Thursday, 13 April 2017

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Woolbales to Long Point

Day six of a seven day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, Woolbales to Long Point features the first stretch of coastal walking along the track for southbound End to Enders - a momentous milestone along the track. Initially passing through the granite-dominated landscape of the Woolbale Hills, the track reaches outstanding viewpoints of the Southern Ocean and the massive Chatham Island from Mandalay Bay

Distance: 18.5 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively gentle until the coastal heath, then very undulating from the end of Mandalay Beach onwards.
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 5.5-6.5 Hours, including 20 minutes for the side trip up Mt Pingerup
Steps: Some informal steps, with many formal steps from the coastal heath onwards
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. Woolbales can be reached indirectly by walking in from South Coast Hwy. Mandalay Beach can be reach via Mandalay Beach Rd. 

For the vast majority of its length, the Bibbulmun Track is an inland forest walk as it takes hikers from the Jarrah and Wandoo forests closer to Kalamunda and onward through to the Karri forests of the Pemberton area. Although the Northcliffe to Walpole stretch is notable for its relative lack of forests thanks to the open Pingerup Plains, Woolbales to Long Point is a particularly special day as its the day southbound End to Enders finally reach the Southern Ocean. Being fans of the coastal-heavy Walpole to Denmark stretch of the Track, Alissa and I left Woolbales with a lot of excitement for what promised to be a great day of walking.

Leaving the hut at Woolbales, the track passes through the Woolbales Hills - a series of granite hills that dot the landscape on either side of the track. The track passes through the largely flat plains and lightly forested areas between the peaks, which was probably sensible given the tiring ups and downs we would experience later in the day. That being said, I've always found the isolated granite peaks of the track to be very enjoyable and having the track go over at least one of the peaks would have been a nice touch, reminiscent of great Bibbulmun Track sections over Mt Cooke and the Monadnocks in the Darling Scarp, as well as Mt Hallowell near Denmark.

Watermelon Rock was the most interesting and distinctive of the formations in the area - it really did look a lot like a watermelon!

Although not the tallest overall, the last of the Woolbales hills near the track was very tempting to climb given the mass of jumbled granite boulders and domes that would make it an interesting walk.

The track through the Woolbales area follows an old vehicle track before eventually returning to purpose built walking trail. Not long after this turn off, the Bibbulmun finally leaves the Pingerup Plains-style landscape that had dominated the walking for most of the Northcliffe to Walpole section, particularly from Dog Pool onwards.

The plains transitioned to Jarrah and then Karri forests as we continued along the track. Although populated by fairly young looking trees, we appreciated the variety of scenery that the Karris offered.

One of the more exciting moments of the day occurred not long after entering the Karri forest as the track traverses a huge granite outcrop.

The outcrop offers excellent views of the Broke Inlet (very similar to what I had seen from the top of the peak behind Woolbales hut), as well as a lovely section of mature Karris just downhill from the granite expanse.

The excellent variety of scenery continued as we entered a swampy area that was traversed with the assistance of a decent length of boardwalk. Alissa and I were slightly alarmed by the guidebook's warning that blister bush is found along this stretch of the track, however we did not see any as we cautiously made our way through.

A bit more alarming was a huge Karri that had collapsed across the track. Fallen trees are a fairly regular occurrence along the Bibbulmun, however it is fairly easy to work out where you're supposed to go once you clear the tree most of the time. This was less obvious, and we found ourselves on the other side with no sign of the track and no clear indication of the correct way to go. Alissa had a feeling that the track was to the right, and after a short bush bash we were relieved to find ourselves once again on the track.

Although a fire had clearly gone through that area not that long ago, the forests were recovering well, with the mature trees providing some very pleasant walking.

A sudden steep ascent up an old vehicle track indicated the transition away from the Karri forest and into the beginnings of the coastal heathlands.

Quite badly burnt by fire, this was the dullest section of the day's walking, although I imagine the area will be quite nice once it recovers - it was not inherently boring in the same way Marron Rd between Dog Pool and Mt Chance is boring.

Even with the obvious fire damage, there were some nice aspects of this section. We saw quite a number of kangaroos obviously enjoying the regrowth grass in the area. One hopped across the track and then stared at us for some time, allowing me to get a relatively close up photo.

The walk through the heathlands to the coast seemed to take forever, especially since major landmarks become fairly obvious as we traversed the sandy coastal ridge. In the distance, we could see Chatham Island to the left and Cliffy Head to the right. In the middle of the picture you can just make out the ocean.

Getting closer and closer to the ocean, Chatham Island becomes a strong focal point as it draws walkers towards the coast. It is only fitting then that an excellent lookout with a large bench is located along the coastal ridge.

The views from the lookout are spectacular, with the coastline of D'Entrecasteaux National Park to the west. Chatham Island rightly dominates the view however, and it is a truly magnificent sight. Although we had seen many photos of the island, Alissa and I were quite taken aback by how large and high it is, with the cave to the left of the photo looking like a very enticing area to explore. Although we had initially intended to have our lunch on Mandalay Beach itself, the lovely views and the bench seating made it a perfect spot to have a break while taking in the views.

From the lookout, the track descends steeply as it leads to the Mandalay Beach car park.

From the car park, a sealed path leads to Mandalay Beach.

Another lower lookout provides another excellent vantage point from which to view Chatham Island. The waves crashing into the beach and headland did not look to be very inviting from a swimming point of view, and the unpredictable choppiness and surging on display seemed to suggest dangerous rips are a potential hazard.

An outstanding stretch of boardwalk leads on from the lower lookout point, with a set of stairs at the end taking walkers to the beach itself.

Initially, the track seems to go through the soft sands of the dunes however Alissa and I quickly made our way to the shoreline itself to find firmer ground.

The beach walking was firm under foot and no more than a kilometre. It offered a lovely change of scene from the previous days inland. I can just imagine how emotional an experience it would be for End to Enders to be walking along this beach; it would either being the first beach walk of the entire track if they were heading to Albany, or their last if heading to Kalamunda.

Most of the beach exits along the Bibbulmun are fairly easy to spot thanks to the use of extremely tall markers posts - some of which are painted in the signature Bibbulmun Track orange colour to make them very visible. The Mandalay Beach exit is not clear at all, with a very low marker being the only indication of where the turn off is. The Waugal print has also been severely faded by the Sun, and it is only on very close inspection that the faintest semblance of the iconic symbol can be made out.

After passing a stream that presumably runs into the ocean in Winter, the walking gets a bit tough as the track heads up a few steep dune climbs and their characteristically soft sand that results in one step back for every two steps forward! There are however some nice views of Mandalay Beach, Chatham Island and Cliffy Head that act as a bit of a reward for the effort.

The track eventually levels out and head into heathlands. After the soft sand, the relative firmness of the heathlands are a real treat, even if they do continue the trend of going up and down repeatedly as the track makes its way to the campsite at Long Point.

In spite of all the ups and downs, the views from the high coastal ridge are fantastic, with expansive views of the Southern Ocean and the wild coastline.

Looking to the east, the actual formation known as Long Point can be seen. Given its close proximity, Alissa and I were getting excited to be on the home stretch.

Or so we thought. The track descends steeply to an informal but excellent camping area, follows an unsealed road for a short distance before returning to purpose built walk trail.

From there the track is a relentless series of ups and downs, with steep steps leading up...

... and then immediately descending. Every time we reached the top of a set of steps we hoped that the hut would be in sight to no avail, and it made the last few kilometres seem a lot further than what was stated in the guidebook.

Finally, we reached the spur trail that leads to the hut at Long Point. 

The spur trail is memorable due to the excellent views of Chatham Island and the Southern Ocean as you reach the hut -  and, more dubiously, because its one of the longest spurs to a hut on the track! Just when you think you're on the home stretch at the spur trail marker, its another 500 metres before you reach the hut. For those looking to explore further, Long Point also features one of the longest side trails to a lookout running just behind the hut. As someone who believes that the Long Way is Better, I had wanted to check out the trail however had not realised it would be quite as long as it was and timed my walk poorly, departing just as the Sun was going down and with not enough time to head all the way out and back in time. I also started walking it in my hut sandals and decided that it wasn't worth continuing when I saw a Dugite in the middle of the track.

Alissa and I shared the hut with two hikers doing long stretches of the track - one of whom was intending to do an End to End but would later pull out at Northcliffe due to severe foot pain. We discovered that they were major fans of the Jase's red pen entries in the Red Book, and I envied their great fortune at being able to follow his adventures for many more days than we would!

This was another excellent day on the track, featuring a variety of landscapes from the granite-dominated Woolbales Hills, Karri forests and magnificent coastal walking. Once reaching the coastal heath, this day had a lot more in common with the Walpole to Denmark stretch of the track than Northcliffe to Woolbales and featured a lot of the kind of walking Alissa and I enjoy the most. Earlier on along the Northcliffe to Walpole stretch, I had wondered why the Bibbulmun had not gone to the coast sooner, especially since we could hear the roar of the ocean from the shores of Lake Maringup. Seeing Chatham Island it all made sense - this was a great first view of the ocean, and made for a very memorable day. 


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