Nature photographers flock to this easy-to-reach national park in south-western Western Australia for its colourful wildflowers, panoramic vistas and abundant wildlife.

The outline of Bluff Knoll, the highest peak in the Stirling Range, seen from the surrounding plains.

Why visit

Located approximately 337 km south-east of Perth and just over an hours’ drive northeast of Albany, the Stirling Range National Park (Koikyennuruff in the Indigenous language) covers an area of 1,159 square kilometres and stretches for 65 kilometres from east to west. The area is known both within Australia and internationally for its astonishing range of wildflowers, covering more than 1,000 different species, some of which are found nowhere else. Many photographers come to the area just to photograph them.

But that’s not the only reason to visit the area; it also takes in a number of impressive peaks that provide panoramic views over the surrounding plains. Bluff Knoll, the tallest peak for a thousand kilometres or more in any direction is the most popular tourist attraction but Toolbrunup is only about 40 metres shorter and other peaks worth scaling include Mount Trio, Mount Hassell and Mount Magog, with altitudes in the 850-metre range.

As the only vertical obstacle to weather in any direction, the range is often clad in mist, with the highest peaks having annual rainfall estimated at about 1000 mm.

The higher peaks provide panoramic vistas of the ranges.

Despite low soil fertility, the area is recognised internationally as a biodiversity hotspot. It supports 1500 plant species, at least 87 of which are found nowhere else in the world.

One of several species of greenhood orchids found in the area.

It is also recognised by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports populations of endangered short-billed black cockatoos and western whipbirds, and is visited by endangered long-billed black-cockatoos. Other endemic bird species include red-capped and regent parrots, western rosellas, rufous treecreepers, red-winged and blue-breasted fairy wrens, purple-gaped honeyeaters, western spinebills, western thornbills, western yellow and white-breasted robins, and red-eared firetails.

Roughly 20 species of native mammals, including the reintroduced numbat, have been recorded and the range is an important site for ancient species including land snails, trapdoor spiders and giant earthworms. Expect to see large numbers of parrots and emus as well as common animals like wallabies and kangaroos.

A Glauert’s Land Snail, which is endemic to the Stirling Ranges, emerging to take advantage of heavy mist near the summit of Bluff Knoll.

When to go

Spring is the best time to visit the area if you’re interested in photographing wildflowers. Expect to see a wide variety of mountain-bells, banksias and orchids in bloom at this time. It’s also a good time for bird photography since many species begin their breeding activities during this time.

Most rain falls between May and August but overall rainfall is quite low, averaging only 575 millimetres on the southern side of the park and as little as 400 millimetres on the northern side. However, as the only vertical obstacle to weather in any direction, the range is vulnerable to weather patterns. The highest rainfall is estimated to be about 1000 mm in the area around Bluff Knoll and snow has been reported in the winter between late April and mid-November, with most occurring between June and September. Summer temperatures range between 18 and 30 degrees on the plains.

Getting there and getting around

You’ll need your own vehicle to see the best of the area, particularly if you want to take photographs. Interstate and international visitors will be able to hire a car or campervan at the airport when they land. It’s wise to book well ahead since many vehicles will be in limited supply at popular times of the year.

The Scenic Drive that crosses 40 km of the range is best travelled late in the day to take advantage of the golden light that sets the dense heath-covered hills aglow. Listed as one of Australia’s 25 best hikes, Bluff Knoll provides a rewarding challenge for bushwalkers but is easier than it looks at first glance. The views across the park from the summit are quite spectacular, particularly with the morning sun behind you.

Mt Hassle and Mount Trio are two of the easier climbs, each taking a couple of hours. Both have well-formed tracks and provide good views of the landforms and vegetation of the area. From Mount Hassle you can gaze up at the daunting peak of Toolbrunup, which is a challenging climb.

A late afternoon rain shower, viewed from the Mount Trio walk, a 3.5 km return track that leads to a viewpoint over the plains.

Where to stay

While the area is an easy drive from Albany, most people will choose to stay closer to the park or even inside it so they can be on site in the early mornings and late afternoons, which are the best times for taking pictures. The Moirup Springs campground, which is within the park, makes a good base but there are also two caravan parks, Mt Trio Bush Camp and the Stirling Range Retreat, located adjacent to the park.

A Google search will reveal a variety of hotels, motels, cottages and chalets in the villages surrounding the park. Distances range from about 30 km from the park’s centre.

What to photograph

Landscapes and wildflowers are the easiest subjects to photograph as they remain in one place. Landscape shots are best taken early or late in the day, during the ‘golden hours’, when the scenery is at its best and long shadows add depth to the picture. Capturing wildlife with your camera will be more challenging. While kangaroos, wallabies and emus are numerous and usually easy to photograph – particularly early or late in the day – you’d be very lucky to get a shot of a numbat or a western pygmy possum.

Photographers interested in Indigenous culture should look out for rocks on the bluff shaped like the eyes, which the Mineng and Goreng people believed were the eyes of an ancestral master spirit. The Nyoongar people of the area referred to Bluff Knoll as Bular Mial, meaning ‘many eyes’.


If you arrive at the right time, the carpets of spring wildflowers provide a wealth of subjects for both vistas and close-up shots. The Stirling Range, like much of Australia, is a fire-prone environment and plants like hakea and banksias open their seed cases after fire, providing interesting subjects for abstract compositions.

What gear to take

Much depends on your areas of interest and the types of pictures you’re after. But as a general rule, lighter gear will be best, particularly if you’re hiking.

Macro lenses will be required if you want to photograph wildflowers since many of them are quite small. Focal lengths equivalent to 80mm or longer in 35mm format will give you a decent working distance and allow you to shoot insects visiting the flowers without ‘spooking’ them.

A cluster of Southern Cross flowers photographed on the way up to the Bluff Knoll summit.

For landscape photography, a lens (or lenses) covering the equivalent of 24 to 135mm in 35mm format should be more than adequate. Choose a compact zoom lens if you’re hiking. Fast lenses will seldom be necessary for most landscape photography, although stabilisation will be advantageous when shooting in the forests or gullies with a hand-held camera.

Photographers working close to a vehicle will have the luxury of being able to use prime lenses and change focal lengths when required. A tripod will be handy for vehicle-based photographers, particularly for taking night shots (clear skies will be ablaze with stars) and photographing birds and animals with long lenses.

Weather-resistant gear plus a waterproof camera bag will be vital if you’re hiking any distance, particularly if you plan to climb one or more of the peaks. Both mist and rain can play havoc with unprotected gear.

Shooting tips

Match your equipment with the types of photographs you want to take. Don’t expect to cover every genre in a single shoot; the diversity is such that you will need different equipment and different approaches to give you a collection of images that is truly representative of your visit.

Pay attention to camera settings, particularly when shooting close-ups. Wide aperture settings are great for isolating subjects from distracting backgrounds. But, at times the depth of field will be too shallow to reveal the subject in detail. If your camera supports focus bracketing, this can be a great time to use it in order to record the subject as your eyes see it.

Graduated ND filters can be handy for balancing exposures in scenic shots, particularly when the landscape is backlit. But use them with discretion to ensure the end result doesn’t produce an unnatural looking band between the sky and land. HDR modes can also be useful for balancing sky and land. But, again, the settings should remain conservative to avoid that unnatural ‘processed’ look. Shoot raw files wherever possible to give you more control over the image when it’s edited.

Article by Margaret Brown (see Margaret’s photography pocket guides)

Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 85

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