Stephen Van Mierlo, Attadale, Perth
26 August 2014
My Bibbulmun Track Journey
Steve’s Bibbulmun Blob
This ‘Blob’ is dedicated to my daughter who taught me success is about self-belief and following your passion, my son who treats everyday as the 'best day ever' and finally to a dear supportive friend, my wife.
The ethos of my ‘Blob’ is not to gloat or be self-indulgent. My primary purpose is that hopefully my words create a smile, laugh, reflective thought, or maybe even inspire someone to seek enjoyment/fulfilment in a latent desired activity. This is not an exhaustive account, it’s just a small window into the observations, experiences and my thoughts that make up the journey.
What was I thinking? Hiking from Walpole to Albany, 210km! Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. We tend to be our own worst critics. However, wallowing in the raw honesty of my own reflective thought it's pretty obvious (and I suggest not just to me),I am an idiot!
It doesn’t feel like a mid-like crisis. Walking the Bibbulmun Track was about challenging myself and achieving something I’ve always wanted to do, while still reasonably fit, healthy and with a little spare time. It also is an ideal opportunity to provide support to a mate by fundraising for the Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital, all in the valued company of nature’s solitude. Besides for a bus fare and one night’s YHA accommodation, if it’s a mid-life crisis, it’s a very cheap one.
Life is often best interpreted through image. So if you can picture a short, chubby, balding middle aged man carrying an oversized fully laden backpack, looking like a cross between Quasimodo, Crocodile Dundee and a homeless person, that'll give you my look.
My scary thought as I’m hiking with full grey backpack along one of many deserted stretches of beach, is that of drowning. I’m worried an over-zealous whale watching environmentalist, dressed in full camouflage hemp clothipng, will jump out from behind a bush. With the best of intentions, he’ll push me over, try and look for a blow-hole and then force me out into the ocean. There’s a high probability I’ll be suffering from extreme exhaustion and exposure. So any communication from me will probably closely resemble the gasping sounds of a asphyxiated dwarf Minke whale.
To paraphrase the great Confucius, even the longest journey starts with just one step. So, oh well, here I go!
Stephen Van Mierlo
Day 1 (of 13) – Sunday 17th March Walpole to Frankland River Campsite (18.4km)
It's early morning, raining, wet, windy, I'm carrying an 18kg backpack and I've got 385,714 steps ahead of me…bring it on!
My first thought after my first hour on the trail is how picturesque it is being surrounded by an abundance of native flora and fauna. It's a magnificent feeling to look in every direction and not see an ounce of humanity; an overwhelming sense of freedom. It is nature quiet! Surrounded by bush, I can hear the faint roar of the wind and the waves. This contrasts with the constant city hum from busy city life, from which I also became oblivious after a while.
I took some time out to take a stroll through the Giant Tingle Tree forest . This spot is amazing, I literally walked through the bases of some of the trees. It should be called the Ancient Giant Tingle Tree forest. The tingle trees are around 400 years old, but the surrounding plant life are species that date back to prehistoric times (Jurassic period). With a good imagination you could easily visualise dinosaurs walking amongst these plants. So much wildlife around. I even had a couple of zebra finches follow me for about 300m. They were obviously pretty happy with the insects my hiking boots disturbed as I walked through the lush undergrowth.
First day, my feet are really sore. The Frankland Campsite is magnificent. It's elevated and decked, nestled about five metres from the Frankland River. The light coming from the trees as the sun slowly sets is truly majestic. A chorus of frogs are in full voice (supported by the gentle flow of the river), but all will go quiet after the sun sets.
It's so dark and quiet you can hear yourself think The realisation of being on my own, engulfed only by the raw beauty that is the Western Australian South West coastline, is totally invigorating. I feel a sense of guilt at my own self-indulgence. Just having all my worldly possessions strapped to my back, being responsible for only me, accountable to only me is absolutely liberating! I'm mindful I'll have to keep this spiritually addictive high, associated with solitude in check. This emotional habit will be hard to break at the end of my trek.
Day 2 (of 13) - Monday 18th March Frankland River to Giants Campsite (15.0km)
The forest after Frankland is even more lush and dense. The Track is so overgrown in parts, it's difficult to see the Track ahead. I feel as if I’m in one of those old nature movies/documentaries, on expedition hacking through the forest, looking for the lost tribe of whoever. On three occasions I had to climb over a fallen log that blocked the path. These trees were easily 200 - 300 years old, and really hard to get over when you're tired and weighed down.
Came across the famous Walpole Treetop Walk at the 12km mark. I love the Treetop Walk. Took a break to enjoy the facility. The view is always spectacular and inspiring. You feel like you're on top of the world, looking down on all the old tingle, karri and jarrah trees. The tingle trees are amazing. They for about 400 years and then slowly die. They have adapted over millions of years of evolution to be resilient to bush fires. Many of the bases of these very old trees have been burnt out. However they still thrive, because the surrounding bark carries sufficient nutrients for the tree to survive. Sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
There's lots of wildlife that you don't get to see, it seems every five to ten metres you'll hear something rustling in the bush near the Track.
I was having a drink with a local at the Walpole pub on the Saturday before I started the hike. His passing comment was, "the snakes are like mozzies this year, they're everywhere." Not good! Another little known fact, I found out very recently was that the indigenous word Nornalup, as in Walpole - Nornalup National Park, means valley of tiger snake. Not good x10! I've seen eight snakes in two days.
Can't see my clothes drying out at the campsite. No rain, but everything is so damp from the moisture in the air.
Day 3 (of 13) – Tuesday 19th March Giants to Rame Head Campsite (17.4km)
Yeeeow! (FYI - Not the actual expletive I used). Bad day, rolled my right ankle about one kilometre from the Rame Head Campsite. The culprits were extreme fatigue (just finished climbing 150m hill) and a four second distraction (reading the map), immediately followed by stepping on a loose round rock, half the size of my heel. I felt swelling in my ankle so I tighten the lace on my boot, rested for 10 mins and then took over an hour to hobble to the campsite. Planning to elevate my foot and, and wrap it in an aluminium water bottle to see if that brings down the pain/swelling. The great thing about having an intense hurt in my ankle is that it takes my mind off the immense pain coming from my feet
There was a distinct change in environment coming from the hills; lush forest to the ocean. The diversity in landscape between the two environs was like landing on another planet.
A small stretch of today's hike went along Conspicuous Beach. Carrying the backpack and walking on the soft sand is really, really tough. However the views are absolutely worth every effort and more. There's a tranquil stream of fresh artesian water cascading from the base of the hill, directly into the adjoining ocean. It is quite spectacular seeing the fresh water taking on the raw power of the Indian Ocean. The beach was pristine and completely deserted. I felt privileged that nature allowed me to be in her company. Still on the lookout for rouge environmentalists though!
Put your hand up if you're afraid of spiders. I'm not, but I respect their place in our environment. At the end of every day I'm covered in 'spider food', basically the little delicacies that the spider leaves in the web. Most spiders are hiding away during the day, but occasionally you'll come face to face with one (the webs are mostly at chest to head height). Some of the spiders are huge. Saw the biggest huntsman spider ever, sleeping under the roof of the campsite. Toe to toe it was 25cm…no wonder there weren't many mozzies
I hope my ankle holds out otherwise, the trip's finished before it got going :p
Day 4 (of 13) – Wednesday 20th March Rame Head to Peaceful Bay (11.8km)
Many people walk the Bibbulmun Track as a sense of adventure and/or personal challenge. I've finally figured I'm walking it to accelerate my insanity!
Cold shaved my ankle, strapped up it with sports tape and took two Panadol. Luckily it's only a relatively short trek today.
One of the things that has impressed me most about the Walpole to Denmark component of the Bibbulmun journey is how diverse the environment is every day. Hand on heart, each day presents a completely different natural environment, and today's journey is no exception.
There are lots of views and you can see for miles. At one stage while hiking on a 150m hill, I had a 360o view of the magnificent bushland and imposing ocean. I stood on the hill with the strong SW wind doing its best to force me over. I removed my cap and sunglasses otherwise they would have easily been swept up and swallowed by the dense valley below. The unfortunate thing about many of these vistas is that it's impossible to capture them on camera. As in this case—the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts. There was the extremely rugged coastline with its sweeping white sand dunes and beaches (couldn't see a speck of humanity). This was immediately followed by thick low lying bush, then by the remnants of the Giants forest that I'd walked through days earlier. It was like looking at the map of middle earth on the inside cover of The Lord of the Rings. I was actually looking down at a kite hovering in the gusty winds, seeking its next meal.
Today was the first day I came across fox tracks. The tracks are easily identifiable in the soft sand as you hike along. I don't think there's a shortage of wildlife to prey on, it seems that every five to ten metres I'm still hearing the rustle of bushes just off the Track.
One of the strangest things that confronted me when I was hiking along the Track early this morning was a swarm (not sure of the collective noun) of dragonflies 'herding' some midges. It was amazing and bizarre seeing about ten dragonflies making what seemed to be a coordinated attack on a group on midges.
Looking forward to getting into Peaceful Bay. Life's simple pleasures—hot shower, shave and a hot meal—plus a decent 'normal' dunny helps as well!
Day 5 (of 13) – Thursday 21st March Peaceful Bay to Boat Harbour Campsite (23km)
Never underestimate the power of local knowledge, compared to expert guidance. (Editor: See note below)
Yesterday evening got into a humorous exchange with a couple of old long time locals having a beer at the caravan park. Their laughs were mainly at my expense, (but don’t worry, even though I was out-numbered, out-gunned, burdened by the weight of chronic fatigue and a long way from home, I still gave back as good as I got). After sharing a beer, they advised me not to do the regular Bibbulmun Track walk to Boat Harbour. Apparently it had been burnt out and wasn’t that attractive at the moment. The guys indicated the sand bar had come in two days ago and suggested an alternative trek. I consulted the map later and confirmed their suggestion would save me 6km and be more scenic, a big double bonus. With all my prior research consulting previous hikers, the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, guidebooks and the Internet, no one had suggested that alternative trek.
(Editor's note: The reason for there being no mention of this 'alternative trek' is because it is not part of the Bibbulmun Track. From Peaceful Bay, walkers should follow the marked Track to the point where they cross the Irwin Inlet by canoe and then continue until they reach the coast again at Quarram Beach. Taking Steve's route is simply taking one of many possible off-Track short cuts along the way. If someone attempting an end-to-end walk takes this route they would not qualify as bona-fide end-to-ender. It should also be noted that by taking this short cut, walkers miss out on the fascinating and biodiverse 'Showgrounds' that form the Quarram Nature Reserve)
The day looked great, especially after ‘borrowing’ two Voltaren from the park owner and taping up my ankle. Beautiful weather, long majestic beaches and the prospect of six less kilometres to complete.
Walking along the beach I soon picked up the Bibbulmun Track again and was two hours ahead of schedule.
The beach was absolutely amazing. It went on forever. I came across several interesting items that had been savagely beaten up against the rocks, by the constant powerful tidal swell that is the Southwest coastline, the most bizarre of which being a fully intact sea container door.
Then I got lost! Critical point – do I go on?
After getting back on the Track I came across Middle Quarram Beach at around 12noon. I walked down a gravel 4WD track onto the beach and looked for the Bibbulmun Track sign, but nothing’s showing. Consulted the map, but at 1:50,000 scale, at best it shows me the inland entrance to the track is about halfway along the beach. Look for the tell-tale signs of Bibbulmun Track hikers from the other direction, but they had long since been wind-swept away. I referred to the guidebook, which stated as you get on the beach, look for a natural gap, walk through and you’ll see a sand blow out, with big dunes to the North. Then walk over a 4WD track. There were five natural gaps, the biggest being located halfway along the beach. Walked through, identified a sand blowout and stood on the spot looking at a huge expanse of sand dunes to the North. Walked to the end of those and observed a 4WD track at the back about 30m below; unfortunately I still hadn’t seen any Bibbulmun Track signs. I decided to walk back to the beach, just to make sure. Walked a little up and down the beach with no sign apparent. Decided to walk back to the dunes and down onto the 4WD. Basically I was going to hike along until I came across a Bibbulmun sign. Turned right at the bottom and after 30 mins, realised probably should’ve turned left, rather than right. Went back to my original 4WD track entry point at the base of the dune and headed left. That journey took me a total of two hours and got me to the original gravel entry point onto Middle Quarram Beach.
I was standing on top of a cliff and had a phone signal. I phoned the Bibbulmun Foundation.
Their suggestion was to go to the top of one of the dunes and see if I could see the Track, while they phoned DEC (Ed: Now DPaW) Walpole and got them to call me. I’d just walked for six hours and the thought of climbing a 40m dune was a bit daunting. After crawling to the top of one of the highest dunes I could see the Track going up the side of a hill in the far distance, however, no real clues of how to get there. When I got back down from the dune, DEC Walpole phoned, but the DEC Walpole representative had no knowledge of that section of the Bibbulmun Track.
Basically, all these individuals had done was to chew up time and energy, with no positive input. It was now 2:45pm and I was no closer to finding the beach entrance point to the Bibbulmun Track. I decided to walk and look around at the other four natural gaps at the end of the beach, even though they didn’t appear to be the entrance point on the map. No luck with my search there. I was feeling really, really despondent and started walking back to the original natural gap about half way along. It was now 3:15pm and I was going to call DEC Walpole and request that they come and get me. I stopped to have a drink and as I’m drinking from my canteen, I’m looking back at the beaches extensive sand dunes…
…there in front of me, about 40m away, between two bushes, was a faded, old Bibbulmun Track pole poking about 20cm out of the ground. I was absolutely elated, but then it dawned on me that I had 7.1km left to get to the Boat Harbour Campsite, through mobile and regular sand dunes, up hills and along some pretty rough terrain…and it was 3:20pm.
Around 4:50pm as I’m hiking along a limestone cliff on top off a hill, got a call on my mobile.
Anton (11 year old son): “Hi Dad, it’s Anton, how are you going?”
Me: “Daddy’s struggling a bit Anton.”
The last kilometre of that days hike seemed to take forever; I crawled into the campsite around 5:25pm, totally exhausted. I dropped my backpack, undid my shoes, took a quick drink of water and then fell fast asleep for about two hours. The irony is that at the beginning of the day I set out to walk the shortened 18km route and ended up doing around 34km, 10km more than the original trek.
(Editor: Although very much sympathising with Steve over his experience it should be pointed out that the guidebook he was using was produced by CALM in 2004, and the nature of the terrain along the beach has changed considerably during the ensuing nine years. New, more detailed and more accurate guidebooks have now been produced by the BTF which will be amended much more frequently. In addition, updates to the guidebooks will be posted at www.bibbulmuntrack.org.au/shop/guidebook-updates/.)
Day 6 (of 13) –Friday 22nd March Boat Harbour Campsite to William Bay Campsite (20.4km)
Today I finally figured out what it feels like to be a mountain goat, the only exception being that they don’t have to carry backpacks.
Today there just seemed to be an endless arduous procession of hills and valleys. Just when I thought I hiked my last hill for the day, another one appeared. When you get to the base of a valley, the hills look daunting. The bush and the soft sand are unforgiving. It’s not fun in any way, but the task and challenge are highly enjoyable. The highest of today’s hills was aptly named Hillier Spot around 150m above sea level…mainly ascended through soft sand. The amazing thing is, around every corner I’m presented with a uniquely distinctive postcard view, each worth a million plus dollars in Perth money.
The contrast in environments as I hiked along was fantastic—the strong south westerly winds playing their role exquisitely, the tumultuous waves crashing into the rugged rocks along this vast coastline and the constant swaying of the tortured tree tops in the forest below.
Eventually my days journey took me along a long stretch of Mazzoletti Beach. It has been the sunniest of days, so I’m definitely churning through my water supplies. I reached the Parry Beach Caravan Park around 12:30pm. I thought I take the opportunity to replenish my water, before taking on the long and arduous beach component. I approached the Caretakers house, situated I might point out, in about the best location in Australia, approximately 150m from the shoreline. It was at that moment, I met the person with the best job in Australia, the Parry Beach Caravan Park caretaker. This lovely guy was fast asleep on the porch bed, out the front of the cottage. The couch had accommodated many, many hours of sleeping. I asked him if I could purchase any supplies (i.e. sandwiches for a decent lunch), and he looked at me as if I’d asked him for this week’s winning lotto numbers. His comment was “oh, we don’t sell anything around here.” I’m thinking from my brief observation, the caretaker role at the Parry Beach Caravan Park involves sleeping, fishing, sleeping, drinking, sleeping, eating, sleeping, , etc. I replenished my water from the rain water tank and kept on going.
All the beaches on this part of the journey are long, majestic, virtually uninhabited, with an endless supply of white sand, rolling dunes and crystal blue waves cascading along the shoreline as far as the eye can see. However, there had been significant storm damage to the natural environment. The Track was diverted further along the beach, past Green’s Pool. Green’s Pool is arguably the best little swimming place that nature could provide. It’s highly protected from all of nature’s hostility, because the little beach is surrounded by huge granite rocks. The rocks suppress all the swell, so the sand is firm and the water tranquil. I knew the last kilometre of my day’s trek would be tough, so I took off my hiking boots and waded for about 500m through the cold, placid and beautifully tranquil water. The feeling on my feet was sheer pleasure. I began the ascent up the soft sand hill to get to the William Bay Campsite. By any measure that gradient is a killer, especially when you have to complete it at the end of your journey.
Day 7 (of 13) – Saturday 23rd March William Bay Campsite to Denmark (20.0km)
Touching civilisation today— Denmark. Sorry, but Peaceful Bay Caravan Park doesn’t count.
One of the greatest things about working in a large organisation like the Australian Taxation Office is the wonderful people one gets to work and forge friendships with. There have been several people that provided me with invaluable assistance in my preparation for this trek. Sincere thanks goes to Natalie Spooner, who had been absolutely fantastic. She is the font of all hiking knowledge. She has a wealth of experience and gave me generous amounts of her time to review and critique my plans. Thanks also goes to Sheryl Foot who gave me probably the best bit of concise and profound advice, based on her extensive hiking experience. “Whatever you do Steve, spend the money on a good pair of hiking boots", followed immediately by another insightful comment “make sure you wear gaiters, they’re great for protection against snakes and low lying bushes.” (That bit of info paid for itself on my first day). Much appreciated Sheryl, hindsight is much better when you get it before the event!
Finally, special thanks goes to Stephen and Marilyn St Clair. Stephen and Marilyn have long since retired down to an idyllic little place called Kronkup, located equidistantly between Denmark and Albany. Stephen has been a constant source of reconnaissance and local on-the-ground intelligence. On numerous occasions I’d have questions about suggested alternative routes or current conditions and Stephen would go out of his way to provide accurate current information with supporting pictures. One of the reasons I’ve cut today’s hike slightly is because I want to catch up with Stephen and Marilyn to shout them some lunch. Their suggested venue is a local micro-brewery, which apparently serves the best homemade gourmet pizzas, matched with its own distinctive selection of cold beer. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that based on my culinary journey over the last seven days this will be the most magnificent meal ever. The beer will be consumed purely for medicinal purposes. Hand on heart here, today I wasn’t really focused on taking in the environment and all it had to offer, it was all about beer and pizzas and catching up with Stephen and Marilyn!
One of the things that tends to happen with an extensive solo walk through mother nature, is the Dr. Dolittle effect. You occasionally come very close to a range of animals and strike up conversations. That doesn’t mean these inquisitive animals understand you, but you have the conversation anyway—it’s a little like talking to teenagers. One good example for me of the Dr Dolittle effect was Big Red. Big Red was a mate I bumped into today. He is a large alpha, red kangaroo standing about 175cm tall.
(Editor: A northern red on the south coast? Long way from home! Almost certainly a grey with a suntan!)
His shoulders and neck looked like those of a rugby players. When I encountered him, he was standing in the middle of the Track, obstructing my progress. Most animals usually move away before you’ve even had a chance to engage them, however, it was obvious Big Red wasn’t interested in moving, because I was in his territory. He just stood there and looked directly at me, with his shoulders pulled forward and elbows out. He stood firm and I found myself negotiating access rights with him:
Steve: “Look Big Red, I know this is your path, but all I want to do is get past, with no trouble. Is that OK?”
Big Red: No reply, stoned silence, looking straight at me. His ears twitch forward, acknowledging that he heard my request.
Steve: “I understand this is your patch, I’ll just sneak past and I promise there will be no trouble and you’ll never have to worry about me again.”
Understanding Kangaroo has never been one of my strengths, however, eventually I did see the faint signs of acquiescence on his behalf, so I proceeded very, very slowly and cautiously. I got within 1.5m and during the whole proceeding our eyes were constantly fixed on one another. The whole episode lasted about four minutes and was the strangest engagement I’ve ever had with an animal. I could still feel his eyes burning in the back of my head as I walked away.
Day 8 (of 13) – Sunday 24th March Ocean Beach Holiday Park to Nullaki Campsite (14.2km)
Fully revitalised, clean clothes, replenished food stocks, two hot water showers and a glorious sleep. Even managed to watch the Dockers taking on the Eagles on the holiday park community room telly.
I started the day with a spring in my step, really keen to get to the Nullaki nature reserve nestled on the Nullaki peninsula. There’s a small nature reserve 500m down the road from the holiday park, you can access via a platoon bridge. From here you can walk out onto the expanse of the Wilson inlet. The tide was out on this estuary and the sandbar closed. You literally walk on water to get across to the other side. The Nullaki peninsular is a nature reserve abundant with a diverse range of wildlife. Walking on the sandbar affords you a proximity to about 20 different bird species. There was a flotilla of 50 pelicans (not sure of the collective noun) approximately 15m from my closest point as I approached the edge of the peninsula. A couple of pelicans had a cursory glance in my direction, but their noisy conversations were far to engrossing to be disturbed by me. I don’t know much about different birds and bird behaviour, but all the different birds species seems to be preoccupied with doing different things.
The pelicans are gathered tightly and gas bagging. It’s a little like you’d expect to see in a school yard. A group of teenagers looking over their shoulder, talking in muffled voices about the injustices of the world specifically targeted at them. As I approach a jetty there are a group of shags, each one occupying a pylon of the jetty. It’s obviously prized real estate on top of the pylon. The shags on top look down on the rest of the population, like royalty observing their subjects. There’s a squadron of ducks meandering their way through the shallow water and reeds of the inlet. The duck formation was so tight it would embarrass an Olympic synchronised swimming team. The abundance of food in the mushy ground focused the gorging snipes on the frenzied insect population. They didn’t even notice a little eagle hovering overhead a short distance away, looking for its next meal.
I made it to the other side. The muddy, marshy ground at the start of the Nullaki peninsula was very heavy under foot. I had a significant walk just to make it to the start of the Bibbulmun Track. If I stood in one spot, I could feel my feet sink into the ground, assisted by the 18kg burden strapped to my back. Best to keep moving forward. The track wasn’t at all defined in this part of my journey. It was obvious that this part of the Track hadn’t been negotiated for a significant amount of time. I specifically wanted to do it this way to maintain the integrity of the hike. Many people use the boat to cross the inlet (not often available), or catch a taxi right around to the other side and start the Track further along.
I decided to walk slightly more inland in the Nullaki peninsula, because of the condition of the track and also to get a better look at the wildlife in the reserve. Within minutes of walking I was startled by a kite (Australian raptor), flying low along a gravel track carrying its recently acquired prey. It was so close going past me I could see the lifeless body of the little field mouse secured within the clenched talons of this magnificent bird of prey. I was only 1.5 hours into my day’s journey and I already felt I had enough material to write a script for a David Attenborough documentary.
(Editor: Before deciding upon which route to take between Denmark and the Nullaki Campsite walkers should consult the Bibbulmun Track Guidebook #8 pp 22-23 or refer to the BTF website at:
I eventually made my way back to the Bibbulmun Track at the water’s edge. The Track was overgrown in many parts with the reed and swamp grass regularly reaching hip height. On many occasions I had to take a second look to ensure I was still on the Track. Every now and then I’d come across a Bibbulmun sign post, which was reassuring to say the least. Walked through about 50 spider webs and hate to think how many snakes were in the tall grass. I consoled myself to the fact that any snakes around here would be lazy and slow to move, based on the abundance of live food within a very short striking distance. I think my hiking boots and gaiters paid for themselves on this part of the Track. Still everywhere I look it’s a nature postcard.
I’ve got a New Zealand mate that lives in Young's Siding, 15kms east of Nullaki wildlife reserve. I’ll give him a call when I get close to the Nullaki Campsite. After having a hot shower the night before, grabbing a warm bed tonight night would be shear indulgence
Day 9 (of 13) – Monday 25th March Nullaki Campsite to West Cape Howe Campsite (17.0km)
I did feel a bit guilty staying at my mates place last night. He lives about one kilometre from the Nullaki Campsite in what could best be described as the beautiful peaceful little town of Young's Siding in a pretty and tranquil homestead nestled amongst his own magical forest on a 35 acre block. I slept the sleep of a thousand nights! I was fully recharged after a great country breakfast in the morning and then started with vigour, hiking towards the next campsite. The pains and issues of a few days ago were long distant memories. I almost felt that same sense of invincibility you have as a teenager. Not even the fully laden backpack and drizzly rain seemed to pose any sort of encumbrance to my enthusiasm for today’s journey.
Hiking through the drizzly rain does have some advantages. Firstly, there’s no chance of overheating. Secondly, often the rain makes the inconspicuous flora and fauna of nature’s spectacle easier to see. One such event was a spider colony covering about two square metres amongst some low lying bushes. On closer inspection there were approximately 15 spiders working together as a collective, much the same as a colony of ants and all under the protective canopy of a finely woven web. Normally it would be hard to spot by the casual observation of a passing hiker, however the fine droplets of rain had collected on the web. The morning sun glistened off these droplets like the Christmas lights in front of a house.
As coincidence would have it, I reached a natural picnic spot around 12:30, so I saw this as a sign to stop, replenish my energy supplies and enjoy the environment. It was a little limestone ledge, perfect sitting height perched high on a hill with a 360o view. As I was savouring my well-earned lunch, an extremely noisy flock of approximately 100 black cockatoos decided to upset my luncheon tranquillity and position themselves in a series of bushes 20 metres from me. These intimidating birds were there for the long haul. However with all the commotion, they did provide me with one significant bit of vital intelligence. When these birds are around making a noise, significant rain isn’t far away. I had approximately eight kilometres left to get to the West Cape Howe Campsite, and I wanted to make sure I was going to beat any rain predicted by my black feathery weather forecasters.
The coastline was tumultuous as ever. The winds were on the increase and their effect on the powerful ocean, smashing against the rocks, was breathtaking. The crashing waves catapulted white foam and spray virtually to the height of the 100 metre cliff face. It’s no wonder so many ships through the centuries succumbed to this often violent coastline. I was hiking along a hilltop when I received an SMS from Steve St Clair. He advised me that bad weather was forecast and suggested he pick me up somewhere so I could stay over his place overnight. His local weather knowledge had me concerned, however I graciously declined his kind and considerate offer.
The campsite is positioned magnificently, perched high on the east side of the highest hill in the West Cape Howe National Park. The view was absolutely amazing. When I first spotted the West Cape Howe Campsite, there was an entourage of three kangaroos waiting to greet me, but immediately after they spotted me they left to entertain themselves elsewhere. Whenever you’re spending significant time on your own any greeting’s always appreciated. I dropped my stuff at the campsite and walked over to a bench and table set up 20 metres away at the highest point in that location— best coffee spot on the planet! I immediately got out the necessary stuff and brewed myself a fresh coffee. There’s something fundamentally right about life, having cold hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee, sitting back and enjoying the scenery. I felt like that Marlboro cigarette ad guy sitting alone on top of a mountain—except no cigarette! I was enjoying the moment so much I decided to phone a friend at work. I had a two- bar mobile signal sitting at the bench high on the hill. My mobile conversation went from sheer envious indulgence, to total apprehension, the reason being the huge banks of black clouds, that looked hauntingly like gigantic clenched fists, appearing from the west. I had the perfect vantage point to see this storm. There was air of inevitability for the powerful impact of this charging of wall of weather. I terminated the conversation and headed down to the campsite.
The night was horrible, terrible, disgusting, violent, ugly, revolting, distressing—I think you get my drift.
I spoke to Julie about 8am when the intense rain and extreme wind conditions finally started to dissipate. She informed me the area had received approximately 50mm rain during the night, accompanied by winds gusting up to 100kph. I had no sleep and everything was either wet or extremely damp. I didn’t bother with breakfast and just headed off at first chance. I was wet, hungry, fatigued, arguably the worst start to a day of my hike so far.
Day 10 (of 13) – Tuesday 26th March West Cape Howe Campsite to Torbay Campsite (16.5Kms)
In life you often find forward momentum becomes more achievable when you identify a personal goal and move towards it. This journey for me has been setting a series of identified personal goals and then trying to attain them. Individual determination is one of life intangibles, almost impossible to measure. There were times, feeling physically and emotionally broken, I’ve literally said to myself “Come on Steve, just one foot in front of the other."Other times, I’d see a landmark in the distance and then head towards it. It made many of the Bibbulmun Track's difficult increments achievable. There are lots and lots of hills and valleys to transverse in today’s journey.
I made today’s goal not the Torbay campsite, but more importantly catching up with Steve and Marilyn St Clair’s Kronkup homestead, only two kilometres from the Torbay Campsite. Rather than continuing on the Track I was going to make a slight detour and catch up with them in their post Tax Office utopic retirement lifestyle. The journey to Torbay was very picturesque. Hard to imagine, but this is one of the most scenic parts of my coastal journey. Steve and Marilyn rented in the area for a year before they purchased a property. Looking at the expansive beauty of this coastline they have been rewarded for their patience and research.
My journey took me onto Shelley Beach Road. The road leads to a cliff, which has become the region’s hand gliding hotspot. At the cliff edge there are two wooden ramps, one facing west, the other east. Experience is vital, because these two ramps are elevated 150 metres about sea level. With winds gusting up the cliff face, one simply jumps off the ramp, holding on an ultra-light flimsy aluminium frame, held together by a bit of sail cloth. And some people say walking the Bibbulmun Track is insane! Steve and Marilyn took me on a quick tour of the immediate area. We finished up at the Shelley Beach camping area. This is a truly idyllic spot, protected from the previous night’s violent conditions by the embrace of the adjoining cliffs and hills. It’s a little patch of green, a BBQ area and camping for about five tents. The private and picturesque beach is about 30 metres away. I couldn’t imagine a better fishing and camping getaway spot, although in peak holiday season it would probably resemble a refugee camp.
After our quick tour, Marilyn dropped off us at the end of Shelley Beach Road and Steve and I hiked three kilometres to their homestead. Along the way Steve gave me a personal hiking talk/tour of the local environs. Listening to Steve was like listening to a cross between David Attenborough documentary and a proud dad talking about his kids. It was obvious he had hiked and enjoyed this area many times. He knew every crevice of the area and animal species we encountered on our way. To say their home is magnificent would be an understatement. It was obvious they have both put an extensive amount of planning, preparation and work into creating such a beautiful environment.
The north facing house has a huge expanse of a window in the main family/activity area. Viewing from there at the light and shadows covering the northern landscapes was something to behold and straight out of a classic Heidelberg school McCubbin painting. Sitting back drinking red wine and eating vintage cheese was so enjoyable and so very far removed from my current ten day journey. If heaven was a tangible destination, I was definitely now standing at its gate! Steve had weaved magic on his Kubota tractor and majestically and meticulously landscaped this five acre lot. Jokingly, I mentioned to Steve that I had contacted the Albany Tourist Bureau and given their accommodation a six star rating. I think if they ever decided to open it up as a B&B there would be a two-year waiting list.
Day 11 (of 13) – Wednesday 27th March Torbay Campsite to Mutton Bird Campsite (12.4km)
Every day is a battle of survival. Apologies for any misrepresentation here, but I actually wasn’t referring to my hike. I’m talking about the daily survival associated with ridicule and humility from loved ones. Recently in Julie’s and my regular SMS communications, I started seeing an acronym reference BB. I didn’t say anything at first, but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I ask Julie what BB meant in her electronic transcripts. Julie’s response was “Bibbulmun Baggins”. She thought that might be a good sign-off name—unfortunately I had to agree.
It didn’t take long to get back onto the Bibbulmun Track after leaving Steve and Marilyn’s home in the morning. Even though today’s trek is one of the shorter trips I was going to make the most of it anyway. The terrain would be picturesque and unforgiving, like all the other days. I know I’m finally starting to get closer to Albany, because I can see the big electricity generating windmills on the distant horizon. They were imposing structures from 25kms away, so walking underneath them tomorrow will be both intimidating and amazing.
I’m hiking today to Mutton Bird campsite. It’s call Mutton Bird campsite, because of its proximity to Mutton Bird beach. The beach got its name from adjoining island the locals call Mutton Bird Island. I was expecting to walk through the middle of a bird nature sanctuary, immersed in a chaotic abundance of Mutton Birds, but over the three kilometres of hiking through really soft sand on this beautiful beach, not one bird! I was tempted to pretend to open a pack of chips, in the hope of attracting at least a seagull! Mutton Bird Island is officially called Shelter Island, which makes sense given the sheltering effect it provides the surrounding coastline. Shelter Campsite would’ve worked as a name as well.
This was the first night I camped with a fellow hiker (nicknamed Dog). Early in our conversation Dog mentioned he had completed the full Bibbulmun track five times. This immediately made me deeply concerned for my personal safety. It is my considered opinion that any person undertaking the full Bibbulmun Track more than once, is either a serial killer, homeless, wanted by the police and/or is being chased by the crime underworld. Any or all of these options were not favourable to me. All of my fears were quelled on further conversation. Dog was younger than me and had a soft and gentle disposition. He was very much the loner and extremely intelligent, especially about all things natural. Some of his Track observations and comments were insightful. He was probably the most, calm and down to earth person I’ve ever met. After just 30 minutes talking, his wealth of experience gave me great ideas to improve the outcome of my hiking journey. My only disappointment was I wished I’d met him at Frankland Campsite. He had taken a break for over a year, but was now trying to get his hike fitness back by doing Albany to Denmark. He was from Denmark, and heading back home. He slept on a mat, food rations were significantly less than mine. His full hiking backpack weight was 11kg. He also encouraged me to walk with hiking sticks. I thought the sticks would be a hindrance, but after further consultation with Dog, I realised the sticks would’ve made my journey considerably less arduous.
Day 12 (of 13) – Thursday 28th March Mutton Bird campsite to Sandpatch campsite (12.1km)
I had long since harboured the thought on my journey that the distances on the maps and guide book were inaccurate. Unfortunately I had never really been able to access surveyed landmarks along the track to test my hypothesis accurately. Many a day’s end I’d only have approximately one kilometre left according to the map to get too the campsite. Only to find that I’d be saying to myself “it’s just over the next hill” on numerous occasions before I actually reached the destination. It was a nagging annoyance that wouldn’t go away, much like a minute splinter that you can’t dislodge.
(Editor: Quite true with regard to the old guidebooks. However the distances recorded in the new guidebooks–2014 edition–are very accurate).
Today I reached an amazing eco-friendly wooden boardwalk that had been cut into natural environment and etched into side of cliffs, stretching for about two kilometres. The boardwalk is located at the end of Sand Patch Road. I hate to think how many man-hours went into creating this scenic diversion. It’s a labyrinth of wooden walkways designed to give the keen eco-tourist easy access to all that nature can display, without putting pressure on the delicate ecological balance just beyond. Hiking these distances you get use to transversing rough rocky outcrops, soft undulating beachfronts and overgrown bushy tracks. So hiking along a beautifully scenic and well-constructed wooden boardwalk was the equivalent of hiking heaven. All of a sudden you spend more time looking at the environment, then where you’re looking at your next step.
There are 18 absolutely massive wind power turbines you pass on today’s journey. The height from the base to the top of the propeller’s arc is about 100 metres. I read somewhere these 18 turbines cover 80% of Albany’s annual electrical energy requirements. The turbines are so large the Department of Environment and Conservation had to divert the Bibbulmun Track. Hikers at the old campsite couldn’t sleep from the accumulated whooshing noise from these gigantic windmills,
Day 13 (of 13) – Friday 29th March Sandpatch Campsite to Albany (12.5km)
Last day, sad in a way, but you bloody beauty!
My trek was not about self-discovery. I’m 48 years old and would consider myself highly self-aware. Truth be known, the stuff I don’t know about myself, I don’t want to know about myself. The journey was for personal challenge. I was trying to take myself to new boundaries. It also provided a fantastic opportunity to revisit personal values. The 18kg backpack literally contained all that I needed to survive. If an item wasn’t used three times during a day and had multiple applications, I didn’t carry it! In other words, I revisited what I needed to survive emotionally and physically. Food, water, health were my life’s vitals. Without those all others seem obsolete. Contact with family and friends provided motivation, focus and often pleasant distraction. In times of extreme stress this was critical to me moving forward and wanting to continue the journey.
On my journey into town, I encountered several hikers heading out. My first thought (knowing what I knew), was how many would make it through. They all looked positive, motivated and still with that glint of enthusiasm in their eyes. This last 12.5km goes through the height of Torndirrup National Park. I got my first real glimpse of Princess Royal Harbour and the town of Albany in the background. Mount Melville dominates the skyline of the town, watching over the local inhabitants like a concerned parent attentive to the activities of an active child. It was a surreal experience, realising that the hike was going to be coming to an end today. Seeing the town made that outcome tangible. I was elated, but still grounded with the knowledge of the final distance that lay ahead. I’ve always loved the town of Albany. It was one of my original considering factors to completing this part of the Bibbulmun Track.
By Australian standards, Albany is steeped in colonial history. It was the last Australian mainland town that the Diggers departed from on their way to Gallipoli in 1914. One of the first ANZAC day celebrations were conducted in Albany, which continues to be an extremely significant and relevant event for everyone in this region. It was officially settled in 1832. In the early 1800’s the French had shown significant interest in this southwest region. The English realising this decided to send ships from the east coast to negate any advancement of French colonisation in Australia. The Albany natural harbour, gave a good secure port for the British to send ships and imports. The Albany whaling station was the last active whaling station in Australia. Due to the increasing pressure from anti-whaling activist and the general community, it was closed in the late 1970’s. The Whaling station provided a substantial source of income to the Albany population for over 120 years.
The final stages of the Bibbulmun Track hike takes me through a meandering journey of the old historic part of Albany. The houses range from limestone quaint terrace cottages to huge two storey mansions, all dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria and the height of the British Empire. These Victorian houses would’ve all been made with the generous assistance of convict labour. The local limestone and jarrah are the dominant common construction products permeating through every historical property. The architecture all have that distinctive reserved regality associated with the Victorian period. Limestone in its basic form is one of the most porous of materials, but used in construction it never dates and looks everlasting.
I walked past the Albany Historical Museum and then the full scale replica of the Amity. Reading of the brass plaque, the Amity was one of the first ships to transport settlers to the WA region. In fact the first compliment of 46 military personnel and convicts arrived in Fredericktown (Albany’s original settlement name) on Christmas day 1826. Only about 650 metres left to the final spot in the Bibbulmun Track—the Southern Terminus adjacent to the Albany Tourist Bureau. It’s Good Friday and like all picturesque country towns on long weekends, city people flood in while the locals are looking for safe places to hide. The place is abuzz with non-locals. I walked past the newly build extremely impressive Entertainment Centre, surrounded by numerous sculptures being swarmed over by passionate art enthusiasts. The local artists have obviously been prolific in providing quality exhibits for this annual art event. It’s Albany’s version of Cottesloe’s Sculptures by the Sea exhibition.
Finally I’m at the end. Slight anti-climax, I walk into the centre to record my name in the Albany Bibbulmun Track log book. The centre was bustling with young families, honeymoon couples, foreign visitors and every other tourist stereotype. My sweat-ridden, dirty, tired, fully laden and broken body must have looked disgustingly out of place amongst this flock of happy tourists. I didn’t care, because I was overjoyed at the sense of achievement in reaching this final destination. Hand on heart, there were times I believed I didn’t have enough energy to take one more step. There were times I believed I wouldn’t be able to complete the journey. There were times I was really worried for my safety. There were times I really doubted myself. There were times I rediscovered my basic needs essential to life’s journey. And now coming to this final destination point, I easily identified the most important overwhelming feeling consuming my entire thoughts—seeing my family again.
I would personally like to thank Julie, Alanna and Anton because they are my motivation for moving forward in life. And especially like to thank you, all my friends that supported me along the way—you always make my life’s journey happier and more fulfilled.
Thank you and God bless.
Kindest regards, Steve.