The chain of lakes that runs through the middle of the park supports
a large seasonal population of common water birds and the surrounding
woodlands are home to a variety of native mammals.
Further south - beyond Bunbury - wetlands have been reclaimed
from former mineral sands mines, while an ancient tuart tree forest
provides an imposing entrance statement to the fast-growing resort
town of Busselton. The wetlands are one of the attractions linked
by the Living Windows eco project, which encourages self-drive
tours of the leading nature-based attractions in the South West.
The attractions also include the breathtaking Tree Top Walk in
Walpole, the Ngilgi Cave at Yallingup, the Dolphin Discovery Centre
at Bunbury and the Perup Forest Ecology Centre at Boyup Brook.
Defining the borders of the Margaret River wine region is tricky.
These days, its parameters have extended along the vine plantings.
A rough guide, which could serve as a good three or four-day self-drive
route of Western Australia's South West, would begin at Busselton,
then take in Dunsborough, the upmarket surf resort of Yallingup,
then south via the vineyards of Caves Road to Margaret River and
Augusta. Then on to the tall tree country around Pemberton, Nannup
and Balingup. Stops at Bridgetown on the Blackwood River, Donnybrook
- Western Australia's apple production centre - and back to Perth
via the Ferguson Valley and Bunbury, would allow visitors to see
the best of the South West.
For city kids, the South West offers an insight into rural Australia.
The Yallingup Shearing Shed on Wildwood Road is part of a working
farm. Visitors can watch traditional shearing demonstrations and
a display of working sheepdogs. Canoeing on the Blackwood River,
horse riding in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, abseiling
and rock climbing, or four-wheel-drive tours of the karri tree
forest near Pemberton and the steeping south coast sand dunes
are available from regional towns.
Whale watching begins in June in Augusta, a resting haven for
humpback and southern right whales until early September. The
action moves to Geographe Bay at Dunsborough in September, where
humpback whales pause for three months before continuing their
migration to the summer feeding grounds of the Antarctic.
Today, the 19th century American whaling fleets of Nantucket,
which came to Australia to ambush the whales on their migration,
have been replaced with eco-friendly vessels which operate supervised
whale watching trips for tourists. Whale watching charter operators
recognise that their livelihood depends on the continuing survival
of the whales, and many are now linking with whale research organisations
in an effort to find out more about these magnificent, often mysterious
In 1964, when humpbacks were given protection by international
treaty, the species had been over-exploited to a point where it
no longer made commercial sense to continue searching for them.
Today, the whale industry is thriving again - thankfully as part
of Australia's tourism industry.
At Whaleworld, a museum complex at the site of Australia's last
whaling station at Albany, the 960-tonne whaler Cheynes 1V has
been restored as a popular tourist attraction. Whaleworld's operators
want to know more about the history of whaling and they want to
improve their knowledge of these hugely loved animals. Even those
who don't enjoy what they see at Whaleworld accept its historic
importance. Those who sign the visitors book share a similar message:
they don't like the blood and guts of whaling but they feel the
museum keeps it in the public eye and helps to ensure that it
will never happen again.
East and west of Esperance - a town protected and enhanced by
the islands of the Recherche Archipelago - are the remote, rugged
and richly-endowed national parks of the southern region.
The Fitzgerald National Park - accessible from the east via the
seaside town of Hopetoun - has been recognised by the Australian
National Commission for UNESCO as one of only two model biosphere
reserves within Australia. Biospheres - there are more than 320
worldwide - are linked in a network to assist in the conservation
of the diversity of species and their habitats in a manner that
is compatible with the needs of a growing world population. To
qualify as a biosphere reserve, an area must include a large undisturbed
core area that has an adjacent buffer zone where some human activity
is permitted. Lastly, it requires an adjoining transition zone
where more intense human activity takes place.
Fitzgerald River National Park meets all of these criteria, with
the majority of human activity in the park focusing around the
areas of the park which are accessible by most conventional vehicles.
On land, the area provides some of Western Australia's richest
botanical diversity. There are more than 1800 different varieties
of plants in the park, 72 of these are endemic, another 350 are
very rare. As well, the Fitzgerald River National Park has more
vertebrate animal species than any other conservation reserve
in south-western Australia, many either threatened or requiring
special protection. The park also supports more than 190 bird
species, including migratory wading birds, ducks, birds of prey,
pigeons, parrots, whistlers, wrens and honeyeaters. Mammals found
in the park include the chuditch, quenda, dibbler, red-tailed
phascogale and the tammar wallaby.
Offshore, the untouched marine environment of the Fitzgerald
region, combined with its wealth of marine life, is opening up
new opportunities for nature-based tourism activities. A 1997
Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) expedition
to survey the inshore waters and remote islands between Hopetoun
and Bremer Bay found new and rare species of fish, together with
rarely seen New Zealand and sub-Antarctic fur seals, breeding
Australian sea lions and sightings of the elusive Recherche Cape
In all, there are six national parks in the south-east region.
As well as the Fitzgerald River and Cape Le Grange national parks,
Stokes Inlet, Cape Arid, Peak Charles and Frank Hann offer superb
beaches, wildflowers, whales at certain times of the year, coastal
and inland walks and great views.
CALM, which manages all six parks, has an office centrally located
in Esperance, where information on the parks, including camping
facilities, is readily available. Stokes National Park, 80-kilometres
west of Esperance, embracing the wildlife-rich Stokes Inlet, is
an area of long beaches framed by rocky headlands, behind which
lie sand dunes, low hills and heathland.
Peak Charles National Park, 100-kilometres inland from Stokes,
protects a pristine area of dry woodlands, sandplain heaths and
salt lake vegetation, in the centre of which rise 650-metre Peak
Charles and 500-metre Peak Eleanora.
Cape Arid National Park, 120-kilometres east of Esperance, protects
around 280,000 hectares of sandplains and heathland vegetation,
which give way to rocky headlands and magnificent beaches.
Each of the six parks offer unique experiences, but it's the
Fitzgerald and Cape Le Grand which are the most diversified and
have good access to the beaches. Cape Le Grand National Park,
31,000-hectares of coastal scrub overlooked by large granite outcrops,
was named after a young officer on board L'Esperance, who climbed
up the mast during a storm and guided the ship through reefs to
find a safe haven offered by the high peak and cape.
Cape Le Grand's coastal walking trail extends to Rossiter Bay
via Hellfire, Thistle Cove and Lucky Bay - a 15 kilometre day's
hike for an experienced walker over rock and beaches. Explorer
Matthew Flinders named Lucky Bay after preparing to beach his
vessel in a storm. These days, locals say that visitors see this
beautiful spot and declare: "Wow, I'm so lucky to be here."
The walk will give some idea of the conditions faced by explorer
John Eyre and his aboriginal companion, Wylie, when they walked
across from South Australia. The two men were eating the last
of their provisions at Thistle Cove - a spoonful of flour boiled
into a paste - and were considering killing one of their horses
for food. According to Eyre's account of the journey, they spotted
the masts of a large barque anchored in the bay, which Eyre reached
by galloping his horse along the beach. It was the whaler Mississippi,
commanded by Captain Rossiter, after whom a grateful Eyre named
the bay where they met. Rossiter fed and clothed the two men for
several days, and gave them an enormous amount of provisions when
they resumed their journey towards Albany.
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