Sunday, 26 August 2018

Bickley Reservoir to Ellis Brook Walk GPS Route (Banyowla Regional Park)

An excellent unmarked route in the Perth Hills, the Bickley Reservoir to Ellis Brook Walk GPS route links up two popular walking areas. Starting in the Bickley Reservoir picnic area, the walk follows old vehicle tracks and off track sections through open Wandoo forest to the stunning Sixty Foot Falls and two quarries. Featuring on of Perth's best waterfalls, small creeks and wildflowers in season, this is a great introductory off track walk

Distance: 14 km (loop)
Gradient: Alternates between relatively easy, gentle gradients and section of very steep difficult terrain
Quality of Path: Ranges from well formed vehicle tracks, informal bush pads and completely off-track sections with no obvious path. Several parts of this walk are unmarked and map reading skills are essential.
Quality of Signage: Non-existent; while an 'official' Bickley to Ellis Brook Walk apparently exists, this walk is an unmarked route and map reading skills are essential. Route information is available from Walk GPS.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required. This is a navigationally difficult walk that is highly unsuitable for all but experienced hikers who are comfortable with off-track navigation.
Time: 4-6 Hours
Steps: Many formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter/Mid Spring 
Entry Fee: No, however access to the GPS file requires a subscription to Walk GPS.
Getting There: The trail starts on Hardinge Rd in Orange Grove. From Tonkin Hwy, take Maddington Rd North-East. Maddington Rd becomes Hardinge Rd. Car park facilities are available at Hardinge Park

Ellis Brook is increasingly recognised as one of the more spectacular places in the Perth Hills, especially in the late Winter/early Spring period where the wildflowers are in bloom and the tall but low volume Sixty Foot Falls is in flow. Its greatest weakness however is the shortness of the walk trails; even if all the short walks in Ellis Brook were to be combined, they would be a meagre 6.23 kilometres total, and the often-touted Ellis Brook to Bickley Reservoir Walk has always seemed like a vague and poorly marked return walk option. Having revisited Bickley Brook the previous weekend to tackle the short Bickley Brook Walk, my interest in the link between the two brooks was rekindled and a quick check of the Walk GPS website revealed that Dave had actually defined a 14 kilometre circuit walk that was 90% on track. Sounding a lot more inviting than the unknown 18 kilometres return for the official (but poorly documented) walk listed on the Ellis Brook brochure, Alissa and I returned to the car park at Hardinge Road to tackle our fifth Walk GPS route for the 2018 hiking season.

From the car park, the route begins by passing through the equestrian gate and onto the vehicle tracks on the southern side of Hardinge Road. With no trailhead and information about what it all means, Alissa and I noticed that the area was filled with cryptic markers that said 'F' or F1' on them, as well as some very faded markers that had an equestrian symbol. Given the highly opaque nature of the markings, Alissa and I were glad to be following Dave's more reliable route instead.

The route rises up a steep vehicle track as it makes it way out of the Bickley Brook Valley. While vehicle tracks are less preferable than single file walk track, Alissa and I were quite happy to be doing a Walk GPS route that followed tracks for most of its distance. While the largely off-track Boyagin Rock Route was something of a revelation (and one of my favourite walks this year), the lack of a clear path can make it pretty slow going, and it was nice to be able to travel at a reasonable speed with a lot more of a 'set it and forget it' confidence about where we were going.

Pink flagging tape marked a clear left turn off from the vehicle track, and we would later recognise one of the pitfalls of being able to follow an on-track route - we did not pay as much attention to the order of the waypoints in the GPX file. Little did we know that turning left onto the walk trail meant we had inadvertently decided to walk the circuit in the reverse direction, and we wouldn't realise what we'd done until our first sustained off track section some 4 kilometres in.

In hindsight, the decision to walk the track in this direction was not a terrible one, and Alissa commented quite rightly that the walk trail section was most pleasant in the early morning light. It was a real surprise to see such a well formed single file walk track through the area given that the three other walk trails that start at Hardinge Road - the Bickley Brook Walk, Mason and Bird Heritage Trail and the epic Kattamorda Trail - feature a lot of vehicle track walking.

The view back down to Bickley Brook was quite lovely, with glimpses of Bickley Reservoir visible through the trees. On the other side of the brook was the area we had just walked the previous week on the Bickley Brook Walk Trail, with the Lions Lookout Walk Trail somewhere further along.

With granite being the dominant rock in Australia's South West, we have a tendency to think of all rocks in the Perth Hills to be granite. The trail passes by some darker rocks as it wends it way north, and upon touching them I realised that these were made from Dolerite. Dolerite is the rock that many of the mountains of Tasmania are made from, and while less common in Western Australia they can be found throughout the Perth Hills.

The track crosses a number of small ephemeral creeks as it passes through lovely Wandoo-dominated forest. With Wandoo being one of our favourite Eucalypts and with some of the early wildflowers out, Alissa and I were really enjoying the walk.

After reaching a junction in the trails, the GPS route turns into a vehicle track as it makes it way uphill.

The uphill section would prove to be reasonably short as we soon turned left yet again to follow a walk track northwards through more beautiful Wandoo woodlands.

The walk track led to yet another vehicle track, this time continuing along the steep ascent for an extended period. The walking for the next 2.5 kilometres was a continuous section along the vehicle tracks, which made for easy navigation that only really required us checking the GPS occasionally at junctions to make sure we were going the right way.

The walking along this stretch was pleasant forest walking through some acceptable and inoffensive Jarrah forest. Occasional markers from the F & F1 Trails could be seen along the road, with some occasional large signs at junctions. We'd seen these larger signs along the Mason and Bird Heritage Trail, and must mean something to those who use these equestrian trails.

The track passes but a small shallow waterhole that looks similar to the clay diggings along the Mason and Bird Heritage Trail. Having followed the roads for some pleasantly mindless 'set it and forget it' walking, Alissa and I continued for about 100 metres down the road before realising we'd missed the off track turn.

From the small lake, Alissa and I used our trusty ViewRanger app to help us find our way through the off-track section. As I set the app to point us to Waypoint 35, I realised that Waypoint 36 was actually behind us and that we'd gone the wrong way around! While initially disappointed as I'd hoped to have written the walk up in its orthodox direction, Alissa quite rightly pointed out the positives of the experience so far and we agreed that it had not been particularly problematic doing this walk in the reverse direction.

Pushing through the low, scratchy scrub, Alissa was characteristically delighted to be back on an easy to follow track as we left the off-track section of the walk.

After some more easy road walking, Alissa and I reached a junction that was supposed to lead to a section of walk trail. The walk trail was completely unclear from this angle, however by walking around the bush to the right of the picture above, the two of us realised that the walk trail had been completely overgrown at the trail junction but continued off through the forest beyond.

Passing a very old boot cleaning station, this old vehicle track (that had nicely overgrown into a walk trail) left the forest to bring us to a clearing of low heath with views to the Swan Coastal Plain below.

The old track continued through the low heath before passing through a section of lovely Wandoo Woodlands as the track joined onto the tourist-friendly loop of the Sixty Foot Falls Trail.

Following the tourist trail, the route took us to the excellent lookout point at the top of Sixty Foot Falls. After having had the entire track to ourselves all day, the massive crowds at Sixty Foot Falls were a bit of a shock to the system. We couldn't blame all the people who were out and about - the weather was perfectly mild spring weather, and wildflowers, genuinely excellent views of the Perth CBD in the distance and a stunning waterfall along a dog and child friendly trail all combined to make for this a really attractive place to be in the Perth Outdoors.

While Alissa waited with all the family groups and dogs enjoying Ellis Brook at the lookout point, I continued to the head of the falls itself. While Sixty Foot Falls is an impressively tall waterfall (Sixty Foot is apparently not hyperbolic), its flow is not particularly impressive and it takes a lot to make it more than a trickle. When we last visited the waterfall in 2016, the water was not flowing quite as much as it was on this particular day, and it definitely filled me with excitement knowing that we would be seeing the falls near its best.

Walking to the head of the falls, I could see Ellis Brook as it cascaded its way down the sheer rock face. In the distance, I could see the lookout point along the Sixty Foot Falls Trail, which is one of the best points to see the falls in action.

Returning back to Alissa and continuing along the tourist trail, Alissa and I stopped to see the falls from the lookout point. While still more gentle than the much more epic looking Lesmurdie Falls, Sixty Foot Falls looked quite spectacular compared to other times of the year.

At the foot of the falls, a short section of trail runs up along Ellis Brook itself. Having walked this section back in 2016, I was keen to get to the foot of the falls yet again on this longer walk.

The walk requires a bit of pushing through some thick, scratchy scrub and clambering up slippery boulders, but the views from here are excellent and it is a nice way to get away from the massive crowds.

It was really lovely to be able to stand at the foot of the falls all by myself and take it all in without the crowds that were everywhere else in the vicinity of the falls.

Returning to Alissa and the main trail, we continued along the trail and negotiated the traffic jam of people and dogs trying to make their way along the narrow path.

Just before reaching the near capacity car park, Alissa and I turned onto a wooden bridge that crosses Ellis Brook as we continued along the Sixty Foot Fall Walk Trail.

The trail runs up a series of well formed steps. You can tell that this is a very popular place to visit, as the quality of the trail construction is very good.

The steps lead to a lookout point that seems to overlook nothing, except for perhaps the Ellis Brook Valley itself. At least some of the pickets that were missing from when we were last here had been replaced.

From the lookout point, Alissa and I left the crowds and the Sixty Foot Falls Walk Trail as we followed an old vehicle track  away from the more familiar loop.

The other famous feature of Ellis Brook is the views of Old Barrington Quarry. While more commonly seen on the other side, a hole in the fence along the Walk GPS route provide access to another point in the Quarry.

I should note that access is supposed to be restricted here, but the amount of people who explore the quarry on a regular basis is very high judging by its prominence on Instagram. To illustrate the point, Alissa and I could see quite a few people exploring the area from the lookout point at the top of the quarry.

Alissa and I returned to the vehicle trail as we made our way through more lovely Wandoo Woodlands. The walking was quite easy going along this stretch, apart from a section that required Alissa and I to sprint through a stretch of trail totally dominated by ants.

The trail continues along old, overgrown vehicle tracks as it crosses a small creek and then rises up the other side of the valley.

The rise up the valley is some of the steepest walking of the entire route, and I can imagine vehicles would have really struggled on this ascent before it become as overgrown as it has become.

A nice feature of this ascent was the number of wildflowers on display. I always love how the bush around Perth looks so hideously scratchy and dry for so much of the year and then really comes into its own in late Winter/early Spring. While there are nicer places to walk in Australia in Summer and Autumn, the South West of Western Australia really has the edge over most places at this time of year.

Beyond the lovely wildflowers, Alissa and I were delighted by the presence of black cockatoos along this stretch of the track. Being the rare Carnaby's Cockatoo, we are always happy to see these birds in the wild given how endangered they are. So distracting were the birds that Alissa and I continued on the vehicle track far longer than we should have, and we missed the off track turn that would have taken us up along Dave's defined route. With the old vehicle track we were on running parallel to the vehicle track we needed to get to, Alissa and I had to push on through the scrub to make our way back onto the defined route.

Joining the vehicle track, the route veers off track once again as it runs along the edge of a Laterite breakaway with views down to Boral Quarry. While Alissa and I have seen many old rock quarries in the Perth Hills, it was interesting to see a particularly massive one that was still in operation.

Following the route downhill, Alissa and I rejoined a section of walk trail as we crossed another ephemeral stream.

Ascending the other side of the stream, Alissa and I entered a section rich in wildflowers which eventually led to a heavily overgrown vehicle track before reaching a well defined gravel road to follow. This was the end of our off track walking for the day.

Along the vehicle track, Alissa and I were able to get another glimpse down towards the quarry. We could see that a blue-green pool had formed at one side of the quarry that was very similar to the pool seen at  Old Barrington Quarry earlier along the walk.

Leaving the quarry site, the track passes through a lovely open area with some mature Wandoo on both sides of the track.

As we passed under the shade of the trees, Alissa and I saw a bobtail chilling out on the trail. I'm always impressed by how calm and seemingly unworried bobtails can be, with this one being particularly so.

As the track turned right, it headed back towards Bickley Brook and the end of the loop.

I have to admit that while I've enjoyed every Walk GPS route that Alissa and I have done, I wasn't sure what to expect of the area between Bickley and Ellis Brooks. While this was less spectacular than the North Dandalup or Boyagin Rock Walks, Bickley to Ellis Brook was another gem from the Walk GPS collection. While it was very much a walk along vehicle tracks in a similar fashion to the Shire of Kalamunda walks, the route was well thought out and visited a lot of places that would be of interest to walkers. While the blue chip landmarks of Sixty Foot Falls and Old Barrington Quarry are the obvious highlights, there were plenty of smaller but no less beautiful moments scattered throughout as the track crossed small streams and explored lesser known areas filled with stunning wildflowers and Wandoo woodlands.

There was a surprising amount of the trail on single file walking tracks, and a number of the vehicle tracks that had clearly be closed for a long time had become overgrown into walking trails. This is an excellent walk option for those looking for a Walk GPS experience close to Perth, and with 90% of it on track this is arguably one of the best introductory walk for those new to walking with GPS navigation. Highly recommended, and one that Alissa and I would happily do again. 


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