Saturday, 3 December 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Eden Rd to West Cape Howe

The first day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this double hut section of the track takes walkers from Eden Rd to West Cape Howe. Initially running along the Wilson Inlet, the track heads to Nullaki campsite before heading through heathlands that offers glimpses of the Southern Ocean and longer sections looking inland. A largely uneventful day, walkers are at least rewarded with lovely views from the West Cape Howe campsite. 

Distance: 22.7 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle over its entire length, with some moderate inclines. 
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained, although some stretches are slightly overgrown - particularly near the Wilson Inlet
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 6.5 Hours, including lunch break
Steps: Some formal steps
Best Time to Visit: All year, except for the peak of Summer and during particularly stormy Winter days. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Eden Rd is the first right turn off Lower Denmark Rd, immediately after turning onto Lower Denmark Rd from South Coast Hwy

After our eight days walking the Bibbulmun Track from Balingup to Pemberton, Alissa and I have largely focused on other trails in Western Australia, ranging from the Loop and Z Bend trails in Kalbarri National Park, trails in the Porongurups and Stirling Range, and heading out for an overnight hike on the Mamang Trail in Fitzgerald River National Park. Although we had meant to return to the Bibbulmun Track throughout November, controlled burns along sections we had wanted to walk and the recurrence of Alissa's back problems meant we had to put the Bibbulmun Track on the backburner for the entire month, eventually returning to the Bibbulmun over the first weekend of December.

With the fire risk in the northen sections we are yet to do far too high, Alissa and I decided to tackle a section of the track we had done before but hadn't written up for the Long Way's Better by doing an overnight hike from Eden Rd Gate to Cosy Corner along the Denmark to Albany section of the track. This was the first stretch of the Bibbulmun that Alissa and I did together in 2012, however this time we would be walking it in a north to south direction and with far better equipment and experience.

The Bibbulmun Track from Denmark to Albany is broken by an inlet crossing, and it is arguably the most unsatisfying crossing of the track. Originally designed as a ferry crossing, the ferry operation has changed hands many times and can be quite expensive. The walking options are either a very long walk along the Denmark-Nornalup Heritage Trail and then along roads, or to cross the Wilson Inlet via the sandbar and then risk walking through snake-infested grass on a poorly maintained trail. Neither are particularly inviting, which leave the final option - a car shuttle to Eden Road on the other side of the river - as the best and most popular option for a lot of walkers.

Alissa's parents dropped us off at Eden Rd Gate, with the Bibbulmun Track running between the road and the banks of the inlet.

Although I've heard that the trail leading from the sandbar to the trail is terribly overgrown, Alissa and I had not expected the Bibbulmun itself to be in such an overgrown state, with worryingly tall grass greeting us. With warm Summer weather, Alissa and I walked with some trepidation and we were glad to get back onto Eden Road itself for a stretch.

The trail descends back down to the inlet, and we were glad to find that the track was in far better condition along this stretch, with a fairly broad trail that had been well maintained.

The trail eventually crosses Eden Road and runs alongside a fence before turning down alongside a seal road. The sealed road leads to a dead end, with the track running off to the left. This dead end was where Alissa and I were picked up from when we did this section in the reverse direction in 2012.

Beyond the dead end, the Bibbulmun continues along a sandy section of trail.

The soft sands are definitely not the best, however the abundance of Tall Kangaroo Paw made for fairly scenic walking.

The track skirts the edge of a private property, initially heading through a grove of small Eucalypts before running alongside a long fence that seems to go on forever into the horizon. Thankfully, the Bibbulmun does not stay alongside the fence for long, with the Bibbulmun turning left into a mix mallee Eucalypts, Banksias, Peppermints and heathlands.

The walking is fairly unremarkable and lacking in distinctive features, with the only major landmark along the way being an area cleared as a helicopter landing site.

Not long after the helicopter landing site, walkers can reach Nullaki campsite via a spur trail. Nullaki is well known for being fairly mosquito-ridden, and we had no intention of staying here for the night. After writing in the Green Book, Alissa and I continued on to West Cape Howe.

Returning to the main track, the Bibbulmun again cuts its way through fairly unremarkable open heath, with the odd Banksia or grove of Peppermints being the only shade available. Although the weather forecast was a fairly reasonably 22-25°c, the lack of shade in extreme UV conditions and only a faint hint of wind meant this was already becoming warm before it was even midday.  

This stretch of the track felt poorly aligned, as it annoyingly staying inland for what seemed like a very long time. The idea seemed to have been that the views of the Wilson Inlet and inland to the Porongurup and Stirling Ranges in the distance had the real 'wow' factor instead of the ocean, as there were frequent rest spots with benches overlooking vistas that were meant to impress. Compared to views like the Helena Valley from Waalegh, across the Darling Scarp on Mt Cooke or the inland swamps of Quarram Nature Reserve near Boat Harbour, the Wilson Inlet and the very distant mountains were just not that interesting a sight, and we began to really resent the route that the track was taking.

The one saving grace of the heathlands walking was the abundance of wildflowers along the track. Although late November/early December is already the end of the wildflower season for most plants in a lot of areas, some of the late bloomers are at their most spectacular at this time of the year.

Beyond being a bit on the dull side, the heat was also beginning to become a bit of a problem. Not being on the ocean side of the hill, it was getting rather hot. Its true what they say - while it may be cooler along the coast, the lack of shade can really make the walking uncomfortable, especially as we were surrounded by very annoying flies hitching a ride and buzzing around our heads. It also meant keeping an eye out for snakes, and we saw two Tiger Snakes over the course of the day. Much is made about Tiger Snakes being one of the most venomous snakes in the world. While it is true and one should always be cautious, they are generally more afraid of humans than we are of them - as long as they don't feel threatened they will quickly move away. 

We were always glad to come to groves of Peppermint trees as they provided a brief respite from the unrelenting sun.

Almost two and a half hours after starting the walk, Alissa and I finally made it to views of the ocean as we crossed a 4WD track. The ocean views and the cooling breeze were only fleeting joys however, as the track almost immediately turned back inland.

The guide book refers to the inland views as being spectacular, however we would have much rather stayed along the coast. Sure, we could see the Porongurups and the Stirling Range, however the mountains were very distant and didn't give us any sense of wilderness due to the conspicuous farmland between us and the mountains.

We became really appreciative every time the track returned to ocean views. Given that we were walking on purpose built walk track in an area that is genuinely wild, we would have much preferred to stay along the ocean side as the remoteness and wildness of the area is a major drawcard.

The propensity for staying inland over most of the day meant that we only got brief glimpses of the granite headlands jutting out from the coast. Looking not dissimilar to Bald Head, Knapp Head could be seen in the distance, and Alissa and I would have preferred a slightly longer day of walking if it meant a more coastal route leading to us getting to walk to Knapp Head instead of the presumably easier but less exciting inland sections.

Here's another of the benches along the inland sections providing a rest spot with 'spectacular' views.

The trail comes teasingly close to Knapp Head as it passes across the ridge. 

As with earlier, the coastal views do not last long, with the trail again heading to the inland side of the sandy ridge. 

As the trail descends, the track finally enters a section of sustained coastal views with Lowlands Beach in the foreground and the headlands of West Cape Howe becoming visible further east along the coast. The sea breeze was aided by much stronger cloud cover from here on in, making for much more pleasant walking conditions. 

Another example of poor trail alignment occurs as it passes the first half of Lowlands Beach. The track could very easily head towards the beach itself for a short beach walk but instead merely skirts past it before heading inland again! 

When we reached the Tennessee Rd South crossing, Alissa and I decided to take matters into our own hands and made a short detour to a lookout at the end of the road. Given how inland today is, we would definitely recommend walkers take this short side trip. 

The view of Lowland Beach was quite lovely, and there is are some informative panels at the lookout that explain the geology of the area and detail some of the flora and fauna found nearby.

Returning back to the track, the trail ascends back up to walk along another sandy ridge. Although not clearly marked, it is at this point that walkers finally enter West Cape Howe National Park. 

The hot morning had been a surprise given that rain was forecast for the day, and the rains eventually arrived as we walked the last 4 kilometres of the day. Alissa and I quite enjoy the rain as a characteristic part of walking along WA's South Coast, and Alissa said joyously; 'Ah...this is the South Coast I remember!'

I had been a little cavalier about getting my camera wet when we did Balingup to Pemberton, and by the end of the trip it had started to malfunction, presumably due to the wetness. With the camera seemingly okay again, I was not going to risk it and kept it away during the heaviest of the rain towards West Cape Howe. The Bibbulmun Track huts always seem to be an uphill climb, and as we ascended Alissa and I quipped that we must be getting close to the end. We were correct, and it was not long before we were at West Cape Howe campsite. We shared the hut with another hiker who was on his last few days of a sectional End to End. Having injured his knee many years ago, his End to End had been a long fought battle, but the end was finally in sight for him. 

After a somewhat uneventful day, West Cape Howe campsite is a real treat and has ranked as one of our favourites since we last stayed here in 2012. The tent sites are nestled between beautiful Peppermint groves, the area is surrounded by wildflowers (in season) and there are even two lookout points - one with a picnic table just in front of the hut (seen above), and another higher one uphill with a bench. When we arrived, the rain obscured the views, however it had cleared up by the later afternoon. 

On a track as long as the Bibbulmun Track, there will always be great days filled with spectacular views, as well as lesser days that seem to be more about getting from one point to another with little of interest along the way. Eden Rd to West Cape Howe was one of the latter, with far too much time spent looking inland and not enough taking in the excellent coastal views. But it didn't need to be this way, as it seemed to avoid taking walkers to sights like Knapp Head or even to Lowlands Beach. Considering this day is sold as 'truly spectacular coastal walking', it did not seem maximised for coastal views at all. Thankfully, the excellence of West Cape Howe campsite makes up for some of these flaws, with the next day walking to Torbay one of the Bibbulmun's best.


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