Sunday, 17 September 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Grimwade to Balingup

Day Two of an overnight hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this day on the track takes walkers from Grimwade to the town of Balingup. Passing through regrowth Jarrah forest for the first half of the day, the second half features a better mix of scenery, with some lovely farmland views. Following Balingup Brook, the last few kilometres are some of the best leading into a track town on the Bibbulmun.

Distance: 22.9 km (one way)
Gradient: A few moderate descents and ascents with mostly 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, lunch and rest breaks
Steps: Some minor steps 
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn-Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: No direct access to Grimwade. The Balingup trailhead is located on South Western Hwy - Balingup's main street. The trailhead is right near the bus stop on the northern side of the road. 

After a pretty good night's sleep on the track after a long and tiring day of walk from Mumballup to Grimwade, Alissa and I were raring to go for our last day on the Bibbulmun Track. After a somewhat late 9am start the previous day, Alissa and I were out on the track by 7:15, walking back to the main track from the hut's side trail and ascending a vehicle track through some decent Jarrah forest.

With Grimwade being one of the last small logging town to close, it was unsurprising to find that the forest was particularly young, thin and scrappy. The old chunky guidebook noted that the the forest in the area was logged in 1988/89 and that this section provided 'a good opportunity to see the remarkable regenerative capacity of the jarrah/marri forest'. Personally, I didn't think it was particularly impressive; it looked like what I would expect a 30 year old regrowth forest to look like, and it didn't make for overly exciting walking. 

The Bibbulmun largely follows what must have been old logging roads for a few kilometres, however it eventually branches off from the road 3.7 kilometres in, following purpose built walk trail that passes between the two trees pictured above.  

An interesting aspect of this section of the track is the fact that pine trees pop up every now and then even though there is no obvious plantation immediately visible near where the trees are growing. Given that some of these trees were particularly mature compared to the surrounding Jarrah made me think that they must be remnants from a pine plantation that had been here before the Jarrah regrowth was planted. While non-native to the area, Pine trees have become an important food source for endangered birds like the Carnaby's Black Cockatoo, and there have been recent campaigns for forestry to take this into consideration when harvesting. 

The 2.8 kilometres from the turn off onto the walk trail to the road crossing at Kirup-Grimwade Rd was pleasant enough but fairly uneventful, consisting of much of the same thin Jarrah we'd been seeing for most of the day. At least the terrain was fairly flat and easy going, and at this stage I felt like we were making quite good time.  

6.5 kilometres into the day, Kirup-Grimwade Rd was our first major progress marker, given that this was the first bitumen road we had seen since leaving Mumballup the previous day.  

Beyond Kirup-Grimwade Rd, the forest was particularly unexciting, as the trees were very burnt and blackened from either a bushfire or a controlled burn. 

One of the few interesting things along this stretch was the appearance of what looked like an old loading platform on one side of the track. We had seen a similar loading ramp along the stretch of the Bibbulmun that runs concurrently with the Greenbushes Loop between Balingup and Blackwood

With so much burnt forest, I was really beginning to tire of this stretch of the track, and there was even a part of the walk that does a u-turn and then walks parallel to a section we'd already walked. While this made sense given that this was done to utilise an old creek crossing, it did not make for very inspiring walking. Worse still, the hard compacted ground and constant honky nuts along the track were definitely taking a toll on my feet, and I was beginning to once again slow and tire as I had the day before. I've not experienced this kind of pain in my feet for a very long time before this weekend, and it certainly got me pretty worried considering we would be walking the Cape to Cape in less than a week's time.  

After 13 kilometres of uninspiring Jarrah forest walking, the Bibbulmun reaches the corner of a farm, with spectacular views across the rolling hills and orchards. This stretch of the track only lasts for 300 metres, and Alissa and I agreed that more of this would have been a very welcome change of pace from all the repetitive Jarrah forest. The day out of Balingup to Blackwood embraces a lot more farmland views, and I think it is all the better for it. Collie to Balingup would definitely be greatly improved by embracing this aspect of the landscape rather than insisting on staying in the Jarrah forest as much as possible.  

Beyond the farmland, the track reenters Jarrah forest before descending to what is referred to as a 'narrow neck of bush' between two private properties. The views of the dam and cows in the field through the trees were quite enjoyable, and it certainly made us feel like were were now getting fairly close to town as we knew we now had less than 8 kilometres to go before arriving in Balingup. Less enjoyable was the sight and sound of two dirt bikes loudly ripping their way along a vehicle track that featured a fairly obvious 'no dirt bikes' sign. 

Walking past the private properties was one of the highlights of the day. As we approached, two very friendly horses came to say hello, and Alissa - who definitely relates to Tina on Bob's Burgers - just had to give them a pat. 

After the private properties, the Bibbulmun crosses Grimwade Rd as it heads up what would be our last major ascent of the whole track. 

Along the way up the hill, Alissa and I were delighted to see Wandoo - one of my favourite trees of the track's Northern Half, and a relatively rare tree this far south. Seeing the Wandoo had me thinking a lot about how much better the track would have been if Wandoo had been the main forest throughout most of the Collie to Balingup section instead of Jarrah, or for that matter if some of the rarer Eucaypts from the Dryandra Woodlands were actually found along the track.

For some reason, my feet felt a lot better walking up the hill than they did on the flats and I was able to power up at a pace that I'm more accustomed to. The descent was however very painful, and Alissa led the way for some of it. Usually, I'm the one setting the pace and have to wait for Alissa to catch up at times, but the tables were completely reversed with Alissa having to wait for me!  

The trail eventually reaches the boundary of a pine plantation, with the Bibbulmun running along the fenceline. This descent was both gravelly and filled with honky nuts, and was probably the most painful part of the day's walking for me. 

Leaving the fence boundary, the Bibbulmun reaches one of the more iconic bridges of the track - the bridge over Balingup Brook. Used heavily in the early press releases for the Bibbulmun, it is a bridge I've always wanted to cross and see in person, and I was frustrated that I was in so much pain while crossing it as I had been looking forward to it all year. Once on the other side of the brook, I stopped to have a rest, actually taking off my shoes to relieve some of the pain. I was actually pretty close to tears by this point; we only had 4 kilometres of flat walking to go but the end never seemed so far away as it did at that moment. Uncertain about whether it was my shoes that were causing the problems, Alissa suggested that I put on my Keens Uneeks for the walk in to see if it made anything better. While the hard sole was not ideal, it did at least allow my feet to breathe, and I wore the Keens all the way into town.  

From the map, it looks like the Bibbulmun simply goes alongside Jayes Rd, however I think the route planners of the track have done a good job of keeping this interesting - I would go as far as to say that the walk into Balingup is one of the better town entry routes of the whole track. After crossing the bridge, the Bibbulmun passes through a stand of fairly mature pines alongside Balingup Brook.

After leaving the pines and following along the fenceline of several farms, the Bibbulmun crosses over Balingup Brook a second time as it heads along the northern bank.  

This stretch of walking is quite lovely, and while much of it features non-native trees and has been clearly landscaped slightly, walking along the duck-filled brook in the mid afternoon made for a very enjoyable experience.

Reaching a large field, Alissa and I could also see the end in sight - in the distance the sudden increased frequency in car traffic alerted us to the fact that we were about to reach South Western Hwy and the main street of Balingup! 

Before reaching the road itself, the Bibbulmun crosses two more bridges to get to the other side of Balingup Brook one last time.  

After the second bridge, we were on a sealed path along South Western Hwy and on the main street of Balingup. We had a few hundred metres to go to officially finish at the Balingup trailhead, however we had one last important thing to do. 

Having capped off a long and arduous weekend and finally finishing a walk we've been working on since May 2015 (earlier if you include our 2012 Albany-Denmark hike or my 2003 Walpole-Denmark walk), it was time to celebrate with our customary '10 on a Plate' - a sausage roll and a pie lined up to look like the number 10 (though sadly sans plate). Given the size of the sausage roll, this was a bit of an overkill, however after all the foot pain I absolutely regret nothing about my excessive order from the bakery. I can thoroughly recommend the Balingup Bakery by the way - both the Cheese and Bacon Sausage Roll and the Pork, Mushroom and Cider Pie were outstanding. 

After enjoying the pie break, we continued down the road to the trailhead. While Alissa and I had technically walked this section already when we did Balingup to Pemberton in September 2016, I insisted that I wanted to walk right up to the trailhead for that true sense of finality.  

And with that, Alissa and I had completed the Bibbulmun Track - the trail that gave both of us the hiking bug in the first place, and had been one of the major reasons behind the creation of the Long Way's Better. Having taken 2 years and consisting of 1 eight day hike, 1 seven day hike, 3 three night hikes, 6 overnighters and 14 car shuffle-oriented day walks, it definitely felt like the Long Way - especially when you consider how many other trails we've walked in that same time!

All in all, this last day of walking had been quite tough for me. Objectively speaking, I would not consider this terrain one of the hard days of the Bibbulmun Track, but the fairly repetitive Jarrah scenery earlier in the day and the honky nuts and compacted unsealed road walking made it one of the hardest days for me. Although I was still in a lot of pain, I must say however that I really did enjoy the scenery along the last few kilometres into town and while I think Pemberton would have been a more meaningful place to end the track, I'm kind of glad that our last few steps were in a somewhat random and non-traditional ending place like Balingup.


By completing the Bibbulmun, I fulfilled the dream of a 13 year old Donovan who had read about the opening of the Bibbulmun Track, and who had decided in May 1999 that he would one day walk the entire track after walking a short section from Karri Valley Resort to Beedelup Falls. I never thought that it would take 18 years to get to this point, but I'd like to think that I did him proud.

The Bibbulmun has definitely been a major learning experience that has taken Alissa and I from inexperienced neophytes with low quality heavy gear to seasoned hikers with ultralight gear and - more importantly - a lot of knowledge and experience. The Bibbulmun Track is arguably one of the best walks in Australia in terms of a 'training trail' that allows people to develop the skills to become a hiker in a relatively safe environment, and I've outlined many of these reason already in '10 Ways the Bibbulmun Track is the Best Beginner's Walk'. Ultimately however, the last few sections of the track passing through continual Jarrah forest has taught me something about myself - I no longer care about walk long kilometres for kilometres' sake, and I don't have the patience for long boring stretches of track with little in the way of views, which is a major problem for much of the track between Dwellingup and Balingup.

One question I've been repeatedly asking myself is 'would I walk the Bibbulmun again?', especially considering we ran into another hiker who was doing her fourth End to End. I certainly feel like there are sections of the track I'd love to revisit, and Kalamunda to Dwellingup, Balingup to Northcliffe and Walpole to Albany are all town to town stretches I'd happily walk again in the coming years, but I think it will be a very long time before I revisit the other sections of the track, and it would only be because I was doing the whole track as a thru-hike. Much respect to those who have done many End to Ends, but I personally would prefer to do other walks and see different parts of Australia and the world. In spite of this, I do feel like completing the whole track was an entirely worthwhile experience that I can thoroughly recommend - especially to Western Australians who are lucky to have such easy assess to such a great resource. 


  1. Hey Guys, congratulations on finishing the bibbulmun, you should take great pride in what is a great achievement :) It sounds like you learned a lot over the journey.
    I'm looking forward to reading of your next adventure on the Cape to Cape, it's unfinished business for me. Have a drink on me, Cheers Kevin.

    1. Thanks Kevin! Its been quite an experience and we've definitely learnt a lot in the time we've been walking it.

      The Cape to Cape posts are coming soon. We loved it - it's a really fantastic coastal walk, and one that's a bit luxe given all the coastal towns along the way.

      I had a bit of unfinished business of my own on this trip - I had to pull out of the Stirling Ridge Walk due to poor weather!