Welcome to wildflower wonderland

JUST about everything to do with WA’s wildflower season is big. From the area across which the buds bloom to the 12,000 or so different species – it’s an enormous spectacle that attracts increasingly large numbers of tourists.

From July to November (peaking during August and September) flowers spring up in locations as diverse as the flowers themselves – from the Cape Range Trail (between Coral Bay and Exmouth) to Esperance, to Perth’s own Kings Park and Botanic Gardens.

Hotels, motels, camping grounds and bed and breakfast operators up and down the coast that find themselves within cooee of a wildflower are inundated with tourists from WA, interstate and overseas.

In Perth, visitors can choose from self-drive wildflower holidays, package coach and train tours and even the old fashioned ‘just get and walk around’ methods.

A two-minute stroll through the Perth Visitors Centre revealed about 50 tours run by more than a dozen different operators, not to mention the companies featured in the WATC’s Wildflower Holiday Guide.

There’s everything from the tailored, personalised one-day tours offered by Country Escapes in WA, to the four-day North West Wildflower Explorer Tour run by Feature Tours.

Then there are four-wheel drive tours and two-week excursions that offer wildflowers alongside various other WA wonders. The list goes on.

Funseeker Tours is one WA company not missing a beat, offering 10 different wildflower tours.

Owner/manager Sharon Owen said that, even though her company offered a variety of tours all-year round, the arrival of the wildflowers signalled her peak season.

“August, September and October are the busiest and I would say it was because of the wildflowers, on top of the other business,” she said.

This year has been no exception, with day tours to see the wildflowers booked out.

“We had four (day tours to see wildflowers) in one day last week. It was so busy that we had to subcontract some of them out,” Ms Owen said.

She puts the popularity of wildflower tours down to the simple fact that they are so unique.

“People just love wildflowers. They’re just so different,” Ms Owen said.

“It’s the things like the wreath leschenaultia. They only grow in the gravel pits at Pinbar (100km east of Geraldton).”

And it’s not just interstate and overseas visitors who are fascinated with the natural flora of WA. According to several smaller tour operators, like Funseeker, many of the tourists on board are locals, specifically self-funded retirees.

The picture drawn by the larger tour operators is, however, quite different.

Feature Tours national sales and marketing manager Gay Dixon said that about 75 per cent of the tourists aboard their coaches were from the eastern states, with 15 per cent hailing from overseas and just 10 per cent from local areas.

The difference perhaps can be found in the marketing methods used by various companies, with those heavily pursuing clients via international publications and out-of-state booking/travel agencies seeing higher percentages of out-of-towners.

“We have a large international contingent coming through at the moment,” Ms Dixon said.

Both large and small businesses, however, have one belief in common – wildflowers mean business.

“This is definitely our busiest season,” Ms Dixon said.

“The wildflowers are such a strong drawcard at this time of the year, and the weather also helps.

“We have 26 coaches involved in our operation and they are all out on the road during this season."

While bookings this year have been as strong as ever, Ms Dixon said things didn’t start all that well.

"Unfortunately there was some negative talk about the wildflowers (at the beginning of the season) but they have seen fantastic. The flowers in Kalbarri are just spectacular,” she said.

Feature Tours is currently running three day tours a week, plus a four-day North West tour once a week, with their South West tours starting in two weeks.

In addition to the commercial tours being run around the State, there’s also a variety of festivals and exhibitions put on by local groups and councils in WA to celebrate the wildflower season.

During September wild-flower festivals can be found running everywhere from Kings Park, to Esperance, to Busselton, to Mundaring.

Kings Park is visited by more than five million people a year, with its famous 10-day long annual wildflower show in October, now in its 38th year, attracting more than 40,000 visitors.

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