The Yonga Trail

Where: Lesueur National Park
Length: 26 kilometre loop (two days with an overnight camp, or one big day)
Park hours: 24/7
Difficulty: Grade 4
Cost: National Park entry fees apply per vehicle + Yonga Campsite must be booked

Kwongan (Nyungar): …a type of country …[that is] sandy and is open without timber-sized trees but with a scrubby vegetation. It consists of plains in an Australian sense of open country rather than in a strict sense of flat country. … there are two principal plant formations in the kwongan, scrub heath and broombush thicket … both … are sclerophyll shrublands and possess a certain unity when contrasted with woodland and forest or steppe and succulent steppe communities. – ecologist John Stanley Beard, 1976

Lesueur National Park, 20 minutes from Jurien Bay, is home to a mind-bogglingly diverse community of native flora and fauna. This single park on the Coral Coast contains more than 10% of Western Australia’s known plant species, many of which are unique to this 26,987ha slice of pristine kwongan. Spring brings an explosion of colour, with an amazing variety of orchids and other flowering plants over a relatively small area.

The Yonga Trail, opened in August of 2021, is a 26km loop walk that starts and ends at the Drummond car park – just off the park’s main drive. Yonga Campsite is 14km from the trailhead if hiking anticlockwise, and 12km if walking clockwise. The 14km section comes with an optional side trip to the top of Mount Lesueur, which adds about 30 minutes to the walk.

The trail takes you on a tour of Lesueur National Park’s spectacular kwongan heathland, diving in and out of patches of wandoo woodland along the way. As well as a stunning variety of flowers, you’re likely to see pink and grey galahs, western corellas, wedge tailed eagles, and maybe even a few Carnaby’s black cockatoos. Personally, I don’t know of a hike you can do in a weekend out of Perth that shows you a richer slice of WA’s ecology.

My partner and I hiked the Yonga Trail on the first weekend after it was officially opened, and we soon realised the pitfalls of hiking a brand new trail. Instead of a well-trod footpath, most of the trail was a narrow strip of recently-cleared vegetation and rock that was rough and uneven. It is well signposted, but we often found ourselves scanning the horizon for the next marker in sections where the trail was only loosely defined. Normally I’m a fan of lightweight trail runners, but since my Altra Lone Peaks were impaled by an errant stick I’d recommend some sturdier shoes for this hike.

We opted to hike anticlockwise and summit Mount Lesueur on day one, giving us plenty of time to get back to Perth on day two. The mountain is a flat-topped mesa that juts prominently out of a basin, giving it broad views over the park and the surrounding farmland. After reaching the top – and snapping photos of dozens of different wildflowers on the way up – we headed back down to the Wandoo Lookout where the Yonga Trail diverts from the Gairdner and Lesueur Trails.

We spent the afternoon wandering through dramatic kwongan hillsides and beautifully shady patches of wandoo, first to the east before gradually turning north towards Yonga Campsite. It’s possible we’ve been pampered by the Bibbulmun Track and its relatively well-graded surface, but we found the Yonga to be a slog. It dips in and out of countless tiny valleys, gleefully ignoring contour lines. The track is often uneven on a left-right axis, meaning your left foot is regularly at a completely different level to your right. It’s a physio’s nightmare, but the views are worth it. When we finally staggered into camp just before sunset, we were spent.

The campground is unusual for WA, featuring three raised metal grille platforms on which you can pitch freestanding tents. A three-sided shelter has more metal grille, plus a small wooden platform. All must be booked in advance. The shelter looks out to a broad valley, which turned gold at sunset. It’s a spectacular spot. We’d booked one of the platforms, but opted for the shelter after finding the place deserted. There is also a water tank and a drop toilet. Mosquitos were out in force when we arrived, so we were forced to retreat to the safety of our tent. Next time, we’d bring insect repellent.

The next day we hiked an equally tough 12km back to the car, climbing several hills and dipping into valleys along the way. One of the great things about Lesueur is its bowl topography, which allows you to see for miles when you get to any sort of elevation. We arrived back at the car just after noon, and headed into Jurien Bay for a bakery lunch before the 2.5 hour drive home.

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