Mount Martin Botanical Reserve
Gull Rock National Park
Directions - From the centre of Albany, find your way to Ulster Road heading north and keep following this as it becomes Lower King Road. Keep going until it becomes Nanarup Road and then turn right onto Gull Rock Road. Follow this until you reach the turn for Ledge Point Road, take this and keep going until the end where you'll find the car park. The trail head is on the western side of the car park leading up the hill.
The Hike - This was the day of hiking I was most looking forward to in Albany and after a thoroughly enjoyable trip to the Baie des Deux Peuples Heritage Trail at Two Peoples Bay, I was ready to tick another trail off my to-hike list. Mount Martin is one of those places that has eluded me on previous adventures, mainly to do with car troubles, so with a fully functioning automobile on this trip I made plans to finally visit this section of Albany. There has always been a bit of mystic about this quadrant of Albany as for years and years I've visited places on the opposite sides of King George Sound and fantasised about what was across the water.
A particularly enjoyable experience in my much younger days saw me wake up early one Easter Sunday and head down to Middleton Beach to watch the sunrise over the hills in the distance. Those hills were this spot and it's made me curious ever since. Picking the day where the weather would be the best, this would be my afternoon hike and see me complete almost every possible trail in the Albany area (still have my eye on one more). The Gull Rock/Mount Martin area is a pretty wild stretch of Albany but as is the WA tradition, the area protected is dwarfed by the volume of private properties throughout the region. Arriving at the car park, it was nice to see a few other cars, indicating that I'd be seeing a few walkers on my travels. The trail isn't a straightforward loop or return journey, instead being a couple of loops connected by a stretch of trail you must complete twice. Add in some side trails to various lookouts and this promised to be a pretty varied hike full of botanical wonder. Heading up to the hill to start proceedings, there is a new dieback station (please use it) and an information board telling you all about the trail and what to expect. As I was scrubbing my shoes I noticed a Cowslip Orchid down below but thought to myself that I'd see plenty along the way and didn't photograph it.
Speaking of orchids, Mount Martin is home to the famous Southern Queen of Sheba Orchid that is quite rare so my wildflower/orchid scanning sense would be on high alert for the whole afternoon. It didn't take long for my eyes to catch sight of a wildflower with many different species popping up on the edge of the trail as I ascended up the hill. Among the finds included a Showy Dryandra, Flame Pea, Hakea, Petrophile, a Purple Enamel Orchid, Velvet Bush, Yellow Pea and a Rose Coneflower. Early on there is a decision to make with the first loop branching off into different directions. Either way involves a climb and I picked the route taking me to Mount Eileen because it takes you closer to the coast. While I would have to wait a short while until the views started to open up, this was a great opportunity to enjoy the thick and healthy scrub that was littered with wildflowers and a large population of orange flowering Showy Dryandra. A favourite of mine (I recently planted one in my new native garden at home), they provide a splash of colour that really made me want to photograph every single example. Restraining myself, I continued on towards the first of the granite outcrops where you'll find the first of many seats dotted along the trail.
This is just a taster of what is to come so I snapped a couple of photographs and headed back along the single trail to the summit of Mount Eileen. Passing through an excellent stand of Grass Trees and ancient flowering eucalyptus trees, this felt a little bit special and different from most trails. You get the impression that this area has been left to its own devices while the rest of WA has been transformed at the hand of man. This is true to a certain degree as this area has a trail through it but being identified early on in European settlement as a place of botanical significance has really helped preserve this area. The gnarly and thick appearance of some of the eucalyptus trees along here is fantastic to see and they create such a character filled scene to shoot (even more so when they are flowering). Reaching the first large section of granite on the trail, this is the summit of Mount Eileen and it couldn't have come quick enough. With an elevated position and a sparsity of vegetation thanks to the granite, the views here are amazing as you overlook the entrance to King George Sound and across to Torndirrup National Park.
The fun features out in the distance are the twin spots of land known as Michaelsea and Breaksea Islands with Breaksea Island containing the entry lighthouse for King George Sound. It was a nice sight to stare out and see Flinders Peninsula, home to the Bald Head Walk Trail and be reminded not only of previous experiences there but that I would be there the following day to hike it again. Another view I was really enjoying was looking down to Gull Rock Beach and across to the wilds of Two Peoples Bay over the hills. It looked like a reverse view of Wineglass Bay, although the terrain was slightly less hilly. I took some time here to explore the granite, finding some interesting drosera growing on the mossy patches and a few Blue Squills dotted around the place. Leaving the summit, I continued on past the impressive summit cairn and began descending the other side of the hill. Being on the Albany side of Mount Eileen meant the first views of the city with Middleton Beach, Mount Adelaide and Mount Clarence clearly visible across the water. While not as enjoyable as the views looking out towards King George Sound and Torndirrup National Park, this was at the very least a call back to all those times looking out here from Middleton Beach. I had finally made it to the other side and who knows, perhaps I was staring back at a kid thinking the same thing as young Mark did all those years ago.