Saturday, August 9, 2014

Blooming Western Australian Desert

It's easy to forget Australia is more than an endless coastline and Uluru. The Lucky Country is just too huge, and sometimes unforgiving, for casual trips across the continent, and air travel can be prohibitively expensive. Even many native Australians don't get far beyond the narrow strips of high population density on the east and west coasts, to an interior largely considered barren desert or dry cropland eked out of the bush. Not surprisingly then, many of the largely urban Western Australian population never experience the spectacular, seasonal carpets of wildflowers that paint the rural countryside within easy reach. Maybe they are victims of their own domestic marketing of beaches and a large rock.

Australia is the driest continent. Excepting the occasional summer cyclone, even prime farmland in the Wheatbelt of south-western Australia can go months between rains, which finally come in the temperate winter months of June through early September. With welcome moisture comes an explosion in colorful flowers.

Mingenew, also known as The Grain Centre, is a northern outpost of the Wheatbelt that hosts spectacular displays of wildflowers between late July to early October. It also has a giant sculpture of a wheat stalk, "Big Ears," reminiscent of the many superlative "mascot statuary" found throughout rural Australia and North America. Mingenew's bulk-handling grain receiving facility is boasted as the largest silo in the Southern Hemisphere. The area's flirtation between native bush and farms is a reminder of how close the vast, sparsely-populated interior of the Australian continent is to the sea. We visited in August of 2009, considered one of the best wildflower displays in years.

Wildflowers make for a great faily day trip that's 100% Aussie.

Located 33 km north east of Mingenew, nearby Coalseam Conservation Park is a particularly vibrant site known for its blankets of yellow pom poms and pink and white everlastings. But if you're pressed for time, Mingenew Hill near the center of town has similarly impressive displays of these native blooms. More fantastical wildflowers include banksias, grevillias and hakeas.

Yellow pom poms and pink everlastings.

To get there from Perth, head north on Mitchell Freeway (State Route 2) for thirty kilometers, then east for 26.4 kilometers in total on Burns Beach Road (87), which merges with Joondalup Drive (85) and then turns into Neaves Road (359). Head north on Muchea South Drive (359) for nine kilometers until it intersects Brand Highway, the National Route 1. Continue north for 295 kilometers on the Brand before heading east on Midlands Road (116). Look for signs for Mingenew, 45.7 kilometers down Midlands Road.

For a wildflower display at the opposite time of the year and on the other side of the world, see Northern Minnesota wildflowers.