For a glimpse of what WA’s South Shore looked like 200 years ago, there’s no better place than Fitzgerald River National Park.
The park stretches nearly 100 km from Bremer Bay to Hopetoun and encompasses approximately 300,000 hectares of pristine bushland.
Almost 1800 different plant species have been found there, and each year new ones are described for the first time. At least 75 plant species are found nowhere else in the world. The most spectacular are the Royal Hakea, Quaalup Bell and Hakea Victoria.
While the flowers are at their most beautiful from August to November, there is plenty to see all year round.
It is home to more diverse animal species than any other reserve in South West Australia. More than 200 bird species are found, including rarities such as the Plover, Western Bristlebird and Western Ground Parrot, of which only about 200 survive in isolated pockets along the south coast from Albany to Israelite Bay. There are also 22 species of mammals, 41 reptiles and 12 frogs.
The park is best accessed from Hopetoun from the east and Bremer Bay from the west. Only a short section of the road from Hopetoun to Hammersley Inlet is paved, but other roads are well-maintained gravel roads suitable for 2WD vehicles, although park wardens close them in inclement weather. Caravan must be limited to the short sealed sections.
The Fitzgerald River National Park has several hiking trails from 600 m to 46 km in length. They vary in difficulty from Class 2, a well defined course on firm ground suitable for all fitness levels, to Class 4 for the fit and experienced bushwalker. None of them are wheelchair accessible.
Access is restricted to some of the hilly areas because of the risk of spreading dieback. Hikers are expected to stick to the trails and use the boot cleaning stations if necessary.
Southern right whales congregate in shallow water from June to October to calve before migrating back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. One of the best places to see whales from shore is Point Ann.
There are several excellent rock fishing spots in the park where the usual king wave hazards apply. Boat, beach and spear fishing are also available.
The hardy can opt for basic camping at Hamersley Inlet and St. Mary’s Inlet near Point Ann. Beneath some of the longer trails are other extremely easy spots that require carrying everything from toilet paper to tents in and out.
There are no other dwellings within the park, but a 40-acre tract of land within the park surrounds the historic Quaalup Homestead, built by John Wellstead in 1858. The homestead and barn were restored as the Quaalup Wilderness Retreat in the 1970’s. It offers self-catering accommodation and camping. All electricity is solar powered and the homestead is set up as a museum with some meals served in the dining room.
Quaalup is 45 km from Bremer Bay, the nearest shop, petrol station and hotel.
Fitzgerald River National Park is the core of WA’s only UNESCO Biosphere. The park is surrounded by a residual bush, behind which is the transition zone where the communities live. The biosphere covers the entire Shire of Jerramungup and most of the Shire of Ravensthorpe, covering over 1.5 million hectares.
The UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program defines a biosphere reserve as follows:
The Noongar have lived and roamed the park area for millennia. It is fitting that they continue to camp, fish and tend the land and actively participate in park management.
Fitzgerald River National Park is not the largest national park in WA, but it is one of the most diverse and unspoilt and well worth the 1200 km round trip from Perth.