In the wildflower country of Western Australia, truth is often stranger than fiction.
In the natural beauty lottery, Western Australia seems to have won the jackpot – there are red deserts, the endless white sands of Cable Beach in the north and the lush greenery and undulating countryside in the south-west. But during wildflower season (July to November) the state really comes into its own, when WA’s 12,000 wildflower species – many found only there – come out to play.
It’s not just the displays of colour or the temptation of chancing upon a previously unknown species that draws visitors from around the world; it’s the diversity and, sometimes, the sheer wackiness of the flowers – orchids that live and die underground; flowers with great bursts of deep colour or graphic stripes, spots and patterns; blooms resembling insects or coral. Given WA’s vast distances and possibilities, a good starting point is Perth’s annual Kings Park Festival (September 1-October 2), where displays show which flowers bloom where, helping the visitor to choose wildflower trails (several loop away from Perth and back) suiting tastes and time.
Wildflowers start to bloom first in the warmer northern regions so take the northern trails early in the season and head south later. The most popular route is the Everlastings Trail along the Indian Ocean Drive or inland along the Brand Highway. Fields of multicoloured everlastings – wildflowers whose petals stay intact even when they die – are the main attraction. The shire of Dalwallinu has the world’s largest density of wattle species, the town itself hosting an eye-popping, annual display with its Wattle Week festival (September 10-17).
Head further north on the Northern Explorer Trail, which winds past Geraldton, and the everlasting species are joined by the wreath leschenaultia, a spectacular teal, cream and orangeplant that looks hand-assembled. The outback here can be a harsh place, but the wildflowers are among the most delicate: highly ornate bush orchids, milkmaids and mountain bells. Near the coast, Kalbarri National Park is the spot for banksias, kangaroo paws and feather flowers, while Kalbarri township’s visitor centre is a rich source of local, up-to-the-minute wildflower information.
The Wheatbelt region east of Perth has the Wave Rock Trail, named for the famous wave-shaped granite landmark. Recently, sightings of the rare western underground orchid were reported there. Looking a bit like a peeled head of garlic, but with intense maroon petals, only 300 specimens of this wholly subterranean species have been collected since it was discovered in 1928. Going further east, on the Goldfields Trail, out along the Great Eastern Highway, some of the colour moves from the ground into the trees, be it the bright, high-visibility orange flowers on the grevillea juncifolia or the dusty-pink bark of the salmon gum. Wattle and hakeas predominate along this route.
The south-west houses the lion’s share of wildflower species along its three trails: the Esperance, the Jarrahland and the Southern Wonders. The appropriately named Queen of Sheba orchid tops most people’s to-view list each season, with its regal purple colouring, striking spots and stripes. Don’t try looking for it on cool or overcast days; the flower only unfurls when it’s warm. With the recent floods and droughts, there are no guarantees about what will be on display; Mother Nature is a tempestuous matriarch. But as the softly-softly beauty of a state awash with colour will attest, this mother has a gentler side, too.
Source Qantas The Australian Way August 2011