Start - Quoin Head
Finish - Cave Point
Length - 23.5km (One Way)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track, Beach
Vertical Climb - 372m
Time - 6-10 hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 2nd May 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Located within Fitzgerald River National Park, there are a few access points for the Hakea Trail to break it up into sections. The easiest place to access the trail is Cave Point, which can be reached using the paved roads from the eastern entrance of the park.
The second access point is at Hamersley Inlet, also reached by paved roads, but will require walking an additional trail down to the beach. The last access point is Quoin Head but this is a 4x4 track only and the last section to Quoin Head is very steep and rough so only tackle this if you have a proper low range 4x4 with plenty of ground clearance (Rav4s and X-Trails won't be enough). This road is closed after rains so always check with the ranger before planning a visit to the park.
The Hike - With an Easter road trip visiting Fitzgerald River National Park under the belt, I was fortunate to be contacted by Parks and Wildlife asking if I would like to volunteer for a special project. The project in question was a collaboration with Google to map and photograph the trails and campsites of Fitzgerald River National Park using the backpack mounted Google Trekker so they could appear in the Street View format. I would accompany Research Scientist Michael on the trip and we would share the Trekker duties as the entire 15 camera, two processor contraption weighed in at 16kg plus our own gear such as radios, water, snacks, first aid etc. Apart from being one of the best national parks in Australia, the reason I wanted to return to Fitzgerald River was that this trip offered me the chance to get the two trails I hadn't yet completed, the Hakea Trail and the Mamang Trail.
After spending day one of the week long trip exploring the campsites on the eastern side of the park along with a trip up East Mount Barren, day two would see us tackling the 23.5km Hakea Trail, one of the best overnight walks in the state. I say overnight because ideally this would be an out and back hike utilising the campgrounds available but because we had access to the resources of Parks and Wildlife we would be dropped off at the start point by the local ranger (thanks again Paul) so we wouldn't have to carry camping gear for two along with the Trekker. We met Paul at sunrise and after dropping our car off at Cave Point, he took us on the unsealed roads leading to Quoin Head. While the track starts off as gentle sand tracks, it gets very rough and steep towards the end so unless you have a proper 4x4 with low range, diff locks and the expertise to drive it then don't attempt it. Also remember to let air out of your tyres and take it slow to limit further damage to the track. Be aware that the unsealed tracks can be closed after rains to stop the spread of dieback so I think the best option for this trail is to treat it as an overnight adventure starting at Cave Point.
Quoin Head to Whalebone Campsite (5.5km)
On our trip out to Quoin Head, Paul the ranger had been praising the beach below the starting point as one of the most underrated parts of the park and when we arrived I would say I agree. While the Hakea Trail officially starts/ends before the nearby lookout, as soon as we hopped out of the car we went to take a look and it reminded me of a cove that the Famous Five would describe during one of their smuggling/treasure adventures. Saying goodbye to Paul for now (he would be doing maintenance at the campsite along the trail so we would bump into him again), we extracted all our gear and prepared to set off. As I mentioned earlier the Trekker isn't light and with no place to store extra items other than attaching a small first aid kit, it was left up to the second person to carry everything else we would need such as water (x2), lunch, snacks, more first aid, spare Trekker batteries, a Spot tracker, GPS, maps and other items. This meant that taking a rest from the awkward, top heavy weight of the Trekker was still no walk in the park but slightly easier on the legs and back.
Michael elected to take the Trekker for the first stint and we would judge how long it was possible for one person to carry it before it became too much. So the Trekker images didn't contain a person in every single shot we had a couple of short band radios so one person could run ahead of the Trekker and we could still communicate. I headed off on the first leg and was immediately amazed at just how breathtaking and serene this place is. To think that not many people visit this treasure is both a comfort and a sadness but as the trail sweeps along the cliffs, it was hard not to fall in love all over again with Fitzgerald River. The trail markers guide you along the contours as you get glimpses of wild ocean spray pounding the rocks below and every now and then a peak at the glowing turquoise water that people often remember this coastline for. I was expecting this section to be mostly flat walking along the cliff but as we came over a small hill the landscape changed slightly and a rocky valley appeared.
With our route taking us east, the lighting was in favour of looking behind towards the ever present Mid Barrens and from either side of the park these peaks are a delight to photograph. It was in taking these photos that I noticed the presence of rain in the distance so warned Michael it may be headed towards us so we could stop and prepare the excellent weather proofing for the Trekker (a garbage bag). We stopped in the rocky valley and although we had experienced a dry summer and autumn, there were still patches of water deep in the crevice carved by nature over the eons. The rain ended up missing us with only a few spots here and there so we climbed out of the valley and onto the 4x4 tracks leading to Whalebone Campsite. As luck would have it did start to rain so I rushed back to help Michael with the Trekker and stood there while the windy shower passed. With these small time delays it was going to be an effort to make it to the finish with the right lighting. The Trekker works best when there are no long shadows so optimal light is between 9am and 4pm, the reason we had to start later in the morning rather than at first light.
With the shower over we started up again and trekked the flat lands adjacent to the cliffs. This was not the most interesting part of the day given it was on 4x4 tracks and you couldn't see the cliffs but one saving grace was skirting around the southern most hills of the Whoogarup Range. Having said before on Real Trail Talk that a trail following around the bases of the peaks of the Stirling Range would make for a great walk, this felt like a similar experience but on a much smaller scale. Mercifully you leave the 4x4 track and return to the rocky single track path as it snakes its way closer to the ocean and the coastline views become more prominent. It isn't long before you turn back towards the north but with views down the valley to Whalebone Campsite, the first rest spot was in sight and looking amazing set amongst the seemingly endless heathlands. You rejoin the 4x4 track as it descends into the valley and the trees start to become a little taller, a welcome relief after a lot of coastal walking. The campsite itself was a great surprise given the description in the brochure was stated it as being "simple composting toilet facilities and raised sleeping platforms with no potable water". What we found was almost a luxury abode compared to the Bibbulmun Track campsites with Munda Biddi style sleeping quarters, lovely deck with two tables and not one but two water tanks that were full.
Whalebone Campsite to Hamersley Inlet (8km)
Stopping at Whalebone Campsite we were joined by Paul the ranger again as he had some maintenance to do here and we expressed our disbelief at how small the visitor numbers were to this campsite (at least those that walked in and signed the book). He mentioned 4x4s come in occasionally and knock out the gates so they can come in and drink/carry on but remarked that the reason it is not well visited is because many people simply don't know about it. After a snack we said goodbye to Paul and I loaded up with the Trekker for the first time today. The trail out of the campsite takes you along the creek line running between the ocean and the campsite and was another welcome section of taller trees although I had to duck quite a lot as the top of the Trekker sat a few feet above my head so was easily caught on branches. With a dry summer the creek was bare but I imagine in spring this would be alive with colour and water. It isn't long before you reach another wow spot on the trail, Whalebone Coast Lookout. There is a small track leading off the main Hakea Trail and given we were here with the Trekker we decided to capture it and I am thankful we made that decision.
With sunnier skies around and the winds starting to pick up, the power and beauty of the ocean was on full display. Standing next to a sharp, angular rocky outcrop on the point provided views of the small cove and beach being pounded by the relentless waves blown in from the Southern Ocean. From this vantage point you can see right along the eastern coastline with glimpses back towards the peaks to the west. I could have stayed there a lot longer but we had to keep moving and onto one of the more enjoyable sections in my view. Firstly you are treated to more epic coastal scenery with a walk along the cliffs above Whalebone Beach looking out over the turquoise waters and then the trail takes you inland. Here you are provided with a different viewpoint as the heathland blocks out the oceans and forces your gaze to the north and the expanse of green leading towards the horizon. Switching between looking at the Whoogarup Range to the north-west and the tiny peaks in the distance to the north-east that is the Eyre Range, I thoroughly enjoyed this stretch. With the clouds providing some excellent shadows on the hills both Michael and I were enjoying the change in lighting as we progressed.
The "horizon stretch" continues for a couple of kilometres before the trail ducks back into the thick scrub as you approach Central Whalebone Point and the opportunity for more great coastal shots. Switching between open heath and thick bushes as we headed towards the Tamala Karst Lookout, this is where the trail gets a bit confusing with different paths veering off and open sandy sections providing multiple options. This is where Michael called over the radio that he thought he was off track. I was behind him and thought I was on trail so kept going to the lookout where I would wait for him. Eventually Michael found the path again and we were reunited at the lookout where I had taken off the Trekker and was trying to get some arty shots of it with the coastline in the background. Given it was after midday this seemed like a great spot to enjoy lunch and we tucked into some rolls provided by the lovely ladies at Hopetoun Bakery. With Hamersley Inlet within sight and only being at the halfway point we once again swapped over the Trekker duties and made our way downhill to the first of the beach sections.
A set of wooden logs guides you down the landscape and to the narrow passage above the beach west of Hamersley Inlet. Being down at sea level on the pristine white sands was a lovely break from the heathland and here was my first encounter with the jagged rocks thrusting out from the beach. Having seen a photo that Donovan posted from the Mamang Trail, I was looking forward to seeing them in Fitzgerald River NP and sure enough along the Hakea Trail there are sections too. These jutted features ranging in colour from dark black to cream provide a great contrast against the iconic turquoise waters and were a privilege to photograph. With Michael entering the beach and me not wanting to get in the Trekker shots I sadly had to move on but more interesting rocks caught my eye here that I labelled Star Wars boulders due to the colour palette reminding me of the prequels design language (a weird connection I know). Here I ran into some bright green birds playing on the rocks but I only managed one shot of them before they flew away. Passing through the Star Wars boulders and onto Hamersley Beach presents the vast openness of sand in front of you and thanks to the dry summer, a passage not blocked by an open inlet.
Hamersley Inlet to Nature's Rockery Lookout (4km)
With Hamersley Beach providing the longest stretch of beach walking at just over 2km we pressed on hoping that the sand would be firm underfoot and the wind not too blowy. Passing the inlet you can see the open stretch of water inland that is also home to some great gorges and an area I would like to explore in a kayak on a future trip (kayak hire is available when organised prior to your visit). For now we had sunny skies ahead but the clouds were gathering behind us as we made our way along the wide beach towards the point. High dunes dominate the landscape once you pass the inlet and an interesting pyramid shaped one provided something to photograph (because this trail really lacks good photo opportunities). About 500m from where the trail exits the beach I heard Michael over the radio saying the Trekker had stopped working and so I doubled back to help out. Not being able to call a Google technician because of lack of reception, Michael tried his best to check all the main points and we used this moment to swap out the batteries for new ones. We had only lost about 500m-1km of tracking data so decided to try the age old IT fix of shutting it down and powering it back up again.
Our next issue once that was done was poor GPS signal given there was only one or two satellites to the south of us and the tall dunes blocking out the remaining ones. Deciding to just push on given the time lost, we made our way to the beach exit and found the same error message had been thrown up again (we had a phone with an app for controlling the Trekker remotely). It was at this time we noticed that the clouds were getting a lot angrier and the rain in the distance was most likely going to hit us soon. Although the Trekker wasn't working the stop did allow more time to photograph the stunning rocks contrasting against the wild ocean and the showers in the distance over the Mid Barrens. Michael started the Trekker again but we only made it 100m or so before the rains hit us properly and we were forced to stop. It was at this point that we had to stop worrying about capturing the trail using the Trekker and start thinking about making it to the end before it got dark. With 7.5km to go and only an hour of acceptable light left in the day during sunny conditions, Michael made the decision to continue on without using the Trekker given its issues in the past hour and no reasonable way of determining what was causing them (the Trekker was back in action the next day after a night of troubleshooting and effort on Michael's behalf).
Once the rain had cleared we removed the weather proofing and kept going, knowing it was still going to be a stretch to finish in daylight. It was a shame too as the next section was a geological delight with jagged rock formations everywhere and the constant pounding of the surf against these ancient survivors. I managed to spot a purple clawed crab in one of the rock pools and got a couple of shots before it scurried away into a crevice. The trail then takes you over some rocky platforms and is quite tricky to find in a couple of places but good fun to navigate, especially when you reach the corridor of jagged rocks pointing out to the ocean (see sliding gallery). Eventually you reach the Edwards Points Steps, the Hakea Trail's answer to the 300 steps on the Cape to Cape. Before tackling the steps though I had a look at the zawn (taken from sawan, which is Cornish for chasm), a narrow sea-inlet cut into the rock face by the forces of erosion. It was a very cool feature not far from the track and hard to get into one shot to truly show what it was like. Michael had already begun the climb up the stairs and still carrying the Trekker, he was taking a photo break when I caught up to him about half way up.
Given the gentle terrain we had encountered so far this was the first real physical challenge of the day and at the top of the steps we swapped over for the final time. An unexpected treat came just after the end of the steps with a small patch of malee providing some almost forest style walking. Given the larger trees had only been found in the valleys and near waterways I was surprised by this thicket on the top of a cliff and also enjoying the great colours of the trunks. A cross between the gold of a Salmon Gum and the changing colours of the Karri, I nicknamed them the Salmon Malee, although I think they probably have a different name to that. The Salmon Malee doesn't last and soon the trail returns you to familiar coastal scrub on top of the cliffs above Edwards Point. The changeable weather made an appearance here again as the views back to the middle peaks suggested more rain was on its way. We made it to the Nature's Rockery Lookout before it started to spit and the garbage bag came out for the protection of the Trekker. While Michael strapped the bag to the Trekker and secured it tightly (we were going to have to walk through this shower no matter what) I marvelled at the rain falling over the Mid Barrens, nicely juxtaposed against the still sunny views to the east, including the first real look at East Mount Barren.
Nature's Rockery Lookout to Cave Point (6km)
With the rain getting heavier we really had no option but to continue on and things were a bit noisy on my end as the weatherproofing caught the wind and made a racket. Along with the noise I had to deal with having essentially a tall sail on my back that made things interesting as I would be blown off course mid step. All that was rather insignificant though as the landscape ahead was changing from blue skies to grey clouds and eventually bright double rainbows. As if we hadn't had enough epic scenes to photograph today, nature decided to provide a few more as the rainbows were perfectly positioned to the right of Cave Point and East Mount Barren. The rain passed and along this flat section we made good time as the sun was starting to get quite low in the sky and we had maybe 30 minutes before sunset and still a few kilometres to go. Arriving at the West Head Headland Lookout we figured a stop here for photos wouldn't be a bad idea given how spectacular it was. With views across to Cave Point we could see the finish line but the final 3km would not be a direct line and with good reason.
With the way the terrain was shaped, a few waterways fed into the bay so we had to follow the contours and loop around to West Beach from behind. While taking longer, this is actually a great way to show off more of the landscape with views back towards the middle peaks, now bathed in golden light as the sun set. Now entering dusk, Michael was excited at the prospect of seeing some wildlife foraging around in the forest we were about to descend in to. I had warned him about my bad luck encountering any form of wildlife on all of my hikes and sure enough we didn't see anything other than what could have been a wallaby but was too fast to be sure. Despite treading very lightly and making next to no noise we weren't lucky enough to have a wild encounter and instead had to settle for some photographs of East Mount Barren bathed in the last rays of light for the day. This was a good consolation prize and the openness felt like being on the African Savannah for reasons I am really unable to explain properly.
The sky behind us was now on fire and I was wishing I was on top of East Mount Barren again but being at the entrance to West Beach wasn't a bad second option. The rocky paths leading down to the beach were once again jagged perfection and with West Head in the background along with the glow of orange, red and purple skies, this was a lovely farewell to the trail. Michael rushed off as he had to check in with Paul (we had managed to check in at Nature's Rockery to avoid the search and rescue team being deployed) so I stayed and soaked in the last light of the day. The last beach section was a joy to cross with the changing colours finally settling on red, purple and grey before the light dulled to un-photograpble levels. The final climb up to the car park was a bit of a workout after a long day but the car was nearby and after that experience who could complain about one last climb? Hike over we turned off all the equipment, loaded the car up and drove back to Hopetoun, disappointed we couldn't share half of the trail but lucky to have experienced what we'd just done.
Final Thoughts - First of all I have to say a big thanks to Parks and Wildlife and Google for making this trip possible. I hadn't planned on doing the Hakea Trail until 2019 at the very earliest so to have the opportunity to return to this amazing corner of the world so soon was a privilege and a delight. Also we wouldn't have been able to think about doing this trail without the assistance of Paul the ranger and all his efforts in dropping us off and providing local knowledge so thank you Paul if you are reading this.
It was disappointing that we couldn't capture the whole trail using the Trekker but even with perfect weather and no technical difficulties, we would have had to average 4kmph including breaks. While I think this is certainly possible, we ended up losing too much time for reasons we couldn't control.
While we managed to just get the trail done in one day end to end, I don't think this is logistically the best way to enjoy the experience. I would treat this as a two or three day trail or easily done as a series of day walks (see brochure for breakdowns). Given Whalebone Campsite is much better than described I am very much looking forward to returning one day and spending more time exploring the area.
In terms of the experience, this was one of the best trail days of my life (hence the 4000+ words and 130 odd photos). The trail design is top notch with every section having it's own character and feel. It would have been very easy to simply have the trail provide views of the coast the whole time so the decision to head inland and show off the hills and open spaces to the north is a very smart decision.
You can view the hike on street view (or at least the sections we managed to capture) by clicking here. This will take you to the starting point at Quoin Head.
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