No Tree Hill

Start - John Forrest Road

Length - 5.9km (Return)

Grade - Orange

Terrain - Single Track

Vertical Climb - 131m

Time - 1-3 hours

Signed - Yes

Date Hiked - 30th March 2018

Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring

Directions - Access to No Tree Hill is via John Forrest Rd that comes off Hopetoun-Ravensthorpe Rd. The gravel road turns into a sandy 4x4 track just after you enter the national park. This track is not suitable for 2wd cars and should only be attempted by those confident in driving on soft sand. 

The Hike - With an amazing hike the previous day taking in East Mount Barren it was time to move on once again and say goodbye to Fitzgerald River National Park. Before leaving though I had scheduled one last hike to enjoy a different side to the park and to take in a slightly longer trail that didn't involve a lot of climbing (sort of). Packing up our gear we loaded Newt up again and exited the park towards Hopetoun, crossing the lovely Culham Inlet once again before locating John Forrest Rd. Getting to the start point for this one involves entering the park via farming land and driving along an unsealed road that eventually turns into a sandy 4x4 track once you enter the national park section. Some of the landscapes driving in aren't bad with some weirdly unfenced farming lands providing some great views back towards the mountains of the east but alas it is still lots of cleared land so close to a biodiversity hotspot so that hurts a little. 

One interesting sign I drove past was pointing towards a John Forrest cairn, something I really should have stopped to investigate but didn't. Being the first premier of WA, Baron Forrest as he was eventually named started life as a land surveyor and a bit of an explorer, eventually marrying into the Hamersley family who have their name attached to several things in the eastern side of Fitzgerald River NP. This cairn was most likely from his surveying visit to the area in 1870 but there are a few of these cairns scattered across the Avon River area with the most famous being located just off the Numbat Trail within Paruna Sanctuary thanks to survey mission he completed in 1877-78. So there is a bit of history for you and it may be that John Forrest was one of the first eco vandals in WA (kidding, this is accepted behaviour for surveying and trail navigation).

We eventually reached the car park (a little side loop) after stopping about 200m from the entrance figuring out if we could make it if the sand got any softer. Having learned to drive on country properties in bush bashing cars I was fairly confident I wouldn't get bogged and I was proven right given we were so close. It was a bit of a warm morning and was only going to get warmer so I applied some sunscreen and we headed off to start the 6km trail. Having climbed two of the Barrens, named so because of their barren appearance, this area had more of a barren feel that is a good reflection of the inland sections of the park. The trail is essentially a disused 4x4 track that nature is doing a good job of reclaiming and I can only surmise that it was an access road to get a better view of the landscape for bushfire purposes or an old recreational road now no longer acceptable to use given the dieback issue. 

The start certainly does feel like an unused 4x4 track as you can't see much of the landscape, except that it has a slight angle to it but thankfully this gets better as you slowly ascend. Again, having planned our visit outside of the wildflower season means this hike is probably nowhere near as spectacular as it could be but there was still a splash of colour around and our favourite, Traffic Light Bush Kale aka Royal Hakea. This fact was forgotten when I caught sight of the first batch of weeping gums, something that was advertised on the Sepulcralis Hill hike but never really delivered. Coming across a thin line of these gently swaying waifs among the flat landscape was certainly a pleasant experience that I wasn't expecting. Eventually you get some better views of the surrounding area and can make out more of a horizon in several directions and once you reach the false summit the end goal comes into view. On this path I was staring at the track as I walked to pick my next step and noticed something wriggling in the sand. An oval shaped ball of twigs and leaves continued to move and poking out of one end was a grub like critter. Having never seen one before we were quite fascinated at it thinking we had discovered a new species but turns out it was just a case moth going about its business.

As you approach the western slopes the views become more expansive and the thickets of weeping gums become greater and greater. We stopped in the tiny amount of shape provided by a small tree as someone was feeling warm after electing to wear a jumper to avoid putting sunscreen on. With the end goal in sight and nothing but bright sunshine and open skies all around us we made our final push up to the summit. As you begin to rise up No Tree Hill the landscape becomes clearer and you get some lovely views over the harsh heathland towards the horizons. There is a summit cairn on top of No Tree Hill, which true to its name does not contain any trees and is simply a turnaround point for the 4x4 track. This is the first time you get a decent look of what lies beyond the hill and from this vantage point it’s a great way to finish the first leg. Views of the Eyre Range and Culham Inlet are the main viewpoints but several little hills and valleys along the Philips River caught my eye as fun places to explore if this was allowed (but it isn't). We enjoyed the views for a little bit before heading back on the return leg, enjoying the hike from a different perspective. 

Final Thoughts - As a big fan of the basketball themed teen drama of the 00s, One Tree Hill, I was already partial to enjoying this hike before we started. Expecting a fairly flat walk though the kinds of terrain we saw driving into the park on day one didn't really have me excited but once again you should never judge a hike by its cover.

The warm conditions and harsh light probably don't do justice to this hike and I would love to come back and do this again at sunrise or sunset where the lighting will be better and the animals more active. 

The trail design isn't fantastic but I like that a 4x4 track is being allowed to be reclaimed by nature given the role of vehicles in the spread of dieback within the park. At some points it is reduced to single track so job well done by nature here. 

Of course though the real hero of this hike is when you reach the weeping gums and the gentle hills overlooking the enormity of the landscape. The views from No Tree Hill were nice but for me it was all about walking above the wide brown land and through the swaying canopy. If the story about the weeping gums on Sepulcralis Hill is about these trees being the spear shafts sticking out of one man then a mighty battle must have taken place at the foothills of No Tree Hill.

It may be a bit more of an effort to get to out to do this hike and some people may find the scenery boring but I enjoyed the different take on Fitzgerald River NP away from the beaches and mountains. This is what the majority of the park is like so it was nice to have an extended walk through it all.

Get out there and experience it!!!

 

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