I'm a freelance writer living in Perth. Having 2 young kids with endless energy, we are always on the lookout for new outdoor activities.
Published November 10th 2014
Fitzgerald River National Park
Fitzgerald River National Park lies on the south coast of Western Australia, about halfway between Albany and Esperance. From Perth, the most straightforward way of reaching this national park is by traveling south on Albany Highway, and then turning left (eastward) just after Kojonup. You'd go through a few small towns like Gnowangerup, Ongerup, and Jerramangup (try pronuncing them). In total you'd have travelled about 500km, so a bit more than the distance between Perth and Albany or Perth and Geraldton.
Fitzgerald River National Park
But getting to this national park is one thing, getting into it is another thing. This national park is so large that it has not one, not two, not three, but four entrances, each with its own "nearest town." It covers an area of 329,000 hectares, and at its widest point, the width is about 80km. Needless to say, it's impossible for us lay people to traverse into all its wilderness. Visitors are basically confined to two sections, the western and eastern ends. If you are a 4WD enthusiast, then you're in for a treat as the park has extensive 4WD tracks. Be sure to check conditions though, as these tracks are notoriously susceptible to rain and rangers frequently close them due to wet weather.
The western end of the park could be accessed from the north (Quiss Rd) and from the west (Devils Creek Rd). Both these roads connect to Pabelup Drive which allows you to visit Point Ann, West Mt. Barren, and Mt. Maxwell.
Point Ann is a pretty coastal site with beach access, day use facilities (toilet, barbecues, lookouts), and a heritage trail (about 1 hour walk) which follows a section of the old Rabbit Fence.
One of the barbecue facilities at Point Ann.
West Mt. Barren is a rocky hill (about 300m high) and if you're willing to spend 40-50 minutes hiking to the top, you'd be rewarded with a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. The conservation area is so vast that you could hardly detect any civilization as far as your eyes could see. It may sound corny but at places like this, you really realise how small and insignificant you are in the scale of things. Unfortunately the strong wind near the top is not conducive to philosophical rumination and your mind would soon be brought to more down-to-earth matters like how to secure your camera and other loose things before they tumble down into their demise.
Start of the West Mt Barren trail
If you're not up to climbing West Mt. Barren, go for Mt. Maxwell as the lookout is a short easy walk from the carpark. Though not as high as the other, the lookout here provides quite an extensive view as well.
The eastern end of the park could be accessed from the east via the Southern Ocean West Rd near Hopetoun or from the north via Hamersley Drive. Hamersley Drive is the official Heritage Trail Drive of the park, making it its main tourist thoroughfare.
In a way, the eastern end of the park is like a mirror reflection of the western end. Here, instead of Point Ann there are beaches such as Four Mile, Barrens, Mylies and West beaches. Instead of West Mt. Barren there's East Mt. Barren. And instead of Mt. Maxwell there is Sepulcralis Hill and just like its counterpart, Sepulcralis Hill lookout is an easy short walk from the carpark with a view of the undulating greeneries surrounding it.
View from Sepulcralis Hill
At the time of this writing (end of 2011/ early 2012), large sections of the Hamersley Drive is being closed for upgrading and access to some attractions may not be available. Check the webpage for updated details.
With a national park so large with so many attractions, visiting it in a day trip from Perth is not a wise option. You really need more time to travel from site to site, to be able to enjoy the sceneries, and to marvel at the unique features of the park like the Royal Hakea plant (Hakea Victoria). That means you'd need to stay overnight (or over a few nights) and depending on your preference and budget, you could either go bush or stick to town comforts.
Royal Hakea (left) and Banksia in Fitzgerald River National park.
If you're into bush camping, the national park itself has a few campsites, some at each end. Fees are payable on top of the $11 per car national park entrance fee. Camping fee is $7 per adult and $2 per school age child (up to 16 years old).
At the western end of the park, the St. Mary's Inlet campsite sits next to the body of water from which it derives its name. There are not too many sites and they are quite popular due to its proximity to Point Ann.
St. Mary's Inlet
At the estern end, campsites with 2WD access are available at Four Mile Beach and Hamersley Inlet. Be sure to bring some insect repellent if you visit in summer as there are march flies around and their bites are rather painful.
If you're not the bush camping type, you could still stay inside the park at Quaalup Homestead. It's a privately-managed accommodation located just at the border of the park close to the town of Bremer Bay.
Outside but close to the park, you could choose one of four towns:
- Bremer Bay (closest to Devils Creek Rd/ west entrance)
- Jerramungup (closest to Quiss Rd/ north west entrance)
- Ravensthorpe (closest to Hamersley Drive/ north east entrance), and
- Hopetoun (closest to the Southern Ocean West Rd/ east entrance).
Each town has fuel, a caravan park, and other accommodations.
Friendly neighbourhood kangarooss at the Jerramungup Caravan Park
As one of the largest national parks in Western Australia, Fitzgerald River is a complete holiday package in itself. It has swimming beaches, fishing beaches, rocky sea cliffs, calm inlets, steep and easy hikes, 4WD tracks, unique vegetations, and diverse landscapes. And amazingly, it's still so protected despite its location among the busy ports of Albany and Esperance, the mines of Ravensthorpe, and the other growing townships along the south coast. So why not try it out the next time you have a few free days and see Western Australia just like Matthew Flinders saw it when he sailed past there and named the East, Mid, and West Mt. Barrens?
stayed at st mary's campsite for two nights in early february 2014. the first night we were the only ones there. get campground number 10 if available, surrounded by trees and therefore not windy. good cooking facilities, ie a barbie and two cook tops just opposite. the ocean is pretty rough and there are warning signs about its potential dangers so we only went for a quick dip into the rather cool but still ok ocean. whilst cooking a roo with her joey came a meter close to say hello. but your rubbish bags up on your car's bonnet otherwise it gets raided by roos at night. especially if they contain opened cans with sharp edges etc. the second day i walked down st marys inlet for more than an hour. this time of the year it was mostly dried out and later you will find a fiew river like bits with water in it. it was really beautyful but became somewhat eerie the further i went. alot of silence, large animal traces and sudden loud noises in the bush. yes, i come from the city, haha. nevertheless, it was an awesome experience. a great chunk of nature considerably far away from civilisation.
in the wetter months you should bring a canue!