The roads around Western Australia are lit up in August with the dazzling colours of the wildflowers so it’s no surprise that travellers are drawn from all over the country to see some of the most unique flora in the world. I’m a typical West Aussie who tends just to pop up to Kings Park in spring to take a look at the spectacular display gardens laden with wildflowers but this year, with the news that the season was better than ever, I felt the urge to head north to hunt for the elusive wreath flower, Leschenaultia macrantha.
I wasn’t the only one armed with a fancy camera and thermos of tea undertaking this journey of discovery. I was in the company of hundreds of travellers, all following the same route as I was or perhaps, after you’ve been on the road for a few hours, the rear end of their caravans all start to look the same as you follow along behind waiting for an opportunity to pass. Still, they’re a friendly bunch and when you’re lucky enough to meet up with them at a roadside stop, they’re always ready to share their last wildflower sighting or their favourite scenic drives.
I started my hunt at the Geraldton Visitor Centre which publishes fortnightly reports on where the wildflowers are in full swing. The assistant, equipped with a bundle of fluoro pens, drew a rainbow of routes over maps bamboozling me with many options of beautiful scenery and look-outs, including one that she said was particularly spectacular as it overlooked an area where I could see the green wheat fields, the golden canola and a spectacular mass of beautiful purple flowers all in the same place. “Do you mean Patterson’s Curse?” I asked. “Yes,” she said with a lowered voice. “But don’t tell anyone that it’s a weed.”
So, with four different maps in hand, I headed off with two main objectives. The first was to capture an image of everlastings worthy of a postcard and the second to hunt out the elusive wreath Leschenaultia (Leschenaultia macrantha).
I headed for Mullewa, a small town 99km east of Geraldton, expecting to pass the typical low growing bush and dull beige fields of nothingness that I had seen many times before but as I drove, every bend brought a sight more beautiful than the last. It seems that in August, the fields are verdant green, the wattles are ablaze with golden colour and the soil is rich red ochre. If that was all I had seen on my trip, I would have been a happy camper.
I did see a mass of everlastings when I arrived at Mullewa, albeit carefully seeded outside the visitor centre and whilst no shops were open apparently the service station did great coffee and the best chips east of Geraldton. With another flurry of fluoro, the visitor centre assistant told me that I needed to head for Morowa, a further 100km drive, but at the 50km mark I should stop at Canna to see the wild orchids. I had heard this before from a fellow traveller so I waved goodbye to the flies and headed off again.
By this time, although I had walked the tracks around Mullewa, I had seen only a few small patches of everlastings and pompoms dotted along the side of the road but nothing particularly noteworthy.
But, about 10km out of town and quite unexpectedly, I encountered the most glorious mass of pink, white and yellow; a floral carpet that spread for at least one hundred metres. I spent half an hour in that spot taking photos at every angle possible, often with my head down and my bottom up! Heaven knows what the cars driving past thought but even without the benefit of those photos, the image of these flowers will last in my memory for ever.
Accompanied by a bunch of hitch hiking flies, I drove on to Canna, the tiniest of places with a population of between 0 and 2 but with all the springtime travellers, had exploded to at least 40 from what I could see.
I couldn’t find the orchids, I think I was a bit early, but I did find a wonderful old corrugated tin hut which, according to the sign, was the home of Frank Macklin, an English ex-serviceman who had lost his wife and child in a World War I air strike and then came to the Canna region to work. He lived in this hut, which must have been like an oven in summer, with his dog until he died in 1968 at the age of 85. It still had a few gnarly old cacti growing in rusty drums and even after all these years retained a certain rustic charm and a semblance of how it must have been when he had lived there. Someone had even placed a posy of everlastings on the windowsill to give it that homely feel.
Heading on, I was still on the hunt for the wreath Leschenaultia or, as the locals call it, the wreath flowers. The instructions that I was given was to turn left onto the Morowa-Yalgoo road then drive 6km and look for the sign with the wreath flower painted on the side.
“You won’t miss it,” I was told. “There will be lots of caravans stopped on the side of the road.”
She was right. It was easy to see why the passing truckies had complained at the visitor centre that the tourists were all over the place.
So, there they were. Exquisite rings laid neatly over the gravelled surface of the roadside, each made up of dozens of flowers with frilled petals of red, white and pink. The wreath flowers were contained to an area about 200m long on both side of the road and I had been told that there were around 160 in that one spot.
“The people from Perenjori said last year that they had 280 of them,” the lady from the tourist bureau had said. “But we didn’t believe them so they sent through photos and it was true! Ours are first though, theirs aren’t out yet.”
Like everyone else, I wandered amongst them taking photos from above and pondering why it was this spot that they were growing in when they could be anywhere along these hundreds of kilometres of road that were also lined with disturbed gravel, their favourite kind.
The wreath flowers are only 5cm tall at most but up to 50cm in diameter. Mostly they lay as individual rings but every now and then they interlocked to form a pretty chain against the ochre sand. They are not endangered but are unique to small areas of the West Australian wheatbelt and Geraldton sandplains. It seems that they have not been propagated for commercial sale because from what I’ve been told, they just don’t look any good in pots but I like the fact that these elusive gems send travellers on a treasure hunt through the WA countryside. These wreath flowers are a traffic stopper, not because they are showy, but because they are a marvel of nature that leaves the mind with more questions than answers.
My trip had involved driving along the new Indian Ocean Road through seaside towns and along the beautiful WA coastline with its crystal blue water and white sand to Geraldton. I headed inland through the green and gold countryside which was adorned with nature’s jewels of red, pink, purple and orange and returned along the Brand Highway where the low growing bushes sat thick against the ground so that the emus could be seen standing tall above them. It was a journey of 1200km in just four days and it was awe-inspiring. The colours painted by Mother Nature made the routes marked in fluoro pen on my visitor centre maps pale in comparison.