The brooding beauty of the mountain landscape, its stunning and unique wildflowers and the challenge of climbing Bluff Knoll have long drawn bushwalkers and climbers to the Stirling Range National Park, an area of 115 920 hectares. At 1,095 metres above sea level, Bluff Knoll is the highest peak in the south-west of Western Australia. The main face of the bluff forms one of the most impressive cliffs in the Australian mainland. It takes three to four hours to complete the six-kilometre return climb.
The jagged peaks of the Stirling Range stretch for 65 kilometres from east to west. The rocks of the range were once sands and silts deposited in the delta of a river flowing into a shallow sea. Deposited over many millions of years, these layers of sediment became so thick and heavy that, they caused the crust in the area to sink. As the surface subsided, still more sediment was deposited in the depression which was left. The final thickness of sediment is believed to be over 1.6 kilometres! As the sediment built up, so did the pressure on the layers below. The water was forced out of these layers, which solidified to become rocks known as sandstones and shales. The rocks which form today’s Stirling Range were gradually exposed over millions of years as the surrounding rocks were worn away by the forces of weathering and. It was during this process that the current form of the range was sculpted.
Bluff Knoll was called Bular Mial (many eyes) or Bala Mial (his eyes) by Nyoongar people, depending on the intent of the speaker. This was because the rocks on the bluff were shaped like the eyes of the ancestral master spirit that are visible on the mountain today. The peak is often covered with mists that curl around the mountain tops and float into the gullies. These constantly changing mists were believed to be the only visible form of the Noyt (meaning spirit).
The range was first recorded by Matthew Flinders in 1802. In 1831, Surgeon Alexander Collie recorded the Aboriginal name of the range, Koi Kyeunu-ruff, which was provided to him by his Aboriginal guide Mokare. Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe travelled to Perth with Governor Sir James Stirling in 1835 and glimpsed “some remarkable and elevated peaks”. Roe called them the Stirling Range. The area was declared a national park in 1913, at a time where the dominant culture was towards clearing the bush and converting it to farmland.
The number and beauty of the wildflowers is staggering. The park is one of the world’s most important areas for flora, with 1,500 species (many of which grow nowhere else) packed within its boundaries. More species occur in the Stirling Range than in the entire British Isles and 87 plant species found in the Stirling Range occur nowhere else on earth. This tally includes the famous mountain bells of the genus Darwinia. Needless to say, spring wildflower viewing is incredible. There are an astonishing 123 orchid species — 38 per cent of all known Western Australian orchids. Between August to December the white flowers of southern cross (Xanthosia rotundifolia), which resembles the four stars of the Southern Cross constellation, are a common sight.
An ideal time to visit is late spring and early summer (October to December), when days are beginning to warm up and the wildflowers are at their best. Winter, between June and August, is cold and wet, and visitors should come prepared. Even in spring the weather can be unpredictable, particularly higher in the range. Sudden cold changes cause the temperature to drop and rain or hail to set in. All visitors are strongly advised not to enter the bush or use footpaths on days of extreme fire danger.
The Stirling Range is renowned for its unusual and sometimes spectacular cloud formations. Park visitors may notice two types of unusual cloud formations about the peaks, often when the rest of the sky is clear. A shallow, low-level stratified cloud that drapes over the higher peaks is a familiar sight. The range is one of few places in Western Australia where snow occasionally falls. Snow probably falls on the highest peaks several times each year. On most occasions it is only a light dusting or the snow melts on impact. However, falls above five centimetres have been reported on Bluff Knoll. Snow may occur at any time in winter and sometimes in spring.