Day one of a two-day hike from Southampton Bridge to Donnelly River Village.
Q: What do you do the weekend after finishing the Bibbulmun?
A: Go hiking on the Bibbulmun!
Normally I’m reluctant to drive any further than Bunbury on a regular weekend, but after a month of slogging through some comparatively uninspiring sections of the Bibb in my quest to finish my end-to-end I was hankering to get back to the karri forest. My hiking friends Bonny, Pete and Fahad were organising an overnight hike from Southampton Bridge, near Balingup, to Donnelly River Village, so I gladly joined in.
I last did this section on an eight-day hike at the same time last year, from Balingup to Pemberton. I was 20 kilos heavier at the time, so I was looking forward to testing out my new and improved self on the trail, now that I had a baseline. Bonny and I left Perth around 6:30 on the Saturday morning, and enjoyed a drive through stunning rolling farmland on the way in to Donnelly River Village (hereafter referred to as DRV) from Greenbushes.
We met Pete and Fahad at the DRV general store, where we unloaded our gear and hopped into Pete’s 4WD for the drive to the start point at Southampton Bridge. The route took us along a scenic dirt road that hugs the banks of the Blackwood River, offering more spectacular views of brilliant verdant farmland and the churning river. Our pleasant drive was interrupted when we came across a massive pile of tree branches, which must have fallen onto the road during the recent stormy weather. In the immortal words of Russell Coight: Nothing for it.
We managed to break some of the smaller branches off by hand, but we couldn’t do much about the biggest branch that was still blocking the road. Pete came to the rescue with an axe he’d kept in his boot, eventually splitting the larger branch after a strenuous few minutes of chopping. We hauled it away, and headed on.
We reached Southampton Bridge shortly after, loaded up, and started walking back down the road we’d driven in on – which happens to also be the Bibbulmun. Soon enough we turned off to a smaller road that leads steeply up a hill to Millstream Dam, the main source of drinking water for the Bridgetown region. After 30 minutes or so of huffing up the road in intermittent rain, we reached the entry to the dam (public access to the dam isn’t allowed) and followed the track off the road and into the forest.
The wind picked up as we ascended through the bush, bringing more rain with it. The wet, squally weather was much like what I experienced in this section last year, and I think it’s one of the best ways to experience this part of the track. Sure, nobody likes getting soaked, but to see the forest alive with running water and glistening leaves is a really authentic way to immerse yourself in that environment.
We stopped for lunch at a big log, occasionally interrupted by more brief showers. I was nervous about my new camera, which I had wrapped up in a plastic rain cover on the outside of my pack that I didn’t entirely trust. Every time I took it out to get a photo it would get coated in raindrops, which I would fastidiously wipe off before bundling it away again.
Eventually the clouds parted, and we spent much of the afternoon hiking under blue skies. We followed the track through the forest until it descended to a well-graded logging road, which we walked along for a few hundred metres before veering off onto another 4WD track. An emu darted across the track just in front of us while we were halfway up a hill, and the others heard another scurrying around the bush shortly after. Pete ventured off to try and snoop it out for a photo, but to no avail.
A little over a kilometre before the campsite we came across an ephemeral stream, which was cascading over a dip near where it crossed the track. Sensing an opportunity to play with my new 10-stop neutral density filter, I let the others go ahead and whipped out my tripod. I had to set it up in the water to get the best angle, but after some trial and error I managed to get a few decent shots of wispy white water spilling over some rocks.
After about half an hour of tinkering I packed away my gear and continued on. I smelled the smoke from the campfire while I was walking along the ridge above Gregory Brook, and descended into camp to find the others settling in. The campsite is one of my favourites of the whole Bibbulmun, because the brook for which it’s named wraps around the shelter on two sides. It was flowing with some force while we were there, serenading the whole campsite with the sound of rushing water.
I set up my tent behind the shelter, and joined the others for a delicious dinner prepared by chef Pete. The highlight was the fried saganaki cheese soaked in fresh lemon juice, which was simply mouthwatering. Who said hiking has to be spartan? After way too much food – including a delicious sago dessert, courtesy of Bonny – I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep to the sound of the running brook.