IMAGINE climbing a tree that boasts a viewing platform 60 metres above the ground.
The southern forests of Western Australia offer three such lofty fire lookout tree-towers: the Gloucester Tree (3km from Pemberton), the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree (8km from Pemberton) and the Diamond Tree (10km south of Manjimup).
Of the three, we opted to explore the Bicentennial Tree, and for one very good reason: it has the highest treetop lookout in the world, with the top viewing platform a dizzying 75 metres aloft.
Impressed? Well, consider this: how did someone manage to climb the thing without the steps and platforms in the first place? It was enough to make me think, but I admit to being a bit of a chicken when it comes to heights.
There was no way I’d climb this tall timber, and I always have the excuse of looking after our one-year-old.
To reach the Bicentennial Tree, follow the Heartbreak Trail in Warren National Park, a one-way 4WD loop through tall karri forest. Even with our off-road camper trailer in tow, we had no trouble following the sometimes twisty, sometimes steep track; though, be warned: it’s not advisable to take a motor home or caravan along some of the narrow stretches here.
Our first stop was the Warren River Lookout, where the kids enjoyed a run-around. I discovered, to my surprise, that the Warren River is salty – strange, considering the distance of the ocean.
Apparently it works like this: spray is whipped up off the Southern Ocean by westerlies, and cold fronts deflect the salty, moisture-laden air up over the south-west of Australia where it falls with rain.
Next stop: the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, named for a local politician with a special interest in tree-towers; he even wrote a book about them. In 1994, Evans was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to the State.
The sight of the Bicentennial Tree is impressive enough. Peering upwards at all those rungs disappearing skyward (130, I discovered later) is a real wow moment.
Local forester Don Stewart came up with the idea of using the tallest karris as fire lookouts. And, in case you’re still pondering my earlier question, his colleague Jack Watson designed his own climbing gear and would use it to scale 40 trees from which he chose the best lookouts. Rungs were hammered into the trunk of each suitable tree, and cabins were built in their canopies.
The Bicentennial Tree’s lowest viewing platform is at a mere 25 metres, where the faint-hearted might linger while the true daredevil will forge upwards to that 75-metre ceiling.
The treetop cabin weighs two tonnes and, for obvious safety reasons, only four people at a time are allowed inside. In a strong breeze, the tree will sway 1.5 metres at top lookout level. Yet the view is spectacular (or so I was told by a brave soul who made it all the way to the top), offering 40km panoramas across the treetops to surrounding farmland.
Visiting a fire lookout tree-tower proved a memorable experience. And next time, I have promised myself, I will climb the thing (especially because I won’t have the excuse of looking after my one-year-old any more).
See you up there!