Our Camping Trip at Bluff Knoll – Stirling Ranges
Last weekend, my son Joseph and I joined a small group of friends to climb Bluff Knoll which is located in the Stirling Ranges of WA. Climbing Bluff Knoll is an interesting and unique experience that I would highly recommend for any keen travellers or hikers.
If you plan to spend the night here, you can book into the campsite at Stirling Range Retreat. Be aware that tourists flock to this region for the wildflower trails starting mid-August so it is essential to book well in advance if you are planning on arriving at this time. It is important to bring enough snacks for the journey and make sure you bring a good camera for the breathtaking views.
We arrived at Stirling Retreat late in the evening and were given a warm welcome from the owners Tony and Ayleen Sands. We were led to our camping area which appeared to be well maintained. We immediately got to setting up our tent and sleeping bags. Stirling Retreat has a large & clean ablution block and a warm shower was just what we needed to settle in. The weather that night at the retreat was very cold and windy. Despite this, our tent did extremely well in keeping us comfortable.
The morning seemed alot brighter, we woke to the sun shining through the eucalyptus trees and the sounds of birds singing nearby. Breakfast at the community kitchen was a great start to the day with eggs, vegemite on toast and some smoked bacon.
Bluff Knoll isn’t your typical trail. If wild terrain, steep rocks and endurance is what you think entails a hiking trip, Bluff Knoll is the exact opposite. The Stirling ranges are dotted with around six tall peaks and Bluff Knoll is its highest at 1095m above sea level. In fact it’s the tallest peak in western Australia. Despite its height, it is rated as a moderately difficult trail and anybody with a basic level of fitness can take this on. Bluff Knoll is great for initiating kids into trails and for adult beginners. During the spring season, it is known for its wildflower bloom.
We left for Bluff Knoll early afternoon after a light lunch to build up our energy reserves, at a cafe nearby. Before leaving, we packed all our camping gear into the car and cleaned up the campsite. We packed snacks and about 3 litres of water into our backpacks. We were told that the hike could take about 3-4 hours. The drive to the base took about twenty minutes to get there.
As we arrived and the car park came into full view, I figured why it is no surprise that Bluff Knoll is popular with families. The entire plot was well maintained and was dotted with cars, bike and traveler groups of various sizes. The lot was also equipped with a line of eco toilets; very useful for travelers coming directly here after a long road trip. The car park itself had a great view and we couldn’t wait to get started on the trail.
The first stretch of the hike was a straight long and clear bitumen covered pathway and I remember thinking that this hike was probably too easy for us. However, in just about five minutes I was relieved to see the actual terrain begin. We liked what we saw.
At the start of the trail, Joseph and I did a few warm up exercises. It was quite cold and I knew we would probably end up with sore tired muscles by the end of our 6 km journey.
The trail basically consists of a steep path up to the summit which is lined with sometimes rough and at other times well-maintained steps to aid climbers. Most of the steps were fashioned out of the quartzite rocks jutting out of the mountain. Some parts however were thick man-made sheets of rock, held into place with metal supports. Not all parts of the trail were steep, but the parts which were, needed all your energy.
Initially, both of us were fully concentrating on getting up there. But we soon noticed that a lot of travelers were mingling with each other and forming larger groups. About twenty minutes into the hike, we saw another father-son duo and struck up a conversation. They were from Perth, they said and had driven to the Stirling Ranges in their new caravan, to celebrate the son graduating college. They were also staying at the powered campsite of Stirling Retreat. During our talk, I happened to mention about Aussiesurvivor.com and it turned out that the son who was in his twenties, used to purchase his camping gear from us regularly. I love good co-incidences! They stopped for a rest soon afterwards as the father didn’t want his asthma to flare. We bade them goodbye, parting with a couple of granola bars they handed us.
About fifty minutes into the trail, it got slightly difficult. Not so much for us, but we saw many struggling to go up. Two groups consisting of slightly senior citizens turned back to go downwards. I am not sure what it is exactly, but somehow on such trails, given the common goal that all of us have, the whole environment is infused with a feeling of solidarity. We saw so many hikers who were doing their return walk downwards, encourage those on the verge of giving up on their way up. Maybe that is why hiking makes for such a great group activity.
Left to ourselves, Joseph and I were again in full hiking mode. In hindsight, I wish we had looked around a little and enjoyed the view.
I did see the freshly bloomed wildflowers and Joseph took some quick pictures. With spring not yet in full swing, the terrain appeared more green-brown and not very colorful.
It was about at this point that the clouds took over and it began drizzling lightly. Quite a contrast to the bright afternoon sun which was over our heads when we had started the trail. An interesting story I had heard, occurred to me. It is said that the Noongar people believe that all the clouds around Bluff Knoll are the perceptible form of a lonely spirit called Noatch. If you wander aimlessly in this unpredictable terrain, you can be caught in her misty embrace. Hence it is always better to thread carefully. The current weather simply brought alive the unpredictability this trail is known for.
I think this would be the right time to point out a few safety precautions one should take in terms of one’s hiking or camping gear. Even for a seemingly easy trek like Bluff Knoll, it is very easy for someone to slip off the edges of the smooth rock steps. With a little rain, this could be a dangerous slip. I was relieved that we both wore shoes with a dense tread on the soles and this worked brilliantly to prevent slips. We also had water proof jackets with us, which helped during the light drizzle. I realized that the last thing you want to be caught in, after getting wet in the rains, are strong icy winds. Not surprising that a group of college kids who were caught out by the rains didn’t look the least bit excited.
For senior citizens and anyone with a lower level of fitness I would definitely recommend carrying a walking or hiking stick. This helps in reducing the pressure on your knees and reduces the overall stress of the hike. Lastly, don’t forget water, lots of it. It is important to stay hydrated. In my experience, while travelers have a meticulous list of camping gear to pack, they often forget the bare bushwalking necessities. A little thought can make any hiking experience, a memorable one.
Soon, true to its nature, the climate suddenly changed to sunny and I thought this would be a great time to pop open a can of beer. Joseph just then spotted a light waterfall streaming downwards and we turned this into our pit stop, albeit for about ten minutes. We munched a little on the snacks we had with us. It was now late into the afternoon but thankfully it wasn’t too hot. We still had to keep our jackets on.
Joseph loves the wildlife and spotting a few animals on this trail were part of his wish list. Unfortunately the best he could do was a clear sighting of a possum. Not so much the quokka he was hoping for, but it was okay. He did see a couple of large spiders and some reptiles. We learnt that a lot of effort goes into the preservation of the native flora here.
About an hour and a half into our trail, I sensed that we would be nearing the summit. Right around a very sharp bend, Bluff Knoll’s unpredictable weather had us again as it suddenly got very cold. Armed with extra jackets in our backpack, we put those on and charged ahead.
We were soon up at the top and we were glad that we did this camping trip. The rocks jutted out making for a unique summit view. There were many other hiking groups on top who had made this an impromptu picnic. Joseph wished then that we had packed a real meal for the summit instead of dry snacks. With a promise of a good dinner, we started on our way back downwards.
I was keeping a check on the time and sunlight as I didn’t want us to venture downwards in the dark. The people we met at the car park had told us that the hike down would be much more difficult. While we found this true in some parts, for the most of it was easy, given our relative fitness. Also, I had made a mental note of taking more pictures and generally enjoying the view.
We reached the car park in about three hours after we started. Some people we met here told us they took about five but they had young kids with them. It was evening and the sun was still above our heads. After a coffee break at a café there, we started our drive back to the retreat and before we knew it, we were at our camping site, setting up our tents for the night.
Thinking back, from the comfort of our home, as a leisurely hiking trail, Bluff Knoll was worth it. The camping gear we tested came through beautifully. As we tick off Bluff Knoll from hiking wish list, here’s to more such trips to come.