Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 12 : Jilakin Rock to Albany

Monday, Dec 17, 2012 at 13:36


Tucked in beside the vast grey wall of Jilakin Rock we made ourselves comfortable. There was a reasonable phone signal (Telstra) so by putting our awning out we could get a sufficiently shaded spot so that we could have a bit of laptop time.

A short walk around the base of the rock revealed a number of big spider orchids on stems up to 30cm tall. They were easily located by following the trail of flattened grass made by the feet of eager photographers. A little further on, the wall of the rock curved in a way slightly reminiscent of Wave Rock.

A bit more effort was needed to get us up to the top of Jillakin Rock, but it was worth the climb for the great views. This rock is vast and quite high, and from the top there is a good view out over the racecourse where the popular Kulin Bush Races are held. The races were due to happen in 2 or 3 weeks time so there was a lot of activity as the site was readied for an influx of visitors.

Next to the racecourse we could see a big claypan/salt lake and further around still more expanses of grey rock. There would be plenty to keep us exploring here for several days. Up on the rock were the familiar rock pools surrounded by miniature gardens where moss and other water dependant plants eked out a precarious life. A few donkey and onion orchids added colour to these fascinating micro habitats. We found a few bushes of Kunzea pulchella (without flowers); these gnarled shrubs only grow on these rocky outcrops. Here they were in company with sandalwood and casuarina that somehow managed to get their roots down into the cracks in the rocks.

The top of the rock covers a large area. After a good poke around we descended via a track that took us down the back and from there bush-bashed our way through mulga around the base of the rock back to camp. That walk showed that the whole site gets plenty of use by campers, presumably while the races are on.

After two nights and a lazy day there, it was time to move on again, driving south towards Lake Grace through more cropping country where the wheat and canola looked pretty good. At Lake Grace we found a modern shopping centre and spent a while stocking up. But when it came time to move on Troopy simply would not start – very embarrassing sitting in the hot main street of a country town with the bonnet up. One local stopped to see if we needed help, and kindly suggested someone nearby who might be able to assist – not that we really knew what the trouble was. Finally we got going and drove round to a local mechanic who seemed to know something about carbies. He suggested that we had an electrical problem, so next time (hopefully if) the problem occurs we will investigate further.

Lake Grace sits beside a big arc of clay pans and salt lakes that make for some dramatic but stark scenery. We pulled in beside one such lake for lunch and found ourselves beside a track leading to places that have been well used for bush camps. We had a bit of a wander around and found a few orchids and other wildflowers.

Further south we checked out a free camp at Borden but what space there was available opposite the store was not suitable for us (though it might be OK for a caravan) so we moved further south to the Stirling Ranges Retreat. The scenery approaching the Stirling Ranges from any direction is spectacular, and the northern approaches were no exception. We had a few stops for photos of the mountains, and found an increasing variety of wildflowers along the road verges, all urgently in need of having their portraits taken.

The Stirling Range Retreat is a privately owned camping and accommodation area on the northern edge of the National Park. There is plenty of space and the tariff is reasonable. We chose an unpowered site adjoining a paddock of brilliant canola with amazing views of some of the peaks in the ranges. We spent two comfortable nights there. We did some of the walks that fan out from the campground and found plenty of wildflowers including prostrate banksias, yellow verticordias some everlastings and many orchids. Best of all were views along the track looking towards Bluff Knoll where, as the heat of the day cooled we could watch clouds forming over the peak, and flowing down the flanks of the mountain. Back at camp as the sun set in a haze of golden light we watched as the western peaks were similarly shrouded in damp grey swirling fog.

We had another look under the bonnet to see if we could see any obvious reason why Troopy would not start sometimes. We took off the distributor cap, cleaned everything before replacing it and set the ignition timing. Then Murphy struck. John heard something fall underneath the vehicle – it was part of the distributor cap, including one of the mounting lugs. Well, it could have been worse – if he had not heard it fall we could have tried to start the engine and that would not have turned out well. On a Saturday afternoon auto electricians are not easily contactable by phone, so we ended up aralditing the cap together, and when all was well set, securing it in place using lots of cable ties and rubber bands. Much to our surprise and relief Troopy started easily when it came time to leave.

Our plan was to head for Albany, where we hoped to be able to find a distributor cap. On the way we would spend a while driving and exploring the road that runs west through the Stirling Ranges NP before turning south for the run into Albany through Mt. Barker.

Our first intended stop was at a well known spot to see orchids at the base of Mt. Trio. We almost made it without stopping but brilliant scarlet displays of Beaufortia really insisted that we pause to have a closer look. When we did reach the Mt Trio turn-off a number of other vehicles already there suggested that there might be orchids. And true to form orchids were flowering there, but this year the blooms were quite small. There was no sign of the hoped-for Queen of Sheba orchid though. A nearby area had recently been burnt so we spent a while looking to see what plants were coming back. Many droseras were in flower, with beads of sticky glue glistening on their leaves.

The trip along Stirling Range Drive was spectacular but the dry weather had greatly reduced the number of flowers to be seen, although many gum trees were covered with blossom. We made several stops and found good localised displays, including a sea of yellow and white flowering shrubs at the start of the walking track to Mt. Gog, and plenty of red banksias along the road in the vicinity of Mondurup Peak. We turned south onto Red Gum Pass Road into an area where we had previously seen wonderful wildflower displays. There was much less on offer this time round but there are some magnificent grass trees there, and we also found the first tiny scarlet Lechenaultia for this trip, a real living gem.

Heading south, and back onto bitumen we checked out a couple of possible free camps beside the main road. Maybe we were getting fussy but none appealed so we ended up pulling into the Mt Barker caravan park for the night. There were few other campers there but the rather unbending woman at reception directed us to a grassy spot next to a group of workmen doing power pole maintenance. She instructed us gruffly to let her know if they were rowdy. Not that they were – one of the men came across for a long chat. He had done a lot of truck driving delivering mining equipment into desert mining camps, and had some interesting stories to tell.

From Mt. Barker it was a quick run down to Albany. We arrived there about 9.30 and after a bit of searching around found Toyota. They tracked down a Toyota distributor cap in Perth – they could get it by tomorrow, or they could scout around for one locally. Our luck was in and by 3.00pm we had a new cap. In between times we shopped, visited the tourist information centre and visited the DEC offices to check on access into the Fitzgerald River NP. We were surprised at how much Albany seemed to have grown in the past few years.

On a previous visit we had stayed right beside the water of Princess Royal Harbour at a caravan park a few kms south of the town. We hoped to repeat that memorable experience. When we got there it was blowing a gale with a strong wind coming right off the water so a quick walk around convinced us that there would be no waterside camp on this night. Instead we headed inland where we found, on the banks of the King River, a quaint though adequate CP mainly used by permanent residents. At least it was fairly sheltered in there among plenty of tall trees, and a few overnight showers washed off some of the accumulated travel dust.

Once we were set up we fitted the new distributor cap, but found that one of the high tension leads had permanently corroded itself to the old damaged cap. We made a temporary arrangement but really needed a new cable, so in the morning we head back into town to get one. Then we will start exploring east along the coast and hope that the weather will be kind to us.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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