Bibbulmun Track - Sandpatch to Albany
Start - Sandpatch Campsite
Finish - Albany
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 12.7km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 117m
Time - 3-5 hours
Date Hiked - 25th September 2019
The End - This was it, eleven years after first stepping onto the track and two years after seriously deciding to complete a sectional end to end, I would be taking those final steps into Albany. It has been an amazing journey up to here and I was looking forward to closing this chapter of my hiking life.
With 12.7km to go until I was standing next to the Southern Terminus sign (in the location it currently stands), I was having mixed feelings about the finish. On one hand it was the beginning of the end for my current sectional end to end but in a lot of ways this was just the end to the beginning of a life long relationship with the Bibbulmun Track. I can see myself continuing to hike various sections over and over because I want to see them in different times of the year with different weather or with different people. When my nieces and nephew are older I want to show them the beauty of Western Australia and instill a love of nature from an early age. This was definitely not the end, far from it, and I think this was one of the reasons why I wasn't feeling an outcry of raw emotion or an overwhelming sense that this was the finish. Perhaps if I'd thru hiked the whole track this would be different but I'll save that experience for another day.
For now, in the moment, things were a little on the damp side with a light shower passing through camp as I was packing my things up after a quick bite to eat. With clouds on the horizon I decided it was best to take out the pack cover for the first time in days and hope that the weather wouldn't literally rain on my parade. As I set off from camp it cleared and I was back to enjoying simply walking along the track as it headed along the coast for the final time. The after effects of the 2018 out of control prescribed burns are evident all around you with a graveyard of Peppermint trees lining the trail, surrounded by a lush green covering that over time will hopefully rise up and provide the same level of cover that was here previously. One benefit from the fires was the bright covering of red pea wildflowers blanketing the hills in almost every direction. There were plenty of other wildflowers and orchids around but not quite as obvious with a series of Donkey Orchids appearing in the undergrowth and a nice Fringed Lily along one of the sandier sections.
Taking you along the coast, there is one final lookout for you to enjoy before heading inland towards the finishing point along the harbour. If ever I was going to see a whale on this sectional end to end, now would be the time. I gave myself every opportunity here by sitting calmly and adjusting my eyes to the endless horizon in front of me. Deep down I knew there would be no whales and was saving myself from disappointment so after ten minutes I decided it wasn't meant to be and accepted my whale-less fate on this trip. The time here did give me a chance to reflect on the journey so far and one conclusion I drew from my experience was to be in the moment. For the final 11km that meant not thinking too much about everything that had come before and treat it like any other hike, slowing down and enjoying what is in front of me. With that in mind I took one last look back at the Albany Wind Farm and the much gloomier scene than what I had experienced in the morning. Heading inland, the track now takes you downhill and away from Torndirrup National Park towards Princess Royal Harbour and the final walk into town.
The rolling hills were full of wildflowers that contrasted well with the bright blue sky and occasional exposed section of limestone. My memories from walking through here was the striking palette of blue, red and black as the sky, red peas and burnt trees all came together for a magnificent display. Reaching a 4x4 Track, you start the slow downhill run all the way towards Frenchman Bay Rd. Initially you are walking through the same terrain as you get around the Sandpatch Campsite but then it all changes when the track curves around and popping into the distance is the water of Princess Royal Harbour and the many hills that surround the harbour. It's that first moment where it hits you that the finish is within sight and it won't be too much longer until you are taking those final steps into town (although it does feel like a long journey into town). As you walk down the hill the water gets closer and the building of Albany come into view. Knowing what I was in for with regards to the walk into Albany, I wasn't getting too excited about being within sight (there is still 9km of walking to go).
Concentrating on the moment, I was having fun taking photos of the red and burnt scenes to my right as the fire affected areas seemed to have been stopped here at the 4x4 track. To your left is untouched Peppermint trees that were looking very spooky in the moody conditions that had once again rolled in. Despite the sometimes very soft sand, it was nice to see that the wildflowers were persisting in the harsher conditions. Every now and then a survivor would appear, from Rose Coneflowers to flowering Parrot Bush, bringing a little bit of hope to my afternoon. I genuinely expected to follow this 4x4 track all the way down to Frenchman Bay Rd but a sign telling me to turn left took me by surprise but I didn't argue and headed up into the bush. The reason for this detour became quite clear with some fantastic sweeping views overlooking the whole harbour and off towards King George Sound. Seeing this vista immediately brought back fond memories from all my trips to Albany over the years. It really is a place I love and I'm happy that I got to finish my sectional end to end in a place that I have many good memories in.
From this elevated position you can see over the Vancouver Peninsula to where the Bald Head Walk Trail is on the Flinders Peninsula, across to Mount Martin and Gull Rock National Park and of course, the town of Albany nestled between Mount Melville and Mount Clarence. It's a nice feeling to walk along here and connect up all the hikes I'd done previously and be reminded of all the fun times. With the track needing to get down to the waters edge for the slog into town, the views disappear for the time being as you head into the Peppermint thicket for what was a very enjoyable stretch. Some mature groves that escaped the fires can be found here and the walking feels very different to what you've been walking through for the last few days. I enjoy the Peppermint trees so slowed down here and appreciated the various wildflowers (the Yellow Buttercup is lovely here), mosses and character filled bark. It was at the end of this section that I bumped into a fellow hiker, an English man who was just starting out on his S-N end to end. I wished him well and immediately started thinking back to what he has ahead of him over the next month or two. That was an unexpected thought process and really drew me out of the hiking in the moment mentality I had going.
Shocking me out of thinking too much about the past, I was confronted with the start of the Frenchman Bay Rd section that I wasn't really looking forward to if I'm honest. The start is pretty cool with a tunnel of vegetation hanging over a boardwalk section but then you hit an odd patch of pavement going past some new houses. It's really exposed and it was at this point that it started to rain again. With not much to do but walk past these houses that I'm assuming will be surrounded by water in the wetter months, I put the afterburners on, hoping to get some distance under my belt while the scenery and weather was below average. Eventually both got better and after crossing the Sydney Harper Bridge (I see what they did there), you were walking along the edge of the water for the first time with some nice reflective views looking across the harbour. While the clouds were a little grey and the scene a little gloomy, it was still nice to look out over the water and spot Albany in the distance, still looking like it would take a while to get to. Spotting a few birds playing in the water as I walked along, I tried to take some nice pictures but they were still a little too far away.
The reflections on the water looking across to Albany was really cool here, I just wish I had the bright fluffy clouds from earlier instead of the now mostly cloud filled skies. I passed Limeburners and although I had mentioned on the podcast that I was planning on stopping in for a celebratory tipple, it just didn't feel right. I'm not a big Whisky drinker anyway, perhaps if it was a winery I might have stopped in for an hour or so but sitting alone in the cold in my hiking gear didn't seem like the right move that day and with only 4km to go, I kept on powering away. With a good distance along here being pavement walking sandwiched between the road and the water, it was a nice relief when the pavement took you away from the road as the water starts to curve away. You are still connected with the water but the introduction of Peppermint trees makes the pavement walking more bearable and the photos of anything other than the harbour a lot more pleasant. Through a gap in the trees I could see a large collection of birds ranging from Pelicans to Shags to Seagulls just hanging in the shallows. Funnily enough with the finish so close, my camera battery decided to die right there so I stopped at a nearby shelter to dive deep into my bag and retrieve another one.
With that all sorted I got some nice photos of them all enjoying the mouth of a stream that empties into the harbour at that point. With the skies in that direction looking much nice, it was a cool photo but I just wish I had my longer lens with me. Weirdly at this spot was a dead fish wedged in a tree that I couldn't figure out if it had been placed there by a prankster or if a Pelican had dropped its lunch. Either way it was an interesting find so I continued on my merry way, happy to be pointing in the general direction of Albany now. After passing through a lovely thicket of Paperbark trees, you come to the edge of the old Woolstores Building. A fascinating piece of historic Albany, the repeating wedge shape of the roof is very striking as you approach it but as you walk past and onto the exposed road it becomes less appealing. This next section is not one I enjoyed very much but I don't see how you can avoid it if you want the more pleasant section afterwards. After a bit of "spot the waugyl" I figured out the track ran parallel with the railway track before crossing Princess Royal Drive. It's not an aesthetically pleasing area and the less time spent here the better. On the other side of the road you start to ascend up a dodgy looking 4x4 that is surrounded in weeds and doesn't look very nice at all.
It does get better as you get a bit higher on the lower slopes of Mount Melville (think you'd ruin hikers if the track went all the way to the summit this close to the finish) and eventually you are pointed onto a single track. The return of the thick eucalyptus trees is a welcome sight through here and although it may feel like an unnecessary detour, the reward is taking you away from the traffic of Princess Royal Drive that would be a bit depressing as you walked into town. While there are a lot of non-native plants through this section, enough to throw you off a little, it doesn't last very long and before you know it the outer suburbs of Albany are upon you. Elevated above the harbour and the port, I am happy the track goes through here as the houses in this area are unlike any other town in WA, especially in these numbers. The classic cottage style has mostly been kept and combined with the excellent gardens and unusual rocky gradient (instead of dunes), these is a very English feel to this part of Albany. While there are plans to move the Southern Terminus to the visitor centre in the centre of York St, the current sign is located right next to the bus station closer to the port. This means that the track must detour down the hill and past the Brig Amity, which is actually a really cool distraction to explore if you have the time or the patience.
The Brig Amity was the first colonial settlement ship to reach Western Australia with the purpose of starting a colony, doing so in 1826 not far from where the replica now stands. You are free to wander up top but have to pay for the guided tour below deck. Given I really wanted to finish I declined the tour and moved on to the awkward finish heading towards the Southern Terminus. You end up just walking on the grass as there is no path and have to cross a couple of roads with people just staring at you and your large pack from their cars. It's an odd feeling but I was soon staring at the Southern Terminus, which is in a weird spot next to a car park and sort of near the bus station. I had done it, finished my sectional end to end and after trying unsuccessfully to take a timed photo of me next to the sign, I gave up and headed up towards Stirling Terrace for a spot to sit down and call Caris. I still had one more thing I wanted to do while I had the energy and that was walk up York St to the visitor centre and ring the bell to celebrate the finish of my end to end.
I got to the desk and after signing the book (the woman actually tried explained to me what they were for...) I asked to ring the bell. The response was and I'm paraphrasing a bit but it went along the lines of "we usually only let people who've done it properly/all the way through ring it". It was a very rude and unnecessary thing to say as I still had all my gear on and explained that I'd finished a five day stretch to complete my sectional end to end. It's not like this was some grand and exclusive thing to do either as it's just a bit of fun to mark the end of the 1000kms, which I had done. She was also terrible at taking photos and videos on my phone so I ended up standing there like a goose ringing this bell and not knowing if she'd captured anything (she hadn't). Not a great experience to finish my end to end but I had rung the bell and that was the end of that. It was time for a well earned shower so I headed down to my accommodation where I was met by the lovely host and he showed me to my eclectically decorated room (lot of oil paintings) and I bumped into Gandalf and Pixie, who were staying there too. They invited me to drinks with their friends who had finished up their end to ends a few days earlier so I agreed to join them and celebrate. It was nice to celebrate with fellow hikers and we all chatted about different sections, different hikers we'd met and what we loved about the track. Not a bad way to end my trip and made me forget about the visitor centre.