Saturday, 15 September 2018

Lower Frankland Circuit (Walpole-Nornalup National Park)

A Long Way's Better Original, the Lower Frankland Circuit provides a longer circuit walk in the Karri and Tingle Forest. Starting at the Giant Tingle Tree car park, the trail follows the Munda Biddi along the Frankland River to Sapper Bridge. Joining the Bibbulmun, the track passes Frankland River hut before returning through the forest for a finale at the Giant Tingle Tree. An excellent all day or overnight option in the Tingle forests

Distance: 24 km (loop)
Gradient: Mix of relatively flat walking and some moderate hill climbs
Quality of Path: Clear and well maintained trails as it follows the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun Tracks
Quality of Signage: Initially follow Munda Biddi and then Bibbulmun markers
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Required. Almost all of the walk is on already existing trails however is not recognised as the Lower Frankland Circuit
Time: 5-7 Hours
Steps: Several formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: All year, except on days of high fire risk
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The circuit starts at the Giant Tingle Tree car park. From South West Highway, follow Hilltop Road until it reaches the Giant Tingle Tree car park.
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

After having fun defining the William Bay Circuit in William Bay National Park earlier this year by combining sections of the Bibbulmun, Munda Biddi and walking along the coast, I was keen to head back down to the Great Southern region and have another go at defining the kind of circuit walk that would be enjoyable for serious hikers to undertake. The question was 'where?'. Studying maps intently and looking at the Bibbulmun Track and Munda Biddi for inspiration, I noticed that the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun Track utilise different routes to get to Sappers Bridge from Walpole, with the Bibbulmun taking a higher route literally through the Giant Tingle Tree while the Munda Biddi follows a lower path along the Frankland River. With the Munda Biddi running very close to the Giant Tingle Tree, I went about defining a route that I hoped would be an enjoyable forest circuit.

Looking through my copy of the seminal Forests on Foot book published in the 1980s, it was interesting to see the book had defined a route very similar to mine called the Lower Frankland Circuit. That route included Circular Pool but was longer than was comfortable for a day of walking - and of course did not utilise the Bibbulmun Track as it didn't exist back then! As a tribute to Forests on Foot and to celebrate 20 years of the Bibbulmun Track by revisiting the first stretch I walked as part of a multi-day walk, Alissa and I headed down in early September to walk our day walk version of the Lower Frankland Circuit.

Given its primacy as the main attraction of the walk, I decided that the Giant Tingle Tree was the most logical place to start the circuit, however wanting to save the massive tree as the grand finale for the walk, Alissa and I parked our car and then headed down  the one way road that leads to South Coast Hwy. Walking down this road, the route passes the Bibbulmun Track. This would be our return route so Alissa and I ignored it for now as we walked down the road to join the Munda Biddi.

While road walking is not my preferred option for a walk, I do make an exception in the land of Karri and Tingle Trees. The gigantic nature of these magnificent trees and the dense understorey make the broader path of a road less objectionable, and we were finding this stretch of road to be a fairly pleasant start to our day.

The road crosses Monastery Road. At this point, the Lower Frankland Circuit follows the route of the Munda Biddi. Being a well signed cycle route means navigation along this stretch of trail is very easy, however walkers should be aware that while walkers are welcome to walk the Munda Biddi, it is primarily a cycle trail and as such walkers should be alert for unsuspecting cyclists speeding along the route.

That being said, the vast majority of the Munda Biddi section of the walk is along broad roads with enough space for walkers and cyclists to travel without causing any problems. Being major fans of the Karri and Tingle forest, it was great to be back amongst the tall trees for what we worked out was actually the first time this year (apart from a solo walk Alissa did at Mt Clare in March).

Keeping an eye out for markers, Alissa and I dutifully followed the Munda Biddi as it turned off Monastery Road.

While relatively briefly, this stretch of the walk followed some excellent single file track that appeared to have been cut specifically for the Munda Biddi. As we walked along the track, Alissa and I encountered a fallen tree right across the track. This is fairly common along the Bibbulmun Track and was fairly straightforward to climb over compared to the time Alissa and I had to climb over a massive fallen Tingle along the Bibbulmun, but I could not help but think about how much worse this sort of this would be for a cyclist who would have to carry the bike over the tree!

As we continued along the single file track, Alissa and I had our first glimpses of the Frankland River through the trees. We could see a number of houses built along the river and felt a little envious for the locals who enjoy such a lovely corner of the Earth.

The single file track reaches a junction where it once again rejoins Monastery Road and basically continues along the road continually until it joins Tingle Drive.

Alissa and I were keeping our eyes out for Monastery Landing as it is one of the main features of the circuit. While the Landing was a bit further along the walk, the track does pass by some river access points along the way. They provide some excellent views of the Frankland River and it really made me want to come back with a kayak and paddle down the river some other time.

After the first access point, the river is never too far from the track which provides lovely views through the stunning forest. If you're a fan of rivers in the Karri and/or Tingle forest, you will really enjoy this very pleasant stretch of walking.

I will say however there this is a lot of the same scenery, and we really did begin to feel it by this point. Personally, Alissa and I really love Karri and Tingle forest so we found the monotony to be enjoyable, however if you find this kind of dense forest to be claustrophobic or samey, this might not be the walk for you.

The riverside environment offered us some interesting distractions however, with some very tall and mature Kingia grass trees flourishing along the river. Additionally, the richness of birdlife along the river is really lovely, and will be something bird watchers will savour.

Near the end of Monastery Road, the Lower Frankland Circuit passes Monastery Landing. This is a major feature and boat access point along the Frankland River as it features its own small jetty.

The view of the glassy, still waters along the river were absolutely stunning and were one of the highlights of the walk. This spot is really beautiful and tranquil and lives up to its name of Monastery Landing. Had monks been more in vogue than they were at the time of European settlement, I wouldn't have been surprised if they had built a monastery here.

The walking had been extremely easy up until Monastery Landing, however is soon ascends a moderately steep stretch of road as it reaches the end of Monastery Road and joins onto Tingle Dr.

When the track joins Tingle Dr, the Munda Biddi runs concurrent with the Bibbulmun Track. This short stretch is the only bit of the walk that is a return leg - my day walk version of the Lower Frankland Circuit is basically a modified figure 8 with a return leg joining two loops, with this bit being the stretch that links the two together.

The Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi part ways near a culvert, with the Bibbulmun going to the left up a purpose built walk track with the Munda Biddi continues to follow the road.

After following the road through more pleasant but samey forest, the Munda Biddi reaches Sappers Bridge. Although I had heard that the bridge had been replaced, I had completely forgotten that the charming old wooden bridge is no longer a feature of the track, with a somewhat ugly but undoubtedly more sturdy concrete and steel bridge taking its place. While I understand the reason for its replacement was probably operational as it had long been closed to vehicle access, I'm glad that Alissa and I saw and documented the wooden bridge when we did our sectional End to End of the Bibb.

At least the view from the bridge was better than last time - every other time I've been to Sappers Bridge it has been during Summer when the water levels are considerably lower. Seeing the rapids in actions was a lot more interesting.

After admiring the bridge, Alissa and I continued on the circuit. At this point, the route leaves the Munda Biddi and follows the Bibbulmun Track towards Frankland River Hut.

Although featuring a fair few steps, the walking is basically all glorious single file walking track for most of the way to the hut, and passes through a beautifully dense tunnel of lush foliage.

After following a higher ridge through the forest, the track drops down to the river. Looking upstream, I could see a distinctive fallen tree that I recognised as being the tree right next to the hut!

Frankland River was the very first Bibbulmun Track hut that I'd ever stayed at back in 2003. With nothing to compare it to I did really appreciate how it is one of the most impressive on the entire track. It is the only hut to feature an extra floored deck and raised platform and is in a great location too.

Walkers who want to break up the 25 kilometres of the Lower Frankland Circuit into two days can stay at the hut, which makes this a really great option for those looking for an extended forest walk with less repetition than a return walk to Frankland River. Not wanting to stay overnight, Alissa and I stopped for lunch and then got back on the track as we followed the Bibbulmun back towards the Giant Tingle Tree.

The walking immediately after the hut was quite dry and easy going forest walking, however the track's proximity to the river was definitely felt as we crossed a deep puddle and then made our way over an extremely muddy section of track that had us uttering 'Oh hai Tasmania!'.

After following some purpose built walk track, Alissa and I joined back onto the return section of the walk. With the sun now out and the clouds having parted slightly, it was nice to see the same area in a different light. 

Breaking away from the Munda Biddi, Alissa and I followed the Bibbulmun Track back to the Giant Tingle Tree. Going high up the valley where the Munda Biddi had gone low, the forest views were simply amazing, however this was also a long and samey stretch of forest. By this stage we were starting to feel a bit fatigued, and Alissa brought to my attention that we had already exceeded the 18 kilometres I thought the walk would be! Again, how much you enjoy this repetitive scenery will depend on how much you love Karri and Tingle forest. While sameness is a reasonable criticism, it is hard to be truly bored when the forest is of such a high standard. 

Monitoring our GPS trackers, Alissa and I were dismayed to see the track veer to the left and do a long loop curve away from the Giant Tingle Tree! Alissa and I surmised that the reason for this was that the track was following the natural curve of the landscape. Our consolation prize for the detour was some fantastic Tingle forest filled with some serious giants. 

Crossing a road, Alissa and I were delighted to see the track turn to bitumen. While I don't love sealed tracks, it signalled that we were back at the Giant Tingle Tree for the finale of our circuit walk. Alissa was tired by this stage and wanted to follow a side track back to the car, but I was able to convince her of the absurdity of walking all this distance and giving up before the Giant Tingle Tree!

Considering the weather was quite lovely, Alissa and I were extremely surprised to find that the Giant Tingle Tree was completely quiet with no visitors checking out this amazing tree. Often mistaken for another Giant Tingle that people used to drive through, the original Giant Tingle collapsed from damage to the roots. A series of boardwalks have been built around this new Giant Tingle which look impressive but also prevents thoughtless people from trying to drive their cars into the tree.

From the tree, it is a short walk around to the car park, passing by the side track where the Bibbulmun continues to Walpole.

For years I've felt like there is a massive hole in the trail market between the short tourist walks that would only laughably be considered a hike and the one way/multi-day nature of the Bibbulmun Track. This version of the Lower Frankland Circuit fulfils that middle ground by providing a lovely loop through the Tingle and Karri forest that takes in some really beautiful sections of both the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun Track. While the track's 24 kilometre length makes it a fairly serious undertaking for a day walk, experienced walkers will find the generally mild terrain quite manageable while less experienced walkers could break the walk in half by staying at Frankland River hut. Given that this walk is 100% on track and provides a more interesting experienced than just walking from the Giant Tingle to Frankland River and back on the Bibb, I can't see any reason why the Lower Frankland Circuit can't exist as a recognised walk by DBCA and Trails WA as it is even more ready to go than the William Bay Circuit! Even without the official recognition, this is a trail that is readily walkable and is a great option for a weekend adventure. 


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