After the fires, a visit to the megadiverse Stirling Range
Morgane, a keen trail runner and volunteer of Outdoors People for Climate, previously appeared in the OPC blog when she told us about her mammoth fundraising trail run of the entire, rugged, 230km Larapinta Trail in Tjoritja / West Macdonnell National Park. If you haven't yet read her epic story of the run, featuring wild terrain, lots of grit and a fair few hallucinations, you can find it here.
Now Morgane shares a story of a different national park, thousands of kilometres from the Larapinta Trail, one with 1500 species of flora, many found no where else and a park that like others, experienced the full force of the Black Summer fires. Morgane takes us on a journey to the Stirling Range National Park in South West WA, on the lands of the Wagyl Kaip people.
Morgane's trip to the Stirling Range
My partner, Jake, and I arrived in Australia on working holiday visas in January 2020, not long after the bushfires. We started working and began to visit amazing places throughout Victoria, Canberra, Tasmania, parts of New South Wales and South Australia, the Northern Territory, and most recently Western Australia.
I was excited to get to Western Australia as I’d heard it was a beautiful state, with lots of national parks and great biodiversity. But I was also really happy because I knew I could finally see an old manager of mine, Chris, who I had worked for in my first job in New Caledonia seven years ago, and his lovely wife, Jacqui. We had a great relationship and I still remember them talking about the cafe they owned in the Stirling Ranges, called the Bluff Knoll Cafe. They showed me pictures of the cafe and the mountains in that area, and I told them that, one day, I would come visit them there, eat a meal in their cafe and hike in the mountains.
We were still in touch when the bushfires hit the Stirling Ranges in December 2019.
Like many people, Chris and Jacqui had to leave their cafe, their home and all their belongings without knowing what was going to happen and if they could come back home.
Stirling Range National Park is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, with more than 1,500 species of flora, at least eighty-seven of which are found nowhere else in the world. Stirling Ranges is also home to rare and unique fauna, including mainland quokkas.
Forty thousand hectares of the national park were burnt during the 2019 bushfires. Conservationists believe the landscape will take centuries to recover, because many of the native plants need long intervals between fires before they can produce viable seeds.
Chief executive of Gondwana Link, a private conservation enterprise, Keith Bradby, said frequent fires in the park had put species under a lot of stress: "It [the park] will be changed for decades, if not centuries."
Bradby added, "You will be favouring a few plant species, you'll totally change the flora and vegetation, and you'll totally change the whole feeding pattern of wildlife — the whole food chain alters."
After four months of work to repair extensive bushfire damage, the Bluff Knoll, Mt Trio and Mt Toolbrunup walking tracks, reopened in May 2020
More than 50 tonnes of material were brought in manually and by helicopter, with only hand tools used to replace every damaged step and water bar along the trail and to install a new five and a half metre pedestrian bridge.
Some areas of the national park, severely impacted by fire, remained closed for at least the rest of 2020.
Arriving to the Stirling Range
Now, here Jake and I were 7 years later, on October 5th, 2021. We finally arrived to the Stirling Ranges, exhausted after hours and hours of driving. We knew we had made it when we saw the amazing mountains and a sign that said "Free coffee for driver - 500m". It was cold and cloudy, but I was so happy to see Chris and Jacqui again and to finally see the cafe and the mountains for myself. Sadly, the cafe was again temporarily closed, so I couldn’t enjoy a meal from the menu, but they still cooked delicious food for us. They explained to us that the bushfires and then COVID-19 had reduced their customers so much that they were losing money by keeping the cafe open. Plus, they didn’t want to waste food. Chris was now working at a farm nearby and Jacqui was reorganising everything while nursing a knee injury. They hoped to reopen the cafe next spring.
After an evening of talks and laughs, we had a good night of rest. In the morning, because the parking lot for Bluff Knoll walking trail was full and there was already a long line of vehicles waiting to park, we decided to hike Mt Trio and Mt Toolbrunup instead.. The climbing was steep but the views were spectacular. What wonderful hikes, with so many flowers around. The climb to get to Mt Toolbrunup was very steep at times. I had to grab trees to not fall, and because they were burnt my hands were covered in black. The trees were still recovering.
It was sad to see, but all the green around showed us there was still hope.
The day after, we waited for hours in the morning because the Bluff Knoll was covered by big dark clouds. I started to worry, wondering if we could hike the trail before leaving the area. We had to leave the next day, but we wanted to take time to appreciate the view once we got to the summit. Finally, at 11am, from the top of Mt Hassel, we could see the summit of the Bluff Knoll. We went down as fast as we could and drove to the carpark. Luckily, there weren't as many people as the day before, and after a nice chat with one of the rangers we started to hike. The terrain was not as rocky as the other peaks, and the climb was steady without being too steep. There were amazing flowers all along the way, and green bushes contrasted with the dead trees. Once we arrived at the top, I felt emotional and so lucky to be hiking and to be able to enjoy this 360 degree view, after what had happened there not that long before.
I think it is essential that we protect special places, like the Stirling Ranges, so we and other people can fully enjoy the outdoors. So we can experience the flora, fauna and the amazing views along the way, and to, at the top, smell the fresh air and smile.
The Stirling Range National Park is one of so many irreplaceable landscapes that we are motivated to protect. True stories told by real people help us to remember why it is so important we raise our voices for greater climate ambition. Do you or someone you know have a story to share? Nominate a story with this quick form, here. Also, if you aren't already on our email list please join here, it is the best way to stay in the loop with OPC. We share powerful actions you can take for the climate, big and small.
Western Australia bushfires devastate the Stirling Ranges — one of the world's richest biodiversity hotspots. ABC News, 7 Jan 2020
Iconic Bluff Knoll walk trail reopened after bushfires. Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions, 20 May 2020.