Bald Head Walk Trail
Start - Off Murray Rd, Torndirrup National Park
Length - 12.4km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Path, Sand, Granite
Vertical Climb - 559m
Time - 4-7 hours
Signed - Follow the Path and Watch for Cairns
Date Hiked - 1st October 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Minang People
Directions - From the centre of Albany take Frenchman Bay Rd into Torndirrup National Park until you reach Salmon Hole Rd. Take a right here and then take a left onto Murray Rd. The trail starts at the top of a gravel road that comes off Murray Rd (it is well signposted), where you'll find a small car park.
The Hike - One of the best day hikes in Western Australia, Bald Head is a trail that I first hiked way back in 2015 when it was only known to locals and the only information you could find online was a short write up with a couple of photos. Fast forward to late 2020 and thanks to the rise of Instagram, an increase in popularity of hiking and a travel ban forcing many people to explore their own backyards, Bald Head is a mainstay on a lot of the WA tourism accounts. Over the years my original page for this hike has received a bit of traffic as it's well searched for online but as with most of my early posts, it didn't have a lot of depth and the photos really only showcased the first half of the hike.
With that in mind, it was always my plan to completely re-do the page and hike this one again on my Spring 2020 Road Trip. With many other hikes planned for my Albany leg of the trip, I moved this one to my last full day here because I wanted the best day of weather put aside for my trip to Two Peoples Bay and Mount Martin. Coincidently this also meant that I would repeat the same experience that I had on my first trip here where I would spend the morning at my accommodation enjoying a cooked breakfast and Game One of the NBA Finals. Due to the madness of 2020, the dates were a little bit different with the NBA season being postponed and then finally completed in October instead of mid-June. This year it was the Miami Heat facing the LeBron led Lakers and after a pretty entertaining start it all fizzled out when Goran Dragić and Bam Adebayo left the game with injuries and the Lakers won comfortably. With a full belly, a few coffees under my belt and the game finished, I packed up my gear and drove out to Torndirrup National Park to tackle what has been a favourite hike of mine since I first visited way back in 2015. I was last here in 2019 after finishing my sectional end to end of the Bibbulmun Track but only walked a short section before deciding to visit the nearby Peak Head Walk Trail as I could do that one in its entirety before sunset (and what a good decision that was).
Reaching the car park I was a little bemused that it was very busy and in the end I had to park about halfway down the entry road due to the lack of space. As I said before, it's not surprising given the popularity of Bald Head these days and it was during the September school holidays so understandable that it was busy. The weather for my visit was not ideal thanks to the onset of some cold, windy and wet conditions that would last the duration of my trip along the south coast. While it wasn't raining, the grey conditions posed some issues with dull lighting and the fierce wind didn't help when photographing the wildflowers. Nevertheless, I did say in my old post that I thought this would still be a great experience if the weather was terrible so today I would be testing that theory out to a certain degree. The trail head was a little busy with a couple of groups getting in the way of a clear photo (first photo above is from the finish) and I really hoped that I would get some clear stretches to enjoy the trail to myself. Starting the uphill slog, it's a pretty brutal way to begin the trail but is a good indication of what to expect for the whole 12.4km return trip. Enjoying the Peppermint lined undergrowth, this spot is really good for wildflowers and orchids with a few good finds straight away thanks to some Cowslip Orchids and Milk Maids.
Reaching the granite slopes of Isthmus Hill pretty quickly, I was starting to feel the excitement and sense of wonder that this trail provides. The quick 60m vertical ascent gives you some stunning views looking back towards Albany and down at Salmon Holes Beach, a popular spot to visit thanks to the fishing and sheltered location. Knowing what was coming and that the views here would be much better on the return leg thanks to sun being lower in the sky, I skipped across the granite towards the location that is the most photographed of the entire hike. Weaving through some undergrowth, I slowed down here to take in the wildflowers lining the trail that included the only Donkey Orchids I saw on the trail. Rounding a corner, I got my first glimpse of the money shot with the full length view of the Flinders Peninsula visible. Last time I was here I remember being completely in awe of this spot again and thinking to myself that the magic had not disappeared with time. Visiting trails again after exploring a wide collection of hikes can sometimes bring them down a notch or two when you start comparing them to other experiences but Bald Head had lost none of the lustre.
From the top of the hill here you can see the trail snaking up and over the limestone ridges of the peninsula and it looks simply stunning. To be able to trace in your mind where you will be headed in the next half hour or so filled me with delight and stopping every couple of steps to photograph it from a different angle did nothing to tamper that. Descending down the hill, the banksias through here are a real feature and I was lucky to find some still in flower. They provide a great foreground object to some of the wider shots of the water on either side and when you get up close to one, they are beautifully intricate in their shapes and colours. Reaching the bottom of the hill (you drop about 80m vertically here), the bulk of the peninsula ahead is quite a formidable sight. You get to a point where there is a trail junction and the opportunity to access the beach to the right. I figured if I had enough time on the way back I would visit but for now I was keen to keep going while the weather was still good. Around this point you start to get views of the great granite wall to your right as it extends from Isthmus Hill down into the ocean below. It's a sizeable piece of bare rock and one that is a feature I photographed from various angles all along the hike.
While the cloudy conditions were working in my favour for the wide shots, a small ray of sunshine in the distance brightened up my day. Having come here to re-shoot the trail in 2020 spec (basically lots of photos with more words to match) with my new camera, my big worry was that I'd get gloomy conditions that didn't really have any pop to them. The wide shots of the peninsula stretching out are best taken when the sun is shining and there is a bright blue sky to liven things up. Unfortunately it wasn't the day for it but I was still enjoying myself as I began the climb up towards the first of the limestone peaks that line the ridge. Erosion has become a bit of an issue on this trail as I don't think it gets a lot of maintenance love from Parks and Wildlife and climbing up the steps here you can see evidence of that. While it's nothing serious, at times you are walking in the middle of a deep-ish channel and you can see people have started walking on either side above it. This isn't great for the trail but I believe there is some money being invested here soon to upgrade the track and deal with the erosion issues. Reaching the top of this climb, I was rewarded with some really stunning views looking back towards Isthmus Hill and the bare slab of granite leading into the water. One of my favourite shots of this hike is a zoomed in photo looking towards Salmon Holes where the bare granite looks like a whale sliding back into the water.
Being up high now, you get some excellent views looking all around but just up ahead you get a sensory break when you head into a Banksia thicket and the views disappear. This is no bad thing as it provides something different to look at and also breaks up the hike into separate sections. The sandy single track leads you through the undergrowth and it marked a return of the wildflowers, something I didn't really get to experience on my first time out here thanks to it being early winter. I always enjoy slowing down and photographing the wildflowers so was having a nice time looking out for different species that included an Acacia, Showy Dryandra, Rose Coneflower, Pink Fairy Orchids and more stunning Cut-leaf Banksia (the brilliant purple/red coloured ones). Popping out of the thicket, you are hugging the northern edge of the ridge and the views looking across King George Sound towards Albany and Gull Rock National Park start to become the main feature. The cliffs below look superb and I love seeing the little triangular section jutting out into the water that is Limestone Head. The turquoise water below was looking a treat when the sun eventually poked through the cloud cover and it still looked like the Italian Riviera from certain angles. The views keep getting better as you rise up a small hill and catch sight of the namesake of the hike, Bald Head. You got distant glimpses of it earlier but from this position you really get a sense of scale and zoomed right in, it looked pretty spectacular.
Descending down into a small valley, it isn't long before you are staring up at your next climb that will take you up to another rocky outcrop. Here I ran into a couple that were doing some filming so I awkwardly hurried up the limestone incline to get out of their way. Turns out the guy wanted to be filmed running between the two high points so I got out of shot and watched him do his thing while also taking the opportunity to have a bit of a break. There are a couple of nice spots up here to sit down on the limestone and marvel at the great views so I did just that. The girl who was filming wished me a happy hike before also running down to the lower peak so I gathered my pack and left. Given how full the car park was, I think I had been passed by most of the occupants fairly early on so by my rough calculations, I would have the bulk of the latter half to myself. With the end of the hike now looking much closer, there is actually a fair amount of hiking to go through some varied terrain. One of my regrets I had looking back at my previous post for this hike was the lack of photos from this point onwards. Back then I only had a small memory card so I was limited to around 250 shots and it's a huge relief to be able to have freedom on taking as many photos as I like these days. Moving forward, you get one last little section above Limestone Head before ducking inland through another Banksia thicket. Again it was a case of enjoying what was in front of me and photographing the wildflowers along this brief stretch.
I think if this hike was all along exposed coastal scrub then it might not be as enjoyable but for me there is a joy to passing through these enclosed sections as it makes you feel like you're going through another level, escaping further away from civilisation into a different world. That illusion was broken slightly when I passed another couple heading the other way and they had an air of familiarity to them. It would be confirmed later that night after seeing their stories on Instagram and exchanging a few messages along the lines of "I thought that was you". It was a couple I follow on the socials that would usually be traipsing around Tuscany at this time of year but thanks to the Rona travel restrictions, were out exploring WA. Popping out of the undergrowth and presented with the sight of a granite section leading up the hill was a welcome sight as I'd forgotten about this enjoyable stretch. Following the cairns, this marks the start of the amazing views looking out towards Michaelsea and Breaksea Islands, the latter home to a lighthouse that makes a great feature to photograph. Making this scene even better is the presence of Mount Gardner in the background, a dramatic addition to an already impressive landscape. This area is also home to some stunted eucalyptus trees and the combination of granite, trees, water, islands and distant mountains is a particularly powerful image as you're walking through here.