Sandpatch to Albany
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 at 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 instil 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.