“I want to take my family on a nature hike but I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to head too far out of town” ….If this sounds like you, here’s your essential guide to family-friendly nature walks right near the heart of Mandurah.
You are almost guaranteed to spot dolphins and colourful birds, and maybe even a whale during migration season if you are lucky! The nature reserves spring into colour with the wildflower blooms in spring, and all this just a few kilometres from the city centre. So if you’re a Mandurah local looking for a way to wear out the kids this weekend, or visiting our beautiful little part of the world, there is something for everyone to enjoy in our protected reserves.
Mariners Cove Nature Trail
Where is it?Starts at the corner of Mariners Cove Drive and Darwin Terrace with parking available outside the front of the Nourishing The Soul café.
If you’re after a peaceful morning enjoying nature and fresh air, you really don’t need to wander far at all. The Creery Wetlands are only 3km from Mandurah CBD yet you’d never guess you were in the centre of one of the largest cities in the state.
This nature reserve is nestled in the suburb of Mariners Cove along the shore of the Peel Inlet. Protected from invasive species such as cats and foxes by a large fence, this nature sanctuary is home to over 75 species of birds and some rare native mammals such as quendas.
You have the option here of walking the 3km loop through the woodlands or exploring the boardwalks that extend out over the wetlands, or both. The path through the woodlands is wide, flat and firm making it an easy walk and suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. The shade offers some relief from the sun on a hot day.
The boardwalks are another great child-friendly nature playground. We have taken our daughter here since she could crawl knowing she was safe to explore (under our supervision, of course) but would not be able to reach the wildlife. Many of the small birds will fly and land quite close by – quite an exciting spectacle for a curious young mind.
You may be greeted along your walk by some curious kangaroos. On our latest visit to the Creery Wetlands we stopped for a few minutes to allow some rather chilled out roos to take their time moving off the path for us. Although friendly, it is best to give all the wildlife space so they are not threatened or disturbed by your presence.
If you are lucky you might spot a quenda, a small sub-species of bandicoot. They look a bit similar to and may be mistaken for a rat but don’t be alarmed if you see one, it is a rare treat to spot one in the wild.
Bird hides along the way give you the opportunity to watch the estuary birds up close without scaring them off. We were lucky enough to see many pelicans and black swans floating, along with many other birds I am not skilled enough to identify.
In spring in particular, the abundance of birdlife is bewildering. It is wonderful to find such a vibrant ecosystem right in the centre of a bustling city.
Another great feature of this trail is the tower at the entrance. From the top you can see far over the wetlands and the estuary. After a morning exploring nature and letting the kids burn off their energy, why not enjoy a relaxing coffee or lunch at the neighbouring Nourishing The Soul café. You can even sometimes see dolphins playing in the water from the outside seating area.
Samphire Cove Trail, Samphire Wetlands Reserve
Where is it? The corner of Egret Point and Wedgetrail Retreat with a small parking area on Wedgetail Retreat.
This short walk is the ideal little escape into the wetlands of Mandurah. Starting at the base of the ramp up to Mandurah Estuary Bridge, this trail wanders through the scrub to a first bird hide before heading out over a long boardwalk over the samphire scrub.
The boardwalk is narrower here than the Mariners Cove Nature Trail and probably not suitable for prams and wheelchairs, but still a great area for toddlers and older children to explore. As you walk along the boardwalk you pass the remains of old fence posts, a reminder of the time that this used to be all farmland. To the east you can admire the impressive canal houses, and to the west you can view across the Peel Inlet.
At the end of the boardwalk the path follows back into the woodland and then to a second bird hide. We stopped here to give the kids a snack and watch a large flock of black swans resting on a small island opposite. Informative signs in the hides picture and identify the many different bird species you can find in the area.
Nature Trail, Len Howard Conservation Park
Where is it? Turn off Dampier Avenue just as it meets Glendart Court, Erskine
There are actually two trails here. The shorter 1km loop Nature Trail, Len Howard Reserve and the longer 1km Erskine Nature Trail. Both have such similar names it’s a little confusing but you can think of the shorter one as just the initial loop at the start of the longer one.
We have walked the loop so many times I would not be able to count. This is another great little sanctuary for toddling babies to wear themselves out. Just a hundred metres or so from the car park there is a pagoda and short boardwalk out over the water. We have spent many hours here running up and down the boardwalk and watching the birds. Occasionally you can spot dolphins chasing fish in the extreme shallows. It can be so shallow here that the dolphins cannot do the characteristic bobbing up and down, they just glide with their dorsal fin sticking out of the water. On more than one occasion I have thought I’d seen a shark but it was not. As soon as they have enough water depth you see them swimming like a dolphin again.
One of my favourite birds, the splendid fairy wren, nests amongst the bushes here. These are one species of bird that do not migrate so you can spot them year round.
The longer Erskine Nature Trail continues past the pagoda and through the scrub passing several viewing platforms and a bird hide. It is often so still in the early morning that the estuary is glassy and creates perfect reflections of the clouds above.
Further along the trail it winds through a series of small estuary ponds before popping out at the Marine Quay. You can either turn around here or continue walking along the shore past Osprey Waters and to the Mandurah Estuary Bridge. It is possible to walk or cycle the all the way along the estuary from Falcon in the south end of Avocet Island to either Mandurah Estuary Bridge across to Dudley Park or Mandurah Bridge (the newest bridge) over to the town centre.
Alternatively, if you prefer the seaside route you can walk the Halls Head Coastal trail (https://trailswa.com.au/trails/halls-head-coastal-trail/about) all the way from the Dawesville Channel to Halls Head.
Halls Head Coastal Walk
Where is it?Pretty much the entire western side of Avocet Island from the end of Westview Parade in the South to Halls Head Parade in the north. You can continue to walk further around the island back to the bridge across to the town centre.
The Halls Head Nature Trail follows the coast all the way from the Dawesville Cut to Doddies Beach in Halls Head. At 12km long is too long for most young hikers, but the great thing about this route is that there are so many access points. You can park and join the trail at numerous locations along its length and walk as far as you feel comfortable.
This is the ideal trail if your little explorers like spotting dolphins, or maybe even the occasional whale or seal. The path follows has section of both paved and boardwalk and is suitable for walkers, prams, wheelchairs as well as bicycles. With plenty of benches along its route, as well as playgrounds, cafes and beach access you could spend the whole day just exploring this piece of coastline.
Seascapes Boulevard is a great starting point. You can walk a short section of the trail, perhaps have a swim in the sea, let the kids play in the playground and enjoy a family fish and chips dinner at the picnic benches – the perfect way to end a fun family afternoon.
If you’re after something more strenuous why not cycle from Wannanup all the way up to Mandurah town centre and enjoy breakfast at one of the many amazing eateries on the foreshore?
North of the city you can enjoy the northern Coastal Trail from Silver Sands to Madora Bay.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Peel-Harvey Estuary was dry land not too long ago? Or that Rottnest and Garden Islands were not islands at all?
We often think of geological events happening over such long time spans that they far surpass human history. However, the Aboriginal culture in this area has actually existed long enough to see several of these episodes of dry followed by invasion by the sea. This is because in the over forty thousand years since humans first settled in southwest Western Australia Earth has passed through more than one cycle of ice age. During the warmer times there are no ice caps and sea levels rise. Conversely, when it is cooler much of the fresh water on earth is caught up in polar ice caps and sea level falls. It was during these cooler phases that early humans would have been able to walk over to Rottnest Island.
Human impact on the Estuary
The Nyoongar people were the first inhabitants of this land and still hold a deep cultural and spiritual connection. For tens of thousands of years they coexisted with the native animals, leaving no discernable trace on the ecosystem. Unfortunately, the human impact of population growth and intensive farming since European settlement in the 1830s has told a different story. Much of the land surrounding the estuary was cleared for agriculture and fertilisers applied. The environmental impact of removing vegetation and its soil-binding root systems, and applying fertiliser to increase crop yield had a great effect on the estuary.
Fertilisers have the same effect in our water ways as they do on land: they help plants grow. The consequence of this run off from agricultural land is that nutrients such as phosphorous, potassium and sulphur Flow into our estuary – and the algae love it!
During the 1800s and up until around 1970 algal blooms became a regular occurrence. This reduced the oxygen content of the water and caused many fish deaths. The knock-on effect was felt throughout the ecosystem. When these enormous blooms of algae die, they do what all living organisms do when they decay – they stink!! The estuary was not in a good way.
Together the government and agricultural industries worked to reduce fertiliser run-off and improve the health of the estuary. The Dawesville channel was dug in 1994 allowing for greater circulation of water and flushing out the whole system.
Today we have a much healthier estuary. Efforts to protect our waterways continue so we can preserve this area of both cultural and ecological significance for generations to come. The Peel-Harvey Catchment Council is working with the Regional Estuaries Initiative to study the pastoral land around the estuary and establish the best fertiliser practices to both achieve the best yield for the farmers and the long-term wellbeing of our waterways.
I recently attended one of these Soil Testing Workshops and was invited by PHCC and Peel Bright Minds to write a blog about the incredible work being done. You can read about it here.
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