Sunday, 8 July 2018

Ngank Yira Bidi (Rottnest Island)

Part of the Wadjemup Bidi trail network on Rottnest, the Ngank Yira Bidi explores the Bickley Bay area of the island. Starting at the Settlement, the trail explores the World War II heritage of the island by taking walkers to a series of Batteries and bunkers used as part of Australia's naval defence. Culminating with the massive guns of Oliver Hill, this is one of the best heritage trails in WA

Distance: 9.4 km (one way)
Gradient: Some moderate descents and ascents along, especially around Bickley Batter and Oliver Hill. 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: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Many steps, particularly to the lookouts and descending to Henrietta Rocks
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.

Given its abundance of beautiful beaches, Rottnest is generally seen as Perth's Summer playground. With slightly cooler weather than the mainland, Rottnest is an inviting place for walking early or late in the Perth hiking season, however we discovered on our last visit in November 2017 that the lack of shade means the UV radiation can feel terribly hot even on a moderate day. With this in mind and with perfect weather forecast for the weekend, Alissa and I decided to check out Rottnest in Winter and tackle two trails in the Wadjemup Bidi trail network. Conveniently starting at the Settlement from the main trailhead, Alissa and I decided to tackle the Ngank Yira Bidi first, followed by the Ngank Wen Bidi later in the afternoon.

From the main trailhead, the Ngank Yira Bidi heads back towards the coastline of Thomson Bay, passing by many of the historic buildings in the area. As with all the Wadjemup Bidi walks, the trail is well marked with coloured markers featuring the trail's osprey symbol.

Reaching the shoreline, the trail follows the beaches of Thomson Bay as it heads towards the old Army Jetty.

Bathed in the golden glow of the early morning, the beach walking was a glorious way to start the walk. The sand was fairly firm and easy going - nothing at all like the hard slogs Alissa and I have experienced on some beaches elsewhere in WA such as Mazzoletti Beach in William Bay National Park.

Continuing along the beach, the sand gives way to a continuous limestone shelf. This reminded Alissa and I of the Karlinyah Bidi, another trail in the network that explore the rugged northern beaches of the island.

At the site of the old Army Jetty, a set of stairs takes walkers off the beach and onto a sealed track.

Sealed paths are not my preference for walk trails as hiking boots tend to be too hard on sustained pavement pounding, so I was glad to find that the sealed path only lasted for a short distance before giving way to a less modified surface.

As the track passes by the last few buildings of the Settlement, the track follows an old railway line as it makes it way through a section of the island that is rich in history. Indeed, the Ngank Yira Bidi's most distinctive feature is that it is the most history-focused of all the walks on the island.

Heading along the railway line, Alissa and I came upon the first series of bunkers that make up the Bickley Battery. Built for World War II, the Bickley Battery featured two six inch guns that were used to defend the Port of Fremantle from enemy attack. These bunkers feature a lot of historic information and provide an interesting insight in Rottnest's role in Australia's defence.

The bunkers are absolutely fascinating, and make the heritage trail aspect of the walk much more engaging than many others. Most heritage trails are like the Mason and Bird Heritage Trail in the Perth Hills; they pass by where historic buildings once were, but all that is left is the foundations or nothing at all. How does one engage with the heritage if its all gone?! The fact that Rottnest still has these buildings definitely makes this one of the better heritage trails out there, and immediately made Alissa and I think of my parents who are World War II history enthusiasts.

The main building of the Bickley Battery provides a fine view of the ocean. Adjacent to the building are the remnants of where the old batteries would have been placed during the war. While they have been removed, we were happy to discover later on that the biggest gun still stands on Oliver Hill...

From Bickley Battery, the trails gets a bit confusing as it forms a circuit around the battery and it is not always clear which way to go. What seemed like the most sensible track featured an orange barrier marker suggesting that it was not the way to go, so we continued along the coast towards the ruins of a building. The track became increasingly rough and we were convinced this could not be the right way to go, but with time on our hands at this stage of the morning, we decided to push on towards the ruins to check it out.

While less interesting than the Bickley Battery, the ruins were nevertheless worth the short side trip. They looked very similar to a building that is part of Princess Royal Fortress in Albany that is located towards the lower end of Mt Adelaide. I would hazard a guess that they served a similar purpose, but I would be interested to know from war historians what the purpose actually was.

Back from the ruins, we returned to the track to discover that the orange barrier pole was off the track and we began to think that it was meant to be there as a marker. This seems like a weird choice for a marker given that these things generally mean 'keep out!', however our suspicions were confirmed when we reached a track junction marked with the Wadjemup Bidi osprey.

Because The Long Way's Better, Alissa and I took a side trip at the junction to a beach at this remote part of the island. With large limestone formations along the coast and excellent views, this was a worthwhile side trip that didn't take much time or effort to explore.

Back on the main track, Alissa and I made our way to the Jubilee Observation Post. Visible from Bickley Battery, Jubilee Hill is the highest point of the Bickley Bay area and thus would have served an important role in the coastal defence of the island.

Upon arriving at the post, Alissa and I were disgusted to find that the lookout had been previously damaged by vandals, however work had been done in the interim to restore and protect the building. A cool interpretive feature is a series of decals that have been placed on the window providing information about the surrounding geography. The overall experience was similar to using the ViewRanger app that Alissa and I use to follow off-track routes from Walk GPS.

Crossing the road, Alissa and I reached the Beachcomber - the first of many sculptures that have been installed on the island. Featuring the trail's trademark osprey, the artwork is made from 80% recyclable material and is meant to make visitors think about their environmental impact. The artwork has a slightly scrappy appearance that definitely made us think of recycling, so I would say the work was successful in its mission.

From the Beachcomber artwork, the track follows an inland section that passes some pleasant but not overly exciting bushland.  Sections like this really make me lament the shortsightedness that saw the forests of Rottnest cut or burnt down, as it would have been amazing to see this area filled with tall trees.

Returning back to the coast, the Ngank Yira Bidi descends to Henrietta Rocks via a series of well constructed steps.

Alissa and I had decided before leaving for Rottnest that we weren't going to go for a swim today given how cold it would be, however seeing the reefs and crystal clear waters made us wish we had taken swimming gear as the water looked very inviting as we made our way down Porpoise Bay.

Towards the end of Porpoise Bay, it became less and less inviting a place to swim or walk as the entire beach was piled high with seaweed that had its distinctively pungent smell!

Once clear of the seaweed-choked beach, Alissa and I were at the Porpoise Bay bus stop and the trailhead for the Wardan Nara Bidi. This trail takes walkers to some of the best snorkel spots of the island, and is something Alissa and I had decided to save for slightly warmer weather so we can practice snorkelling ahead of our visit to Ningaloo later this year.

As we were not doing the Wardan Nara Bidi, Alissa and I continued along the Ngank Yira Bidi as it headed inland. Following sandy vehicle tracks and with little of interest, this was easily the dullest part of the walk.

Thankfully the boredom soon gave way to excitement as we approached one of the inland lakes of the island. These lakes are a major feature of the Gabbi Karniny Bidi, however it was nice to see these lakes again from a slightly different perspective.

Having witnessed the Pink Lake when we were last here, it was really interesting to see the vibrant colours along the shoreline of this other lake. The vibrant orange along the lakeshore was really beautiful and made the lake pop against the much greyer landscape.

Continuing past the lake, the track passes between a grove of mature trees as it leads the the hilliest part of the island and the ascent of Oliver Hill.

Just before the climb of Oliver Hill are a series of bike racks for people to park up before exploring the area. the Rottnest Island Authority clearly want to discourage people from cycling up the hill, however I could easily relate to the people we witnessed cycling up the hill. Riding down hill as a kid was one of the things I enjoyed the most about riding my bike, and I can imagine it would be a lot of fun cycling down from the hill.

Oliver Hill is one of the major attractions of Rottnest Island as it features the largest battery of its kind still in existence in Australia. An interesting tour runs from the main battery, with guides providing interesting information about the guns and the series of tunnels nearby that were built to support the war effort. With more time, Alissa and I would love to explore this area as the tunnel tour sounded like a very worthwhile experience.

While we didn't have the time for the tour, Alissa and I did get to check out the major battery. Being located at such a high point, it would have been at the perfect location to protect the port of Fremantle from attack.

Now the battery provides a wonderful lookout point as it offers excellent views of Rottnest's inland lakes.

The guns were truly massive, and Alissa and I marvelled at the 9.2 inch artillery that they would have used.

From the battery, the trail continues to its last section - a loop along an old railway line.

Along this loop, the track passes by another less impressive lookout point that seems a bit pointless given the excellent views from the Oliver Hill Battery.

The track sort of peters out as its runs along the railways line and then turns off as it heads back to the battery. Of importance to Alissa and I was a side track that links the Ngank Yira Bidi to the Wardan Nara Bidi or the road, and ultimately to a bus stop near the Wadjemup Lighthouse. At this point, Alissa and I realised that we would not have enough time to head back to the Settlement, get lunch and head back out to do the Ngank Wen Bidi, and we decided to press on and do the Ngank Wen Bidi immediately after. The time given on the brochure made it sound like we were going to be cutting it pretty tight, so we had to be as efficient with our time as possible.

Having already done two walks on Rottnest and being impressed by the Wadjemup Bidi, Alissa and I had high expectations for this return visit. We were not let down by the Ngank Yira Bidi; while less of a wild experience than something like the Karlinyah Bidi, the historic aspect of the walk made it extremely interesting, and one of the best heritage trails we've had the pleasure of walking due the fact the heritage was there clear to see. Being close to the Settlement makes it a great walk to start out from, however its end point is a few kilometres away from the nearest bus stop. The train does stop at Oliver Hill, but the slight inconvenience is something that walkers should keep in mind when attempting this walk. In spite of this, the Ngank Yira Bidi is a walk I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Rottnest - especially for those with an interest in the history of World War II. 

1 comment:

  1. I visited Rottnest in Nov and it was too hot todomuch exploring unfortunately. Thanks for the info