Stirling Range National Park
Surrounded by a ﬂat, sandy plain, the Stirling Range rises abruptly to over 1000 metres, its jagged peaks sometimes veiled in swirling clouds. Of the many mountains, Bluff Knoll is the most famous, being the highest peak in Western Australia’s South West region. A mecca for bushwalkers and climbers, Stirling Range National Park attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Stirling Range National Park is also signiﬁcant for its wildﬂowers. Some 1500 ﬂowering plants thrive here, 87 of which occur nowhere else in the world. This incredible richness of ﬂora is set against the breathtaking beauty of the ranges, which rise sharply from the surrounding plains.
From Perth via Albany Hwy to Cranbrook then Salt River Rd, Red Gum Pass Rd and Stirling Range Dr; from Albany via South Coast Hwy and Chester Pass Rd
Spring and autumn for bushwalking; late spring and early summer for wildﬂowers
330 km south-east of Perth; 75 km north of Albany
- DEC Albany (08) 9842 4500
- Park ranger (08) 9841 7133
115 920 ha
Mount Barker (08) 9851 1163
Featured Activities in the National Park
Drive the 42-kilometre Stirling Range Drive Trail for a wonderful overview of the park
Photograph the extraordinary display of wildﬂowers in spring
Spot the candle-shaped ﬂowers and large jagged leaves of the Stirling Range banksia
Climb Bluff Knoll for the exhilaration and unsurpassed panoramic views
Take a wildﬂower ﬁeld guide and look for mountain bells, endemic to the range, in spring
A look at the past
The ﬁrst European record of the range was made in 1802 by navigator Matthew Flinders, who observed the mountains from the sea. Thirty years later the explorer Ensign Dale climbed Toolbrunup Peak in search of Aboriginal bush foods. However, it was not until 1835 when Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe passed through the region that the range was given its current name. Roe was greatly impressed by what he saw, and named the range in honour of Captain James Stirling, the ﬁrst governor of the Swan River Colony.
European settlement of the area began in 1826 at King George Sound. Timber cutters exploited the range for sandalwood and grazing selections on the surrounding plains were taken up from the 1850s.
In the 1840s colonial botanist James Drummond made a number of visits to the range to study the area’s ﬂora and became the ﬁrst of many who, over the years, have come under the spell of this wildﬂower wonderland. The area was temporarily set aside as early as 1908 and was declared a national park in 1913.
The Aboriginal people who originally occupied this area of the South West were the Minang and Goreng tribes. Unlike their northern counterparts, they dressed for the cold mountain weather in knee-length kangaroo skin coats and built small, conical huts out of sticks thatched with paperbark, rushes or leafy branches to provide shelter from the rain.
Aboriginal people believe that in the Dreamtime the mountains were formed by the ancient kangaroo people who once lived in the area. According to legend, a male kangaroo killed its female partner and was in turn killed by its joey. The range is the body of the dead male kangaroo, and its knees form the mountain peaks. The mountains were once considered a place to be wary of – the mists that shroud the peaks of Bluff Knoll were believed to be the only visible form of an evil spirit called Noatch. The Nyungar people, the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the region, call Bluff Knoll both bular mial meaning ‘many eyes’ and bala mial meaning ‘his eyes’, because the rocks on the bluff are said to be shaped like the eyes of the ancestral master spirit.
The Minang people were living around King George Sound when Captain Phillip Parker visited the area in 1821. He recorded that the Minang used taap knives, hammers and spears, producing them for bartering purposes with the Europeans. The large taap knives – over 40 centimetres long – were made of wood and quartz ﬂakes, cemented together with gum, probably made from the sap of grasstrees. These taap knives, unique to the South West region of Western Australia, were used by the Aboriginal people to cut up the ﬂesh of seals and other animals.
A renowned Aboriginal interpreter and guide of this area, Mokare (c. 1800–1831), was a Nyungar man of the Minang people. He accompanied a number of European explorers on various expeditions through the South West region of the state.
‘The Stirling Range burst on our view in great magniﬁcence as we rounded the crest … the whole extent of the conical summits were spread before us.’ So wrote Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe in 1835 and, over 160 years later, visitors to this national park undoubtedly have similar ﬁrst impressions. Stretching some 65 kilometres in an east–west direction, this spectacular range of jagged mountain peaks rises abruptly from the surrounding heath-covered sand plains. In the eastern half of the park is Bluff Knoll, a towering 1095 metres above sea level. The main face of the bluff rises, at one bound, over 950 metres above the plain. Other notable features are Toolbrunup Peak, and a silhouette called The Sleeping Lady, which is visible from the Porongurup Range to the south.
The mountains of the Stirling Range, and particularly the craggy summit of Bluff Knoll, is one of the few places in Western Australia where snow falls – the mountain peaks are often shrouded in distinctive cloud formations.
Due to the vast number of ﬂowering plant species contained within the park’s boundaries, late spring and early summer is the ideal time to visit. From October to December, the park shows off the ﬂoral beauty of its scrubby, prickly heathland. The wealth of native ﬂora results from the climatic conditions of this high mountain range, which are dramatically different to those of the surrounding lowlands. The upper slopes of the range receive substantially more rain than the foothills.
Among the incredible variety of plants found in the park are 128 orchid species – 38 per cent of all known Western Australian orchids – and 87 plants that are endemic to the park, including the Stirling Range smokebush and the Stirling Range coneﬂower. Particularly striking are the many types of banksia such as the scarlet banksia, with its brilliant red ﬂowers; the slender banksia, with its vibrant yellow ﬂowers; and the Stirling Range banksia, found only on the higher peaks. There are blueboys, vivid pink Stirling Range pixie mops, red pea ﬂowers, royal hakeas and yellow dryandras. But perhaps most famous of all are the mountain bells; nine of the 10 different species found in the park only grow within the Stirling Range.
In addition, there are ﬂowering gums such as wandoo, jarrah and Albany blackbutt, and the Western Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia ﬂoribunda), an unusual parasitic plant, the roots of which have suckers that extract nutrients from the roots of nearby trees. This predatory species belongs to the mistletoe family but is the only one of the group to grow as a tree rather than an aerial parasite. The Christmas tree has stunning orange ﬂowers.
The wildlife in this national park is not nearly as visible as the wildﬂowers. The park is, however, home to western grey kangaroos, honey possums, western pygmy-possums and quokkas. You may see western brush wallabies, also known as black-gloved wallabies, grazing in open areas in the early morning or late afternoon and early evening.
There are a number of reptiles, including snakes and lizards, spiders and frogs. The 130 species of birds recorded in the park include western rosellas, red-eared ﬁretails, splendid fairy-wrens, golden whistlers, western yellow robins and red-capped parrots. The range is also a haven for birds of prey, such as wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons.
Stirling Range National Park is one of the best bushwalking locations in the state. Apart from the challenging mountain climbs, there are stunning views from the peaks and, in spring, wildﬂowers in abundance – only matched by the number of photo opportunities. For the more adventurous, there is abseiling on the rock faces of Bluff Knoll. A less taxing way to enjoy this wonderful wilderness is to stop at one of the several scenic picnic areas dotted around the park for a spot of lunch. Birds Australia operates dawn and dusk bird walks in spring.
Bluff Knoll has several rock faces perfect for abseiling. Enthusiasts must register with the ranger before setting off. Stirling Range Retreat, outside the park’s northern boundary, organises adventure activities including abseiling, rock-climbing, hang-gliding, and gliding; for further details call (08) 9827 9229. (The retreat also has guided wildﬂower walks and slide evenings focusing on ﬂora and fauna of the Stirling Range.)
There are a variety of marked walking trails in the park from easy wildﬂower trails to more challenging hikes in the mountains. There are also countless other trails in more remote sections of the park. However, if you intend to walk long distances or hike and camp overnight, you need to register your trip in the logbook at Moingup Springs camping area or at Bluff Knoll picnic site.
For daytrippers, the more popular trails include the demanding climb to the 856-metre Mount Magog summit (8 km return, 3–4 hours, difﬁcult), which is rewarded by great views at the top. Walkers should note that there is no path for the ﬁnal kilometre to the summit. Talyuberlup Peak trail (3 km return, 2 hours, medium difﬁculty) has interesting caverns and rocky outcrops along the way, while Mount Hassell walk (4 km return, 2–3 hours, medium difﬁculty) is a good manageable trail for adults with children in tow. The ascent of Toolbrunup Peak (4 km return, 3 hours, difﬁcult) is regarded as the best trail climb in the park, with its spectacular scenery of dramatic rocky outcrops and 360-degree views from the 1052-metre summit.
The most popular trail in the park leads to the 1073-metre summit of Bluff Knoll. After an energetic walk and climb (6 km return, 3 hours, difﬁcult), hikers are rewarded by breathtaking views from the cliff-top lookout. However, experienced bushwalkers might prefer the challenge of the Ridge Trail (20 km, 2–3 days), which leads from the base of the range via Ellen Peak to the Bluff Knoll carpark. This trail requires overnight camping, and walkers must register with the ranger before setting out.
Many of these walks are steep and rough, so for safety reasons they are not recommended in wet or windy conditions. Walking is also not advisable on days of extreme heat. At all times of the year, walkers must carry plenty of drinking water and be prepared for abrupt changes in the weather; the range is subject to sudden drops in temperature, driving rain and sometimes snow.
The Stirling Range Drive Trail is regarded as one of the best mountain drives in Australia. It winds through the centre of the park for 42 kilometres, taking in lookouts near Mondurup Peak and Mount Magog on the way. Although the trail can be driven either way, the west to east route is considered the more picturesque.