Balingup to Blackwood
Start - Balingup
Finish - Blackwood Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 17.5km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 513m
Time - 4-7 Hours
Date Hiked - 19th September 2018
Directions - Being a small country town, Balingup is quite easy to navigate around and entering/leaving town is quite easy. For southbound travellers follow South West Highway south from the visitor centre, crossing the road when you see the bus stop. Continue down South West Highway until you reach Southampton Rd and follow the waugyls towards the Golden Valley Tree Park.
The Hike - The plan after completing the Collie to Balingup section of the Bibbulmun Track was always to continue on to Donnelly River and plug another gap in my sectional E2E. That was the plan but I arrived in Balingup with a bit of bruising on the balls of my feet and a lovely pub meal/red wine wasn't really going to fix it overnight. Added to this was an uncomfortable nights sleep with what felt like the start of a sinus infection (something that will linger over the next three days) and I woke up having serious thoughts about postponing this section for another time.
When I heard the three Victorians up and about before 6am I knew they weren't staying at Blackwood that night so I got up and wished them well for the rest of their E2E. Given I'm writing this post I think you can figure out my end decision on whether or not to continue but I wasn't truly decided until I got back to the Post House after a lovely breakfast at The Mushroom @ No 61 cafe in town. I have a habit of taking the easy option so decided to push through the foot pain and manage it with some painkillers and trying to not stop as much, as getting going again was the hardest part. With all my belongings packed up I returned my key to the post office and set off to find the track out of town. Having visited Balingup in 2016 to hike the Golden Valley Tree Farm I knew to take South West Hwy south and follow the signs along Southampton Rd until the waugyls pointed me in a different direction. My last visit was in peak period for the tree park with beautiful autumnal colours dominating the landscape.
This time though I was here for the start of spring so the deciduous trees from around the world were just starting to green up after a dormant winter. With Western Australia being made up of evergreen species it is nice to have an area that showcases what it's like in other parts of the world and it was such a difference from the beautiful yellows, red and oranges that I experienced last time. Another difference was that the lake you see after the water pump was full, a change from the dry hole I had seen before. I tried to capture the same types of shots as before but the morning light and lack of leaves on the tree in the middle of the pond didn't produce the right results. I still had fun photographing the tree park although didn't feel up to doing the full circuit around the park. Leaving the park you once again join up with Southampton Rd and begin what is a long walk up the hill towards the natural forest and the highest point of the day. This bit of gravel road walking wasn't too bad and once I was in rhythm (the theme for this section), I was handling it quite well and at a decent pace.
At the top of the hill you cross over the railway (still somewhat active so watch out) and walk along another gravel road until you are directed into the first forest of the day. It wouldn't be long before I would again see familiar territory with the Bibbulmun crossing paths with the Greenbushes Loop, a trail I had previously done in 2015. Still feeling a little down mentally this is where it felt the worst but nothing that a bit of hiking and singing along to some ancient Coldplay wouldn't fix. Being super bright I wasn't too focused on taking photos of the Jarrah forest as these types of photos never really turn out, although the Greenbushes Loop post could have used an update. I arrived at one of my favourite spots on the Greenbushes Loop, the lookout over the Blackwood Valley where there is a seat for you to enjoy the views. I decided to stay for a little while and breath it all in as I knew the next section would be mostly forest walking until you reach Mount Jones Dam. A little red breasted robin was fluttering on the fence while I was taking some photos and I managed to get a blurry photo before moving on. Ahead of me was a history lesson stretch out over the next 3km about the previous life of this forest. The first artefact is an old loading ramp highlighting that forestry was one of the main industries in the area along with gravel extraction. Joining me on this section was a family of emus but they weren't as interested in the history and instead wanted to have a run (away from me). I had a bit of a chuckle at the sign that tells you about habitat trees as it stated that modern forest practices require that large trees are left for various birds and animals to use as homes.
Obviously no one from the Forests Products Commission have been told about these modern methods given their love for clear-felling our native forests. The reason for the habitat trees in this area was poor wood value and the local black cockatoo population are happy someone decided their homes were worthless. The last piece of old timey equipment was another larger loading ramp that was big enough to load up trucks. It's nice to see this kind of stuff still standing and makes for a more interesting walk through some pretty nondescript forest. Down the hill is a leftover from the tin mining era that Greenbushes was known for back in the day, Vultan Dam or Mount Jones Dam as it is now known. Being a fairly warm day I went down to the edge of the dam and dunked my hat in the cool water. Leaving the Greenbushes Loop, my path today would take me through more forest and on towards Spring Gully Rd. After a bit more green Jarrah forest I caught sight of the end game for the day, the endless pine plantations that have a checkered history in recent times. They did look impressive from a distance as the different shades of green made for fun contrast but before I would reach them I had a drinks break on the side of Spring Gully Rd as the track weaved from either side of it and pondered life.
It was still warm but with four and a bit kilometres to go it wouldn't be long before I was at Blackwood Campsite and I could experience one of the more divisive campsites on the track. The track finally uses Spring Gully Rd as the official trail as the landscape opens up into beautiful rolling farmland. After a bit of a blue morning I had finally perked up as I walked down the gravel road and soaked in all the wonderful scenes and warm sunshine. Some rusty old farm buildings to the left provided something fun to photograph, along with the surrounding palm trees. I had a bit of a laugh as I lined up one shot of palm trees juxtaposed against rolling green hills and grazing cows. This area felt very homely and comfortable as I walked down Spring Gully Rd completely isolated with not a person in sight (I didn't see a person all day once I left South West Hwy). Reaching the intersection with Southampton Rd, there was farmland as far as the eye could see but I'd soon get the opportunity to see some up close.
The track is fortunate enough to have permission to pass through someone's farm but make sure you close the gate behind you properly as this privilege can quickly be taken away. After walking along a row of trees you come across a scene I was most looking forward to seeing on the whole week long hike, the post with the waugyl in front of a big green hill. That doesn't make it sound very impressive but after seeing waugyls mostly stuck to trees, the sight of one in a green field with bright blue sky behind it is a lovely thing. It's great that the area is so photogenic and pretty as this is part of a long hill climb up towards the pine plantations. In the middle of this very green field it felt like WA's own version of The Sound of Music country but without the snow capped peaks in the background. Leaving the farm behind you and passing through the gate, you are thrown into a world of pines and gravel tracks for the remainder of the day. The extent of these plantations is quite widespread and being so young, you can appreciate the scale of the operation.
Around one of the corners I heard a car coming and sure enough a Forest Products Commission ute popped out in front of me. The guy stopped to have a chat about snakes, pine trees and suggested a shortcut for me to take along the road. I politely declined because I didn't see how it was much of a shortcut and he went on his way, leaving me to finish the final section to the campsite. You can actually see the Blackwood shelter from a distance and it doesn't seem that far but as you weave along the hillside you start to wonder if you will ever reach it. Eventually I did and I have to say that it was a lot better than I was expecting from what I had read and heard about it. Being up on the hill gives it an immediate advantage as usually the campsites on hills have their views blocked by the forest or don't actually look out over anything. With the devastating fires of 2013, this area looks distinctively different to what it did before (much worse according to most people you speak to). I have to say it's not the prettiest campsite in terms of the immediate surroundings as it looks very scruffy and could use with a bit of landscaping.
What it lacks in close beauty is drowned out by the views over the Blackwood River Valley and the magnificent sunset I was privileged enough to witness. I've heard that any kind of weather spoils this spot quite significantly as the wind blows the rain into the far reaches of the shelter but I was lucky enough to have near perfect conditions on my stay. It was warm and sunny until sunset with no wind and there was no overnight rain forecast so I think I got it at the right time. Reading the red log book there were people who had it pretty rough although one girl stayed during a storm, which I thought would have been quite cool. My sleep was a little broken thanks to the grunting noises of the resident kangaroos but one spectacular sight was waking up to answer the call of nature and seeing the valley shrouded in fog that was being lit up by the full-ish moon. It reminded me of a scene in LOTR: Return of the King where Aragorn and Legolas are speaking at Edoras and was a fantastic way to end what was one of my most up and down days on the track.
Final Thoughts - This day was very close to not happening a few times but in the end I'm extremely happy I continued on as I got a quite magical afternoon/evening at Blackwood Campsite.
The walking is pleasantly varied and apart from maybe a kilometre around Greenbushes it doesn't feel like it drags on. You get the highlight of the Golden Valley Tree Park straight up and then it isn't long before the history lesson of the Greenbushes Loop before finishing with the farmland and pine plantation.
Blackwood Campsite as I said was one of those places I wanted to experience for myself after hearing a few mixed reviews. I really enjoyed my stay but can see why with worse weather conditions people might not enjoy their stay.
With the area directly surrounding the shelter looking a bit scruffy, I hope the FPC decide what they are going to do with the land soon. As much as I would hate those views to disappear, it would be nice for the place to have less of a barren look and feel.
I know you can't plan the weather but if you're thinking of double hutting in this section and it's a nice day, stay longer in Balingup for breakfast and enjoy an afternoon at Blackwood. You won't regret it.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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