It had been over five months since my last expedition on the Bibbulmun Track this to miss the worst of the winter weather and also to preserve the relationship with my wonderful partner / taxi service Lorenz. Now spring was well and truly here it was time to continue with the plan to walk the track North to South in consecutive stages.
Day 17, 18 and 19. Donnelly River to Pemberton 22nd 23rd 24th Sep 2017 – 108kms
I had secured Friday off work on the Queen’s Birthday weekend to enable enough time to walk the long stretch of the track between Donnelly River and Pemberton (108kms.) The forecast was not particularly good for the weekend and there was heavy rain and storms on both the previous day (Thurs) and the Friday I was starting the walk. This concerned me because I was walking through mainly Karri Forest and these trees have the nickname of “widow maker” because of their habit of dropping large limbs.
I drove down from Perth through the rain and arrived at Donnelly River late morning during a brief sunny period. The locals were making the most of the sunshine.
It wasn’t long before the next heavy shower passed through however, so I used the time to eat breakfast and drink good coffee at the general store to wait out the rain. The heavy showers were due to decrease as the day went on so seeing as I had plenty of time to reach Tom Road Campsite before dark I explored the village for a few hours. The local Ringneck Parrots were investigating possible food sources outside the general store and they took great interest in my camera bag.
When I could procrastinate no more it was time to shoulder the pack and walk the 16kms to Tom Road Campsite. As I walked through the village I delighted in seeing a proud daddy Emu with Chicks.
The track passed first through heavily logged Jarrah Forest, so not great forest, but I did spot the first Orchids of the walk, Silky Blue Orchids. The track then meandered through mixed Jarrah / Marri Forest on old rail formations that have a thick understory of Karri Hazel and Water Bush.
Though not particularly interesting for views this kind of walking is great for daydreaming as it’s impossible to lose the track, so I spent time thinking about wonderful things like winning the lottery and how great it would be if there was no Tony Abbott in the world. I would be rudely awakened from my daydream by an occasional heavy shower but within ten minutes it would pass.
The track graduates to forestry roads on the approach to Tom Road Campsite and passes over one of the twin bridges over the Donnelly River, made of course from local timber. Walking Toms Rd a couple of Red-eared Finches flew across in front of me.
As I arrived at the campsite I could smell smoke so I knew I had company for the night. This was in the form of Mark and Lucy, a lovely older couple in their fifties, who were doing the same distance as me but in the opposite direction, and in a more sensible five days. Mark was responsible for the campfire and it was lovely to have a warm fire as the late afternoon temperature dropped.
Tom Road Campsite was in a lovely spot under Karri trees and overlooking the still waters of the Donnelly River. I chatted to Mark and Lucy as we ate dinner and alternated between the fire and the hut as more heavy showers passed through. As it was too wet to sit by the fire for long we all turned in for the night.
Saturday was going to be a massive day of walking for me as I was double hutting to walk an insane 45km to Beavis Campsite, so at first light I was up and packed and on the track for 6.30am. It was amazing to walk through the Karri Forest at this early hour with the dawn chorus echoing over the placid waters of the Donnelly River and through the open forest.
The track at first follows the river before diverting away for a few kilometres through a thick understory then once again returning alongside the river. There was a profusion of climbers flowering splashing colour through the forest. Approaching Graphite Road there were a few ups and downs but nothing too serious.
I arrived at Graphite Road and boiled a cuppa on the trusty jetboil next to the remnants of One Tree Bridge. Throughout the morning clomping along I had glimpsed birds but it was only when I sat down quietly with my tea that the birds revealed themselves. A Western Whistler sang its captivating call from a branch above while a flash of colour passed in front of me as a family of Red-winged Fairy Wrens foraged along the ground. There were also White-breasted Robins and Fantails in fact I saw more birds in 20 minutes of sitting quietly than I did in three hours of walking.
Heavy showers were still a feature of the morning and I was lucky to be able to shelter under Graphite Road Bridge as one passed by. The track then continued alongside the Donnelly River on flat rail formations and it was here I spotted my second Orchids of the walk with a profusion of Snail Orchids on a log. See also blog – Trekking, Orchids and Birding in the Stirling Ranges – for more of Western Australia’s fabulous orchids.
I passed two walkers heading North before arriving at a track milestone. The halfway marker where both Kalamunda and Albany are 501kms. As the track continued alongside the river there were occasional rapids to break the peace a great place to sit and take a break.
The approach to Boarding House Campsite has some decent hills and I was happy to cross the river on a fantastic footbridge made from a single tree to the campsite.
Boarding House Campsite was again in a great location and I enjoyed my lunch break in the peaceful surrounds before once again setting of along a rail formation where I noticed Mosquito Orchids growing on the mossy verge of the track.
The afternoons walk went through fabulous old growth Karri Forest and was high up in places providing great views down onto an understory of Warren River Cedar, River Banksia and Peppermint understory next to the river.
While the afternoons walk had started off flat it soon began to ascend and descend very steeply in places. I had expected this terrain from the guidebook but after my long days walk I was starting to tire. The hill 13.8kms past Boarding House was an absolute killer and sapped any remaining strength I had. I used as many swear words as I could muster to get myself up the colossus and had to break every ten metres to overcome it.
Fortunately, the last few kilometres of the day levelled off as light began to fail and I arrived at Beavis Campsite. Again, I had company for the night, and again it was wonderful, this time in the form of Claire from Fremantle a spiritual new age lady whom I had lots in common with.
We chatted over dinner then a really cool thing happened. I had commented on how I had not heard any Owls whilst walking on the track when a Boobook Owl immediately stated calling in the distance. Relatively early we turned in as the evening chill descended on the forest.
I enjoyed laying in my toasty sleeping bag as the dawn chorus started up but with another long days walk ahead it was not a luxury I could enjoy for too long. In the light of the misty morning I truly got to appreciate the beauty of the location of Beavis Campsite. Once again by a pool and in chillingly beautiful old growth Karri Forest.
I was glad the morning was cool because there were a few hills coming out of Beavis Campsite. The forest was again spectacular here with not only large Karri but also huge Marri in places. It wasn’t long before the mist cleared and the sun broke through to make the Sunday morning the most pleasant weather of the walk. The previous day through the rail formations enclosed by understory, my head had been down, this morning my head was definitely up taking in the massive trees and open forest.
I was really enjoying walking on this beautiful morning and the kilometres flew by until I arrived at Karri Valley. I had visited this resort many times and was really hopeful that Beedalup Falls was going have substantial water flowing after the recent rains. It did not disappoint!
I knew that once I passed the falls I was close to Beedalup Hut and was delighted to finally reach what was another hut in a really breathtaking location. There was a bench by the Beedalup Brook and I enjoyed a cuppa and watched a Grey Fantail hunting for insects over the brook. Directly in front of the hut on the mossy verge Snail Orchids were prolific and there were a couple of Red-winged Fairy Wrens foraging around the campsite.
During lunch I had noticed a big hill leading out of camp and all too soon it was time to tackle it. The forest was once again large Karri and Marri with a fantastic technicolour understory of Yellow Bossiaeae, Red Coral Vine, Purple Hardenbergia and White Clematis.
After about four kilometres I revelled in wide open space as the track briefly passed through farmland, although it was necessary to keep eyes on track because of the many large steaming cowpats!
Almost immediately the track once again descended into forest although this forest was darker than previous with lots of Karri She-oak, in addition the track runs adjacent to a swampy creek with associated vegetation. The sky by now was also overrun with thick grey cloud a sure sign that the forecast rain was on the way.
I had planned to stop for my afternoon cuppa on a picnic bench in the arboretum but when I got there the large number of pines and dark sky made it a most unpleasant area so I quickly passed through. As I reached Big Brook Dam the rain came down and I was fortunate to find a shelter where I could have my cuppa.
The last eight kilometres of the day into Pemberton were a wet affair with heavy rain falling but dry in my rain gear and definitely not cold it was nice to walk in the rain. The track follows Lefroy Brook and is very scenic, although I can definitely say I was happy to reach Pemberton.
The motel I had chosen was the Karri Forest Motel and it was right at the opposite end of town to where the track comes into Pemberton. This of course will come into its own when I continue with the walk next time and start from the top end of Pemberton towards Northcliffe. The hotel was reasonably cheap (with a $10 discount for Bibbulmun walkers,) clean and friendly. The shower was out of this world and later the food at the Pemby Hotel capped off a great long weekend walking on the Bibbulmun.
Day 20, 21. Pemberton to Northcliffe. Saturday 30th Sep, Sun 1st Oct 2017 – 60kms.
I was fortunate enough that I was able to leave work early for the long drive down to Pemberton Friday arvo, that said the traffic on the freeway South still had snarls at 3pm. I arrived in Pemberton just after dark and drove to the Karri Forest Motel my bed for the night. I then headed down the pub for dinner and a few cheeky beers and finally finished my Tim Low “Where song began.” A great book but one that I had taken awhile to finish. It was really lovely sitting at the pub on a cold night with the fire going, but I did get back to my lodgings at a sensible hour.
The following morning was an early start and I was glad to not be too dusty from the previous night. I did my final pack and left the car at the motel (where they had kindly let me leave it overnight.) As I traipsed off a massive Boomer jumped the fence into the motel grounds, wow in Pemberton you don’t even need to leave your lodgings to see wildlife!
The walk to the Gloucester Tree is one I was familiar with having done it many times before and I arrived before 7am to have the place to myself. I had climbed the 53m fire lookout tree many times but couldn’t resist the hard climb one more time. Mist was still hanging around the valleys making the view from the top worth it.
After the descent, I spent perhaps a little more time than I should have photographing White-breasted Robins a West Australian endemic.
The walk from the Gloucester Tree to The Cascades descends sharply at first and there was a profusion of Hovea elliptica flowering as well as all the previous flowers from the previous week. Once in the valley the track follows an old railway formation making for flat terrain but it definitely became hillier on the approach to The Cascades. There were plenty of White-breasted Robin and I also disturbed a couple of Western Rosellas off the Water Bush (Bossiaea linophylla) which they seem to have a real affinity for.
Once again at the early hour it was I had another tourist attraction to myself and used the picnic benches to boil my morning cuppa before checking out The Cascades that were flowing well after all the recent rain.
I passed my first walker heading North heading to Warren Campsite and noticed a few Snail Orchids and my first Pink Fairy Orchids on the track this season, although it seems late September the Orchid season hasn’t really kicked off yet in the Southern Forests.
The track on the way to Warren Campsite passes through low swampy areas with Peppermint as the dominant tree, the understory contained lots of Sedge and I thought this was definitely good Quokka habitat, whether they were here I suppose was dependant on Fox control.
Warren Campsite was an absolute gem sited on a hill in open Karri Forest. I smashed two pot noodles while three Rosellas squabbled in the canopy above. There was also a New Holland Honeyeater busily collecting nectar from flowering Chorilaena.
Fortunately, the start of the afternoons walk was a descent to the Warren River and on arrival the first thing I came to was a magnificent old bridge crossing the river in a grove of Peppermints. After missing the Long Gully Bridge near the Harvey-Quindanning Rd when it was destroyed by fire I was sure to make the most of this impressive piece of history as walked across it.
I was disappointed that the track gave few views of the Warren River as it ran alongside it, although this was rectified somewhat further South. Instead the track wandered up and down some steep climbs further from the river and while the vegetation change to Bull Banksia on the gravelly upper sections of the track was interesting I couldn’t help but think how much nicer this section would have been on the riverbank. I passed another three walkers heading North and delighted in brief but interesting conversation.
That said before the track left the Warren River for good I was able to stand on the riverbank and admire fabulous old growth Karri Forest on the opposite bank with a thick understory of Karri Hazel, this was definitely a moment where I stood there and took it all in and understood why the Bibbulmun Track is so special.
I was of course tiring at the end of this 44km day but I still enjoyed what the track had left to offer on this section, with Karri Forest of varying ages, and some pleasant farmland complete with cowpats for these tired eyes to dodge!
Schafer Hut was an oasis situated next to a dam and there were three occupants at the hut at this late hour including an industrious Japanese man who has created a roaring fire. All at Schafer this night were early to bed, and as soon as darkness fell we all turned in for the night. I set up my tent next to the dam then warmed myself next to the fire.
As I fell asleep next to the tranquil waters of the dam I counted for species of Frog calling. Both Rattling Froglets and Slender Tree Frogs were a constant interspersed with the crescendo of Motorbike Frogs and the adorable “bonk” of the Banjo Frogs. There could be no better sounds to fall asleep to after a hard day on the track.
Unsurprisingly after such an early night I awoke early at 4.30am and roused from the tent in time to see first light breaking over the dam. What a fabulous place to have a morning cuppa!
Despite the wonderful location I had an appointment with the Trans WA bus in Northcliffe at 10.55am so reluctantly I packed up the tent and set off South. The morning walk was really beautiful in the Karri Forest and there was plenty flowering. The day was forecast a warm 21C but at the early hour I set off there was little hope of the snakes I was praying for.
Leaving the forest, the track follows a country lane that was somewhat waterlogged so involved full concentration to keep feet dry as well as avoid the many cowpats. It was lovely to walk through farmland after so much time in the forest and I have to say that the track planners of the Bibbulmun have managed the mix of these two habitats extremely well.
As I approached Northcliffe I could hear a tractor approaching so I ducked off the road to let it pass. The driver then pulled over and offered me an apple and struck up conversation. He asked me if I was married, at first, I thought I was getting a proposition, but then as conversation progressed I think he was considering whether I was marriage material for one of his three daughters. How fabulous!
The road was lined with very old Karri and Karri She-oak and was a delight to walk through before returning to the Karri Forest. The morning was a brief 14.5kms and before I knew it I was in the wonderfully peaceful township of Northcliffe. Once there I made a beeline for the Hollow Butt Cafe for a sensational burger and coffee. My Trans WA bus was 10 minutes early returning me to my car in Pemberton for the very long drive back to Perth.
Day 22,23,24,25. Northcliffe to Walpole. Sat 21st, Sun 22nd, Mon 23rd, Tues 24th Oct. 143 kms
I had taken time off work to complete this long section now that I was about to reach the South coast of the state. I left Perth 6pm to miss the worst of the traffic and indeed I did, the downside of course that I arrived at my motel at Pemberton 10.30pm. This was my third stay at the excellent Karri Lodge Motel and it was beginning to feel like home.
The following morning, I drove 34 km South to Northcliffe and arrived with time on my hands before the Hollow Butt Cafe opened. I had heard of the Northcliffe Cemetery being good for Orchids so I used the time to wander the Cemetery. It was a good tip because within 30 minutes I had found Rattlebeaks, Cowslips, Purple Enamels, Sun-scented (unopened) and also Spider Orchids.
I had the full brekkie at the Hollow Butt Cafe washed down with two coffees then meandered over to the Visitor Centre to log the walk. The Visitor Centre was where I was leaving my car for the time on the walk. The day was now warming so it was time to set off on my longest leg to date.
On the disused railway track heading South out of town I found plenty of Sun-scented Orchids which were open by now in the warm sun and also many Purple Enamel Orchids.
The track alternated between the Gardner River and a sand track that morning with both having benefits. The cool shade of the vegetation next to the river was much appreciated on what was a warm, humid morning but the sand track provided even more Orchids for the morning with Hammer Orchids and a new species for me the
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before I encountered my first Tiger Snake, the first of four that day. Although the majority of these snakes are alerted to footfall long before you see them and it is usually the tail end of them disappearing into the bush that is all that is seen!
I encountered Northward bound walkers with news of flooding on the track from North of Gardner Campsite to South of Woolbales Campsite, although I was assured the water was never more than knee deep.
At Gardner Campsite I had a brief lunch and chat with Jess, the sole inhabitant for the night before pressing on to the swamps, sedgelands and sandy soils that were to be feature of most of the afternoons walk.
About halfway to Maringup Campsite I came to the first stretch of water and it was apparent there was no way around. I was hesitant about getting my feet wet but when I did it was a blessed relief to have the cold water on my hot tired feet and as the course of the afternoon progressed I actually looked forward to these stretches of water. The childlike enjoyment of splashing through water was fabulous fun and thoroughly enjoyable!
I encountered an Elegant Parrot on the track and was surprised as this was always a bird I had associated with the arid areas of the state rather than the wet Southwest.
The Karri Forest on the approach to the hut was atmospheric and there were some ancient trees with massive girth. Maringup Hut was in a lovely position in the Karri Forest overlooking the lake. I had hoped to have the hut to myself after the long day and this was indeed the case although it wasn’t long before I wished for company as the wind picked up and the light failed in what was actually quite a dark hut anyway. Then magically from the track South I heard voices.
My companions for the night were a cheery bunch composed of two sisters with their father overnighting from Chesapeake Rd. It turns out the father had flown in from Japan that day and so they had lots of catching up to do. Due to their short walk in they had plentiful supplies with them including wine. I chatted with them before drifting off to sleep to the comforting sound of their merriment.
Then after darkness the storm that had been brewing all afternoon finally dumped rain with an accompaniment of thunder and lightning although how much I couldn’t be sure. I think it always sounds more than it is amplified by the metal of the hut roof.
The following morning, after a really good night’s sleep I was up early and caught sunrise over the lake. I didn’t linger as this was my longest day at 45km and was predicted to be another warm humid one. Much of the floor of the Karri Forest was underwater in this low -lying part of the track but my eyes were up admiring the beautiful trees that made up the forest.
The Tiger Snakes were out early and I was lucky that my second snake of the day was more alert than I. As I rounded a corner I had my eyes on the side of the track looking for snakes and completely missed one lying across the path. I was two steps away from treading on it when it shot off. A lucky miss, a bite from a Tiger Snake somewhere this remote could have been fatal.
The sun was hot by the time I walked across the Bottlebrush Swamps and I had not packed any sunscreen never believing that there would be this much sun on the South Coast! By the time I reached Dog Rd I was well toasted.
The Karri Forest on Dog Road had was fire affected and would have been magnificent forest although it was showing signs of recovery when I passed through and the understory of Coral Vine was superb. Dog Road Campsite was much the same story and probably would have been one of the nicest on the track pre-fire.
Lunch at Dog Pool was a brief affair but I made sure to splash my face in the cool waters of the Shannon River before setting off for the afternoon. The first half of the afternoons walk was along the never-ending Marron Rd. I spent the first 5km looking at the prolific Hammer Orchids including my favourite Orchid the Warty Hammer Orchid. Duck Orchids and Spider Orchids were also present but in lower numbers.
The humidity was building and the clouds gathering overhead and I was pleased when the rain started although it was never the downpour it promised to be. The sun came back out and I was still on bloody Marron Rd, I think it would be possible to read the life and works of Charles Dickens walking Marron Rd.
Finally, I reached Pingerup Rd. I was ready for a break by this point and kept my eye open for a good spot to sit and relax but every promising log and bank was swarming with ants so eventually I gave up on the idea of a break.
I loved crossing the Pingerup Plains, they had an otherworldly feel to them with markedly different vegetation. I was pleased to find the track underwater and since this was the first water on the track since early morning I plunged my boots into the reviving liquid.
Finally, I saw the granite dome of Mt Chance and the end of the long day. The campsite was in a lovely place at the base Mt Chance in Karri Forest. This hut was the most crowded of any hut I had stayed at during my time on the bib. There were three Northbound walkers and another four Southbound walkers (one with tent,) so the hut was a cosy affair that night!
I walked up Mt Chance to take in the amazing views from the top before returning to the hut to chat with my fellow walkers. Mosquitos were bad here and I was glad to return to the top of Mt Chance for sunset. The night was very uncomfortable between the hot, humid conditions and mosquitos and sleep didn’t come easily.
Monday morning I was woken by a mosquito buzzing around my head and venturing outside I was pleased to find it was overcast after my recently acquired sunburn. The mornings walk was similar to that of the previous afternoon and I broke it up with a climb of Mt Pingerup.
I left my pack at the intersection and made the 750m climb to the summit (steep in places.) The view from the top was excellent and Broke Inlet was clearly visible in the distance. It was possible to appreciate the utter isolation of the track from this vantage point.
The peak is a jumble of granite outcrops that fall away steeply to some large Karri Forest, and the summit gave me the height advantage of viewing Purple-crowned Lorikeets that keep to the crowns of the Karri trees from where they feed on the blossom. There were plenty of these little red and green arrows flying past calling out with their typical screech.
Just before Broke Inlet Rd I took my morning break on a log in what looked like an ideal spot in Karri She-oak. It wasn’t it was a mecca for hungry mosquitos and it wasn’t quite the restful morning tea I had planned pacing up and down to keep the voracious insects from biting!
The other side of Broke Inlet Road I disturbed a large flock of Carnaby’s Cockatoos feeding on the Swamp Bottlebrush as I walked along and was able to watch this fabulous bird for some time. The approach to Woolbales was probably the wettest part of the track with 300m sections underwater. The track was uneven in places and more than once I nearly lost my footing.
One of my hut companions from the previous night was already at Woolbales Hut when I arrived so I made the most of the company and had a luxurious 90 minute lunchbreak.
The track dried out on the approach to the coast during the afternoon and the scenery changed with large numbers of granite outcrops and coastal dunes. The dunes revealed lots of Purple Pansy and fabulous Pink Enamel Orchids adding splashes of colour to the track and I disturbed a bird of prey which flew off ditching its catch in the nearby vegetation. Despite a cursory search I could not find the unfortunate catch but I suspect it may have been a rabbit.
The lookout on the approach was a bit of a waste of time as there were far better views from Mandalay Beach itself and also from the cliff tops heading South both before and after Long Point Campsite.
There was not a soul on Mandalay Beach when I passed through and it had turned into quite a wild and woolly afternoon. The initial plan had been a quick dip, but in the event, I only waded in the shallows. It was wonderful to put my chafed feet in the cool salt water for the 800m walk along the beach.
The track exit marker from the beach is not easy to see but the creek that it sits by fortunately is. I kept my feet out of my boots for much of the ascent back up to the clifftops. When I finally put my boots back on I also changed back into long pants (as I had done on the approach to Mandalay,) because the path was quite overgrown and the vegetation scratched at the bare legs.
The last hour into Long Point Campsite was in persistent sideways drizzle, and unfortunately, I was not able to appreciate any of the wonderful views the track provided traversing the clifftops. I was glad to finally arrive at the hut as darkness fell and once again had company for the night in the form of Neil from Brisbane. I think that Long Point Hut must have the record for the longest spur trail on the track, not what I wanted after a 40km day.
We had a chat while we ate dinner and I was dismayed to find that the mosquitos were also a problem at this hut so I retreated to the protection of my sleeping bag and for another early night.
I woke at 4.20 full of anticipation for an afternoon of beer and surf and turf and after a quick breakfast I hit the track. It was a cool overcast morning but the sun increasingly broke through as the morning progressed. Fortunately, one of these sunny periods coincided with a view back to Chatham Island and I was able to get pictures of this imposing feature of the landscape.
I had hoped that my wading was over for the trek but there was perhaps the deepest wade yet on the approach to the Deep River. Crossing the river itself was an impressive suspension bridge where I rested and enjoyed the peaceful scene, aware that I was about to undertake a significant climb to Mt Clare.
Mt Clare Campsite was overrun with friendly students from St Hilda’s School and we chatted while I got my breath back from the hard climb. One of the teachers kindly offered to take my picture, a rare photo on the track for a solo walker. It was around this campsite that I delighted in seeing my first Red Tingle Trees on the track.
My break for the morning was at John Rate Lookout, a mere 6 kilometres from Walpole, that provided great views of Walpole Inlet. The Karri Forest here was some of the best I had seen over the entire track and a great place to take a break.
The pull of nearby Walpole was too strong for me to rest for long. The final 6kms into Walpole I didn’t find particularly interesting so I was glad to reach town. I headed straight for the pharmacy so that I could get some thongs and get out of my boots and dry my macerated feet. Next the bakery for a delicious toasted sandwich then finally to the Walpole Pub where I booked a room and had one of the best showers of my life!
My Trans WA bus back to Northcliffe was not until the following morning so I enjoyed an afternoon in the pub writing up notes until the magical hour of 6pm when the restaurant opened and I was finally able to tuck into a surf and turf. Heaven! Continued in Bibbulmun Track – Part 4 – Walpole – Denmark – Albany – Honey Possums and Banksias (210.3kms.) #NatureNeverFailsToImpress!