Margaret River Heritage Trail
Start - Rotary Park, Bussell Hwy
Length - 6km (Figure 8)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Single Path, 4x4 Track
Dog Friendly - Yes
Vertical Climb - 96m
Time - 1-3 hours
Signed - No
Date Hiked - 3rd January 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Rotary Park is very simple to find as it's located right on Bussell Hwy as you enter town from the north. Look out for the big railway engine and white archway marking the entrance and there should be enough parking spots available.
The Hike - With my short visit to Margaret River for New Years over very quickly, I headed to Funbury for a delayed Christmas with the family with an eye to return back to Margaret River one afternoon. The reason for this was I discovered a piece of paper in the accommodation with the walk trails of Margaret River attached to a brochure for the Margaret River Heritage Trail. These brochures are like dragon eggs to find and even the Heritage Council of Western Australia didn't bother keeping a copy of them all so to come across one by accident was a little bit exciting (I'm a sad individual). For those unfamiliar with the heritage trails of WA, it was a project from the 1980s to create walking and driving trails all over the state to coincide with the bicentennial celebrations but it fell by the wayside and a lot of them now don't exist or were taken over by other trails.
A few however as I've discovered over the years still exist in one way or another but like this one, are only evident when you are standing right in front of the information board. The funny thing about the Margaret River HT information board is that isn't exactly hiding from plain sight as it's clearly visible from Bussell Hwy as you drive into town. It's one of those things that because I wasn't looking for it I never noticed it and even though I would have passed it a dozen times or so since starting the website, it never caught my attention. After visiting a few places that were closed on New Year's Day and having a late lunch I made my way to the Rotary Park car park ready to explore the area and see if I could retrace the original route. The park is a great place to take the family and while I was wandering around looking at all the trail information boards from various time periods there were plenty of people around enjoying the facilities.
I had a photo of the map of the heritage trail on my phone but stumbled across the original trail head complete with maps and info that was in surprisingly good condition. As I had already planned my route based off the brochure, I took a photo of the info board for reference (they differ from each other) and walked towards the Bussell Hwy bridge to begin my hike. There are plenty of paths that you can take that cross Bussell Hwy but I chose to use the original trail that goes under the bridge because I'm a bit of a troll and it's much more fun that waiting for holiday traffic. The reward for this is your first meeting with Margaret River and the lily covered surfaces that are great to photograph. Being a dual use trail there is a warning sign for the lack of clearance under the bridge and being 6ft1 I also had to duck my head. If it wasn't for the noise coming from the highway traffic you could be forgiven for thinking you could be in the middle of the bush following an idyllic river course.
There is a cool vantage point along this stretch with a fallen tree providing a nice walkway into the river (take care) and allowing you to get right out amongst it for plenty of cool photo opportunities. This whole stretch is a great introduction to the area and with the setting sun providing plenty a nice golden hue to the forest lined paths hugging the river. Around the bend you get your first glimpse of the first weir you will come across in your journeys. These weirs have been put in place to protect the river and keep it in a healthy state but also serve as a fun feature to photograph and provide access to the other side of the river. There is a car park where the weir meets the path and this is where the trail gets a bit confusing. I had two conflicting maps, one stated the trail followed the course of the river and the other had you run parallel with Carters Rd. I saw a well defined path leading next to the river and naturally thought that this was the correct way but after passing through some lovely fern lined scenes the path became harder to follow and eventually I was spat out into a clearing that bordered a nearby property. I followed this back towards the river and eventually realised that this wasn't the right way so ended up skipping through the field of the property as a shortcut back to the trail. The real trail can be found by going to the north end of the car park where you will find the correct path leading off into the forest.
Now back on a proper looking trail I was strolling through a lovely section of forest complete with Jarrah, Karri, tea trees, balgas and lots of fallen logs. Occasionally I would come across a bench seat and I can imagine this place would be delightful in spring with all the wildflowers in bloom. Not far up ahead was another highlight of the trail and where the Heritage Trail is consumed by the Rails to Trails Trail (that's a mouthful). This is a trail I have on the list but one for another day given it is 23km one way and relatively flat/straight, I was happy to experience a taste of it with a large wooden rail bridge crossing Margaret River. This impressive structure is quite tall for the size of the river underneath it and if you follow the steep path down to the river banks like I did then you get to fully appreciate the size and beauty of this old girl. I had much fun taking photos from different angles before finally scrambling back up the slope and beginning the loop back to Rotary Park by crossing the bridge. The trail back is very straight for a while but some Kangaroo Paws livened things up along with the setting sun peaking through the forest canopy. There are a multitude of different paths you can take back and I did a bit of guess work as to which one to take, helped out by the occasional wooden marker until I once again reached the weir where I followed the path I had already taken back to the start point.
With half the trail done and the light slowly fading I was keen to continue on to what I thought would be the better half. With my camera in hand I felt a bit weird as I tried to locate the trail through a series of playgrounds filled with children but eventually found it after a slight diversion down to one of many fallen logs splayed over the river. The path along the river provides more tranquil moments as the waters flow at a very gentle pace, one has to be envious of the Margaret River lifestyle at this point. An unexpected viewing platform appears as the trail bends back to join the 10 Mile Brook Trail (closed until July 2018) and this wide section of the river is home to a couple of platforms on either side of the river. The one on this side did not look anywhere near as interesting as the one on the other side so I enjoyed the views and looked forward to exploring the other side a little later on. For now though I had some excellent Karri forest to enjoy (always a favourite) and with the summer air providing a nice aroma of eucalyptus and warmth I was happy to be nowhere else but here. This enjoyable stretch lasts for about a kilometre before you reach the second weir of your hike and the turnaround point for this loop.
This is the biggest weir of them all and also serves as a nice spot to have a swim, as demonstrated by the group that had setup shop on the other side of the river and were having a splash. An array of dead trees that were created when the weirs were built provides a cool subject to photograph against the changing colours of the afternoon sky. An interesting feature of this weir are the steps on the downstream side that serve as an aid to migrating fish and lamprey (eel like creatures with sharp teeth) so they can successfully navigate the weir that blocks their way upstream. I moved quickly past the group of swimmers as the nearby bin suggested they were having a very good time and I wanted to finish with some light still left. The return trip back looked like it was well used and being close to housing there were several goat trails leading back to town. A high bank and a large collection of Karri trees do a great job of providing separation from the township and once again the afternoon light was putting on a show. I came across the path leading towards what I assume was the cool looking platform I had seen earlier and I was correct in my assumption. Boardwalks to protect the fragile river system lead you to the platform where you will find a nice place to gaze out onto the river and a wooden love heart to pose next to for your Instagram pics.
I had some fun here taking all of the photos and enjoying the streaming light cascading through the canopy, lighting up the river a treat (but not quite capturing the effect on camera). All I had left to do now was to finish the last 400m of the trail and explore one last cool feature, the old homestead. This collection of buildings provides a great insight into what life was like when Margaret River was first settled and the assortment of buildings that were required at the time. One has been converted to a coffee shop (closed when I was there) but it was good fun to walk around the other parts and spark my imagination. With many photos in the bag, including a very photogenic moss coated archway, I joined the path again and headed towards the final bridge leading towards Rotary Park. The park was still very full and there was even traffic on the foot bridge so I had to get my shots in quick before departing for my car and the hour long trip back to my parents place in Funbury. Another heritage trail in the bag and once again a pleasant surprise.
Final Thoughts - I have really enjoyed tracking down the 1988 heritage trails and seeing how much of them survives or if they exist at all. Most of the time I have come across them by accident and I should have spotted this one much earlier than I did. I had a good chuckle after discovering the brochure and then noticing not only the large trail head but a lodge right on Bussell Hwy called the Heritage Trail Lodge.
The Margaret River HT is another great example of what was envisioned but never quite kept its promise as a state-wide trail network. Given it has been cannibalised by the Rail to Trails Trail, 10 Mile Brook Trail and the Rotary South Bank River Loop (essentially the second loop but renamed), it still lives on but not by the name or exact path it was originally given.
Given a lot of the walking trails in Margaret River are long one way affairs it is nice to know that there is one of decent length that can be tackled as a loop (or figure 8 depending on how you look at it). A great mix of forest, river and bridges keep you interested for the entirety of the journey and with it only being a short walk from town, it is the perfect way to connect with nature in Margaret River if you didn't bring your mountain bike.
I thoroughly recommend this trail and a link to the brochure can be found here.
Get out there and experience it!
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