Saturday, 18 November 2017

Gabbi Karniny Bidi (Rottnest Island)

One of Trails WA's Top Trails, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi explore the salt lakes of Rottnest Island. Starting at the Thomson Bay Settlement, the trail heads inland through Rottnest's beautiful lakes system, before exploring popular beaches like Geordie Bay, The Basin and Pinky Beach as it makes it's way along the north-eastern coastline. The most convenient of the Wadjemup Bidi network's trails, this is a must do walk while on the island

Distance: 10 km (one way)
Gradient: Some moderate descents and ascents along the coastal sections and to and from the Vlamingh Memorial Lookout. Relatively flat otherwise
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained. Some uneven sections with rocky limestone along the coast. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the the Wadjemup Bidi markers providing clear directional information
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 2-3 Hours
Steps: Many steps, particularly near Geordie Bay
Best Time to Visit: All Year
Entry Fee: Yes. Rottnest Island entry fees apply
Getting There: Rottnest can be reached by ferry or private vessel. The trail starts within the Thomson Bay Settlement with the Wadjemup Bidi trailhead located near the main food mall. 

While Spring is considered the peak hiking season in Perth and the South West, I generally find November to be a less enjoyable time to be out on the trails in Perth. With the rainfall significantly tailing off and the temperatures increasing, the beautiful waterfalls and gullies of the Perth Hills slow to a trickle and the green forests and heathland start to take on a less attractive brown or grey colour. With Perth's best walks now long past their yearly prime, Alissa and I headed off from the mainland to explore the Wadjemup Bidi on Rottnest Island. While Rottnest has long been something of a haven for cyclists, the relatively new Wadjemup Bidi creates an exciting network of five walk trails that cover the entire island. With Alissa and I over for the day, we decided to tackle two of the walks on this visit, with the first being the Gabbi Karniny Bidi since it starts conveniently enough at the Thomson Bay Settlement and is a short walk from the ferry terminal.

Commencing at the main Wadjemup Bidi trailhead, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi initially passes through the streets of the Thomson Bay Settlement as it heads westwards to explore the inland lakes that are a major feature of this walk.

Mere minutes into the walk, Alissa and I were delighted by multiple sightings of Rottnest's famous resident marsupial - the quokka. Famous throughout the world for being considered the 'happiest animal in the world' due to their seemingly smiling facial expression, inquisitive nature and island tameness, we had something of a reality check to the myth as we witnessed two quokkas have a bit of a brawl after one apparently angered the other!

Upon leaving the Settlement, the trail takes walkers past the island's cemetery. Dating back to the pioneer era, the cemetery is a fascinating look into pioneer life and an interpretive panel nearby provides a wealth of information for walkers to learn about Rottnest's history. These panels are a major strength of the walk as they help make for a more engaging and educational experience.

Following a bitumen path, the trail rises away from the cemetery to the Vlamingh lookout. Named in honour of Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh, the lookout commemorates his December 1696 visit, which made him the first non-Aboriginal person to land on Rottnest Island. The island itself was named by Vlamingh as he thought the quokkas were a  major infestation of rats and called the island 'Rottenest' (Rat nest in Dutch).

Descending from the lookout, the trail offers excellent views of the Herschel and Garden Lakes before leading to a road crossing.

After the road crossing, the trail runs along the road briefly before rising up along a low limestone ridge just above the road. The ridge offers fantastic views across Herschel Lake and the limeston islands in the middle. In the distance, the Wadjemup Lighthouse is also visible.

Continuing along the purpose built walk trail, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi passes by the island's wind turbine. While a small and inconsequential wind farm compared to the wind turbines seen along the Bibbulmun Track near Albany, this wind turbine become somewhat infamous after it inspired former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to describe it as 'visually awful'. I did not have anywhere near as negative a view as Mr Abbott - surely a coal fired power station spewing pollution in the atmosphere is far more offensive than this solitary turbine.

After passing the wind turbine, the trail joins and old vehicle track thats runs between Lake Herschel and Lake Baghdad.

The trail runs right along the shore of Lake Baghdad, and it is fascinating watching the tiny birds as they dance along the shore. Blending into the landscape due to their dull colouring, the movement of these tiny birds almost looks like the stones and pebbles along the lake were moving by themselves!

As the trail leaves Lake Baghdad, it rises slightly to a lookout point over Lake Vincent. Due to the lack of shade and the warm November weather, Alissa and I didn't have the time to sit at the bench, however I imagine this being an enjoyable rest spot during the cooler months to do some birdwatching.

The trail skirts around Lake Vincent before leading to one of the trail's most iconic moments - the Lake Vincent boardwalk. Due to lower water levels, the lake was not quite full enough to give the illusion of walking on water much touted in the tourist brochures, however the boardwalk provides an excellent feature section for the trail that protects the large samphire community growing along the lake. The amount of samphire growing along the salt lakes was quite impressive - if this was not a Class A reserve, I can imagine it being a favourite spot for chefs to go foraging.

Beyond Lake Vincent, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi reaches a trail junction. Heading straight ahead by following a joiner trail, walkers are able to head towards the Wadjemup Lighthouse and link onto the Wardan Nara Bidi - another of the Wadjemup Bidi trails that explores the Salmon Bay area. As the lighthouse is an official part of another trail, we decided to leave it for another day and instead turned right to continue on the Gabbi Karniny Bidi.

One of the more fascinating sights along the walk is the aptly named Pink Lake. Western Australia is home to many of these hypersaline lakes, and while smaller than more famous examples like Lake Hillier and the Pink Lake near Esperance, the fact this Pink Lake can be seen so easily along this walk makes its a very convenient alternative.

After passing the Pink Lake, the trail heads along a sealed path as it runs along Lake Baghdad. Given the time of the day we were walking, the trees were not in the right location to provide us with much in the way of shade, however this would be a really lovely section of the track to be walking along in the late afternoon.

As we continued along the trail, we reached another trail junction. This is the start of the Karlinyah Bidi, the Wadjemup Bidi trail that explores Rottnest's northern beaches. We would be exploring the trail later in the day, however we wanted to complete the Gabbi Karniny Bidi so did not divert from our course. This is one of the slightly problematic aspects of the Wadjemup Bidi network - there is no way of doing all the trails by linking them together without doubling back or missing sections. This is fine if you're just trying to walk from one point to another, but if you're a completist planning on walking each trail, it can be inconvenient.

After passing the Karlinyah Bidi trailhead, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi leaves the lakes area and starts to take on a different character that is dominated by Rottnest's stunningly rugged coast.

Reached via a spur trail, the coastline near Little Parakeet Bay was a great introduction to the coastal section of the trail, with views across the way to the popular tourist area of Geordie Bay.

Back on the main trail, the purpose built walk track rises along the coastal cliffs, providing even more spectacular views of Geordie Bay and the villas lining the beach front.

At the villas, the trail descends a set of stairs next to the building and then heads for a beach walk along Geordie Bay itself.

Extremely popular with visitors who travel to Rottnest on their own private vessels, the bay is filled with boats moored in the bay, and features an excellent jetty for passengers to disembark at.

Due to its proximity to accommodation and popularity, Geordie Bay is one of the few places outside of the Settlement that features a cafe and other major amenities. While the cafe was tempting as a place to stop for an early lunch, Alissa and I were keen to keep going and seek out the more varied options back at the Settlement.

Descending back down to the beach, the trail continues to the end of Geordie Bay.

At the end of Geordie Bay, the trail reaches a rocky headland and passes through the dunes just beyond.

This stretch - passing through Longreach Bay, The Basin and Pinky Beach - features some of the best coastal walking of the whole track, and is also the part of the walk that gives the Gabbi Karniny Bidi its Class 4 rating. In honesty, I'm not entirely sure why this is so as the walking is considerably easier than other Class 4 trails like the Bald Head Walk Trail in Albany and the Sheila Hill Memorial Track in Denmark but it is worth noting if you're not up for walking along rough, unmodified limestone surfaces.

At the end of Pinky Bay, the trail leads to the Bathhurst Lighthouse. Looking east, the Western Australian mainland can be seen, with the skyscrapers of Perth's CBD visible on the horizon. This was quite an intriguing sight - although I've seen Perth from the Perth Hills on many occasions, it is not everyday you see it from across the water like this!

Built at Bathhurst Point, the Bathhurst Lighthouse was activated in 1900 as a supplement to the Wadjemup Lighthouse after a series of shipwrecks in the late 19th century proved that a second lighthouse was necessary. The coastal walking along this stretch and passing by a lighthouse reminded Alissa and I of the Cape to Cape Track, in particular the section near Hamelin Bay.

Beyond the lighthouse, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi returns walkers to the Thomson Bay Settlement, with the home stretch running along the beach.

The trail passes by some of the older buildings on the island, dating back to the colonial era such as an old lifesaving shed that is right on the beach. From there, it is short walk back to the main Wadjemup Bidi trailhead and the completion of the Gabbi Karniny Bidi.

With the trailhead being right near the main Settlement shops, Alissa and I finished our walk with a visit to the Rottnest Island Bakery for lunch before heading out to tackle the Karlinyah Bidi. While we enjoyed our delicious baked goods, we had some close encounters with some of the local fauna, with a number of quokkas literally crawling over our feet and a crow attempting to steal my lunch from my hands!

Alissa and I agreed that the Gabbi Karniny Bidi was a fantastic walk trail with a lot of variety along its length thanks to the inland section along the salt lakes and the stunning coastal views that dominate its second half. A lot of thought seems to have gone into the route of the walk, and we appreciated the interpretive panels that were a common sight along the walk. Unlike the other Wadjemup Bidi trails, the Gabbi Karniny has the benefit of being a very convenient loop walk and is thus the least logistically difficult of all the walk trails on the island. Given all these factors, I can see why this is rated as one of Trails WA's Top Trails and would be a strong recommendation for visitors if they are looking to do one only one of the Wadjemup Bidi trails. 


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