Saturday, 12 August 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Harvey-Quindanning Rd to Yourdamung

The first day of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, Harvey-Quindanning Rd to Yourdamung passes through a section of forest burnt by the Lower Hotham Fires of 2015. Highlighted by the Worsley Alumina Conveyor Belt, the rebuilt Possum Springs campsite, virgin Jarrah forest and the Harris River crossing, the section is unfortunately let down by the severe fire damage in recent years.

Distance: 26.8 km (one way)
Gradient: A few moderate ascent and descents, but mostly on gentle terrain
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: 7 Hours, including snack break
Steps: Some minor steps 
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn-Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Harvey-Quindanning Rd can also be reached from Pinjarra-Williams Rd. From Dwellingup, head east along Pinjarra-Williams Rd to Lower Hotham Rd. Continue to Lower Hotham Rd, then turn right at the end of the road onto Harvey-Quindanning Rd. No direct access to Yourdamung campsite

Having a week off from the Bibbulmun Track tackling some local day walks in the Perth area (the Palm Terrace Walk and Mt Cooke), Alissa and I returned to Harvey-Quindanning Rd to complete an overnight hike to Harris Dam. Having recently completed Yarragil Form to Harvey-Quindanning Rd as two separate day walks, this overnight hike was a crucial piece of the Bibbulmun Track puzzle left for us to do as it would mean we'd finally walked every section of the track from Kalamunda to Collie, with Collie to Balingup being our last missing link in our sectional End to End. 

Unlike the perfect weather we experienced while doing Driver Rd to Harvey-Quindanning Rd, Alissa and I were doing this hike in the middle of a run of three strong successive cold fronts with some fairly nasty weather forecast. The worst of the weather was forecast for overnight and the chances of rain in the morning and mid afternoon where supposed to be quite low, but it started raining as soon as we got out of the car! Alissa and I rarely put on wet weather gear or jackets on while out walking, however the low temperatures and frequent rain made this the first time since the Overland Track that Alissa wore a raincoat and I wore my warm vest almost all day.

After heading down the old vehicle track off Harvey-Quindanning Rd, the Bibbulmun runs along a purpose built walk trail. In the two weeks since we were last on the track, the first yellow wildflowers of the season had really come into bloom, creating a spectacular show in an area badly burnt by the fires that destroyed the Long Gully Bridge in 2015.

Heading along the yellow-lined walk trail, Alissa and I could hear the sound of the Worsley Alumina conveyor belt rumbling on nearby. Stretching for 50 kilometres from the mines in Boddington to a processing plant in Collie, this is the longest conveyor belt in the Southern Hemisphere. I've got mixed (mostly negative) feelings about bauxite mining in the Darling Scarp, however I have to admit that this is something of an engineering marvel, and a novel solution to a transportation problem.

Beyond the conveyor belt, the Bibbulmun rises up a moderately steep slope. Much of the forest on the other side of the conveyor belt seems to have been burnt by the Lower Hotham Fire fire, and I had to wonder if the conveyor belt had been damaged as a result. The walking through most of this section was through recovering and heavily blackened Jarrah forest, and while the occasional bursts of wildflower blooms provided some interest, the forest walking here was unremarkable and uninspiring. At least the heavy rains of July and August and resulted in well flowing streams and gullies, which provided us with a bit of interest along this stretch of the track.

After six kilometres of uninspiring walking through burnt Jarrah from the conyeyor belt onwards, the Bibbulmun crosses Asquith Rd, and brings about a welcome change of scenery.

From here to Possum Springs, the Bibbulmun runs alongside the Opossum River. Compared to other Bibbulmun Track rivers like the Murray, Donnelly, Warren and Frankland, the Opossum River looks to be no wider than a brook, however it provides an engaging focal point for what would otherwise be just another burnt section of the Bibbulmun - a major problem for the Dwellingup to Collie section of the track given its string of terrible fire-related luck in the last few years.

Alissa and I arrived at Possum Springs hut in the nick of time; just as we approached the campsite, a rather heavy shower began and we were very grateful to have some shelter from the rain. Destroyed by the Lower Hotham Fires of 2015, Possum Springs looks to have been rebuilt twice as the original 1996 hut is listed as being of the 'Standard' style before being replaced by a 'Stretch'-style structure, which has itself been replaced by the new rammed earth 'Nornalup' variation Alissa and I had encountered previously at Gardner and Dog Pool. The rebuild also includes one of the deluxe rammed earth toilets that are something of step up from the old wooden toilets found at most of the campsites along the track.

Being only 8 kilometres from Harvey-Quindanning Rd, Possum Springs was not far enough down the track for our overnight purposes given that the Harris Dam picnic area is another 37.4 kilometres from there. After a quick snack and waiting for the weather to clear up a little, Alissa and I continued on our way to Yourdamung. Initially following an old railway formation, the track then runs along an old vehicle track for the first kilometre.

From there, the Bibbulmun then returns to single file walking track. My old faithful chunky Northern Half guidebook mentions that this area had been burnt in a CSIRO/Department of CALM burning experiment. Mind you, its not like it looked any different to the rest of the burnt forest we'd been walking through all day, as the area had also been burnt by the Lower Hotham Fires.

The walking continued on alternating mix of walking trail and vehicle tracks, with very little change of scenery regardless of track width.

With the Sun out briefly, Alissa and I crossed Dee Vee Rd and entered the Lane Poole Special Conservation Zone. Incidentally, we were also entering what I've referred to as the Kingdom of Py - a section of the Bibbulmun Track maintained by none other than our friend Mark from the Life of Py. You can read more about his section here

From Dee Vee Rd, the Bibbulmun rises slightly before heading down to a slightly swampy area. Although the trees here were also badly burnt, the change from forest to more open terrain made it more interesting.

The swamp reached peak wetness in an area called the Plonkhole, with a number of broad but relatively shallow streams running across the track. This area must be a reliably wet part of the track, as the Plonkhole is marked on the Bibbulmun Track maps with a 'W', signifying it as a permanent water point.

From the Plonkhole, the Bibbulmun continues along Wilshusen Rd - an old and relatively straight vehicle track that the Bibbulmun stays on for just under 6 kilometres. Long stretches of walking along a road are never my favourite parts of the Bibbulmun Track (*cough* Marron Rd *cough*), and the burnt forest along the northern half of the road is far from exciting. While a narrow and more winding walk trail would be a preferable experience, Wilshusen Rd is one of those straight roads that make sense for the track to use in terms of getting a walker from point A to point B quickly.

Being just shy of 6 kilometres meant roughly 1.5 hours of the day were spent along Wilshusen Rd. For the most part I was able to keep upbeat about this long stretch of road walking, but I was starting to tire of the repetitive scenery by the three quarter point. At least I can say that it was nice to see the forest slowly transition away from the badly burnt sections closer to the Plonkhole end of the track the further we went along.

Towards the end of Wilshusen Rd, the track passes through an area filled with very large and mature Jarrahs. From here until the Yourdamung, the Bibbulmun passes through virgin Jarrah forest. With much of the Darling Scarp having been logged, you'd be forgiven for thinking all Jarrah are the thin and scrappy examples common to the Kalamunda to Dwellingup section of the Bibbulmun. Seeing these mature tall Jarrah is a real eye opener - just imagine how much more beautiful the Jarrah forest would be if the track passed through entirely virgin forest!

Turning of Wilshusen Rd and heading along Trees Rd (and away from the Kingdom of Py), the Bibbulmun crosses a creek. Alissa and I were excited by the thought that this might be the Harris River flats, however checking the guide revealed we still had a few kilometres to go. 

Heading down a walk trail alongside the Harris River and surrounded by virgin Jarrah, Alissa and I were amazed by a sudden smell of smokey bacon. We could not work out where it was coming from, and wondered if some pig shooters were smoking their quarry nearby or if there was an amazing, delicious smelling plant that had the fragrance of bacon. We were too focused on getting to Yourdamung to stop and investigate, however it would have been interesting to know where the smell was coming from. 

Leaving the bacon smelling forest, Alissa and I arrived at the Harris River crossing. Broad but shallow flats, the crossing is a series of embankments and small bridges that allow walkers to reach the other side.

This was a highlight of the day, having a look that was not unlike some sections of the Overland Track (give or take a field of button-grass).

On the other side of the river, the Bibbulmun continues through more delightful virgin Jarrah forest.

It was delightful that is, until we reached the intersection of Mistley Rd. Mark had warned me that he had heard that Parks and Wildlife had undertaken some control burns in the vicinity of Yourdamung, but seeing it in person was no less depressing. 

I totally understand the reasoning behind controlled burns and accept that they are something of a necessary evil given how flammable and fire-promoting Jarrah forests can be, however it was nevertheless disheartening to find an area that is supposed to be a track highlight intentionally burnt and charred. I know these things are on a cycle, however it seems a bit cruel from a walker's enjoyment perspective that this area has been control burnt considering that every day of walking from Swamp Oak all the way to Harris Dam passes through an area that has been quite badly burnt in the last three years. I was expecting stunning and relatively pristine virgin Jarrah, and instead we were treated to a forest from a Tim Burton movie!

Trudging onwards to the hut at Yourdamung (reached via a 300 metre spur), we were further disappointed to see that the control burn extended all the way to the area immediately surrounding the hut. As an ironic touch, Yourdamung is one of the few huts in the northern half that does not have a fire ring. As per the guidebook: 'this is a "No Fires" site, due to the conservation value of the forest in the area - please use your fuel stove.'

I must have been in a bit of a grumpy mood as my immediate thought when seeing the green painted table was that it served to really highlight the contrast between the colour green and burnt forest. 

Harvey-Quindanning to Yourdamung was a bit of a mixed bag. The initial wildflower-filled stretch leading to the conveyor belt was quite lovely, as were the sections along both the Opossum and Harris Rivers. I was also particularly impressed by the beauty of the virgin Jarrah forest in the sections that were not burnt. Unfortunately, this stretch of the track is very badly scarred by the aftermath of both the Lower Hotham Fire and controlled burns, and it made for far less engaging walking than it would be otherwise. Given that Possum Springs appears to have been burnt down twice and the overall drying trend will likely mean even more fires in the future, I'm a bit pessimistic about this section ever being in pristine condition. Nevertheless, Alissa and I were happy to have completed this section; with this day done we now only had four more days to go before completing our section End to End!


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