Saturday, 4 June 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Boat Harbour to William Bay

The first day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, the 20 kilometre walk from Boat Harbour to William Bay begins at the sheltered bay of Boat Harbour and traverses coastal cliffs, heathland and beaches on the way to Tower Hill in William Bay National Park. Featuring the infamous 7 kilometre beach walk along Mazzoletti Beach, this is one of the more arduous sections of the track and requires some mental fortitude. 

Distance: 20 km (one way)
Gradient: Variable - first half features many steep, sandy ascents and descents over the dunes while much of the second half is flat beach walking
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward. Some limestone on the track makes it a bit uneven, and the beach walking can vary from firm under foot to extremely soft. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended. 
Time: 7 Hours, including lunch
Steps: Some steps, with the flight leaving Mazzoletti Beach being the most significant
Best Time to Visit: Autumn and Spring, and milder Winter days - Mazzoletti Beach can be completely washed away at the height of Winter.
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Boat Harbour is accessed from Boat Harbour Rd off South Coast Hwy. The road is unsealed towards the end. As it passes through Owingup Swamps, the conditions can be either very sandy, muddy or even flooded out. 4WD is definitely required, and high clearance would be recommended. Those looking to do a point to point day walk can finish the trail at Greens Pool, accessed from William Bay Rd (also off South Coast Hwy). 

With the WA Day Long Weekend upon us again, Alissa and I headed down to see her parents in Denmark and to finish a mission we had begun last WA Day - to complete the Bibbulmun Track from Walpole to Denmark. Just over a year ago, we walked the section from Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay over the same long weekend, and completed the sections from Conspicuous Beach to Walpole over Christmas. Having completed Conspicuous Beach to Peaceful Bay earlier this year in April and with only two days of walking left of this section, Alissa and I agreed that we should do an overnight hike so we could tick another Town to Town section of the Track off our list.

As with Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay, we began our walk at the end of the 4WD only access point on Boat Harbour Rd, right near where the Bibbulmun Track descends down to Boat Harbour itself. During our last walk from this spot, Alissa and I had excellent sunny weather. On this occasion, we were greeted by much wilder, wetter weather that would stay with us for much of the morning.

The beach at Boat Harbour is fairly short, and the track then skirts the rocky headland that protects the bay. From the headlands, the track follows a more substantial section of beach walking that gives hikers a taste for what is to come later in the day.

Along the beach, Alissa and I experienced our first drenching of the day, as light but constant showers fell for much of the beach walk. At its end, the beach leads walkers to a series of tall limestone cliffs and dunes. Walkers ascend and follow this higher ridge that remains a constant companion before it later turns inland towards Parry Beach.

With the soft sands in this area, many of the ascents can be tricky, making you feel like you're sliding back with every step! While rain can sometimes make soft sands firmer, it only made the track muddier at the surface.

As well as superb views of the wild Southern Ocean, the views of the swamps inland can be just as spectacular. In the distance, Alissa and I could see rain falling near a break in the clouds.

As the track reached the top of the ridge, we were hit by incredibly strong winds that were almost strong enough to blow us over!

Had the winds been blowing in the direction of the ocean, I would not have dared go too close to the edge, but with the wind as something of a safety net, I had a closer look over the cliffs at the wild, turbulent waters below.

Viewed from the top of the cliffs, this stretch of coastline is utterly spectacular, and features many small limestone islands.

With the wet weather, the heathlands were alive with mushrooms of all descriptions, and we even saw a small frog hop across the track. As with the walk from Conspicuous Beach to Peaceful Bay, these sections of heathland would become even more spectacular during wildflower season, although we did witness quite a few plants in bloom even at this time of the year (June). 

When I walked Walpole to Denmark in 2003, I remember the track having a lot of tyre steps over dunes and yet there are few if any of these tyre steps visible along the track anymore. One remnant is visible along this stretch, with tyres and bits of wood strewn across a dune overlooking the ocean. Although a bit of a mess, it was interesting to see a glimpse of the track's history on display. Not long after this, the heaviest rain of the day fell on Alissa and I, leaving us utterly drenched but thankful to be wearing quick dry clothing. 

As the track cuts inland towards Parry Beach, the track enters Peppermint woodlands. The mushrooms in the section were remarkably bright and colourful, including these two specimens. 

After crossing Parry Rd, the Bibbulmun passes right through Parry Inlet Campground, a popular car-based camping spot. Track walkers looking to shorten the day can overnight here if they'd prefer to tackle the beach walk as its own challenge. 

After stopping for lunch just near the Caretaker's house, we continued on to complete the grueling 7 kilometre stretch of beach walking and the crossing of the Parry Inlet. 

This served as an excellent time to test out my new Keen Uneeks that I bought as campside shoes and for water crossings. While these show were immensely comfortable when I wore them for an evening walk along the Canning River in Perth, the combination of sand getting stuck inside them and the sloping beach caused some rubbing on my feet, leading to blisters near the arch of my foot. Although they gave me a lot more speed early on, I would recommend walking this beach barefoot instead. 

One of the possibly obstacles along this stretch of beach is the Parry Inlet crossing. We called ahead and were informed that it was safe to cross, and we arrived to find that although the water from the inlet was coming close to the ocean, the sandbar still gave us easy passage to the other side. 

After violent winter storms and high tide, much of Mazzoletti Beach can get washed away. The slope of the beach is relatively flat in some spots, and the waves come in a fair way. The beach is generally wide enough for most of the walk for this not to be a problem, however a section where the beach had washed away the dunes to create a short sandy cliff was indicative of how difficult this beach can be at the worst of times. 

There is no getting around the fact that this is a very, very long beach walk over sand of varying levels of softness. At times the beach can be firm under foot, while at others your feet are falling 30 cms into the sand. Still, the biggest challenge of this beach walk is the mental stamina - you can basically see where you need to get to the whole way along, and it always seems so depressingly far away. When she got to the end, Alissa said Hell would be an infinite version of this beach walk.

The exit from the beach is about 200 metres from the actual end of the beach, however with Alissa some distance away from catching up to me, I decided to check out the granite formations near the headlands. 

Regular visitors to Denmark will recognise these granite formations from Greens Pool, and the famous tranquil beach is located just around the corner (pictured above). This is used as an alternate route for the Bibbulmun if the stairs away from Mazzoletti Beach are washed away, and a walk along Greens Pool and then up to the car park would be an ideal exit point for those covering this section as a day walk. 

With the stairs still in place, Alissa and I followed the regular route, happy to be exiting the long beach and within a short distance from William Bay campsite. 

Rising from the beach, granite domes can be seen along the hills. These large domes serve as a taster for the spectacular granite formations that dominate the next day of walking from William Bay to Denmark

William Bay Campsite is located in a valley within Tower Hill, providing a nice respite from the cold winds. Alissa and I shared the hut with three End to Enders - one heading to Albany, one on his way to Kalamunda and the other almost at the halfway point of a Double End to End! Our overnight hike seemed rather minuscule by comparison. All three of the solo hikers were from Europe (Italy, Denmark and France respectively), and it was great to see how strong the Bibbulmun's international reputation is. 
Overall, this was a very challenging day of walking, and arguably the least interesting and varied of the stretch from Walpole to Denmark, especially sandwiched as it is between the stunning days from Peaceful Bay to Boat Harbour and William Bay to Denmark. The long beach walk in particular makes it difficult to recommend this day of walking as one of the great sections of the track, however those looking to push themselves and test their mettle will find a lot to enjoy here. 


  1. Great work, it looks amazing. I would love to do this one day.

    1. Walpole to Denmark is arguably the best section of the Bibbulmun. Definitely worth doing!

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