Saturday, 28 September 2019

Yued Ponar Trail (Leseuer National Park)

A spectacular wildflower walk in Leseuer National Park, the Yued Ponar Trail explores a variety of elevations and vegetation types through the region's biodiverse heath. Initially starting over a creek and passing through lowlands filled with wildflowers (in season), the trail rises up to Mt Peron and the Kada Boodja lookout for an incredible variety of wildflowers. Finishing again in the lowlands, the trail ends with one of the most spectacular wildlflower displays in Western Australia during the wildflower season. A must do walk

Distance: 7.1 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: A mix of moderately steep ascents and some easy, flatter sections
Quality of Path: Clear and easy to follow path. Surface alternates between sandy and unevenly rocky
Quality of Signage: Well signed over its entire length
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 2-2.5 Hours
Steps: Some steps, both formal and informal
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter-Late Spring, but best during the wildflower season
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park fees apply
Getting There: Lesueur National Park is located off Cockleshell Gully Rd, north east of Jurien Bay. A one way road runs through the park, leading to a car park and trailhead closer to the end of the loop and past the main part of the park at Mt Leseuer

It is not everyday that a new trail opens in Western Australia, so when Alissa and I heard of the opening of a new trail in Lesueur National Park - one of Western Australia's best wildflower parks - we had to check it out. Although I'd already had an excellent two days exploring trails in Fitzgerald River and Dryandra Woodlands National Parks, Alissa and I got in the car on Saturday morning and headed north to tackle the brand new Yued Ponar Trail.

Driving along Lesueur's long one way loop, Alissa and I knew we were going to be in for a treat as the wildflowers we even better than what we had seen during our August 2016 visit. Although a hot day meant our walking was likely to be less than optimal for hiking, we were delighted to see amazing wildflowers at the car park alone. From the main trailheads, the trail crosses an ephemeral creek over a well constructed bridge to the commencement of the loop. On the other side of the bridge is a second trailhead that indicates the walk is best completed in a clockwise direction - something Alissa and I would concur with.

Immediately upon beginning the main loop of the walk, Alissa and I were blown away by how spectacular the wildflower bloom was. The low heath was a continuous sea of cream-coloured flowers that on closer examination featured tinges of pink in the immature flowers.

After that initial dramatic start to the wildflower display, the trail rises up through kwongan heath that was a lot less wildflower-filled.

Or so it appeared - looking more carefully, the display of yellow flowers may not have been quite as bountiful as the cream blooms earlier on, but the vibrancy and delicacy of the flowers more than made up for it.

Continuing through the yellow flowers, the trail continues onwards along what looks like an old vehicle track towards a low series of hills that give the walk its Class 4 rating.

While yellow may be the dominant colour, the biodiversity in Leseuer National Park is world class and flowers of just about every could provided spectacular fine details all along the way.

While wildflowers are the main attraction of walking Lesueur National Park, what makes the Yued Ponar Trail a better than average wildflower walk is the way the trail makes the most of the rugged terrain to give the trail big picture interest beyond an arbitrary loop. While gently heading across the heathlands, the narrowing trail heads towards an ephemeral creek bed before rising up the escarpment.

In the gully's valley, the limestone landscape reveals a series of cave formations throughout. While very small caves, they nevertheless provide shelter for the small animals that live the heathlands. Larger caves are located nearby at Drovers Cave National Park, which is sadly only reachable by high clearance four wheel drive.

While most of the cave formations were on the other side of the valley, the trail passes by one just after crossing the creek bed.

From here, the trail begins it rise up through an area comically signed a 'Trail Risk Area'. In this section, the trail is narrow and on natural surfaces and thus it has incurred a risk warning sign, however walkers with experience on Class 4 and Class 5 trails will find nothing particularly challenging ahead of them.

A great feature of the trail is the way the signage engages with the Aboriginal heritage of the area, with a sign along the ascent providing a story of how the landscape was formed by the rainbow serpent common to Aboriginal dreaming stories.

At the top of the climb, a bench provided Alissa and I short respite that was more welcome due to the heat. Even though we still had more elevation gain ahead of us, we were beginning to be able to see the Indian Ocean at this level. Jurien Bay is located west of Leseuer National Park, and thus Alissa and I were looking at the same waters we had visited earlier in the year to swim with the sea lions that call Jurien Bay home.

From the bench, the trail follows the creek line upstream through an area of low white gums growing in a mallee form. Given the warm temperatures and the open nature of the terrain, the tree cover provided some welcome respite from the heat.

Under the shade of one of the trees was the first of six signs providing information about the 6 Noongar seasons. While they haven't replaced the western seasons, the accuracy of the Noongar seasons has seen it more widely accepted as an accurate description of the weather in Western Australia's South West - particularly in hiking circles. this first sign celebrates what I consider to be arguably the best season in Western Australia - Djilba, that perfect time when the waterfalls are still flowing form the winter rain and the wildflowers are in bloom. Unsurprisingly, we were walking the trail in this very season.

After the sign, the trail crosses another dry ephemeral creek bed by rising up to the top of the escarpment.

Along the way, another season sign describes the next season in the Noongar calendar. Being at the end of September in a dry year, it felt very much like we were on the cusp of this next season.

Along the heath-dominated ascent, a handful of Christmas trees dotted the landscape. These are often later bloomers of the wildflower season, providing wonderfully rich yellow flowers over the Christmas period. I've always though it was amazing that a mistletoe would be found on the opposite side of the world from Europe that bloomed just in time for Christmas.

Reaching the top of the escarpment, Alissa and I looked back towards the coast. While the ascent definitely got the heart pumping, it is amazing how flat the landscape looks even from the top of the escarpment.

Looking north-west, the flat top of the mesa featured a seemingly endless field of wildflower-filled heat dotted with grass trees providing the merest hint of a canopy.

The walking then follows the edge of the mesa, providing an easy going stretch of trail that allowed Alissa and I to appreciate the views at a leisurely pace.

I'm horrible at the names of Western Australian wildflowers, but immediately recognised the beautiful flowers of the Geraldton Wax - a plant that provides the freeways in Perth with bursts of spectacular colour during the height of wildflower season.

Arguably the best rugged view along the walk occurs halfway along the edge of the mesa with views down to the smaller mesas immediately in front of it. While hardly mountains, I commend the team who built the trail for working with what they have and allowing walkers to appreciate the landscape of the park.

The edge of the escarpment curves around in a north-westerly direction on its way to the hyperbolically named Mt Peron.

Mt Peron is reached via a short spur trail. Looking ahead, a peak to the right of the photo above looked like the true peak of the area, however with the sign indicating we only had to walk 70 metres it simply couldn't be the summit of Peron.

Mt Peron's summit ended up being something of a non-event in terms of a peak; it certainly does not feel like an achievement of any kind, however it does feature a well constructed viewing platform and another of the seasonal signs.

The view is of a seemingly endless field of heath and grass trees with the ocean in the far distance. Meanwhile, the 'summit' area itself features more of the excellent wildflower blooms we'd been enjoying all morning.

A major highlight that makes this short side trip entirely worth doing is the log book that can be found under the platform in a plastic tub. Included in the box is a file filled with photographs of the construction of the Yued Ponar and the work that went into making it the trail it is today.

As they say, if you want anything done well it will either cost money, quality or time, and given that DBCA is often cash-strapped and that the trail delivered is actually of high quality, it is clear that time was where the trail construction suffered given it took five years to construct what is only a 7.1 kilometre long trail. I'm glad that this was the area where DBCA chose to save money as quality is often the first thing to go out the window in trail building and it clearly wasn't the case here.

Back on the main trail and looking at the bigger 'peak' we thought was Mt Peron, Alissa and I made our way through another trail risk area down the escarpment.

Curving to the right, the trail passes by more cave small formations that are visible just off the track to the east.

Before descending fully into the lowlands, the trail passes a short side trail to the Kada Boodja Lookout.

A short side trip up a small hill, the Kada Boodja lookout's main feature is an old explorer's cairn that can be found at its summit.

Back on the main track, the trail now begins its full descent back into the lowlands. Before fully leaving the ridge, the trail passes by a tree-lined section of the creek that provides one of the rare sections anywhere along the trail where a canopy can be seen nearby. 

From there, Alissa and I were well and truly back in the intense wildflower blooms similar to what we had encountered in the first kilometre of the trail. The track was almost a literal continuous corridor of wildflowers, and would only get more incredible as we continued along. 

While the creams with the pink blush were the main flower along the trail, they were by no means the only flowering species. Purples, oranges, yellows, reds and blues were all visible, and with so many species on display the biodiversity was palpable. 

At one point Alissa and I were gobsmacked by a sea of flowering heath visible all around us. This was easily one of the most incredible wildflower displays we'd seen since the Plateau Loop Trail in Coalseam Conservation Park. 

With so many wildflowers everywhere, the trail encouraged us to look down at the ground a lot more than we normally wouls. An interesting small detail we noticed as we made our way through the colourful heath was a dead beetle along the trail. While hollowed out by ants and/or other insect, its exoskeleton had survived largely intact and amazed us by its vivid colours. The blues in particular had a metallic appearance, and we were blown away by its relatively large size.

The last of the trail's season info panels appears just before the trail crosses a dry riverbed that must run at some stage of the year given that DBCA went into a lot of effort making a bridge over it. From there it is only a short distance back to the first bridge at the start of the walk and back to the car park. 

While in the car park, I took the opportunity to take a few more photos as the area featured a number of wildflowers that we had not spotted at all along the Yued Ponar, including the above purple flowers and the catspaw.

Since returning from Royal Coast Track and the Grose Valley Walk in New South Wales, I have to admit the short walks we've been doing have been mostly everyday in nature and lacked the 'wow' factor of the best walks we've done. While the Fitzgerald River and Dryandra walks I completed in the previous days were a significant step up in excellence, the Yued Ponar Trail is undoubtedly the best walk Alissa and I have done in Western Australia since our April trip to Esperance, and one of the best wildflower walks we've ever done.

As with the Plateau Loop Walk, I really have to commend Parks and Wildlife in the Coral Coast area for once again delivering a trail that provides exactly the kind of experience that walkers will find engaging. In the big picture, it provides rugged terrain in a variety of elevations to give the trail a satisfying sense of purpose and narrative, while the incredible wildflower blooms fill in all the finer details. Throw in fantastically informative signs, and this is an exemplary trail that should set a benchmark for how to do this kind of a walk. I really hope that with Trails WA revising their website that the Yued Ponar Trail takes its rightful place amongst the state's Top Trails, because it absolutely deserves it. 

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