Day 15 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Undulating coastal cliffs and a long beach section.
Fierce winds woke me up several times during the night at West Cape Howe shelter, and I had to get out of my tent repeatedly to replace tent stakes that were yanked out of the ground when the wind turned the tent fabric into a sail. My Zpacks Duplex tent is an ultralight free-standing model that uses trekking poles and tension to stay upright, rather then heavy tent poles. It only ways 595 grams without its stakes and is roomy enough for two, but it comes with a bit of a learning curve to set up properly. The sandy ground around the campsite didn’t offer enough resistance to my thin ultralight pegs, so I’ve since purchased a set of slightly heavier MSR Mini Groundhog stakes that perform much better in soft soils. I’ve also learned to shorten the hiking poles when setting up the tent in windy conditions, so it has a lower profile to help deflect the wind.
After wrestling my tent back into its stuff sack, I had breakfast with the other two hikers at the shelter and set off with them. I’d planned on making it to Muttonbird that day, which would give me plenty of time to get into Albany and freshen up before the late afternoon bus back to Perth the day after. I said goodbye to Shauna and her partner a little ways up the track, and sped off ahead.
As I approached the cape, the clouds briefly parted, and the sunshine broke through to light up the coast. It’s funny how the same coastal scrub can look beautiful and lush in strong sunlight, but when the clouds return it suddenly looks like it belongs on some Scottish highland. Seeing it in both lights in a short space of time made me feel a little bipolar.
I followed the ups and downs of the coastal cliffs all the way to Torbay campsite, where I stopped for a chilly lunch while I tried in vain to dry the sweat out of my clothing. Torbay is known for its resident quenda, but I didn’t spy it in my short stay at the shelter. I imagine they’re more active around dusk.
Shortly after lunch, I met an overnight hiker going the opposite direction, then continued along the coastal ridge for a few more kilometres before a set of stairs led me down to another beach at Cosy Corner. The map told me I’d be following it for about five kilometres, but thankfully the sand was firm and easy to walk on. While I was trudging along, gusts of wind would blow sheets of sand along the beach, creating a stunning visual effect that I was only partially successful in capturing with my phone camera.
I scrambled around a rocky headland and soon after passed the Torbay inlet, which was thankfully not yet breached. Stormy weather set in again as I neared the exit at Muttonbird Beach, whipping up huge waves that pounded the sand. I climbed up the stairs at Muttonbird Beach in spitting rain, and took momentary shelter at the lookout above the beach. I stowed the clothes I’d been drying on the outside of my pack in a dry bag, and continued along a series of low hills on the coastal ridge.
The turbines of the Albany wind farm loomed into view as I got closer to the campsite, the first sign that I was about to return to civilisation. I made it into Muttonbird around 4PM, the wind blowing even harder than it had been on the beach. A good spot for a wind farm, I guess! Last night’s experience made me reticent to set up my tent again in such blustery conditions, so I rolled out my sleeping mat on the shelter’s wooden boards and made dinner.
I was reading by torchlight in my sleeping bag just after dark, when I glanced up to see a group of millipedes hanging off my water bottle. As I reached over to shake them off, I realised there were hundreds of them, crawling at me from every corner of the shelter. Apparently, they’re attracted to light. Realising I would never sleep under this insect assault, I dug my tent out of my bag and went to find a spot that wasn’t too exposed to the winds.
Thankfully, the Bibbulmun Track designers had thought of this problem, so I found a tent site surrounded by a grove of thick trees and bushes not far from the hut. I pitched my tent – lower this time – and moved all my stuff inside. Safe from the millipedes and protected from the gale going on outside, I had a restful night’s sleep.
Day 14 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Firm coastal dunes with moderate inclines.
I woke up at Casa Libelula in one of the comfiest beds I’d ever slept in, with a view of the beautifully green farm land that surrounds the house. I felt refreshed after my stay at the B&B, although my legs were still very stiff after 13 days of walking. In the scheme of things though, I was in great shape. I had no blisters or sores, no infections, no pulled muscles, no rolled ankles, no inflamed tendons, and happiest of all, no knee pain. I credited that to my rigorous stretching routine, which I’d made a habit of doing every day when I arrived at camp, supplemented by half an hour on host Jacko Vanderbijl’s foam roller at the Casa.
The smell of frying bacon eventually lured me out of bed and into the kitchen, where the ever-hospitable Annie was cooking up a hearty breakfast to see me through a long day on the track. By the book, I had 31.2km ahead of me, but this is somewhat controversial because it includes 4.2km of water between the Denmark river mouth and the Nullaki peninsula boat ramp, on the other side of the Wilson Inlet. The ferry service that used to take walkers across has long since stopped running, so walkers have to make other arrangements. I’d arranged for Jacko to give me a lift to the drop-off point, included in the price of his hiker-friendly accommodation.
After devouring my delicious cooked breakfast I unpacked a supply package I’d mailed to Jacko in anticipation of my arrival, and sorted out my food for the last three days to Albany. Out of toilet paper and gas, Jacko kindly offered me both. One of the few annoyances of long-distance hiking is that so many items simply can’t be purchased in quantities that hikers need. Buying a single roll of TP is pretty much impossible, so you’ve either got to beg, borrow or steal a roll, or buy a whole pack and throw out all but one. But I digress.
We rolled up to the drop-off point around 9:30, and after a quick gear check I said my goodbyes to Jacko and headed once more into the wilderness. I’d left civilisation behind again, and wouldn’t see another hot shower until Albany (more on that debacle later). My aim was to get there in three days, but I had two days to spare in my schedule if I really needed them.
The walk to Nullaki campsite was a pretty standard stroll through low coastal scrub without a whole lot to look at, before the track rose to offer views back towards Denmark. I pushed on through more of the same, seeing surprisingly little of the ocean despite being quite close to it. I was sad to leave the majestic karri forests behind me, as both the Vanderbijls and the guidebook had warned me there would be no more tall trees between here and the finish line. Still, I was glad that the weather was holding up and I was managing to stay cool and dry.
After a few more hours of walking through a more-or-less similar landscape, I made it to a road crossing near Lowlands Beach. The pristine beach was marred by tragedy just days before my arrival, when a local fisherman died after being swept off the rocks. Needing a break, I decided to walk the extra 250 metres to the beach to take in the view.
In the car park, I met an American backpacker and her French boyfriend in an old Subaru who were preparing to walk the same section I had ahead of me, from the beach to West Cape Howe campsite. The couple turned out to be great company, and we chatted about everything from hiking to American football on the walk to the campsite.
I wasn’t even that tired when we arrived, and spent a decent amount of time checking out the lookouts around the shelter. West Cape Howe’s exterior picnic table has probably the best view of any on the Bibbulmun Track, while a secondary lookout up a hill behind the shelter was a perfect spot to take in the sunset.
The beautiful views made me sad that my days on the Bibbulmun were coming to a close, but I knew the achievement of reaching Albany would sweeten the end of the adventure.
Day 13 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Steep climbs and descents.
Even though it had only been two days since I enjoyed the comforts of the Peaceful Bay Caravan Park, I was looking forward to returning to civilisation again. I’d booked a room at Casa Libelula, a B&B on a rural property about 20 minutes outside of Denmark, run by experienced hiker and Bibbulmun Track identity Jacko Vanderbijl and his wife Annie. Jacko has not only end-to-ended the Bibbulmun Track, but also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. The 2,200-mile AT is one of the USA’s “big three” along with the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, the latter of which is on my bucket list.
Since the demise of the Wilson Inlet ferry service, Jacko offers one of the few reliable means for getting around the inlet to continue the track where it picks up on the other side. He included this service, along with dinner, breakfast and access to his laundry, for the extremely reasonable price of $120 for the night. I’ve heard some good things about other accommodation providers in Denmark, but unless I was on some seriously stingy budget I’d stay at the Casa again.
Having only 20 kilometres to walk to the Denmark trailhead, where Jacko had arranged to meet me, I got an early start in anticipation of making it to town for lunch at one of the bakeries. With visions of meat pies, sweet pastries and chocolate milkshakes filling my head, I set off from the campsite and continued along the coast to Lights Beach, another wild and treacherous stretch of sand popular among locals for the many walking trails that branch out from it.
Within minutes of leaving camp I nearly stumbled over an enormous tiger snake, who either didn’t seem too fazed by me or was deliberately playing it cool. Eventually, the snake slithered off into the grass in front of me.
I made the 5.3km to Lights Beach in good time, where the rocky and uneven surface I’d been travelling on for most of my time on the track was replaced with a paved path. It was nice not to have to constantly watch my feet, so I could take in more of the untamed landscape.
Just as I was getting used to walking like a normal person again, the trail reverted to its usual form before leading me on to one of the farms that surround Denmark. I climbed over a stile to enter a pasture, where I walked past a herd of cattle on the way to the base of Mount Hallowell.
While it only reaches 284m above sea level, the climb up Mount Hallowell took a surprisingly long time and the descent took even longer. Or maybe the anticipation of those meat pies just made it feel longer. About halfway up the “mountain” is Monkey Rock, a spectacular natural lookout that I initially mistook for the summit. I realised, when I turned away from the view to see the hill still looming up in front of me, that I was wrong.
Another kilometre or so of wheezing and straining my quadriceps put me at the real summit, which offered a magnificent 360-degree vista of green valleys, pristine forests and wild coastline, along with Denmark itself and the Wilson Inlet.
I ambled down the hill for at least twice as long as I’d spent climbing it – it’s one of those lopsided hills with a steep face on one side and a gradual slope on the other. At the bottom, the track spat me out into Denmark’s outer suburbs, where a scattering of houses hugs the edge of the inlet.
I was running a little early for my pre-arranged pickup by Jacko, so I took a 15-minute break on a little bench with a scenic view which must have been installed with weary hikers in mind.
From there, the track took me on a flat, easy walk through the outskirts of civilisation, alternating between dirt paths and residential streets. I ran into Jacko just short of the river mouth, and walked back with him to his car.
We stopped at the bakery on the way back to Casa Libelula and I bought a meat pie, an apple slice and a carton of choc milk. I never stop craving baked goods and dairy when I’m out on the trail. I devoured my long-awaited lunch at the Casa’s kitchen counter, before dumping all of my clothes into washing machine and enjoying what is still my best shower of 2018. Any shower would have felt good after three days in the wilderness, but using a proper shower with decent pressure and nothing but pure rainwater was pure bliss.
Day 12 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Coastal cliffs and sand. So much sand.
I’d been pretty lucky with the weather so far on my journey, but I knew within 20 minutes of setting off from Boat Harbour that my luck had run out.
What started as a deceptively-sunny morning soon turned into spatters of rain, which quickly became a steady downpour. Complicating matters was the absolutely ferocious wind that howls through the South Coast during storms, and slowed me down considerably.
My rain jacket did a reasonable job of keeping my upper body dry, but my feet got soaked whenever I would brush up against wet bushes, which was always. Breathable trail runners are great for most conditions, but they did nothing to stop water soaking through the mesh top layer and into my socks.
Within a few kilometres of leaving my campsite, my shoes were making an unpleasant squelch with every step. Introducing sand into the equation, from some beach and dune sections, didn’t improve things.
But the dramatic weather only enhanced the wild, exposed feel of the coast, particularly as roaring winds whipped up even bigger waves to crash against the shore. The whole experience was loud, uncomfortable and awe-inspiring.
I had my sights set on the campground at Parry Beach, where I hoped to be able to find some shelter to eat lunch and at least wring out my socks.
After a long, squelchy descent through sand dunes and scrub, I crossed my first paved road since Peaceful Bay and walked into the campground in the middle of another downpour.
My hopes for some respite from the rain were fulfilled when I came across a thoughtfully-placed shelter next to a toilet block, where I stripped off my wet socks and put on another pair I’d kept in a dry bag.
Nothing dried very much during lunch, but I did at least manage to drain the water that had been sloshing around in my shoes, and wring out the insoles (yuck).
The rain subsided after I finished eating, so I packed up again and headed through the campground to the beach, where I began the 7km beach walk I’d been dreading since Northcliffe. At first, the sand was hard as cement and easy to walk on. But after about a kilometre, as Parry Beach became Mazzoletti Beach, it deteriorated into a soft, wet, fine-grained mush that felt like it had to be waded through as much as walked on.
The only highlight, besides the crashing waves and occasional gusts, was a tall limestone formation a little past the half way point. I put in my earphones and plodded on.
After around two hours of slogging through the sand, I reached the eastern end of the beach and hauled myself off it with some heavy chains that replaced an eroded staircase.
I took a moment to look back at how far I’d come, Parry Beach campground now hardly visible on the horizon.
The hardest part of the day over, I steamed up a big hill and arrived at William Bay campsite by mid-afternoon. The 20.4km day wasn’t long by most hiking standards, but the long beach walk and foul weather had worn me out.
Not fancying my chances of a good night’s sleep in the draughty shelter, I set up my tent, and slept.
Day 11 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Hills, beaches and water!
I’d been warned of a challenging day’s hike to Boat Harbour, so I got an early start out of Peaceful Bay. After setting off shortly after dawn, I missed the waugyl marker out of town and ended up wandering up and down a residential street before two friendly locals came out of their houses to steer me right. One lady even asked me if I needed some breakfast, but I’d already filled up on porridge. I can’t imagine getting that offer if I was wandering around the city!
The track out of town took me through some spider-infested forest before turning back towards the coast, and the Irwin Inlet.
After about an hour and a half, I reached one of the highlights of the Bibbulmun Track: the inlet canoe crossing.
The Bibbulmun Track Foundation has set up a canoe shed on either side of the inlet so hikers can cross. There are six canoes in total, so you need to tow one or two back if too many of them end up on one side.
There were three in the shed when I arrived, so I took just one and cast off. Having made good time, I took a while to paddle up and down the inlet before landing on the other shore.
After a break on the eastern shore, I headed up the hill behind the boathouse and into the Showgrounds – an area of preserved wilderness that is unlike anything else in the region.
The landscape here is sandy and undulating, and covered in low scrub. Kangaroos are everywhere, as (I’m told) are wildflowers in spring. Even without the flowers, the wide-open landscape was spectacular in a wild west kind of way.
The scenery rolled on for a couple of hours, before the track rejoined the coast at Big Quarrum Beach. Here the sand was mercifully firm, and I made good time along the beach before stopping for lunch on a rocky headland.
I continued along sandy 4WD tracks and rocky paths along the coast, and couldn’t help but appreciate the raw power of the Southern Ocean where it pounded the shore.
After a few more ups and downs on soft sand dunes, I reached the top of a stretch of soaring cliffs that look down onto some beautiful but completely inaccessible bays.
I made it to Boat Harbour shelter in the mid afternoon, and headed down to the harbour for which it’s named for a refreshing swim.
When I got back, the early signs of a spectacular sunset enticed me to head back up to the cliffs to witness it.
To say it was worth the effort would be an understatement.