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Travelling to Western Australia’s south coast means spending a lot of time looking at beaches and interesting rock formations. But variety is the spice of life and so my brother and I decided to mix things up on our trip there from Perth. His suggestion was to journey out to Stirling Range National Park as a day trip from Albany and tackle the hike at Bluff Knoll there.
As someone who’s grown exceptionally fond of hiking, the Bluff Knoll hike seemed like a perfect fit. I wasn’t really aware of the Stirling Ranges either beforehand, making the idea of visiting all the more irresistible. Ultimately, hiking in the Stirling Ranges provided two great contrasts for me. Not only was it different from the endless coastline, it was also unlike my experiences hiking in Tasmania, continuing my appreciation of Australia’s diversity.
If you enjoy the outdoors and are in the region, Bluff Knoll is not to be missed. Here’s what to expect from the hike, as well as a gentler alternative (or additional) walk, if that feels more your speed.
Visiting Stirling Range National Park
The landscape of southern Western Australia is quite interesting. Besides pristine beaches and large swathes of forest, the region also has some scattered mountain ranges. The Stirling Range is one such mountain range, emerging out of nowhere from the flat plains north of Albany. I always thought all the mountains in Western Australia were far up north, but turns out not so.
In Stirling Range National Park you’ll find a terrain mostly covered in heath and scrubland. There are sparse trees in the lower parts of the mountain ranges, but once you’re up in the mountains it’s quite arid and exposed. The lack of vegetation and relatively flat surroundings of the mountains mean you’re treated to phenomenal views once you gain some elevation.
Because the Stirling mountains are such a sudden interruption of the flat landscape, it’s easy to see how they were natural landmarks for the traditional owners of the land. The Goreng and Menang people are the land’s traditional custodians and place great cultural significance on landmarks like Bluff Knoll within the mountains.
Bluff Knoll Summit Hike
Bluff Knoll is probably the most common place for visitors to go in the Stirling Range. It’s summit is the highest point in the Stirling Range, reaching an elevation of 1095 metres (according to the park information – internet says 1099 metres).
There’s no mistaking your destination when you arrive at Bluff Knoll. Pulling into the car park, you can easily see the formidable and sheer face of the bluff looming above you. Of course, you’re not scaling that rock face to get to the top, but it still makes for an imposing sight.
Hiking to the top of Bluff Knoll generally takes 3 to 4 hours return and we found that timeframe to be accurate. The hike to the summit is only 3.1km, but it’s a steep one on a Class 4 trail, which explains why it takes so long. A nice aspect of the climb is that it’s not technical – you’re walking on track and up stairs the whole way up.
Your level of fitness really will determine how you find the climb. I’d had a break from hiking over winter since my trip to Lake St Clair, so I found it a reasonable work out. That said, I coped better than some of the other hikers who were really struggling, partly because of the heat.
Climbing to the Top
It’s a little disconcerting that the walk starts with a dip down at first. That just means you have to climb even more to reach the top! After the small lull though it’s a constant climb, with just one real flat stretch close to the summit. The trail is also really easy to follow and features few switchbacks, so you do feel like you’re making progress as you go.
The scenery along the path also changes as you walk which is sure to keep you entertained. Visiting in October, the spring wildflowers were emerging, adding bursts of colour to the surrounding rocks and sparse scrub. At one point we passed a trickling little waterfall, maybe a metre or so high. On the way back down, we were visited by a monitor lizard that got quite close.
Most of the time though my eyes were glued to the fantastic view of the landscape beside me or the path ahead as I focused on making it to the top. Like so many hikes, the main rewards are the views found near the top. Gazing over the edge as you hit the ridgeline to the summit, you’ll spot the lonely road you drove in on snaking across the landscape.
At the summit, you’re met with jagged slate cliffs and views along the rippling top of the Stirling Range. Beyond you’ll see distant lakes and farmland out to the unbroken horizon, all of which makes you feel like you’re king of the mountain.
An Alternative Hike at Porongurup
If the Bluff Knoll hike sounds like too much, there is a good alternative nearby. Just outside the Stirling Range is the much smaller hills of Porongurup National Park. Within the park there is a popular walk up to the Granite Skywalk on Castle Rock, a precarious viewpoint positioned on granite boulders.
The walk up to the Granite Skywalk is much shorter and less intense than heading up Bluff Knoll. The path is 4.4km return and while they say it takes 2 hours there and back, that’s a bit generous. Most of the route is uphill but nothing too hard.
What can make the climb challenging is the final section climbing and squeezing your way up to the skywalk. Here you’ll have to climb some long ladders and clamber a little over rocks. Don’t worry too much though, there were visitors well into their 60’s and 70’s making it to the top just fine.
From the top, you’ll be able to see the Stirling Range in the distance, not to mention the surrounding forest and the plains stretching out to the coast.
Tips for Visiting Bluff Knoll
Owing to its location, you’ll most likely be visiting Bluff Knoll and the Stirling Range from the coast. The drive from Albany takes just over an hour, meaning it makes the most sense to stay in Albany.
Like most national parks, visiting requires a registration fee. A day entry pass for Bluff Knoll costs $15, but if you’re seeing multiple national parks in WA, you may to get a holiday pass. We went for the $25 five-day pass of the three possible multi-day holiday passes. Passes can be purchased online or at the onsite kiosk with credit card.
Packing for a hike always requires a little forethought. For Bluff Knoll, I’d just recommend bringing the usual items that are advisable for hiking in Australia. Bring sunscreen, even outside of summer, as there’s basically no shade on this hike. Water and snacks are a smart ideas since you’ll be doing a 3-4 hour hike in the middle of nowhere. Finally, hiking boots will make the hike more comfortable, but I wouldn’t say they’re strictly necessary.
Would you be game to do the Bluff Knoll hike in Western Australia, or is the Porongurup hike more your speed? Is this what you thought Western Australia looked like? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.