Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Sandpatch to Albany

The second day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this half day of walking covers what would be the last day for most southbound End to End thru-hikers. Initially walking through heath with ocean views, the track follows everything from four wheel drive tracks, a sandy ridge with spectacular views and bitumen paths as it leads to the Southern Terminus in Albany over a relatively easy final day on the track.

Distance: 12.5 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle over its entire length, with some minor inclines
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: 3-4 Hours
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: No direct access to Sandpatch campsite, however a car park is located at the end of Sandpatch Rd 3 kilometres from the campsite. The Southern Terminus is currently located just outside the old railway station in central Albany on Proudlove Parade. The Southern Terminus is slated to be relocated onto the York St in the near future. 

After a decent night's sleep at Sandpatch and a lazy morning getting out of bed and cooking breakfast, Alissa and I packed up our gear and were ready for the relatively short 12.5 kilometre day to the Southern Terminus. Although we have quite a few more sections of the Bibbulmun to do further north, this half day of walking is the last day of the track for Southbound End to Enders, and having walked this in the opposite direction in 2012, I was particularly keen to see how the day 'reads' heading into Albany. 

Initially, the trail leaves Sandpatch through heathlands before reaching a stretch of the track with excellent coastal views. To the west we could see West Cape Howe, while to the east the peninsula where Torndirrup National Park is located could be clearly seen. It is shame that the Bibbulmun comes so close to Torndirrup without actually entering the most exciting parts of the park, however given it is in the wrong direction from Albany it is understandable that the track does not head there. 

Heading inland again, the Bibbulmun follows what looks like an old vehicle track that has since become overgrown and maintained as a walking track. Along this section, Alissa and I spotted a particularly inquisitive kangaroo who watched us for some time before eventually hopping across to the other side of the track. 

Further along, the Bibbulmun follows a very sandy vehicle track that looks like it is still used by four wheel drives. This section was a basically a broad tunnel through Peppermint Trees, and was definitely the most boring stretch of walking of the two days. 

After a few kilometres of the dullness, the Bibbulmun turns off the vehicle track and follows a section of purpose built walk trail across the top of a sandy ridge. 

This is one of the best parts of the whole day, as it offers walkers their first real glimpse of the City of Albany across Princess Royal Harbour with Mt Melville and Mt Clarence framing the central business district. From this vantage point, Albany has an appearance not dissimilar to Tasmanian cities like Launceston and Hobart due to the city being built around two peaks - albeit with significantly shorter mountains in comparison to the Apple Isle. 

This ridge continues for under a kilometre, eventually descending through a Peppermint thicket. Just beyond, the track crosses an unsealed road. 

After the unsealed road,the Bibbulmun crosses Frenchman Bay Rd - the main road that leads to the Gap and Natural Bridge. 

Something I remembered vividly from when we did this section in 2012 was the section of boardwalk through a swampy section immediately north of Frenchman Bay Rd as it passes through a tunnel of trees as the appearance of the boardwalk something of a surprise at the time. 

From the boardwalk, the Bibbulmun follows a dual use bitumen path around the the bay. This footpath continues for just under three kilometres. Wearing hiking boots designed for less firm terrain, I find bitumen particularly fatiguing to walk on and much prefer unsealed paths as a result. The only good thing about this kind of tourist and local-friendly walk path is that we got to see a few dogs going for walks, including a particularly shaggy and happy Golden Retriever. 

At one point along the bitumen path, the track crosses a drain over Sydney Harper Bridge, providing something between a chuckle and a cringe at the cheesiness of the joke. 

The negative consequence of the short day from Sandpatch rather than double hutting from the preceding hut at Muttonbird was that we'd arrived too early to pop into the Great Southern Distillery, which is located right along the track! Home to Limeburners - Western Australia's first Single Malt Whisky - the distillery has built itself a strong reputation, and would be highly recommended for fans of Single Malts. 

An intriguingly whimsical quirk of signage in Albany is the use of quicksand warning signs, something I had first seen when heading out along the Lower King Rd to do the Luke Pen Walk. While it is true that quicksand appears solid while actually being unable to support the weight of someone standing on it, the old adventure film trope of someone completely sinking into quicksand is a myth - at most, a person would only get as deep as that of the person pictured in the sign, and even then the quicksand along the bay's edge is probably not that deep. 

Continuing along, the Bibbulmun leaves the dual access path and head along a compacted dirt track past several houses near the water's edge. This stretch of track reminded us of the long walk along the inlet into Denmark from William Bay

After heading through a section of reedy wetlands, the track passes the old Albany woolstores while joining up with the Munda Biddi. Its is kind of weird having the track pass an abandoned building like this, however it provides an interesting historical angle to the walk. 

From the woolstores, the Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi cross over the railroad tracks before reaching Princess Royal Rd. At this point the Munda Biddi diverges right along the road while the Bibbulmun takes a less direct route, following a vehicle track uphill. 

At first, this ascent seems nonsensical considering that it would be much shorter and easier to follow Princess Royal Rd to the Southern Terminus, however it become apparent that this trail alignment was picked due to the fact it heads through a surprisingly green section of bushland along the lower slopes of Mt Clarence. For southbound End to Enders, this section marks the last sections of exposed granite rock along the track, and would probably bring back happy memories of everything from the traversing of the Monadnocks and the ridge of Mt Cooke, the many granite domes of the Pingerup Plains and the ascent of Mt Hallowell on the way into Denmark. 

The track leaves the bushland as it joins onto Grey Street West. 

Grey St is one of the original roads of the old Albany township, and features some of the grandest heritage listed homes in Albany. Walking down Grey St provides excellent views of Mt Clarence looming in the background. 

Following the markers through the city streets, the Bibbulmun passes the historic point where Major Lockyer raised the flag to proclaim Frederickstown - Albany's original name - as part of the British Empire. 

Down the road, the Bibbulmun continues with the historical theme as it passes by the replica of the Amity, the ship that Major Lockyer sailed to the area to claim Albany for the British Empire. 

Every Bibbulmun Track blog features a cheesy photo of a hiker pretending to steer the Amity, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to add the Long Way's Better to this illustrious tradition!

From the Amity and the maritime museum, the Bibbulmun has only a few hundred metres to go before it reaches the Southern Terminus. 

Although our Bibbulmun Track adventure is not yet over, it definitely felt a bit emotional making it to the Southern Terminus and I can only imagine how thru-hikers must feel as they take those last few steps to the Southern Terminus sign, knowing that they've complete the entire track. 

This final half day walking into Albany took Alissa and I about 3 hours, making it one of the easiest days we've had on the Bibbulmun Track. Although there is certainly an element of excitement in walking to the Southern Terminus, this final day is a pleasant but not overly eventful day as most of it is an urban walk. Having walked up to both the Southern and Northern Termini, I can definitely say that finishing in Kalamunda feels a lot more exciting given that its a steep climb to the Northern Terminus; you have to keep working right to the end and there are far fewer signs of human activity. Nevertheless, while this last southbound day may be less exciting than the final northbound day, I think the transition from the Jarrah forests of nearer to Perth, through the Karri forests and Pingerup Plains to the coast does make the southbound journey the more exciting way to go. All in all,this is a pleasant enough day on the Bibbulmun Track though far from the track's best.


  1. oohh thankyou this is my first day walk next week so excited!!!!! (oh in reverse though)

    1. I know, we were thinking about it being your first day. It should be a nice and easy one!

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  3. Do you know where on the track the quicksand sign was?