Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Warren River Loop Walk (Warren National Park)

One of the finest day walks in the Southern Forests, the Warren River Loop Walk takes walkers to many of Warren National Park's best features. Starting at the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree - the tallest lookout tree in the world - the trail heads through pleasant Karri forest, along the lovely Warren River before ascending to the Warren River Lookout on the way back to the Bicentennial Tree.

Distance: 10.5 km (loop)
Gradient: Variable - sections through Karri forest feature ascents and descents of moderately steep incline, although the river section is largely flat.
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward,
Quality of Signage: Very informative trailhead with trail markers and maps along the way.
Experience Required: No previous Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 3 Hours
Steps: No formal steps, however climbing over a karri tree is required at time of writing
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring
Entry Fee: Yes. National Parks Fees Apply
Getting There: Bicentennial Tree access is via Old Vasse Rd, which runs between Vasse Hwy and Pemberton-Northcliffe Rd. Several alternate start points are also available within the park. 

Over the week leading up to our stay in Pemberton, Alissa and I often discussed the week that was meant to be - the walk from Balingup to Pemberton on the Bibbulmun Track that was cancelled due to Alissa throwing her back out. Having salvaged the holiday as a four day weekend through the South West and craving a bit of Karri forrest walking, I decided to make the most of the opportunity by checking out the Warren River Loop in Warren National Park.

The River Loop does not have a set starting point or direction, however starting at the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree - the tallest lookout tree in the world - and taking the trail in a counter-clockwise direction is my recommendation. This has a number of benefits - it starts by immersing the walker in the Karri Forest first, then follows the river, goes past a lookout and finishes with the option for an epic, slightly scary climb of the Bicentennial Tree. The trailhead at the Bicentennial Tree is not entirely obvious, but is located to the right beyond the day use picnic area. The trail is well marked with its own Tree shaped markers.

This first short section away from the Bicentennial Tree is a spur that leads to the loop proper. At this fork in the road, walkers looking to do the loop in my suggested direction would take the path to the right. 

For much of the first 2.5 kilometres, the trail follows and old vehicle track surrounded by beautiful old growth Karri forest. The walking is fairly easy, however there were a few ascents and descents of moderate steepness. The scenery and experience was similar to walk the Bibbulmun Track's nearby sections and reminded me of forests Alissa and I encountered when we walked Schafer to Warren earlier this year. 

The first major landmark along the walk is an information shelter at the walk's north-western extremity. This shelter features much information about Warren National Park, as well as offering refuge for walkers during heavy rains. From this point, a 600 metre spur leads to the Pemberton Wine Centre. 

Being way too early for a drink and with many kilometres more to go, I continued on my way to the trail's next landmark - Maidenbush. 

Although fairly similar to the Karri-dominated leg between the Bicentennial Tree and the Information Shelter, streams begin to appear more often along this section, with the gentle sound of water a recurring companion.

There always appears to be a fallen tree across the tracks in the Southern Forests, so it was unsurprising to find a Karri blocking the trail along this leg of the walk. The tree's was not exceptionally wide however, and was relatively easy to climb over. 

Not long after the fallen tree, the trail begins to descend steeply. Having fallen a few times in the last month (on Mt Hallowell and on the Luke Pen Walk), I was a bit paranoid about a third fall, however the terrain proved to have enough grip to not be a problem. 

The trail descends to the river, crossing a road and leading to the first of many well constructed lookouts at Maidenbush. The view of the still waters surrounded by lush forest was beautiful, and I spent some time here taking photos from this magnificent vantage point. 

The narrow trail from Maidenbush follows the Warren River's north bank for 3 kilometres and is unsurprisingly the highlight of a trail called the Warren River Loop Walk. 

The beauty of the riverine environment has inspired a fair bit of investment into facilities, and I was thoroughly impressed to find lovely lookouts and landings all along the river. Many would be suitable for launching kayaks from - an activity that is apparently very popular along the Warren. 

300 metres from Maidenbush, the track crosses a gravel road that leads to Heartbreak Crossing - a rocky set of rapids that is used as a vehicle crossing. Presumably, this crossing is mainly utilised in drier months, as the waters seemed fairly treacherous at the time of my visit. 

Continuing on, walkers will encounter Drafty's Campsite - a fairly large and seemingly popular campground along the river. With many people getting ready in the morning, I decided to not take photos of the campground, and instead focused on the continued excellence of the river lookouts in this section. With the walk so conveniently accessible from Drafty's, this would be an excellent starting point, however I would suggest walking in a clockwise direction instead so that the Bicentennial Tree and the Lookout can be saved for the near the end of the walk. 

The lush, moss covered trees and the sound of trickling water reminded me a bit of Neates Glen along the Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains. 

The last of the river lookouts was a bit worse for wear at the Warren Campsite (not to be confused with the Bibbulmun Track campsite of the same name). This campground seemed a lot more run down than Drafty's, and it was completely empty. 

From Warren Campsite, the track turns north again, heading away from the river and back to the Bicentennial Tree. 

The ascent was not overly steep, which was a surprise considering that it was leading to the Warren Lookout. 

Perched fairly high above the Warren River Valley, the lookout offers a superb view of the river below surrounded by the lushness of the Karri forest. The lookout features an information panel that reveals that the Warren River has become salty due to salinity issues further upstream in Kojonup. Given the beauty of the area, one hopes that this issue is being dealt with with the seriousness it deserves. 

From the lookout, the last 1.2 kilometres continues on through lovely Karri forest back to the car park. 

That's the official end of the Loop Walk, however I had one final mission to complete while in Warren National Park - climbing the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. I climbed the tree in my teens, however when Alissa and I were here in early 2015, windiness and a disconcertingly swaying tree made me give up halfway. Having reclimbed the Gloucester and Diamond Trees earlier this year, I was determined to complete the trilogy with the Bicentennial Tree.  

With a lack of wind, the tree seemed a lot more stable than last time, however the lack of any safety net or anything to clip a harness into means this is still a fairly disconcerting climb. The photo above is from the the lower viewing platform less than half way up, and a sign at this point informs climbers that the first bit is the 'easy part', with the climb getting steeper from here on in. 

The climb does indeed become steeper, and like the Diamond Tree the steepness makes this a more unsettling climb than the Gloucester Tree. The added height of the Bicentennial Tree - taller even than the Gloucester Tree - make this even more of an achievement when you make it to the lookout cabin perched high above the tree. 

But that's not the end! The lookout cabin is four storeys tall, with wobbly ladders leading to each tier. 

The view from the top is worth the climb however, with Karri forest seemingly stretching onward to the horizon. The Bicentennial Tree is definitely worth doing if you're out on the Warren River Loop and you have a good head for heights.

I was thoroughly impressed by the Warren River Loop Walk - it is well marked, a decent length, features excellent infrastructure and wonderful views from the multiple lookouts along the Warren River, the Warren Lookout overlooking the river valley and from the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. Although there are other walks that are just as good in the area - the Beedelup Falls Loop Walk and the Gloucester Tree to Cascades Walk come to mind - these are either largely concurrent with the Bibbulmun Track and/or are much shorter walks. The Warren River Loop Walk offers a nice self contained day walk that is its own experience, and being a loop makes it very convenient too. All in all, the Warren River Loop Walk is entirely worthy recipient of being designated one of Trails WA's Top Trails. Highly recommended. 

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