This is the first in a series of reviews of Bibbulmun sections on my quest to a sectional end-to-end!
This section was the start of my longest hiking trip yet by far – 16 days and 335km from the tiny town of Northcliffe to the southern terminus in Albany. Last year I did a very wet eight-day stretch from Balingup to Pemberton, but I wanted to test myself on a hike longer than two weeks to see if I could really hack the thru-hiker lifestyle. I was joined by my friend Bonny for the first six days of this trip.
Terrain: Flat and easy
We’d planned an easy, relatively short walk of 15.3km for day one because we had to make the three-hour drive down from Perth in the morning, and hand over Bonny’s car to local track angel Wendy in Northcliffe. The plan was to leave the car at Wendy’s, then Wendy would pick Bonny up from Mandalay Beach six days later, and bring me a resupply box at the same time. Wendy’s generosity with her time meant I didn’t have to lug eight days of supplies all the way to Walpole, and it saved us both from having to do a time-consuming car shuffle on day one. Thanks Wendy!
After we dropped off Bonny’s car at Wendy’s place just outside of Northcliffe, Wendy gave us lift back to the trailhead in the middle of town. The weather was sunny and cool, perfect for walking. After a few leg swings and final checking of gear, we were off.
The Bibbulmun follows some old disused train tracks on its way south out of Northcliffe, passing a wooden distance marker near the trail head. There’s a small burned section less than a kilometre out of town, caused by a recent bushfire. Shortly after the track crosses the main road,and begins winding its way along the boundaries of farms and houses before crossing Wheatley Coast Road and plunging into thick forest. A bit over an hour in we stopped at a wooden footbridge over a picturesque creek for lunch.
I was relieved to find my buff (kind of like a cylindrical bandana) in one of my bag’s hip pockets after thinking I’d accidentally left it behind. My buff was one of my favourite pieces of gear for the whole hike – not only does it keep the sun off your neck, but it doubles as a handy cloth when you need to dry wet items.
After munching on a wrap with salami and rehydrated hommus (surprisingly good), we packed up and headed for the camp site. The trail becomes unnervingly sandy just a few kilometres out of Northcliffe, a reminder that the town is only about 30km from the coast, despite its forest vibes.
Disclaimer: Sand and I do not get along. I would even go so far as to say I hate hiking on soft sand. Beaches are for short barefoot strolls and swimming, not slogging along for hour after miserable hour. (Take note Bibb Track Foundation!) Sand gets everywhere, including between your toes to cause blisters, which is (partly) what killed my very first attempt at a multi-day hike on the Cape to Cape in 2016. It’s also supremely unsatisfying to walk on, as it takes about three times the effort to cover the same distance you would on hard ground.
Fortunately around Northcliffe, the sandy ground is firm and not any harder to walk on that dirt. I wish I could say that for the South Coast sections! Around the half way mark we spotted our first tiger snake, who dutifully slithered out of our way before either of us could take a photo. It would be the first of many.
Shortly before the shelter the track crosses what the guidebook describes as a “significant footbridge” over a wide stretch of the Gardner River. A great spot for another break.
Before long we’d reached the shelter, one of the newer rammed earth designs that nobody seems to like near the river’s edge. The rammed earth structures lack the rustic charm of the old timber shelters, but they are much more resistant to fire and so probably necessary in this bushfire-prone part of the world.
At Gardner we met a retired Canadian guy named Gerald, who’d hiked all the way from Albany in considerable pain, necessitating long recovery stops in Denmark and Walpole. I heard later on that he dropped out shortly after we met him, hopefully he can get himself fixed up and have another crack at it. Bonny and I went for a splash down in the river, which runs below the camp site. At this point it’s not much more than a shallow trickle in late March, but there was enough water to get clean. We made dinner at a picnic table thoughtfully placed by the river, then I retired to my tent while Bonny slept in the shelter.
Day one done!