Enjoy a a picnic at Membenup or Layman.
Possum night spotlighting trail
Easy 1.5-kilometre, 1-hour, walk. Also beginning at Layman picnic site, this self-guided trail is designed to be completed at night with a spotlight or large torch, so as to come face-to-face with the nocturnal inhabitants of the tuart forest. You are highly likely to see the rare western ringtail possum and the more common brushtail possum. Red reflectors on the trail markers and information plaques guide the way.
Early records of the State's history describe the tuart forest as being 'a beautiful open forest in which visibility was clear for a half mile in any direction' and that 'the natural grass was as high as a horse's wither'. Before European settlement, Aboriginal inhabitants took advantage of this abundance of grassland and the plentiful water to live well on the area's wildlife.
With the arrival of Europeans, coastal forest areas were cleared for settlement, timber and fuel. Because the tuart forest presented an open landscape, with a wide variety of grasses, its land was excellent for grazing cattle. The poisonous heartleaf (Gastrolobium bilobum) in the undergrowth was eradicated, and any native grasses unsuitable for grazing were soon replaced with exotic species.
The surface deposits of limestone also attracted early settlers. The lime kilns, at the northern end of the forest, were built in the mid-late 1800s and are now partially dilapidated. Park managers plan to conserve and restore the site of the lime kilns and eventually construct a car park, walk trail, viewing platform and interpretive facilities there.
Timber cutting operations were carried out throughout the 1800s. Wooden-railed, horse-drawn trams ran the length of the forest, hauling logs and timber products to the mills. Busselton's famous 1.8-kilometre-long jetty was built to service the timber industry, and sleepers and other timber cutting relicts can still be seen in the park.
In the early 1900s, local property owners and the timber industry lobbied the government to purchase the remaining tracts of forest back from the estates of Governor Stirling, to secure its use for future timber production and railway purposes. This culminated in 1919 with the passing of the Forests Act and the gazettal of the areas as State Forests 1 and 2 -- the first publicly-owned forests in the State.
In 1920, a sawmill was erected across the estuary at Wonnerup Beach, some 10 kilometres east of Busselton. A small jetty was built off the beach and shallow draft boats took the timber to schooners anchored in Geographe Bay. The mill operated for about 10 years. After World War II, wood was again in strong demand. A new mill was built at Ludlow in 1955 and it worked on and off until 1974. The national park was declared in 1987.
Wildflowers and Wildlife
The majestic tuart tree grows only on coastal limestone 200 kilometres on either side of Perth. Tuart Forest National Park protects the largest remaining pure forest of tuart in the world. It also has the tallest and largest specimens of tuart trees on the Swan Coastal Plain. Some trees are more than 33 metres high and 10 metres in girth.
The park's vegetation also includes a number of isolated and remnant populations of several plant species, normally associated with WA's South Coast. There is also a thriving community of fungi, including some species yet to be named. Last, but certainly not least, the Tuart Forest National Park provides an abundance of nesting hollows, used by many species of waterbirds that feed in the adjacent wetlands.
The park also protects WA's largest remaining wild population of the endangered western ringtail possum. This is largely because old tuart trees contain many hollows, while the dense secondary storey of peppermint supplies their major source of food. The forest is also home to the densest population of brushtail possums ever recorded in the State. Other residents include the brush-tailed phascogale, bush rat, kangaroo, quenda (also known as the southern brown bandicoot), at least 11 species of birds of prey and nocturnal birds.