Start - Point Ann
Finish - Fitzgerald River Inlet Campsite
Length - 15.3km (One Way)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Beach
Vertical Climb - 213m
Time - 4-8 Hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 5th May 2018
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wudjari People
Directions - Point Ann is found in the western side of Fitzgerald River National Park and can be accessed by the combination of tarmac and dirt roads. The trail head is located near the brand new toilet block with great signage.
The Hike - With an opportunity to return to the Fitzgerald River NP thanks to Parks and Wildlife and Google, I was about to tick the last remaining hike in the park off my list. Having already completed the stunningly breathtaking Hakea Trail earlier in the week, the Mamang Trail (Mamang is Noongar for whale) was last on our list of walks to get through with the backpack mounted Trekker. Unlike the Hakea Trail where we could be dropped out at the start point by the local ranger, the campsite at Fitzgerald River Inlet is not accessible by vehicles of any description so we had to make alternative arrangements.
Given we didn't know how long it would take to complete the hike and mobile reception is almost non-existent in this part of the park, we elected to start at the Fitzgerald River Inlet end so we could make our own time and not interrupt the ranger when it came time to get a lift back to the car. To make this a reality Deon the ranger had picked up a Polaris ATV from a nearby town for the day and we would be driven out along the beach and on bumpy 4x4 tracks to the closest possible point, just before Point Charles. This is the alternative route back from the inlet if you are doing this as a two day walk and more info on this can be found over at The Long Way's Better. To make sure we had enough light for the day we had a pre-dawn start at Bremer Bay and a hairy drive on gravels tracks avoiding kangaroos in the dark. We made it to Point Ann for the car drop and pickup just as the sun was rising and boy what a magical place this is.
Having first experienced it on my Easter trip when we stayed at St Mary's Inlet, I will never forget driving over the hill and seeing the beautiful views overlooking the bay with the Mid Barrens in the distance. To enjoy it again was a privilege and a great start to a full day of hiking. With Deon leaving us on top of a very large sand dune we still had 5km of hiking to get to the Fitzgerald River Inlet Campsite so in the cold of the morning we set off on the trail with all of our gear (the 16kg Trekker plus another bag of water, food, batteries, hard drives, medical supplies etc). Burnoffs by local farmers and Parks and Wildlife meant the air was very hazy as we approached one of the best locations on the trail, Point Charles Lookout. Looking more like a smoggy scene from Indonesia or China, it was still an awe-inspiring place to stand and look out over the sheltered bay that during the right time of the year can be full of migrating whales. We kept an eye out for them but were probably a few weeks too early to enjoy an experience that Rod Annear talked about on this episode of Real Trail Talk.
Given we hadn't started the Trekker yet, Michael and I were walking close together and could take some closer shots of the Trekker in action as we descended down to the beach. Even though it was the perfect time of the day for the wildlife to be out foraging, my luck with spotting animals on the trail continued. This disappointment was soon forgotten as we reached the pristine white beach of Fitzgerald Inlet and made our way towards the inlet crossing. Having been such a dry summer and autumn there was no issue with having to wade across the inlet but this left us with a different problem, the rubbish. This area is so isolated now with no vehicle access allowed that any clean-up efforts would be a great challenge. With the way the inlet washes in and out plus all the rubbish that washes up on the beach, it was very sad and eye-opening experience. I would be keen to organise a group clean-up one week and I know a few people that would be interested in making it happen so perhaps one day in the future we can do our bit to return this wilderness area to a pristine state and a home for the wildlife free of plastics and rubbish.
With the open and dry inlet now crossed we had the 1km stretch of trail running towards the campsite to cover before we could officially start the day. Walking right next to the Fitzgerald River, this paperbark lined section was much better than I expected and would be much better with more water in the river and a few wildflowers out. We eventually reached the campsite, now nothing more than a toilet block (no water tank so bring your own) and a couple of benches. With no vehicle access I hope in time that this area will blend into the surrounding bushland and what lovely bushland it is. Salmon Gums provide a golden dash of colour to the landscape and I admired the lovely colours of the wood on the toilet block (weird I know). This would have to be one of the few campsites in WA that you couldn't drive within a kilometre or so of and that makes for a very private affair if you are thinking of staying here.
With our break over we swapped over the Trekker duties and officially started the day. As Michael had carried it in I was on duty so let him get a little bit ahead and then started just after 10am. Given we had already seen this bit I won't describe it again but as is the case with all trails, seeing things from a different perspective is always an added bonus. When I reached the beach section, the haze had not cleared and with the sun much higher on the horizon, the photos weren't as good. This was not the case when I arrived at the Point Charles Lookout with things a little bit clearer and less of the saturated orange you get with heavy haze so I finally got a nice shot of the lookout but it still wasn't at its peak turquoise water and sunshine greatness. The ridgeline along Point Charles provides a good mix of views back to the Mid Barrens and also out to the endless ocean to the south and east. The skies here were much clearer and the blue of the ocean was really popping given the calm waters. Add in a sighting of a pin cushion hakea and this wasn't a bad start to the official hike.
We soon reached the point where the trail splits into two, one back to Point Ann via the beach and the other continuing on the official trail through the inland section. Given this was halfway for the day's activities (but only 1/3 of the official hike) we decided to stop for lunch and parked ourselves on the well placed bench that is provided amongst the golden coloured Salmon Malee (self-named). With our hunger somewhat satisfied we moved on to the next feature, the Fitzgerald Valley Lookout. Much like the Hakea Trail, the Mamang Trail is broken up into sections with platforms or features every now and then to highlight a place of interest. I find this approach to be beneficial as it breaks up the hike into smaller portions and also forces you to stop and smell the roses as they say (or wildflowers). Unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to have an abundance of wildflowers that Fitzgerald River NP is famous for to look at or smell and thus I would have to say that the walk between the trail break and Fitzgerald Valley Lookout was not terribly interesting.
It's all worth it when you reach the Fitzgerald Valley Lookout and you cast your eyes out to the expanse of water, sand and heathland reaching all the way to the horizon. This trail has a habit of showing off the wow moments in great fashion and the lookouts provide a great seat from which to marvel at the landscape. This is something I will keep repeating but due to the dry weather the water was limited to a small sliver of the Fitzgerald River instead of the wide body of water the brochure shows (most likely taken in spring). It's still a spectacular sight with your eyes constantly wanting to focus in on the rock walls and then switch over to the wide panoramic. With many photos in the bag and an eye on the clock I handed over Trekker duties to Michael and we moved on. It is much the same from here with more walking through shrubbery as you continue on to the Royal Hakea Lookout. One problem we were both having was the introduction of midges to our walk. I was constantly brushing my face to shoo them away and looking back at my photos, a lot of them had midges photo bombing my pictures.
Closer to the Royal Hakea Lookout there were sightings of Royal Hakea (how about that!!) but these examples had been hit hard by the lack of water over the summer and autumn as some were turning black while others didn't have their usual vivid colours. We were up on the small ridge at the highest point of the hike (85m ASL) so maybe it isn't ideal growing conditions for these beautiful and iconic plants. The Royal Hakea Lookout is a nice place to stop with ocean views and a look back at West Mount Barren but wasn't worthy of a long stop so we took some photos and pressed on. The trail starts to descend for the next couple of kilometres and winds in and out of much denser malee thickets and along sandy track. The change of scenery is a relief and being a fairly warm day I was expecting to see a snake or a lizard but once again I was unlucky with my wildlife spotting. I was a bit surprised when I reached the Intercolonial Rest Area as it's not referenced in the brochure and I had to double check this wasn't the Lake Nameless Lookout.