Overnight Hikes in Fitzgerald River National Park (WA)



Overview

Straddling the edge of Austalia's South West and the Golden Outback along the Western Australian South Coast, the sprawling Fitzgerald River National Park stands out as one the country's greatest and most magnificent wildflower parks in a state renowned for its Springtime blooms.


Wildflowers in bloom near Lake Nameless on the Mamang Trail

Covering 2,972 km², Fitzgerald River National Park may be huge compared to several entire countries but is only 0.2% of Western Australia. In spite of this, a staggering 20% of species found in Western Australia can be found within the park, and it is recognised by Australia and UNESCO as an important biosphere reserve. Walking through the park during wildflower season, the biodiversity is palpable; you literally lose count of the number of species found in the park.


The spectacular rocky beach west of Edwards Point Steps on the Hakea Trail

Additionally, the geography of the park is very different from the usual rounded granite boulders common to the South West and South Coast. Instead, a mix of quartzite and schist form the main rock types, and provide a dramatic and alien landscape of jagged, dagger-like formations jutting out of the beaches and forming the small peaks and hills of the coastal and inland landscape.



The Mid Mount Barrens as sen from St Marys Beach at the start of the Mamang Trail

Separated by a central wilderness area, the massive park is split into a western and eastern end serviced by Bremer Bay and Hopetoun respectively, with each side of the park featuring an overnight hike that takes walkers to the edge of the Fitzgerald River Wilderness.


View of the Mid Mount Barrens and the spectacular Fitzgerald Beach on the Mamang Trail


Mamang Trail

Starting from St Marys Inlet, the Mamang Trail explores the western side of the park and leads to Fitzgerald River itself. Along the way, the trail features some walking along bleach white sand beaches that would give the more famous Cape Le Grand National Park a run for its money - minus the crowds of Lucky or Hellfire Bays. Heading inland through heath, the trail provides exceptional views of the park's lake system and features beautiful wildflowers during wildflower season. 


Characteristic shard-like rock formations along the alternate beach route of the Mamang Trail

The highlight of the walk is being able to have Fitzgerald Beach to yourself, with the overnight campsite at Fitzgerald Inlet featuring some great tent spots under the trees. While sometimes considered the lesser of the two overnights, the Mamang Trail has an advantage over its east side counterpart in that other than the last few kilometres along Fitzgerald Beach to the campsite, the trail can be walked as a loop by returning along the alternative beach route. With relatively gentle terrain and very achievable kilometres (15.4 kilometres one way, 12.6 on the return leg via the beach), the Mamang Trail is a perfect beginner's overnight apart from the requirement of bringing water in with you.

Quoin Head as seen from the western terminus of the Hakea Trail


Hakea Trail

Considered one of Western Australia's Top Trails by Trails WA, the Hakea Trail is the longest trail in Fitzgerald River National Park, and provides a grand tour of the stunning coastline on the park's eastern side. From its eastern trailhead at Cave Point to its western terminus at Quoin Head, the trail explores the rugged beaches and coastal cliffs that dominate this side of the park, and it features one particularly awe-inspiring kilometre of coastal walking that has to be seen to be believed. Add it an exceptional quality hut and water tanks at Whalebone Creek and you can see why this is one of the state's premier hiking trails. 


Further along the spectacular rocky beach west of Edwards Point Steps

In spite of its positives, the Hakea is much less user friendly from a thru-hiking perspective. Unlike the convenient 'tadpole' loop form of the Mamang Trail, the Hakea Trail is a linear trail, and features a number of logistical challenges in order to be completed in full. Firstly, the Hakea Trail is 23 kilometres long in its entirety, which is certainly doable in a day, but is much less user-friendly for beginners. Access to Quoin Head is by high clearance 4WD only, and can be closed in wet weather.


The deluxe hut, dual water tanks and toilet at Whalebone Creek campsite

To make matters worse, the trail's hikers' campsite at Whalebone Creek is 6 kilometres from Quoin Head, and thus it requires hikers from Cave Point to actually walk 29 kilometres on one day if you want to use the excellent hut, water tank and toilet facilities at Whalebone Creek. This is longer than both days of the Mamang Trail combined, with 80% of the walking between Whalebone and Quoin Head being on a very boring vehicle track. 



View towards the Mid Mt Barrens from near Whalebone Beach


The solution is to use the linking trail at Hamersley Inlet to shorten the walk into more achievable pieces. Based on the log book at Whalebone Creek, the most common itinerary is an overnight itinerary are from Hamersley Inlet to Whalebone Creek return, with an option side trip to Quoin Head. Others start at Cave Point and finish at Whalebone Creek for day 1 and then do the Quoin Head side trip before a short return to a second car at Hamersley Inlet. Our itinerary was to do Hamersley Inlet to Whalebone Creek with the side trip to Quoin Head on day 1, followed by a return to Hamersley Inlet on day two, with Alissa dropping me off at Cave Point to do the rest of the trail as a day walk. Note that every time you use the Hamersley Inlet linking trail you add an additional 1.8 kilometres of walking, however the kilometre savings of doing the entire trail from Cave Point to Quoin Head return is worth it. 
Hamersley Inlet along the linking trail


What Could Have Been - the Fitzgerald River Coastal Trail

If you look at a map of the trails in Fitzgerald River National Park and think "hmm... it looks like these two walks should be one long walk right through the park", you're not wrong; this was the original plan, with walk notes for an off-track multi-day hike through the park even going back as far as the 1985 publication 'Forests on Foot'.

After a mooted road right through the park that was to be the Great Ocean Road of Western Australia was knocked back as insanely damaging to the park's biodiversity, a multi-day hike was proposed to run from Bremer Bay to Hopetoun, with the core trail being from St Marys Inlet to Hamersley Inlet. While fairly detailed planning for the walk was undertaken, the trail's construction was knocked back by the Environmental Protection Agency due to the severe risk of Dieback spreading into the wilderness sections of the park. 

While the decision was definitely understandable given how precious the Fitzgerald Biosphere is, it is a shame that a solution could not be found that both mitigated the risk while also allowing for the provision of the walk trail, especially when the study document reveals that the best and most spectacular part of the walk was between Twin Bays and Quion Head and yet was never built. 

Road access to walker only campsites is a major issue in Western Australia, and one can definitely imagine that if a campsite had been built in the middle of the park at Twin Bays it would have been misused repeatedly by 4WD campers. It would have been great if the Tasmanian model of helicopter serviced campsites was more widely accepted in Western Australia so a truly remote campsite without road access could have been built to minimise that aspect of the risk.

It is still possible for hikers to walk through the wilderness section and link up the two overnight hikes as a tough off-track walk, although access to the Central Wilderness Peaks is strictly prohibited. Entries in the log book at Whalebone Creek suggest this is not as common as the Stirling Ridge Walk, but there are still a number of parties undertaking this mult-day every year. 


Given the proliferation of informal trails that can be created when a large number of people off-track walk through an area, it is possible that with increased visitor numbers a trail might end up being the best risk mitigation solution to the spread of Dieback in the park, and would fit in with somewhat more fanciful and impractical plans to build a walk trail from Albany to Esperance as a Bibbulmun Track extension or sister trail. For now, the two overnight hikes and a somewhat tough off-track adventure remain options for walkers to experience Fitzgerald River National Park and its mix of astonishing biodiversity and rugged geological interest. 



The Walks

Mamang Trail (WA) - Point Ann to Fitzgerald Inlet

The first day of an overnight hike in Fitzgerald River National Park, the 15.4 kilometre traverse of the Mamang Trail takes walkers from Point Ann to the banks of the Fitzgerald Inlet. Starting as a beach walk, the trail heads inland through biodiverse heath, with stunning views of lakes, pristine beaches, inlets and the central wilderness peaks. A relatively easy wilderness walk, this is a superb trail in one of the state's best parks. ...

Mamang Trail (WA) - Fitzgerald Inlet to Point Ann (Alt Route)

The second day of an overnight hike in Fitzgerald River National Park, the 12.6 km return walk of the Mamang Trail follows a shorter, alternate route. Initially follow the main trail to Point Charles Junction, the alternate route takes walkers via a series of sand dunes before a long beach walk down Point Charles and St Mary Beaches. Featuring jagged rock formations and pristine beaches, this shortcut is an excellent alternative....

Hakea Trail (WA) - Hamersley Inlet to Quoin Head

An overnight hike in Fitzgerald River National Park on the Hakea Trail, this walk explores a wild and rugged section of the Fitzgerald Biosphere. Starting at Hamersley Inlet, the trail follows a lovely mix of beach walk and coastal cliffs before heading inland to a Whalebone Creek before a return side trip to the magnificent Quoin Head. With great facilities, this is a good overnight walk option in the park...

Hakea Trail (WA) - Cave Point to Hamersley Inlet

A one way day walk in Fitzgerald River National Park on the Hakea Trail, this walk explores the eastern end of this Top Trail. Starting at Cave Point, the trail features some excellent beach walking and sections through biodiverse heath at the clifftop. Descending Edwards Point Steps, the zawn and rocky beach before Hamersley Beach represent the best kilometre of the entire Hakea Trail...

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