Sunday, 4 September 2016

Mt Matilda Trail (Mt Matilda Nature Reserve)

One of the Wheatbelt's Top Trails and a short 30 minute drive from New Norcia, the Mt Matilda Trail loops across a flat topped mesa. A botanical island in a sea of farmland, the trail takes walkers through numerous micro-environments that show off the incredible biodiversity of the region's original vegetation. With plentiful stands of rare Eucalypt species and wildflower blooms, Mt Matilda is a good Springtime day trip from Perth

Distance: 7.3 km (loop)
Gradient: Largely flat and easy terrain, with occasional moderate inclines. 
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained 
Quality of Signage: Very well signed, with directional arrows and information signage all along the way. 
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required.
Time: 2-2.5 Hours
Steps: A few steps in steeper sections and leading to lookout points
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter-Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail access road is off Waddington-Wongan Hills Rd and is clearly signed. Mt Matilda Reserve is 30 minutes north-east of New Norcia.

When most people think about bushwalking in Western Australia, its always the Perth and South West Regions that immediately come to mind. This is totally understandable; the area bounded by Perth, the Stirling Range, Albany and the Leeuwin-Naturalist Ridge is home to most of the state's well known trails including the Bibbulmun and Cape to Cape Tracks, as well as hundreds of day walks. The area north of Perth is less frequently discussed, perhaps due to the fact that the best northern bushwalking is in Kalbarri, Karijini and a handful of other parks in the Pilbara and Kimberley - all further than a day trip away from Perth. Although less numerous than the South West, the Coral Coast and Gold Outback regions do feature some good walks not that far from Perth, including the 7.3 kilometre Mt Matilda Trail in the Northern Wheatbelt.

The trail is only 30 minutes from the historic monastic town of New Norcia, heading up Great Northern Hwy and Waddington-Wongan Hills Rd. The access road to the park is well marked, and leads to an informative info shelter and trailhead at the base of the 'mountain'. Although the shelter provided some good information about the area's history, we were also greeted by some very large and bloodthirsty mosquitoes, which encouraged us to get going as soon as possible.

Alissa and I were immediately greeted by wildflowers and thin, relatively short Eucalypts often in mallee form. Being in a transition zone between the Jarrah and Karri Forests of the South West and the arid interior, the Wheatbelt is home to a great diversity of rare species, especially Eucalypts. With much of the area cleared for farming, we may never know what biodiversity has been lost, however Mt Matilda conserves a small pocket of what this landscape once looked like.

A short way into the walk, the trail rises up a moderate incline. At 411 metres above sea level, Mt Matilda is hardly a true mountain. Once up over the 'mountainside', the trail levels out to explore the relatively flat topped mesa environment.

Being early September after a year of excellent rains, the wildflower display was excellent. In some sections the flowers were more profuse - but perhaps less diverse - than what we had seen in Lesueur National Park a week earlier.

The trail is clear, well marked and easy to follow, with directional arrows providing navigational information. Some money has definitely been spent on infrastructure, as there are numerous short side trips leading to lookouts at some of Mt Matilda's best vantage points.

The first lookout takes walkers to a view of the Wonga Valley. Although thin and relatively short compared to Karri or even Jarrah and Wandoo, the Eucalypt woodlands of the area are really beautiful in their own way. The view definitely did not disappoint, and in many ways I preferred the look of the trees to the often dull appearance of Jarrah.

Termites seem to really love the mesa of Mt Matilda, and there are mounds everywhere along the trail. Some are large and active while others like the one pictured above are little more than collapsed remains.

The second lookout provides a vantage point from which to see the nearby Lake Hinds.

The lookout also provides further opportunities to admire the woodlands along the mountainside, and the crumbling Laterite formations along the mesa's edge.

There is a junction in the trails at the sign above. For those who are not up for a 7 kilometre walk, a right turn can be used to create a shorter loop, however with so many of Mt Matilda's other features still to come, we followed the left turn to complete the full walk.

Another lookout provided and even better view of Lake Hinds, however the information panel nearby pointed out another interesting element of Mt Matilda...

The poor soils, intolerable heat of summer and the cold winds of winter have made Mt Matilda a highly inhospitable environment for many plant species, and as a result Melaleuca like the one picture above grow in a natural bonsai form although they can grow to three metres in more favourable conditions.

The mesa is a patchwork of micro-environments, and the section of the walk from the bonsai Melaleuca onwards heads through an area of much taller Eucalypt woodland than we had encountered earlier along the walk.

Another lookout point leads to the Mt Matilda Trig point. Given that the turn off is marked with the 'h' symbol used to mark places of historical importance, I would assume that this was the original marker placed by the surveyors who named it. The sign definitely shows signs of aging, with the blue letters on the sign faded and largely indiscernible.

From the trig point, the walk continues in an area of decent sized mallee as it leads to the walk's furthest point - the Speaker's Chair. 

The Speaker's Chair is Mt Matilda's second highest point, and features a rock formation that juts out over the edge. This formation was named the Speaker's Chair after a parliamentary party visited the site to get a good view across the landscape, including then Speaker of the Legislative Assembly TF Quinlan. 

From the Speaker's Chair, the walk follows the northern edge of the mountain east in a clockwise direction of the mesa. 

The walk again entered another different micro-environment filled with Eucalypts growing as trees rather than in mallee form. Many looked like Jarrah and Wandoo, but may have been more local Eucalypt varieties with a similar appearance. By the standards of the Darling Scarp, these would be considered thin and scrappy, but were positively towering by the standards of Mt Matilda's mallee. 

An interesting feature of this area is the Wongan Wall. The edges of Mt Matilda are made from hard Laterite that has resisted the erosion of time. At this part of the mountain, the Laterite has formed what looks like a man-made wall - something that would be easy to believe given that Laterite is commonly used in retaining walls and garden beds. The Wongan Wall is however an entirely natural formation simply created by the passing of time. 

A spur leads up the wall to provide yet another lookout point. 

Walking in Springtime, we were gifted with a profusion of flowers along the lookout's path. 

The view from the lookout is typical of Mt Matilda, however was made all the more brilliant thanks to the canola fields located just beyond the park boundaries. 

Descending from the lookout, we continued back along the main trail. This section of the park was filled with Galahs making their typically noisy racket. Information signage pointed out that there were Quandong trees in the area (as pictured above), and we wondered if the Galahs enjoyed feasting on them once they were ripe. Sadly, we were too early in the season or we would have been tempted to try one ourselves!

The trail ascends to provide a view of the Galah-filled area. Known as Gimlet Gully, the many hollow trees of the area has become a popular home for pink and greys, although they were unknown in these parts until the 1930s. 

After overlooking Gimlet Gully, the trail continues to lead walkers to a couple more lookouts, with lovely views of the canola fields that surround this island of native bush. 

After the last few lookouts, the trail completes its loop and leads walkers back to the descent to the mozzie-filled car park. 

Overall, Mt Matilda was a lovely walk; it wouldn't necessarily be one of my personal Top Trails, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Compared to the Stirling Range or even Mt Vincent, Mt Cuthbert and Mt Cooke in the Darling Scarp, Mt Matilda is a very easy 'mountain' to walk up and on, and shares strong similarities in geology to Mt Lesueur in Lesueur National Park. Those looking for a climbing challenge will not find it here, and we saw at least two elderly couples easily make their way up and along the track. Mt Matilda's strength lies in its uniqueness as a remnant of the Wheatbelt's native bush, and the excellent display of biodiversity on top of the flat topped mesa and along the mountainside. It definitely has its own beauty, and makes for a great botanical walk. Being closely located to New Norcia, a combination of the Mt Matilda Trail and tour of the monastic town would be a great day trip from Perth - especially during the wildflower season. 


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