Mount Martin Botanical Reserve
Start - End of Ledge Point Road
Length - 12.2km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Vehicle Track, Granite
Vertical Climb - 441m
Time - 3-6 Hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 30th September 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Minang People
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.
Reaching a junction in the trail, this is where you can take a 1km there and back side trail down to Coal Basket Bay. Given I had all the time in the world this afternoon and was keen to explore as much as possible, I took a left turn and followed the old vehicle track down the hill towards the water. With the sun consistently out now, this was a pretty cool section to walk along thanks to the tall Kingia Australis being an Albany version of palm trees. The slightly turquoise water made it look a little tropical and I had good fun photographing the views looking back to Albany with the Kingia in the foreground. As I descended down the hill, I was busy scanning the edge of the trail for different wildflowers and found a Couch Honeypot, some more Purple Enamel Orchids and a pair of large ants having a bit of a tussle on a rock. As I got closer to the water, the area look even more intriguing thanks to the rocky shoreline. I wasn't sure if there was a beach, rocky ledge or if the track just stopped in the vegetation near the water. It became apparent as I approached the edge that there was a rocky platform to explore and after a bit of a hop, skip and jump, I was among a slew of small boulders.
I love this type of terrain as there is something childlike about exploring rock pools and jumping from boulder to boulder. Being a fairly calm day and Coal Basket Bay (terrible name by the way) being a sheltered bay, there wasn't a big chance of a king wave coming in and sweeping me off the rocks. Doing what I always do when there are rocks and water, I went searching for crabs and it didn't take long to spot a few hiding in various crevices around the place. I managed to not scare a bright orange one enough that it stood still in one spot just watching me. The granite area to the east is big enough for a decent wander around and contains some great views looking across the water towards Flinders Peninsula. I didn't explore off to the east as I was conscience of time but I'm sure you could pick your way over the granite marbles to the small beach at the end of the bay. In the right conditions the area could be a fun little spot to snorkel as the satellite image shows plenty of submerged granite in the protected bay. With a good amount of time spent having a look around, I decided it was best to move on, walking back up to the hill to the trail junction, trying to spot more wildflowers along the way.
Joining the track again, there is another junction with the right turn taking you back to the start and the left continuing along to the second loop. I took the left turn and kept climbing up the hill. The views from this junction are quite nice with the landscape to the north-east opening up, something of a taster for the finish of the hike. This also marks the emergence of the absolutely stunning Scarlet Banksia or more commonly known as the Albany Banksia. These photogenic red coloured banksias have such an interesting shape and colouring, I love seeing them on every visit to Albany. The wildflowers through here continued to be excellent as I made my way through the thick tunnel of vegetation towards one of the many lookouts along the trail. Around this time I was caught up to by a family with two teenage girls well ahead of their parents. They both headed left towards the Mt Dennis Lookout and also keen to check it out, I followed. Providing some great views overlooking King George Sound and Albany, this is billed as a great spot to watch for whales and the wooden gazebo is a nice spot to do it from. I explored the granite surrounds here while the girls did what teenage girls do and take a million photos for the gram. Realising I wasn't going to get a clear shot of the gazebo anytime soon, I moved on towards the summit of Mount Martin.
Another little side trail, it's an 800m return detour to the top and the thick vegetation continues through here. Lining the edge of the trail is a colourful collection of Showy Dryandras, mixed in well with some older eucalyptus varieties. As you get closer to the top, it really opens up with a wide section of mossy ground that is one of the larger continuous patches I've seen. The trail is well defined here so please don't go stepping onto the moss as it's quite fragile. The high point is marked by another wooden chair and a plaque but the views are somewhat limited thanks to the surrounding vegetation. I spent a bit of time up here poking around and enjoying some new wildflowers before returning back down the path to join the linking trail between the two loops. From the top of Mount Martin you have a long descent down towards the second loop and I spent my time in the tunnel searching out more wildflowers, keeping an eye out for the elusive Queen of Sheba Orchid. Reaching the trail split for the loop, I decided to keep with tradition and headed in a clockwise direction, hugging the area closest to the water. The scenery started to open up a lot here as the soil type changed to white sands but this didn't stop the wildflowers from growing.
The second loop certainly has a different feel to it with the sandy soils providing more of a coastal feel and the views now changing to overlook Emu Point, Oyster Harbour, the Porongurups and Stirling Range. It also had a bit of a gloomy feel to it thanks to the cloud cover that was hanging around but that just meant the lighting was much better for photographing the wildflowers. Still searching for the Queen of Sheba, this was made harder by the number of Purple Flags in this area that look very similar when you're scanning the undergrowth. While the thick vegetation was missing from this section of the loop, there was still a good amount of taller trees nearer to the water that did a good job of shielding the views of Emu Point. In one spot where it did clear up, I had a bit of a moment where I saw the main area of Emu Point and had a flashback to one family holiday we had way back in the 90s. I had completely forgot about it until I saw the shape of the point and some of the buildings. With that bit of unexpected nostalgia a nice surprise I continued downhill towards Voyager Park, an area next to the water that is opposite Emu Point. It's an odd site with a vehicle track leading to a dead end where you'll find a toilet block, another wooden bench and a stone monument. It was very unnatural after spending the previous two and half hours in pristine coastal terrain to all of a sudden be confronted with Voyager Park and beyond so after having a bit of a poke around on the beach, I found the trail leading away from here and moved on.
The forest along the water was actually quite pleasant with some Bracken Ferns providing a lush touch and a bit further on I found another wooden bench overlooking the water. This one seemed like one of the better spots up on the granite but I didn't stop to enjoy the serenity. After some more lovely old forest I found myself at Johnson Bay and another weird little picnic spot. I'm not sure if you're allowed to drive in here (muddy tracks at Voyager Park suggest people do it) but it just seemed odd for this to be located in a national park where I doubt it would get proper monitoring. Johnson Bay is home to a much better beach than Voyager Park and I had a wander down to enjoy being next to the water. The views across Oyster Bay are lovely and there was a good amount of bird life on the rocks close to shore. Even with my 140mm zoom lens, it was hard to get a good picture of the shags and gulls so I just stood there soaking it all in. The mountains in the background add a little bit of je ne sais quoi that made me stop and appreciate this spot a little more. In the afternoon light, the magic was starting to come to this hike and the views looking north and east would be a special feature of the remaining kilometres. Finding the trail leading away from Johnson Bay was tricky due to all the goat tracks and I eventually settled on the vehicle track as it seemed right (it wasn't the right path). It still took me to the right spot eventually as the trail heads back up the hill to complete the loop. I was kind of hoping to find some Queen of Sheba Orchids along here as I knew they grew near a vehicle track thanks to the idiocy of DBCA destroying one of their sites in 2019 by bulldozing a path without consulting where they grew properly.