Saturday, 18 March 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Cosy Corner to Sandpatch

The first day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this double hut section of the track takes walkers from Cosy Corner to Sandpatch campsite. Starting as a lengthy beach walk that crosses the Torbay Inlet, the trail rises to Mutton Bird Campsite before passing the iconic Albany Wind Farm to Sandpatch. With lovely sunset views, Sandpatch makes a great final night on the track for southbound End to Enders.

Distance: 21.9 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle over its entire length, with a moderate incline at the end of Perkins Beach.
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained
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: Cosy Corner can be reached from Cosy Corner Rd off Lower Denmark Rd. Bibbulmun Track access is at the very end of the road. No direct access to Sandpatch campsite, however a car park is located at the end of Sandpatch Rd 3 kilometres from the campsite. 

With March signalling the beginning of the Western Australian hiking season, Alissa and I celebrated the cool change by recommencing our sectional End to End of the Bibbulmun Track. 2017 will hopefully be the year we finally finish the entire track, and with a seven day section planned for April we agreed a couple of overnight hikes would be a great way for us to get back into the swing of things. We decided to pick up the track from where we had left it in December, with Alissa's parents dropping us off at the Cosy Corner picnic area just north of the Torbay campsite.

From the picnic area, the trail immediately enters Cosy Corner Beach. Compared to the cloudy but fine weather we had experienced from West Cape Howe to Cosy Corner, the sky on this day of walking was filled with dark, moody rain clouds gathering out in the Southern Ocean. Looking towards the coast on the other side of the bay, we could see Torndirrup National Park and the Albany Wind Farm obscured by rain.

As it turns out, Cosy Corner is also a dog beach and as such Alissa's parents and her 'dog brother' Elvis joined us for the first kilometre or so.

Elvis, who had previously joined us for a short hike near Bells Rapids last year, loves running on the beach and it was great watching him have fun as he bolted down the beach and chased his ball whenever it was thrown.

When Alissa and I did this section from Albany to Denmark in 2012, there was a small stream along the beach that we had to cross. Being early autumn, the water from the stream had merely pooled on the beach with a sandbar blocking the stream from entering the ocean. At this point, we bid farewell to Alissa's parents and Elvis and continued on along Cosy Corner beach.

As we approached the end of the beach, it looked as it we would have to climb up an impossibly steep looking path. Neither of us could recall having to do this last time we did this section, and there was a brief moment where we thought that we might have missed a turn.

As we got closer, we saw a Waugal marker indicating that we had to walking along the rocky headland to get to the next beach.

With some seriously violent waves crashing into the coast, walking along the headland seemed like a potentially dangerous way for the route to go - highly unusual considering that the Bibbulmun Track can occasionally seem excessively risk averse. As it turn out, the headland was wide enough that we were never particularly close to the crashing waves, while the relative proximity nevertheless provided us with some of the most spectacular sights along this stretch of the track.

Walking down from the headlands, Alissa and I entered Perkins Beach.

Firm enough under foot, the beach walk was easier than our time on Mazzoletti Beach heading towards William Bay campsite, even if Perkins Beach was a fairly unremarkable stretch of track. The major feature of this beach is the Torbay Inlet crossing. Back in 2012 Alissa and I had to cross the inlet at chest deep. That had been was quite an adventure, however on this occasion a sandbar provided a far easier crossing.

For the chest deep crossing, Alissa and I had opted to cross the inlet at its shortest distance instead of going out to the ocean and finding the longer but shallower section at the ocean end. Having known that it is easier to cross an inlet further out, Alissa and I had wondered why we had decided to go through the deeper section back in the day. Walking along the beach, the answer was fairly clear - the waves along this beach are really strong, and as such we would have been continually battered by the waves had we gone out to the ocean side of the inlet crossing.

After the Torbay Inlet, Alissa and I noticed an unusual mistiness as we continued to the end of the beach. As we approached the misty area, we could literally taste the salt floating in the air.

The beach ends as the track approaches the nearby Shelter Island, with the Bibbulmun following a set of steps to a lookout on the ridge above.

The sweeping views from the lookout allowed Alissa and I the opportunity to see the entirety of the almost 6 kilometres of beach walking we had just completed. Further to the left of the photo, we could see the headlands of West Cape Howe and several other islands just off the coast.

Having spent most of the day up to this point walking along a beach, it was a nice change of pace to be walking along purpose built walk tracks as the Bibbulmun headed through the coastal heath. Just three months ago, the heath along West Cape Howe had been bursting with the colour of wildflowers, and I imagine this section would be much more stunning from late Spring through to early Summer.

This stretch of the track has the somewhat dubious distinction of passing along the edge of a shooting range, and apparently used to actually head through the range! The track merely skirts the property boundary, and Alissa and I never felt unsafe while along this section.

After leaving the rifle range behind, the track once again continues along the coastal heath with the wind turbines of the Albany Wind Farm becoming visible along the sea cliffs.

Before reaching the turbines however, the Bibbulmun spirals down into a natural sheltered bowl in the landscape where the Muttonbird hut and campsite are located. Back in 2012, this had been the first hut that Alissa and I had stayed in as we double-hutted from Albany. Going in the opposite direction, Alissa and I were again double-hutting however we would be skipping Muttonbird this time to stay the night at Sandpatch.

After a quick lunch, Alissa and I continued along the ridge as we approached the western end of the Wind Farm. The landscape is very gently undulating, and it was really cool to be walking slowly uphill and to see the wind turbines appearing on the horizon. 

Just before reaching the first of the wind turbines, the track features a short side track to a lookout point. The lookout is well worth checking out as it is a fantastic vantage point from which to see all eighteen of the wind farm's turbines and the coast leading to Torndirrup National Park. 

Immediately in front of the lookout are spectacular views of the wild Southern Ocean continuously crashing into the Western Australian coast. 

People have varied responses to wind turbines, with former Treasurer Joe Hockey once famously declaring them 'utterly offensive'. I personally find them far less offensive than another coal-fired power station belching carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and I think most southbound End to Enders probably see them as an iconic landmark indicating that Albany and the Southern Terminus are not far away. 

When the Bibbulmun Track was first extended to Albany in 1998, the Albany Wind Farm consisted of twelve turbines. At the time, Muttonbird and Sandpatch did not exist, and there was a hut located west of the original twelve known as Hidden Valley. With the expansion of the Wind Farm, Hidden Valley was removed and replaced with the two new huts. When Alissa and I walked the track in August 2012, Hidden Valley had only be closed for a few months and we could clearly see piles of dead heath had been piled in front of the trail to block the way. On this occasion, we thought we had found the old turn off at one point, however it is now far less obvious than it was 5 years ago. 

The last few kilometres along the Wind Farm pass along boardwalks for an extended period of time. Although the walking had not been particularly difficult, this was a nice luxury that reminded us of the extended boardwalks that can be found along some sections of the Overland Track in Tasmania. 

Towards the end of the Wind Farm, the board walk continues along the coast for a short while longer, providing excellent views of the coastline in Torndirrup National Park and the islands just off the coast. From there, the trail heads inland through coastal heath as it makes it way to Sandpatch. 

When Alissa and I were at Muttonbird, we had found the walk so easy we had considered possibly triple-hutting it all the way into Albany instead of spending the night out on the track.The last three kilometres from the Sandpatch car park to Sandpatch campsite felt like an eternity however, and while we probably could have kept going, a pain in my right foot and the thought of having to walk along pavement around Princess Royal Harbour for kilometres convinced us that staying at Sandpatch was the right thing to do. As it turned out, this was a very good decision as we had the entire campsite to ourselves! This is has been a seriously rare occurrence for us - the last time we had a hut to ourselves on the Bibbulmun Track was West Cape Howe five years ago!

Having stayed at both Muttonbird and Sandpatch, I can definitely say that Sandpatch is the superior of the two huts, and I would recommend anyone considering a double hutting day towards the end of a southbound End to End to double hut from Torbay to Sandpatch rather than double hutting from Muttonbird to Albany. Sandpatch's best feature is its lookout point behind the hut as it allows for an incredible sunset and sunrise view of the wind turbines and the coastline all the way to West Cape Howe. For End to Enders, this would be a poignant view for a final night out on the track and should not be missed. 

After starting to feel the cabin fever of staying indoors over the Summer, it was really lovely to be back out on the Bibbulmun Track again, and Alissa and I enjoyed this relatively easy double hut section of the track. Although this is not the most spectacular section of coastal walking that the Bibbulmun offers, the views of the Albany Wind Farm and the wild Southern Ocean were nevertheless enjoyable, and seeing the sunset from Sandpatch campsite capped off a very pleasant day of walking. This definitely serves as a nice penultimate day along the Bibbulmun, and I would recommend all End to Enders savouring their last night on the track with a stay at Sandpatch. You won't regret it. 

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