Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Tom Road to Boarding House

Day five of an eight day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, the track follows the Donnelly River from Tom Road to Boarding House. This section offers walkers spectacular views of the Donnelly River itself, including an impressive series of rapids later in the day. Passing by the historic One Tree Bridge, the Bibbulmun Track's official halfway point and crossing two iconic bridges, this is one of the track's best days.

Distance: 24.2 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle for most of its length, with some occasional, minor ascents
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained though some fallen trees
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 6-7 Hours, including lunch break
Steps: Some formal steps
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Summer
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked from campsite to campsite, however this section can be accessed from Greens Island camping area, One Tree Bridge via Graphite Rd, or Chappells Bridge.

Our night at Tom Road proved to be just as cold, windy and rainy as we thought it might be, and we were pretty glad to have set up our tent within the shelter as it kept us warm enough through the stormy night. The storm had certainly calmed down by the morning however, and we woke up to relatively clear skies reflected on the glassy surface of the Donnelly River. As had become our usual morning routine, all six of us (Jerry, Helle, Peter, Sonya, Alissa and myself) woke up around 6am to pack up and have breakfast. Jerry would leave first, followed soon after by Helle and then Alissa and I, with Peter and Sonya generally have a second hot drink before departing.

Departing from Tom Road, the Bibbulmun follows the Donnelly River and largely stays following the Donnelly for the entire day. The understorey is the typically dense type common to the Karri forest, however occasional breaks provide glimpses of the valley below.

The general wetness of the Karri forests can be a bit of a double edged sword; on the one hand is supports the massive Karri trees, mosses and general lushness of the area. On the other, it can lead to understorey density that can be a bit too much, and crucially for me, the humidity was starting to wreak havoc on my camera. I had encountered lens fogging since Gregory Brook, however it was out of control on this day with the lens fogging up on the inside of the camera too! With a lot of lovely scenery over the day, it meant constantly having to stop and wipe lenses, and occasional paranoia that what I was doing was only making it worse!

After following the river for about 700 metres, the track descends to cross yet another set of twin bridges over the Donnelly.

Although the walk trail along this section was newly built for the 1998 alignment, its overall appearance is very similar to a railway formation, having the width of a single lane and featuring fairly gentle terrain.

Although fairly easy going, the track does undulate. That being said, the mild ascents seem to follow the contours of the land in a logical fashion and often provide lovely glimpses of the river below.

Along this stretch of track, the Bibbulmun runs concurrently with its sister trail - the Munda Biddi.

The reason for the shared route became clear as we continued along the track - the Munda Biddi utilises a bridge over Cow Brook that would have been built specifically for this stretch of the Bibbulmun. Rather than needlessly building a second bridge, it is now shared by both trails.

Not long after the bridge, the trails diverge again with the Bibbulmun following a section of hand constructed trail that was kept from the original 1979 alignment of Bibbulmun. On the other side of the river, walkers get glimpses of farmland and vineyards through the thick understorey.

Along this stretch of track, we noticed a log straddling both sides of the river with wire having been placed across the top to provide some grip. Although not along the track and of a much lower safety standard, this bridge served as a precursor for the other three one tree bridges we would see over the next two days.

Walking along this old section of track, it is pretty clear why they kept it - this is really lovely walking that is beautiful, relatively easy and very enjoyable.

Further along, the Bibbulmun passes by the campground of Greens Island. Although not a Bibbulmun Track campsite, it is another lovely spot along the Donnelly River and one that Alissa and I would quite happily return to in the future. In fact, an excellent, relatively leisurely overnight hike would be to walk the 16.2 kilometres from Donnelly River Village to Tom Road, then walk the 9.5 kilometres from Tom Road to Greens Island.

Although still fairly easy going, the Bibbulmun does feature a few short rises that look to have been smoothed out of the Bibbulmun's elevation graph. Even so, these are not particularly hard and provide for some variety.

As the track gets closer to One Tree Bridge, the Donnelly River gets a bit wilder and faster flowing.  Numerous trees have fallen across its banks - some of which look to have fallen recently due to erosion caused by the wet winter and early spring the South West has experienced.

Some of the larger, more stable fallen trees offer vantage points of the Donnelly River, and it reminded me very much of holidays spent at Karri Valley Resort as a child, as well as the Warren River sections we had seen along both the Bibbulmun Track and the Warren River Loop Walk.

Close to the day's halfway mark, the Bibbulmun passes by the remnants of One Tree Bridge. Built in the early 1900s, this bridge was used to cross the Donnelly River at this location until it was replaced in 1971. The log itself dates back to 1904, while the decking across the top is from the 1930s.

Just beyond One Tree Bridge, the Bibbulmun descends to cross under the Graphite Road bridge towards a picnic/day use area that is popular with tourists.

Being roughly halfway into one of the Bibbulmun Track's longer days, we decided to make use of the benches and have our lunch at this lovely spot near the river.

After lunch, Alissa and I crossed the Donnelly River on one of the day's iconic bridges. Back when the 1998 alignment was first opened, the Bibbulmun used to cross along Graphite Rd itself, but the track now makes use of a purpose built suspension bridge. A similar bridge will apparently be used to cross the Murray River as a replacement for the Long Gully Bridge. 

The Bibbulmun and the Munda Biddi both cross at Graphite Rd, with the Bibbulmun diverging to take the low road while the Munda Biddi takes the high one.

Again the trail is relatively narrow in this section, and was also part of the original 1979 alignment of the Bibbulmun. The river is a lot more visible over this initial stretch and provides views of rapids.

The track does eventually widen as it begins to follow a railway formation. The wider track is also more suitable for bicycles and the Munda Biddi once again runs concurrently with the Bibbulmun for a few kilometres.

Not that Munda Biddi riders would be particularly impressed with what we encountered on the day we walked this section. The wild weather had caused a lot of trees to fall down, and it proved to be quite a challenge to climb through and/or over some of the more bushy trees. Alissa and I had run into a family cycling from Collie to Albany at Donnelly River Village, and we felt sorry for them as this would have been even harder lifting bicycles over the trees!

Once clear of the fallen trees and with the Bibbulmun once more following its own course, the walking again proved fairly excellent, with walkers being privy to occasional views and regular glimpses of the river through the beautiful Karri forest. 

Having the old, chunky guidebooks from when the Bibbulmun was still measured at 963 kilometres, we had expected to see the halfway marker where it used to be found - near Donnelly River Village. Having been remeasured, the halfway point is not located between Tom Road and Boarding House, and it was a lovely surprise to come upon it in the middle of nowhere. Although we could not celebrate this momentous achievement in the same way as the Thru-Hikers we were walking with (Jerry, Peter and Sonya), I had worked out that this would be roughly our halfway point of sectional completion as well. It is nice to know that we are getting somewhere closer and closer to completing this sectional End to End!

Continuing on along the railway formation provided the expected speed increase, however a lack of track notes other than multiple vague instructions to 'cross creek' meant we had no way of knowing how far we had travelled or how far we had to go. At the point pictured above, the Bibbulmun rises briefly and we hoped that this would be in the elevation graph. Unfortunately, it had clearly been smoothed out and the guide was not able to provide us with any clearer picture of how much longer the formation would continue.

After what seemed like a very long time following the railway formation through increasingly samey Karri forest, the track reaches what looks like an old picnic area along the river. At this point, the generally gentle Donnelly River roars over rapids, providing one of the day's most spectacular views.

Immediately after the rapids, sections of the track have become so weathered that you can see wooden sleepers buried within the compacted track surface. 

The formation continues for some while more, before reaching a sharp bend in the track. Looking straight ahead, walkers will be able to see two wooden posts that would have supported a railway bridge over the river in days gone by. 

Seeing the remnants of the railway bridge is a good landmark that indicates that walkers are on the home stretch. Not long after, the Bibbulmun passes a Water Corp gauging station and then reached the rudimentary shelter at Chappel's Bridge. Chappel's Bridge was a campsite along the original Bibbulmun Track, and is still apparently used by car-based campers. 

Immediately after Chappel's Bridge, the railway formation continues. On the day we walked this section, the track was very wet and muddy - it was either walk right through the puddles or walk along the squelchy, muddy edges.

Beyond the formation was a Bibbulmun Track highlight I've been looking forward to since I saw it in a Bibbulmun Track brochure or advertisement in 1998 - the Boarding House Bridge. Constructed by Army Reserve Field Engineers, the bridge is made from a single fallen Karri that has been decked as a bridge. 

This is a really stunning bridge, and such a great idea compared to the boring concrete and metal bridges that tend to be the utilitarian solution favoured due to their relative cheapness. 

The view from the bridge is quite lovely too, featuring a more low key section of the river compared to some of rapids seen earlier in the day. 

From the bridge, the track rises up a series of stairs to join an old vehicle track. 

At the old vehicle track, the Bibbulmun continues on to Beavis to the left while a short spur to the right leads walkers to the Boarding House campsite. 

Compared to Tom Road and the next campsite at Beavis, Boarding House is probably the least special campsite between Donnelly River Village and Pemberton because it is not right by the water. Its still a lovely spot, surrounded by Karris and with some nice tent sites behind the hut. 

Unlike all the other huts from Tom Road to Beedelup, Boarding House is not right by the river or a watercourse, however a short trail from the hut does takes walkers down to the river. Its not quite as nice a swimming spot as Tom Road is, but it does offer the opportunity for a dip for those who are so inclined. 

Overall, I would consider Tom Road to Boarding house the best and most representative day of the section from Donnelly River Village to Pemberton. It is the stretch of track that most closely follows the Donnelly River, and although fairly long the walking is relatively easy. Easy can often be at the expense of the spectacular, however that was not true in this case, as the day was consistently excellent and scenic. There may have been better individual moments on other days between Donnelly River Village and Pemberton, but this day would be a serious contender for one of my Top 10 favourite sections of the Bibbulmun overall. 


  1. I agree the Boarding House bridge is really stunning. I rode the Munda Biddi in this nearby section, would love to walk the Bibbulmun and appreciate it in slower pace

    1. Awesome! How was the Munda Biddi in this section? I hope it avoids some of the hills here... what is okay on foot would be terrible on a bike!