Sunday, 10 July 2016

Luke Pen Walk (Kalgan River)

One of Trails WA's Top Trails, the Luke Pen Walk follows the east bank of the Kalgan River in Albany. A moderately easy ramble, the well defined and maintained trail passes through native bush as well as areas adjacent to farmland and vineyards. With rich birdlife, tranquil waters, historic sites and even a large sculpture, this an enjoyable walk open to all levels of bushwalking experience.

Distance: 9.5 km (return)
Gradient: Generally flat, with some moderate inclines.
Quality of Path: Clear and straightforward
Quality of Signage: Very informative trailhead. No trail markers, however the trail is fairly easy to follow.
Experience Required: No previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 3 Hours
Steps: Some sections have stepped inclines.
Best Time to Visit: Winter/Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access is via East Bank Rd, off Nanarup Rd. Car park and trailhead are located at the end of the road. Alternative access is immediately south-east of the Wheeldon Rd Bridge as well as halfway along the track at Riverside Rd.

Alissa and I had planned an eight day hike on the Bibbulmun over the July school holidays, however with Alissa having pulled out her back we had to cancel at the last minute. With a hotel booking in Pemberton that we didn't want to lose, Alissa and I decided to head down for a shorter trip through the South West, with a visit to Alissa's parents in Denmark as the first stop. Still itching to get some walks in, I decided to head out by myself to check out the Luke Pen Walk along the Kalgan River in Albany. 

Maps online can be confusing, as some give erroneous information as to where the trail starts and ends, and there is no sign at the start of East Bank Rd indicating that there is a walk trail along the river. That being said, it is fairly straightforward to get to the car park located at the end of East Bank Rd, where a fairly obvious Trailhead gives walkers information about the Luke Pen Walk. 

For almost its entire length, the Luke Pen Walk follows the east bank of the Kalgan River - the main river flowing into Albany's Oyster Harbour. Near the start, walkers will encounter a stand of Pines on the other side of the river. Along the track, it is interesting to see sections heavily modified since European settlement while other areas have remained largely pristine. 

Early on along the walk, the east bank appears more natural that the west, with a large number of granite outcrops appearing amongst native bushland. 

These granite formations are also profuse along the river itself. The trail features many short side excursions that take walkers right to the river, and I witnessed people sitting along the river either fishing or just soaking in the tranquillity. 

About 200 metres into the walk is a large sculpture of a kingfisher that doubles a shelter. It is not everyday that you encounter art along a bush walk, and while it would be out of place along a wilder walk, it seems to suit the overall character of the Luke Pen, with its mix of native vegetation alongside farmland and other private properties. 

Although most of the walk is relatively easy with gentle gradients, there are quite a few sections with steps rising or falling with the natural undulation of the landscape. None of these are particularly difficult however, and like the Meelup Trail in Dunsborough, this a walk that would be highly suitable for novice bushwalkers. 

Being July, Spring was still some months away at the time of walking, yet many wildflowers were already in bloom. A profusion of Flame Pea shrubs appeared along the track, with particularly spectacular specimens early on. 

 Although the track alternates between being right along the river or higher up its slope, the Luke Pen Walk rarely deviates from the Kalgan River. One notable exception occurs about 700 metres in, as the path heads into a cove along the Kalgan that is fed by a small stream to the east. This is the most lovely of the stream crossings along the walk, and while some were wider, this featured water gently babbling down and over a series of granite rock faces. 

At this stage of the walk, rain began to fall quite heavily, and I was well and truly drenched but very thankful to be wearing clothes made from quick drying materials. I certainly don't mind a bit of rain, however it began to make the already sometimes muddy track even more so and made wooden bridges more slippery than usual. 

A vineyard is located on the west bank, with the vines growing surprisingly close to the river. It is an interesting sight juxtaposed against the native bushland of the eastern bank, and I could not help but wonder how much fertiliser and chemicals get washed away into the river from here and the farmland further upstream. 

The native bushland along the east bank eventually gives way to the farmland that was probably always lurking just behind it, offering walkers expansive views of grassy paddocks. The river's nature strip continues to wax and wane in width along the rest of the track, although signs along the walk reveal that there is much work being done to remove introduced species and revegetate effected areas. 

The weather thankfully improved as I continued along the track, with the sun shining brightly as I reached a section of the track that was less than a metre away from the water's edge. The bushland on the east bank was thick and lush, make for a lovely scene.  

A section of duck board passes through an area that one suspects must get particularly muddy, providing walkers with some firmer footing. Or so I thought - as I made my first steps on the duck boards and grabbed my camera to take a photo, the muddiness of my shoes and the smoothness of the wood proved to be my undoing as I slipped and fell backwards. To make matters worse, I fell onto my right hand - a hand that was already recovering from a sprain I incurred when I had a similar fall when descending Mt Hallowell on the Bibbulmun Track. The pain was excruciating. I considered possibly turning back, but with the halfway point of the walk only a few kilometres on, I decided it was better to finish the walk than give up now. 

Not far from the boardwalk, a rusty piece of machinery lies artfully alongside the river.  

I wondered how the machinery had gotten there and I received my answer when I passed a very old house surrounded by pines a short walk away. The house looks like a farmhouse building from the colonial era, and it has a particularly lovely view of the river. Although it is tempting to investigate further, walkers should respect the privacy of the landowners and refrain from leaving the track and entering the property. 

Beyond the house was a section of particularly wet and lush vegetation, with moss growing all over the trees. 

The wetness of the area has also resulted in a particularly swampy section, with a long stretch of boardwalk passing over. This landmark signals that the end of the walk is not far.  

The Luke Pen Walk ends at the Wheeldon Rd bridge, an old trestle bridge that seems to have been updated over the years. Although less impressive than the River Rd Bridge along the Bibbulmun (and the sadly destroyed Long Gully Bridge over the Murray), this does serve as a worthwhile end point to an enjoyable walk. 

As an added treat, the river narrows at this point, creating a series of rapids over the rocks that are definitely worth checking out.  

Near the bridge, observant walkers will note a plaque affixed to a granite rock dedicating the trail to the memory of Dr Luke J Pen, a local scientist and conservationist who made significant contributions to the study of the river systems in the area.  

From the bridge, walkers can either arrange a car shuffle and place a car at Wheeldon Bridge, or simply turn around and walk back to the start of the trail. Being by myself, I chose the latter option, and found the scenery passed by fairly quickly. Rain fell again at several times, but I was also rewarded with an abundance of birdlife, including pelicans, seagulls and numerous parrots, including a flock of black cockatoos perched in the trees.  

As I reached the car, the sun came out again, with a rainbow appearing in the sky. This served as a fitting finale to an altogether pleasant and enjoyable walk - even if I spent the majority of its distance in a bit of pain.

In spite of my fall, I would not consider the Luke Pen Walk a particularly challenging trail and it could easily be walked by most hikers with little to no bushwalking experience due to the generally easy gradient, and the beautiful river views along its length make it a worthwhile experience. Personally, I prefer slightly more challenging walks in rugged terrain and would rate Albany's Bald Head Walk Trail as superior, but its good to have more accessible walks of a high standard of quality. The Luke Pen Walk definitely fits that bill, and serves as a nice Top Trail to whet a novice hiker's appetite. 


  1. Thanks for a good read and wonderful photos :)

    1. My pleasure. Thanks for listing on on Trails WA - I had never heard of it before I saw it on the Top Trails list.