Ghost House Trail

Where: Yanchep National Park
Length: 11.7 kilometre loop (2.5-4 hours)
Park hours: 24/7
Difficulty: Grade 3
Elevation gain: 175m
Cost: National Park entry fees apply per vehicle
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Warm spring days are a time for slowing down and smelling the wildflowers, and Yanchep National Park’s Ghost House Trail is one of the best places in Perth to do it. The flat, 11.7km loop is a slowly-unfolding gallery of colour in wildflower season, brimming with golden wattles, red banksias, kangaroo paws and countless other varieties of native flowers from start to finish.  Do yourself a favour and take your camera, and allow plenty of time for lingering to take photos of the flowers and wildlife.

The trail is named for an old ruined house it passes by, although I’ve yet to encounter any ghosts in it. If you want to visit the ruins at their spookiest, you can camp overnight at nearby Shapcott shelter.

The walk: The Ghost House Trail is officially a 9.2km one-way path that spurs off the Wetlands Walk Trail, but realistically you’ve got to do the extra 1.5km to complete the loop and return to your car. I recommend picking up a map at the park entrance, and starting the walk from the visitors center at McNess House. There are no signs for the Ghost House at the visitors centre, but all trails lead in the same direction. Follow the many markers and you’ll soon come across the comical Ghost House marker – a clip art ghost hovering over some ruins.

After a short walk through some unspoiled bush and around the camping area, you’ll arrive at Cabaret Cave – a limestone cave that has been converted to a function venue. The path then continues deeper into the park, winding its way through shaded forest and open, sandy areas with low-lying scrub. Shapcott hut, near the half-way point, is an ideal lunch stop or overnight camp, if you feel inclined to stretch the hike over two days. It’s worth exploring the short spur trail that leads from the hut to some low cliffs, which you can ascend with a short scramble.

After Shapcott the track soon turns back towards Loch McNess, the lake at the park entrance. More wildflowers and birds were plentiful on my walk, including a pesky kookaburra I spent five minutes chasing from tree to tree to get the perfect shot. The trail follows the edge of the lake for the last 30 minutes or so of walking, offering expansive views of the water and surrounding wetlands, where you can often see black swans.

After your walk you can enjoy some well-deserved refreshments at the Yanchep Inn, or set up a picnic on the lawns in front of McNess House.

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Echidna Trail

Where: Walyunga National Park
Length: 11 kilometre loop (2-4 hours)
Park hours: 8AM-5PM
Difficulty: Grade 3
Elevation gain: 431m
Cost: National Park entry fees apply per vehicle
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Logically, the view from a lookout is no different whether you drove to it or hiked to it. The rational part of my brain knows this, but the rest of me is convinced that the act of huffing up an enormous hill to get to a scenic overlook makes the vista seem so much more beautiful. If you’re like me, you’ll love the Echidna Trail. The 11km loop is the longest of five trails in Walyunga National park, about a 45-minute drive from Perth. One big steep climb from the river bank will get you sweating, but you’re rewarded with a sweeping panorama of the Avon River Valley. Visit in late winter or spring to see the river at its highest, along with many beautiful wildflowers.

The walk: The trail starts and finishes at the Walyunga Pool car park, which is the first turnoff on the right after the park entrance gate. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to complete the walk by 5PM, when the gate is locked. Walyunga Pool is a great spot for a picnic before or after the hike, with picnic tables, barbecues and great views of the rushing river. From the car park, follow the triangular trail markers with the black footprints along the river bank. The first three kilometres of the Echidna follow the river bank, on a flat, well-graded path shared with a number of shorter trails. If you do the Echidna anti-clockwise (recommended) you’ll pass another picnic area at Boongarup Pool before a straight 1km section to Syds Rapid.

A rail line on the other side of the river carries both freight and passenger trains, including the famous Indian Pacific near the end of its 4,352-kilometre journey from Sydney. Syds Rapid is a great spot for a break, offering great views of the roaring white water. In August, it’s an ideal place to catch the action of the Avon Descent white-water race. From the rapids, the trail turns away from the river and begins its long ascent on a rugged 4WD track. The climb ends at the edge of some farm land, where you can take in a varied and idyllic view of native bush bordering green pastures.

After a few more ups and downs you’ll reach a fire spotting tower on Woodsome Hill, the highest point of the park. The trail flattens out a little after the hill, passing a series of scenic overlooks with sweeping views of the Swan Coastal Plain and the city skyline in the distance. From here the trail is essentially a long, slow descent back to the start point, through bush that was brimming with kangaroos and birds on my most recent visit. I wasn’t lucky enough to see any of the echidnas the trail is named for, but they are around!

If you finish early enough, be sure to stop in at some of the many fantastic wineries and gourmet food makers in the Swan Valley on your way back to the city.

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Where: John Forrest National Park
Length: 15 kilometre loop (3-5 hours)
Park hours: 24/7
Difficulty: Grade 3
Elevation gain: 431m
Cost: National Park entry fees apply per vehicle
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Map

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The Eagle View is my favourite day walk in Perth, hands down. It’s got everything I love in a hike; flowing water, stunning vistas, a decent physical challenge, wildflowers and unspoiled bush. It’s also only a 40 minute drive from the centre of Perth, making it perfect for a sunny Sunday. I’ve done the walk over a dozen times (including at night) in all four seasons, but it’s at its most beautiful between August and October, when the Jane Brook is in full flow and the wildflowers are blooming.

 

Getting there: The Eagle View starts and ends near the ranger station at John Forrest National Park, about 40 minutes east of the Perth CBD. You can enter John Forrest via Park Road, off the Great Eastern Highway in Glen Forrest. Park Road intersects the highway at three places – the middle one is the most direct entrance to the park, but the one closest to the city offers a beautiful scenic drive. If you don’t have a car, you can get the 320 bus to the park entrance from Midland train station, but the return walk to the trail head will add about 5km (although a couchsurfer I once hosted managed to hitch in). Entry fees apply for vehicles, unless you have an annual pass.

 

The walk: The trail is a 15km loop that you can do in either direction, but the signage is much easier to follow clockwise. I’d only recommend walking it anti-clockwise if you’re familiar with the route.

On arrival, head to the ranger station by the lower car park and register your hike in the sign-in book kept on the porch. Free maps are available here. Head down to the new footbridge over the Jane Brook, cross it, then turn left. From here, all you need to do is follow the yellow eagle markers the whole way.

In late winter and spring the first few kilometres of the walk will be along the banks of the rushing Jane Brook, passing the magnificent National Park Falls after an easy 1.5 kilometres of well-graded trail. From the falls you can either take the path along the edge of the brook – an often-rocky scramble followed by a steep climb with excellent views – or take the easier ridge route that branches off to the right. Both are great walks, but I generally only take the ridge when the brook isn’t flowing. The two paths rejoin each other near the western lookout, where there are spectacular views of Perth, framed by enormous boulders. This is a great spot for a lunch break.

From the lookout the trail delves deeper into John Forrest, going up and down hills and through many beautiful sections of jarrah and wandoo forest. In late winter or spring you’ll regularly cross small streams that bring life to the bush, and you’ll encounter plenty of colourful wildflowers.

 

A ridge at about the 7km mark looks down over an area of bush where there was once a wandoo tree with an eagle’s nest, which inspired the trail’s name. A second natural lookout around the 10km mark offers more city views, and is another ideal spot for a break.

The trail rejoins Jane Brook shortly before the end, near Hovea Falls – the slightly more sedate cousin of National Park Falls. After you return to the ranger station, be sure to sign out before heading to the neighbouring John Forrest Tavern for a celebratory pint with the pub’s tame kangaroos. Alternatively, the park has excellent picnic facilities with barbecues, shelters and public toilets.

 

 

Day two of a two-day hike from Southampton Bridge, near Balingup, to Donnelly River Village.

Distance: 22.5km

There are few better feelings that being warm and dry in a sturdy tent while the rain buckets down on top of it. The sound of the rain and swaying leaves lulled me to sleep at Gregory Brook, but I woke up the next morning to thin rays of sunshine piercing through the tree canopy. I eventually mustered the courage to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag, and joined my hiking friends Bonny, Pete and Fahad for breakfast in the wooden shelter.

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Fahad was on breakfast duty, and was in the middle of preparing some delicious shakshouka (basically eggs in spicy tomato sauce) by the time I arrived. We chowed down and sipped our morning coffees, enjoying the glistening stillness of the bush after a night of heavy rain. I took some time out to snap some photos of the campsite and the brook before we packed up camp.

 

We headed off later than planned, but not before we met Pack Animal (aka Dave),  a legendary Bibbulmun hiker who’d left Donnelly River Village very early that morning to avoid the afternoon’s forecast storms. Pack Animal is easily the most prolific hiker of the Bibbulmun, and he’s clocked up more end-to-ends than is worth counting. His name appears dozens of times in every single logbook, always with the same annotation: “All good, nice sunny day”. We hadn’t been as careful in our planning as he had, and were dreading being caught in a major downpour. So, after a short chat, we hit the track.

The bush was green and wet, and alive with rivulets of runoff that occasionally crossed the track. Raindrops still clung to leaves and gleamed in the sunlight, and the occasional gust of wind would shake them off the soaring tree canopies and onto our heads. Thankfully, it was sunny and dried off quickly. After about an hour of mostly pleasant walking on foot trail and 4WD tracks in the sunshine, we made it to the Karri Gully picnic area on the Brockman Highway, and stopped for a group photo.

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Karri Gully is one of the first sightings of the track’s towering karri trees for southbound hikers, and it was good to see them again after a series of somewhat unspectacular hikes further north on my quest to finish my end-to-end. After leaving the gully, we followed the track along the north side of the highway for about a kilometre before following it across the road and descending into the bush.

The track got wetter and more inundated as we dipped closer to the maze of tributaries that feed the Donnelly River. Before long, we reached the first of a series of moss-covered wooden footbridges over a fast-moving stream. The light was perfect, so I went scrambling in the bush to get just the right angle for a photo.

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The sky got darker as we approached Willow Springs campground, our planned lunch spot, and short bursts of rain pelted us. We arrived at the campground in the middle of a particularly fierce squall, and considered pushing on until the weather improved, but it quickly abated and we were able to enjoy a hurried lunch at one of the picnic tables.

The intermittent showers continued after lunch, eventually forcing me to stow my camera in a dry bag. We trekked under more towering karris for a couple of hours, then reached a decommissioned road bridge that crosses the Donnelly River, which was still not flowing.

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We turned onto Snake Road, another old 4WD track that leads all the way to Donnelly River Village. Luckily the showers eased, making for an enjoyable walk for our last six kilometres into “town”. We passed an abandoned campsite, climbed and descended a series of hills, then Snake Road spat us out into a grove of especially huge karris at the edge of the village. We took a break to take some photos, and listened to the amazing sound of the wind whipping through their towering canopies.

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I made it to the village store feeling a lot better than I had the last time I walked this section a year ago, when I was 20 kilos heavier and significantly less fit. I had vivid memories of limping into town with seized muscles and aching feet, but this time I was only a little tired, and in need of a stretch. I found Fahad, who’d raced ahead, making friends with the tame kangaroos and emus that hang around outside the shop. I met the “mayor” of DRV, Andrew Sullivan, who is also a councillor at the City of Fremantle near my home in Perth. I ran around and got plenty of wildlife photos, before we loaded up my car and drove back to collect Pete’s car at Southampton Bridge.

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This two-day hike inspired me to re-do the sections around Balingup and Pemberton, but it will probably have to wait until after I do the Pacific Crest Trail next year. I’d thoroughly recommend the Southampton Bridge to DRV stretch to anyone looking for a weekend among the karris. At about three hours drive from Perth, it’s doable on a regular weekend if you’re prepared to get up early enough. Unfortunately there are no transport links to DRV, so you’ll need to take two cars or make other arrangements.

A week ago, a Finnish couple hiking in the Perth Hills were the victims of a terrifying and brutal attack. The violent encounter happened on Fern Road in Paulls Valley, just a few kilometres from the Bibbulmun Track’s northern terminus. The Finnish man and woman, both 33, were walking along the road when a man allegedly tried to run them down with his 4WD ute, before leaving his vehicle to attack them with a shovel.

The driver allegedly assaulted the Finnish man, leaving him with a serious head wound. After a scuffle, the Finnish woman managed to seize the shovel and hit the alleged attacker. Another hiker then arrived to help the couple hold down the alleged assailant until police arrived. Thankfully, both hikers have since been discharged from hospital.

At the time of writing, 36-year-old Sawyer’s Valley man Matt Whittaker was in jail, awaiting trial on one charge of attempting to unlawfully kill. Police say he did not know the two hikers prior to the incident.

The attack has shaken the Perth hiking community, most of whom know the track as a place of safety and tranquility. It has also attracted plenty of media attention. “TERROR ON BIBBULMUN TRACK” proclaimed page one of Monday’s edition of the West Australian, along with a two-page spread complete with photos of forensic detectives alongside the Bibbulmun’s iconic waugyl markers. I received Facebook messages from a TV reporter looking for information on the good Samaritan hiker, as did many others in hiking Facebook groups. The story led several TV news bulletins.

Unfortunately, much of the reporting lacked context, and fed many of the misinformed fears about hiking. I spoke to Bibbulmun Track Foundation (BTF) lead guide Steve Sertis about it.

“It was sensationalised quite a bit,” Steve said. “Probably the worst was Channel Ten’s black and white footage of a guy walking down the track with a shovel. They dramatised it.”

Steve said he stressed to reporters that while the couple were hiking the Bibbulmun, they were doing so on a section that is essentially in the outer suburbs of Perth. “All the footage that I’ve seen shows the dirt track,” Steve said. “If they’d turned the camera around 180 degrees they would have seen bitumen.”

As Steve points out, this was not some Wolf Creek-style remote horror story. The site of the attack was just 3 kilometres from Kalamunda’s main street, as the crow flies. From an end-to-ender’s perspective, it’s practically in town. “[The journalists] really cut out a lot of stuff I told them,” Steve said. “It made it look like it was a remote area out in the bush, which is not the case. This is a very random incident that could have happened anywhere. It’s the first time there’s ever been an assault that we’re aware of.”

I don’t want to minimise the terrible ordeal suffered by the two Finnish hikers. Encountering a violent or dangerous character on the track would be the nightmare of anyone who walks it. But it’s also exceedingly rare, and far less likely to occur in the bush than it is in the city.

Still, like airplane travel, there’s something about hiking in the bush that stokes people’s imaginations, despite its relative safety. Since it hit the news, several non-hiker friends have asked me what I thought about the incident. “Don’t you worry something like that might happen to you when you’re out there?” asked one friend. “What if you had no one else with you?”

These kinds of fears are common among non-hikers and people considering solo hiking for the first time. Being away from the safety net of civilisation can be unnerving at first, and it’s easy to imagine all kinds of scary scenarios when you’re three days from the nearest town with no phone signal. “Yes, you’ve got to think about personal safety, but from the perspective of ‘do I have my first aid kit’ or ‘what happens if I break my ankle or get bitten by a snake’,” Steve said. “I tell people the worst thing that’s likely to happen to them is they’ll get a blister.”

Steve said he could think of two people who have died while out on the track since its formation in the late 1970s – one of a heart attack, and another of a different medical condition. Another male hiker went missing near Walpole in 2013, and a coronial inquest ruled he likely drowned.

The BTF doesn’t have a complete picture of incidents on the track, partly because they are usually handled by other agencies without the Foundation’s involvement. But the BTF does contribute data on reported injuries and other incidents to UPLOADS, a national data set on guided outdoor activities.

In its most recent year of reporting, the two categories associated with hiking (walking/running outdoors and camping in tents) had a relatively low injury rate of around 6 per 1000 participants. Granted, these are guided activities only and they’re not exclusive to hiking, but the risks are low. It’s a cliché, but you’re far more likely to be killed in a car accident on the way to a hike than you are on the Bibbulmun Track.

That said, there are risks associated with walking the Bibbulmun that require a basic level of knowledge and preparation to be properly mitigated. The biggest risk factor, according to Steve, is walking at the wrong time of year. “People go walking in summer and aren’t prepared for the amount of water they might need,” he said. “The Australian bush is so dry, and creeks don’t run.” I generally stop hiking around mid-November and don’t pick it up again until March, depending on the weather. Snakes are more active in summer, tanks run dry, heatstroke is more of a concern, and the bushfire risk is generally high.

In January 2018, a hiker was airlifted by a helicopter from the Helena shelter in the Perth hills minutes before it was destroyed by a bushfire. He was incredibly lucky to be spotted by an aircraft as the fire approached.

Breaking, fracturing or spraining something in a fall is my biggest concern when I’m hiking solo, but it’s unlikely to be fatal unless it involves a serious head injury. I always pay close attention when scrambling over rocks or walking on especially uneven terrain. I also carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) so I can summon help if something like this happens. PLBs are not unreasonably expensive, and should be considered compulsory on any hike outside of phone service areas.

Exhaustion, dehydration and hyponatremia (running out of body salts) can all afflict hikers, and require some level of management to be avoided, but it’s only a case of knowing your body and consuming the right amount of food and water. I suffered some mild hyponatremia at Long Point, near Walpole. It was an unnerving and extremely uncomfortable experience, but it taught me how to prevent it in future. In short, take more breaks and keep up your salt intake.

Getting lost is one of the most common concerns, but the Bibbulmun is well-marked and usually easy to follow. I use maps, guidebooks and the Guthook app mostly to tell me how far I have to go, and only rarely to check that I’m still on the right path. Missing a turnoff is the easiest way to lose the trail, but all you must do is retrace your steps until you find a marker.

Wildlife are probably the most overstated risk on the track, because snakes and spiders are scary. While the common dugites and tiger snakes you’ll encounter on the Bibbulmun are venomous, they like to keep to themselves and will almost always get out of your way before you’re aware of them. They can be sluggish in the mornings but are not a problem if you pay attention to your surroundings. I generally wear gaiters on overgrown sections, just in case. Spiders are almost not worth mentioning – they look scary, but leave them alone and they’ll return the courtesy.

Other people are the biggest concern of many hikers, especially women hiking alone. While the track has more than its share of odd characters, I’ve never met anyone who I’ve felt threatened by. That said, I’m a 28-year-old man and I haven’t lived the experience of being a woman alone on the track – though many regularly do.

While it’s important to keep all these risks in mind when you’re planning your hikes, I don’t think they should ever dissuade anyone from hiking in the first place. On the scale of risky activities it would be buried somewhere near the bottom, and that’s before you even consider the many physical and mental health benefits of hiking. Managing your risk is essential, but the bigger risk is missing out on an incredible experience.