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Real Dutch courage!

Lennard and Daphne Koster-Bloemkolk, Holland

24 January 2012

Bibbulmun Track 20 September – 21 November 2009

What went ahead

Somewhere during our internship in 2003 in Sydney (or Sidney in Dutch, but that looks awfully awkward) we heard of the Bibbulmun track for the first time. Back then we only had less than 3 months to travel Australia after we finished our research. We did some hiking in Wilsons Promontory, Katherine Gorge (mainly canoeing) and other places, but we didn’t consider doing the Track because it seemed like too much for us. 6 Years later (and much more hiking in Europe later as well), we decided to go back to Australia to get away from the stress of work, social expectancies of a married life and to refuel again. Memories of a track that ran somewhere in the South West of WA started floating in our minds. A quick search on the internet gave us a name: THE BIBBULMUN TRACK. A 1000 km’s pfffff, that’ll require a long time to hike…. So in January 2009 we started talking of actually doing the track. It still appeared like a terribly long walk, but slowly and steadily we grew confident with it.
At some point you have to stop thinking and fantasizing about it and take action. One of the first steps was to inform our bosses of our plans. Boy, were they happy …… not! The main questions they had were ‘How long?’ and ‘When?’. Uuuhhhh a long time and probably in the Australian Spring time we told them.
We both got the assignment to come up with a more detailed plan and then discuss that.

If you ask 10 people how long it’ll take to walk a 1000 km, 9 will say indefinitely, because they think it’s a stupid idea. But, every 1 in 10 people will think it’s awesome and they could be working for the BTF and help you plan it! Through the website we had ordered the track notes North / South and the maps and made an itinerary. We got some help through the BTF while making this plan. It’s quite challenging to prepare something like this, from far far away and the information the lovely vollies were able to give us, turned out very useful. On paper we took many rest days, because we couldn’t tell upfront how we would cope with the Track and everything we could come across like unforeseen calamities. Apart from that, we would love to have some days to spent as what most people would consider as a normal holiday, eg. beach, sun, getting a tan etc.

‘3 months, we need 3 months, please, thank you’.
Okay, admittedly we didn’t formulate it this way, but it was more or less what we asked for at work. In a way it felt good, that our bosses weren’t all that enthusiastic, otherwise we would have felt redundant, but Daphne’s boss couldn’t see any way to let her go for such a long time. Somehow Lennard managed to get 3 months leave, of which 1 month unpaid and Daphne resigned from her position which is a very brave thing to do!

With this big hurdle taken, time was there to prepare things in detail. Lennard has a colleague who is much into hiking. So a dinner was prepared over which all the tricks of hiking long distances were discussed. The key thing was reducing weight. To list a few: no razor, no deodorant, no clean undies for 6 days, no detergent etc. etc. etc. And no food, uhh little food, just enough to keep you going. Lennard didn’t have to do his military service, but this idea could come close with all the things that we couldn’t take. However, at the end of the evening our expert did tell that she took a heavy video camera with her on the GR 10 (northern side of the Pyrenees, Bib track newsletter # 51) and whiskey and chocolate and a GPS. So we figured that on a walk like this we could / should bring a little treat for each evening to keep us going for approximately 60 days.

Food!!! Your basic need to be able to finish something like this. We couldn’t take any with us, because Australian customs does not allow you to take crap European food into the country. It could also be the case that they want you to spend a fortune on food in Australia, rather then take it with you from overseas. And because we are Dutch we try to get a bargain everywhere and all the time. As a gift from heaven the BTF website mentioned an offer from Mountain Designs for dehydrated (yummy) food, that was about to expire. [Somehow, this sounds weird doesn’t it. I mean dehydrated: doesn’t that mean you can keep it for ever??]. We asked Gwen from the foundation how we could apply for all that food. As an answer we were politely asked to give us our credit card details. Wow, cool! The foundation had already reserved 20 packages for us. Incredible! We were able to survive at least 1/3 of the nights on the track!

In 2003 while we were traveling by car from Sydney to Pert via the North, our parents were very happy that we had a mobile phone. In case of emergencies we could call. Yeah right! We didn’t tell them that reception is very very poor in remote areas (that is, totally lacking). This time, they knew. We still don’t know who told them this vital information, but we couldn’t tell them that we would be perfectly within coverage of a telephone tower. Lennard’s colleague did tell something about an EPIRB or some other kind of bird, so we informed with the foundation whether they had something as well. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything like that available for us in the period we wanted to walk. They referred us to David, from On Track Hiking, and he was able to help us out. Parents happy, we happy, everyone happy. Apart from Lennard’s colleague, she was very jealous.

September 18th 2009, arrival in Perth. First stop: the Dôme!! We knew from previous visits to WA, that their chocolate logs (slightly heated) were simply divine. Mmmmmmm. Besides that, we could do with some additional food reserves, couldn’t we?? We were about to walk a very long distance…..

We would start the Track on the 20th and the days we had in Perth were stuffed with getting our supplies, preparing a parcel to sent to ourselves in Donnelly River Village and preparing a bag with stuff that David would drop somewhere between Canning and Monadnocks. He guaranteed us that we would find it. Yeah right, in the middle of the Bush? But he was right, we did find it easily. However, we didn’t expect that small bottle of sparkling wine, but we had a fantastic evening after we carried it over Mt Cuthbert and Mt Vincent. That’s our advise to future walkers: try getting a food drop after the mountains, not just before it.

Walking at last

Anyway, the 20th of September was there, and we got lost…… or should we say disorientated. We intended to take a train and then a bus to Kalamunda, but we couldn’t find a bus from the train station. We have to admit that we were also half an hour later than planned. Instead of starting to walk we went back into the city and had another warm cappuccino and chocolate cake at the Dôme. Finally, around 1 pm we took a bus to ‘nothing there Kalamunda’, as the person from the PT information booth called it.

Kalamunda, Northern Terminus of the world famous Bibbulmun Track. A long way out of Perth, but hey, what’s an hour bus ride compared to all the walking we were about to start? Besides that, it would be the last moment in a heated environment for at least 12 days. Therefore, we huddled together, soaking up that last bit of comfort before we would expose ourselves to the harsh WA bush…..

The first days were quite harsh indeed. It was too cold and rainy. Did we already mention it was cold? It was! Especially the first 12 days were really cold. Somehow, we Europeans have the idea that it’s really really hot Down Under. We are sort of aware that you have some Alps (which you happen to call ‘ Snowy Mountains’), but still, associating that with cold weather? No way. What a laugh, Skippy with a Beanie. Hahaha.
However, Skippy seems adequately equipped to cope with minus something degrees, where our doonas weren’t sufficient to keep us warm and did we suffer for it! The first couple of nights we used to experiment how to keep us warm during the nights. We wrapped ourselves in our inner tent, slept under our footprint and last but not least, we tried to keep as close together as possible during the night (Back home we have a king size bed and we almost have to yell to each other so we are not used to be that close). We were so happy with those beautiful huts! No matter, that one of the sides is missing, we still consider them so much more than just a shelter and for the remainder of this story, it will be a HUT. They protected us against the howling winds, the cold rain, the worst of the low temperatures and for the sake of our colleagues also against bears. [This needs a bit of explanation. Some of our colleagues were really worried about us walking out there without any mean of self defense against black bears, brown bears, grizzly bears any bear. So we informed them that the only dangerous bear in Australia is the drop bear, but we would sleep in shelters with a roof. And as long as you have a roof above you, they can’t drop on you…. Wink wink].

During the days we enjoyed the beautiful jarrah forests and all the wattle and flowers in them. The distances between the huts were quite easily manageable for us and we decided not to take any rest days on the track. Instead, we rather walked at ease to the next hut and spend the afternoon enjoying the environment.
One of the things we enjoyed doing was reading all the entries in the log books. After just a couple of days we started to feel familiar with some of the people walking just a couple of days ahead of us. There was an older couple of around 63 years walking just 1 day ahead of us and from the day we started we were expecting to see them because we were doing some double-hutting. However it took us all the way to Chadoora before we caught up with them. And that was only because we didn’t feel like sleeping in the Mt Wells hut (actually, this is a proper hut) with about 8 other people. The result was that we had to pinch up our tent, because there were about 14 other people in that hut! That was the first time we set up the tent properly. When we were doing our trip planning we thought we would be camping every night, but due to the temperatures and the easiness of the huts, there was no need for that. We did use the inner tent to keep us warm and we continued putting it up in the huts all the way to Albany. Not because of the cold, but because of another interesting Australian phenomenon: Mozzies! Not to be mistaken for Mad Ozzies as a French lady wrote in the log book in Nullaki, but the genuine mosssssquitos.

After 12 days we arrived in Dwellingup and we were looking forward to a good decent meal that wasn’t either freeze dried or dehydrated. We had a bit of a shock after eating a burger at the North Bannister Road house. The burger was a good burger; nothing wrong with that, but in our minds it would taste so much better after 9 days without ordinary food. Maybe 9 days wasn’t enough to really crave for some grease and good meat. 12 days would do the trick.
The days from Gringer Creek to Dwellingup went over some hills and after climbing these we were fantasizing about that steak and chips that would completely satisfy our desires. It never happened, not once during our hike were we really content after eating the meal that we longed for. It’s a strange sensation that your body doesn’t really seem to fancy that type of food.

In Dwellingup we took 2 days rest and by doing so, we lost contact with the people we were walking togheter with. In contrast to our intended schedule we caught up with them again in Harris Dam by double-hutting Yourdamung. Even though Lennard was suffering badly by that time from inflamed feet as a result of an allergic respons to washing detergent, we were blown away by the beauty of the swamp area around Yourdamung hut. We saw our first Fringe Lilies and Kangaroo Paw. We were trying to get all the options out of our little camera to get the best possible shots of all these picture perfect flowers. We don’t feel sorry for leaving our SRL camera with all its objectives back home. It’s simply to heavy, but next time…… we will. Even though we think we did alright, but who are we to judge?

The section between Dwellingup and Collie is truly beautiful in its entire length. And quite challenging as well. The Track notes do warn you that the walk between Dookannelly and Possum Spings is one of the hardest of the entire Track, but the walk from Swamp Oak (one of our favorite huts, because of all the splendid blue wrens) to Murray is not easy either. By the time you hit the Murray River for the first time, you are happy to be at the hut. Wrong!! The hut is another 2 (!) hills (steep ones) further.

Talking about surprises. The Australian bush is full of it. Around Abyssinian Rock we saw an area in a valley with reddish colored leaves. Ok, we are from Europe, but we are aware that there are no native trees that shed their leaves, so what was the cause of that color? We opted for a spot with European trees that were about the shed their leaves. Let’s forget that it’s springtime, ok. It could be possible. By the time we were well in an area that recently got burned we looked up and saw the answer to our question: red (dehydrated) leaves.

When we arrived in Collie we almost went straight to the Hospital because Lennard’s feet were giving too much trouble to walk any further. The doctor gave me strickt advise not to walk for at least 5 days. That was a pretty big disappointment. With the cortico steroids cream applied to my feet, the inflammation dropped and we could finally start walking after 7 days rest. All the weight we lost in the first 3 weeks, we ate back very easily, because there was one great little café on the main street. We did a quick side step by bike on the Munda Biddi trail and decided that we would that if Lennard’s feet would give any further trouble. Luckily this wasn’t necessary.

Walking from Collie further south we started to look forward to the majestic karri forests, but when we were walking in that forest we got bored after a couple of days. The soap bush and water bush were simply creating a tunnel and with that it was sort of blocking the views completely. But it was only by walking in the karri forest that we started to really appreciate the jarrah forest with it’s openness and many many wildflowers.
Walking out of Permberton you get this unique opportunity to escape the underbrush and have a 360 degrees view over the karri trees: The Gloucester Tree. Daphne climbed that tree during her first travels to Oz. Lennard chickened out. He rather has his feet on the ground than high in the air.

The scenery south of Pemberton changes quite frequently from huge trees, plains with their granite domes, coastal views, back to jarrah and some picturesque towns. It was truly spectacular to walk through this remote area. Being a surfer, Lennard was increasingly eager to get to the wild Southern Ocean. The day we walked from Woolbales to Long Point every hilltop could show us the first glimpse of the ocean, but there were so many small hills and still no ocean! Instead we passed through some awesome Banksia forests with a flock of White tailed Black Cockatoos of about 25! As soon as we hit Mandalay Beach Lennard stripped down and dove straight into the surf. Daphne was trying to get a good shot of his white reflective bottom, but she was to far off, hahaha.

We were warned for the beach sections, but altogether we have been pretty fortunate. It rained quite a few days, making the sand firm. Daphne suffered a bit with her knee because of some loose sand sections, but all in all we enjoyed it big time. When we go to the beach in Holland, the water looks brown and the sand is grey. Down in Oz, the sand is golden white and the water is turquoise and we couldn’t keep our eyes away from it. Stunning! Sometimes we were almost not paying sufficient attention to the track and stepping on snakes and bumping into kangaroos. How jealous are we! They have Ocean view their entire life and we were not granted that much time by our bosses.

In Walpole we had made a big dinner with some lovely fellow hikers whom we met before on the track. It feels great to experience so much warmth and enthusiasm by other people and as far as you know in the beginning you only share 1 passion: walking! But soon you discover you share much more. It was the best dinner on the track, fresh veggies, great local wines and a delicious dessert. Not only was it the best dinner on the track, it was also the night we went to bed latest. And did we suffer for that the next morning. Walking from Walpole to Frankland is about 18 km, but by the time we arrived in the hut, it felt like we had just done 28. We were exhausted.
Walpole is about 750 km away from Kalamunda, so you might expect that by the time you get to Walpole you’re fit. That day (actually several days), we felt like we just started. We were having trouble keeping up with a dad and his 9 year old son, who were only walking from Walpole to Peaceful Bay, grrrr….

David, whom we had dinner with in Walpole, informed us that apart from Irwin Inlet all the other inlets (not counting Wilson Inlet) were blocked with a sandbar. Lennard had set his mind on crossing at least one inlet and if all the others were blocked, this meant, that Irwin Inlet was the one! David did cross it by foot as well and he is a head shorter than Lennard. It did mean though that we would miss the canoes and the showgrounds, but we would have crossed an inlet. It took 3 trials to find a place where Lennard was able to cross. Bare naked trying to cross that inlet is not the circumstance that you want to have an audience, but several cars came all the way from Peaceful Bay….oops. Anyway, 9 crossings later (for Lennard) all the stuff and Daphne (okay, she did cross herself) were on the other side. Did we (and still do) feel proud!
Due to DEC opening the sandbar at Torbay Inlet, we had another inlet to cross. But we had fun! That’s the main thing.

Walking the last weeks on the coast meant for us, walking from highlight to highlight, breaching whales, surfing dolphins, tingle trees, wildflowers all over the place, incredible vistas, but with an anti-climax: the wind farm. Admittedly, it’s definitely a scenic place (for a wind farm), but it does ruin the unspoiled vistas for a couple of days. Don’t take us wrong, it’s great that the farm delivers about 60% of Albany’s energy, but it’s not what we came to Australia for. Apart from that we have too many of them in Holland anyway (One Sunday walking in the centre part of Holland we counted 120+ windmills in a 360 degrees view).
One of the spots we really loved, were the Green’s pool at the eastern end of Mazzoletti beach. We found a secluded spot with shallow water and we just spend an hour enjoying the warm water and the hot sun before ascending the hill to William Bay hut.

We had a very emotional last evening in Hidden Valley, which we had to ourselves. It’s a weird sensation having your last evening on the track. Knowing that the next day the journey is about to end. Having spend the previous 9 weeks on the track, knowing exactly what to day each day, it feels like walking into a void. We can absolutely understand why some people turn around in Albany and walk back. On the other hand, we felt very pround and happy to have made it all the way to Albany. As a small but incredibly well timed and beautiful present from Hui, one of her creatures came surfing the waves when we were having a break at the windfarm. That gave us goose bumps, cool!
We were almost tempted to hitch hike into Albany, but no, we did it all the way to the tourist information according to the waugals. Even that annoying bit around the Amity. What good is that?

And then it’s over. And what do Dutch people do when they have nothing to do? They go cycling. Which we did the day after we finished: 70 km’s. What a rest day…..

Two days after we finished, Heidi and Gordon & Virginia finished. We went to the Southern Terminus to wave them in. Too bad Les and Maureen didn’t make it this time to Albany. However we spend some great days with them in Perth. That done, we felt like having completely finished the Track. We will be back, for sure!!

As Stepper before us wrote in the red book in Albany:   ‘ Be silent unless what you have to say is better than silence’

We have said too much, enjoy the silence, keep tracking!

Lennard and Daphne