The Bibbulmun Track is WA’s only true long-distance walk trail, stretching from Kalamunda in the north to Albany in the south with a total of 963 kms (depending on who ones asks!). It is run by volunteers from the Bibbulmun Track Foundation therefore no cost involved to walk the track or stay in the shelters situated approx a day apart. It took a long 48 days between 22nd Feb and Good Friday (well planned finishing date – not!) for Team BMT (named after Byron, Marika and Tony) to complete this giant feat but all completed it as ‘end-to-enders’ in good spirits (with only a few aches and pains).
How does one plan for such a long walk??
Firstly, one needs good equipment (50-60 litre hiking pack, well worn- in hiking boots (met one guy walking the entire track in Volleys), Trangia (truly useful Swedish invention), wet weather gear (found out the hard way my goretex wasn’t waterproof anymore), an inflatable mattress (not a yoga mat like Tony’s friend brought along for the last 2 weeks of the trip – not much left of that!), a warm sleeping bag and thermals (even in summer nights get down to 5 degrees with days up to 40 degrees), a trusty hydration pack to carry lots and lots of water (started out carrying 6 litres each but got down to about 3 litres) and food that ensures you get enough calories per day. It also takes great support (with Tony’s girlfriend Holly and wonderful parents Joe and Judy) to help assist in restocking food, supplies and someone else to talk to once in a while!! And one must have the flexibility to change plans. We found this out the hard way in the beginning when we had planned to walk over 40kms for many days in a row but after day 2 realised we had set ourselves a task nearly impossible. Was this a holiday or an SAS boot camp??
The initial 9 days between starting the track and our first town (Dwellingup) was mostly through mixed Jarrah and Wandoo forests with some largish mountains in between (or hills as we called them from a fresh body). The excitement and eagerness was overwhelming as was the weight of our packs (20-25kgs which were soon offloaded in Dwellingup to only 15-20kgs). Also started out using water purification tablets but soon realised that the rainwater tank water at each shelter was pure even though tannin stained with a few wrigglies in them (chux works well as a strainer). Hard ground (with gum nuts and pea gravel) made for extremely sore feet at the end of the day but alas we had inner soles waiting for us in Dwellingup (thanks to Holly). Got our first taste of rain on day 4 but WA didn’t put up a fight for us Nth Qlders (just drizzle all day long but enough to realise to put your goretex on and not try to brave it out!!). This was the hump day for all of us where we started getting the sore shoulders, knees and hips. Wildlife to note on this first section was the tiny red pepper ticks (everywhere!). Dinner on day 6 was well received as we found a roadhouse not far from the track and gorged ourselves on homemade pizzas (no steaks for the boys as kitchen closed!!). Went back for breakfast. We soon realised we were following someone whose track name was ‘waugal stalker’ (named after the serpeant like snake on the track markers you follow). At each shelter there is a register you fill in with your thoughts and further intentions, she was only a few days ahead of us!! She had been so kind to leave some of her pumpernickel bread and peanut butter so we carried it to add to our stockpile – just made our packs heavier and mouths dry – we found out why she left it behind then! Met a daywalker a little way from Dwellingup who informed it was only 7kms to go but in actual fact we think it was more like 15kms (do not ever tell hungry tired walkers a shorter distance to make them happy – it doesn’t make them happy!!). Met ‘Skittles’ (named because he likes to eat Skittles!) at the Dwellingup pub who had been following us from the start and knew us already from our notes we left behind in the registers (he ended up completing the track in half the time we did with only a 9kg pack!).
From Dwellingup the track enters the Murray River valley and parallels the river. This was our first chance to swim even though we had been washing quite well with a saucepan and rainwater. Celebrated Tony’s 31st birthday with a sweet pastry and candle purchased in the restock in Dwellingup (and ‘skittles’ had left a crunchie bar behind too). Tony’s dad Joe joined us for 10 days – think it was his longest 10 days ever! But did very well considering we were 10 days fitter than him. He brought with him a feast of delicious food that much to everyone’s sadness I weaned down to the basic necessities – it all adds to the weight in the pack after all (did keep the dark choc though). Wildlife worth mentioning on this section was the nasty bee that got me good on the inner thigh – lucky I’m not allergic to bees as Tony and Joe were! The virgin jarrah in this section was a nice relief as a lot of the bush we had walked through had been burnt.
Had our first rest day (after just over 2 weeks on the track) in Bunbury. Nice to sleep in a proper bed, wash our clothes and have a well earned rest. Had a swim in the ocean and was visited by a curious mother and cub dolphin who came close enough to touch – now thats wildlife!! Back on the track we found ‘Mumballup Tavern’ – famous for the wacky owners who, while we were there, were drinking the last of the whisky before a new bottle – the last of the whisky ended up being 5 glasses full! I must admit though their ‘famous’ burgers were truly delicious (had offered to give mine free if I cooked them all! – didn’t take them up on the offer). Bill Bryson’s “A walk in the woods” was the perfect companion at the end of a long day as it reminded me how lucky we were to be out in the bush doing what we love. We were getting good at finding the best ‘lunch logs’ by this time and had gotten our lunch routine down pat (peanut butter was my savour). Joe’s last day on the track with us was a shock as Joe’s fitness had improved so much that he was a new man and had us running behind to keep up. Had a Buddhist retreat experience in Balingup which was worth every dollar we donated to stay there. Fruit trees full of plump juicy peaches, apples and pears had us giggling like school children. Had finally caught up with ‘waugal stalker’ (a 19 yr old from Brisbane) walking the entire track alone and couldn’t have weighed more than 40kgs! Strong girl!
My favourite shelter on the track was at Blackwood. It was situated in amongst a pine forest overlooking the Blackwood Valley. Shared our first hut with someone (after 3 weeks) and was quite put out by having to stick to a corner of the picnic table and keeping our sleeping arrangements neat and tidy. Nice to share stories of the track though. We walked through a mix of jarrah and karri forest not far from the Blackwood River from here to Donnelly River, with sections being pleasantly flat. The Donnelly River, much to the Nth Qlders amazement was dry (as were most of the creeks and rivers along the track). The township of Donnelly River Village was like stepping back in time with accommodation in old mill workers cottages, the café selling 1 cent lollies and housing a haunted school (were we had the pleasure of spending the night in one of the schools bunkhouses). Bunnings used to run a forestry operation there but that tourist attraction was closed as the building had been condemned. I think the tourists come here now to feed the very tame emus and kangaroos. The emus tried to fight me for my corn chips but I wasn’t letting them have any of my well received calories!! Met an English family car touring around the south west who must have felt sorry for us and give us their leftover beers.
Got our 4th day of rain walking out from Donnelly River Village but considered ourselves lucky for being only the 4th day out of the entire walk. Track followed the Donnelly River (with water in it) for quite a long way. Conversations started resigning to babies names – Karri as a girls name and Jarrah as a boys name. We came across an abandoned car in a section of the track where it seemed impossible for a car to get into?? Day 25 and another early morning wake up call (Tony’s mattress deflating as he lets the air out) made for another early start to a day where I would spit the dummy and demand another rest day sometime soon. Soon got over this as today was possibly the nicest section of the track so far (between Toms Road shelter and Boarding House shelter). Met a friendly tiger snake who tried to sneak into the shelter to catch the mice but startled me as I was reading so had to go! Tony (Mr Snake Handler) carefully pulled him by his tail down the hill. Another day of drizzling rain and cold and wet gear got us to the lovely Beedelup National Park with its beautiful waterfalls and to Karri Valley Resort (a short detour from the track). We weren’t about to skip this detour as our stomachs were craving hot chocolates with whipped cream. These were the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted with steamy warm milk poured over rich dark chocolate buds – pure decadence. Contemplated staying at the resort the night to get warm and eat but we were no pussy’s – we kept going. Tiger snakes were becoming a daily sighting from here. Our day into Pemberton showed sunny skies and a spring in our step as we were getting to another town to restock, shower and spend the night in a motel. The brewery at Jarrah Jacks was calling our names!
Pemberton and the home of the 60m Gloucester Tree (a fire lookout that can be climbed if you’re brave) was a welcome change in environment as we were now getting into the massive Karri forests (a spectacular tree with whitish bark). Day 30 had us all in low spirits as had a bit more rain and were possibly very fatigued by now. However our spirits lifted as Tony’s friend invited us to his farm for a BBQ dinner (as it was not far from the track). He showed us around his farm and I asked a hundred and one questions about his cattle, his horses, his family, his home, etc. Tony’s friend Gavin joined us on Day 31 to spend the last few weeks with us (he’s the one with the yoga mat!). Another wet day but nice and cool as getting very close to the coast and the sand in our boots. Made a mental note to self to buy ear plugs to block out Gavin’s snoring! Coastal heathland vegetation, sandy tea-tree flats, farmland and bits of Karri in between made for beautiful walking until we met another walker coming the other way who hadn’t see anyone in 6 days and couldn’t stop talking! Had our first fire in a scarce fire pit and a refreshing swim in Lake Maringup (WA’s 2nd largest freshwater lake). Complete fire ban up north (that ended at the end of March but we didn’t know that) therefore our first fire and our last as the fire ban extends south all year. Sunrise over the lake was truly spectacular but didn’t even contemplate following Tony in for an early morning swim – brrrr!! From Lake Maringup to Dog Pool we got into the boggy areas (which were completely dry and completely out in the open), apparently in winter this area is inundated with water and very difficult to traverse. Due to the open terrain and the hot sun, at lunch we stopped to take off our socks to dry them out – a big reason you get blisters is from wearing wet socks. Dog pool wasn’t what the name suggests – no wild dogs sitting at the waters edge ready to tear you apart – just some wild pigs on the other side of the pool scrounging around for food. There’s nothing nicer than to jump into a cool, not so clear, tannin stained pool to ease those sore muscles and my sore shoulders as my pack has somehow become lopsided over time and was now sitting over on one shoulder – didn’t want to get the “oh *#@* it disease” so attempted to fix but made another mental note to buy new pack. Nearly had ourselves marron for dinner but bush tucker men Byron and Tony weren’t in much luck today. Mt Chance offered us a 360 degree view from the granite outcrop behind the shelter and this is where we met the famous ‘Wrong Way Jim’ or the ‘King of all Snorers’. Doesn’t take much to figure out why he got these names. He did give us some good advice on dehydrated food (which his wife does in their K-Mart special food dehydrator). Anything from Cottage Pie to Green Chicken Curry to Apple Strudel, our dinner wasn’t so appetizing this night I must say! Day 34 and only the 2nd time to share a shelter. Another rainy day (until it stopped once we got to the shelter) and quite overgrown in areas. Had lakes in my boots from the water dripping down the inside of my gaitors, made another mental note to buy waterproof gaitors. First day of daylight savings saw clear skies and positive attitudes and had us hitting the ocean for the first time at Mandalay Beach (so named as the ‘Mandalay’ ship became beached here and every 10 or so years the sands shift and the ‘Mandalay’ appears again). Not on this day though. Must have felt extremely good today as decided to ‘double hut’ and then have a short day into Walpole (and a longer rest).
Walpole was like walking into an oasis with cafes, pubs, cars and internet!! Locals ever so friendly by calling everyone they knew to ask if they had the same camera battery charger as mine as I had usefully forgotten mine (or do I recall saying it weighs too much!)? Had a night in a cute little house in town (thanks to Tony’s mum Judy) and feasted on homemade lasagne and too much red wine. Another of Tony’s friends Ryan joined us from here on what was meant to be his 4 day holiday but pulled out after 3 days due to injury and realizing it wasn’t much of a holiday! Red Tingle tree area (looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings). Franklin River shelter was a welcome sight after a day of cold, wet walking. This shelter was built up on stilts and situated right on the Franklin River, very serene and peaceful place until the group of year 12 Outdoor Ed students and teachers turned up. Ear plugs came in double handy this night. They ended up being a great bunch of kids who encouraged us to join in on their team bonding exercises. They asked us all kinds of questions about our planning, preparation, training and were generally interested – wow! Sheok forests for the next few days made for soft walking underfoot and soon got to the award winning Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. It offers a remarkable canopy-level experience of the ancient Tingle forests and is well worth the penny. From here started seeing a few more walkers on the Track (now getting to about 3 or 4 a day). Day 39 and my hardest day, I hit a wall and struggled to get into camp at Ramehead. The last uphill haul was very challenging both physically and mentally but the view at Ramehead made up for it with amazing views out over the limestone cliffs and the Southern Ocean. Cold, cold night. Was perhaps a little delirious walking into Peaceful Bay (could have to do with the wet, cold and windy weather) and thought we had seen seals frolicking in the ocean, after about an hour we decided we were just seeing things and kept going but to this day I still do not know if they were seals or not!! Byron caught his first fish with his bare hands today – wow, he really is turning into a bush tucker man but unfortunately didn’t grasp it tight enough and it got away. Treated ourselves to an on-site van at Peaceful Bay Caravan Park (a 60’s style retro van in a concrete bunker is all it was – our little bomb shelter). Watched the local salmon fishermen hauling in their catch but was told that there are no salmon this year – in fact not many fish at all – so fishermen very unhappy.
Wading across the Irwin Inlet (naked) was a fun experience (a woohoo one actually), we sent Byron in as the guinea pig to test where the shallowest path was to get across and then when he was safely across we followed (with packs sitting on our heads and firm footholds so we wouldn’t topple over). Was even more fun to realise we had just saved ourselves 6kms by wading the inlet as opposed to walking all the way around – and much more fun!! Hard going on the soft sand dunes but wide views to the inland lake and out to the ocean were rewarding. Wildlife worth noting were the mice who tried to get into our food packs, only managed to get to Gavin’s flatbread and cup-a-soup!! (good combo). 7kms of beach walking (or 1.5 hrs) along Mazoletti Beach allowed us to take the boots off and get a good foot rub. The ruggedness of the coasts along this section was breathtaking and the many secluded bays we came across were truly spectacular. Parry Beach Campground a lovely area under a peppermint grove.
Our Day 43 Denmark rest day was well worth it, we knew we only had 5 days left and could truly splurge on this next section as was nice and short with shortish days. Wrote up a decadent menu and then attempted to find all the ingredients at the IGA. The Track crosses the Wilson Inlet via a ferry service (which apparently doesn’t run anymore) so walked over the sandbar at the mouth of the inlet and followed the old waugal markers to meet up with the ferry pier (looked very disused). Walked through long overgrown grass so were concerned for snakes but didn’t even see one (probably helped I was singing and clapping my hands very loudly). Wildlife worth noting on this section was the huge sea eagle hovering overhead with an enormous wing span. Tonight was Byron and my attempt to deliver a ‘special restaurant’ meal to everyone. Chilli noodles, capsicum strips and rice crackers for nibbles, 2-minute noodles stirfried with garlic tofu, baby corn, capsicum, garlic and mushrooms and then for dessert vanilla custard and easter eggs! Told you we were going to splurge on this last section. The track hugged the coastline for the final 5 days offering glorious rock pools and spectacular views and weather stayed gorgeous and sunny but still nice and cool. Very popular for salmon fishermen and there certainly wasn’t a lack of fish here that these men were catching! Views over West Cape Howe from the shelter and some red wine to top off a nice days walk. 7 other walkers from West Cape Howe to Torbay – we were told the coastal sections are much more popular or was it that the long weekend easter was coming up?? Dingo Beach has stuck in my memory as the place I nearly died!! Waves didn’t look that big until I dived into them and nearly didn’t come out. Got pummeled to the point where I didn’t know what was up and what was down. It was apparently very funny to Byron and Gavin who were watching from the beach until I came racing out with only half my clothes on ranting and raving like a lunatic. I was scared!! You know how you see messages written in the sand and it looks so easy, well its not. I tried to write a birthday message for my dad but kept getting footprints in the message, serves me right for trying to be a perfectionist!! 2nd last night on the track and we had a very tame bandicoot come join us. He was missing half his tail, maybe some hungry hiker got it?? Wildlife worth noting on this day was a gigantic stingray that had his tail caught in a commercial fishing net, the fishermen chopped his tail off with a knife and threw the stingray back in the ocean – hope it survived?? Last night on the track and Gavin came up with the idea of ordering pizza – who would believe it – would Domino’s deliver pizza to our shelter in the middle of nowhere?? NO but they delivered to a car park 5 kms from the shelter which the boys thought was only 3 kms so they had to run to make it in time – what better way to end our monster hike than to end it with pizza delivered to the end of the earth!!