Sunday, 5 November 2017

Peak Head Walk Trail (Torndirrup National Park)

A shorter walk in Torndirrup National Park, the Peak Head Walk Trail explores the national park's southernmost point. Starting at Stony Hill, the trail descends steeply through heath before rising up the summit of Peak Head itself. With spectacular wildflower blooms in late Spring and breathtaking coastal scenery, this is a mini-version of the nearby Bald Head Walk Trail. 

Distance: 4.8 km (return)
Gradient: Almost entirely either downhill or uphill, with a particularly steep scramble up and down the peak of Peak Head itself
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained
Quality of Signage: No signage, but relatively easy to follow. Some flag tape was present at time of visit to help with navigation leading to the Peak Head summit. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Many formal steps
Best Time to Visit: All year, except for the peak of Summer and during particularly stormy Winter days. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Stony Hill car park. From Albany, follow Frenchman Bay Road past the Gap and Natural Bridge, the Blowholes and Jimmy Newells Beach. The next right turn leads to Stony Hill and is clearly signed. the Peak Head trailhead is at the end of the road. 

Having loved the Bald Head Walk Trail in Torndirrup National Park so much that it was rated number one on our Top Ten Day Walks in Western Australia list, the nearby Peak Head has been high on our to-do list for over two years but has proven to be something of an elusive beast. We head out to do the walk in November 2016 only to arrive at the trailhead and find that the track was closed due to track maintenance, and ended up doing the nearby Point Possession Heritage Trail instead. Over the same April 2017 long weekend we completed Mt Hassell in the Stirling Range, the plan had been to also tackle Peak Head however horrible weather soon scuttled those plans as well. The third time was a charm, as we arrived at the Peak Head car park in early November 2017 to an open walk trail and perfectly fine, sunny weather. 

The reason for the trail's closure in November 2016 had been due to the fact that the area had been badly burnt by a bushfire the previous year. The burnt remains of dead heath and low coastal trees are a common sight along the walk at the time of writing, and it will be many years before the taller heath recovers fully. 

Although the fires had clearly been devastating, the burns had produced a truly spectacular wildflower display, with the heath coming back with a vengeance. 

This is one of the things I love about coastal heath - their ability to recover after a major fire event is impressive, and the low nature of the dead trees means that the bursts of colour can really shine through. Compare this with burnt Jarrah forests where the charred trees dominate the scenery so much that the low growing wildflowers are too dwarfed to provide a relief to the blackened austerity. 

From the car park, the trail start gently enough before becoming a continuous descent. This makes the walk pretty easy heading out, but inexperienced walkers should be prepared for a continuous uphill slog on the way back.

As the trail reaches the coast, it bends to the right while offering spectacular views of the Peak Head's rugged coastline. 

After passing the rugged coastline section, the trail levels out and begins the ascent of Peak Head itself. 

The climb is not overly steep or difficult, and offers excellent views to the west and east. This part of the trail has been quite badly burnt and has not recovered quite as quickly as the early, wildflower-filled sections of the trail. 

After clearing the burnt heath, the trail continues along open exposed granite, following cairns across the rock. 

The trail leads to a massive bird's nest-shaped cairn, which reminded Alissa and I of the similarly elaborate cairn on Tayluberlup Peak in the Stirling Range.

Given how large the cairn is and the fact that similarly large cairns are found at the end of the nearby Bald Head and Point Possession Trails, it would suggest that this is as far as Parks and Wildlife are intending for hikers to go. From a safety point of view this makes sense as the walking up to this point is fairly straightforward. 

There are however no signs saying this is the end, and frankly it seems weird that a trail called the Peak Head Trail would finish before actually reaching the peak of Peak Head. Following some flagging tape, I continued on a very steep scramble up the granite slope to the peak. Alissa's current hiking boots were getting pretty threadbare at the time of our visit, so she decided to stay behind at the cairn. Good gripping shoes are a definite requirement of this last climb, and I would consider the scramble to be very dangerous in wet weather. 

The views from the summit are worth the effort however. To the east, there are superb views of Bald Head and the Flinders Peninsula. 

To the west are similarly excellent views of the Torndirrup coastline. This stretch of coast is home to the Blowholes and Jimmy Newells Beach, while the Gap and Natural Bridge lie further beyond. 

From the unmarked summit, the occasional small island is all that is standing in the way of seemingly endless views of the Southern Ocean going all the way to the horizon. 

The scramble downhill was a bit awkward and considerably more difficult than the way up, however I took it slowly and was able to make my way down without incident. Meeting back up with Alissa at the summit cairn, the walk back down Peak Head was easy, and it was nice to have another chance to check out the rugged coastline along Peak Head's eastern edge. 

The walk back to the car was a relentless ascent up the continuous series of steps, however the incline was fairly gentle. By this stage, it was getting pretty hot, and with all the taller trees having been burnt out there was no respite from the heat. Thankfully, this is not an overly long trail and we were back in the car park in no time. As with the Bald Head Trail, I would thoroughly advise walkers to not underestimate how hot the sun can be in late Spring right through to early Autumn and wear a hat for some relief from the occasionally extreme UV. 

Peak Head may have been an elusive walk, but it was definitely worth the wait. Like the Point Possession Heritage Trail, the Peak Head Walk Trail is like an easier version of the Bald Head Walk due to the similarity in scenery over a shorter length and is a perfect option for walkers who want a trail that is still a bit rugged and adventurous without committing to the 4-5 hour walk time required for Bald Head. With a wildflower display in late Spring/early Summer that is quite spectacular, this is an excellent shorter walk in the Albany area. 

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