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End-to-ending with a bit of planning advice

Robert Carter, NSW

17 January 2020

Bushwalking is a long-held passion of mine, but many of life’s day-to-day challenges deflect us from those things we hold precious. My work to life-style balance was way out of kilter—luckily Kylie, my wife and soul mate, recognised this.  She convinced me to take stock and move away from full time work.

Robert, Anthea and Geoff at the Northern Terminus
Robert, Anthea and Geoff at the Northern Terminus

 I needed a plan to enter a world in which I could build up a range of activities as gap fillers—so I started bushwalking again. A colleague convinced me to join her bushwalking club, the Sydney Bush Walkers (SBW), and suddenly that long-held passion was brought back into being.

Soon after joining the SBW I met Bruno, who had recently completed the Bibbulmun Track end-to-end. I did some research on the Bibbulmun Track, and my admiration for Bruno and his achievement grew as we spoke about his adventure and his reasons for undertaking the walk. His words ‘you become immersed in the walk’ kept echoing in my ears—I couldn’t grasp what he meant. This intensified my goal to walk the Track to understand this immersion.

It took a couple of years to move from aspiration to action. I placed the walk on our club program and found two members were committed—Anthea and Geoff—who were experienced multi-day walkers. Another colleague, Alan, would join us at Walpole.

Geoff and Anthea at the Gloucester Tree in Pemberton
Geoff and Anthea at the Gloucester Tree in Pemberton

I lead a lot of walks for the SBW and enjoy planning and coordinating. I scoured the Foundation website, purchased the map packs and read about the experiences of other walkers. An itinerary took shape.

I joined the Bibbulmun Track Foundation— initially to offer a donation—and was pleased to be offered a contact, Jim Baker, who would act as our track mentor. The insights received and his experience greatly contributed to the planning phase. He suggested that we had too many food drops planned, so we settled on five to coincide with our intended rest days. Our mentor also guided us on track closures and diversions due to the recent bushfires and some of the gotchas such as the Albany Highway crossing—which we still missed!

We started on April 27th, after the school holidays, intending to arrive in Albany on or around June 16th. We decided on a fairly easy pace, averaging 20km a day, as I considered fatigue over such a long distance could pose challenges if we were too ambitious. We wanted to enjoy the experience and not risk injuries. This meant that we would miss the wildflowers (replaced by the fungi), but it was important for us to walk in the cooler months. Another reason was that I have a horrible reputation with snakes and if there are any around I normally have an up close and personal experience with them. As it turned out we only saw one on the entire trip, a death adder behind the coastal sand dunes.

Trekking through the Pingerup Plains.
Trekking through the Pingerup Plains.

We flew in from Sydney and after a final carbohydrate loaded meal we took the bus to Kalamunda and our first photograph at the Northern Terminus. Despite Jim’s advice to be particularly careful to follow the Track markers in the first section we were lost within the first kilometre. Plenty of laughter; however this wasn’t the last time we walked past a marker and needed to back track! Our modus operandi changed with Anthea becoming the marker monitor, alerting us if there wasn’t a Waugal marker spotted every 15-20 minutes.

We soon met fellow walkers, a couple of young backpackers, and then Jo, a young lady walking solo with whom who we shared Ball Creek campsite. She touched each of us with her life story and her reasons for escaping into the bush. This was a great introduction to the camaraderie on the Track. We all enjoyed the interaction with many people from different countries with many different stories throughout the entire walk.

Geoff and Anthea on Mandalay Beach.
Geoff and Anthea on Mandalay Beach.

I can honestly say that there were way too many highlights to list and very few lowlights except for a couple of falls on wet log crossings and an occasional blister—isn’t it amazing that you can wear the same pair of boots and sock combination for weeks on end and all of a sudden you get a blister out of the blue!

The key highlights for me were the people I walked with and met along the way. At Monadnocks, after a very long day due to track closures and diversions, we caught up with a couple of characters who had started a few days before us. Norm and Dory were walking the Track for the second time and we had their company all the way to Collie, and met up again with Dory on our last night at Muttonbird. We met a couple near Peaceful Bay, with the young lady supporting her visually impaired companion, walking all the way from Denmark to Pemberton—inspirational stuff! Then there were the two school groups, Phillippe from France, Alex from Italy, two crazy Singaporeans and many more. So many people from different countries and walks of life, all sharing the same experience.

Favourite sections? All of them! I enjoyed every day and whatever it brought—the serenity of the dry jarrah forests in the north with the openness and rolling hills—the transition into the dampness of the karri—the different landscape of the scrubby Pingerup Plains, where we were lucky to experience dry conditions—the transition to the coastal plains, preparing us for the spectacular southern coastal vistas that were mind blowing, and of course the giant tingle trees.

We were constantly amused by the cautions given to us by walkers that we met of the ‘big hills’ up ahead.  Big hills? We are used to a few more challenging ups and downs on walks in the Blue Mountains and other areas where we normally walk.

High tide at Perkins Beach.
High tide at Perkins Beach.

The hospitality afforded us in the townships was tremendous. Here were these dirty, smelly, ravenous walkers arriving in towns where the locals and visitors were so welcoming and made our stay an absolute treat. After the simple pleasure of a shower and washing our clothes Geoff and I would normally hold court in the local pub where we quite often felt like rock stars!

The Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Bibbulmun Track Foundation have done a fantastic job in constructing, maintaining and promoting the Track and its facilities. The luxury of a clean campsite with a shelter, water and a toilet at the end of each day was very much appreciated. The volunteers who help to maintain the Track are a precious resource and we were constantly thankful of the gift of toilet paper at many of the campsites—some may think a small gesture, however it’s huge when you are on the track as toilet paper is usually a tradable commodity. (Ed: Nevertheless, walkers please carry your own!). Thank you to everyone involved for your dedication to the Bibbulmun Track and its walkers— it is certainly a credit to you all.

After 52 days of walking, including six rest days, we arrived in Albany as planned, There was no band or welcoming committee, however the final Waugal and the Southern Terminus Trailhead gave us the personal satisfaction of successfully completing our journey together and achieving our goal of becoming fitter and leaner (I lost 12% of my body weight—9kg) and more relaxed.

After a night of celebration it was time to catch the bus back to Perth and then head home. There was a strange lingering feeling, as walking the Bibbulmun Track had become a new way of life for those 52 days—a very simple way of life with just the basics carried on your back and none of the day-to-day complexities that you normally experience living in a big city. It took several weeks to come back to reality. I am pretty sure that this is what Bruno meant by being ‘immersed in the walk’.

I have heard people say that they felt like turning around and walking back to Perth and I can really appreciate this, except for that special someone waiting at home for me to return. This being said I will be returning and will walk the Bibbulmun Track again—possibly a double end-to-end, but I feel the need to walk the Te Araroa Track first!

Robert Carter, Sydney, NSW

Done it!  All smiles at the Southern Terminus in Albany.
Done it! All smiles at the Southern Terminus in Albany.