Start - Windabout Way
Finish - Lake Road
Length - 7.1km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - 48m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 1st April 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wudjari People
Directions - Located just outside of Esperance, from the town centre take Dempster Rd north to the roundabout. Take the Fisheries Rd exit and follow this until you reach Windabout Rd. Follow Windabout Rd all the way past the first Kepwari Walk sign and park next to the second Kepwari Walk sign located on the south side of the road.
The Hike - With our Fitzgerald River National Park adventures over we had scheduled a few days of relaxing and exploring in Esperance over the Easter break. After a couple of nights camping and doing a few hikes we checked into our AirBnB ready to have a nice hot shower and sleep in a comfortable bed. Caris had suggested doing this hike during our time in Esperance (yes Caris suggested a hike) to add activities to the itinerary so I was happy to add another hike to the trip. We did the usual tourist stuff like Stonehenge, the museum, the Coastal Drive and the Sunday Markets along with the not so Pink Lake.
One sunny afternoon we headed out of town to visit an excellent nursery that stocked a variety of WA natives that you don't often find in Perth including a small Traffic Light Bush Kale aka Royal Hakea before making our way to the start of the hike. With a large haul of plants ready to add to our already crowded garden we headed out to the lake system north of town and parked Newt mistakenly at the first Kepwari Walk sign. Deciding to head in a south/west direction, that turned out to be a great idea given we were not starting at the right end. The first highlight you come across is the bridge over the ghost tree inlet of Woody Lake. Remnants of when the lake system was healthier, they have been submerged with saltier water to create a spooky space that would be great to see at sunrise with a bit of mist around. The path then takes you above the ghost inlet for elevated views of the surrounding lakes and snakes around for a while before a cool scrub lined tunnel takes you down to what turned out to be the actual start point.
Having realised the error of our ways we checked out the lake in between Woody and Windabout Lakes to find more ghost trees lining the edge of the water. With the sun slowly setting I was able to get in a few silhouette shots before we headed back the way we came, soaking in the elevated views above the landscape. Arriving back at Newt we were on to new territory as we crossed the road and towards the flatter wetlands area that surround the lakes. The next part of the walk isn't the most interesting as you can't see the lakes and the vegetation on the one side of the path is a bit scraggly, highlighted with the occasional Banksia tree. Crossing a small boardwalk section takes you closer to the first of two bird hides that rectifies the lack of lake views. Passing a "Quiet Please" sign along the boardwalk you are taken to a small wooden shack on stilts over the lake and from here you can sit and try and spot the various bird life shown on the information boards.
We were lucky with our visit as we saw quite a few different species active in the late afternoon and I could have easily spent a lot more time there. Wary of the time given the sun was almost at the horizon we moved on and located the path again. The walk to the next bird hide is a lot more pleasant with a more elevated position and more mature heath providing home for several bird species not reliant on the lakes. The second bird hide is a little less hidden in the paperbark jungle of the lower wetlands but provides the same effect. This time we weren't as lucky with the bird life but with a bit more time, a notebook and a pair of binoculars I could have made an afternoon of it. Caris was keen to keep moving and was already back on the path so I chased her down and we were treated to one final delight, the sun setting over Wheatfields Lake.
There is a small beach not far from the second bird hide where you can go down to the edge of the lake and we explored this area while watching the golden hues of the sunset light up the lake surface. We spotted a few birds along the shore and tried to get some closer shots but they ended up being too far away so we returned the pathway. The final stretch runs north/south so every few steps you got a new perspective or a new opening to shoot through. This meant by the time we got to the finish at the end of Lake Rd the sun had already set below the horizon and we would most likely be walking back to the car in the dark. The information board at the Lake Rd end provides info on a canoe trail and I would love to return and explore the interconnected lakes in a more relaxed manner. We got a second light show as we walked back to the car but did end up finishing in the dark. Luckily it wasn't a long drive to town where we enjoyed pizza and a movie as a reward for a great hike.
Final Thoughts - Given this wasn't a hike I had on my radar before our trip to the Esperance area, I am happy we ended up doing it. While the walk may not be a technically good trail, although it does the best with what it has, the timing and weather made this one a bit special.
The lake and wetland system north of Esperance is a vital part of the environment and is a good barometer for the health of the surrounding area. Due to the extensive land clearing this part of the world has experienced since WWII (they literally gave away land provided you cleared it properly) it is no wonder that the wetlands are suffering. The higher water table that comes with clearing 82% of the surrounding land means that these lakes and wetlands may never be the same.
While life still finds a way (cue Jeff Goldblum voice) and you are able to see it up close via the bird hides, it makes you wonder what it would be like with a healthy wetland ecosystem.
By all means still visit as it's still a very pleasant walk and bring your kids/friends so maybe the next generation will be more engaged and might want to right some wrongs.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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