4WD: Beat the heat in Avon Valley
As river levels drop, picturesque water crossings can be tackled.

_NOW _ that summer has arrived with a vengeance, I'm figuring there are plenty of off-road drivers spending the weekend by the beach as we struggle to keep cool.

If you're feeling saltier than a pretzel and your eyes are bloodshot from the heat haze blistering off the sand it might be time to head inland for a change, especially if the temperature ever dips below the mid-30s.

The Avon Valley National Park, some 80km north-east of Perth, provides a soothing feast of undulating green for the eye at any time of the year.

For the less experienced, summer is a good time for reconnoitring the occasionally steep and rutted tracks under dry conditions.

The river that can provide fast-paced white-water action in spring has dwindled to tranquil pools that provide welcome relief for the park's bird, reptile and animal life.

Travelling through the park at the northern-most limit of our jarrah forests you'll be surrounded by a tall mix of jarrah and marri plus wandoo and powder bark woodland.

The wetter land along the riverbanks is graced with flooded gum and swamp paperbark plus dense melaleuca thickets.

The escarpment is granite capped, with rocky challenges to climb on foot or in the four-wheel drive.

If there's a cooler break or you're happy snoozing the afternoon heat away in a shady spot, then the park has several Department of Environment and Conservation-managed campsites with facilities such as picnic tables and drop toilets. Check out dec.wa.gov.au for details.

Open fires are seasonally prohibited as the risk of bushfire is significant. Park users are encouraged to remain alert at all times for potential bushfire threats and to be prepared to immediately evacuate.

Rising early on a cool morning, you may be able to quietly stake out a river pool and keep watch for western grey kangaroos, echidnas or some of the species reintroduced in 2002 by DEC, such as the black-flanked rock wallaby, tammar wallaby and quenda (southern brown bandicoot).

If camping, hiking or stopping for a picnic, make sure you do a thorough check for ticks as the pesky critters can move in quickly to gorge on the unwary bushwalker.

History buffs should read up on Moondyne Joe, WA's best-known bushranger. After transportation as a convict to WA in the 1850s, Joseph Johns was soon freed on a conditional pardon and headed for the rugged Avon Valley where he worked fencing springs and trapping escaped stock until he found an unbranded stallion and branded it with his own mark.

Arrested for horse stealing, he broke out of jail and took the horse, along with the local magistrate's new bridle and saddle. When the police caught up with him he'd destroyed the evidence by killing the horse and removing the brand from its hide.

This reduced his sentence from 10 years for horse stealing to three years for jail-breaking.

A string of crimes followed as Johns was variously arrested, released, re-offended, escaped and was captured. It was during this period of great adventure in the 1860s that he adopted the "Moondyne Joe" moniker.

While Joe's hideout and stock corral are long gone, the ruggedness of the rocky country and density of the bush remains, meaning little effort is needed to imagine the struggles of the trackers trying to locate the wily escapee.

As a day trip, the Avon provides some scenic country that won't daunt the novice off-road driver, providing a nice taste of forestry tracks with some ruts and steeper descents to practise your skills.

For the more experienced, look out for challenging tracks to test your wheel articulation and traction capabilities.

To whet your appetite, check out the Moondyne Country trip in Western 4WDriver's Days Out of Perth, which is available from newsagents and map stores.

The West Australian

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