Sunday, 9 April 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Gardner to Lake Maringup

The second day of a seven day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, this relatively short day takes walkers through a diverse mix of vegetation types on the way to Lake Maringup. A more varied and interesting walk than the previous day from Northcliffe to Gardner, walkers are additionally rewarded by a spectacular finish along the Karri-lined shores of Lake Maringup - one of the most beautiful locations along the entire track

Distance: 17.1 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle over its entire length, with some minor inclines
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained. Sections can be inundated through Winter and Spring
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Some formal steps
Best Time to Visit: All year, except for the peak of Summer and during particularly stormy Winter days. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked hut to hut, however Chesapeake Rd West runs through the middle of this section, allowing for the possibility of a 17 kilometre return walk from Chesapeake Rd to Lake Maringup and back. 

After a fairly uneventful walk from Northcliffe to Gardner the day before, Alissa and I were definitely looking forward to our second day heading towards Lake Maringup. Touted as one of the 'Jewels of the new Track' in the old, chunky A Guide to the Bibbulmun Track: Southern Half and untouched by the fires of 2015, this was set to be a rewarding day after the dullness of the previous.

Initially, the Bibbulmun continued down the same old vehicle track from the day before, passing through burnt, stunted Jarrah forests and sandy soils.

Although we had seen a few Swamp Bottlebrush plants in flower the day before, these beautiful plants were in profusion along this stretch of the track, filling the more open plains sections with bursts of colour. Much is often made of the fact that something will be in flower in the South West at any time of the year, and these fields of red flowers were a definite treat of Autumn on the Bibbulmun Track.

Just when we were starting to tire of stunted Jarrah and open plains, the track headed into a beautiful area of Karri forest.

This pocket of Karri forest was slightly burnt in the 2015 fires, however according to the old guidebooks the area had not been burnt for over 40 years before. Even in its post-fire state, the forest has recovered rapidly, having much of the dense, shady character we've come to know and love of the Karri forests in Australia's South West.

Eventually the Karri forest transitioned back to stunted Jarrah in sandy soils, however the very varied soil types of this section meant that the scenery was always changing, keeping it fresh from beginning to end.

Along some stretches, Alissa and I saw some of the most stunning displays of Swamp Bottlebrush blooms we would see over the entire track. Along some of these flat, swampy sections, the provision of boardwalks alongside the track indicated that this was an area prone to flooding. Last year, I had had this section earmarked to walk over the September/October school holidays, however the thought of walking through knee deep water for several kilometres did not appeal to Alissa at all. Which is just as well - last year was one of the wettest Winters and Springs on record and our friends Jerry, Helle, Sonja and Peter were diverted around Lake Maringup due to waist deep water making the walk unnecessarily arduous and potentially hazardous.

The Bibbulmun leaves the old vehicle track for the last time as it crosses the old Chesapeake Rd bridge, with vehicle access possible west of the pedestrianised crossing.

The transitional forests near the crossings were fairly dense and shady, providing another change of forest types along the walk.

Although the track opened up to open sedgelands, the track inevitably returns to Karri forest before once again returning to Jarrah and back to sedgelands again.

Although the Gardner River had been a close companion for much of the walk, the track is rarely close enough to the water's edge to makes its presence known. This changes about 11 kilometres into the day's walking, with the track running right alongside the river. Although not as grand as the Donnelly or Warren Rivers, this is quite a lovely section of track. As such, the use of the old vehicle track instead of building a track along the river seems like a expedient but poor choice of trail alignment as it is pretty clear we missed out on something a lot more enjoyable than the dull monotony of the day before.

As the trail leaves the river, walkers enter the home stretch of their walk into Lake Maringup with the forests transitioning back to dense, old growth Karri. Not far from the official Bibbulmun Track campsite at Lake Maringup, a signed turn off leads to Coodamurrup Hut. This hut was never mentioned in the old chunky guidebooks, and as such this extra hut was something of a surprise. Additionally, although everyone colloquially refers to the Bibbulmun Track shelters as huts, DPaW and the Bibbulmun Track Foundation are careful to never oversell the shelters as true fully enclosed huts, meaning that a genuine hut was located at the end of the road!

Had I known about this side trip I would have considered adding it to our itinerary, however after being prepared mentally for a relatively easy day, the four hour return journey didn't seem all that appealing as an impromptu addition given the long day we had ahead of us from Maringup to Dog Pool the next day. Reading other walkers' reports in Lake Maringup's Red Book indicates that the hut (also known as Moores Hut) is quite nice but unfortunately is very popular with rowdy bogans - one entry mentions running into a group of pig shooters who left bits of pig entrails at the side trip turn off, even more blood and guts around Coodamurup Hut itself and then went about chopping down trees nearby for their fire! One has to wonder what people get out of nature when their entire time is spent being destructive.

Another reason why the Coodamurrup Hut side trip was uninviting was the fact that Lake Maringup Hut is only 500 metres further down the road.

Upon arriving at Lake Maringup, Alissa and I agreed that the hut's reputation is entirely justified; it is easily one of the most beautifully located huts on the track, up there with such impressive locales as Waalegh, Frankland and Tom Road. Having initially planned to walk this section over the September/October school holidays last year, Alissa and I were grateful for having changed our plans as missing out on Lake Maringup due to the diversion would have been a terrible loss.

Immediately downhill of the hut is an superb vantage point from which to view Lake Maringup. A large, beautiful lake surrounded by Karri trees and Warren River Cedar, the Bibbulmun makes a justifiably out of its way detour to get walkers to the lake side. It is definitely a highlight of the Northcliffe to Walpole section of the track, and an area I would happily come back to in the future.

If the views of the lake were not enough, beautiful old growth Karri forests can be seen surrounding the hut with some of the best forest views just behind the hut.

While taking in the forest surrounding the hut, I was amazed by the sight of weird looking spiders building webs under the hut's eaves. Known as Scorpion-Tailed Spiders, these creatures are apparently common to many parts of Australia.

Continuing with the dehydrated meals, dinner for the night was a Kangaroo Bolognese with Trivelle (spiral) Pasta. Unlike the previous day's Mac & Cheese, this was a dish that I cooked in its entirety, dished out into portions and then dehydrated as one pot meals.

I must say the results are surprisingly fantastic, with the rehydrated meals actually tasting almost identical to how they did before the dehydration process. I had been told that mince is sometimes called 'gravel' because it doesn't rehydrate very well, however we had no such problems.

Alissa and I again had the hut to ourselves! Given that it is quite feasible to double hut in from Northcliffe straight to Lake Maringup, we were wondering if we would be joined by any other hikers for the night. With no one catching up with us from the Northcliffe direction and a long day ahead of us to Dog Pool, Alissa and I were fairly confident we would not run into any other southbound hikers for the rest of our trip unless one of the two hikers a day ahead of us had a zero day. Although we have enjoyed walking with the same group of people like we did from Balingup to Pemberton, it was also really nice just being by ourselves, and not having to worry about having to relive the saga of the Angry German Man and the noisy mattress from the Overland Track.

While reading the Red Book, Alissa and I discovered that our friend Didier (AKA Magpie) stayed two nights at Lake Maringup. We could definitely see why; after the dull are repetitive walk of the first day, Gardner to Maringup was a much more enjoyable day on the track, with the vast variety of soil types providing constantly changing scenery over the whole day to keep things interesting. Lake Maringup and its namesake campsite were even better than the day of walking, and it definitely lived up to its reputation of being a jewel of the Bibbulmun Track. 


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