Bibbulmun Track (Walpole-Albany section) (20 – 27 October 2021)

The Bibbulmun Track runs for 1,003km from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills to Albany on the south coast of Western Australia.  The name references one of the languages used by the Nyoongar people, the traditional owners and custodians of this region.

Walking the entire trail is an epic undertaking.  Even pre-COVID only about 30 ‘end-to-enders’ did it in one go each year, a serious commitment requiring 6-8 weeks walking from one to another to another of the 49 walkers’ huts placed at strategic intervals along the track.  But at various points there is vehicular access, meaning it’s possible to walk shorter sections of the track.  This makes it a great resource for locals and visitors alike.  In fact, user surveys show that the majority of walks on the track are between one day and two weeks.

We walked most of the section from Walpole to the trail end at Albany, a total of 140km over 6 days through what the official track website describes as “the best mix of forest and coast … on the entire track”.

Day 1: Walpole to Sappers Bridge

We started in Walpole, a sleepy town on the Walpole Inlet.  The population of the entire area is only about 500, with half of them being absentee landowners, so it’s a quiet little place.  The locals were friendly and clearly have a sense of humour.

Farms were established here under a Land Settlement Scheme during the 1930s Great Depression but as many were allocated to families from the cities with no agricultural experience, failure rates were high and only about 1/3 of them stayed.  The relative remoteness of the area ensured vast swathes remained undeveloped and today the Walpole Wilderness, officially declared in 2004, encompasses 7 national parks and several conservation areas totalling more than 363,000 hectares.

From Walpole we walked on soft trails through the coastal heath.

Kangaroo paw were just beginning to bud.  They are popular with the New Holland Honeyeaters which live here.

Being late spring, the heath was awash with colourful pea flowers.

Then a short uphill brought us to Hilltop Lookout and a view across the forest to Nornalup Inlet and the onshore Casuarina, Saddle and Goose Islands which are important reserves for shearwaters.

We had now entered a dramatically different environment of towering eucalypts.  Endemic to south west Western Australia, the karri is the second tallest hardwood in the world, exceeded only by Victoria’s mountain ash.  They grow to over 90 metres in height and live for 300 years or more.  With tall, straight trunks and only a few branches, all at the top, an air-dried density of 900kg per cubic metre and an attractive mahogany colour, they proved to be crack cocaine for loggers in the early 20th century.  Fortunately, karri regenerate directly from seedlings following fire and windstorms, so with logging now heavily regulated, the forests have a chance of natural regeneration.

It’s difficult to capture the height of these trees in a photo but here’s one to at least give an idea.

We arrived at a track junction with a deviation to the Giant Tingle Trees loop walk.   Now this was an enchanting diversion.  There are three kinds of tingle trees – Red, Yellow and Rate’s – all found only in southwest Western Australia.   And the Red Tingles grow only here, in an area of just 60 sq kms of the wet forests of the Walpole-Nornalup region.

Typically growing to around 45 metres, their colossal, buttressed trunks can be more than 25 metres in circumference.  Tingles can survive for over 400 years and many are hollow at the base where the wood has burned out in a bushfire at some point in the tree’s life.  The trees survive through an evolutionary adaption common to many Australian hardwoods in fire prone parts.  As long as a thin layer of the ‘living’ part of the trunk remains under the bark, even if the heartwood burns out the tree will continue to grow.

There is a well graded path from a car park on the nearby road with a boardwalk making the loop very accessible.

And beyond the loop walk, back on the Bibbulmun track itself, more of them are to the found in abundance.  The beauty and tranquility of this forest is remarkable.  So close to civilisation and yet so ancient and unspoiled.

After passing through the Tingle forest we walked on to Frankland River Hut.  It’s one of the 49 walkers’ huts established along the trail for through-walkers.  This one also made a comfortable spot for a late lunch by the lovely Frankland River.

From the hut it was a muddy, rocky trail down through forest of karri and sheoaks to Sappers Bridge.  It was built by the Australian army’s 22nd Construction Squadron, Royal Army Engineers after a previous, less sturdy one was washed away in floods in 1982.  Fittingly, it’s named in their honour.  A nice spot to chill out and wait for our transport.

Total walk distance: 21.3km

Day 2: Sappers Bridge to Ficifolia Road

After a rather pleasant evening back in Walpole, we returned to Sappers Bridge to continue on the trail. The walk was through jarrah and karri forest.  Jarrah is found only in southwest WA and is one of the state’s most important commercial native timber trees.  From the late 1800s to the early 1900s it was exported for road building in London and Berlin where wooden roads were common.  Wooden blocks were covered in tar and pressed into a concrete base in an interlocking pattern, then covered in asphalt.  What a waste of this beautiful timber.  Fortunately, road building technology has moved on, and today Jarrah is used for floors and furniture, although protected here of course.

After about 10km we left the trail again to visit the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk.   Opened in 1996, the complex has a visitor’s centre and a short loop walk called the Ancient Empire which offers a ground level look at the tingle trees.  You can quite literally walk through the trees.

The main attraction, though, is the Treetop Walk, a raised metal boardwalk which winds its way between and through the tingle forest 40 metres above the ground.

 

The view from the top of the forest canopy is so different to that on the ground.

And it’s definitely a long way down!

We returned to the Bibbulmun Track and continued through the Valley of the Giants.  These huge trees do fall from time to time.  Track maintenance seems like an ongoing contest between the rangers and the giants.  Sometimes the rangers win.

And sometimes the trees prevail and you just have to climb over or around.

The terrain started to change and we found ourselves in much more open sandy scrub.

The area is known for the kingias.  They look like a very tall form of the grass trees which are relatively common throughout Australia but actually the kingias are not even closely related to grass trees and are found only here in southwest WA.

We crested a hill and emerged to a picture-perfect view of lush green pasture stretching down toward that wild southern coast.  

We followed the fence line and then the track swung back into the scrub.  It was hot and felt more coastal than rainforest.  The flora changed too.

We reached Ficifolia Road where we were monstered by hordes of mosquitoes while we waited for our pick up.  But they were easily forgotten once we were ensconced at our digs by the picturesque Frankland River, where the winged creatures were far prettier and better behaved!

Total walk distance: 21km

Day 3: Ficifolia Road to Peaceful Bay 

The first section of today’s walk is known for an abundance of orchids.  It was the right time of year for flowering but most are small and many are hidden under the thicker foliage of other plants so they can be hard to spot.  A little patience paid off.

The track then wound its way through a marshy area which has been made much easier for walkers in recent times by the construction of some sections of boardwalk.  Less damage to the delicate landscape as well.

After clearing the lowlands, the track climbed up to a sandy ridge and, eventually reaching the coast, magnificent views over Conspicuous Beach.

More boardwalk took us down to the beach and after a slog along the sand, the track continued up  over the dunes and onto the next headland.  We could not have asked for better weather.  The view looking back to the beach was incredible.

We meandered along the top of the cliffs admiring the views.  In late winter to early spring, humpback whales can be seen on their annual migration from Antarctica to the waters off the Kimberley where they breed, and between July and October, southern right whales breed in the sheltered bays along here.   No whales today, but a magnificent place for a cliff walk.

And all along the way, coastal natives were blooming.

After another hour or so the track dropped down to Gap Beach.  White sand, crystal blue water,  rocks to sit on, completely deserted.  A perfect place for a picnic lunch.

Thus refreshed, we continued from one to another small beach.  All deserted.  Like so many places in the world, if you have to walk to get there, you can often have it all to yourself.

Up and over one more rocky shore and we arrived at Peaceful Bay.  In the early period of European settlement, this was a popular day trip destination for families on the nearby farms who came by horse and cart.  There was really nothing here other than a few fishermen’s shacks until some land was made available for houses in the 1950s.  It now has about 250 holiday homes, but a permanent population of only about 60 people.  The beach is beautiful and the town has a quiet, laid back feel.

Total walk distance: 19km

Day 4: William Bay to Denmark 

We started today at the beautiful Greens Pool on the shores of William Bay.  A ring of offshore rocks shelters means the beach is sheltered from the waves.  The water is shallow and the slope gradual, making it a popular paddling spot for families.  It was a stunning blue day and many locals were taking advantage of the early season warm weather.

We climbed over a small rocky headland to Elephant Cove.  From certain angles the boulders here really do look like a group of elephants bathing.

We left the beach and headed back to where the road intersects the Bibbulmun.  Once back on the track, the climb was steep and blisteringly hot as we ascended the aptly named Tower Hill.

We were headed toward some rocks that looked like ice cream puffs high on the ridge.   Here we are nearing the top.

The rocks are on a short side track off the main trail.  The walking got easier then, but once down at sea level again we had to take a lengthy detour where a section of the track is closed for maintenance and vegetation restoration.  Walkers  are diverted onto a fire trail which bows out for 2.7km around the closed area.

We re-joined the track in time to take another short detour to Lake William which covers some 8 hectares when full and is a major bird habitat.

On our way back we saw a number of these prehistoric looking creatures – western shinglebacks – sunning themselves on the edges of the track.  They look mean but are quite benign unless antagonised .

It was starting to cloud over as we reached the coast again, passing Madfish Bay and Lights Beach.  It seems remarkable to find such quiet, unused beaches not so far from human centres.

 

Approaching a lookout area above Lights Beach, we found the first of many black cockatoos.  Three species are found in this part of Australia and we think these were the Carnaby’s black cockatoo.

For a while after this, the Bibbulmun criss-crosses and occasionally shares with the Munda Biddi path.  This long distance bicycle path was created by joining up a series of bush tracks, firebreaks, disused railway formations and purpose built track to create a 1,000km off road cycling track from Mundaring, west of Perth, to Albany in the south west of WA.  As well as being used by recreational cyclists, it hosts an annual ultra event.  The current record holder completed the whole trail in a heart-stopping 2 days 17 hours.

Walking on the asphalt sections of the Munda Biddi wasn’t our favourite and we were pleased when the Bibbulmun split off again onto on a sandy 4WD track, leaving the cycle path behind and heading for Monkey Rock.   This section of the Bibbulmun has been re-named the Sheila Hill Memorial Track, commemorating a larger-than-life local who put her passion for local wildlife into action in dramatic fashion to stop a large scale fuel-reduction burn of the area.  Protests and petitions failed, so on the day of the planned burn Ms Hill phoned the local police chief and announced that she had hidden herself in the forest.  She said if the burn proceeded, she would be burned alive and he would be responsible.  Unsurprisingly, the burn was called off and she was hailed a hero by supporters.

The track climbs up through dense forest and through a number of granite outcrops.

From the approach, Monkey Rock itself looked impossible for us mere mortals to climb.

But if you circle the base of the rock, from the back there is a gentler ascent, assisted even by a couple of makeshift steps to start off.  It was worth the climb.  The view from the top is pretty special, and it was a perfect place to perch for lunch.

The track down the other side became the Bibbulmun again, crossing many granite tors and gradually descending.  Eventually we reached the bitumen road into Denmark where we stayed in the lovely Windrose B&B.  From the blistering heat of the morning, it had become bitingly cold by late afternoon, and we were glad of a hot shower and some of our host, Anna’s magnificent home made apple cider.

Total walk distance: 17.5km

Day 5: Nullakai Peninsula to Lowlands Beach 

It seemed our luck with the weather ended overnight.  We woke to rain.  Quite a lot of rain.  As we reached the first ridge, it looked like it might lift.

But it was not to be.  In the interests of keeping the camera dry, we took almost no photos today.   Just a few to remind us that even in the wet  the landscape was quite pretty, especially with hardy native flowers.

We just plodded over the hills in the rain until we reached Lowlands Beach and then up the road to our accommodation for the evening.  We hadn’t stopped for lunch given the weather so we were quite early.  After some food and a hot bath, with boots drying by the heater, it was rather pleasant being tucked up in our cottage for the afternoon listening to the rain pour down outside.

Total walk distance: 15km.

Day 6: Cosy Corner to Lowlands Beach 

It was still raining in the morning and today was the longest on our itinerary – 24km.  Oh, joy!

It reduced to a few drops as we arrived at our start point, Cosy Corner Beach.  Perhaps our luck with the weather was changing, but there was no loitering here.  We practically sprinted up the gentle inland climb to get away from voracious hordes of mosquitos.  Contrary to the weather predictions, the rain held off although it was sodden underfoot.

Once we reached the top of the ridge, the views opened up as we followed the coastline on a very pleasant, easy walk.

Then the track headed up and over more of the granite tors we’d seen on day 4.

Life finds a way, even in the rock.

Some really beautiful hills, thanks to the spring blooming.

Then a stark reminder that for all the rain that falls here, it is also prone to bushfires.  We passed through a large section which was completely burned out several years ago.  The devastation was complete.

But further along there are signs of regeneration.  It will take a while, but it will happen.

It was a long day, but miraculously the rain held off.  Quite literally, as we reached the steps of our cottage, the rain came down again.  Lucky us, once again.

Total walk distance: 24km

Day 7: Mutton Bird Road to Albany 

Our last day was a wonderful walk along the cliffs.

First a gentle incline up through more heath.

And then a meander along the cliffs, with the occasional drop down to a lookout.

The coast here is nothing short of spectacular.  For a while the trail follows a line below a series of wind farms.  Of course, we accept some people find the turbines an eyesore, but when you consider what open cut coal mining does to the landscape, it doesn’t seem so bad.

There were some great places to sit back and enjoy the scenery

And loads of black cockatoos having a feast.

And as we reached the end of our walk, a local was waiting to greet us.  Welcome to Albany .

Wrap up:  In 7 days we got a remarkable variety of walking experiences.  From towering forest to wild coastline, granite tors, coastal heath and windy clifftops.  Late spring was a great time to be here.  Southwest WA is famous for its spring wildflowers and deservedly so.  Yes, we would definitely recommend this section of the Bibbulmun.

We organised the trip through Auswalk.  We had previously used them for our walk on the Heysen Trail and as with that walk, their track notes and logistical support was spot on.  Lee from Naturally Walpole was a font of knowledge about the plant life, especially the orchids, and most helpful with inside knowledge on the area, as well as being fabulous with our transport and luggage transfers.  If you need a local on the ground, he’s your man!

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3 Comments

  1. Jones-Shehata
    March 24, 2022 / 1:17 am

    Hi Julie & John
    Loved your travel post for WA!
    I loved most that you two are out and about.
    I am off to Alexandria on 12th 🙏
    Love & Hugs from Lee & Dany

    • twotravelcats
      Author
      April 4, 2022 / 3:26 am

      Great to hear. You must have missed it the last two Christmases. We are off to Paris tonight! Expect more blogs soon.

  2. Therese Bowes
    March 24, 2022 / 8:03 am

    Wow what a beautiful journey I’ve just been on reading your post – so much variety in vegetation, birds, flowers and environments. Impressed with the kilometres you walked – well done 👍

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