The Bluff Knoll Hike in Western Australia
The mist swirled around the summit as I drove under the shadow of the huge mountain that I was travelling towards, in order to begin the Bluff Knoll hike in Western Australia.
The Bluff Knoll hike is one of the best walks in WA. The trail would take me from the car park at the base of the mountain and upwards, to the lofty summit which stands 1099 metres in height and is known as one of the few spots in Western Australia to have ever experienced snowfall.
The trail would be steep, and the climate at the top cold, but the Bluff Knoll hike would prove to be a spectacular, mountain walk.
Bluff Knoll and The Stirling Range
Bluff Knoll is the tallest peak in the Stirling Range, an extensive group of mountains found in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, five hours from Perth to the north and just an hour or so from Albany in the south.
With its southern location and high peak, Bluff Knoll has experienced snowfall on more than one occasion. In fact, every few years, snow has been recorded on the top, which for Western Australia is a very rare sight indeed.
Bluff Knoll though, is not the highest peak in the state. No, that accolade goes to Mount Meharry in the Pilbara, far to the north which stands at 1249 metres in height, while even Mount Bruce, a mountain I’d also conquered in the Pilbara, stood at 1234 metres in height.
The hike, although hard, is by no means challenging, even in comparison to other mountains within the Stirling Ranges itself. Many of the peaks that you can see stretching out across the land from the summit of Bluff Knoll are much more difficult or technical climbs to attempt. Bluff Knoll is classified as a Class 4 walk, and many of its neighbours are set at the more arduous Class 5 by the National Park.
Bluff Knoll, perhaps because of the rare snowfall, perhaps because of its distinctive shape and intriguing name, is a much more legendary hike than either of its taller cousins in the north and any of its shorter cousins in the range. Bluff Knoll is continually surrounded with a dense layer of mist, that swirls around the summit as the wind pushes it between the gulleys and the rocks. It’s an almost mystical sight to see from far below and of course, with the Stirling Range being the only major mountain range south of Perth, who wouldn’t want to reach the highest point in the south, by climbing to the top of Bluff Knoll WA.
At the base of Bluff Knoll Western Australia is a car park, with spectacular views of the face of the mountain. From here the trail begins, and from here, I could see the misty mountaintop in the distance.
In local Aboriginal history, Bluff Knoll was a place to be avoided. It’s a place of treacherous gulleys, rocky climbs and deathly legends. The indigenous people who lived in these lands for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans named this peak Pualaar Miial, the place of many eyes, for its distinctly rocky facade. The mist that I could see shrowding the summit, was given the name Noatch, a name which translates into English as ‘Dead Body’. This dangerous mist, that made the mountaintop cold and that could send hikers down the wrong path, or even to their deaths, was something to be feared, something of an otherworldly nature.
The local stories only add to Bluff Knoll’s aura, but the hike itself is no longer as dangerous as it perhaps once was. Now, there is a convenient trail to follow from the carpark, which is steep and sharp in places but well marked and well kept, with steps in place for much of the early, sharp inclines. In reality, if you are an experienced hiker, then you will find the Bluff Knoll trail to be more of a steep stroll than a challenging hike.
Still, the views from the top make it more than worthwhile.
The Bluff Knoll Hike
I was still sweating as I neared the 1-kilometre sign just before the summit though, as the sun was beating down ferociously. Suddenly though, the wind picked up and the mist began swirling around me, dropping the temperature drastically enough for me to temporarily stop sweating and to pull on a jumper.
The trail is 3 kilometres each way and before long I had reached the rocky plateau that forms the peak of Bluff Knoll, and that offers spectacular views out over the surrounding Stirling Ranges and even as far south as the closeby Porongurup National Park, which I could see far off on the horizon.
The summit was significantly colder than the low lands where I had climbed from, but the mist cleared for long enough that I could enjoy the beautiful vistas far across the land, before it began swirling in again, and I turned around to make the journey back to the car park at the base of Bluff Knoll.
The Bluff Knoll Hike Guide
The Bluff Knoll hike is not the hardest walk to undertake in Western Australia or even the hardest within the Stirling Range National Park where it is found, but it is still one of the most dramatic and the most iconic walks that can be found in the state, if not the entire country.
The hike itself is classified as a Class 4 by the Department of Parks and Wildlife, which essentially means it is strenuous but not too taxing. There are many steps leading part of the way to the summit, which traverse the steepest sections and the trail is incredibly well marked.
Saying that though, hikers have been known to be injured or even worse while attempting the hike. In summer, the weather can be boiling hot, but due to the 1099 metre elevation, can shift drastically at the summit to surround the peak in a cold microclimate, leading to dehydration on the way up and hypothermia at the top! In winter, that problem is exacerbated, and the conditions can be freezing at the summit.
Take appropriate clothing with you and even if you are hot in the sun before you start the walk, you may appreciate a warm jumper at the summit. In winter, warm clothing and a raincoat is a must. Take plenty of water all year round and even more water than usual in summer.
The total length of the trail is 6 kilometres, there and back, and average walking time is 3 hours return. No maps are needed.
Location of Bluff Knoll Car Park
The hike begins and ends at the Bluff Knoll car park, which can be found on the map below. Access is via a sealed road and it’s possible to enter the Stirling Range National Park from either the north if arriving from Perth or from the south if travelling from Albany. All hikers must pay a $12 per car national park fee, or have a valid park’s pass. From Perth, it’s a journey of 400 kilometres, which will take 4-5 hours and from Albany, it’s a journey of 100 kilometres, which takes around an hour and a half.
At the Bluff Knoll car park there can be found basic toilet facilities and picnic benches for when you get back!
Bluff Knoll Accommodation
Being situated quite far from Albany and even further from Perth, it may be wise to spend the night before or after in or around the Stirling Ranges, or even to spend a few days in the region to tackle other peaks and to see the Porongurups to the south. It’s quite an empty part of the state, but there are a few bluff Knoll accommodation options available to hikers, but most are quite basic.
Moingup Springs Campsite – This is the only campsite within the boundaries of the Stirling Range National Park. There are toilets, gas BBQs and picnic benches available. Advance bookings cannot be made, but there are plenty of spots available. There’s a small fee which is payable either to the ranger if they are present or which can be placed in the honesty box. The campsite is just a short drive from the start of the Bluff Knoll hike and is the best place to stay overnight if you want to attempt the walk in the morning.
Stirling Range Retreat – The Stirling Range Retreat is found by the northern entrance to the Stirling Ranges and is another excellent choice of Bluff Knoll accommodation. They have a wide range of options, from basic, unpowered campsites to more luxurious chalets. There are toilet and shower facilities and they even offer a few tours. You can find out more on their website.
Mt Trio Bush Camp – The bush camp is found on the outskirts of the Stirling Ranges and although it’s quite remote, it’s a spectacular place to experience the wild mountains and to be immersed in nature. Visit the Mt Trio Bush Camp website to find out more.
Porongorup Range Tourist Park – Just a half hour drive to the south are the equally spectacular Porongurups, a beautiful section of rocky, granite mountains and rocks. It’s worth a stop if you are visiting the Stirling Ranges anyway, and nearby you can find the Porongurup Range Tourist Park to stay at, with camping spots and basic facilities available. Find out more here.
Albany – The largest city in the region is Albany found 100 kilometres away on the south coast. It’s a great base from which to hike not only Bluff Knoll, but to explore the rest of the surrounding area. In Albany you can find everything, from budget dormitories to more luxurious hotels.
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett