Directions - Located just over two hours south east of Perth, take Albany Highway out of the city and follow that all the way to North Bannister. Turn off the highway and continue along North Bannister - Wandering Road, passing through Wandering and following the signs for Dryandra. Turn left onto York-Williams Road and drive into the park, making another right turn at Tomingley Road. Keep going until you see the small car park on the right hand side of the road with an Ochre Trail sign.
The Hike - The Dryandra Woodland is a place that has been on my radar for quite a while but planned trips had previously been thwarted for a few reasons that I won't get into here. Home to some fantastic Wandoo woodlands, the cutest state emblem ever (the rare and endangered Numbat), along with echidnas, wildflowers and plenty of walk trails to explore. With a few camping spots, the Barna Mia Nocturnal Wildlife Experience and being relatively close to Perth, this is a great place to escape for the day or a long weekend.
With a fleeting visit to Denmark on a sunny November weekend to re-shoot the section of the Munda Biddi Trail from William Bay into Denmark and a ride along the Wilderness Ocean Walk (WOW) Trail, I thought it would be nice to break up the drive home with a quick stop in at Dryandra. Visiting at the end of spring isn't the ideal time but with lots of rain over the winter and a mild spring, the wildflower season in 2021 had extended a bit further than usual. Using this as an advanced scouting trip for a longer visit in 2022, I decided to pick one walk and finally pay Dryandra a long overdue visit. Looking at the brochure, the Ochre Trail looked like a winner in terms of being a worthwhile length and highlights that weren't dependant on wildflowers. After driving all the way from Denmark along Albany Highway, past the endless farms, I turned off at Williams and was happy to reach the borders of Dryandra. There is a stark change as you enter the proposed national park (don't understand why it isn't one already given the importance of the Numbat population) with the farmland ending quite abruptly and the remnant Wandoo woodland standing tall.
I'll speak on this a bit more later on but it's such a shame that a very large part of Western Australia was cleared and turned into a giant sheep and wheat farm. Arriving at the car park, there was one other car parked up so I picked a spot and set about changing into my hiking gear while all the flies in the area came over to say a very enthusiast hello. At a stated 5km in length, this would be long enough to stretch the legs but short enough to still get home at a decent hour. Exploring the car park to get some establishing shots, I was happy to see some wildflowers including some Triggerplants and a small Mulla Mulla. Reaching the information board, I decided to go anti-clockwise as it seemed the obvious choice from that spot and the path into the Wandoo looked very enticing. Wandoo is one of my favourite trees to photograph in WA as their golden trunks are very photogenic and they usually grow in this weird and wonderful way instead of standing straight up. Walking along the trail, I came across the first marker, a red handprint design that references the role of the ochre you'll come across later on. Spotting another Mulla Mulla, these white and purple pom pom flowers signal the start of the warmer weather as we exit Kambarang and head into Birak.
My secret hope for this trail was to spot a Numbat as I'd seen quite a few local photographers on Instagram come out here recently and have some luck but wasn't going to let that make or break this experience. There was also the possibility of seeing another echidna after I finally got the monkey off my back riding into Dwellingup on the Munda Biddi but again, they all hate me so wasn't expecting anything. I was just happy to meander around, slowing down to enjoy the great scenes looking out over Wandoo country and photographing some late season wildflowers. I passed the owner of the other car as he headed in the opposite direction and we had a chat about our luck at spotting various fauna. He hadn't seen a Numbat on the trail but one had skipped across the road while he was driving, which is the only time I've ever seen one in the wild during a visit to Boyagin Rock. Rising up a gentle incline, the trail snakes through the woodland, passing some really impressive character trees with gnarly features and some with a good thickness about them.
After a rocky section where the laterite layer was exposed, the trail continues to wander around somewhat aimlessly but eventually arrives at the first interest point of the loop. A little wooden barrier protects a Mallee Fowl nesting site, a vulnerable bird that builds a giant mound as its nest. Their numbers are decreasing due to feral predators and the decreasing habitat they have to live in thanks to land clearing so it's nice to know they are somewhat protected in Dryandra. Before and after the Mallee Fowl mound was an increase in the volume and variety of wildflowers that had been somewhat lacking in the first part of the walk. While it was clear that some flowers were on their last legs or had already perished, there was still a splash of colour from the Hibbertia varieties, some Pink Boronia and the dying days of the Dryandra that shares its name with the woodlands here. At the top of the hill you reach a road crossing and the openness really took me out of the moment. The road crossing takes you to the site of the old fire watch tower that once stood here and served as a useful tool in spotting bushfires before they became giant infernos. All that is left now is the concrete of the base, a real shame as a lookout here would be a fun way to see the woodlands from a different perspective.
With not much to see but the concrete, I wanted to be under the cover of the Wandoo again so found the next trail marker and did just that. Having climbed the only hill of the trail, it was literally all downhill from here and I was about to head into the most enjoyable stretch of the whole hike. Winding along the edge of the hillside, I was facing the right direction for the lighting and the Wandoo trunks were looking a treat. With the views over the surrounding farmland opening up as I reached the laterite breakaway, I had a chuckle to myself as this is exactly the kind of trail design that I've walked before. Dave Osborne from WalkGPS has a lot of off track routes through different remnant nature reserves similar to Dryandra and one of his favourite geological features he likes to go over are these laterite breakaways. The reasoning is pretty clear as they provide great views, have an open space that is easy to follow and usually contain some very photogenic scenes. This particular spot had plenty of magic to it and I found myself slowing right down in the hopes of staying in the moment for longer.
The wildflowers added to the occasion with lots of upside down purple flowers (yet to find an identification in my books or on iNaturalist) and some more flowering Dryandra. Reluctantly moving on, I took some last shots of the views down the hill before meandering along the trail as it headed towards the steepest part of the downhill stretch. Before then I was treated to an open part of the woodlands and with some wisps of white cloud dotted in the sky, it was a beautiful spot. Reaching the stairs that take you down the hill, there is a bit of overkill on the safety front with a rope handhold in place to assist those with less stable footing getting down the incline. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh but the incline isn't that steep and there is always a risk of slipping on gravel but the steps are enough in my eyes and the rope seems to dumb down the trail experience. Safely negotiating the steps, at the bottom of the incline were some lovely views over a creek system that is typical of a hilly Wandoo woodland. Skirting the base of the hill, it was nice to see things from a different perspective as I passed a thicket of Brown Mallee that according to the information board was extensively logged due to the high tannin content of the tree.
Along here I found a few spiders that had setup home where they could and I was happy to see a Jewel Spider or more commonly known as the Christmas Spider. These brightly coloured, almost hexagonally shaped little arachnids mark the start of summer in WA and are quite tricky to photograph in bright sunlight. Moving along, I reached the ochre pit that lends its name to the trail and it was nice to see some intact indigenous heritage. The pit is fenced off and the ochre was used as body paint for ceremonies by the first nations people that called Dryandra home. It makes for a nice non-colonial feature on the trail and along with the other interpretive signage, provides a link back to country for people walking through. Another short downhill section leads to a left turn and a straight stretch of trail that takes you towards the odd bit of farmland that penetrates the centre of Dryandra. Before reaching the farmland there was one really nice stretch of Wandoo leading up a nearby hill and I took the opportunity to get in some snaps.
Having not read my podcast partners blog post about this trail before coming out here, the farmland came as a bit of a surprise. While I do enjoy a good farm, over the years as I've travelled around WA, it's really sad to see the vast amount of land clearing within the area where the Wandoo woodlands once thrived. It's great that Dryandra is protected (although why it isn't a national park yet is a great shame), this is an outlier in a sea of paddocks and open spaces. This bit of farm is a weird space with a hammer space intruding into the park but I'm sure this is just a legacy of a bygone era. The trail designers use this spot to comment on the relationship between farming and the environment as being a balance but in my opinion the balance is very uneven. Reaching the end of the farmland, the trail takes you off the old vehicle track and back onto some single trail heading towards the car park. Having not spotted a Numbat or Echidna, I was still happy with the experience thanks to the wonderful scenery and the excellent wildflowers. I'll be back in 2022 for a longer stay and a thorough exploration of the other walking trails in the area.