Try trailing through the Stirling Ranges – there’s an app for that

Bluff Knoll Ski Club
Bluff Knoll Ski Club

For weeks after bushfires ravaged the Stirling Ranges in 2019 Margot and John Byrne would look out of the windows at their Mt Trio home on the mountain slopes to see what looked like the lights of a city.

In reality it was the burning embers of trees still on fire that they could see from their property bordering the national park.

While nobody was killed or injured and no livestock were lost, Margot says the fires were a frightening experience – and one that indirectly led to the development of an app to guide visitors around the Stirling Ranges.

Margot and John have developed a spectacular camping and caravan ground on the Mt Trio property which has earned a reputation for its Bluff Knoll Ski Club HQ, where visitors gather for news on the infrequent snowfalls on Bluff Knoll.

Following the fires, the Federal Government offered a $1million bushfire relief grant through the Shire of Gnowangerup. Margot applied for and received funding to develop the Stirling Range Trails App.

It was launched at the end of September during The Great Southern Treasures Bloom Festival.

The app provides information, maps, photos and guides on all the walks, drives and wildflowers on and around the mountains.

It aims to fill the gaps in tourism marketing which John says promote the region as a whole, but not the particular tourism highlights around the Stirlings.

Mt Trio Tour Guide John Byrne
Mt Trio Tour Guide John Byrne

While development of the app and John’s contribution to creating the Horsepower Highway and its ancient tractors which runs between Broomehill and the Stirlings, have taken up much of John and Margot’s time, visitors to Mt Trio continue to grow.

The camp, tucked away in a corner of the working farm, is not a formal campground with lines of tents and caravans, but rather a bush enclave where campers find a spot among the trees that suits, and settle in.

Mt Trio campers
Mt Trio campers

John bought Mt Trio in 1996, when there was nothing on the property, and the campground was built in 2003.

“It’s great to take a breath and look around to see that we’ve done a lot,” Margot says.

John, a shearer, originally from New Zealand, was working in the Great Southern and met Margot at the opera.

Oz Opera, now called Opera Australia, were on tour in 2004 with Opera in the Hayshed in the Hills, a performance of La
in a massive hay shed about 20km away from Mt Trio.

“One of Margot’s friends was one of the organisers and she came down from Perth and that’s where we met,” John says.

Margot says one of her friends lived in the Great Southern.

“My line is that I visited once too often and that was it really.” she says.

John had been travelling the world shearing and was working in the Great Southern.

“When I saw Mt Trio, I saw mountains, a flowing creek, bush and open paddocks and thought ‘wow, what a majestic atmosphere’,” he said.

“A year or two after we’d got it, I fenced off the creek for conservation.

“Up until that point the previous farmer had run sheep as a long paddock from Salt River Road, right up through the creek to the back of the property.

“The first year the sheep were kept out of it, the everlastings came up in the creek so thick.”

John, who had been used to camping as a youngster and was interested in wildflowers, thought the spot would make an ideal camping ground.

He opened it up in 2003 in a very small way to about 20 customers.

Margot says it grew organically.

“People come back year after year and they do a double take when they see what we’ve done, but it still has the same atmosphere and it works today.

“Last night down there was a singer and the ski lodge was packed out, so it’s worked really well.”

Margot is originally from Melbourne and came to Perth to complete a university degree in Recreation, Administration and Tourism, which she says fit well with plans to develop the Mt Trio campsite.

“Although John did say that if I married him, I’d never have to work another day in my life, but what I didn’t realise at the time was there’d be no money in it,” she laughs.

She says Mt Trio is a great place to bring up kids.

“And the way we’ve run the camp it has allowed us not to get tired of it because it’s very self-managed. People really feel like they are going camping because you find your own spot, and everyone’s spread out.”

People often use Mt Trio as a base, they might drive to Albany for a day or drive to the Porongurups or Katanning and the weather changes what they do and how they do things.

“Wildflowers are massive,” Margot says.

“We do guided orchid walks every morning – and it’s so popular – a wide demographic of people are interested.

“With the orchids you are walking through Australian bush and it’s harsh, and then all of a sudden you see this amazing little delicate intricate flower, which is stunning.”

More information is available from or to download the app go to www.stirlingranget

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Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.