Amongst plant enthusiasts, Western Australia is renowned as one of the world’s botanical ‘hotspots’s, rivalling South Africa’s Cape and Namaqualand regions. Each southern spring, this remote and relatively undeveloped corner of Australia bursts into magnificent bloom as carpets of wild flowers and hillsides of colourful shrubs flower after winter rains. The reason for this unique storehouse of biological diversity, in particular the abundance and exuberant colours of this diverse and exotic flora, is the great age of the West Australian landmass, it being one of the most ancient and least geographically disturbed in the world. This has resulted in the survival of primitive forms of plants and the evolution of more specialised forms.
We begin our travels in Perth, the sparkling capital of Western Australia, beautifully situated beside the broad blue waters of the Swan River and backed by the rolling hills of the Darling Range. Here, King’s Park, a 450-acre reserve of native forest and bushland that enjoys the finest of views, and its attractive Botanical Gardens, offer a perfect introduction to the many families of plants and trees endemic to Australia — banksias, grevilleas, acacias, eucalypts, grass trees and one of the most ancient of plant families, the hakeas. Amongst them we will see similarly unique and exotic bird families — honeyeaters, wattlebirds, Magpie-larks — plus Kookaburras and colourful parrots.
Next, we head north, into a vast and largely uninhabited bushland. In the Northern Kwongon, a sandplain heath supporting sweeping carpets of brightly coloured flowers, we will visit a private wild flower reserve which holds many rare and endemic species. In the Nambung National Park we will watch the sun set behind the magnificent Pinnacles Desert, a bizarre region in which thousands of limestone pinnacles rise, forest-like, from the coloured sands. Further north still, we will explore Kalbarri National Park. Within its 186,000 acres lie the dramatic red Murchison Gorge, rolling sandplains and sea cliffs, the result of 400 million years of geologic formation and now home to over 500 species of plants. Here, the tall flowering stems of Grevillea leucopteris and G. annulifora amongst the grey flowers of the smoke bush (Conospermum) make an unforgettable picture.
We now turn south, heading inland through the Moresby Ranges and Mullewa (home of the extraordinary Leschenaultia macrantha) and into the ‘Wheatbelt’s for three days. Although much of this vast region has been cleared for cereal production, enough natural habitat remains for this area to be famed for its stunning spreads of colourful everlastings (Helichrysum spp.). The largest area of natural bushland remaining in the ‘Wheatbelt’s is the Dryandra State Forest. This protects many interesting eucalypt species and a fine associated flora; it is also of international importance for its birds and mammals, the latter including that most exquisite of marsupials, the striped Numbat.
On reaching the south coast, we focus first on the Fitzgerald River National Park. Justly famous for its bewildering diversity of plants (over 1,300 species, including 80 endemics!), so many of which are of outstanding beauty or restricted distribution, we will explore its heaths, wetlands and rugged mountains. The spectacularly coloured Royal Hakea (Hakea victoria), the region’s best known plant, will be at its best at the time of our visit, whilst Western Grey Kangaroos, emu-wrens, blue fairy-wrens, honeyeaters, parrots and thornbills ensure a balanced wildlife menu.
The Stirling Range National Park is our next point of call. Here, five peaks rise to 1,000 metres from the coastal lowlands, part of an isolated mountain system which was formed over 1,000 million years ago! High regional rainfall ensures a wide range of plants not found elsewhere, including many orchid species and around 100 endemics; enough to keep us going for a day or two!
Finally, we will head into the forested region of Western Australia’s well watered southwest. Here the towering, pale-barked Karri Trees (Eucalyptus diversicolor) reach up from an emerald forest understorey. The Karri is a West Australian endemic and one of the world’s tallest trees. After a tour full of so many botanical riches, these majestic giants are bound to ensure that we finish on a ‘high’s, for a recently completed treetop walkway offers an optional exciting experience for those of strong disposition!