Sunday, 24 June 2018

William Bay Circuit (William Bay National Park)

A Long Way's Better Original, the William Bay Circuit explores William Bay National Park. Starting at Waterfall Beach, the trail follows the Munda Biddi before joining the Bibbulmun Track through granite domes towards Tower Hill. Descending to Mazzoletti Beach, the circuit traverses Greens Pool and Elephant Cove before an adventurous rocky scramble back to Waterfall Beach via Madfish Bay. A grand tour of one of WA's best coastal national parks

Distance: 11 km (loop)
Gradient: Mix of relatively flat walking and some moderate hill climbs through the inland section and short, steep scrambles along the coast
Quality of Path: Clear and well maintained trails from the Waterfall Beach car park through to Mazzoletti Beach as it follows the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun Tracks. Beach walking and occasional rock scrambling required from Mazzoletti Beach onwards - there is no set path and walkers will need to have some experience in route finding
Quality of Signage: Initially follow Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun markers until William Bay Rd. From that point on, the circuit is unmarked.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required. While most of the walk is on already existing trails, the walk includes an untracked section in steep and potentially dangerous terrain requiring scrambling and in close proximity to the wild Southern Ocean Highly unsuitable for all but experienced hikers who are comfortable with navigation and scrambling. Do not even think about tackling this walk in wet weather or with high swells
Time: 4-5 Hours
Steps: Several formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring. Not suitable for wet days at any time of year
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The circuit starts at Waterfall Beach. From South Coast Hwy, head south down William Bay Rd, ignoring the car parks for Greens Pool and Elephant Rock. Continue on unsealed road for 2.2 kilometres before a left turn towards Waterfall Beach car park. See GPX file below for information
GPX File: A GPX file of this walk is available here. Please note that while all care has been taken to make this file as accurate as possible, by downloading this GPX file you agree its use, and reliance upon, is entirely at your own risk. The Long Way's Better and its writer Donovan de Souza accepts no responsibility for 
any loss, injury, damage, mishap or inconvenience sustained by anyone undertaking this walk. Due to the off track nature from Elephant Cove onwards, it is the responsibility of every walker to evaluate the best and safest way to actually proceed

A common and reasonable complaint about walk trails in Western Australia is the relatively poor supply of circuit walks that would appeal to bushwalkers look for an all day adventure in the outdoors. Compared to the outstanding circuit walks of the Coomera and Warrie Circuits in South-East Queensland or amazing and substantial alpine circuit walks like the Main Range and Tarn Shelf Circuits in New South Wales and Tasmania respectively, Western Australia's circuit walk offerings are limited to say the least. Inspired by the unmarked walks of Walk GPS but with a preference for trails that don't rely on too much bush bashing and are easily repeatable, I've been keen to find candidates for loop walks outside of the Perth region that would appeal to serious bushwalkers. My first foray into this arena has been Kalbarri's Four Ways to Z Bend Loop which is an example of an outstanding circuit walk that can be formed by linking already existing trails together by following a recognised route through the Murchison River gorge to form something worthwhile.

For years I've stared at the map of William Bay National Park and wondered why there is no longer walk trail in the park other than the Bibbulmun Track, which avoids most of the park's most famous features anyway. In 2015, I walked a short section of the coast from Madfish Bay west towards Elephant Cove, and while I didn't get too far it planted a seed in my imagination that it might be possible to walk all the way through to Elephant Cove and Greens Pool. After our recent visit to William Bay to write up the Greens Pool to Elephant Rock walk, that seed grew and I was determined to find out if the coast could indeed be walked all the way through. Having loved this part of the Bibbulmun Track and knowing it could be easily linked to Greens Pool and Elephant Rock, I studied the map and it became obvious to me that a cracker of a circuit walk could be formed if the coastline was indeed passable. It was just a matter of testing it out.

Driving down for the weekend to visit Alissa's parents for their joint birthday celebrations in Denmark served as the perfect time to test out this potential trail, and after some discussion about the best place to start, we settled on Waterfall Beach near Madfish Bay. This was not an arbitrary decision; looking at the map, this seemed like the best place to start the walk in terms of the overall 'narrative' and development of the walk as it would explore the inland sections of the park first before reaching the beaches and then the more difficult rock scrambling as the grand finale. Joined by Alissa's brother Ben and his partner Kelsey, we set out on the Sunday morning to hopefully pioneer a route I've dubbed the William Bay Circuit.

From the Waterfall Beach car park, the William Bay Circuit heads north where it turns right to join a track that leads to a small bridge over a creek crossing. This a section of the Munda Biddi, and walkers should be aware that cyclists may not be expecting walkers on the trail and therefore need to be alert along this initial stretch of the walk.

In terms of proximity to the coast, the alignment of the Munda Biddi is arguably superior along this particular stretch, and it is provides some lovely walking on well maintained purposed built trail.

From the track, Alissa, Ben Kelsey and I could see the massive jumble of granite boulders that Alissa and I had walked past on the Bibbulmun when we did our sectional End to End. Seeing it from the track is excellent as it is a bit of a tease of what is to come.

After walking through a mix of lovely coastal heath and peppermint tree thickets, the Munda Biddi heads slightly further away from the coast to run parallel to a vehicle track. This vehicle track is part of the Bibbulmun Track, and it is at this point that walkers will need to leave the Munda Biddi via a slightly cleared area that can be walked to link the two trails.

Once on the vehicle track, walkers will need to turn left and then take the immediate right turn marked with the Waugal symbol to follow the Bibbulmun Track on a purpose built walk trail that leads to the massive granite formations seen earlier. The circuit stays on the Bibb for about 5 kilometres, meaning navigation is extremely straightforward from this point on.

When Alissa and I last walked this section of the Bibbulmun, we noted that this secret jumble of granite was a classic example of why the long way (i.e. walking) is better as this is a stunning part of the park that is only reachable on foot. Kelsey and Ben were really impressed by the most massive of the granite domes which towers way overhead. From a narrative point of view, this granite dome is a great early pay-off for walkers as people who haven't done this walk before will probably be surprised by how such a large formation can be so well hidden from the general public.

Towards the end of the walk through the granite domes section, the circuit continues to follow the Bibbulmun as it passes through a stand of trees that look to be stunted Karri trees. These trees are really beautiful, and while this stretch is brief it provides the track with even more variety - you even get a bit of forest!

Clearing the forest, the Bibb heads along a sandy ridge with excellent views to the coast.

The views up close are also worth noting as this area features some really beautiful flowers in the coastal heath. The purple flower above is one of Alissa's favourite flowers in Western Australia as they are the same colour as her favourite scarf.

From the coastal ridge, the trail descends into a valley between low hills before crossing a vehicle track and rising up towards Tower Hill. In the distance, several large granite formations can be seen that create a focal point to draw the walker along the trail.

Reached via a short spur trail, I took Ben and Kelsey to see the massive granite towers of Tower Hill. One of them has a distinctive pointy top and is something I've always referred to as 'the Shark Fin' as it looks like a shark's fin from afar. The Shark Fin can be seen from Elephant Cove and is one of those places I'm sure a lot of visitors would love to get to, with most probably not being aware that it is reachable from the Bibbulmun.

From just beyond the Shark Fin, we were privy to some excellent views of the coast, with Elephant Cove being the distinctive beach to the middle right of the photo above.

At the time of our walk, the trail to the Shark Fin was a bit overgrown but we eventually found our way back to the Bibbulmun and towards the hut at William Bay. Just before the hut is a short side trip to a large granite slab that is a great lookout point. From the lookout, we could see the long expanse of Mazzoletti Beach as it leads to Parry Beach

A few metres from the side trip turn off is William Bay hut. I've stayed in this hut twice, once in 2003 and again in 2016. The last time we were here, Alissa I met a particularly hardcore French hiker who had some pretty pro gear that was on my wish list at the time (an Aarn pack, Sea to Summit sleep system and Black Diamond trekking poles, all gear I now own) and was doing a double End to End after already having completed one previously! While we wouldn't be staying here this time, the hut is well located for a quick snack break and a chance to have a bit of a read of the Red and Green books. Sadly the pages that were filled in red pen by the notoriously prolific Jase had been ripped out as we would have loved showing it to Ben and Kelsey.

After our quick break, the four of us continued on the trail. From the hut, the Bibb follows a vehicle track that is used to service the hut and toilet. While I'm not a great fan of walking on vehicle track in general, this stretch of the track features some fine walking as it offers more excellent views of the southern coastline.

An interesting feature of the descent is a series of rubber tracks that are used to control erosion on the sandy slope. While they probably do a great job at this task, Ben and Alissa nearly slipped as they walked along it and we began to wonder if it could be used as a slide (I'm sure we are not the first). With Ben pushing Kelsey down the slide, it was obvious that it was not as smooth as we had expected and Kelsey only slid about a metre before coming to a stop. An amusing side effect of this slide was that Kelsey had black marks on her butt for the rest of the walk, as will be increasingly obvious in later photos.

The Bibbulmun reaches William Bay Road. At current, the markers point to turn left down the road even though the Bibbulmun Track alignment is marked to cross over the road and to the other side. Speaking to Steve at the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, he has advised that the long term plan is for the Bibbulmun to be diverted permanently via a walk trail that will run parallel to the road. Regardless of the future alignment, walkers looking to do the William Bay Circuit should definitely cross over to the other side of the road at this point to follow the unmarked vehicle track to Mazzoletti Beach.

The vehicle track leads to a small car park, with access to Mazzoletti Beach being pedestrian only. While the Bibbulmun is oddly marked to go down the road at the earlier junction, there are a lot of Waugal markers along this stretch of track that point towards the beach. The four of us basically followed the vehicle track until we reached a T junction and turned left onto a walk trail through a peppermint thicket that leads to the Beach access point.

The track leading to Mazzoletti Beach drops steeply to the beach below as it is subject to severe erosion over winter. This is the reason that the Bibbulmun is likely to get diverted, however adventurous walkers should have no problem descending the eroded slope down to the beach below.

Mazzoletti Beach is well known to Bibbulmun Track walkers for its seven kilometres of continuous beach walking, often in soft sand. I've walked this beach twice as part of the Bibb and on both occasions found it to be mentally challenging as you can see the end of the beach as soon as you start the beach walk and it looks like you never get any closer to it for the longest time! Thankfully, we would not be walking the Bibb from this point on, with the William Bay Circuit leaving the Bibbulmun by turning left instead of right as it follows Mazzoletti Beach to it eastern end.

Following an ad hoc walk track at the end of Mazzoletti Beach, the circuit leads to Greens Pool. One of the best and most loved beaches in Western Australia, Greens Pool is protected by a wall of granite outcrops in the ocean that creates a natural, gentle swimming pool that is perfect for families. Indeed, the first time Alissa and I visited this beach was independently as children - see the shorter Greens Pool to Elephant Rocks Walk for photos from of my visits to the park from the 1990s.

The circuit follows Greens Pool's beach to the main beach access stairway. Ignoring the stairs, the circuit heads over the granite rock to the next beach along. We've visited this beach at high tide and found that the rocks can be very slippery, so care must be taken traversing this section. If in doubt, it is better to get your feet wet and walk through the water than risk injury.

A set of stairs are located at the small beach east of the main beach access stairs. These stairs will lead to Elephant Cove, but an even better way to get there is to follow the rocks of the granite headlands. These are quite easy to walk up and are protected by the rocks out in the ocean breaking the waves.

Greens Pool looks magnificent from this view point, and we were really lucky to be experiencing perfect weather for a coastal walk. None of us had brought bathers but the crystal clear waters really made us want to go for a swim.

From the headlands, the circuit continues uphill along the granite. It is possible to continue along the granite all the way to Elephant Cove, however to do so means a slightly awkward traverse of a deep fissure and potentially missing out on the awesome entry to Elephant Cove if you miss the correct turns.

Heading uphill, Ben, Kelsey, Alissa and I rejoined our last stretch of formed walk trail for the day as we followed the signs to Elephant Cove.

The track follows a series of steps that descend towards the beach, passing the stunning Elephant Rocks on the way. At the top of the closest rock to the walk trail, we noticed a lot of people were looking out to the ocean, and we realised that they were whale watching! Other than once on the Cape to Cape Track, Alissa and I have never been lucky enough to see whale out in the ocean, and these were surprisingly close by. Keen to keep going, I agreed that we should head out to the other side of Elephant Cove to see if we could get a good view from the other side.

From the lookout point, the trail descends an impressive series of steps before leading to a chasm between two of the massive Elephant Rocks.

This is one of the coolest and most epic beach entrances in Western Australia, with visitors literally passing through these rocks to get to Elephant Cove. What's more, the water laps up and through the chasm, meaning that walkers need to time their passage through or get their feet wet. This is the main reason why I think it is best to leave the rocks and get into the walk trail from the headlands after Greens Pool as it provides a major highlight at this point of the walk.

Elephant Cove and its Elephant Rocks is easily one of my top 5 beaches ever; it may be small but it is one of the most charismatic beaches in Australia's South West. On the other side of the beach, the William Bay Circuit enters its most thrilling and difficult leg - the continuously rocky granite coastline that runs all the way to Madfish Bay. This was the big question mark of the whole walk - was it possible to continue all the way, or would it prove impassable or too dangerous for us to reach the other side? With good weather and very mild swells, it was perfect conditions for this walk, however make no mistake - the Southern Ocean can be rough and dangerous and the next stretch should not be attempted in bad weather.

But before that - we had some whale watching to do. Clambering over the rocks on the eastern side of Elephant Cove, I have never seen Alissa move so fast as I did on the day we walked the circuit as she was extremely keen to get to the rocky headlands to the east so should could see the whales. The whales were really putting on a great show, with their flippers and tails crashing in the water. There were at least two or three on the day of our visit, and they provided us with another major highlight of the walk.

From Elephant Cove, the rocky headlands are once again protected by a wall of granite rock out to sea, forming a mini version of Greens Pools that looked pretty safe for swimming on the day of our visit. The headlands were really easy to walk in this section, and I knew that they would lead us to another little known beach nearby.

I can't find any official name online, however Bonny from Wild Western Australia named it Secret Beach and I'm happy to adopt that name. At Secret Beach, the four of us reached our first major obstacle - a sheer wall of granite on its eastern side that looked pretty difficult to traverse. Up to this point, every part of the William Bay Circuit was pretty safe and would not be controversial, but this was the first section that pushed the walk into Class 5 territory.

Looking at the sheer wall, we decided to tackle it head on as their was enough of a slope here for us to climb up a series of ledges to then head along a ledge that made its way eastwards along the coast. Alissa does not love climbing, and let me know her displeasure at this part of the walk. Nevertheless, she managed with the climb fairly well and we were able to continue on our way.

For those inexperienced with scrambling or with a fear of heights, I would suggest that this may be a make or break point for you. If that is the case, it is possible to wade through the waters to the lower granite on the other side, however it you don't feel confident it might be better to turn back and head to Elephant Cove and follow the road back to Madfish Bay or head back the way you've come as a return walk. I would add as well that the route we followed is merely the route we followed as it seemed like the logical way to go - there may well be better ways to make it along the coast and there is no necessarily right way of going when it comes to following a route like this.

For the most part, the granite is quite easy to traverse as it mostly follows flat slabs. There are however several points where we had to lower ourselves down to other granite boulders and clamber our way along. Ben and Kelsey are showing good, safe technique here as Ben has lowered himself to slide down the rocks with Kelsey showing the next step of climbing up over the next boulder. Note also the black marks on Kelsey's pants from here early foray into sliding down the rubber 'slides'.

While the scrambling rock-hopping sections provide a lot of adventure, the fact it is broken up with easier, flat sections means it is not a total slog. The flat sections are equally interesting, such as this stretch with interesting cut-like marks in the rock.

One of my favourite things about this stretch of the walk was seeing parts of the coast that most people will never see. Take for example this stretch of rock pools teeming with small crabs and the rock 'bridge' that led us through to the other side. This is magnificent coastal walking, and Kelsey thanked me for inviting her and Ben on this walk as she thought it was pretty amazing so far.

As we were exploring the rock pools, the four of us could see what looked like a seat or a crate on the headlands beyond. When we got closer to it, we realised it was a cube-shaped granite boulder sitting on top of the headlands. It looked really out of place there as it was a different colour to the rocks below, but given its weight it seemed highly unlikely that it was moved there by people. Whatever the case, it makes a great seat to stop and take in how beautiful this stretch of coastline is.

Continuing on, the walking was again a mix of flat and easy with the odd rugged section that required scrambling or careful lowering down rocks. The most difficult of these moments was a descent down a rocky chasm with a shallow pool of water below as pictured above. At the bottom, we found that we had to push off from the side we were on and leap across to the other side. Ben is showing how to do it correctly, while Alissa slid down into the water and had to climb out the other side on some slippery rocks. While there is very limited exposure and a slip would mostly be a slightly embarrassing fall into the water, it cannot be stressed enough that this is not a walk for the inexperienced and that it would be better to build up scrambling skills on marked trails in popular tourist areas like the Toolbrunup in the Stirling Range before tackling something like this.

Beyond the awkward descent, the circuit passes by some more lovely rock pools sheltered by the rocks beyond. You can tell from the smoothing of the rocks that water regularly flows over the walls, proving just how much rougher the ocean can be in stormy weather. 

After the awkward descent and the rock pools, the coastline reaches its most risky point. Up until now, there had been a consistent wall of granite breaking the waves and protecting the area from danger. This is the only stretch of the walk where there is a break in the wall, and walkers need to be careful about getting too close to the water. A freak wave can occur at any time, and it is best to not get too close to the edge.

After the area exposed to waves, Alissa, Ben, Kelsey and I arrived at the last rock pool of the walk. I had made it to this rock pool when I explored Madfish Bay back in 2015, as I recognised the above section of rock so I knew that we were definitely going to be able to make it! At the time of my last visit, the swell was much stronger and water was sporadically pouring over the gap in the rocks and yet the rock wall was filled with fishermen trying their luck.

Beyond the pools the coast looked a bit more exposed to the ocean than we liked, and we headed in through the heath as Alissa didn't like the somewhat awkward scrambling that would be required. The problem with this was it meant following kangaroo tracks through the heath that led to dead ends and then walking through areas that looked perfect for snakes. Walkers need to be extremely careful in these sorts of conditions - Tiger Snakes are generally more scared of you than you are of them, but standing on one may well elicit a retaliatory response.

Back onto the rocks, it looked like we would have to again either rise up through the heath or scramble along the rocks. With rocks once again protecting us by breaking the waves, we decided that the scramble along the rocks was a better way to go.

Beyond the scramble, we stopped to take in the views of Madfish Bay and Madfish Island. The Island is connected to the mainland via a sandbar at low tide, and the shallows are visible in the photo above.

Around the corner, the circuit heads towards a small, sheltered cove.

With rocks on either side of the shelter cove's beach, there is no real choice other than getting your feet wet, however it is a safe and easy knee deep wade closer to shore to reach the other side.

On the other side, the rocky headlands can be followed fairly easily to reach Madfish Bay's main beach.

If the tide is low enough, an interesting side trip is to head through the shallow waters to Madfish Island. Kelsey and I attempted it at the time of our visit, however the water was fairly choppy and we both decided that it was not worth making it all the way across. Alissa and I had visited the island when we were here in 2015, and it is definitely worth checking out if the timing is right.

Heading along the beach of Madfish Bay, we could see Lights Beach in the distance along with the high coastal ridge that the Bibbulmun Track heads along briefly before making its journey island to Mt Hallowell.

Some of the granite headlands along this stretch were a bit slippery, and we carefully made our way through to the other side. Checking our tracking on ViewRanger, it was clear we were almost at Waterfall Beach - the final destination of our walk.

The waterfall of Waterfall Beach may not be a conspicuous and impressive waterfall like Quininup Falls on the Cape to Cape Track, however it is hard to miss the stream of water flowing from the falls into the ocean.

Following the water upstream leads to the waterfall, which flows quite impressively in spite of its small size. This was a great final landmark of the walk, and meant that just about every beach along the circuit has its own memorable feature.

Backtracking slightly, the four of us returned to a series of steps we had seen along the beach earlier. Ascending the steps leads to the car park and the end of the William Bay Circuit.

Having been involved in both the Bibbulmun Track Vision workshop and a community consultation event for the future of bushwalking in Western Australia, a common statement across both was that we needed more circuit walks - especially ones that branch off the Bibbulmun Track. The William Bay Circuit is an example of such a walk as it is basically almost entirely on existing tracks from Waterfall Bay all the way though to the eastern end of Elephant Cove, with just under 50% on the Bibbulmun Track. The stretch of the Bibbulmun through the inland sections of William Bay provide some excellent walking around the base of massive granite boulders, while the coastal stretch is basically a grand tour of all that makes this one of the state's best coastal national parks.

With some markers and some potential track work through the heath to avoid trickier spots exposed to the ocean, it would be possible to make this a Class 4 walk from start to finish at very little cost should the Parks and Wildlife Service wish to turn this into an official walk. Even as an unrecognised walk, the William Bay Circuit is readily walkable as an unmarked Class 3/4 walk to Elephant Cove, with the last stretch linking through to Waterfall Beach being at a Class 5 standard, and I've provided a GPX file to aid people with navigation even though this is a pretty straightforward walk (see top of post for link and disclaimer).

Given the shortage of day-long walk trails in Western Australia, I'm keen to actively be part of the solution rather than just complain about what is not there. Clearly, if the William Bay Circuit illustrates anything it that these walks could easily exist - you just have to look harder. While I will stress that the Class 5 section of this walk means it should not be attempted by inexperienced walkers, I think I am not being biased when I say that the William Bay Circuit is one of the best coastal day walks in Western Australia, and I hope others will enjoy this great way of exploring a really special place in Australia's South West.


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