Mount Melville Circuit Trail
Start - Off Serpentine Rd
Length - 4.3km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Granite Slab, Vehicle Track
Vertical Climb - 137m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - Yes
Dog Friendly - Yes
Date Hiked - 28th September 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - From the centre of Albany head north on York Street until you reach the roundabout where the Caltex is. Take a left here onto Serpentine Road and follow this up the hill until you reach the corner of Halifax Street. There is a small grassed parking area on the opposite side and the trail begins as you walk through the gate pictured below.
The Hike - Albany holds a special place in my heart with some great memories holidaying down here as a kid along with plenty of adventures for this website as an adult. Returning for a five day stretch as part of a three and a half week road trip in the South West and Great Southern, this would be an opportunity to tick off the remaining Albany hikes that I had not yet completed for the website. Arriving the previous day after a fantastic hike up to Mount Lindesay and then driving into Albany to celebrate my podcast partner's completion of the Munda Biddi, I had settled into my AirBnB and was ready to explore.
Packing a lot of hiking into my time in Albany, first on the list was an exploration of Mount Melville and if I'm honest, I did this one first because I didn't think it would be any good. The last time I was in Albany was to finish my sectional end to end of the Bibbulmun Track and part of the last day is to scoot around the base of Mount Melville, something that wasn't the most enjoyable experience. Information on the walk trails on Mount Melville is very limited and the only source I could find was on the Alltrails app that can be a bit hit and miss sometimes. Using that as a guide, I downloaded the GPS file and drove out to the suggested starting spot along Serpentine Road (look out for the replica Leaning Tower of Pisa along this road, it's a hilarious addition to someone's front yard). Reviews of the trail on the app suggested this area is mainly used by locals walking their dogs so that tempered my expectations even more. The grassy space that is used as a car park/trail head certainly doesn't scream anything different but I was prepared to be surprised.
Creamed up and sporting my nerdburger hat, I walked through the gate and started the trail on what was a lovely day for it thanks to the occasional sunny skies mixed with white clouds. Immediately I was a bit dismayed as the trail seemed to continue what I had seen the previous year on the Bibbulmun Track with lots of non-native species dominating the landscape including the thick green Watsonia plants that have orange flowers. Thankfully the Watsonia doesn't last too long and the path takes you along some open granite that is flanked by some more natural looking vegetation. I was happy to see my first Sticky Tailflower of the hike and the native flower finds continued as I moved along. Worryingly there was an unpleasant smell lingering in the air and based on reviews of the trail it was suggested that not all dog owners were great about picking up after their furry friends but this smell was different. It disappeared as I headed towards the granite hill that is the main feature of this area and I was soon entering some nice looking Marri and Jarrah forest filled with more wildflowers and cheeky Black Cockatoos.
There are some trail markers in the area pointing you along various paths and the route I was following combines a few of these trails that can be a little confusing. Moving deeper into the forest, I was very pleased with the quality with lots of wildflowers and because it's so close to town and on a granite hill, the trees escape the ravages of prescribed burns. This means the bark on the Marri trees especially is this gnarly, character filled delight that I love to photograph. Spotting some late season fungi on the edge of the trail, this was turning out to be a pretty nice walk and I hadn't even reached the best bits. With lots of intersecting paths, I kept checking my GPS but it was suggesting that I go right through the middle of the bush at one point, instead of selected between two paths. I ignored it and made a guess, something that paid off as I joined what is called the Summit Trail (taking the left turn here would have taken me to the suburbs surrounding the reserve). Heading up the hill I was noticing all the granite boulders that were starting to appear behind the thick tree line.
Popping out onto a granite platform, I was presented with the first of many great views, this one looking west across to the outer suburbs and industrial area of Albany. I was greeted by a bird of prey circling above the granite and I managed to get a few shots in before it flew off behind the massive boulders. I wasn't expecting this type of terrain so it was a great surprise and one that I welcomed wholeheartedly. Snapping away at the lichen stained granite and the views looking towards the moody skies, I was excited to continue on and discover if this was just the start of an excellent stretch of trail. It was indeed with the markers pointing you along the granite as you hug the large boulders and continue uphill. It was at this point that I discovered the source of the earlier smell and it appears that the side of Mount Melville is still being used by the City of Albany as a tip, something I really can't fathom given how close the area is to the main part of town, the recreation trails on the hill and the fact that there is so much cleared land north of the city that could be used instead. Baffling to say the least and it certainly doesn't make parts of the trail very enjoyable to walk.
Putting that out of my mind, I concentrated on enjoying the rest of the hike and the excellent scenery continued as I traversed the edge of the granite platform that swings around to the south and then east. While the previous views had been nice thanks to the boulders providing a nice foreground object for the photos, these views were much prettier. You initially get a little glimpses of Princess Royal Harbour but as you get to the peak of the hill, the views open up and you can see right across to the Albany Wind Farm in the distance. While this was a nice spot, I could see the observation tower poking up through the boulders to my left and knew the outstanding views would be found there. It isn't long before you reach the lookout spot and the somewhat drab looking circular tower is easily accessed by climbing up the stairs in the middle of the structure. I went to the top level to get the best views and was amazed at the perspective you get from up here. The best spot is looking south east from the tower where you get a stunning scene of the city, port, harbour in the foreground and in the background is the iconic formations of Torndirrup National Park, highlighted by the mass of the Flinders Peninsula.
The location of the famous Bald Head Walk Trail, I was pleased to see it as I would be returning there in a few days time for a much needed re-shoot. For now I kept shooting away and wondering why it had taken me so long to come up here and explore. On the other side of the tower looking to the north is the outline of the Porongurups that I could just make out in the grey conditions. I'd be there the following day and it was nice to tick off all the locations I would be visiting in the next few days as I saw them from up here. Heading back down the lookout tower, I checked my GPS and noted that I was to head down the hill, running parallel with the road leading up to the lookout. I found some markers and was relieved to discover that not all of this section was on the road but a lovely bit of single trail. Reaching a roundabout I made a right turn and followed the wide orange vehicle track to the end where you will find a giant concrete water tank. Just beyond that you start heading uphill again and on the open granite you'll find a stone seat to enjoy the views from. A slightly different angle from the lookout tower, the views are still amazing and I think it is the best spot to take in the city, harbour and beyond out of all the lookouts in Albany.
The trail then loops back on itself and you start heading uphill towards the lookout tower again. The scenery is much better with an open granite slope to navigate and a longer time with the views over the harbour. From this vantage point I could see the old Woolstores, a feature you walk by on the Bibbulmun Track and it was a nice reminder of that particular section before the averageness of the bottom of Mount Melville. Stretching my view skyward, I noticed a couple of large flocks of birds doing a bit of a dance in the skies over the harbour. Albany is home to a significant bird population but my zoom lens couldn't quite get them big enough to determine what they were. At the top of this hill you join a vehicle track as it descends down the western flank of the hill. This section is home to the best forest of the entire walk with mature trees creating a nice canopy combined with the lush feel of Bracken Ferns lining the undergrowth. With the clouds now blocking out the sun, the lighting through here made for a really enjoyable time.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, there is a big intersection of many trails where I made a wrong decision. The GPS file was showing the trail continuing along a single track but with the edge of the rubbish tip visible, I wasn't sure how it looped back to the start. I soon realised it wasn't the right way and doubled back to head long the vehicle track going north. Here I met a young man that was carrying around a test tube that had me intrigued. I struck up a conversation and he was really into his ants and had collected a bull ant in the tube to look at. I wished him well on his hunt for a queen and was on my way again. The finish to the walk is soured by the fact you are walking next to the rubbish tip with it being visible in certain locations. I instead chose to look at the other side of the track where there was some nice forest and the foundations of what I assume was an old bunker or building from the war. The wildflowers along this finishing stretch were lovely and a nice way to finish before reaching the Watsonia patches, signalling my loop was over. I was soon at my car reflecting back on an odd trail and ready for my next adventure.
Final Thoughts - I had added Mount Melville to my list of to-do hikes but didn't really expect it to be any good. Perhaps there would be a nice bit of forest and some views from the tower but you never quite know, especially when there aren't any proper posts online about it.
What I found wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination but a nice solid 4km loop that has some really enjoyable moments.
I really loved the granite boulders near the summit, the excellent views overlooking Albany and the harbour and the forested section on the western side. As I said before, this might be the location of some of the best views in Albany.
It is let down by the somewhat confusing markers they have employed along with the terrible location of the town tip. IF you can get past those things then it has a lot going for it.
Get out there and experience it!
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