Mount Barker, located four hours south-east of Perth, is a mecca for wildflower and nature enthusiasts. During the coming months, you’ll find an abundance of rich and colourful native flora and birdlife.
The Stirling and Porongurup Ranges, located just east of the Mount Barker Town Centre are home to some of the best wildflower sites in the world. With numerous walking trails that wind their way through the ranges, the best way to get out and experience the flowers is to strap on some hiking boots and go for a leisurely stroll. Not only will you be treated to stunning mountain vistas, you’ll also be able to breathe in the scent of wildflowers, which appear as a sea of colourful blooms.
The Porongurup National Park is a 15-minute drive east of Mt Barker along Tourist Route 252. This spectacular ancient forest, which is more than 1100 million years old, looks like a phoenix rising majestically out of the surrounding farmland. Covering 2401ha, the Park has many walk trails that will take you through a diverse habitat with unique plant life that grows among ancient granite domes.
The giant karri trees, marri and jarrah provide a canopy under which 700 species of flowering plants thrive. Botanists and photographers from all over the world are lured to the area to capture the beauty of the plants, some of which are rare, endemic or endangered. The forest is also home to 78 species of birds and a range of native animals. Picnic, barbecue areas and lookouts abound and there are toilets and good access for disabled visitors.
If you prefer a guided tour, from September 24 to 26 the Friends of the Porongurup Range are holding wildflower walks on Twin Creeks Conservation Reserve. The reserve offers magnificent views of the ranges, hundreds of wildflowers – some that flower year-round – bird species and a diverse range of fauna. Look out for the many orchid species that are prolific in the area during spring, and the resident wedge-tailed eagle. Tours cost $10 for adults and are free for children.
The annual Mount Barker Wildflower Festival, presented in town during the height of the wildflower season, is a must-see event for nature-lovers. Held from October 14 to 17 at the Banksia Farm, located two minutes from the Mount Barker tourist information centre, the festival will offer visitors a feast of flora and fauna on four picturesque hectares of wildflower gardens.
Owners of the Banksia Farm, Kevin and Cathy Collins, have planted thousands of Australian native plants over the past 20 years, and have turned the once-bare paddock where the farm is located into a thriving ecosystem. This is the only place where you will see the complete collection of famous Australian banksias, with 97 species and sub-species, and a near complete collection of Dryandras (there are currently 136 species on display). Walk under giant banksia trees that are home to abundant birdlife and Australian marsupials, or choose one of the fascinating interactive guided tours of the farm, where you’ll hear fascinating yarns about Aboriginal and early settler use of banksias and be encouraged to touch many of the wildflowers thus getting the full sensory experience.
In the Joseph Banks Fine Art Gallery, view some of Australia’s best botanical artworks while enjoying great coffee and tasty homemade lunches in the cosy cafe built from local timbers. Purchase wildflower books, craft items, fresh or dried flowers, banksia seeds and woodturning pods. At the on-site nursery, you will also find a comprehensive range of banksia and dryandra seedlings.
Other features of the festival include native orchid displays, open cottage gardens, indoor plant displays, guest speakers, botanical artists in residence, bush animal exhibits, entertainment and more. Entry to the gardens is $5.50 for adults and $2 for children, and if you’d like the talks included, it’s $11 for adults and $4 for children. For more information and useful maps of the area, visit the Mt Barker Tourist Bureau.
Porongurup Wildflower Walks, Twin Creeks Conservation Reserve Knight’s Road, 3km from Porongurup Shop and Tearooms, open daily from 9.30am to 12pm between September 24 and 26, call (08) 9853 1153.
Banksia Farm, Pearce Road, open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm, call (08) 9851 1770.
Mt Barker Tourist Bureau, Albany Highway, (08) 9851 1163.