Day 10 of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Up and down coastal cliffs, some beach walking.
I’d been hearing about the famous fish and chips at the Peaceful Bay caravan park since I left Northcliffe, so I was looking forward to a delicious dinner after a short day of walking. I’d pushed myself to double hut from Frankland River to Rame Head the day before, so I felt I deserved a day off from long slogs.
I woke to a beautiful sunrise over the ocean at Rame Head, then took my time making breakfast and packing up camp before I hit the track.
From the campsite, the trail follows an old 4WD drive that’s closed to traffic by a vehicle gate. After a few ups and downs, I rounded a corner past a tall bush only to startle a kangaroo, who had been snoozing right next to the track.
He propped himself up with his arms and stared at me bleary-eyed while I tried to frame a photo, ultimately deciding I wasn’t worth the bother of getting all the way out of bed.
The scene was so perfect I took a dozen shots. As I slowly backed away, he flopped back down to sleep.
The track in this section wanders its way along the coastline to the Peaceful Bay settlement, taking way longer than it really needs to. The meandering path is well worth the extra time though, as it takes you along some stunning cliffs and wild beaches with stunning views.
A short, rocky scramble a while later took me up to some really tall cliffs where there is apparently a blowhole, although I didn’t see it. From there, the track passed above the south side of an idyllic little bay before descending onto the sand.
Down at sea level again, I followed another rocky section around a headland and onto soft sand for the last kilometre or so. Even for short distances, walking in sand is always a trudge. By the time I made it to Peaceful Bay, I was well and truly ready for a rest.
I checked in at the caravan park office, bought myself an iced coffee (I really crave dairy on long hikes) and had my packed lunch of tortillas, hummus and salami on the cafe balcony.
Fed, I set up my tent in the park, put my clothes in a washing machine and had another much-needed hot shower.
I went for my long-awaited fresh fish and chips at 6, and they were every bit as advertised! I cheaped out by getting the kingfish ($15), but it was delicious enough I was glad I didn’t pay the extra $10 for whatever the premium fish was.
Making the most of the rare luxury of electric wall sockets, I watched a couple of episodes of Designated Survivor (2 stars, would not recommend) on my phone before heading to bed.
It didn’t feel like I had much of a day off by the time I flopped into bed, and I had a restful night of deep sleep.
Day nine of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: A bit of everything
I woke up at Frankland River campsite with the intention of making it to Giants, just 15km southbound on the track.
The German trio from the night before were still sleeping in the hut by the time I got up, so I made breakfast as quietly as possible. I’d diligently packed my food in the rodent box after reading reports of bush rats at the shelter, but I was surprised to find one of the water bottles I’d left on a picnic table chewed through. Given we were only 10 metres from a beautiful clean river, I thought that was pretty damn inconsiderate.
Fortunately it was only about 13km to the Valley of the Giants, where I could buy another water bottle. I packed up, left the Germans a note in the register, and headed off.
From the campsite the track winds its way along the bank of the Frankland River for a while, crossing it at the newly-rebuilt Sappers Bridge.
After crossing the bridge, the track led me through more tingle forest and into the Valley of the Giants – a major tourist attraction famous for its treetop walk.
I’d done the walk before so I opted not to pay for it, but I bought myself a new water bottle at the gift shop and ate lunch on one of the benches at the entrance.
Watching a bus pull up and offload a fresh batch of tourists, I couldn’t help but wonder at what a vastly different experience we were having in the same place. While they were mere minutes from their accommodation and all the comforts of civilisation, I was two days away from my next shower.
Giants campsite is barely half an hour’s walk from the visitor’s centre, and by the time I arrived it was barely noon. I took my pack off for a rest and a stretch, but decided I didn’t want to spend the whole afternoon loitering around the shelter. Knowing it was another 16km to Rame Head, I decided to saddle up and push on.
The next section is another major transition from forest to beach, passing some farmland before reaching the coastal scrub.
I descended from the tingle forest to cross the highway and join an old railway formation. After a few kilometres of flat walking, the track climbed another hill and offered the day’s first glimpse of the ocean.
The track reaches the coast at Conspicuous Beach, where I took another break and a hesitant paddle in rough water while a couple of fisherman watched on.
After a short beach walk, I followed the track up through the dunes to the crest of Conspicuous Cliffs. There were plenty of kangaroos out in the golden hour, and I made it to Rame Head campsite just before sunset.
Considering I’d just walked my first 20-mile day, I felt pretty good! I set up my tent in a nice sheltered spot, and took in the amazing coastal views as I made a dinner of powdered mashed potatoes and beans. Yum!
Day eight of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Terrain: Steep climb followed by easy, gradual descent.
Its funny how bad days are often followed by great days on long-distance hikes.
After my worrying encounter with hyponatremia at Long Point and a long walk through the dark to make it into Walpole on schedule, I was looking forward to a pair of short days heading out of town.
I woke up on day 8 at around 7AM after more than 12 hours of uninterrupted, dreamless sleep. I guess my body needed the rest after the abuse I’d put it through over the past week – or it just didn’t want to leave the first real bed I’d seen in that time.
I was in no rush to leave town with only 18km to the next campsite, so I walked down to one of the cafes for a calorific cooked breakfast and bought some last-minute supplies on the way back to the hostel.
Finally at around 9AM with supplies restocked, batteries charged and legs stretched, I started walking again.
The sun was out but it was still comfortably cool, and I enjoyed the unhurried stroll through the streets of Walpole and around the inlet to Coalmine Beach.
It was barely more than 24 hours ago that I was worried I might have knocked myself out of this hike, but now I felt confident again. I stopped several times to take in beautiful inlet views from various spots, and to snap some tame kangaroos at the Coalmine Beach caravan park.
A misleading waugyl marker caused me to go wandering down a 4WD track just short of the day’s only big hill, only to find myself at the edge of the inlet with nowhere to go.
After doubling back I managed to find the track again, and headed off in the right direction. The climb up the hill was steep but manageable, through more beautiful Tingle forest on firm, mostly-even ground.
Most of the way up I arrived at Hilltop Lookout, which enjoys a great view of the ocean and the mouth of the Nornalup Inlet. I took my pack off and stopped for a stretch.
A couple of friendly grey nomads turned up in an enormous 4WD and peppered me with the usual assortment of questions. (What do you do for water? Do you sleep in the huts? Isn’t all that food heavy?)
Answers dispensed, we parted ways and I headed for my lunch stop destination for the day: the Giant Tingle Tree.
This massive tree is so big there’s a boardwalk running through its hollowed base. It’s the centrepiece of a pretty spectacular walk trail you can access by car.
I assembled and ate my wrap at a picnic table (what a luxury!) before continuing on through the forest. It wasn’t until I left the area around the Giant Tingle that I felt I’d truly left civilisation again.
From thereon the track gradually eased its way down to the level of the Frankland River, following 4WD tracks for a long, scenic section with great views down onto heavily-wooded valleys below.
For the first time on this trip I put in my earphones and listened to some music while I hiked, and for the first time I wasn’t counting kilometres to the campsite.
I arrived at Frankland River earlier than I really wanted to, but it’s almost impossible to walk past such a beautiful shelter.
It’s right on the bank of the Frankland River, and is the only shelter built on stilts on the entire Bibbulmun Track. It’s also the only shelter with a wooden deck.
It’s also infested with rats, so I opted as usual to set up my tent in one of the adjoining tent sites.
House built for the night, I slipped down to the river for a cheeky skinny dip.
When I got back I met two young German guys and a girl who were overnight hiking for the first time, while on working holiday visas.
They’d scrounged together their gear from garage sales and op shops, and weren’t loving lugging it up and down the big hills. But they were in good spirits, and looking forward to continuing their four-day adventure from Walpole to Peaceful Bay.
I had dinner with them and another local hiker named Leo, before turning in for another early night just after sunset.
I couldn’t help but feel good about my hike after a great first day out of Walpole, and I was looking forward to what else the track had in store.
Day five of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track.
Distance: 21.8km direct, 23.3km with optional Mount Pingerup diversion.
Terrain: Flat, with an optional climb up Mount Pingerup.
I’d pitched my tent at one of the sites behind Mount Chance shelter, at a spot ensconced in the thick bush. Massive karri trees were all around the shelter and the tent sites, their huge branches intertwining to form a thick canopy that filters the moonlight to the forest floor. I tried not to think about how quickly I’d be turned into a human crepe if the wrong branch decided to dislodge itself in the vicinity of my tent in the middle of the night. Ouch. The thought didn’t keep me from sleeping and I woke in the early dawn after a restful night, keen to see the sunrise at the top of the mount after yesterday’s spectacular sunset. It was even better.
A blanket of cool mist had descended on the plains that Bonny and I had spent yesterday traversing, and we watched it flow like a river along the valley floor. Broke Inlet was also visible far off in the distance, our first hint that we were getting closer to the South Coast.
We lingered on top of the massive granite dome that is Mount Chance for 15 minutes or so, soaking in the view and taking advantage of the phone reception to check the forecast and messages from home. Then a quick breakfast, and we set off. The day’s walk started much the way yesterday’s had ended, with more overgrown open plains interspersed with islands of jarrah forest.
More beautiful swamp bottle brushes were our occasional companions, lighting up the trail in brilliant red.
This area felt about as remote as it gets on the Bibbulmun Track, as the track itself was the only sign of human interference for many kilometres. The firm, level track made for some very easy walking, and I found a decent rhythm pretty quickly. I was so in the zone, I made it the entire 7.8km to the junction with the Mount Pingerup walk trail without once checking my watch. That must be a personal record.
After turning right onto the Mount Pingerup walk trail, the track gradually ascends for a couple of hundred metres before turning off it and going back down the mount. I’d gone ahead of Bonny but we’d agreed it would be a huge waste to make it all the way out here and not climb Mount Pingerup, so I drew a (hopefully) obvious arrow on the ground pointing to the summit and headed up the spur trail. After 750 metres of sweating my way up an increasingly steep 4WD track, then walking track, then several sets of stairs, I reached the summit with a soaked shirt. I hung it over a rock to dry, and took in the incredible views.
I bummed around for a bit until Bonny showed up about 20 minutes later (she’s much more thorough about taking pictures, something I regret not doing as much for the first week of the walk). I was about ready to leave by the time Bonny arrived, so we made plans to stop for lunch at another “substantial footbridge” noted in the guidebook, another 8km down the track. After descending the mount, the track soon returned to the Pingerup plains and wound its way around and through yet-more stands of jarrah.
The trees became thicker and the track more shaded after I crossed Broke Inlet Road, culminating in a bizarre section of no more than a few hundred metres where half the trees appeared to have been blown over by an extremely localised storm. Perhaps they were disturbed by a UFO landing.
Not long after I made it to our lunch spot – a footbridge crossing a stagnant but still-pretty creek. While I was making lunch (salami wrap with rehydrated hommus, yum) a tiny lizard popped it’s head up from between the boards about a metre in front of me, took one look and me and retreated. Seconds later he resurfaced one gap closer to me, and vanished again. He repeated the process a couple of times until he was right in front of my shoes, which must have smelled delicious or something.
Bonny joined Bob and I shortly after, and we (well, Bonny and I – not Bob) set off for the last few kilometres to Woolbales campsite. We made it there by mid afternoon and met a couple of Victorian guys out on a northbound section hike.
Like Mount Chance, Woolbales shelter is right next to a massive granite dome you can climb for incredible views. The climb is a bit longer (which doesn’t really say much), but definitely worth it.
Broke Inlet was now clearly visible to the west, as were the massive hills of the Nuyts Wilderness in the far distance. We scrambled back down the hill for a quick dinner, so we could make it back up for sunset.
The silent atmosphere on the summit while the light faded was almost indescribable. There are moments on long hikes when you realise how lucky you are to be on such an incredible adventure, and this was one of them. I was conscious that I was experiencing a part of Western Australia that even most locals will never see, and that you can only ever see on a journey by foot. As the sun faded behind the horizon, the sky slowly lit up with stars and we were treated to a spectacular view of the Milky Way. I almost wished I had my camera and tripod to capture it, but being without them meant I had no option but to lie on the granite and point my eyes at the heavens.
Day four of my 16-day/335km section hike from Northcliffe to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track
Terrain: Mostly flat, some overgrown sections.
I woke up at Dog Pool to the sight of an assortment of miniature Easter eggs arrayed around the shelter. The Easter
Bonny Bunny had paid a visit in the night! A dozen or so of them complemented my usual breakfast of oats pretty well, especially washed down with hot cocoa. Did I mention I’m a sweet tooth?
With only a short day’s walk ahead of us, I took some extra time to do some stretches before we set off. I’d been conscious of my tendency for occasional knee pain since we left Northcliffe four days earlier, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t surface. A minor strain in my upper back was also begging for a foam roller, but a ball loaned to me by Carla the night before had been a good substitute.
My knee pain is caused by patellofemoral syndrome, where the knee cap (patella) doesn’t track correctly in its groove, causing it to rub against the side. It’s a pretty common problem, and is often caused by an overly-tight illitobial band on the outside of your leg. On the advice of my physio, I’d been regular stretching and rolling out the IT band for weeks before this hike, and was also working on developing my glutes and hip muscles to improve my stability.
If you suffer from knee pain and haven’t been to a physio, do yourself a favour and go see one. I can strongly recommend Floreat Physio in Perth, where I was quickly diagnosed and put on a management plan without being pushed to do more follow-ups than were necessary. Anyway, on to the hike.
We’d heard from Carla and others that the water tank at Mt Chance was dry, which meant we needed to carry a two-day supply of water from Dog Pool. Water is probably the heaviest item on most hikers’ packing lists, and carrying nearly six litres definitely made me feel every step a little bit harder. Thankfully, it was a pretty easy day’s walking.
From Dog Pool shelter, the track continues southbound on Dog Road before turning right onto another wide dirt road (Marron Road) after about a kilometre. We spent the next 10 kilometres following Marron Road and other vehicle tracks through some fairly unremarkable bush before they spat us out into the Pingerup plains, which were stunningly beautiful. The track in this section is mostly a two-foot-wide strip of sandy soil carved through the foliage, which is prolific.
The area is low-lying and inundated for many months of the year, clearly making it tough for track maintenance volunteers to keep the fast-growing prickly hakeas at bay. The spiky bushes aren’t fun to walk into but they don’t irritate the skin, so it was just a matter of pulling my hat over my face and charging through. Every now and then the track would leave the plain and enter one of many islands of jarrah forest dotted around the Pingerup plains. The taller trees provided me with some welcome shade on the warm afternoon, but it was always short-lived as the track would invariably spill out onto the plains once again.
Eventually the track reached a more substantial patch of forest, rising to meet a granite outcrop where we stopped for a late lunch on a fallen log. From there we followed the track back into the plains, around Mt Chance and along a spur trail to the shelter.
I immediately decided it was one of my favourite campsites on the track. The old wooden shelter is nestled in stand of mighty karri trees, with the looming figure of Mt Chance serving as the backdrop.
After dinner, Bonny and I climbed the mount to take in the sunset. It’s only a short scramble up some steep granite to the top, but the views are outstanding. We could see much of the ground we’d covered during the day, including the plains and the many forest islands. Watching the canopies of the karri trees turn gold in the fading light was simply spectacular. What a perfect way to end the day.