Sunday, 20 August 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Collie to Mumballup

A long day walk on the Bibbulmun Track, this 32 kilometre day of walking takes hikers from the town of Collie to the tiny settlement of Mumballup. Passing the beautiful Collie River and providing some excellent forest walking, Mungalup and Glen Mervyn Dams are the major highlights of the day's walk. With the Noggerup campsite as a perfect lunch spot and easy access to the Wellington Spur Trail, this is an excellent day of walking.

Distance: 32 km (one way)
Gradient: A few gradual ascent and some gradual to moderate descents, but mostly on flat and gentle terrain
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained, though some sections can be inundated in Winter. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 7 Hours, including lunch break
Steps: Some minor steps 
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn-Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access to Collie is via Coalfields Hwy, with the Bibbulmun commencing via a spur at the western end of the main strip. From Collie, Mumballup can be reached via Collie-Preston Rd, while direct access from Perth is best achieved via South Western Hwy to Donnybrook, and then taking Donnybrook-Boyup Brook Rd. 

Having completed our last few sections of the Bibbulmun Track between Dwellingup and Collie the previous weekend, Alissa and I returned to Collie on the Saturday night to begin Collie to Balingup - our final town to town section of the track. Knowing that work commitments meant we would not be walking the section in the usual four day stretch, Alissa and I had to find suitable road access points to split the track into two weekend walks. We settled on a three day option, with a day walk from Collie to Mumballup being the mission at hand. At 32 kilometres, this was easily our longest day of walking on the track. As such, Alissa and I started early on the Sunday morning to ensure we had ample time to drive home to Perth.

Our walk began on the outskirts of Collie's main street, heading along the same spur trail that Alissa and I had walked when we completed Harris Dam to Collie almost exactly a year earlier. The spur trail passes through the dull and sandy Westralia Conservation Park, made all the more unappealing due to the obvious evidence of a recent bushfire or controlled burn.

2.5 kilometres in, Alissa and I reached the trail junction and were finally on the Bibbulmun Track proper.

From the trail junction, the walking was initially much of the same burnt Jarrah in sandy soil, however we were pleased to find the soil type slowly transition to richer laterite soils. With the soils came a noticeable increase in forest lushness, tree height and density.

After crossing a sealed road, Alissa and I entered an area that had been inundated due to the excellent rains over July and August. Wooden stepping blocks provided us with the opportunity to keep our feet dry.

Continuing along the track, Alissa and I had the feeling we were approaching some kind of river valley, and were delighted to find the track head alongside the Collie River. Given the fact that Collie is a busy mining Supertown, I had expected the river foreshore to be fairly developed. As such, the somewhat pristine, paperbark-lined riverine environment was a lovely surprise and an early highlight of the day's walk.

Continuing along the river, the remains of an old rail bridge could be seen partially submerged in the water. From there, the track went through a fairly muddy stretch before reaching the Mungalup Rd Bridge.

The Mungalup Rd Bridge is a traffic bridge, and as such cars have the right of way. Walkers are advised to cross as quickly as possible.

Beyond the bridge, the Bibbulmun continued along purpose built walk trail through some very pleasant Jarrah forest.

The Bibbulmun crosses Mungalup Rd beneath major powerlines and initially follows the powerline road running alongside it. Alissa often jokes that I should blaze a trail along Powerline Rd from Kalamunda all the way to Collie as a 'more scenic' version of the Bibbulmun Track. As such, I feigned disappointment when the Bibbulmun only followed the powerlines for a short distance before turning right into a Eucalypt plantation.

Some of the plantations that the Bibbulmun Track pass by can be quite ugly, however I found the stand of Blue Gums to the right of the track to be one of the better examples. Due to being a fairly mature stand, the orderly rows of the plantation had been broken up by new trees having grown in the gaps. The result was a somewhat more natural appearance that resembled the Karri forests found further down the track.

Continuing along, the plantation gave way to native Jarrah forest, with some fairly mature examples preventing the forest from having the thin and scrappy appearance common to the Darling Scarp section of the track.

As the track gets closer to Mungalup Dam, the Bibbumun Track crosses a series of streams. Most streams on the Bibbulmun are bridged or feature stepping stones, so Alissa and I were thoroughly surprised to see a stream without either. Not that we are against wading mind you, its just surprising given how strong the user friendly focus of the track is. As we were trying to work out the best way to cross, I decided to look on either side of the crossing to see if there was a narrower bit of the stream more suitable for our purposes.

Alissa and I laughed when we realised that there was indeed a log crossing just a metre to the right of the track; we had been so focused on keeping to the main track that we had not even noticed that there was an alternative right in front of us!

After the bridge, the Bibbulmun heads towards Mungalup Dam, with views of the water body through the trees. This was about as close as we ever came to the dam, as it is the main water supply for Collie and swimming (as well as a host of other recreational activities) are not allowed.

Heading away from the dam, we crossed another stream that looked like it did not have a bridge or stepping stones to aid with the crossing. We looked to either side of the track and discovered that this stream legitimately did not have a creek crossing, so Alissa had to step carefully to avoid getting our feet wet. Usually I'm more successful at this kind of thing that Alissa, however the soil I was standing in gave way and one of my feet became slightly soggy while Alissa made it across unscathed.

Heading away from Mungalup Dam, the Bibbulmun passes through the Wellington Forest. Although this stretch of the forest is not part of the nearby Wellington National Park, the mature trees and relatively unburnt appearance made for superb forest walking. I've been very critical of how scrappy and dull Jarrah forest can be, but the Wellington Forest would rank as one of my favourite sections of Jarrah along the track - up there with the lush sections near Swamp Oak.

After half an hour of very pleasant walking, Alissa and I were surprised to find ourselves at the Wellington Spur trail junction earlier than we were expecting. The Wellington Spur is the only substantial side trail along the Bibbulmun Track, and provides walkers with a three day walk from Collie to Wellington Dam. With Lyall's Mill being a mere 30 metres down the track, Alissa and I decided to check the campsite out.

The Wellington Spur was mainly designed with school and scouts groups in mind, and as such the campsites do not have the usual huts with sleeping platforms seen elsewhere along the track. Instead, the campsite features a large group shelter identical to the one seen on the way to Mt Cooke from Sullivan Rock and a fancier toilet block with two toilets. After signing into the log book, Alissa and returned to the main track and completed the short 450 metre walk uphill to Yabberup hut.

Yabberup is one of the smaller 'Standard' style huts along the track. Upon arriving at the hut, Alissa's first words were, "why is it so dark here?" and we realised that Yabberup is one of the few huts along the track does not have a skylight. Built in 1995, Yabberup was one of the first huts built along the Bibbulmun Track and its age is probably the reason it lacks the usual plastic roofing sheet to let some light in. Waalegh is the oldest hut on the track, and it too lacks a skylight. In spite of its age, Yabberup is in great condition, and it was obvious that the wood had been recently oiled. Checking the logbook revealed that a maintenance team had been out this way just weeks earlier, including our friend Mark from The Life of Py.

After stopping for a lunch break, Alissa and I continued on our way to Mumballup. Yabberup was perfectly located to break our day up as it mean we only had 12.4 kilometres left to walk to reach the end - far better than if it was the other way around and we had 19.6 kilometres to go. Immediately after the hut, the Bibbulmun enters an area of forest that looks to have been recently burnt. The fact that the Waugal had been shifted on the pole to point straight instead of right gave away something that was confirmed by Mark - this stretch of single file walking track was a new alignment of the walk that avoids what was once a road bash. This is what makes the Bibbulmun a good trail - they are always looking at ways to constantly improve the walking experience.

Beyond the new walk trail section, the Bibbulmun returned to old vehicle tracks and pleasant but unremarkable forest walking. With the samey appearance of the Jarrah forest, it was good that the track skirts a pine plantation, as it gave us a good progress indication due to being a prominent landmark. 

As with Mungalup Dam, a number of streams crossed the track as we came closer to Glen Mervyn Dam, with some makeshift log crossings helping us keep our feet dry.

Unlike Mungalup, Glen Mervyn Dam is regularly used for recreation activities and the Bibbulmun allows much easier access as a result. The single file walking track skirts the water's edge for a fair stretch of track, providing lovely views.

Given its close proximity to the water's edge, there were some sections of the track that were inundated and muddy. Walking along the water through muddy trail made us think of our last day on the Overland Track walking around Lake St Clair from Echo Point to Cynthia Bay.

Although the Bibbulmun passes several dams along its route, Glen Mervyn Dam is one of the few (besides Mundaring Weir) that feature the track actually crossing the dam wall.

Close to the eastern end of the dam wall is a spillway. Rather than a straight wall, the spillway has a functional but stylish Brutalist water feature. With its waterslide-like appearance, Alissa and I had to wonder how many people have slid down the spillway - and how many were injured as a result.

Beyond the dam, the track crosses Collie-Preston Rd and heads through some fairly dull and ordinary Jarrah. By this stage we were starting to get both physically and mentally drained, so the boring walking really made these last 4.9 kilometres very taxing even if the terrain was actually quite easy. Additionally, Alissa and I had driven down Collie-Preston Rd to drop off our second car at Balingup and had seen how beautiful the farmland had been. While I understand the logic of the track alignment passing through Jarrah forest instead of farmland to maintain the semblance of a 'wilderness' experience, Alissa and I agreed that a change of pace would have been better than the boring Jarrah - especially when you consider how beautiful the sections of Jarrah forest had been earlier in the day. 

Leaving the Jarrah forest and walking alongside Collie-Preston Rd, Alissa and I were relieved to know that we were on the home stretch. After crossing the Preston River on a road bridge, Collie-Preston Rd reaches a t-junction before turning right towards Mumballup. 

A tiny settlement that somehow has its own TransWA stop, Mumballup is a famous location along the Bibbulmun due to the Mumby Pub. On the day from Yabberup to Noggerup, the Mumby Pub offers walkers the chance to get a cooked meal and a beer for lunch - a rare luxury out on the track!

Just across the road from the pub was our second car, with a Bibbulmun Track trailhead showing us where the track will continue onwards when we head out to complete the two days of walking from Mumballup to Balingup in September. With those two sections completed, we will have finally completed our sectional End to End of the Bibbulmun Track!

Having found Dwellingup to Collie to be a bit hit and miss, I did not have the highest of expectations for Collie to Mumballup given that it passes through a lot of Jarrah forest. I was pleasantly surprised then to find the section to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a constant stream of landmarks to keep things interesting for most of its length. Similar to Yourdamung to Harris Dam but even better, this is a section that makes the most of what could have been a really ordinary stretch of the track, and instead provided us with one of the best days of walking between Dwellingup and Balingup to date. 


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