Bibbulmun Track - Peaceful Bay to Boat Harbour
Start - Peaceful Bay
Finish - Boat Harbour Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 24.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 401m
Time - 6-10 hours
Date Hiked - 21st August 2019
The Hike - After a lovely nights sleep at the Peaceful Bay Caravan Park, I was up early to catch the sunrise from the beach. With no one else around, I had a nice time walking along the beach as the sun started to rise over the headlands to the east.
There was a softness to the golden light as it caught the waves breaking way off in the distance. I did scan the horizon for any early morning whale activity but luck was not on my side this morning. I settled myself on the beach and sat there watching the changing light and contemplating the coming day. My lingering foot issue had not rectified itself with a good stretch/massage and a night of rest so I had to make a decision on what I wanted to do. Either way I still needed to pack up my gear so headed back to the caravan park to do that and prepare for the day. As you can probably tell because I've written this post, I took a couple of anti-inflammatory tablets and decided to push on to Parry Beach. One of my least favourite things about multi-day hiking is packing away my tent, especially when the outer shell is wet. With another warm couple of days forecast there would be plenty of time to dry it out and so it went into the stuff sack a little soggy.
With a decision made I realised I was probably a bit behind schedule as this is the longest day of the whole section at a tick over 24km. Unfortunately the General Store doesn't open until 9am so I couldn't buy myself a treat for the day and settled on some granola and coffee in the caravan park undercover kitchen. Luckily this was empty as I had commandeered a table to begin the process of packing my gear away. A drawback to staying at the caravan park was the water has a horrible chlorinated taste to it and even though I mix my water with Staminade powder for electrolytes and magnesium, it was an unpleasant experience every time I took a sip from my bladder that day. With everything finally packed up for the day I double checked the map to make sure I headed the right way out of town and departed Peaceful Bay. The correct exit is to take East Ave north from the General Store and keep following that until you see the start of the waugyls.
The holiday homes of Peaceful Bay are very much what you'd expect for a small town that is primarily here for holiday makers looking to fish, swim and relax. I enjoyed the rustic houses along the Peppermint Tree lined road and it made me want to return for a non-hiking holiday. The transition between town and wilderness is very abrupt as you reach the end of East Ave and follow a 4x4 track into the thick Peppermint forest that surrounds the town. The trail soon rises up on the dunes above town and you get a nice view of the ocean from a little bench seat on top of the hill. This doesn't last long and soon you are down in the Peppermints again for your first crossing of Peaceful Bay Rd. From here you are back into the thick forest that has a real enclosed feeling to it. Full of wildflowers, gnarly barked Peppermint trees and as you get closer to a creek that runs through the area, a lot of ferns and sword grass starts to appear. Crossing a small wooden bridge, the sun was trying hard to penetrate the thickets of scrawny Peppermint trunks that line the creek and it looked really cool.
Popping out into a little clearing it was nice to have some wide open space and here there were some different wildflowers to photograph, along with a few sundews in the sandy soil. This is a funny spot because here you are about 3km as the crow flies to where you crossed Kwokalup Creek two days prior and highlights how far the Bibbulmun deviates to get to Conspicuous Cliffs. Up ahead was something I didn't really expect and that was a knee deep section of water that you have to wade through for a short while. I say unexpected but as I listened to this day on the podcast that night, Steve did mention it as a place that had a strong flow to it at certain time of the year. It was a refreshing dip and it wasn't long before the feeling of wet socks disappeared (the decision to buy trail runners comes up good again). From here you rise a little bit and the sound of frogs pierces the air as there is a swampy area down below the track. I chose to focus on this because the alternative is to the left of the track and up the hill, that being the Peaceful Bay Tip. While not completely obvious for most of the time, there was a section where I could see the entrance hut and a car had arrived as I walked by. For some reason I didn't want to be spotted so played a stealthy game of trying to sneak by and still get a photo of the people up there going about their day.
I succeeded in my mission but the photo wasn't very interesting so I didn't include it here. After the tip you cross Peaceful Bay Rd again and begin a section that I really didn't enjoy. Running parallel with the coastline, it's a 4x4 track winding through the dune system that just looked like someone had plowed a path through the scrub and then mowed the grass to make it look nice. Most of the time you can't even see the water and my time was spent looking down to try and spot any snakes that might be hiding in the thick grass. When there is a perfectly good beach that runs parallel to this track, I'm not sure why hikers must endure 2km of this walking. With a sore foot I wasn't enjoying this section and wondered why my friend Donovan from The Long Way's Better rated this as his favourite day on the entire track. I knew what was at the end of this path so put the afterburners on and it was all said and done in about 20 minutes. Reaching the views of the Irwin Inlet, this is most enjoyable part of the track because up ahead is the famous canoe crossing of the inlet. If canoeing isn't your thing or you are in a hurry, there is a path leading down from where the track turns north and you can cross the inlet at the ocean end.
I wasn't here to do the shortcut and so snapped a few photos of the inlet and proceeded to what I thought was a short distance to the canoe shed. It turns out to be about 2.5km from the shortcut path to the canoe shed but along the way you get to hike through some nice coastal scrub that is full of wildflowers and Grass Trees. A set of stairs makes it easier to get up the sandy hills and I was happy to see the old signage from Deep River being recycled to make steps through here. I had a bit of a break on one of the steps as it was in the shade of the morning sun before continuing onto the other side. On top of the hill you can see the waters of the inlet and a sense of excitement builds as you reach the flat section next to the inlet. I finally saw the waters of the inlet at the end of the path and was soon standing in front of the canoe shed. Luckily there were two canoes there for me so I pulled one down and got out my pack cover to protect the bottom of my pack as it sat in the canoe. With fairly flat conditions, I wasn't too worried about capsizing so didn't make use of the many empty dry sacks in my bag.
The first crossing was super easy with a NW wind at my back meaning I really only had to paddle every now and then on the right hand side to keep the canoe pointing towards the opposite landing (which is downstream from the western side). This lulled me into a false sense of security as the ride back to deposit another canoe back on the other side was not as easy. The winds weren't strong at all but it was an effort to keep the canoe pointing towards my destination. In the end I just paddled full steam on the left hand side but still drifted off course and figured I might have an easier time once I'd reached the sheltered part of the river. In the end I just hopped out and pulled the two canoes to the landing and got a little muddy in the process. With two canoes on the western bank (only had time for one extra crossing), I headed back to the eastern landing with great ease. Happy to have gone through that experience I loaded the canoe into the shed and sat down on the stairs for a snack and a drink. It really is a unique part of the track and a fun experience to break up what is a long day of some tough walking.
With the rest of the day ahead of me and some distance to cover, I headed up the stairs and was greeted at the top by some cool views of the inlet and the gap between the two canoe sheds. Coming up now was a section I was really looking forward to given its unusual nature compared with everything else you'll see on the track (farmland aside). I am talking about a stretch of the track that is known as the "Showgrounds", an undulating meadow that in later winter and spring turns into a lush paradise of green grass and wildflowers. To start with you walk along the two guiding lines of a 4x4 track with some nice looking hills to your right. These will become a feature of the first little section and together with a small clumping of trees, they provided some really cool scenes as you walked through. If I didn't know this was coming up, I would have assumed the whole stretch from the other side of the inlet to the coast was much of the same vegetation type as before, Peppermint trees or thick coastal scrub. Hoping for some mobs of kangaroos to appear in the grass, it didn't take long before my eye caught some off into the distance.
They were too far away for decent photos so I admired a cool flowering tree that provides some much needed shade along the track. I was really enjoying this area as the rolling hills seemed to last forever (more on that later) plus they just looked really nice in the bright sunshine. It wasn't long before I caught up to the kangaroos and this time they were nice enough to stop and pose for photos. I think they were more interested in me than I was in them but I'm sure they see plenty of strange hikers passing through this area. Coming over the top of another hill you are confronted with a wide bowl of yellow and green that was home to yet more kangaroos. I was far away enough that they didn't notice me and it was funny to see them all laying down in the grass having the time of their life. This area must be absolute heaven to them with an abundance of food, a great line of sight against anything moving through and with very little human interaction to ruin their peace (apart from the occasional hiker). On the left I noticed a strange square of vegetation that was growing a lot higher than the rest and was fenced off. This is assume is one of the many field sites found in this area used to study the ecology of this unique place.
I crept ever closer to the large mob of kangaroos and they soon realised I was approaching so stood up to attention. You really only see them in these numbers and as relaxed in farm paddocks so it was really cool to be walking through and have this experience. I was sure they were all going to bolt as soon as I descended down into the valley but they just kept a watchful eye on me as I snapped away a lot of photos of them sun baking in the grass. Rising up to the top of the hill, you get some nice views looking back at the ground you've just covered and also the inlet in the distance. The track turns due south here and the excitement builds as you realise that you are headed towards the coast for the first beach walking of the day. With still a good distance to cover (your morning travels have taken you quite a way inland) I selected a podcast for my listening pleasure and descended down the first of many hills. It was really fun to start with being able to see the track snakes its way through the green fields and to ride the roller coaster of the various undulations.
Then the hills got really mean and it felt like a never-ending series of calf torturing climbs in the sand with the midday heat bearing down on you. Luckily I had Brady and Grey from Hello Internet to keep me entertained with their clever discussions about nothing in particular as that is exactly what this section felt like, a series of small topics that didn't really go anywhere. That's not to say I wasn't enjoying it because it was a delight to photograph but I had a few "are we there yet moments" as I reached the top of a hill and was confronted with more hills in the distance. One thing that was helping quite a lot is that my foot pain had disappeared completely. I credit the magical waters of the Irwin Inlet for my good fortune and touch wood, it hasn't returned since. Eventually though I spotted the ocean and hope was restored. From the point where you turn to the south, it's about 3km of this grinding effort through the meadows so nothing to sneeze at. I spotted lots more kangaroos hopping along the track as I moved through and I had a laugh when I came across a section that had been mowed through by what I imagine was a large tractor with a big mowing attachment. That's some serious trail maintenance equipment right there.