North of the South West and Great Southern regions are the endless plains of the Heartlands region. Where sufficient water is available (supplied by pipelines) wheat alternates with clover grazing for sheep. In the outer regions of the Heartlands, where rainfall is much lower and more irregular, the land must be left fallow after the harvest for one or more years. Merredin is the chief town in this region of small agricultural townships and large isolated farms. The town holds no particular attractions for tourists, but can boast a wheat research institute.At Southern Cross is where the first gold was found in 1887.
Nambung National Park
17,500ha.The main tourist attraction in Nambung National Park, an expanse of sand and dunes with a 26km coastline (good bathing and fishing), is the Pinnacles - thousands of limestone pillars, ranging in height between a few centimeters and 4 m, which rise out of a sandy plain almost devoid of vegetation. There has been some controversy over the origin of these bizarre rock pinnacles, but it seems that a process of chemical change caused by wind and water erosion led to the softer sandstones being washed away, leaving the harder limestone exposed.
Address: 96 Bashford Street, Jurien Bay, WA 6516, Australia
Useful tips: Best time to visit: spring, for the wild flowers which bloom at the end of winter and for the mild climate. Access on Brand Highway, turning off at Cervantes. All the roads within the park are unsurfaced tracks. An alternative is the route through the interior by way of Badgingarra National Park to Cervantes. Camping is not permitted in the park. There is no drinking water in the park. Open fires are prohibited.
Northam is an old settlement in the fertile Avon valley, situated at the junction of the Avon and Mortlock. Founded in 1833, it developed slowly until gold was found to the east of the town and it was linked with the railroad system.Northam is now a regional center, though the population is tending to decline. On the outskirts of the town is an army training camp.Northam has a number of interesting old buildings: Byfield House (1902-4; 30 Gordon Street), a brick and stucco building with a tower, now occupied by an art gallery and restaurant; the Avon Valley Arts Centre, in an old girls' school (1878); the old post office (1892; corner of Hawes and Wellington Streets); the Courthouse (1896); the Italian-style Town Hall (1897-8); the Avon Bridge Hotel (1859); and the Grand Hotel (1904).The old railroad station (c 1886) on Millington Street, now houses a museum. The oldest building in Northam is Morby Cottage (1836) in York Road, a typical colonial-style settler's house.In Irishtown, a few kilometers north of Northam, is the Buckland Homestead, a two-story house of 1874 with beautiful gardens.
New Norcia, Australia
The little town of New Norcia would be of little account but for the foundation of a Benedictine mission in the secluded Moore Valley on the Great Northern Highway in 1846 by two Spanish Benedictines, Rosendo Salvado and José Serra, who named it after Norcia (Nursia) in Italy, birthplace of St Benedict. The purpose of the mission was to convert the Aborigines. The mission now houses a Catholic college for girls.The whole complex has the charm of Spanish colonial architecture. The extensive conventual buildings, with a beautiful inner courtyard, were completed in the early 20th C. The cathedral was built in 1860 and enlarged in 1907. The two richly decorated colleges date from 1908 and 1913.The New Norcia Museum (formerly Garrido Hall) on the Great Northern Highway has a remarkable collection of art treasures: pictures by Spanish and Italian old masters (including Titian and Raphael), jewelry, antiquities, valuable manuscripts and books.Among other 19th C relics are a flour mill of 1879, an apiary and a blacksmith's forge.
Toodyay (pop. 560) is a very old foundation dating from the early days of settlement in this area. It has been classified by the National Trust as a Historic Town.In Stirling Terrace, the town's main street, are many handsome old buildings, including the Freemasons Hotel, which was enlarged and given an extra story during the gold rush, the Mechanics' Institute (now a public library), the Victoria Hotel and the post office. Connor's Mill, a three-story steam flour mill dating from the 1870s, now houses an information center and museum. The Old Gaol (Jail) Museum (c 1865) in Clinton Street was originally a work camp for convicts and later, until the turn of the century, a prison; it is now a museum of pioneering and convict days.
To the southwest is Avon Valley National Park, a beautiful expanse of country with natural bush vegetation.
Southern Cross, Australia
On the edge of the wheat belt is the little township of Southern Cross (pop. 900). The first gold was found here in 1887 by two prospectors, Tom Risely and Mick Toomey, who were guided by the Southern Cross constellation. Thereafter the settlement became the center of the Yilgam goldfield, the first of the eastern goldfields of Western Australia. Close to the town are the opencast workings of Fraser's Mine, the most productive gold mine in the area and the one which remained in operation longest. Gold is still worked round Southern Cross, for example at Marble Loch to the south and Bullfinch to the north.Among those who worked in the gold mine was the notorious Baron Swanston, as he called himself. In reality his name was Frederick Bailey Deeming and he was a multiple murderer who had killed his family in England and his wife in Melbourne. He was duly executed, and his crimes earned him a place in the Chamber of Horrors in London's Madame Tussaud's.The old courthouse (1893) is now a museum.
Avon Valley National Park
4500ha.An easily accessible national park with impressive scenery. From Bald Hill there is a good view of the winding Avon River. After the winter rains the Emu Spring Brook, a tributary of the Avon, tumbles over a 30m high waterfall. The country is very hilly, with dry eucalyptus forest and many grass-trees. The Avon and Brockman Rivers join here to form the Swan River, which flows through the neighboring Walyunga National Park. The river can easily be crossed in summer and autumn, but the ground is steep and rocky.There are a number of attractive trails along the river.
The little fishing village of Lancelin (pop. 720), in Lancelin Bay, is now a favorite holiday and recreation area. It lies at the end of the coast road from Perth. From here a track continues north to Nambung National Park, with the curious Pinnacles (inquire about the state of the road before setting out).Thanks to a natural breakwater Lancelin has a safe harbor. Good fishing waters; lobsters are caught on the reef. The waters round Lancelin are popular with sailing enthusiasts and wind-surfers, and the beaches are safe for children.
Narrogin (pop. 4270) grew out of a settlement on an overland route during the construction of the railroad line from Albany to Beverley around 1880. It is now the commercial center of an agricultural area (sheep, pigs, grain).Features of interest are a war memorial of 1922 in the style of classical Greece and the courthouse (1894), now a museum.
Northwest of Narrogin is Dryandra State Forest (area 22,000ha; wandoo woodland, home of the numbat, once found throughout Western Australia; rare plants). Much of the Western Australian wheat belt looked like this before the clearance of the forests.
Wagin (pop. 1370) lies at the junction of two railroad lines. The population of the surrounding agricultural area (wheat, sheep) is in steady decline.Wagin has preserved a number of Victorian houses. In Ballagin Road is Wagin Historical Village, with old buildings and relics of pioneering times.
Watheroo National Park
44,500ha.This national park is notable for the heath vegetation in a basin with quartz sand and small areas of eucalyptus woodland and tall bushes of banksia. The park contains rare species of flowers and plants more commonly found in the wetter southwest.
Moore River National Park
17,500ha.This remote national park, with no facilities for visitors, is typical of the sandy heathland on the northern coastal plains, with dunes and expanses of seasonal or permanent marshland. The fire breaks offer pleasant walking country.
Hyden (pop. under 200) lies in semi-arid country on the eastern edge of the wheat belt. Its main claim to fame is the Wave Rock.
The famous Wave Rock is an extraordinary rock formation of banded granite, 15m high, in the form of a wave about to break. Rainwater reacting with different chemical substances in the rock has created a series of vertical stripes in shades of gray, red and ochre.There are other curious granite outcrops in the surrounding area. An 80km circuit from Hyden takes in three interesting examples, the Humps, the King Rocks and the Gnama Hole.
Bates Cave, to the north of Hyden, has Aboriginal rock paintings and handprints.
Lake Grace, Australia
Lake Grace (pop. 620) is a small agricultural center in the southern wheat belt. It is named after the two lakes to the west of the town.
70km northwest of Lake Grace is Hyden, with the famous Wave Rock. To the east of Lake Grace is Holland's Track, an old route to the goldfields to the northeast.