This is intended as a guide for the absolute beginner. If you’re an experienced hiker you probably won’t find much here for you, but hey – you don’t know what you don’t know! Feel free to comment below for advice, or suggested additions to this guide.
The Bibbulmun Track is a walking trail that stretches from Kalamunda, on the outer reaches of Perth, to the south coast harbour town of Albany. Over its (roughly) 1000-kilometer length, the Bibbulmun winds its way through dense native forests, passes through a handful of sleepy country towns, climbs up and down ranges with magnificent views, and traverses the white, sandy beaches of WA’s powerful southern coast.
To walk the whole track is an adventure in contrasts, where the reward for your hard work is to see the world change before you at the speed of a human being. I’ve lived in Western Australia all my life, but it wasn’t until I walked the Bibbulmun that I really appreciated what a rich and incredibly diverse landscape we’re blessed with.
Walking the Bibbulmun has been one of the best things I’ve ever done – not only because it whipped me into shape after years of being overweight, but because it gave me an appreciation for adventure and the natural world. It also helped me to better understand my body’s abilities, and made me realise how much more I could be doing with my life! I’m passionate about the Bibb, and am forever encouraging others to give it a go. If you’re inspired to try, here’s (some of) the info you’ll need to make it happen.
The track is officially measured as 1003 kilometres long, divided into 58 sections, each ending in either a town or a campsite. Most of the sections are somewhere between 20 and 25 kilometres long, or about a full day’s walk for the average hiker. Near Perth, the campsites are closer together, allowing most hikers to walk two sections in a day – known as “double hutting”.
Each campsite has a three-sided shelter, a water tank, a drop toilet and picnic tables. The facilities are world class compared to most long-distance trails around the world. The Bibb’s campsites are far better than those on the famous Appalachian Trail, but not quite as lavish as those in Tasmania or New Zealand.
If you’re of average fitness, you could expect to finish the Bibbulmun in somewhere between 40 and 65 days, depending on your pace and how many rest days you take in towns. If you’re an experienced long-distance hiker, you could aim to finish in as little as a month.
Life on the Bibbulmun is pretty simple: You wake up each day, walk as far as you can, camp, and repeat. You’ll be carrying your whole life on your back, so you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment and supplies to make it work.
For a thru-hike or multi-day section hike you’ll need:
The big four
Check out my gear list for some ideas.
The key difference between hiking equipment and regular camping equipment is its size and weight. 4WD campers have the luxury of an engine with a few hundred horsepower to lug all their gear around, while hikers only have their own two legs. Traditional camping equipment is rarely suitable for hikers, so you’ll need to buy equipment that’s designed for hiking. Like anything, this can vary enormously in price and quality.
If you’ve got a decent budget, I’d recommend looking at equipment made by speciality manufacturers in the US like Zpacks, Enlightened Equipment, ULA and others (detailed gear reviews coming soon!). In my humble opinion, the Australian outdoor gear industry is still stuck in the 1980s, when heavy packs were a source of pride and durability was the biggest concern. With a couple of exceptions (like the excellent Tier Gear, Wild Earth and Paddy Pallin), the Australian industry seems to have decided it’s simply not going to even try and keep up with technological advancements that are making it into the mainstream of the global hiking community.
A fully-stocked ultralight backpack using mainly gear from decent overseas manufacturers will cost somewhere between 2000-3500AUD. If that makes your eyes water, it’s possible to put together a reasonably lightweight backpacking kit with gear from Paddy Pallin, Wild Earth and a few other retailers for less than 2000AUD. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s still possible to put together a kit with gear from AliExpress and sale items – watch this space for gear reviews on how to make that happen!
Restocking food has been one of the biggest dilemmas for my hikes. Each of the towns on the Bibbulmun has at least a mini supermarket, but the range is often limited and the prices are high. That said, it’s totally doable to do a thru-hike solely on town-bought supplies if you don’t mind paying a little extra and you’re not a fussy eater. I’d actually recommend this option for an end-to-end, because it supports the communities that host you and it saves you from agonising over a nutrition plan before your hike.
If you’re picky about what you eat or you have specific dietary requirements, you can make dried meals with a dehydrator and vacuum sealer, and ship them to yourself along the way. Most hotels, hostels and post offices along the track will happily hold resupply packages for you, just be sure to call in advance before you send them.
If you take this option, be warned – you WILL get sick of the food you make yourself, so be prepared to improvise. Either plan to supplement your meals with town-bought supplies, or make sure you cook up a decent range of dishes. In the past, I’ve hiked with a mix of homemade meals and supplies bought in towns.
You’ll want to make sure you get plenty of calories – about 4000-6000 a day is recommended for long-distance hikers. Sugars and fats might be your enemy in the real world, but they’re your friend on the trail. If you’re walking upwards of 20 kilometres a day for weeks at a time, it’s a battle to keep weight on. On my last 16-day section hike from Northcliffe to Albany, I lost 5 kilos – and that was with a calorie-rich diet, while stuffing my face in each of the towns I visited.
Unless something goes wrong, all your water will come from the tanks at campsites or taps in towns. Tank water should be treated, either with a filter, a UV lamp or some chemical treatment method. Tank water is often yellowish from the tannins in the leaves that get stuck in the shelter gutters, but is still perfectly safe to drink once treated. Some hikers drink straight out of the tanks without treating the water, but I wouldn’t take the risk.
Anyone with an average level of fitness should be able to complete an end-to-end, so long as they actively manage their body and don’t injure themselves. For me, that meant getting a pair of custom orthotics from my podiatrist after experiencing some serious arch pain on multi-day hikes in the Darling Range. They cost nearly $700 and don’t look like much, but they’re probably the best money I’ve ever spent on hiking gear. Ever since I got them, my arch pain has been a non-issue. If you ever got foot pain while walking, it’s worth going to a podiatrist to get your feet assessed.
I also maintain a rigorous stretching routine when I’m on multi-day hikes, to keep my legs from seizing up and to protect my knees. My kneecaps tend to rub against their track if I allow my IT band to get too tight, so I make a point of stretching it and rolling it out whenever I get the chance.
Blisters are a big problem for many hikers, so it’s worth experimenting with different shoe and sock combinations to see what works for you. I’ve never had a single blister since I started wearing Injinji toe socks as a liner, underneath thicker wool socks (in my case, Darn Toughs). Many other hikers swear by this method, but feet are very personal things!
Everybody’s body is different, so do some training hikes to work out any physical issues you might have, and how to manage them.
The only bad time to walk the Bibbulmun is summer. It can get extremely hot in WA between December and February, and the risk of bush fire is too great. Spring and autumn are the most popular times to walk the track, but winter is my favourite because I love seeing all the creeks and rivers in full flow. Rain and flooding can be a problem that time of year, but it’s generally nothing that can’t be overcome with good rain gear and a positive attitude. The Pingerup Plains between Northcliffe and Mandalay Beach are usually inundated in late winter and spring, but many hikers believe it’s worth a few days of wading to see their magnificent wildflowers in full bloom. Western Australia generally doesn’t experience snow or extreme cold, although it can get a little chilly at nights and in the early mornings, so warm clothes and sleeping gear are a must.
There are plenty of great online resources with more info on long-distance hiking. For gear reviews, I often rely on Outdoor Gear Lab. For advice specific to the Bibbulmun, the Bibbulmun Track Hikers Facebook group is a useful resource. Maps, other guides and information on diversions can be found on the Bibbulmun Track Foundation website.
That’s it. Walking the Bibbulmun takes some preparation, but it’s something that anyone of average fitness and mobility should be able to achieve. If you’re attempting an end-to-end for the first time, you’ll inevitably develop your own way of living on the track that will probably vary a little from the directions in this guide. Embrace it, and figure out what works for you.