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.