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A walk along the south-coast

John Cannon, Tasmania

24 January 2012

Our Bibbulmun Track walk on the south coast of Western Australia near Albany had been some months in the planning. As the rain beat a tattoo on the roof of the hut in William Bay National Park, the six of us wondered what we had let ourselves in for. We later discovered that it was the 2nd coldest day of the year in Western Australia with snow on Bluff Knoll—even though it was late September. Fortunately, the weather picked up later in the trip.

We were on a shakedown walk for a longer excursion on the Bibbulmun Track and made our way through to the coast at Elephant Rocks, Waterfall Bay and Greens Pools to admire the spectacular granite formations. We were buffeted by winds gusting to more than 100 kilometres per hour.

We familiarised ourselves with the Waugals—the distinctive track markers representing the rainbow serpent of Aboriginal Dreaming. If too much time passes without seeing a Waugal, you’re probably not on the Bibbulmun Track any more. We narrowly missed three End-to Enders—Geoff, Dolly and Martin who had stayed at the William Bay hut the previous night. Like the Appalachian Trail in the USA, the Bibbulmun Track Foundation makes a fuss of their ‘end-to-enders’—the people who walk the full 963-kms from Kalamunda (in the hills east of Perth) through to Albany. They receive a certificate and their names are added to a register. The Bibbulmun seems to be better supported with infrastructure and information than other Australian long-distance walking tracks. 

The two other main long-distance walking tracks are the Heysen Trail in South Australia and the Alpine Walking Track from Canberra through to the Baw Baws in Victoria.If you have a couple of months to spare, a long distance walking track like the Bibbulmun would be a very peaceful way to spend it. The main worry would possibly be combating blisters.

As we only had a couple of weeks and wanted to walk in some other areas as well, we had to pick the section we tackled fairly carefully. We opted for the south coast between Mandalay Beach and Parrys Inlet. No doubt, we missed some excellent sections further north.

Our Bibbulmun walk proper started further west at Mandalay Beach in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. The Park is named after the French explorer who made his way west from Tasmania to this coastline in 1792. We headed east with the wind and rain at our backs. The Norwegian ship Mandalay cleared the impressive granite bulk of Chatham Island (named by Vancouver in 1791) in a heavy southwesterly in 1911 but couldn’t clear Long Point. Captain Tonnessen had no choice but to beach the vessel. He wrote how the Norwegian government gave a gold watch to their rescuers and 12 pounds in compensation for them killing a cow to eat.

As a squall hurried us along beach, I was glad I had brought my pack cover. We made our way up a sandblow and soon found the track. We had lunch near a patch of forest with birds chirping contentedly in its shelter. In due course we reached our shelter–the hut at Long Point. We dropped our packs
and descended to Little Cove where the seas had been whipped up to a frenzy by the continuing strong winds.

Pimelia ferrogenia was a highlight next morning as we passed seamlessly into the Walpole Nornalup National Park. This section of the Park is known as Nuyts Wilderness—the only declared wilderness in Western Australia. We added to our experience of it with side trips to Hush-Hush Beach and Thompson Cove plus views of the granite fingers of Mt Hopkins. Granite is the dominant rock along this coast.

Dutch ships used to turn north when they reached the Western Australian coastline and make their way to Batavia. Then in 1627, along came Nuyt, a senior official of the Dutch East India Company, who missed the West Coast altogether and discovered this part of the south coast. The ship’s captain Frans Thyssen named the southern coast Nuytsland after him. Virtually all of Nuyts Wilderness was burnt out following a lightning strike in March 2001. The well-watered coastal heath is taking a surprisingly long time to recover.

As we made our way through a muddy section near Deep River, we were glad that, as a ranger had told us, there are no land leeches in Western Australia—only ones that live in still water. At Mount Clare we were captivated by the massive red tingle trees, but decided to stay in the hut rather than camp under them, as they looked very capable of shedding a limb in the wind. The two climbers Clematis and Hardenbergia are also prominent in the forest.

The track descends from Mt Clare to the town of Walpole where we re-stocked with food for the next stages of our walk. From Walpole we immersed ourselves in the wonderful forests of the Frankland River and the Valley of the Giants. The ancient karri and tingle trees were real highlights and such a contrast to the coastal moors.

On our next day of walking the Bibbulmun, we enjoyed outstanding wildflower variety as we returned to the coast at Conspicuous Beach. The ground was literally carpeted with incredible displays. It was very windy at the whale-watching platform but we warmed up with the climb of Conspicuous Cliff and Rame Head.
A young couple from Sydney caught up with us, courtesy of a taxi ride from the Valley of the Giants to Conspicuous Beach, to also stay in the hut at Rame Head. The oceanic view from outside the hut is breathtaking.

Next morning we went through heathy country with numerous kangaroos before reaching the coast at Gap Beach. The Bibbulmun used to go straight to the coast from Rame Head but DEC (the Department of Environmen and Conservation) deemed some of the original route to be dangerous in rough seas.

We made our way around the coast of Cape Irwin to our overnight stop at Peaceful Bay Caravan Park. In the afternoon we had a quick swim in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean but were able to thaw out with a hot shower. From Peaceful Bay, we made our way through beautiful forest to the western side of
Irwin Inlet where two canoes are housed on each side of the inlet. In the wind, it took us more than an hour to get ourselves across and restore the two canoes to each side.

We had been told that you could walk down a four-wheel-drive back onto the beach but we preferred the idea of traversing the Quarram Nature Reserve and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We walked into The Showgrounds—an extensive grassland, with a profusion of flowers and kangaroos. It is an area rich for botanical study as the fenced-off plots and star pickets indicated. We were back on the beach by lunchtime and the track later climbed up above a long line of cliffs for views of a wavecut platform and jumble of limestone behind it.

Our route guide said that this section of coast is as wild and rugged as can be found along the Track, and offers challenging but rewarding walking. We agreed. A Guide to the Bibbulmun Track—Southern Half runs to 328 pages and it doesn’t waste words. By the time we reached the granite cove of Boat Harbour, we had covered 24 kilometres for the day. Swallows had nested in the hut–at least they were quiet cotenants after nightfall.

Our last day was a 13-km walk before lunch to Parrys Beach. This section was completely unburnt thanks to the protection provided by Owingup Swamp, which looked more like a series of lakes after all the rain. At Parrys Beach, there was only Mazzoletti Beach on the other side of the inlet separating us from William Bay National Park where we had made our first acquaintance with the Bibbulmun Track.

We all agreed that it would be well worth doing more of the Bibbulmun Track. We suspected that it is only the tyranny of distance that prevents many more people from the eastern states from sampling the joys of the Track.