Saturday, 27 August 2016

Mushroom Rock Nature Trail (Kalbarri National Park)

A short but surprisingly adventurous walk in Kalbarri National Park, the Mushroom Rock Nature Trail provides an up close look at the Kalbarri coast. Descending to a small, rocky gorge, the trail takes walkers to Mushroom Rock and the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, before looping around past banded cliffs and other unusual formations. A perfect trail for those with an interest in geological history.

Distance: 3 km (loop)
Gradient: Variable - though most ascents and descents are fairly gradual, there are some steep ascents and descents on unmodified terrain
Quality of Path: Largely clear, however much of this walk is on unmodified terrain that will need to be negotiated
Quality of Signage: Well signed, with markers at regular intervals
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 1 Hour
Steps: Many steps on unmodified surfaces throughout
Best Time to Visit: Best to avoid in hot or very wet weather
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Mushroom Rock car park at the end of Mushroom Rock Rd, west off Red Bluff Rd.

Road Closed.

That's just about the worst possible sign to see when you've driven over 6 hours at night to do a walk, but that's exactly what greeted Alissa and I as we drove to the turn off for the Loop and Z-Bend in Kalbarri National Park. The gorge walks were the main reason we'd come to Kalbarri in the first place, so this was a deeply disappointing outcome to be so close and yet so far thanks to the unsealed road having been inundated overnight. Although the road will be finally sealed all the way in 2017, it seems crazy to me that an iconic tourist attraction and image of Western Australia like Nature's Window would not yet have a sealed road - imagine Uluru or the Three Sisters without one! 

Anyway, with our planned walk of the Loop cancelled, Alissa and I refocused our efforts on the coastal sections of the park. Although the Bigurda Trail was already planned for the evening, we decided to walk the shorter Mushroom Rock Walk Trail in the Loop Walk's place.

The Mushroom Rock Nature Trail starts at the car park at the end of Mushroom Rock Rd. DPaW have gone quite a good job in signposting all the walks in Kalbarri National Park, with Mushroom Rock have a clear and informative trailhead.

The trail immediately descends to the coast down a purpose built walk track.

Beginning on clearly constructed track, the route of the trial is fairly obvious, however the walk is well signposted with directional markers over its entire length.

After the initial descent, walkers will encounter a junction in the trail. This is the start of the loop, with the directional marker suggesting walkers complete the circuit in a counter-clockwise direction.

As the trail heads right towards the ocean, the terrain becomes wilder and more adventurous as it begins its descent to Mushroom Rock. 

Although much smaller than the gorges along the Murchison River, a small ephemeral gorge runs down towards the ocean at Mushroom Rock, creating a beautiful, rugged landscape to walk in. 

Given the strong aversion to even the slightest of risks that has become a major consideration in track creation, Alissa and I were pleased to see that the path for the descent was natural and unmodified, giving the trail a sense of adventure we had not expected. With the unmodified terrain inevitably comes an increased risk of slipping, however we found the descent easy enough to negotiate. 

Once at the bottom, walkers are treated to two incredible views - one of the small gorge behind them... 

...and the other being a rocky shelf between the ocean and the coastal cliffs beyond. In the distance, walkers can also view Red Bluff - one of the major geographical features of the Kalbarri coastline. 

Immediately facing the gorge is Mushroom Rock - an aptly named formation perched on top of low lying rocks being continually battered by the Indian Ocean. In spite of the volatility of the waves, we witnessed an abundance of small crabs scurrying about through crevices and small pools. 

The famous banding of Kalbarri's Tumblagooda Sandstone was very much on display here, with the uneven wearing of the surface giving the rock a marbled appearance. 

From Mushroom Rock, the trail again follows a surprisingly adventurous path right up a gradient of eroded rock. The layered nature of the rock is very pronounced along this ascent, with an intriguing honeycomb-like appearance. Although very different, the unmodified terrain reminded me of Tayluberlup Peak in the Stirling Range. 

After the ascent, the track continues along a low-lying coastal cliff, offering walker an excellent vantage point from which to view the waves as they continually crash violently below. 

With the ocean to the west, walkers are also treated to spectacular scenery to the east, with the eroded rock faces revealing the banded nature of the sandstone in the area. Although they bear a strong resemblance to abstract Aboriginal Art, these bands were formed by layers of sediment laid down over 420 million years ago during the Silurian Period!

As the trail continues, walkers pass through an area filled with a jumble of rounded boulders. These boulders are considerably younger than the banded rocks, and were deposited here during the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs walked the Earth. 

Above the banded sandstone are more recent layers of troughs with a rougher texture. These are apparently the remnants of an old river system that flowed into the ocean. History continues to follow the same path, with  the Murchison River has strong similarities to these old rivers as it creates similar troughs. 

Further along are even more bizarre rocks with a tubular shape to them. These are the fossilised burrows of long extinct worm-like creatures called Skolithos, and are a particularly abundant fossil in certain sections of the coastline. 

The trail eventually works its way back up the cliffs to a junction in the trail. To the right is a spur that leads to the Rainbow Valley car park - an alternate starting point for this trail. To the left, the trail continues on back to complete the loop. 

The track continues onward down into the small valley that leads to back to the gorge system near Mushroom Rock. 

More of the pipe rock formations seen earlier dominate this section, surrounded by heathlands that were beginning to bloom with the coming Spring weather. 

As the trail curves back to the coast, the trail reaches the earlier junction, with walkers retracing their steps back up to the Mushroom Rock car park. 

Before we were forced to change our plans, I had written off the short Mushroom Rock Nature Trail as a shorter, inferior version of the Bigurda Trail that we had planned to walk in the evening. I was happy to be proven wrong - this was its own unique experience that was very different from the high clifftop walking of the Bigurda Trail, and offered a fascinating view of the region's rock formations. Although short, the adventurous terrain was a real treat and was a nice consolation prize for missing out on the Loop Walk. Although the longer Bigurda Trail is more epic, the convenient Mushroom Rock Nature Trail's loop is a perfect option for those with a strong interest in geology who are looking for a shorter walk. 

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