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Great Southern secrets
Michael Shields Great Southern secrets

Deciding to holiday at home instead of travelling overseas, my wife and I headed down the Great Southern region a few weeks ago. Our first stop after leaving Perth was Kojonup on the Albany Highway for a leisurely lunch.

Then it was on to Cranbrook, the last town on the route to our overnight stop at the Stirling Range Retreat. This is a well-established caravan park with a variety of accommodation options, on the edge of the Stirling Range National Park. Run by Tony and Ayleen Sands, it is a good place to base yourself if you are keen on ecotourism, wilderness hikes, wildlife and wildflower tours. There are numerous signs around the retreat alerting visitors to the abundant fauna and flora.

With no timetable or time constraints to worry about - we did not need to be at the retreat until late in the day and the weather was perfect - we took a scenic detour through the national park, home to Bluff Knoll, the highest mountain in the southern part of the State.

The detour was along a quaintly named road, Red Gum Pass Road. It is about 23km from Cranbrook and turns off Salt River Road. It meanders through the national park for about 50km and provides travellers with a fantastic vista of the park and its myriad wildflowers, including numerous varieties of orchids.

There are a number of lookouts and places to stop, which we did regularly, pausing often when a spray of colour was spotted alongside the road. Taking a walk through the bush often came with the surprise discovery of an orchid or other wildflower hidden in the undergrowth that would be invisible from the road. Despite it being only a relatively short drive, with all the stopping and starting it took many hours before we arrived at the retreat, our overnight stop.

After breakfast the next morning there was a greater surprise in store. Surrounding the retreat was open bushland which we discovered to be a wonderland of numerous varieties of orchids and other displays of colour. The orchids included spider, donkey, pitcher, enamel and cowslip, to name a few.

Full of enthusiasm after this delightful surprise we decided to hike part-way up Bluff Knoll, only a few kilometres away. We were treated to an amazing vista of national park surrounded by farmland, with the predominant colour green and gold, the gold from the heads of abundant canola crops.

After a physical walk that provided much more than the daily required 30 minutes, we returned to our car and headed to Albany along Chester Pass Road. We then spent a couple of days wandering the port city - a city my wife had not visited since the 1970s and a city that has changed a great deal since then.

Our return journey to Perth was through Denmark and Walpole. This included what some would say was a mandatory side trip through the Valley of the Giants, a visit to the treetop walk and then a meander through the ancient empire of giant tingle trees.

There is much to see and do in the southern part of WA and, coupled with the annual wildflower season, it won't be long before we head south again.