Dwarfed by Nature
6 June 2012
The red tingle forests exist only within a 15km radius of the coastal town of Walpole, 430km south of Perth.
Rising majestically to heights of up to 75m, these spectacular, red-barked giants are supported by a widely buttressed trunk. What makes them distinctive is that they are susceptible to attack by fungi, insects and fire, which commonly creates a hole through the tree that can be large enough to walk through.
Unfortunately for the tingle trees, the tracks of all those who came to admire those wonderful, walk-through trunks over the years, compacted the soil around its shallow root system and the trees began to die. The more popular the tingles became, the more certain was their fate.
If you visited the Walpole-Nornalup region 20 years ago, you might have taken a photograph of your car parked in the hollowed base of a very large red tingle. When that gentle giant collapsed in 1989, it served as a wake-up call for those managing the forest.
The challenge to protect the tingles by minimising the impact of human foot traffic, while facilitating access to the forests, inspired the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walkway – the world's longest canopy walkway.
Today, one of Australia's most ingenious conservation projects is also one of WA's premier tourist attractions. Offering a thrilling wilderness experience, this high-in-the-sky walk trail beckons the brave along a 600m walkway through the canopy of the tingle forest. At the walk's highest point, you stand 40m above the forest floor, swaying just a little in the wind as you admire the birds eye-to-eye.
Consisting of six 60m-long spans, the walkway is supported by seven steel pylons rigged to the forest floor. Taking two years to build and costing the life of one young worker, the Tree Top Walkway is an inspirational attraction that keeps the needs of a precious forest in harmony with those of us compelled to venture into it.
The experience begins at a carpark deep in the forest, 13km east of Walpole. Once you purchase your entrance ticket ($8 adults, $4 kids), you proceed along the gently ascending walkway at your own pace. The narrow, see-through pathways are linked by platforms where walkers can overtake each other, or pause to take in the views.
A light drizzle on our visit only made the experience more magical as we watched the mist rise through the trees, ignited by occasional sunbeams.
According to a local ranger, most people spend 30–45 minutes on the Tree Top Walk, and when you finish, you can head back to the start and do it all again.
An hour at the top of the trees evaporated as we stood mesmerised by the canopy of giant red and yellow tingles, marri and karri trees, contemplating some impressive statistics: a red tingle tree can live for up to 400 years, grow to between 60 and 75m tall, and measure a massive 20m around its base. With grey-red, rough bark, the red tingle is the largest buttressing eucalypt, and it is this large buttress at its base that distinguishes it from other giant trees in south-west WA. Unlike other eucalypts, which have a taproot, tingle trees have small, shallow root systems that spread as they grow, causing the tree to buttress at the base for support.
Attacks from insect, fungi and fire kill off and hollow out the base of the tree, creating those amazing walk-through trunks that fascinate visitors.
The Ancient Empire boardwalk, also located at the Valley of the Giants, enables you to explore veterans like the 400-year-old Gatekeeper or Grandmother Tingle, whose 12.5m girth commands an audience.
Some of the tingles have collapsed, some appear to be precariously clinging to life, but all are astonishing. The canopy walkway, located just 300m from the original popular site, is destined to bring the tingles there a brighter fate.
Protected within Walpole-Nornalup National Park and as part of the wide reaching Walpole Wilderness Area, the tingle forests are not the only natural attraction for visitors to the area. Achieving national park status in 1910, Walpole-Nornalup National Park is the state's third oldest, preserving a diverse coastal region of tall forests, heath, wetlands, and pristine rivers and inlets.
Interestingly, pockets of private and national park land manage to co-exist in this wild and rugged region, no doubt a result of the town growing up within this special environment. The perk for travellers is that you can take a scenic tour of the park without having to leave the bitumen.
Located a mere five-minute drive from Walpole, the Knoll is a forested peninsula dividing the Walpole and Nornalup Inlets. A sealed scenic road skirts the Knoll and leads to picnic spots and walk trails where gnarled trees resist the Southern Ocean winds howling across the water. The nearby Coalmine Beach Holiday Park makes a convenient base for those keen to explore this area.
Heading west out of town, the turn-off to Rest Point leads to another section of Nornalup Inlet that is a favourite haunt of the local pelicans. On our visit, pelicans with wings magnificently outstretched stood drying themselves in a light drizzle.
The Walpole and Nornalup Inlets are fantastic places to explore by kayak or tinny (all those boat trailers at the ramps are testimony to that). But to feel the full force of the Southern Ocean, head west to Mandalay Beach. The wind here is extremely exhilarating, so rug up and get set to explore.
From the carpark lookout, there are excellent views of Chatham Island, just 3km offshore. Then there's that interesting head on display – a replica of the figurehead from the Norwegian barque Mandalay wrecked on the beach in 1911 during a passage from South Africa to nearby Albany. After beaching their vessel, Captain Emile Tonnessen and his crew safely made it to shore, but were stranded until rescued by local farmers.
According to locals, the Mandalay rises from the sands about once every 10 years. We must have timed our visit just right! Walk about 200m east along the beach and look for the rusting iron structures protruding through the breaking waves.
The energy of the formidable Southern Ocean makes for an invigorating beach walk here. Stride out along the sands towards Long Point or explore the headland across from Chatham Island.
Few visitors enjoy this beach more than the hardy Bibbulmun Track walkers who hike for around seven weeks from Perth to set their sights on this sea. If you meet one of these tough 'end-to-enders', offer a hearty congratulation, perhaps some fresh food and offer to take care of any rubbish they might be carrying.
And be just a little envious. Before that hiker reaches the end of the Bibbulmun Track at Albany, they would have trekked across stretches of the magnificent Walpole Wilderness Area that few of us will ever see.
Walpole-Nornalup Visitor Centre
Tel: (08) 9840 1111
Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk
Tel: (08) 9840 8263
Entry Fees: $8 adults, $4 kids (6-15 years), $6 concessions (disability/age), $22 family pass, and is free for kids under six years. Assisted wheelchairs are permitted.
PLACES TO STAY
Coalmine Beach Holiday Park
Coalmine Beach Road Walpole WA 6398
Tel: 1800 670 026
Old Peaceful Bay Rd Peaceful Bay WA 6333
Tel: (08) 9840 8060
Rest Point Holiday Village Rest Point Road Walpole WA 6398
Tel: (08) 9840 1032
Crystal Springs Campground
The national park campground at Crystal Springs, 13km west of town, charges nightly fees of $6.50 (adults), $4.50 (concession) and $2 (kids under 16 years). Only consider this option if your vehicle is compact.
WORDS BY CATHERINE LAWSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID BRISTOW