Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Balingup to Blackwood

Day one of an eight day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this section of the track leads walkers from the town of Balingup to Blackwood campsite. Initially passing through the Golden Valley Tree Park, the trail takes walkers into Jarrah forest shared with the Greenbushes Loop before heading through farmland to Blackwood - its once mighty valley views marred by the desolation caused by fires in 2013. A pleasant and varied day of walking.

Distance: 17.4 km (one way)
Gradient: Hilly day with some long climbs balanced out with many flat sections
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 5 Hours, including snack break
Steps: Some formal steps, as well as informal ones amongst rocky outcrops
Best Time to Visit: Winter-Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access from Balingup - trailhead is clearly signed along Bridgetown Rd/South West Hwy, just north of the turn off to Golden Valley Tree Park on Southampton Rd. 

After a good night's sleep at the Post House in Balingup, Alissa and I dropped off our second car at Pemberton, popped into the bakery and drove back to Balingup to start the first day of our walk from Balingup to Pemberton. At eight days, 166.2 kilometres and comprising two town to town sections, this would be the longest continuous stretch of the Bibbulmun Track we have done to date - a (not so) dry run for the eight days we would be doing on the Overland in Tasmania later this year.

The Bibbulmun trailhead in Balingup is centrally located along National Route 1 at the northen end of the Balingup TransWA stop. From there, the track heads alongside Southampton Rd, skirting past farmland to Golden Valley Tree Park.

Even before entering the park, we were already enjoying some of the admittedly non-native trees in the area. Being an area filled with many orchards, we enjoyed seeing stone fruit trees flowering along Southampton Rd. 

Being the largest arboretum in Western Australia, having the Bibbulmun Track pass through the park is an excellent choice of trail alignment, and although unnatural it provides a nice change of pace from the Jarrah forest that dominates most of the Northern Half of the Track. The park is divided into different collections, with each collection divided by fences entered via kissing gates like the one pictured above.

The track enters the park past a collection of Elms and Oaks, with examples from all over the world. The lack of deciduous trees in Australia makes this an interesting sight, and adds to the variety of experiences one can find along the track.

As the track continues through the Golden Valley Homestead, the Bibbulmun passes some landscaped lakes with bamboo species alongside palms.

The track has some lovely picnic areas, and in better weather and without kilometres to walk, this would have made a great spot to hang out. A cool feature of the picnic area is an old school deep well hand water pump that actually works!

After enjoying the Golden Valley Tree Park, we exited at the far end of the park. The road here apparently features cobblestones that were laid down by convicts in the 1800s, but we could not discern any of these as we walked along the road. 

The unsealed road passes by farmland and Jarrah forest. Blackberries grow along this stretch of road, however walkers should be aware that these berries have choked up many of the rivers in the Southern Forests, and as such are treated as a weed by local councils and are sprayed with poison.

The road ascends to a railway line that crosses the track. From the top of the ascent, walkers are afforded excellent views across farmland, with young pine trees growing nearby. This view serves as a precursor for later sections of the day's walk. 

But first, the track follows a railway service track through lush native Jarrah forest for some distance before veering right off into the bush. 

Immediately after the railway section, the Bibbulmun passes through an area of forest recovering from the Southampton fires of 2013. 

The fire damage looks to have been quite severe, however the forest is showing positive signs of recovery, with epicormic buds shooting out of all the trees and with greenery in the understorey. 

Some way into the fire-effected forest, the Bibbulmun joins onto another trail with yellow markings that appear superficially similar to the Waugal markers, but with a Red Tail Black Cockatoo as the trail symbol. This is the Greenbushes Loop, a trail that leads to the historic town of Greenbushes (and ably covered by the Life of Py). Short loop spurs were a common feature of the Bibbulmun Track in its 1988 alignment, and although the Greenbushes Loop was not one of these loops it provides a convenient day walk variant for those who are not able to complete an overnight,  town to town section or a thru-hike.

As we continued along the section shared with the Greenbushes Loop, the levels of fire damage dissipated to the point that we were eventually walking through relatively unscarred, lush and green Jarrah forest, with many a Grass Tree and the occasional towering Marri.

The understorey here was also rich in wildflowers, and keen amateur and professional botanists will delight in the myriad of orchids on display during the wildflower season, including these Cowslip or Butter Orchids pictured above.

The track ascends up a moderate incline, leading to a lovely view overlooking farmland just beyond the forest. A park bench is located at this spot for walkers to take in the scene, as well as a sign indicating that this section of the walk from Balingup to Donnelly River Village is 'twinned' with a section of the Bruce Trail - a famous long distance trail in Canada of a similar length to the Bibbulmun. 

After stopping for a chat with a couple on a day walk along the Greenbushes Loop, Alissa and I continued on with our walk. This section of the Greenbushes Loop features many information panels, providing walkers with a history lesson about the heritage sites along the way.  An Old Loading Ramp (known under the unfortunate nickname of an 'Old Chinaman') can be seen along the walk that was used to load gravel and harvested timber.

The wildflowers along this stretch of track were quite impressive, with some in clumps of very high density and brilliant colour. 

A larger mining ramp appear later along the walk. This is a remnant of the Vultan Tin Mine and was used to dump ore from trucks into a processing plant.

Walking through the lush Jarrah forest, Alissa and I were surprise to find ourselves come upon a large body of water. This is the Mt Jones Dam - a remnant of the Vultan Mine, with the water having been used for ore processing. With the mine long closed, the artificial lake now provides a lovely scene, and Alissa and I stopped for a snack break along its banks.

Not long after encountering the lake, the Greenbushes Loop and the Bibbulmun Track part ways. For those looking to break up the day, the track to Greenbushes would offer an alternative overnight along the track, however being only 11 kilometres into the walk and having just left a town, I'm sure most walkers would be keen to continue on. 

After leaving the Greenbushes Loop, the Bibbulmun heads through more Jarrah forest. I unfortunately had walked quite far ahead of Alissa at this point and by the time she caught up with me it was too far for us to turn back and photograph something she had spied along the way - some white Spider Orchids.

After crossing Spring Gully Rd twice, the Bibbulmun turns down Southampton Rd, passing by green pastures along the way. 

This area seems to be cattle country, with a lot of cows watching us as we walked down the road. Some, like the two pictured above, greeted us with relatively calm stares while a slightly more aggressive bull later on seemed to glare at us with a face that suggested extreme suspicion - and potentially malice. 

The track after Southampton Rd has been realigned due to the Southampton Fires, with walkers now heading through a gate and into private property.

Walking up and over the Sound of Music-like rolling hills of grass provided one of the most iconic scenes of the day. Although its far from the wilderness walking of some of the track's best sections it was probably our favourite stretch of farmland walking along the track - even if it was quite muddy.

To the right of the track, walkers will see many small pine trees that were obviously planted to replace the pines lost in the Southampton Fire. Across the hilltop are a row of severely fire damaged trees that stand now as a reminder of how intensely destructive the fire was. 

Coming out the other side of the private property and over another hill, the fire's devastation became even more apparent. Looking not unlike the Fangorn Forest or the Desolation of Smaug, entire parcels of land where pine trees had once stood were left empty except for stumps, discarded burnt out logs and the sprouting of weeds. In the distance, ghostly white remains of dead pines still standing gave some indication of the plantation's age before the fire wiped it all out. From this vantage point, the Blackwood hut can be seen, spurring us on to keep going

The Bibbulmun Track continues indistinctly along a road overtaken with a field of daisies. Some of the sections not overtaken by the weeds were very muddy and it made for slightly messy walking. Considering we had glimpsed the hut earlier, this stretch of the walk was deceptively long, and it felt like forever before it seemed like we were close to the hut.

Before the Southampton Fire, Blackwood was considered a jewel of the Bibbulmun, and I've read of many walkers comparing it favourably with Waalegh in the Darling Scarp. Walking this section after the fire as we did, the once mighty Blackwood's has been scarred beyond recognition.

Jerry, an End to End thru-hiker we would be sharing the huts with for all of our walk, had reached the hut first and said to us 'I don't know about you, but this has got to be the bleakest campsite I've encountered'. Sadly, we had to agree - even the tent sites had been filled in with black gravel instead of the usual woodchips, presumably due to the fear of a further fires.

By some miracle, Blackwood hut remains standing,  however we found it to be incredibly windy due to the lack of surrounding trees.

Although we usually either use a mosquito net or the inner wall of a tent to keep bugs out when staying in the Bibbulmun Track huts, it was so windy we decided to set up the rainfly as well. Helle, a Danish hiker we would also share the campsites with for the rest of our hike and a pair heading in the other way followed suit, with Jerry using a tarp to block the wind as well.

Apart from the disappointingly bleak appearance of the area around Blackwood hut, the first day of walking was quite enjoyable, with a good variety of scenery throughout the day. The Golden Valley Tree Farm is a fairly unique sight along the track, and the Jarrah forests near Greenbushes provided for engaging, wildflower-filled walking. Although a short part of the day's walk, the grassy section through the private property was my favourite part of the day, and remains one of the iconic images of this stretch of the track for me. Had Blackwood been in its former state, I would have probably considered this a great day on the track, however even in its current state of desolation, this was still a good start to our journey to Pemberton.


  1. Good read, looking forward to reading about the rest of the walk.

    1. Thanks Rod - some of the best days are yet to come!