Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Giants to Frankland River

The second day of a three day walk from Conspicuous Beach to Walpole, this section of the Bibbulmun Track takes walkers from Giants Campsite through Walpole-Nornalup National Park, passing the popular Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk on the way. The massive Red Tingle Trees provide for some astounding forest walking, while the lovely hut on the banks of the Frankland River is one of the track's most idyllic.  

Distance: 18 km (one way)
Gradient: Hilly, though with a gradual downhill trend all day. Some steep rises after crossing the Frankland River leading to Frankland River Campsite.
Quality of Path: Clear and well maintained. A tree had fallen across the path, leading to some navigational deduction, but it was still easy enough to find the path at this point.
Quality of Signage: Well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information. 
Experience Required: Bush Walking Experience Recommended. 
Time: 5 Hours
Steps: Some steps in sections, with the most memorable being the steep ascent after crossing the Frankland River
Best Time to Visit: All year round, though best to avoid walking in the hot season from January-March. 
Entry Fee: No, though there is a fee to do the Tree Top Walk.
Getting There: This section was walked from campsite to campsite, however walkers looking for a single overnight on the track could start at the Valley of the Giants carpark, located on Valley of the Giants Rd and accessible from South Coast Hwy. 

After a restless night of sleep, Alissa, her brother Ben, his partner Kelsey and I left the hut at Giants for our second day of hiking to Walpole. The track departs the campsite behind the hut, ascending shortly before levelling out along a path lined with reeds.

The two kilometres from the campsite to the Valley of the Giants were dominated by many excellent examples of giant Red Tingles, with many featuring the burnt out trunk hollows that make them such popular photo ops. At one point along the track a massive Red Tingle had obviously fallen recently, with track maintenance workers having cut a path through it.

A leaf-covered boardwalk signalled that we were entering the tourist area of the Valley of the Giants.

The Valley of the Giants Wilderness Discovery Centre is well worth visiting, and is a featured attraction along both the Bibbulmun Track and its sister cycle trail the Munda Biddi. On this occasion the four of us decided against walking the Tree Top Walk as we have all walked it many times in the past, however it really is something everyone should do at least once while in the Great Southern. We did however make the most of access to the gift shop's amenities, and we all bought some snacks for second breakfast.

Leaving the Tree Top Walk area, we stopped briefly to take a photo at this Tingle Tree near where the Bibbulmun Track continues onto Walpole. While very large in its own right, this tree would be dwarfed by some truly massive examples the next day.

Although we all know Middle Earth is really New Zealand, the giganticism of the Red Tingles made us think constantly of the Ents, and we were thrilled to find that the gnarled burls of this Tingle along the track had grown into a face, although the mouth of the Ent looked more like the walrus-like mouth of Ponda Baba from the Cantina in Star Wars.

Keeping with the Tolkeinesque vibe, we came upon an area of the track that looked like the kind of makeshift campsite that one might expect to see orcs on a scouting mission or large trolls turned to stone.

Not long after, we realised why the makeshift campsite had be set it up - a Tingle Tree had very recently snapped near its base and fallen across the track, and walkers had either become confused and set up camp before heading back or maintenance workers surveying had used the area while assessing the situation.

One encounters fallen trees fairly regularly on the Bibbulmun Track, but most of the time its quite some time after the fact, with the track diverted around the fallen tree or, as encountered earlier, a passageway is merely sawed through. While we were confused briefly, we enjoyed the navigational challenge that the fallen tree created, and it didn't take us long to figure out the way around the large obstacle.

After the fallen tree, we entered an area of multiple stream crossings that are presumably tributaries of the Frankland River.

Being Summertime the streams were now a mere trickle, however the clear, rocky area around one of the crossings provided an excellent place for us to stop for lunch.

The vegetation near the streams suggested we were heading away from the Tingles, and it would seem like they are not as common right near rivers and waterways. We did however enter one more section of very large Tingles before entering the more Karri-oriented forests closer to the Frankland.

The track turns left onto an old forestry track named Brainy Cut Off. This was a major landmark for us, as it signified that the river would not be too far away.

The track continues onto Sappers Bridge, an old road crossing over the Frankland River now used primarily by the Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi. Although the bridge is very high over the river, the Frankland can run very deep after winter rains and I have seen photos of the river getting high enough to obscure the entire bridge in foam. When I walked this section in 2003, I made a serious miscalculation of how far we had walked and had to filled up water from this river. Let's just say it was not very nice.

Beyond the bridge, the Bibbulmun Track ascends away from the old vehicle track on a purpose build path that take walkers up the valley and away from the river's banks. This stepped path is steep in sections, and continues in a generally uphill direction for quite a while to the campsite.

The trail eventually descends, with breaks in the thick foliage revealing that we were right next to the Frankland River, with stunning views of the almost perfectly still, mirror-like waters.

The Frankland River hut was less than 100 metres away, and was the first hut I ever stayed at on the Bibbulmun in 2003. Little did I know at the time, but Frankland River is one of the best huts on the entire track. Located right on the banks of the Frankland River, the hut is raised on stilts and features a wooden deck instead of the usual sandy floor that surrounds the main table - a real luxury, especially if you've forgotten to bring campsite sandals to wear. The only downside is that its proximity to the river means a likely attack from mosquitoes through the night.

Although varied over its 1000km, the Bibbulmun Track is primarily a forest walk for much of its length. By that measure, this walk from Giants to Frankland features some of the best forest walking of the track, with the massive Tingle Trees of the Walpole region providing a fairly unique experience in Western Australia. While the fallen Red Tingle blocking the track will probably be dealt with in time, we really enjoyed the intrepid quality and sense of adventure it brought to the day, while the change of pace as the track approached the river helped give the day some additional variety. The Frankland River and its lovely hut help make this one of my favourite sections of the track - a real pleasure to walk. Just another reason why Walpole to Denmark is so highly regarded by many as the best stretch of the Bibbulmun Track. 

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