Monday, 11 June 2018

The Spectacles (Beeliar Regional Park)

A combination of two short loop walks in Beeliar Regional Park, the Banksia and Aboriginal Heritage Trails explore the Swan Coastal Plain around the Spectacles near Kwinana. Initially passing through beautiful banksia blooms before circling the larger of the two lakes, the area's highlight is the Kiara Boardwalk that stretches metres out through the paperbarks onto the lake. One of the better walks in the Swan Coastal Plain

Distance: 9 km (dual loops and two side trips via boardwalks)
Gradient: Very gentle over the entire length of both loops. 
Quality of Path: Clear and well maintained walks, mainly on vehicle tracks and boardwalks
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead with some markers along each loop
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: No steps. The trail would almost be wheelchair accessible 
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the car park on  McLaughlan Rd. From the Kwinana Freeway, take the Ankatell Rd exit and take the second left onto McLaughlan. The car park is a few metres down the road.

While most of the best bushwalking in the Perth region is in the Darling Scarp, there are occasional walking opportunities in the Swan Coastal Plain. Growing up in Coogee, the Spectacles were a semi-regular favourite for many years when I got back into bushwalking in the late 2000s, and Alissa and I walked the area twice back in 2012-2013. With the area burnt by bushfires a few years ago, we put a return visit to the Spectacles for a number of years that unfortunately coincided with the first few years of the Long Way's Better. With a good, rainy start to Perth's winter in 2018, Alissa and I felt that it was about time for us to visit the area once again. 

The Spectacles are a place of special significance to the local Nyoongar people, and it is clear that its importance has meant a bit of money has been spent to make it a welcoming area to visit. A clear and informative trailhead is located at the start of the walk and helps make informed decisions about which walks to do. With both of the main loops being quite short, the way I've always walked the Spectacles is to tackle the Banksia Walk Trail first, then the Aboriginal Heritage Trail and to finish strong with the Kiara Boardwalk. 

The Banksia Walk Trail starts just to the right of the main trailhead, with clear directional signage showing the way to go. 

Alissa and I were delighted to find that we had visited the park at a great time; the Banksia Walk Trail was really living up to its name with banksias blooming all along the track. 

With the grey, army green and khaki colour scheme of the woodlands, the banksias really brought splashes of beautiful colour to the park, and made this a really stunning early highlight of the walk. 

The area around the Spectacles is a criss-crossing mix of vehicle service tracks and it would be easy to get a bit lost if you didn't know where you were going. Thankfully the walk is well marked and easy to follow.

Towards the far end of the Banksia Walk Trail's loop, the forest gets a bit dull thanks to the prevalence of burnt, stunted Jarrah and a lack of banksias to brighten up the area. With the loop being only 3.2 kilometres long, this boring stretch did not last long before we were once again enjoying the beautiful banksias. 

And they were really stunning - Alissa and I were literally stopped in our tracks appreciating the beauty of these amazing flowers. 

It was really interesting seeing the variations from flower to flower on the same tree. The above two photos were from flowers just ten centimetres apart, and yet they look quite different. 

Finishing the Banksia Walk Trail, Alissa and I continued heading further into the park towards the Aboriginal Heritage Trail. 

On the way to the start of the Heritage Trail, the track passes an outdoor amphitheatre. The Spectacles offers guided tours with local Indigenous guides, and I would presume that the amphitheatre is used for presentations as well as traditional ceremonies given the fire pit and tables. 

A small undercover shelter marks the start of the Aboriginal Heritage Trail. 

Confusingly, the signage mentions another walk trail called the Spectacles Walk Trail, however this trail has since fallen into obscurity. When I first visited the park back in 2008, I recall walking a longer trail, however I can't recall ever walking this trail with Alissa. In practice, it best to assume these are the same trail as the name seems to be used interchangeably. 

The first stretch of the walk passes by smooth bark Eucalypts. I find smooth barked species to be generally more stunning than their rough barked cousins, so I was really enjoying the walking at this early stage. 

Along the track are a number of information panels providing a glimpse into the Aboriginal heritage of the area, hence the track's name. Unfortunately, most of these panels are so badly sun damaged that they are difficult to read. A sign of its age is the fact it has the old CALM logo; the Department of Conservation and Land Management has had a number of changes in the intervening years, first become the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), then the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and finally the clunky Parks and Wildlife Service within the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)!

I have to admit that some of the areas along the other side of the lake are less interesting and it is pretty clear that the area is not pristine bushland due to some invasive species. Nevertheless, there are some lovely spots along the trail, such as a section walking along the track under a stand of paperbarks. 

Near the halfway point of the Aboriginal Heritage Trail is the Paperbark Lookout. At the time of our visit, the walk to the lookout was seriously inundated and it meant a bit of a squelchy walk in ankle deep water to get to the lookout. 

The lesser of the two lookouts, the Paperbark Lookout nevertheless provides good views across the lake. Looking at the Spectacles and its abundant birdlife, it is pretty clear why this was such an important area for the Aboriginal people as it would have meant a reliable water and food source. 

Continuing along the trail, Alissa and I reached what appears to be the end of the Aboriginal Heritage Trail and the start of the Spectacles Walk Trail. As noted earlier, these are basically the same trail, so simply keep following the signs as it will take you back to the start of the loop. 

As we continued along the vehicle track, we again entered an area rich in banksias in bloom.

Looking down onto the ground, Alissa and I saw a beautiful frog that was sadly dead. This was the only frog we saw exploring the Spectacles, however we heard a lot more in the lake itself. This is one of the things I always loved growing up in the lakes-rich City of Cockburn -the sound of frogs and the sight of birdlife made the area a stunning place to spot native birdlife. It also meant that Tiger Snakes were around, and visitors to the Spectacles should keep an eye out for snakes if visiting in the warmer months.

With the shelter in sight, Alissa and I completed the Aboriginal Heritage Trail. Back at the start of the walk, we started the last leg of our journey - the Kiara Boardwalk. 

Stretching out through the paperbarks into the middle of the lake, the Kiara Boardwalk is one of the most impressive boardwalks in the Swan Coastal Plain, and one that makes this area worth a visit to see. 

The boardwalk leads out to a shelter that provides a great birdwatching spot. 

This is awesome bird hide, and I've spent many visits here looking out onto the lake at the amazing birdlife. While mainly used by birdwatchers, graffiti in the hut suggests that it is also a popular make out spot with the local youths, so visitors walking the boardwalk just after school hours - you've been warned!

After enjoying the boardwalk, Alissa and I returned back to the shore and made our way back to the car, satisfied with a lovely and relatively easy and low key walk in an old favourite. 

While the Swan Coastal Plain may be less impressive a place for bushwalking than the Darling Scarp, it is quite amazing that a place of native bushland like the Spectacles still exists so close to the Kwinana Freeway. The twin loops of the Spectacles provides some of the better walking that can be found in the Swan Coastal Plain, and at the right time of year the wildflowers and the boardwalked lake make this a pretty place to walk. Given that this is a mostly flat trail, the Spectacles is one that will be achievable by most and is a must visit location for people who love banksias and bird watching. 


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