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Walk on Australia's Wild Side
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Each spring I become terribly homesick. It's many years since I enjoyed this season in my home state of Western Australia but something about the lift of the air after winter makes me yearn for the wildflowers of the west.

You can see why they call these flowers 'wild'. Step off the road, almost anywhere in the state and within a few metres you can encounter spider orchids, kangaroo paws, donkey orchids and cowslips. Not to mention slug orchids, bug orchids, pink bunny orchids and cat's paws. There's a whole zoo out here, it seems.

In spring – the best time is from mid-September through October – Western Australia's bush comes alive, and you don't have to go far to see it. Kings Park overlooking the Swan River and Perth, the capital, and covering over 400 hectares, still has some virgin bush and walking tracks as well as a ten hectare botanical garden. The Kings Park and Botanic Garden Wildflower Festival is held during September each year. It showcases WA's spectacular wildflowers with display gardens, demonstrations, workshops, live entertainment, art and craft and fun for the whole family.

For those with little time to tour further afield, a specifically designed Perth wildflower trail will take visitors to several national parks, including Yanchep National Park and John Forrest National Park, around the Perth Hills and to Rottnest Island.

Head for the bush, if you can, and just a few kilometres from the centre of the city you will find yourself surrounded by a natural garden. There might be orange and yellow egg-and-bacon bushes, bushy red bottlebrushes, enamel orchids glossed improbably blue and purple, gaudy red and green kangaroo paws looking as if they are cut with pinking shears from felt, and leschenaultia, covered with brilliant blue flowers like bits of crashed sky.

Magically, it seems,  everywhere the winter-drab bush has been transformed into a ready-made public park.

Further north, towards Geraldton, or inland around Moora, as the land flattens, never-ending hectares of everlasting daisies, rustling their pink and white and yellow paper skirts, shimmer off to a pastel horizon under a squawking rainbow of budgerigars and brilliant parrots. It seems as if the whole of nature has gone mad with colour.

Albany and the Stirling Ranges, about 400 kilometres south of Perth, have walking and hiking trails, gobsmacking views, orchids and boronia and many unusual flowers, some of which originated in South Africa. If you're keen to take a tour around the Ranges, the Stirling Range Retreat runs Hidden Treasure Orchid and Wildflower Tours, from September 1 to October 31. (www.stirlingrange.com.au)

Around the western goldfields (Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie) there are 60-70 different kinds of flowering eucalypts. Fitzgerald River National Park, near Hopetoun, contains almost half the orchids in WA, 70 of which only occur in this area. The Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show (www.wildflowersravensthorpe.org.au) is held each September, as is the  Kojonup Wildflower Festival (www.kojonupvisitors.com/en/Wildflowers).

Most people only associate Margaret River with its famous wines but, interestingly, this region forms part of one of only 34 internationally recognised biodiversity hot-spots in the world, with more  than 150 orchid species and 2500 or so wildflower species alone. To help visitors identify some of them, the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association has employed specialist guides and this year will run daily tours from September 15 to October 29. (www.margaretriver.com)

Close your eyes anywhere in the West and spring is still with you. There is a bouncy feel to the air, and your nose tingles from the fluffy yellow scent of wattle, the honey-buzz of gum blossom, and the unique perfume of bundles of brown and yellow boronia from the south coast, which used to be sold on street corners in Perth. Even the earth smells moss-moist and wholesome.

WA has around 12,000 species of wildflowers – more than any other state in Australia – and each year hundreds of thousands of visitors go bush to see what the fuss is all about. They are never disappointed.

Even if you're not a nature lover to start with, a walk on the wild side will soon convert you. If, that is, 'wild' means flowers, and the 'side' of the continent is the West.


The 2009 wildflower season, which extends from the far north and then sweeps south, has been a bumper so far one thanks to heavy rains around the State.

For more information, visit wildflowerswa.com. This website is the one-stop shop for all information on WA's wildflowers and includes an updated "wildflower watch", information on self-drive, and walking trails, and wildflower events.

PICKING OF WILDFLOWERS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

 

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