Golden Valley Tree Park
Start - Old Padbury Road
Length - 4.6km (Loop)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Single Track, Open Fields
Vertical Climb - 106m
Time - 1-3 Hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 12th May 2017
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Traditional Custodians - Bibbulman People
The Hike - With a free day to explore the area around Bunbury, one place on my "to-hike" list was the Balingup Golden Valley Tree Park and I was hoping I wouldn't be too late to experience the kaleidoscope of autumn hues this park is famous for. Located a short drive/walk south of the centre of Balingup, the park is well signed from South Western Highway and is the official exit out of town for the Bibbulmun Track. I arrived at the main information board and old homestead after a cracking morning exploring the Bridgetown Jarrah Park. This picturesque little building was once the main building for the farms that occupied this area and since 1980 the land has been turned into the 60ha arboretum that is the largest in the state.
The park is divided up into two sections, the World Collection and the Australian Collection. The appeal for me today was going to be the deciduous trees of the World Collection but I was interested to see how they had organised the Australian Collection so would be walking the entire 4.5km loop around the park. This meant driving a short way from the homestead to the World Collection car park and parking under the spectacular colours of the vibrant poplar trees. There are three loop walks you can do in the World Collection and I would be doing a combination of these as part of my larger loop around the entire park. My first visit was to the Sequoia Short Walk that take you on a flat loop to the duck pond and back again. With so many different varieties of trees it is made very easy to identify the names of each tree with a plaque in front of every tree telling you the name (both common and Latin) and who sponsors it (click here for more info on sponsoring a tree). With the sun out and a wisp of cloud in the sky, the foliage was looking spectacular as I wandered past cedars, sequoias, oaks and birches. Being a very dry autumn there was no water in the duck pond but I think this may have also delayed the onset of the annual leaf shedding so I shouldn't complain really. With a bit of imagination I could see the pond brimming with water and the grass transformed from a pale yellow to a lush green.
There is a cool little gate (one of many along the walk) just after you turn back towards the car park providing a nice photo opportunity. The walk back to the finish point takes you past some very old poplars, planted before WWII and some English Oaks that were planted just after the war. They provided a good amount of shade over the area and were so big it was pointless trying to fit them in one shot so I settled for shots of their leaves littering the trail. It looked like they were in the process of updating the old picnic area with a new gazebo and hopefully more trees will be planted in the space in-between the trail and Old Padbury Road. A wooden bridge was all that separated me from finishing this loop and continuing on to the next section. The next part of my journey would be utilising the outer half of the Pear Walk and the climb up to the Pear Lookout. Starting at the toilet block, the climb is a gentle incline past some pear trees before you pass through the gate at the top next to some pomegranates. The gates are there for a reason as I soon discovered the presence of a sheep population on the next part of the walk. I passed two men on my way up to the lookout and they looked to be having a leisurely afternoon stroll amongst the pear trees. The views back down the valley are impressive with a variety of colour and having a north facing disposition I imagine that sunsets would be magically from this vantage point.
Two rows of ash trees marks the way forward along the ridge but with the local sheep population forming their own tracks in the dry grass I wasn't quite sure which path to take. I figured I would stay close to the trees that were marked with plaques and see how far that took me. Looking back at the official map I took a sheep path directly from the ash trees to Yongerup Spring and missed some wild fig trees on the border of the park. Even with no rain for an extended period, the spring had a decent amount of water in it. This used to be a popular hunting site for local aboriginals but now it looks nothing like the native forest that would have once dominated these hills. The spring does provide a great photo spot with a vibrant Trident Maple on the other side of the water coupled with some Chinese Tallows. At this point the men I had passed earlier caught up and remarked to me that I had missed the best colours by about a week but there was nothing I could do about that now so enjoyed what I had to photograph and continued on, leaving the Pear Walk and joining the Oak Grove Walk. They must have been locals, possibly volunteers given they had visited a week prior and were inspecting the trail, discussing certain sections they thought were prone to people slipping on. I once again pushed on and past a lovely collection of Valley Oak's from the late 1980s that sheltered a very large congregation of sheep. They were a bit wary of me and I don't blame them so I took some photos and moved on to a slightly barren section up the hill.
I'm sure this hill would look very nice with a covering of green grass but right now it was a bit underwhelming. The reward for this bare patch is well worth it as an avenue of Chinese Pistachio trees line the path on a slightly downhill section. Their red, orange and yellow leaves were abundant; both attached to the branches and spread across the ground, so I had great fun shooting this area from different angles. These are the kinds of shots I had in my head from seeing photos on Instagram and Facebook so it was nice to get an iconic autumn shot of the place. Unfortunately I couldn't see any pistachios in the trees so I continued on to another highlight of this section, the London Plane's. At over 100 years old, these giants had carpeted the ground with their leaves and together with another gate they provided yet another great photo spot. Through the gate is the area close to the old homestead and an area marked on the map as the "Bambooserie" for good reason. Although fairly dry at the time of my visit, there were a few little ponds and surrounding the area was a nice collection of bamboo varieties. I imagine in winter and spring this place would be amazing with more greenery and full ponds to photograph. For now though I still had some thick bamboo patches to enjoy as the trail takes you right into a thick collection of it and you get a brief experience of the darkness that bamboo forest contains. Maybe two or three metres in just went pitch black even though the sun was out so I can imagine that a whole forest of it would be quite daunting.
On the other side of the bamboo section are a few more lone trees and the point at where you can leave the World Collection and head over the road to the Australian Collection. It had been my plan to do both trails as one big loop so that is the direction I took and was soon at the information board for the Australian walks. There are three walks in the Australian Collection and I would be doing a combination to walk a loop around, trying to see as much as possible. Initially I headed in a clockwise direction through the tall forest gums and came across the smooth trunks of the eucalypts that you would find on the east coast. Having already walked the insanely beautiful Bridgetown Jarrah Park in the morning, I was a little disappointed with this section as it just seemed like a random patch of forest with no undergrowth. I guess getting to experience the Western Australian bush in its natural form kind of spoiled this for me but I'm sure if it wasn't surrounded with dry grass I might have felt different. The rainforest section soon came along and wasn't as I pictured it given rainforests are usually associated with high amounts of greenery. This was probably my warped expectations going in as this is more like an old fashioned zoo where animals/trees are put on display in the most literal sense instead of trying to recreate their natural environment.
Following the path also wasn't super easy here as there are a number of trails leading in every direction but eventually you learn to follow the rock cairns up to the rare species found in WA. The Rate Tingle is one of these and having seen the tingles around Walpole, this one looked out of place in the yellow grass. As I moved on and down the hill I came to realise this to me felt like an Australia that gets described in "I Love a Sunburnt Country" and not what I'm used to in the relative greenness of Western Australia. With that in mind I felt more like a tourist experiencing a stereotypical Australia and that made the experience slightly better. The wattle section certainly lifted me a little with the fragrant smell reminding me of the wattles that grew around my neighbourhood as a child. I followed the rock cairns hoping they would eventually lead me to one of the spots where the various trails intersect and it did so I walked back to the car park and crossed the road once more. The final leg of the World Collection is a gentle walk through Paulownias and various Willows before you pass through the final gate and back to the car park. I was the last car there so enjoyed a final walk around under grey skies and soaked in the autumn colours one last time.
Final Thoughts - This was one walk I had been meaning to do for quite a while but thought it was best to get the timing right to really showcase what makes this place unique, autumn and the more traditional (and by that I mean American/European) passing of the seasons that we don't get to experience in Western Australia.
The vast collection of different species is quite an achievement and one the local community should be proud of. It's certainly served them well as when I think Balingup, this place is the first thing that springs to mind. Thank you to the wonderful volunteers that keep this place ticking, you all do a great job to maintain this wonderfully pleasant attraction.
While I didn't find the Australian Collection to be all that inspiring, part of that was due to the dry autumn we have had and the timing of my visit but to be honest the main reason you are visiting here is for the World Collection so ignore my ramblings. Variety they say is the spice of life so its nice to be able to have something like this here so you can experience a true "fall" without going overseas, plus it's such a magical place to photograph.
If you are passing through Balingup on the South Western Highway like so many people do then make the effort to pop in for a visit, even if it is just to experience one of the smaller walks on offer.
Get out there and experience it!
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