WALKABOUT 3: Yanchep National Park

Just 50 km north of Perth is the 28sq km Yanchep National Park, one of nearly 300 Bush Forever sites, an initiative in WA to protect and preserve important landscapes. Important due to the loss of much of the natural environment of the Swan Coastal Plain to urbanisation and agriculture.

A wonderful mix of sedate lawns and “heritage” buildings from its days as a resort from the 1930’s, to wilderness of kwongan heath, towering forests of Tuart and Jarrah, lush wetland vegetation and species rich Banksia woodland.

We headed up there to camp out in the jeep and tackle a couple of the longer trails that the park has to offer. With temperatures in the 30’s we wanted to avoid hiking in the mid day sun so leaving Perth early we were on the 14km Yanchep Rose track by 7, enjoying the light of the ” golden hour”.

The beautiful grass trees , Xanthorrhoea, can live to be 350-450 years old growing at a rate of about 2 cm a year. It takes them 20 years before they even form a trunk but they are made of strong stuff, able to withstand the inevitable bush fires, in fact often flowering profusely after burning. Much valued by the Aboriginal people for food, fire sticks, fish spears, nectar and glue they can grow in very nutrient poor ground thanks to the mycorrhizal network of symbiotic fungi amongst its roots helping to take up nutrients.

We had to cross a main road before heading off on sandy tracks through the banksia shrub to discover a couple of WW2 radar bunkers recently well graffitied to commemorate that history.

After a drink and a snack we moved off again, crossing a wide sandy track, meandering slightly up and down and twisting this way and that through the varied, but usually prickly, vegetation towards a limestone outcrop in the distance.

Climbing up allowed us a fine view over a huge area of untouched vegetation. Worryingly though we could make out a forest of cranes towards the coast. One of the biggest threats to the park and its fauna is the continuing fragmentation and loss of habitat due to land clearance for infrastructure and housing.

With temperatures rapidly rising and still before 9am we carried on round the loop, marvelling at the variety of plant forms and thinking how special it would be in the spring when so much is in glorious flower.

There were usually signs of the prescribed or planned burning done to reduce the amount of dry wood fuel on the woodland floor and so avoid catastrophic fires like the ones in 2019 that swept through the area. Burnt gum trunks sprouting vigorous suckers and blackened grass trees. You could tell how long ago the fire was by the length of the ” grass skirts” billowing out from below the fresh fronds.

Crossing the public highway again we were soon back in the Park centre, passing one of its tourist attractions the Cabaret Cave, a large limestone cave rentable for functions for up to 200 people since the 30’s and one of 450 known caves in the Park.

After a cooling shower at the parks camp site we explored the central area. Like all good tourist honeypots, and this was one – attracting over 250,000 visitors a year, there was a tea room, ice cream parlour, gift shop, masses of picnic areas and even a pub, restaurant and hotel – which was heaving by lunch time, banging out the roast beef and yorkshire pud buffet carvery.

There was also a non native koala compound with their non native gum food source, an area that hosts Aboriginal culture talks and demos and a tree-top adventure centre. All very unlike the usual Australian Parks wilderness approach. Formed in 1969 from the pre existing hotel resort they decided to roll with it and now have a golf course and even helicopter rides on site.

The 255 ha Loch Mc Ness wetlands area is a particular treasure with big areas of sedge swamp, Yanget ( the Nyoongar peoples name for bulrush and source of the Park name), 50ha of open water and swamp Banksia and Paperbark edging woodland. Seemingly shallow the bottom is an unconsolidated peat mass through which water flows to a depth of 6m. Many other wetlands have either been filled in or subjected to pressures of pollutants and clearing.

We are not good at spotting birds but the wetlands and woods are home to many. Grebes, swans, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, parrots, honeyeaters and kingfishers can all be found. There were plenty of Western Grey Kangaroos on the lawn of the campsite when we set off on the 12.5km Ghost House Trail early next morning.

This walk was through a different landscape than the day before, being predominantly forest of big Jarrah and Tuart with lots of she-oak, paperbark, mallee and banksia with a verdant understory.

About half way round we overlapped for awhile with the Coastal Plain Trail a 52km linear walk that has 4 huts along its length to overnight in. We came to one, the Shapcotts Campsite complete with rainwater tank and long drop toilet. Soon after we came upon the supposedly haunted ruins of an old house but no history was supplied.

The walk continued in a loop back through some more open heath then a rising and falling lumpy limestone track above the wetlands before finally contouring the top of Loch McNess on boardwalks over the lush and verdant vegetation.

In no time we emerged onto the manicured lawns of the Yanchep Inn and hurried back to the campsite to shower away the sweat and dirt of the trail. With the temperature set to rise higher into the 30’s and the sea only 15 mins away an easy decision was reached.

Yanchep lagoon was a safe spot to chill. With a reef just offshore to calm the waves and a life guard station supplying ample shade it was an ideal ending to a couple of days hiking in the heat.

WALKABOUT: Wanders in the Wheatbelt

Visiting our son and partner and their new born daughter on the other side of the world in Perth, Western Australia, we went still further out for a few days.

Out into the vastness of the ” Wheatbelt” of W.A., an endless landscape of low rolling hills studded with little patches of forest remnants, reminders of the country that used to be. Between and surrounding the green trees is a desert like prairie of grain fields, won by the settlers of the 1920’s by the body and soul breaking work of clearing the ” unused” land of its flora and fauna.

The Wheatbelt covers an area of 155,000 sq km, about the same as England and Wales, but has a population of only 75,000 as opposed to 60,000,000 in England and Wales. And nearly all of them live in the 200 towns and settlements in the area- which means that on the 4 hour drive out to Hyden we didn’t pass many farmhouses or farmers.

Hyden is pretty central Wheatbelt. A town pioneered by sandlewood cutters around 1900 it was producing wheat by 1927 although the railway for exporting the harvest didn’t arrive till 1930. By this time there were 60,000 sacks of grain waiting in storage. Nowadays the silos and grain stores have a capacity of over 60,000 tons.

Although it’s a dry area with only 325mm of rain a year ( at home in western Ireland we have at least 5 times as much) it manages to produce huge amounts of grain, lupins and field beans and peas each year, along with cattle and sheep.

But we were here to see some natural attractions- first up was Mulka’s cave, a sacred and significant aboriginal site at the base of a big granite monolith called The Humps.

The cave, a special place for the Nyoongar people for many 100’s of years, has been found to contain 450 hand stencils and other motifs in a variety of styles and colours.

There were a couple of trails that led up and around the Humps to see the rock basin waterholes ( gnamma holes) and the stone walls that led water runoff into a reservoir but it was too darned hot so we went to our cabin accommodation passed the salt ” Magic Lake” to partake in a bobbing session in the man made gypsum spa pool- a cool and refreshing float.

After caking ourselves in the healing mud and attempting weightless swimming in the salt rich waters for awhile it had cooled enough for us to explore the areas main attraction, Wave Rock.

Formed over 2.7 billion years of weathering and erosion above and below ground level the granite edifice is 15m high and over 100m long. As the name implies and Sally’s amusing surfer pose indicates it resembles a giant desert wave about to break over the campsite and picnic area.

It’s sited at the bottom of another huge bare granite hill which also has a snaking line of wall to funnel rain water into the reservoir that serves Hyden and made settlement of the area possible. Originally constructed in 1928 the dam was extended in the 50’s to hold 30,000 cubic meters collected over a catchment area of 30 hectares. We followed a trail up the rock to explore.

The height gave us a fine view of the surrounding plain, forest and salt lakes and as the sun began to sink to the horizon it gave a warm glow to the sculpture like rock forms.

Making it down the steep slope of the Wave before dark we retired to the cabin and were greeted by a similar glorious sky in the morning when, after an early morning float ( the pool is floatier than the Dead Sea), we returned to Hydens Rock for another walk. This time north along its base to Hippo’s Yawn on a path through the Mallee, Gimlet, She-oaks and Salmon gums. The Earth at the base was rich after millennia of nutrients washed down the algae covered rock.

Time to head east for a couple of hundred km for a night in Dryandra Woodland, a fragmented but critically important area of remnant vegetation and a biodiversity hotspot where more than 850 species of plant can be seen.

To get there we drove down a road known as the Tin Horse Highway, a 12km stretch leading to the small town of Kulin where the local community decided in the mid 90’s to promote the annual Bush Races by building some horses out of farm scrap and erecting them on the road to the Jilakin race track.

Since then more and more have been added and now number over 70 and have become more of an attraction than the races themselves. With places to go and so many horses to see we couldn’t stop at them all but I give you a sample.

And as I’m writing this on the 17th of March …… Happy Paddy’s Day

Stopping again for a cool off in Wickepin community outdoor pool, ( admission $1 for OAP’s ), we reached the Dryandra Woodland Village mid afternoon. Since 1972 the collection of 8 wooden cabins, large ex airforce Nissan huts and a study centre have been run by the voluntary group Lions International and we were greeted by Les and Julie the caretakers who gave us a bit of the places history.

From the early 1900’s till the 1960’s the Forest Dept ran a Mallet bark harvesting operation for the tanning industry. It set up the settlement of cabins for the workers and their families in the 20’s and following the collapse of the business the village was abandoned until the Lions took it over with the intention of providing a holiday camp for disadvantaged children.

Now popular with tourists and study groups the cabins are usually booked out by people keen to switch off from phone, TV and internet and enjoy the many hiking trails. The woodland was designated National Park status in Jan 2022.

Just back from a hike through the wandoo, kwongan, mallee, sheoak and mallet Les called round to tell us to come down to his cabin to see a python who was digesting a parrot. Not an everyday invite.

Apparently a weekly occurrence the python that lives in their roof would hang out (literally) under the bird bath and grab a parrot, squeeze it to death then swallow and slowly, slowly, with the help of a narrow fork of branches, force the bird down through its guts. A protracted dinner time.

Les invited us to come down again in the early morning when he feeds the Roos that live in a group around the village. In the meantime we were going to go on a nighttime walking route with reflective signs for torchlight in the hope of catching sight of one of the 24 mammals that live here, many rare and nocturnal.

Unfortunately we had no luck spotting any bilby, boodie, mala, woylie, quenda, marl or possum but we did nearly get lost.

In the morning we joined Les and watched as the Kangaroo mob warily came to his back porch and enjoyed a breakfast that as Les admitted, he shouldn’t really supply, but that may save a hungry Roos life if he strayed onto the surrounding grain fields and got shot.

After breakfast we headed off on the Woylie Walk, a 5.5km trail through the powder bark, jarrah and rock sheoak. There were little holes in the ground everywhere, the workings of woylies, and signs of numbats digging for termites, but no sign of the woylies or numbats themselves. Nor did we see any echidnas, wallabies, bandicoots or possums but it was enough just to know that such exotica was out there somewhere.

Great to have experienced the Aussie woodlands again, and feel again the vastness of this continent driving for hours through the open landscape. And get in touch again with the feeling of an ancient spirituality that can come from the Aboriginal idea of personal connection to “country”.

A place that can feel like home even though it’s the other side of the planet. Small world I guess.

Walkabout 2 : Back to the Bibbulmun

7 years ago I wrote about a 10 day /200km hike we’d done in the forests of Western Australia on a wonderful track that goes all the way from Perth to the south coast. We had walked from Kalamunda, at the start, to the next trail town of Dwellingup and had loved the experience. Back in Oz we were determined to do another stretch of the 960km Bibbulmun Track but after completing the Cape to Cape time available was running short.

We decided to do a shorter stage of 4 days / 3 nights from Collie to Balingup missing out a 7 day section. There is usually no food available on the stages/sections, you’re way out in the bush miles from “civilization”, so you have to carry everything with you- which needs careful planning. On this leg we were going to cross a road after a day and a half where there was a tavern serving food so we scheduled a slap up feed around that. Even so our packs were heavy setting off from Collie.

Collie was and is a coal mining town, unlike many in the area that were founded on the logging industry, and had a couple of facilities we enjoyed- a swimming pool to cool off in and a cutting edge art gallery, where we were invited to an opening of a show of portraits.

Nice people, nice wine, nice nibbles.


An early self service breakfast at our historic old hotel of well faded grandeur allowed us to get on the way soon after 6, passing both the fire danger level sign and a notice saying that it is not recommended to be on the track at all between December and end of March and if you are, to leave it in the event of a fire risk of “high” or above.

We were “severe”. Slightly worrying. We’d been watching the infernos in NSW on the news with 1000’s of hectares of bush and 100’s of houses burning and Sydney an impenetrable smog. A lot of talk and denial of the increased severity being connected to climate change and also the need to manage prescribed or controlled fires better.

We were soon enveloped within the forest, the sights and sounds and scents taking us back years to our last Bibbulmun immersion, as we followed the yellow ” Waugal” symbol deeper into the immensity of Western Australian bush. We had enjoyed the Karri forest section on the Cape to Cape but the feeling of being a tiny dot making your slow way through mile upon mile upon mile of mixed Jarrah,Wandoo, Marri and a host of other tree and scrub species is special.

The easy path and flat ground made for a good rhythm of fast walking and we made good time to Collie river where it was too early for a swim and a 4×4 access track had allowed messers to travel down and defile the place with their fast food crap. Always a shocking jolt of a sight in deep country we hurried on past the cartons and bags to where the ethos of “leave no trace” was important to the people passing through.

As the temperature built we passed Mungalup Dam, where unfortunately no swimming was allowed as it was a drinking water supply. Other dams were for agricultural use and allowed not only swimming but all kinds of boating including with outboard motors. A web of old logging tracks crisscrossed our path through the forest with the scattered trunks and stumps witnesses to a huge industry that started with the arrival of Europeans and peaked around the First World War, although continuing to a lesser degree into the 1980’s.

The regenerative powers of the Jarrah were good to see. Areas that had been clear felled were returning to high forest again.

It was difficult to imagine the track in winter or spring when rains made stepping logs necessary and the creek systems were full of flowing water. There was however a little shower forecast and a couple of drops did manage to hit the ground without evaporating before we got to Yabberup camp after 20km.

These shelters, erected about every 20km, are a wonderful resource. They offer sleeping platforms, fire pits (in season), long drop dunny( always with toilet paper!), tables and benches and most importantly, water. They also have cleared and level tent pitches although there’s a very good chance that in summer you’ll have plenty of hut sleeping space and can avoid having to carry a tent and the less you have to carry the better. As luck would have it there were a couple of showers once we were safe under cover and we spent the afternoon reading the entries in the camp log book and listening to the bird song.

After a much more comfortable night on a new leakfree sleeping mat we set off again through the much burned landscape.

I’d been reading a bit on the use of fire in landscape or country ” management” by the Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. A vital tool for their survival and wellbeing, it was part of a complex and very sophisticated system of rotational “gardening” on a massive scale that allowed for a sustainable and biodiverse existence that helped to ensure the health of all species of fauna and flora. A lot could be learned from them.

With the vast majority of the 1000km track going through eucalyptus forest it would be easy to assume it is boringly similar. On the surface perhaps so but once attuned to the subtle changes in vegetation, geology and the history of land use, it becomes everchanging. Just by watching where your feet fall you discover a wealth of variation over a short distance.

Some surfaces, like the pea gravel and the hard round gum nuts, could be easy to slip on, especially down hill, but mostly the track is easy going. We had encountered the biggest accents and descents of the whole trail on our previous trip, when we had to scale Mt Cuthbert, Vincent and Cooke, the highest at 582 m, and the profiles of our current journey were a relief after the jagged peaks and troughs of the Kumano Kodo.

Fair play to the teams of volunteers and the rangers and workers from the Parks and Wildlife service who build and maintain infrastructure like the bridge above and the shelters, and keep the track clear and marked.

We stopped at Glen Mervyn Dam for a cooling swim after passing a number of campers on the shoreline with canoes, paddle boards, speedboats and water skis.

Another couple of hours in the shady forest and we descended on the slippy pea gravel to the tarmac road where the Forest Tavern or Mumby Pub promised a cold Coke, a coffee and for Sunday lunch a big cooked meal and pint of beer. A joy only spoilt by the necessity to leave in the early afternoon heat across open ground without the shady forest. We travelled beside farmland on an old railway track before climbing a steep hill, sweating and panting, to rest gratefully in the shade again, admiring the views and comforting a lost and lonely lamb.

Now in the Greater Preston National Park we continued to Noggerup Camp where we had a bottle shower to cool down and wash off the track dust and did a little clothes washing. Nearly all of the Bibbulmun travels through land in the care of the Parks and Wildlife service whether that is a nature reserve, a National Park, a conservation park or a state forest with only the latter allowing any ( sustainable) timber production. It’s heartening to be able to hike for days, weeks, even months through a landscape that will no longer be exploited, although it is debatable to what degree the management practices are “correct”.

Not long before sunset we were joined by a man who seemed to be struggling somewhat and was so overweight that he seemed an unlikely hiker. How wrong first impressions. Jens, originally from Denmark, had just walked from Collie- 40km. He had completed about 12 end to ends on the track – that’s 12000km. He usually headed south from Perth in December when there’s less people on the trail, and did a south to north migration March to May. And he did this with multiple heath problems- herniated discs, trapped nerve, knee and other injuries due to bad accident, diabetes, big weight problem that he had to sort out before he could have his liver transplant!

He started hiking to rehabilitate after his accident and initially it would take him 14 hours to walk 5km. He needed to stop every couple of hundred metres to recuperate. Now he said it takes him a couple of weeks when he first gets back on the track for his knees to loosen up, another couple for the rest of him to get in shape and then the last couple of weeks he’s flying it, eating up the distance by walking for 18hrs- resting for 6- walking for 18- resting for 6- and repeat!

Mind you when we met him- early in the process- he was chewing painkillers and anti inflammatories big time. He also planned to rest up in the shelter the next day and continue on the track by night when it was cooler.

Our strategy for dealing with the heat was to get as much of the stage done as possible before it got too hot. Which meant an early start to Sally’s birthday.

So I woke her at 4.30 with a cup of tea and some birthday candles ,(definitely bad in a total fire ban- we later learnt we weren’t even supposed to use our Jetboil camping gaz), and hiked hard for a couple of hours before stopping for a b’day brekkie of smoked salmon and jerky.

It was a beautiful mornings hike on old railway formations, cuttings and embankments, from the days of the logging camps and then into a large area of virgin Jarrah forest with immense trees whose towering trunks seemed unimaginably big for axe or handsaw. Some of the Marri trees exuded a red gum the Aboriginal people used as an antiseptic and to tan leather.

As usual the last few kms seemed to stretch a lot further than reasonable and with many more ups and downs than expected but by mid day we had travelled the 24km to Grimwade camp and after a quick bottle shower cooloff, relaxed with a b’day cuppa and packet of Tayto’s, the taste of home.

Other treats included the cans of G and T I’d secretly carried for the last 4 days that we enjoyed with our noodles, mushroom soup and dehydrated “shepherds pie”. Quite the feast. Jens by the way has one meal a day. Soaked ( not heated) couscous and a sachet of tuna. Everyday.

We’d been too hot for a finish so determined to start even earlier. Our last day on the Track started in the gloaming. Packing up as light first bled into the eastern sky, we were on our way by 4.30, reveling in the cool morning air.

We sent a few roos bouncing off through the bush and admired, and attempted to mimic, the varied birdsong, but didn’t see as much wildlife as we had on the Cape to Cape. We were told it was because the sand surface there stifled any vibration whereas here the animals heard and felt us coming. We did see quite a lot of wild pig scuffling and on our last morning, 3 adult and 1 baby emu ran across the land below us. And plenty of flies, ants and termites.

The forest was beautiful in all its various stages. Whether full growth virgin or coppiced regrowth. Whether thick, tangled and bushy or black and burned with vivid green shoots emerging. It was all a rich tapestry. One that was understood and nurtured by the First Nations People. One of the Nyungar people whose country was South Western WA and included the Bibbulmun group had written in the article on fire stick farming of the deep and overriding connection the Indigenous people feel for their ” country”.

It ended up being a long hike on that last day. 29 km till we emerged from the forest to the rich farmland on the approach to Balingup. It gave me time to ponder on the similarities between the spiritual connection with and import of “country” to the Aboriginal or First Australians and the sanctity of nature worshipped in the Shinto faith by those countless pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo as they journeyed through the cedar forests before us. And to the recent, and desperate, moves to give legal rights and protection to nature in jurisdictions around the globe. In a race to the finish ” new animism” attempts to recognize interdependence in the living world and afford rivers, mountains,forests, lakes and in the case of Ecuador, Mother Nature , now enshrined in its constitution, the same rights as humans. Doing away with an intrinsic spiritually towards nature and replacing it with legal protection might be necessary in this faithless and destructive era when time is nearly up but it is also clumsy and riddled with complexities the legal profession can earn money from while the planet burns.

We came out of the forest for the last time exhausted but also rejuvenated by the experiences of the past 6 weeks. A couple of km of baked grass and we were able to stock up with food and drink and retire to a little cabin and garden for rest, relaxation and reflection.

CAPE TO CAPE TRACK Western Australia 2

Prevelly to Boranup Lookout 28.5km

We had a long day planned from our comfortable caravan so headed out early well rested. The usual raucous whoops and screeches of the birdlife dawn chorus accompanied us out of the town through new build suburbs of designer houses and expensive plots. It all seemed pretty affluent and most of the houses were very smart with clean lines and shining materials. A plethora of Archetect designs to protect from the sun and not the rain.

Soon enough we were back out in unadulterated nature though, a rare enough experience when nearly all landscapes have been shaped by mankind. But I suspect that’s these coastal environments have remained untouched and would have appeared the same to the European arrivals some two hundred years ago. In fact some of the plants here, like the grass tree, have been the same for 100 million years! The diversity of plant species is astounding, all the more so because at first glance or from a distance it all looks similar. In fact this region is one of only 34 ” biodiversity hotspots” in the world and the only one in Australia. One piece of parkland that was surveyed was found to have over 8000 species, 47 percent found only in southwestern Australia.

We got to the beach before 7 and already the surfers were out. This coastline has world famous breaks and there are certainly a lot of very dedicated boarders. The beaches are vast and they will carry their boards a long way in search of the perfect wave. We had to carry our packs, now thankfully a bit lighter, for about 6 km across soft and sinky sand to the end of Redgate beach where we turn up away from the blue and into the green.

We clambered back down to sea level briefly at Bob’s Hollow, an impressive limestone cliff band and weirdly shaped cave popular with climbers. This section of the trail was thought of as one of the nicest and is popular with walking groups but I suspect that’s because there are routes accessible to ordinary vehicles. At Redgate we had come across a bunch of well dressed hikers alighting from a ” Walking into Luxury” coach. A somewhat different experience!

Back up to the top of the cliffs to continue through the tunnels of greenery with occasional views of the beaches and seascapes that drew gasps of amazement at the intense beauty of it all.

We had reached Conto Campground, a D.E.C ( Department of Environment and Conservation) fee paying campsite with over 100 pitches spread over a big area of bush. We stopped here for water for the next 24 hrs and to rest up for awhile in our flysheet less tent. (It had weighed too much!) We read about the vast Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, had our last dehydrated dinner and lay down looking up at the trees and birdlife through the tent.

A hot day, so we were grateful to be heading off into the forest shade. Miles of beautiful protected Marri, Karri and Jarrah gum trees awaited. We were having to split the remaining distance of the trail to get to the last camp the following night, in order for the final 18km to be covered on the final days trek. So we were hoping to find a place to stealth camp that night as we set off down a 4×4 track.

The trees were magnificent. The Karri is the third biggest tree species in the world and that and Jarrah had created a big timber industry for the first European settlers although how they managed to fell the massive trunks of hard and heavy wood was beyond me. We passed many a burnt and hollow trunk and one tree with a very active colony of bees before climbing to the tracks high point at Boranup Hill Lookout some 200m above sea level, where the wooden tower afforded us a fine view over the forest and sea for many miles.

A meager dinner of peanut butter sandwich and our last tea bag ( walking into luxury this was not!) and we retired to bed hoping the forecast for a 40 per cent chance of a shower did not materialize. It didn’t, though the morning was cloudy, a blessing with a long stretch of unshaded beach walking to do.

Boranup Hill Lookout to Deepdene Camp 21.5 km

It was about 4km back down to the sea, disturbing more grazing roos beside the wide track.

And then, still early, we hit Boranup Beach, praying the sand would be firm.

It was- praise be- and we were able to make good progress across a white wonderland. Never have I seen such pristine sand. Stretching to the horizon in an unbroken arc of purity. Walking beside the blue/green waters without having to slog it out in soft sand was an unbridled joy that the photos cannot hope to reflect. It was beyond good luck.

We reached Hamelin Bay around 9 after a 6 km beach walk and hit the little shop at the caravan park for coffee, coke, snacks, water, pot noodles, baked beans, pies and other health foods a hungry hiker needs. Then a swim in the tranquil bay famous for its friendly sting and eagle rays that feed from your hand.

This was the site of a once busy timber export business, with a long jetty for ships to load Karri and Jarrah lumber extracted from the surrounding forests.

Rested and watered we set off again along a beach and then up the cliffs to rollercoaster up and down the sandy tracks through the scrub up to Foul Bay Lighthouse with an increasing number of annoying biting flies coming with us. The strengthening wind that started to sandblast us at least helped to blow the pesky swarms away as we crossed an area of gorgeous rocks.

We really had to watch our step along this stretch with all the deep blowholes everywhere. We saw a sign to keep back from them,(impossible) as they can blast air and water 6 m high! More clambering over a variety of rock formations before moving onto Deepdene Beach for the last couple of Km before the turnoff to our camp for the night, 500m off the track deep in the tea trees and lush undergrowth. The wind had really picked up and we were sandblasted by the time we got there.

Our last camp of the trip was another pleasant place with compost toilet ( always fully stocked with toilet roll) water tanks and picnic tables and benches. A big shout out to all the rangers, conservation workers and volunteers who keep track and trail together.

Deepdene Camp to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. 18km

Another early start to avoid the sun and wind on the Long Beach stretch to Leeuwin that we had read and been told was a hard slog through sinking sand in the face of strong winds. The gods were kind again, the tide was very low, allowing us to walk by the shimmering crystal waters on packed sand and admire multicolored seaweeds and more geological wonders.

We left the beach at Augusta Cliffs climbing up, over and through high dunes of muscle aching sliding sand before gaining a stony path through varied wildflowers and scrubs with our final goal, the Leeuwin lighthouse, finally looking close after a day of minuscule enlargement on the horizon.

One last swim in the Indian Ocean just meters from where it collides with the Southern at a place called Quarry Bay where the stone was quarried for the construction of the lighthouse, Australia’s tallest. It also had bizarre mini cliff of tuffa rocks from calcium rich spring and groundwater leaching through the limestone. There was another example covering the old wooden waterwheel, made for pumping water up for the lighthouse keepers.

And that was it. By coffee time we’d finished our journey on the Cape to Cape and re-emerged into the world of tarmac roads, taxis to motels and 6 hour bus rides back to Perth. A stunning hike through a really natural world of coastal scrubland, towering forest and the biggest, most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been blessed to witness.

CAPE TO CAPE TRACK Western Australia 1

We decided to continue our World Series hiking exploits with this one whilst visiting sonny Milo in Perth.

After a weeks gardening to recover from the Kumano Kodo it was back to rucksack packing again. But this time we were going to have to carry 2 person tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, food, cooking and eating stuff and more water. It all adds up and our bulging bags were heavy. On a previous trip down under we’d done a couple of hundred Km of the Bibbulman through the gum, jarrah and karri forests of the Darling range so kinda knew what to expect of a hike in the Ozzy summer but this one didn’t have the camp shelters every 20 km or so but did have a few commercial camp sites and a some small towns to pick up supplies on route. There were also some simple camping sites with a picnic table and compost toilet with a water tank that may or may not have anything in it. Reading about it it became obvious that the challenging aspect was not so much the distance but how much of it was on loose soft sand beaches and tracks. Well we’d had a weeks training in those conditions on the Fisherman’s Trail in Portugal in the summer so felt like we could manage. A bit of complex logistics saw me and Sally set of from the Cape Naturaliste while Milo drove halfway down the trail, to Prevelly, left the vehicle there and cycled back north to our camp for the night at Yallingup, 16.5 km from our starting point.

Hiking north to south, with the sun behind us ( southern hemisphere innit) we set off from the historic lighthouse on a wheelchair friendly access for all track for a few km until things started to get wild.

Although spring was on its last legs and the dry heat of summer was coming in fast there were still a lovely selection of wild flowers in bloom.

The bush was thickly vegetated with an impenetrable wall of greenery either side of our mostly narrow pathway that undulated along the coastline with views of the blue waters and white surf. Dropping down to the beach we got our first taste of soft sand hiking then back up to the eroded limestone cliff tops and sandy 4 wheel drive tracks.

Deep in the bush we past the simple Duckworth Camp, cos we were heading on another 4 or 5 km to shorten the following day. Arriving hot and weary in Yallingup we swam in the sheltered lagoon before meeting Milo and returning to our camp through the gardens of Caves Hotel.

Up and on the trail by 7 with the sun already climbing steadily it was another fine day for the many surfers along this coast. There are quiet a few 4 wheel drive tracks that give them access to amazing beaches and breaks and we stopped for me to have a swim at one where a pod of dolphins rode the waves next to the surfers.

We crossed a couple of brooks that managed to make it all the way to the sea and I climbed up to the Quinninup waterfall accompanied by croaking frogs and flitting birds. We had seen and heard a lot of birdlife and now saw our first lizards and a quenda at the Moses Rock camp where we stayed, after a 22km hike, sheltered in amongst the tea trees.

Next day was nice and cool to start as we continued along the coast through a mixture of thick bush, rocky escarpments and white squeaky beaches. There had been a number of lookouts and scenically placed benches for whale watching as this is directly on a major migratory route and also for surfers to watch the waves and each other. For us they were a welcome opportunity to rest awhile and gaze out at the deep blue beyond. There were also keen fisherman both on the land and in the water with spearguns. The plant growth testified to the relentless wind as they crawled over rocks and were aerodynamically shaped by the forces.

We came to a shark warning speaker and entered a long section of coastline where these were placed in popular surf/ swim areas.

And wouldn’t you know it, when we got to a lovely bay at Gracetown in the midday heat and got in the inviting azure waters to cool off the siren overlooking the beach started flashing red lights and a disembodied voice said the beach was closed, leave the water, sharks were in the area. There are helicopter spotters and also baited drum lines. There have been a number of attacks around here.

But after another couple of hours of hiking in the heat we were forced back in the water to cool off on a reef protected beach before turning in land and passing an old homestead now under National Trust management, and into the forest for a change where a quiet and secluded camp awaited. Another 20 km done and time to pour some boiling water on a dehydrated meal before turning in for a fitful night on my leaking and comfort free sleeping mat.

Up and about in the forest early again on a sandy track that narrowed as it reentered coastal scrub. We disturbed some Roos near a place with bizarre rock formations jutting above the greenery.

It was beautiful walking and varied with narrow paths through the scrub, wide 4 wheel drive tracks, rocky cliff tops and sandy beaches walking next to lapping waves of a calmer morning sea. Before too long we had reached the Margaret River a famous stretch of fresh water that now , in the summer, had a sandbar preventing its emergence into the sea. A lovely spot to swim- without the boisterous waves and salt.

So after only 12.5 km we had reached Prevelly where we had to say goodbye to Milo ( after offloading any weight we thought we could do without) and book into a campsite where we had a caravan and a bed with a soft mattress. Oh delights. The campsite also had a restaurant a grocery and an off license. About 70km done in 4 days. Now we have to do the same again in 3 days with about 16km of soft sand involved. Fortified with food, beer and wine I’m feeling optimistic.

Australia-5500km westcoast to eastcoast


After protracted difficulties with my blog site it seems I am now able to report on our road trip Down Under.

With so much distance to cover in a relatively short space of time we weren’t able to undertake very long hikes but we did a number of walks from the camps we parked up in at night and stopped for a few here and there along the way.

Heading due east out of Perth  we passed the Rabbit Proof fence, a massive undertaking erected across Western Australia in an attempt to stop the migration of the voracious grass and crop eaters introduced for a bit of hunting sport.

No 1 fence, which we crossed was not far off 2000km long and involved teams of men camping in the bush for years with their horses and pack camels which were left to go feral and multiply to the extent that there are now more there than in any other country.

450km from Perth we pulled off the highway and drove a few km down a dirt track to our first camp at Karralee Rocks, the site of more old work camps for the crews working on the cross country rail line and also a scene of a gold rush in the 1890’s.

The huge granite outcrop had been used for millennia by Aboriginals for gathering and holding water and the industrious settlers had built a vast wall around them to act as a dam and sent the water down a system of sluices to a dug reservoir that served the goldmines and later the steam trains.

It was strange to walk among these remnants of past fevered industry, now so empty and silent, something we were to experience many times on our journey across the country.

Our first night in the camper was spent among the ghosts of the prospectors, with the distant sound of the massive lorries or road trains out on the highway.

Poking around the area in the morning we discovered a landscape dug up and out and moulded by man in his quest for riches. There was always a large contingent of Chinese among the gold seekers, and here they had been mining kaolin for making porcelain and establishing vegitable gardens to feed the multitudes.

There were also wells, dug by hand, and water could be bought and sold. Water was a commodity more sought after than gold itself at times. “You could borrow food and sometimes money, but never water”. Here 100 gallons cost you 2s 6d, 4d for a camel to drink but foot travellers were free.

Our next walk was at another gold mine, this one still in operation and on an altogether different scale. The Super Pit at Kalgoorlie is named appropriately. The scale of the undertaking- and the consequent hole in the ground- defies the imagination and ramps up the extraordinary statistics.

You can hardly see the 40 giant Caterpillar earthmovers that crawl up and down 24hrs a day with their 225 tonne payload. About 20,000kg of gold is extracted annually, which sounds a hell of a lot, but they had to dig out 85 MILLION tonnes of rock to get it. That works out at 7 of the monster trucks carrying up a golf ball of gold between them. You wouldn’t want that return using a pick and shovel.

The 4000 horse power Komastsu face shovels, as they are called, have buckets that claw out 68 tonnes at a time, and cost $18.5 million.

As awe-inspiring as seeing mans ability to transform the planet was it was a relief to move out to the beginning of the Nullarbor Plain, a true no mans land, where the more or less straight road would take us 1300km across a landscape totally unchanged and without any sign of “civilisation”.

Norseman, the last town to pass through was a fairly downtrodden looking place but had a free community pool, as a lot of the WA towns did, so with the heat really building , we stopped for a dip before leaving for the “empty quarter”.

We spent the night on the side of a little salt lake on the Frazer Range with a couple of other “rubber tramps” or “grey nomads”. The camping tradition is uniquely strong in Australia, as the vast nation was settled and built by campers over a couple of centuries in a country already lived in for tens of thousands of years by people moving and camping lightly upon its surface. Our retired neighbour in the camp told us that him and his wife headed out for about 4 months every year in their off road caravan, saying that” the only time you should be driving on tarmac is when your crossing it”! With all the campgrounds in National Parks, Regional and State Reserves, Conservation Parks and State Forests as well as hundreds of roadside rest areas official and unofficial, and a huge choice of private sites of varying levels of amenity and luxury- there are, at any one time, countless Australians “going bush”. The outdoor suppliers are vast warehouses of treasure troves to those seeking an engagement with their natural environment, even if it is through a screen of ever more plentiful and sophisticated camping gear and an array of huntin’, shooting’ and fishin’ tools and water activity toys.

It’s a mighty big playground out there and the little speck of woodland on the map that we slept beside that night was the size of England!

The next day took us nearly 700km and into SouthAustralia and our third time zone. At that stage we were half way across the Nullarbor Plain (Null Arbor- no trees) and been pleasantly surprised by its slight but constant variations. Well, when I say constant, the changes are on an unusual time frame, literally and figuratively. You drive in a more or less straight line for a few hours and the landscape and flora slowly morph from one thing to another.At the same time it no longer is the same time, because as you near the end of Western Australia, around the Eucla roadhouse, you enter the tiny area of Central Western Standard time and move forward in time 45 mins. Not long afterwards, travelling at 110km an hour, you cross into South Australia and move forward another 45mins. It’s all slightly disorientating.

Over the 90 Mile Straight and beyond we had gained 10m of altitude, avoided a collision with emus, camels and kangaroos, past a few trees decorated with various surreal accessories and driven on a few stretches of road that doubled as landing strips for aircraft.

The only human life, apart from the (very) odd passing vehicle, was clustered around the roadhouses every 100km or so, where you could get fuel, food, water, conversation and a bed or parkup. Only the massive road trains with their sturdy roo-bars can drive at night for fear of a collision with the wildlife which venture across the road in the dark. The long spread out string of roadhouses also host the 18 holes of “The Worlds Longest Golf Course”. With one hole per roadhouse it would take a while to cover the 1300kms in a golf caddy and the greens aren’t in great shape.

After unwittingly smuggling a small amount of veg into South Australia and the “fruit fly exclusion zone” we found a wonderful and wild park up off the road atop the Bunda Cliffs, with views of the untouched coastline of the Great Australian Bight, where I took a long hike down and across the dunes but was wary of going for a swim alone from the deserted beach into an unknown sea.

Another long drive the following day and we had crossed the Nullarbor Plain and attached the bumper sticker to prove it. We did swim at our next nights camp, our last on the coast for awhile, following the advice of a couple of locals to stay in the shallows as the “sharks come in after the salmon”.      I took a walk down the long jetty in the early morning and could easily imagine dark fins slicing through the water below.

Heading inland across the Eyre Peninsula and north of Adelaide we entered a completely different environment. Mile upon mile of rolling grain fields, an unbroken landscape of yellowing grasses to the horizon with small agricultural towns and massive grain silos, some of which had been getting an artistic makeover. And with the silos full, mountains of grain were created dwarfing the lorries and tractors busy around them.

A country pub with a barb wire museum(!) in the little town of Spalding let us park up in the back garden surrounded by a sea of wheat fields.

The temperature had been up to 42 degrees and we’d covered about 2800km in 5 days. It was time to slow down a bit and hang out somewhere cool and shady. We continued southeast through a more varied landscape to the Murray river at Berri where a lovely camp on the riverside allowed us to swim and walk in the wetlands and woodlands, do our washing and barbie on the bank.

For many years the Murray had been a vital transportation route from the coast to the vast interior. It’s Australia’s longest river at 2500km, rising in the Alps and creating a border between New South Wales and Victoria before crossing South Australia. Its waters were the lifeblood of a massive agricultural area and it was refreshing to be amongst such fertile surroundings.

After our relaxing sojourn on the river bank it was back in the van to the Ngarkat Conservation park. The tamed farmland had disappeared again and we were back in the wild. We took a hike on a luckily well marked route through the scrubland, you really wouldn’t want to get lost out there or you could find yourself wandering into the adjoining Big Desert Wilderness Park, whose name is a big clue to its nature.

Safely back in the van and on the road we stopped in the boiling heat for a look at a bizarre looking pink salt lake.

Later we dropped down past the Grampian Mountains through truly gorgeous country and pulled off into the Glenisla Forest Park to camp by the reservoir hoping for a swim. Unfortunately years of drought had left the boat slipway and floating jetty high and dry as the waters receded.

It was a strange and forlorn camp, with many old permanent caravans parked from when higher water levels had allowed for fishing and boating on the waters of the flooded forest. But the peaceful spot was a haven for wild life and we were serenaded by a host of exotic birds and visited by families of kangaroos.

Dropping down to the coast again we were grateful for the cooling swims at our camp on the Fitzroy River outlet.

We were now aiming for the 250km Great Ocean Road, the highway created by returning soldiers from the 1st World War in honour of their fallen comrades and the worlds largest war memorial. The coastal highway, weaving around the rugged rocky headlands with the crashing rollers of the Bass Straight gnawing away at the cliffs, is one of the worlds most iconic seascapes, and attracts a multitude of  sightseers.

Although beautiful it seemed to be a victim of its own success, with multiple car and coach parks having to be made at the many spectacular lime and sandstone rock formations to accommodate the hordes, and a line of snaking traffic clogging the roads. It was certainly a dramatic shift from the empty miles on the Nullarbor. In the end i’d had enough of the busloads of teeming tourists taking selfies and, with Sally feeling unwell, we passed by the remaining attractions and headed on to Apollo Bay where i’d booked our only room of the trip for Sally to recover in relative luxury. During the night I was disturbed by a persistent scratching noise and discovered a koala bear trying to gain entrance through the wraparound glass windows.

As dawn broke I joined him/her on the verandah and we had a long commune together before it slowly wobbled away back into the gum trees.

With Sally better the following day we tackled a couple of hikes in the area, the first down through the forest and along the fantastic rocks of the shoreline in a big loop. As we had travelled east the climate had been getting wetter, and here the vegetation was temperate rain forest complete with hundreds of lusty tree ferns.

Our second hike was again through the verdant forest down and down into a valley at the base of the Erskine Falls. On the way we crossed the Barham river leaving me to wonder if I had relatives or a credible land claim around there.

The night was spent in a camp deep into the forest in the Otway mountains after driving on dirt roads from the falls. This part of Australia, Victoria State, was proving to be a favourite of ours and amongst the rolling hills covered with towering trees and the steep sided fertile valleys we spotted the charming homesteads and funky houses of those who felt the same. The area was rich in artisan food producers, wineries and artist and craft folk.

Driving north into another area of historical gold fever around Heathcote we had a walk around the mini gorges and cliffs of fine pink clay that were created by the gold mining activities of the 1880’s when power hoses were used to sluice the earth away. The geological reserve here holds some unusual formations of smooth ironstone with a weird volcanic look about it.

Exploring the remnants of the gold rush days further we set off on a 30km length of dirt track to the scene of once frenzied activity in the ghost town of Whroo. In 1854 a couple of guys kicked a big nugget of gold out of the grass here and began a rush that saw a town of 13o buildings and a tent town grow up in the highly profitable decades that followed. Nothing now remains except mounds of disturbed soil, some cyanide vats which were used to separate the gold from quartz and the sad and isolated graveyard containing the graves of some 400 men, women and children who died at the mines.

The ghosts of Whroo now lie in the midst of the 33,000 ha Rushworth State Forest which took on an ominous character when a threatened thunderstorm built up around us as we walked through the shattered earth of the diggings. When the rain came down and the trees shook and swayed in the gale we upped camp and drove to a more open area, worried we may be trapped or crushed by fallen trees. The next day we hiked to the site of the main, pick and shovel dug, Balaclava mine-discovered on the day of the famous battle. It was remarkable to see the extent of the endeavours of the folk seeking their fortune but also sad to see the destruction of the environment. Whroo had been central to the lands of the Ngurai-illam-wurrung Aboriginal people for millennia but within 10 years of the arrival of white settlers the traditional lifestyle and food resources of the indigenous people had been destroyed. There weren’t many winners here.

Sure enough, as we left the area, there where many trees that had bring brought down by the winds, but we made it back onto a tarmac road and headed first to relatives at Yackandandah whose towering gums, brought down by the storm,had narrowly missed their neighbours house, and on up into the beautiful Snowy Mountains.The mountains had suffered a devastating fire some years ago and the bleached skeletons of the old forest stuck up above the new growth over a vast area as we rose ever higher. The rivers had been dammed in 16 places, creating vast lakes that fed 7 power stations, in the hydroelectric and irrigation scheme that was constructed over 25 years from 1939. The Snowy scheme is the largest engineering project in Australia and was another example of where workers lived for years in tents, including during the Alpine winters.There were more than 100 temporary bush camps in remote alpine country across the vast project.  In 1948 Major Clews, the chief surveyor for the massive scheme, insisted on tents even in the snow. He suggested that if any of his men did not like living under canvas they shouldn’t be in the bush at all.

In 1954 one of the highest towns in Australia ,at about 1500m, was constructed at Cabramurra from prefabricated buildings to accommodate the up to 2000 workers and their families on the scheme there and 20 years later a new development of houses, shop, primary school, petrol station, pub and sports facilities replaced it. Now changing work practices, shift patterns and workforce numbers has meant that the town is being abandoned and workers will go drive in/drive out,with only the school to remain open. Many people are unhappy and feel a way of life will be lost forever.

There is a feasibility study going on into a huge expansion of the Snowy scheme which would involve 1000’s more workers so it seems odd to give up on so much purpose built housing in an area that is under snow for 3 or 4 months a year.

Moving on across the mountains of the Kosciuszko National Park we bathed in the fresh clear air and feasted on the vibrant and lush wild flowers, so different an environment to the harsh dry plains below. Our camp was at Three Mile Dam near a ski resort, which seems an unlikely attraction in Australia. We hiked on another old gold prospectors route, coming across the remains of an old motor car that had powered the stamper machine, crushing the gold bearing rock.

The camp was low key, quiet and spacious with the fellow campers sitting around, fishing and fiddling about and watching the world go slowly by.

More hiking the following morning after crossing the high tablelands with herds of wild feral horses and descending to Yarrangobilly. Densely wooded hills surrounded a blue pool heated by an emerging thermal spring and paths led us along the river to extraordinary caves and rock arches and caverns where nesting birds swooped through the hole in the roof. The entire Karst limestone area is a network of over 250 caves- six of which are open to the public and were the most popular resort in New South Wales at the beginning of the 20th century.

By the end of the day we were on the main highway into Sydney and our remaining hikes of our trip down under happened on a couple of camping trips to National Parks north and south of the city. First to the Cattai N.P. on the Hawkesbury river where i wandered for miles around the old abandoned farmland and historic homestead of the early settlers, some of the first victims of climate change as the land dried and flooded.

Later we explored the northern tip of the vast Morton N.P., south of the city, hiking on paths along the top of the Illawarra escarpment which rises dramatically from the coastal plane as a wall of greenery to form the Southern Highlands, another area of great beauty.

And before returning to our frozen Irish gardens we visited the largest (1000 acre) botanical garden in Australia to feast our eyes and fill our souls with the sights and scents of the exotic blooms. There was also a futuristic building housing their very impressive seed bank and research facility.

There was also some artworks dotted around the grounds and a heartbreaking memorial to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families from 1905 until the 70’s, affecting between 1 in 10 and 1 in 3 indigenous children. A series of carved stone plaques with quotes from the victims about their damaged lives led us to the memorial of the “resocialisation” programme. Another art work we had seen in a Perth gallery had spoken about the success of that “programme”.

We’d had a wonderful trip across a beautiful landscape, but one with a troubled history of occupation that is still unresolved and problematic. Conflicting and contradictory attitudes towards the natural world where much of the land is fiercely protected and preserved whilst vast areas are destroyed and exploited, and towards the indigenous people who are held up as the “traditional custodians of the land” and yet marginalised and unequal in almost every way. As the early settlers and those that came after them camped in the same spots used by the “locals” for millennia so they set about undermining the continuation of what had been a truly sustainable lifestyle, with the defence that the land wasn’t being “used”.

Flying back across the empty red deserts of central Australia from Sydney to the north coast of W.A. I watched the desert landscape roll by underneath us for 4 hours, and reflected that it took a highly intelligent, skilled, practical and sensitive peoples to survive out there for 50,000 years.

Bush Walking / Perth

Exactly 5 years after we ventured a couple of hundred Kms down the Bibbulmun track from Perth, we have returned.
The plan is to drive coast to coast in a vintage Mazda van, a journey of 5000km over two weeks, hopefully having time out of the driving seat to do some hiking along the way.
In between searching for a van and recovering from jet lag we had a trip out to the John Forrest National Park just 25km east of the city.
This 2700 hectare park, named after a famous Australian explorer is in the northern Jarrah forest on the crest of the Darling Scarp, the mountain ridge where we started our Bibbulman trek.

Being so accessible from the city it’s a popular destination for daytrippers with a number of trails of different lengths,picnic and barbecue areas and even a pub and tea rooms. So civilised.
After registering at the Rangers office and a quick look at the Walkers Log we headed off on the longest route, the 15km Eagles View Walk.

We passed under one of the three wooden trestle railway bridges in the park that carried the rails of the Eastern Railway, the line built at the end of the 19th century to open up the vast forests for exploitation. Built with hard labour, picks , shovels and horsepower vast amounts of rubble was moved to create embankments which are now used as a trail.

Western Australia’s first tunnel was also blasted and bored here, through unstable granite that kept collapsing, leading to it eventually having to be lined with brick. The 350m tunnel was still not a success though, as the poor ventilation and noxious fumed meant the drivers and firemen were often overcome by the fumes and when one died of carbon monoxide poisoning, an alternative route was opened up.
Those days are long gone however and the hot and sultry air was full of a scent that transported us back 5 years to our days hiking through these gum forests.

It seems an environment particular to Australia especially under a cobalt blue sky in the shimmering heat of summer. It was a little too hot for us folk fresh off the plane from Ireland and we remembered why we would start our Bibbulmun days in the cool of daybreak around 5am.

The track makes a circuit through the parks more remote northern half, through a mix of heathland, open wandoo woodlands and forests of jarrah, marri and lord know what.
We recognised the big seed heads of Banksia and the familiar grass trees.


We didn’t see any wildlife apart from a bunch of Roos hanging around the bar ( literally) and various birds with exotic song. No snakes or spiders, nothing to prevent us falling into a false sense of security. It’s all out there somewhere.
But this was just a gentle little warm up for the great outback journey starting tomorrow, and passing earth art on the granite outcrops

we made our way around the man made pond to the safety of the pub.






Want to go Walkabout?
Fancy a few days, weeks, or months in the Bush?
In W.A. the Bibbulmun hiking track runs 960 beautiful forested kilometers from Perth to Albany on the south coast, studded with free sleeping huts for 8-15 people with DSCN0608 - Version 2     camping sites, picnic table, fire pits, water tanks and dunnies (long drop toilets) every 10-20 km.DSCN0606 - Version 2

From an idea first mooted by bushwalker Geoff Schafer in 1972 the much developed and re-aligned route has been in it’s current form since 1998. Named after a group of the indigenous inhabitants, the Bibbulmun Nyoongar people, it recognizes their practice of walking long distances for ceremonial gatherings and seasonal migration, and is marked every 500m or so by a little yellow triangle depicting a Waugal, a rainbow serpent or water snake deity that in the dreamtime travelled through the Australian southwest creating the hills, rivers and lakes.DSCN0783

During it’s long meandering passage south from Perth the track takes you through the seemingly endless Jarrah, Marri, Tingle and Karri forests of the Darling Plateau, wends it’s way through wetlands and creeks under the paperbarks, flooded gums and swamp banksia and emerges onto the lowlands of a coastal plain of sand dunes, limestone and granite cliffs and headlands for the final leg along the seaside to Albany, through the heath like Kwongan, one of the worlds most diverse types of vegetation.

DSCN0555 - Version 2Now recognized as W.A’s leading example of eco-tourism, virtually the entire length of the Bibbulmun is in a conservation zone of some kind. With an ethos of minimum impact and “pack it in pack it out” , the complete absence of any rubbish is a testament to the 1000’s of walkers and a welcome change from some european routes. It was originally conceived as a way of encouraging people to “go bush” and discover the natural wonders of Australia’s southwest and is now managed by the Dept of Environment and Conservation with huge support from the volunteers of the Bibbulmun Track Foundation.DSCN0807 - Version 2

The Dept of Justice provided work crews from prisons to develop the track and build the huts and campsite facilities, which was deemed a great success for both the project and the prisoners, whose declining rate of recidivism was seen as proof of the significant boost in their self esteem engendered by the positive and constructive work on the trail.

Although every year many hikers undertake 2 month long end to end treks, the majority of track users are walking for a few days at a time and some for just a few hours.
If you don’t want to go it alone, carrying all your gear and food and sleeping in the huts or camping, there are commercial operations including ones run by the D.E.C. and Friends of the Bibbulmun that will organize accommodation in towns off the
trail, ferry you and your gear, and supply a guide if wanted.

. DSCN0550In Perth last December, with 10 days available to us, we set off to hike 2oo km down to the first town on the trail, Dwellingup. We had organised a couple of food drops at road crossings after 3 and 7 days to cut down on bulk in our packs but carried a tent as well as our bedding, cooking gear, clothes, mozzy net and water. As it turned out we had the huts to ourselves and didn’t need the tent but at other times of the year the trail can get busy with up to 20-30 people at the camps at night.

The summer temperatures were rising and although the forested route gives plenty of shade it seemed prudent to rise with the sun at 5 ish and walk in the cool of the morning, if necessary holing up somewhere for a few hours midday.DSCN0573 The noisy dawn chorus of squawking birds ensured we were up early and after tea and breakfast we would “pack up” and hit the trail through the awakening forest in glorious soft side light on a tide of earthy aromas rising in the growing warmth.
The trail surface is usually a soft and forgiving narrow path, occasionally veering onto old 4WD tracks of red pea gravel weathered down from the Darling Range granites. These are the remains of the oldest rocks in the world and can make for some tricky descents when it can seem like you’re hiking on ball bearings.

DSCN0679 - Version 2You’re very likely to see kangaroo and wallaby in the morning and evening and at night your torch may pick out a possum or echidna, a hedgehog like creature with a long thin snout.
A huge 3,500,000 hectare feral fox eradication program, involving dropping 1000’s of poison baits from planes has enabled threatened native species, which are unaffected by the poison, to become re-established and so you may have a night time visit from a “back from the brink” quenda or bandicoot.
You’re likely to see a lot more emu poo than emu, which may be just as well, as the males, if minding chicks, can become aggressive.
In the warmer months you could cross paths with lizards, snakes and skinks although they will probably hear you coming and beat a hasty retreat. A sensible precaution against snakes is always to wear boots and trousers or gaiters. DSCN0640 - Version 2
The most likely pests to encounter are the smallest. The march fly has a bite like a Horse fly and are satisfyingly slow to escape revenge. Midges, sandflies, ticks and mosquitoes can also be a nuisance best avoided by insect repellant and a net at night, which can also give security to anyone with arachnophobia.
We had lots of webs of the strange horny christmas spider across the path, which although harmless were unpleasant on the face and necessitated waving our walking poles ahead of us. We knew we had become hardened when, after a week on the trail, we could be blasé about sharing a dunny with a redback spider.
“Track fit” is a phrase to describe a body and mind comfortable with a long days backpacking on the trail and we felt ourselves gaining this status as the days rolled by one step at a time.

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Unlike many other long distance hikes, the distance travelled can be hard to gauge given the tree shrouded horizon, so it was exciting, and exhausting, to climb to the bald granite peaks of Mt Randall, Cuthbert, Vincent, Wells and Cooke for extensive views across the vast forests we had traversed. Looking around 360 degrees of
unbroken greenery it was hard to imagine the vast deserts beyond. DSCN0616

For the first 100 km from Perth the huts are roughly every 10km allowing for either nice easy days or, as we did, double or even triple hutting- stopping for a rest, some food, signing the trail register and carrying on.
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Whilst at the huts, the register with details of age, nationality, start and finish points etc and the accompanying log book for longer entries made for a great evenings entertainment. Reading the comments (and ages) of past end2enders was inspirational as were the reports of the common struggles of those with more lowly objectives.
It was heartening to read of the school classes and other groups of youngsters experiencing “the great outdoors”- sometimes with 18 kg packs ! It seemed that outdoor education featured quite strongly in the school curriculum. The secondary school “journey or expedition”courses include skills and knowledge important to outdoor pursuits, minimum impact practices and reading the weather as well as personal and organization skills, group dynamics, first aid, risk management and leadership.
I wonder how the health and safety policies in our schools would cope with courses where ” methods to enhance personal growth are learnt, including those where experiencing challenging activities is the focus. This requires students to step outside their comfort zone, tackle fear and experience unexpected outcomes”
How many of our students, or parents for that matter, would see a place for a long hard trek and sharing a dunny with a poisonous spider on the school syllabus?
More entertainment was supplied in the logs by following the comments of some of the track regulars with trail names such as “The Mad Axeman”, “BigFoot” and “Pack Animal”. They seem to virtually live on the track, doing one E2E after another and bestow their wisdom upon lesser hikers. Pack Animal, who I believe holds the E2E record at 18, gives his address as ℅ Bibbulmun Track and plans to get a Waugal tattooed on the sole of his foot !


For the second 100 km stretch we were more conditioned for the longer distances between huts although the last few Km of the day were always the longest and the sight of the hut was a great relief.DSCN0567 - Version 2
Time for a brew of tea- off with the boots- fill in and read the register-a rest before cooking the nights dehydrated dinner- a slow meander around the campsite gazing at the flora and fauna in the dappled evening light and then, as the sky grew dark- the birds settled down and the stars come out, we climb into our mossie net, lie down on our mats and after a short read fall into a tired but satisfied sleep by 9- ready to be up at 5 to do the whole glorious thing all over again.

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It was with schizophrenic feelings of pleasure and satisfaction but also sadness and loss that we walked into Dwellingup’s Information Centre to sign off the track after our last mornings walk of 20 km.
The town, whose history and fortune is inextricably tied to the forests surrounding it was devastated by a wild bushfire in 1961.
Since then a programme of controlled burning to remove fuel from the forest floor has helped to ensure against a repeat disaster and is a throwback to the fire based management techniques practiced by theAboriginal people for thousands of years. DSCN0672 - Version 2

The only buildings to survive the ’61 fire were the nursing and post offices and the Community Hotel, recently refurbished, where we were looked after by English ex- pat John and his wife Andrea, supplying us with cold beer, fish and chips, shower, a soft bed and even washed our malodorous clothes in their washing machine.
All of which was fantastic- but wouldn’t have been half as nice if we hadn’t hiked 200 km of the Bibbulmum Track to get them.
I can’t imagine how good the beer will be in Albany when I get around to hiking the other 750 km.

Steve Barham .