Start - Shannon Dam
Length - 3.6km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 120m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Black Boot
Date Hiked - 21st June 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Located 50km south of Manjimup, take South Western Hwy until you reach the Dog Rd turnoff. Turn left here into the day use area (not the campground) and follow the road until you see the left turn for Shannon Dam. There is plenty of parking by the edge of the water.
The Hike - Shannon National Park is somewhat of a white whale for me as my quest to hike here has come across a few road blocks over the years. Affected by the 2015 Northcliffe fires that ravaged a large section of Karri forest in the south of the state, I originally planned to hike here in the spring of 2017 when camping at Shannon Campgrounds on a long South West road trip but when I arrived at Shannon Dam, the walk trails were closed while they fixed them up (I had previously checked with Parks and Wildlife and was told they were open). Completing the Bibbulmun Track was then my main focus in 2018 and 2019 so a visit here was put on the back-burner. I thought it would be a good idea to take my niece out here for some early season fungi hunting as part of a birthday experience and this area would be perfect for finding them.
The original plan was to head out over Easter but the regional borders closed and that idea was scrapped, so it was just a matter of waiting for the restrictions to be lifted so we could organise another trip. A date was set in mid-June but my niece rolled her ankle at school on the Friday before we were due to head down and I thought I would never get here. It luckily wasn't a serious injury and she would be ready for the following weekend so here we are. Given Shannon NP is over two hours from Funbury and four hours from Perth, I thought it best that we stay in Funbury the night before to cut down on some of the driving on the day (Caris is not a big fan of long drives). With sunny but cold weather predicted we had a helping of Dad's world famous pancakes before setting off for the long drive. Getting the first low temperature warning on my new X-Trail (it was around 1C passing through Bridgetown), we finally reached Shannon Dam and it was just as nice as I remember. With not a cloud in sight, the photographic conditions weren't great so I've been sneaky here and posted some photos of the dam from my 2017 visit as the glare kind of ruined the wide shots from this visit.
The goal for today was to go fungi exploring and try and spot as many different varieties as we could. We had purchased a trio of small books on the Fungi, Wildflowers and Trees of the South West for my niece so she could try and identify anything we found along the way. After admiring just how still the water was and how clear the reflections of the Karri trees were, we started the official walk. It didn't take long for us to spot our first fungi (apart from me of course...) as a yellow pancake variety (possibly Crepidotus prostratus?) was easily spotted just off the path. We whipped out the fungi guide and started searching but soon realised this would take a while for each variety we found. Aiming to walk slowly while Alexa searched a little longer, time was not important on this hike so if we found it in the book then great but if not, it didn't matter. We could have easily finished in an hour if we walked at a normal pace but it was a lot more fun to slow down and scan the forest floor for anything that caught our eye. It turned out that there was an abundance of cool stuff to be found and soon after crossing the bridge we had spotted several different varieties along with a healthy stand of Karri She-Oak.
It was a refreshing feeling to really slow down to pretty much a crawl so we could give ourselves a chance to see as much as possible. Having three sets of eyes was also a big advantage as over the course of the morning we all spotted something that the others had missed. Also a great feeling was having a captive audience in my niece and imparting some of the things I have learned over the years of wandering the forests of WA. Pointing out different tree and plant species, explaining their different functions and sizes was really fun and Alexa was super interested in taking in as much as she could. I started to doubt our blood connection when she expressed a love for the messy Soapbush that lined the 4x4 track we were on. Having battled the stuff relentlessly for a few years now around Murray, I can't say it is my favourite plant but she doesn't yet know the pain of spending days on end trying to trim it back, only to have it regrow within a few months. As we ventured along the 4x4 track that is home for the first kilometre, it became apparent that trying to get good wide shots was going to be quite difficult due to the glare of the morning sun.
Luckily there was an abundance of fungi to photograph on the forest floor and we were only getting a few metres down the track before someone let out an excited cry and called the others over to have a look at their discovery. Alexa was particularly impressed when we found some Coral Fungi and I don't blame her as it looks really cool. One thing I was not expecting to find in any great numbers was wildflowers and so it was a fun surprise when I spotted a Flame Pea (aka the Miami Vice flower) lurking on the edge of the track. This would be the only one we'd find on the day and provided a spot of colour to the morning. While fungi spotting was the aim of the game, I was also looking further afield to see what I could find down in the valley and caught a glimpse of one of my favourite plants in the WA forests, the hilariously named Snottygobble. Besides the funny name, I enjoy the shape of the leaves, the character of the bark and also having a little nibble of the fruit when it's in season. Passing a giant ants nest, the hive of activity was really cool to see and made me wonder if perhaps a chance echidna sighting might be in order (spoiler - it wasn't).
Towards the end of the 4x4 track Caris spotted some drosera and we all got down on the ground to inspect at a closer level. Feeling very much like a proper tour guide or TV presenter, I carefully explained to Alexa what drosera were, how they caught food and the various varieties that could be found (we found the lily pad and vine varieties close together). As a kid I would have found this fascinating (still do as a semi-adult) and Alexa really seemed to be enjoying it. Reaching the end of the 4x4 track, there is a trail marker pointing you up the hill on a single track and we decided this would be a good point to break out the snacks Caris had brought. Standing in a patch of sun, we had jelly snakes and a pretzel/chocolate/caramel popcorn trail mix that really hit the spot. Still heading uphill, it was nice to feel more immersed in the forest now we were on single track and the fungi sightings didn't stop. Several new varieties presented themselves, hidden among the leaf litter and we were making sure we tread very carefully as some were on the trail itself. A big fallen log off the trail provided a cool spectacle but getting a good photo with the sharp contrast between light and dark was a bit difficult.
As we ventured up the hill the forest started to change from predominantly Karri and Karri She-Oak to a noticeably drier forest with Jarrah becoming the main tree. Spotting another Snottygobble produced a laugh from the group (think I'd sold them on the quality of the name) as we ascended some rocky steps that Alexa tried to count out. The granite formations around here were really cool and a perfect place for interesting mosses, lichens and fungi to grow. My personal favourite was the tiny little orange cups growing out from the green moss I always associate with the black and green tiles from the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter films. Another cool feature was a triple headed Grass Tree like I had seen at the Bridgetown Jarrah Park just below the trail that was covered in moss and looked super impressive. I told Alexa how much they grow each year (only about 1-1.5cm) and guesstimated that this one must be a few hundred years old, something that produced a shocked facial expression. Reaching the top of the steeper section we spotted a big granite area and hanging around the back of it were some emus.
Like the dumb, panicky birds they are, they immediately fled the scene before I could take a photo but we stood silently on the path listening to the drumming sounds they make with their chest. The granite area here is called Mokare's Rock and Mokare was a very important Noongar man in the early 1800s that served as a kind of peacemaker and guide during the early colonial settlements. While history in WA is largely written by white settlers, it seems that he was a well respected man that acted as a guide on several expeditions and would occasionally visit the Albany Governor for social visits. I'm unsure what connection this rock had to Mokare as he lived in the Albany/Denmark region but it's nice to see it named after an indigenous figure instead of an explorer, royal or timber cutter (more on that later). To help navigate the sloping rock and also to protect the fragile moss, there is a wooden bridge across the rock that has some lovely moss growing on it. Hopefully it stays there for a while instead of being replaced with one of the metal bridges that seem to be favoured now (as they've done at Mount Frankland). An example of having multiple sets of eyes being a good thing happened just after the bridge with a fallen log containing lots of fungi and a drosera vine. Caris pointed it out because of the fungi (that I didn't see) and I pointed it out because of the drosera (that she didn't see).
There was one tiny little climb until we reached the highest point of the hike where we found a lovely grey Jarrah tree. Given Alexa had taken a liking to nature and the outdoors, I thought I'd fully convert her into a tree hugging leftie by getting her to pose for a photo actually hugging a tree. A little further along the path both myself and Alexa passed a tree without a second glance and soon heard shouts from Caris telling us to come back. At the base of the tree were a couple of cool clumps of fungi pushing their way out of the bark. It would have been a shame to miss them so once again the extra eyes came through. So often on hikes I see something and take a quick snap before moving on but on this hike I spent a good amount of time on the forest floor taking many photos and admiring all the cool details of almost every fungi we found along the way. That of course meant going much slower and by this time we had only covered 1.7km in about and hour and a half. The next section was all downhill so we naturally picked up the pace as the forest changed from open Jarrah back to the cooler and wetter Karri forest near the valley. I had a good laugh at one of the old signs that would have been installed when this was made a national park in 1988 as it referenced not dropping your cigarette butts in the forest. 30 years on and thankfully that seems like a trivial issue as the percentage of the population that smokes is much less than the late 80s.
Reaching a 4x4 track, we had arrived at the spur trail to Smeathers' Rock. Unlike Mokare Rock, this was named after Norm Smeathers, who was a tree feller that worked at the timber mill that was once here. Like the majority of the South West, this area was logged in the past (thankfully not clearfelled around this site) but at least this has been made a national park instead of a state forest (i.e likely to be logged or mined again in the future) so there's that. With nothing but time we headed down the hill to check out this rock and as we descended lower the feeling of the forest changed. The sword grass got thicker and the air got damper. About halfway down you come across a large hollowed out tree that has survived despite having it's heartwood burnt out in a fire. It was pretty cool to see and we stopped to pose for photos to show a sense of scale. Smeathers' Rock was a hop, skip and jump ahead and provides a nice little viewing platform to look down at the valley below. You get a good look at the Karri trunks rising into the air, along with a few moss covered boulders sitting on the forest floor. Caris was keen to finish so was already racing back up the hill and we soon joined her at the junction again, admiring the Karri forest stretching up the side of the hill as we went along.
After a quick snack we headed along the 4x4 track that leads down the hill and back towards the dam. I was still going a bit slower, spotting more fungi along the way as Caris and Alexa skipped down the track. I caught up to Alexa and was showing her something next to a tree when Caris yelled out from down below that she'd found the biggest fungi of the day. Alexa and I bounded down to where she was and just off the track on a fallen log were two big fungi. The orange one in the below gallery was bigger than my hand and if I'm correct in identifying it from a Fungi Field Guide then it is called a Curry Punk (yes, you read that correctly). The white one was a bit larger but hidden between two logs so I couldn't get a decent photo of it. It was a lovely way to finish a relaxing morning searching for fungi and not long after we joined the track leading to the dam. With the piercing winter sun still beaming down, the shots of the dam still weren't fantastic but after such a wonderful hike it was insignificant. To cap off the day of adventure we stopped in to Pemberton for lunch at the new Wild at Heart Cafe followed by a visit to Beedelup Falls on the way back to Funbury.
Final Thoughts – Much like North Bannister to Dwellingup and hopefully like Mount Martin, this hike was delayed for a couple of reasons but in the end turned out to be a fantastic experience.
While not very long at 3.6km (the original pre-fire Rocks Walk was 5.5km and started from the day use entry near the entry), we managed to take quite a while, simply relishing the different fungi, mosses and lichen along the way.
Looking back at my 2017 trip there was a much longer walk in the park that seems to have been removed. With demand for trails far outstripping supply, it's a shame we have lost a longer walk in what is a beautiful part of the state.
Winter in the forests is an amazing time and it was great to see all the different varieties of fungi all over the place. The real highlight though was experiencing this with my niece and showing her how great time in nature can be.
Hopefully this is the first of many adventures and the start of a life long passion for her.
Get out there and experience it!
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