Grimwade to Balingup
Start - Grimwade Campsite
Finish - Balingup
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 23.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 350m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 18th September 2018
The Hike - The final day of the Collie to Balingup section of the Bibbulmun Track but only day four of seven for me on this trip as I was continuing on to Donnelly River Village. With much better company staying at Grimwade, it was an early start as the three Victorian hikers wanted to get to Balingup as early as possible for a well earned meal and shower. Given their 45km day the previous day I couldn't blame them and it was before 6am that they all started to rise so I thought I may as well join them in the early start. This was going to be the longest day of my trip at 23km but it looked mostly flat with a downhill finish into Balingup so nothing too strenuous. Not used to these early starts, I made myself a coffee and started the process of packing up my gear ready for the day's hike. The three guys were out of camp before 7am and I lingered around faffing about (I'm a faffer) until 7:20am when I finally decided to leave.
Normally when I'm out and about on day hikes I like to start around sunrise for the better photographic conditions but the camping aspect of the Bibbulmun means I take my time so I'm not arriving at the campsite at midday and twiddling my thumbs all afternoon. With no qualms about hanging around Balingup for half a day, I was happy to enjoy the morning forest light on my way out of camp. The forest was feeling very lush for the first couple of kilometres but then the mood changed as I moved into an area that had recently been burnt. While I have some strong opinions about the amount of prescribed burning they do throughout the south west, the forest does have a pretty colour palette immediately after a light burn. In the morning sunlight the contrast of colours was quite lovely and given there was green on the top, I would say this is one of those rare prescribed burns that dare I say, was done properly. I was still a little frustrated as you could see 30-40m off the track that they had left that alone, again proving they are all about convenience to get their targets. I've said this before, the track is an opportunity to showcase WA at its best and all you ever see in the northern half is burnt forest or recovering forest because of this method. The three guys I stayed with at Grimwade commented on this fact and I've seen similar comments far too often in the online community.
The recently burnt forest was here to stay for quite a while and it wasn't long before the novelty wore off. A few bleaker parts were coming up including a section of parrot bush and she-oak forest that did not look very inviting at all but given it was early and I had somewhere to be (a bakery in Balingup), I was rocketing through this section. At the end of the previous day I was beginning to develop some foot pain in the balls of my feet that I eventually discovered was bruising (most likely a result of old boots). I should have replaced the insoles before the trip but didn't get around to it and I was paying the price now.
Everything was fine once I was in a rhythm so I kept walking through the burnt forest until I reached Kirup Grimwade Rd after 6.5km. The vision of green forest on the other side of the road was a sight for sore eyes and it was a welcome relief to be hiking in proper forest again. Spots of wildflowers greeted me as the track snaked around and eventually opened up into sandy soils and sparser tree coverage. It wasn't long before I'd reached about halfway for the day and with an eye on the kilometres I decided to break for lunch near a giant tree that had fallen over next to the track.
I say "lunch" because it was halfway but it was really a 9:30am snack break because once again I had a yummy Clif bar on the menu. Taking off the shoes and trying to massage the feet a little worked somewhat but I figured this pain wasn't going away soon. Enjoying the relatively dense undergrowth while re-hydrating and re-energising, it certainly had the feel of a "getting into town" day. By this I mean the focus is mainly on the destination rather than the journey, although the first half of the day is nothing to really write home about. Moving on from lunch the track climbs a tiny amount to some of your first farm views of the day. Taking you right up to the fence line of a farm that overlooks the lands to Mullulyup and beyond, breaking up the forest walking and drawing you out of the potential monotony that this type of walking involves.
With a few shots in the bag I moved back into the forest and spotted quite a few orchids that brightened my day including a green and white one that I'm unable to find a name for (see gallery and please let me know if you can tell from the terrible photo). Starting your descent down towards Grimwade Rd reveals some more private property and at the bottom of the hill you might be greeted with a curious local resident. Standing on the fence line was a horse looking like a big puppy that just wanted pats. Still being careful on approach, I realised this was the case and we spent a good amount of time becoming friends as I scratched its head and had a very one-sided chat about life, hay and hiking. Eventually I had to leave and walked down towards Grimwade Rd where I was temporarily dumbfounded by which way to go.
Realising I should have followed the private property boundary instead of walking straight to the road, I followed Grimwade Rd until I saw the familiar red Bibbulmun sign and headed back into the forest. With only 8km of hiking to go for the day I was on the final stretch and there was one last hill to get up before descending down towards Balingup Brook. A lovely forest full of grass trees and some smooth-trunked Wandoo caught me by surprise (I'd completely forgotten what was said in the episode of Real Trail Talk that discussed this section) so was happy to see one of my favourite trees. Walking up the hill revealed that you wouldn't have to ascend to the highest point and instead walked with the contours as the forest sloped in front of you.
The beginning of the final descent takes you down towards the large pine plantation that dominates this section of the walk. With obscured views over the valley surrounding Balingup, you can almost see the finish point and it's a nice motivation to finish the day's hiking. The track takes you right along the fence line of the plantation as if this was something you would love to see although I suspect it is mainly for ease as the forest to the left is quite steep in places. The path is a bit solid in places and with some steep sections it can be tricky if you get a slippery bit. It isn't long though before you take a turn and can see Balingup Brook and the lovely bridge that you use to cross it for the first time.
Taking many photos and enjoying the relief of having only about 4.5km of relatively flat walking to go, I stopped for a break on the other side of the brook on some fallen logs. Enjoying some fluids in the sunshine I massaged the feet again, ready for the final push into Balingup. One thing I did remember from the podcast episode was that this run along the brook was quite enjoyable so was looking forward to experiencing it for myself. After a day of fairly natural surroundings apart from the occasional farm visit, the area around Balingup Brook is decidedly unnatural. Large pine trees make it feel less Australian and more American or Northern European and some trees resembling Weeping Willows also adds to this feeling.
This is not to say it isn't pretty in locations but it felt a little disjointed, which is probably how it all developed. The pest of the WA river system, the blackberry, made an appearance and despite good efforts by DBCA and the local community group it is still quite prevalent. I battled through some to get to an old bridge crossing so I could get some shots of the water because the track wasn't really taking you to see it. On theme, the track then takes you towards the road and along a line of unnatural looking smooth barked eucalypts. Squeezed up against the road isn't the most ideal walking, especially when you are still a couple of kilometres from town but I guess they had no other option here.
There was a cool farm on the other side of the road with a windmill to photograph and not long after you are heading back towards the brook to cross it for the second time. A less magical vehicle bridge is the method this time and takes you on the road that leads to the Origins Centre, a Buddhist retreat just out of Balingup that can be used as accommodation if you happen to be passing through while they are running a retreat (email well ahead to confirm). I reached the Origins Centre and must have missed the turnoff that goes along the brook as I walked right up to the Origins Centre and had to take the path that they have built to connect back up with the Bibbulmun.
The final stretch was upon me and featured what I was expecting from this section with rolling paths following the contours of the brook and a more natural bush setting. Having said that I enjoyed the flower filled sour grass that bordered the nearby properties as it gave off an English lane vibe, further enforced by my bunny rabbit sighting. I reached the road leading into town and passed the oval before crossing the final bridge over Balingup Brook and connecting with South West Hwy that takes you into the centre of town. I found two of the Victorians at the bakery enjoying a hot meal so had a bit of a chat before heading to my accommodation at the Post House.
Located a short walk from the main strip, the still working post office was walkers accommodation out the back and for $45 you get a bed, access to hot showers, a living area and a kitchen. As it turned out the three Victorians were all staying there too so we had a bit of reunion that night. After a luxurious hot shower I changed into semi-clean clothes and wandered back into town for a mushroom pie and a catch up of the socials. Later that night we all ventured across the road to the Balingup Tavern for a nice meal and a few drinks. While I do enjoy my solo hiking, it is these moments that I quite enjoy. Strangers coming together and bonding over a love of hiking and sharing stories either around the campsite or in a pub.
Final Thoughts - This was the end of the Collie to Balingup section and with the longest day of the four days, you certainly earn the bakery treats and pub meal at the end of it.
The day doesn't contain many highlights but there is enough to keep you interested, even if you are rushing to get into town.
Spotting more varieties of orchids was a real treat for me today and even though I was pushing the pace, I still enjoyed the forest walking (apart from the burnt out parrot bush).
Balingup as a track town is one of my favourites and feels very much like a country town. Having visited a few times passing through, I knew what to expect but to stay and enjoy it for longer this time was a delight. The newly reopened Balingup Tavern was a great place to grab a bite to eat and a drink with some amazing wood heavy construction on the inside.
The Collie to Balingup section as a whole was actually a lot better than I was expecting. There are some so-so bits in there but that is to be expected on such a long track like the Bibbulmun. If Jarrah forest and wildflowers are your thing then spring in this section will be your heaven.
I'm not sure when I'll be back to do this section but the lasting memories I have from this trip will keep me happy for a long time I'm sure.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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