When I moved to live in Western Australia, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of mountains. I’d been told the terrain of Australia’s far western State was flat – very flat!
It’s true that you can drive for hundreds of kilometres in WA with barely a bump or even a curve. And there’s a lot of desert in outback regions of the State.
But that’s not the whole story. Perth, the capital city, has a range of lovely hills rising to its east. Not mountains, but steep enough to give Ben O’Connor, the Aussie Tour de France 2021 stage winner on the first summit finish of the race, his initial encouraging taste of hill climbing on a bike.
And in the south of the State, several hundred kilometres from Perth, are two ranges that can provide a good workout and stunning views – the beautiful Stirling Ranges and the smaller nearbye Porongurups.
I love both these two ranges. The Stirlings are the more majestic. They are about 1000 metres above sea level and they have their own eco climates that produce some of the State’s most magnificent wildflowers in spring. There are around 1500 species to be found here, including some endemic to the area. Many are found around the base of the mountains, so you don’t need to climb to find them.
The Stirlings include six mountains, including Mounts Hassell, Magog, Trio, Talyuberlup Peak, the classic style of Toolbrunup and the highest in the range, Bluff Knoll. They all provide majestic panoramas and offer varying degrees of toughness from easy graded climbs to more challenging routes.
The Stirlings are also probably the only place in WA where you might luck in on snow in winter – not enough for skiing, but a handful for a tiny snowman or a good snowball fight! Snow only happens occasionally in winter, and it doesn’t last long. So either you happen to be there at the right time, or you head there as soon as you hear it’s likely to happen.
I was camping there once on holiday when snowed on Bluff Knoll. As an off duty Journalist, I reported the snowfall to my newsroom and the story made the National news – “IT’S SNOWING IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA”. That set off an avalanche of people into the area for a chance to see snow. Some drove more than seven hours just to experience snow after hearing the story on the radio! All three of Australia’s commercial television channels sent crews. I was sent back up the mountain to get film for the ABC, a difficult challenge as the road up to the base of Bluff Knoll quickly became blocked with a traffic jam worthy of a city in peak hour.The track to the summit became packed with people – some in the most inappropriate gear such as thongs footwear (flip flops). It was a worry in changeable winter conditions.
Bluff Knoll and the other mountains in the range are tiny in world mountain terms. But they still present all the dangers that you’ll find in higher mountains. So, no matter what the weather looks like, it’s important to be prepared for the worst conditions with good walking shoes, warm clothing, food and drink. And report in to a ranger where possible before setting off! In the Stirlings, rangers are based near the bottom of Bluff Knoll.
Bluff Knoll is 1,099 metres above sea level, and is a lovely little climb with a clear path to the summit. It’s very achievable as long as you are reasonably fit. You’ll cover about six kilometres. It takes the average person three to four hours to complete.
In recent years the track has been upgraded and now includes a lot of man made steps – a stairmaster climb that can be taxing.
Bluff Knoll may be the highest in the range, but it’s not the toughest. The majestic Toolbrunup requires a lot more skill and agility, with a lot of steep rock scrambling through a scree and a tricky final ascent at the summit. Good fitness is definitely required for this Grade 5 four kilometre return trip.
About 60 kilometres south of the Stirlings are the Porongerups range. Much smaller, rising only around 670 metres, but still some offering delightful walks and climbs in these impressive granite domes.
Probably the most exciting trek is up to see the Granite Skywalk, a see through walkway suspended around the summit of the 670 metre high Castle Rock. But it’s not for the fainthearted or unfit.
The trip takes nearly five hours return, climbing through jarrah, marri and karri forests, past ‘balancing rock’ (a great selfie photo opportunity where you can appear to be balancing a huge Boulder) to the base of Castle Rock. Here you will find a ‘lower lookout’ with all round panoramic views taking in other small mountains to the south east near the WA coast and north back to the Stirling Ranges. Most people should make it to the lower lookout with relative ease. It’s basically a long uphill walk.
To see the best views however, you need to continue on from the lower lookout and onto a steep and much more challenging grade 5 climb – with steel hand holds to help you navigate up and through massive boulders. These were placed a bit far apart from me – I’m a short gnome – but with a stretch and helping hand, I made it. You finally find yourself on top of another big high granite outcrop with views to the surrounding countryside a long way down – but you are not quite at the summit. You move onto climb a steel enclosed ladder, which nearly stopped me in my tracks as my head for heights was not doing well!
The ladder is not very high, but for me it seemed an effort too far. Fear overtook me and I decided I’d come far enough. Hubby went ahead, up the ladder with my camera to reach the steel walkway above.
The see through walkway winds its way around a giant granite dome, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside way below. I waited for my hubby’s return, perching on the rock below the ladder. A young European backpacker was taking a rest there enjoying the view, and ventured some encouragement for me. “You’ve come so far – don’t give up now. It’s only a few steps more,” he said.
He was pretty much echoing my motto in life, so I summoned up my courage and up I went, grasping tightly onto each rung and with each step, reminding myself it was a short ladder climb and there was nothing to be afraid of!
It was worth the effort and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they can do it. For the young, easy. For the not so young, reasonable fitness and determination is necessary.
The best thing about the Porongurups, besides the views, is that there are some award winning wineries nearby. So I retreated to celebrate my Castle Rock effort with a personal favourite, the Castle Rock winery Reisling! A good end to a great day.
Western Australia is famous for its fabulous beaches, its goldfields and its stunning outback areas. Its mountains are not so well known, but well worth a visit even if you don’t climb. There are a variety of accommodations nearby, or you can do a easy day trip from the coastal city of Albany.