes the 5 hours quoted in their park guide and on the information board as even with photo stops I was done in under 2 hours. I imagine it would be a harder hike in the heat of spring or summer but the average pace of 2kmph suggested doesn't seem realistic on this trail.
Anyway, it's a great trail and my recommendation would be to go with a group of friends in the morning and enjoy lunch in one of the many breweries or wineries in the Swan Valley afterwards. Nothing would beat a tough hike followed by a great meal and a few beverages to wash it down.
Get out there and experience it!
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