Sunday, 4 December 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - West Cape Howe to Cosy Corner

The second day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track,this spectacular day of walking takes hikers from West Cape Howe to Cosy Corner via Torbay campsite. Following a high coastal ridge for most of the day, the track focuses strongly on the beauty of West Cape Howe National Park's rugged coastline. With views of numerous beautiful beaches and rocky headlands, this is one of the Bibbulmun's best days. 

Distance: 19.1 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle over its entire length, with some moderate inclines and one particularly steep descent
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained, although some stretches have been damaged by fire damage
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 5.5 Hours, including morning tea break
Steps: Many formal steps - 300 in one spot!
Best Time to Visit: All year, except for the peak of Summer and during particularly stormy Winter days. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked from West Cape Howe campsite with no vehicle access. Cosy Corner can be reached from Cosy Corner Rd off Lower Denmark Rd. Bibbulmun Track access is at the very end of the road. 

After the somewhat bland day of walking from Eden Rd to West Cape Howe, Alissa and I woke to the spectacular sight of sunrise from the West Cape Howe campsite. Eric, the other hiker who we shared the hut with, had woken up early as he had planned to double hut it to Muttonbird, so after wishing him well for his last two days on the Bibbulmun, we had the campsite to ourselves as we ate breakfast at the picnic table overlooking the coast at golden hour.

This day's journey -from West Cape Howe to Cosy Corner via Torbay - was one that we had undertaken in the opposite direction back in 2012. While walkers heading south to Albany often describe the day as being easy, for walkers heading north its a day featuring far more ups than downs with the worst being a steep 300 step climb up out of a valley. We had miscalculated how far we yet to go when we came to the steps in 2012, and the mental challenge was such that Alissa remembers this as the first time the Bibbulmun made her cry. In spite of the challenge, we also remembered this as one of the Track's most spectacularly scenic days, however we decided that if we were going to do it again, it had to be heading towards Torbay rather than the other way around!

Leaving West Cape Howe, the track initially runs along a sheltered inland section. The very middle of the trail had been cut into a narrow strip that was only just wide enough to walk in, with our sticks having to land in the grass alongside. This was not ideal as we were worried about accidentally stabbing a snake hidden in the grass with our sticks, and we walked paying special attention to the ground in this section.

Unlike the previous day's preference for inland walking, the track to Torbay brings walkers to ocean views far more often, and when it does it tends to linger there too. This was a great improvement on yesterday's somewhat frustrating trail alignment.

As we were walking, Alissa and I heard the sweet call of Black Cockatoos just ahead and came across a small flock in the heathlands alongside the track. Less raucous than their more common Pink and Grey relatives, we stopped to watch these magnificent, endangered birds for a few moments as they flew from one side of the track to the other before they had enough of our close proximity and flew away to the east.

As mentioned earlier, a lot of today's walk stayed closer to the coast, providing long stretches of track with ocean views.

Which is not to say it didn't turn inland from time to time. It did, however even then these stretches often featured cool, shaded groves of Peppermint Trees to walk through which would have been of help to us yesterday.

The track plays to West Cape Howe's strengths, constantly bringing walkers to excellent vantage points from which to view the coast. To the south-west, walkers can see the other side of Knapp Head as well as beaches at the foot of the coastal cliffs.

To the east, the headlands of West Cape Howe appear closer and closer and provide an anchor point to draw the walker eastwards.

For most of the day, the track follows a gentle contour that was slightly downhill. There were a few stepped sections however, with the most intense being the famous 300 steps down into a major gully 5 kilometres in.

Although we could definitely feel it in our knees, the descent is fairly easy and straightforward. In the other direction, these steps are not a lot of a fun, and we read a number of humourous entries in West Cape Howe's Red Book referring to them as the 'Stairs of Death'. Combined with the first initial descent from the Northern Terminus at Kalamunda, the steep descent down Cardiac Hill after Blackwood campsite and the relatively less strenuous ascents and escents going from Boarding House to Beavis rather than the other way around, it would appear to me that doing the Bibbulmun Track in the North to South direction is the easier way to go. 

The Bibbulmun is not completely cruel however, and a bench is located halfway up for hikers ascending the steps to catch their breath.

Looking back across the gully, Alissa and I remembered that it was at this location in 2012 that we came to the realisation that we had miscalculated how far we'd gone and that the most challenging part of the day was yet to come. How glad we were doing this in the other direction - what we had walked so far was really quite easy!

Clearing the gully, the track provides further superb views of the coastline to the west...

... as well as revealing that we were coming closer to the headlands of West Cape Howe, even if it never actually takes walkers right to them. 

After crossing an old 4WD track, the Bibbulmun enters an area that was burnt by a bushfire in March 2016. With the severity of the Waroona Fires fires along the Lane Poole section of the Track south of Dwellingup, we had completely forgotten about these fires in West Cape Howe.

The damage was surprising in a number of ways. A lot of track infrastructure seemed to be have survived the blaze relatively intact and the wet Winter had brought about a fairly remarkable recovery in such a short amount of time. On a less positive note, the fires had burnt through a very large area of land, having wiped out just about all the taller trees in the already short-statured heathlands.

With the lack of trees and shrubs to compete with, grasses had taken over sections of the the landscape, making the area look like we were high up on a mountain above the tree line.

Although I had kept my eye out for snakes, I nearly stood on the slow moving Bobtail pictured above as we sat down at bench along the track. With the warm weather, Alissa and I saw a lot of these guys out and about and most of them seemed fairly used to humans as they seemed only mildly cautious of us.

From the bench, Alissa and I could make out Torbay Head just beyond the heath in the foreground.

Unfortunately, the Bibbulmun does not actually go to Torbay Head itself, however an old sign at a track junction indicates that walkers can continue along a trail that links up to the Dunksy 4WD track to Torbay Head. The fact that there is no dedicated walk trail to Torbay Head has always seemed weird to me given its the southernmost point of Western Australia, and a good extension project for the Bibbulmun would be to build a side trip track to Torbay Head with its campsite somewhere nearby.

Continuing along, the Bibbulmun runs concurrently with the Bruce Tarbotton Memorial Trail, a short trail that leads walkers over a limestone ridge that Alissa and I remembered fondly as one of the day's highlights back in 2012. 

Although quite seriously burnt by bushfire, this excellent section of the track provides southbound walkers with their first views of the Albany coastline, with the Albany Wind Farm visible on the horizon.

Looking back across the landscape we had just traversed, you could really see just how severe the March 2016 bushfire had been.

The boardwalk across the top of the ridge has been damaged at points by the fire, however it was in a surprisingly good condition - definitely better than the duck boards on the Bald Head Walk Trail!

Continuing along the ridge, the track provides a spectacular view of Shelley Beach, with Torbay Head jutting out beyond.

The Bruce Tarbotton Memorial Trails runs straight ahead to Shelley Beach, with the Bibbulmun branching off to the left.

This next section would have been through a sheltered grove of Peppermint Trees and Paperbarks, however all we got to see were the skeletal remains. Although its a bit of a sad sight, we did find this section interesting and engaging walking - a lot better then the burnt section around the once mighty Blackwood campsite.

After crossing a road, the track exits the burnt section and after passing by a boot cleaning station rises up over a series of low lying granite domes.

We had forgotten about this section so it was a welcome surprise. Beyond bringing back memories of 2012, this Granite section also brought back happy memories of walking over the Monadnocks, Sullivan Rock and Mt Cooke back in the Kalamunda to Dwellingup stretch of the track.

Broken into three sections by trees and other foliage, Dingo Beach and the larger bay of Port Harding become visible upon reaching the final Granite expanse. 

From there, the track follows a scenic ridge overlooking Dingo Beach. Torbay Campsite lies just north of Dingo Beach and before the beach of Port Harding, so we knew that we were not far now.

Beyond Dingo Beach, the track enters an area of woodlands that is highly reminiscent of similar sections along the Point Possession Heritage Trail, which in turn had reminded me of the Bradley's Head to Chowder Bay Walk in Sydney

Looking out across the bay, the wind turbines of the Albany Wind Farm become clearer. For End to Enders heading to Albany, these wind turbines are a major landmark signalling that the Southern Terminus is not far away. 

Nestled in a sheltered section of bushland, Torbay campsite appears suddenly along a bend in the track. Like West Cape Howe, Torbay features a lookout above a ridge nearby and provides similarly stunning views at sunrise and sunset. 

Although it would have been nice to have stayed at Torbay, we had to head back home to Perth and thus had another 2.5 kilometres to walk to get to our car at Cosy Corner. The area immediately after Torbay was similar to the coastal woodlands encountered earlier in the day before heading into an area that seems to have been burnt fairly recently based on the smokey smell. 

We had seen signs of the bushfire damage when we parked our car at Cosy Corner the day before so we knew we weren't far, and it wasn't long before we were at the stairs that descend steeply to Cosy Corner and the end of our two day hike.

Cosy Corner is a popular day use area, with many picnic tables, barbecues and the Port Harding Beach just beyond. Hot, sweaty and with lunch plans at the nearby Cosy Corner Cafe, Alissa and I decided to go for an enjoyable swim at the beach before heading off.

Although Nullaki to West Cape Howe is one of the lesser days along the track, the same cannot be said of West Cape Howe to Torbay, which would easily rank right up there with the Bibbulmun Track's best. The route the track takes allows for plenty of views of the spectacular coastline in West Cape Howe National Park and beyond towards Albany, making it one of the state's best coastal walks. Even with the recent bushfires, this is a rewarding section which, as an added bonus, is also fairly easy - in this direction at least!


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