It’s a cool crisp morning as we meander along the sandy track, navigating the overhanging branches and sprawling scrub on either side of the path.
Even though we are in the midst of a seasonal change with winter snapping at our heels, there are still pops of colour springing up amongst the dense bush landscape.
Sunny yellow and cloud-white flowers paint a pretty picture as we continue along the 3.7-kilometre circuit. The wallum heath that is Kathleen McArthur Conservation Park takes in the shoreline of the expansive Currimundi Lake and leads to the sandy edge of the ocean. It is home to more than 1000 different flora and fauna species, including an array of wildflowers.
It was the latter that was of particular interest to naturalist Kathleen McArthur, the “Lady of the Wildflowers” who campaigned to preserve Queensland environments that were under threat of development, including the Sunshine Coast’s beautiful wallum heathlands.
As recorded by Sunshine Coast Council Heritage, “The Wallum was a moisture-retentive sandy wilderness where tea-trees flourished” and ran parallel to the coastline, taking in Caloundra, Currimundi, Coolum and Peregian Beach.
Kathleen, a conservationist and botanical artist, was one of the founding members of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ) and also founded the Caloundra branch (now known as Sunshine Coast & Hinterland Inc). She sought to “bridge the gap between science and the public” by connecting the community with the local flora.
And she did just that, bringing the world of native flowers into the limelight by hosting the region’s first Wildflower Show at her Caloundra home in 1967. “Kathleen was a woman ahead of her times and she wasn’t afraid to speak up to the mainly male establishment of the time when she felt something was important,” reflects wildflower conservationist and WPSQ Sunshine Coast & Hinterland Inc secretary, Jude Crighton.
“To this end, she set out to engage the community.”
By 1968 the Wildflower Show was attracting around 3000 visitors, which meant it could no longer be sustained in Kathleen’s small garden.
From little things, big things grow.
Today, the annual Sunshine Coast Wildflower Festival includes 25 guided walks, workshops and exhibitions that are hosted by the region’s environmental groups.
The walks take in bushland and parks between Bribie Island and Noosa National Park, and aim to educate the wider community about the importance of landcare and our native flora and fauna.
The Sunshine Coast has more than 1600 individual plant and fungi species and the festival is specifically timed and scheduled around the flowering of the wallum heath species – although spring sparks the flowering of other plant varieties too.
Jude says these walks are a great way for residents and visitors to familiarise themselves with local plant life.
“The walks take around two hours and we put together a species list for people who want to learn and remember what they see,” she adds. “What drives the success of the festival is that it is established time in the outdoors.
“People are concentrating on natural vegetation. It takes time away from stress and is a lovely experience.”
Jude says there is always something new and exciting to discover in the great outdoors.
“Each year because of the different weather conditions leading up to the flowering, different plants show themselves in different ways. You can go for a walk anytime of year and find tiny, beautiful little things.
“People come along on our regular fauna watch walks and wonder why we are wandering along slowly. You certainly don’t do it for hard exercise,” Jude laughs. “It’s about taking the time to concentrate on the small things.
“It is about learning and preserving our environment, about protecting these precious little patches that we have got left. We need to appreciate them.”
WHERE TO SEE WILDFLOWERS
Ben Bennett Bushland Park
Featuring about a dozen trails through the park, ranging in length from 800 metres to 1100 metres return, this reserve boasts forestland, as well as eucalyptus and heath systems. You will find a wide range of wildflowers through late winter into spring, including the hairy pea bush and blue flax lily.
Forming part of the Maroochy to Noosa wallum corridor, these heathland dunes come alive with colour through the late winter and early spring months, and offer ocean and hinterland views across to Lake Weyba. You will find different species of banksias, as well as twiggy bearded heath and the white wedding bush flowers. You can join the track at Calliandra Grove at north Peregian Beach, or from David Low Way at Marcus Beach.
Kathleen McArthur Conservation Park
Considered one of the best locations in the region for wildflower viewing, this pretty reserve has a plethora of white species including the white twiggy bearded heath and wallum tea-tree, as well as pops of pink wallum boronia. Purple native irises tend to sprout up trackside, and you might spy a sun orchid or spotty pink hyacinth orchid if you are really lucky.
Emu Mountain Summit Walk
Noosa National Park, Peregian
Naturally created from remnant rhyolite rock from a volcanic mass, the coastal heath of Emu Mountain is home to an array of vivid wildflowers. Here you will discover a wild spring garden of swamp banksias, white wallum tea-tree and rice flowers, as well as the bright yellow wallum wedge pea. The area also houses the largest population of the endangered red-flowered Emu Mountain she-oak in Noosa National Park.
Mooloolah River National Park
Jowarra section – Beerwah Forest Reserve
One of the few remaining coastal rainforest areas, Jowarra is home to melaleuca forests, wallum banksias, guinea flowers, purple and pink boronias, blue lilies and fan flowers, as well as bottle brushes and iris and vanilla lilies. Later in the year you may be lucky to spot the pretty red Christmas bell flowering. As chronicled by Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage website, during the early 1920s right up until the 1950s, residents collected wildflower blooms to earn money when times were tough. Bunches of wildflowers including Christmas bells were sold for 20 cents a bunch at local railway stations and were also sent by rail to be sold at the Brisbane Markets.
Isabel Jordan Bushland Reserve
This small section of wallum heath runs alongside Caloundra Road and is home to the beautiful pink boronia flower. According to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage department, wildflowers had many uses for our early pioneers. During the hard times of the Great Depression, boronia were used to make pretty posies for mothers and girlfriends.
The Sunshine Coast Wildflower Festival continues to be a popular nature event, with up to 500 people attending each year, across a range of ages.
In 2023, it will be held from Saturday, August 19 to Sunday, September 3 and tickets are limited.
The full program will be listed at events.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au with bookings opening Monday, July 3.
In the meantime, visit adventure.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au to find out more about local walks.
- Always follow any local signage. It contains key information and conditions can change at any time.
- Use the trails with consideration for your abilities. Council’s adventure.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au website contains information about track skill level.
- Be aware of the weather conditions and check BOM ahead of your walk.
- Always wear appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Always bring more water than you think you will need.
- Be sun safe.
- Always let someone who isn’t going with you know where you are going walking.