The Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s great long distance walk trails, stretching nearly 1000kms (620 miles) from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills to Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. It goes through the heart of the scenic South West and traverses some of the most beautiful bush, forests and beaches that Australia can offer.
In this second guest post, Dave Tomlinson shares with us Part Two of his experience of walking the Bibbulmun Track, end to end, in 2007. In doing this he became one of around 500 people who have achieved this feat.
This track is one of the epic bushwalks in Australia (and most likely) the world.
As I progressed south the scenery began to change more dramatically, especially as I got into the karri forests. The karri are the very tall trees and one of the icons of southwest Australia. They actually shed their lower limbs as they grow so a mature tree will have a huge single trunk supporting branches high above the forest floor. Walking beneath these majestic trees was a great experience. I also loved the tingle trees which were also very tall but seemed to have more character with knobs on their trunks and twisted branches. Many of them had the bases of their trunks hollowed by fire but continue to grow.
Before reaching the coast, the track comes south through an area called the Pingerup Plains. It was a section that I particularly enjoyed and not just because the terrain was as flat as a chessboard. The plains are characterised by large flat areas of low bush and pockets of forest. Red bottle-brush flowers added a nice touch of colour along the way.
Red Bottle Brush on Pingerup Plains
This is the area that can be very wet and swampy in the spring. While I was walking though the reeds and scrub I could see the dry cracked mud where water had once been. Two shelters in this section are located beside granite domes that offered panoramic views in all directions including my first glimpse of the Southern Ocean.
Mandalay Beach – first view of the Ocean
Finally, after 730km of hiking through forests, bush, mountains and valleys I arrived at the coast. It was an amazing feeling to see the ocean and it certainly added another dimension to my hiking experience.
Mandalay Beach is the first beach I arrived at and was named after a shipwreck early last century. Tides and shifting sands mean the wreck is sometimes uncovered but I didn’t see anything. The coastal views were great but I really had to earn them, especially in the softer sand dunes.
Salmon netting – an interesting diversion on Mazeotti Beach – great fish!
Sand dunes can be hard work and sometimes it feels like taking two steps forward and one back. In my first day along the coast, I also had a stiff head wind, the track was overgrown in sections and I was doing 29km which ended in a steady climb up a mountain. So, although I was very tired when I arrived I could reflect on one of my best days. The scenery went from the rugged plains to coastal heathland, to the beach, sand dunes, lovely forest and finally the mountain…all in a day!
During my journey east towards Albany I had to walk a number of beaches and cross a number of inlets. Fortunately at this time of year there are seasonal sandbars at the mouth of the inlets so I had no problems. At other times of the year hikers have to wade across or in one case follow the track around to a canoe shed and paddle across to the other side. That would have been fun but on a day where the distance was 23km over sand I was quite happy to save walking a couple of kilometres!
I think the longest 20km I’ve walked in my life was one day between Walpole and Denmark. It was a hot and started with 11km over some big sand dunes. Nice views but hard work. My reward for all that was a walk along Mazolleti Beach that went for 7km. A long drag but fortunately most of the sand was reasonably firm around the high water line. My final reward for all that was a 2km slog straight uphill to the campsite! I saved that till after I’d enjoyed a swim in the translucent waters of the Southern Ocean.
William Bay campsite – great facilites
The entire track is marked by yellow triangles with a black mythical waugal snake printed on it. (According to the original south-west Aboriginal people, the waugal or rainbow serpent is an all-powerful creator who created and maintained the natural and cultural law. It is believed to inhabit special areas and remains sacred to them.) On average, there are about four of these markers per kilometre generally nailed to trees but also on posts, logs, signs and rocks. Altogether there would be about 5000 of them.
So I didn’t think navigation would be a problem but it’s actually very easy to lose the track. I think virtually everyone does it at some point. The reason is that the Bibbulmun Track merges and intersects with various other tracks, paths and roads. So, if you have a moment of inattention at a vital time you’ll walk past a marker indicating a left or right turn and continue on what you think is the correct route. Suddenly it’ll occur to you that you haven’t seen a marker for a while and it becomes a choice between continuing in the hope you’ll find one or return to where you saw the last one. After having to backtrack a couple of times I quickly became a lot more alert for markers!
Picture of the last Waugal Snake marker at the end of the Bibbulman Track – Albany
Fortunately I didn’t have the same problems as some people. I read about a few who got lost for up to three hours coming down one of the mountains. They claimed the cairns were poorly aligned but I didn’t have any problems. Then there was this quote in one of the hut log books: “Got lost in the swamp but didn’t realise it. Saw waugal and headed back down the real track. Realised I was going the wrong way, turned around and got lost again!” Amusing…but only in hindsight!
Although I only met a handful of people along the route I never felt lonely out in the bush. Through the northern half of the track I had every shelter (21 consecutive nights) to myself. It was an odd feeling when another hiker arrived and I had to share one. The main reason I never felt lonely was because of the log books at every shelter. There were always two – one to record basic details and another to write your thoughts, comments, philosophy, complaints and memories. As I progressed along the track, I started to recognise various names and got to know them through their comments in these books.
Even though you may be walking alone, there is alwats nature to keep you company – Black Cockatoos ready to fly.
So, I would hike alone through the first part of the day and then ‘catch up’ with people later in the afternoon. The date of their entries didn’t seem to matter because apart from small diversions and realignments, we all basically followed the same route. So I enjoyed reading what they thought about the day and often found their comments very amusing, especially if there were hills, sand dunes, swamp mud or adverse weather involved. I was also interested in reading comments from hikers going in the opposite direction because they offered valuable information on track conditions, accommodation and where to buy supplies.
One of the hikers who did the track in summer wasn’t quite so content with her own company. One of her entries read: “After three and a half weeks, one finds oneself to be quite the bore.” There were some genuinely funny things written and I copied them into the back of my journal. This is an entry from one of the first shelters: “First night on the track and a wet day made my backpack 20kg heavier. Sleeping on a bed of nails would be luxury compared to the hard wood floor. Oh, the peace and tranquility! Only 16 in the shelter tonight, including 6 ten year old boys. I’ll be back – this is addictive stuff!”
Aside from all the amusing quotes, thoughts and poems there were also some inspirational comments. The one that really stood out to me was this: “If there were no difficulties in the track it would let in a poorer class of walker and reduce the status of the end-to-enders.” That really inspired me if the track was overgrown, the weather was bad, my pack felt unusually heavy, I was tired or if the terrain was challenging. I simply repeated that quote to myself, reminded myself what I was doing and that it wasn’t meant to be easy.
Overall though, I did it much easier than many others. Amazingly, I completed the whole distance without even a blister. Apart from some general soreness when I first started, I didn’t have any problems at all. There wasn’t a single day when I didn’t wake up and feel excited by what I was doing. Even on the most physically demanding days I embraced the challenge and never felt any doubt about reaching Albany in good health. The weather was generally very good and my Goretex jacket was often nothing more than my pillow at night. I only had rain on four days in the entire seven weeks.
The Windfarm at Albany – spectacular coastal views
The huge distance of the track was sometimes more of a challenge mentally, especially through the first week or two. After slogging through the heat and hills of the first couple of days I remember thinking that I’d only completed about 4% of the journey! So I tried to focus only on what I’d completed, not what I still had to do. When I passed the halfway mark I was happy to think about both. In my mind I treated leaving a town the beginning of a new hike and it often felt that way. I had fresh supplies, clean clothing and in one place I even washed my backpack and I started again feeling great.
A great aspect of this hike was that it offered seven weeks in a beautifully peaceful environment to contemplate, reflect and dream. Life becomes wonderfully simple because the path is laid out for you and all you need to do is follow it. The Bibbulmun Track is like a well cut jewel that shines whichever way it is approached. A special thanks to all the park rangers and especially track volunteers who keep it this way. It’s been a privilege to walk its entire length and I’d recommend the experience to anyone.
Dave Tomlinson reaches the end (and planning his next trip no doubt!)
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
And I must follow it if I can
‘Hobbitt’ – J R Tolkein
The Bibbulmun Track Foundation has the best website we have ever come across that supports a multi day hiking adventure.
There is a massive amount of information regarding:
- Gear and equipment
- Friends of the Bibbulmun Track
- Track Information, conditions and closures
- Maps and resources
- And so much more we don’t have room.
Please check out their site – The Bibbulman Track
The Bibbulman Track – a very long hike – Part one
Great South West Walk – Dave at it again with a 200km (125 miles) walk over 2 weeks
Hiking Food for a multi-day walk
Hiking Gear – What are the basics to get started?
Best clothing for a multi day hike