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.
After one last hill I arrived at the entry point to Quarram Beach and finally I had some respite from the heat of the sandy 4x4 tracks. With a perfect day for beach walking, I immediately took off my shoes and tied them to my pack. Rolling up my pant legs (I did think about ditching them all together) I rushed to the water to feel the refreshing ocean water on my legs. It was heaven and given I was there at low tide, I had beautifully hard sand to walk along for the entire stretch of beach that lasts for just under 2km. After a somewhat mixed morning, I was very happy to see the first extended piece of beach walking on the entire track if you're heading north to south. This was again reminiscent of the Bay of Fires trip I had been on earlier in the year and was good preparation for the enjoyment I would experience along here. Living near the coast in Fremantle, I really enjoy the warmer months when I can take my dogs down to Leighton Beach so beach walking is something I always enjoy.
I split my time between taking wide shots of the scenes ahead, trying to catch the waves as they formed that nice barrel shape and spotting weird and wonderful objects on the sand. Unfortunately not all the objects were nice to see and there was a fair amount of plastic debris from both household uses and discarded fishing gear. It's a sad reality that will continue to haunt the beaches of the South West for decades to come unless we start getting serious about our consumption and waste disposal. One particular yellow jar lid stood out to me and googling the brand after my trip I found it to be a Japanese coffee creamer that I doubt you can buy easily in Australia. It wasn't all doom and gloom as a few seagulls provided some company as I walked along, inspecting the burm that had formed at high tide, thankful I wasn't battling the soft sand above it. I reach the end of the beach and a rocky platform where I could dust off my feet and put my shoes and socks back on.
Rising up into the dunes again, you follow a single track as it makes it's way past some rockier sections of the coastline that would not have been easy to cross in the perfect weather I had today and much harder in wilder conditions. Luckily you hug the water pretty well so you are never out of contact with the ocean. A little rocky beach is a cool feature along here and there were some wildflowers in the bushes that provided a splash of colour to the already bright display. Reaching Little Quarram Beach, another small section of beach walking, I was interested in a buzzing of midges around some rocks. I thought something dead was behind them but in the end I couldn't see anything and the midges took a big liking to me so I quickly moved past the area (stepping over that section of rocks was unavoidable). Little Quarram is only a few hundred metres long and you are back climbing up into the dunes as you reach Big Quarram. I got slightly confused by the names as the signs you see along the way read Big Quarram then Middle Quarram but on the map you walk on Little Quarram first so you end up doing Little, Big and then Middle.
Hiking up onto Big Quarram, the track starts to climb to the top of the headland. It was here I saw my first Sticky Tailflowers, a flower I first really noticed when doing the Point Possession Heritage Trail but one that loves the dunes of the South Coast. A hardy looking plant, the white star shaped flowers are usually well above the ground so make for great foreground objects in shots that feature the ocean. I really only got one half decent photo of them later on as I rounded the headland and caught sight of Back Beach. The vistas here are magnificent as you can see the rest of the day looking east towards the dramatic coastal cliffs, Rope Hill and then further on towards what you'll see on the following day. It really is a cool spot and as I headed down towards Back Beach, I spotted a 4x4 parked at the end of one of many sandy 4x4 tracks that dot this area. The occupants were setup on the cliffs and gave a friendly wave from their camp chairs as I walked by. Reaching the sands of Back Beach, I was loving being on the sand once again and just assumed I would be walking all the way to the end of the beach a few hundred metres away.
How I was wrong with that assumption. As I walked along I noticed a diversion sign in front of a blown out section of the dunes and assumed that it didn't relate to the Bibbulmun (silly). I reached the end of the beach where it meets the side of a big hill and didn't see any Bibbulmun markers. I took out the map and realised that I was meant to exit about halfway down the beach, most likely where the diversion sign was. With another big blown out section leading inland, I looked at the map and figured I would see if that had a goat track back to the main trail. After spotting a very odd mushroom clumping growing in the bare sand and what looked like an old toilet block behind the main dunes, I found a fairly easy way through and rejoined the track. Beach exits have never really been my thing and I might have to read the guidebook a lot closer on my Cape to Cape trip next year. With an easy path to follow now, this was the beginning of a stretch that I really didn't enjoy. Having left the coast now, the track heads inland and weaves up and down the dunes with no real reward. While the track tries to follow the coast for the most part, it just feels like you're being dragged away from the action.
Walking in the shade of the Peppermint thickets is nice when they appear for brief sections and the installation of wooden stairs leading up the hill makes the arduous dune walking seem better but for the most part I was just wondering when it was going to end. This may be down to a combination of the warm weather and getting to the end of a tiring day but I feel like it would be better to walk along the limestone cliffs and have the ocean as your companion for as long as possible. You do eventually get ocean views as you head towards Rope Hill and that awesome little bay below but it felt like a bit of a slog to get there and you always feel like you're on the other side of where you're supposed to be. As you round a corner and get your first views looking down towards Boat Harbour it is a special moment. The end is near and you can enjoy the final section knowing it isn't too far until camp. An interesting feature of this section that a sign explains is the different materials that are trialling here to prevent erosion on the trail. You notice the change from one to another and I like that they are experimenting with ways to improve the track and make it less of an environmental impact.
Before you start heading downhill there is a 4x4 track you cross that I recommend you follow towards the coast as it leads to the scenic lookout of Rope Hill. While it was getting late in the afternoon and I just wanted to get to camp, my friend Bonny on our group chat had sent a photo through taken from Rope Hill by another friend Ben and it looked too good to not visit. It's a slight detour but well worth it as you can climb up to the top of the limestone cliff there (be careful as the limestone is sharp and crumbly) and get some epic views looking down to the granite island below and right along the coast. It was definitely a wow moment and I sat there for a while just taking photos and admiring the beauty of the scene. Unfortunately the sun was reflecting right off the water so the photos looking west were never going to turn out but it was very cool in the moment. With my mood now vastly improved I headed back to join the track and marvelled at the views looking down towards Boat Harbour and the coastline in the distance.
The campsite is nestled down near the bottom of the hill so doesn't have any ocean views but the shot of the shelter as you descend down the track makes it look pretty special. With a new found energy I bounded down the hill and arrived at camp in quick time to find it once again empty. This would end up being the only section of the track where I was alone for every night (even at Peaceful Bay I had no neighbours within 50m) but that was fine with me. I love the nautical touches that have been placed at the Boat Harbour shelter with buoys hanging from old ropes giving the place a lot more character. The crushed limestone that is similar to Rame Head is also a nice touch fitting of the area and the little alcove makes another appearance. I had a bit of a rest before setting up mt sleeping gear and running through my usual routine of warm beverage consumption while writing in the log books. With my late afternoon arrival to camp it was getting towards sunset by the time I started this process so decided to start dinner too.
Reading through the red book entries, I saw Ben's entry saying that the sunset from Rope Hill shouldn't be missed. With dinner already rehydrating and a hot chocolate freshly made my usual instinct would have been to say "oh well" and miss out but I am trying to be more open to spontaneous adventures so left dinner on the table, put my trail runners back on and decided to use them in anger. I had already changed into my thermal bottoms for the night but that didn't matter as I sprinted up the hill, hoping the sun hadn't set yet. My first trail run with these shoes and it was at the end of a tough 24km day with a full pack on. As I reached the top of the hill I saw a couple of kangaroos in the bushes and managed to photograph one as it hopped away. While not entirely in focus, it is one of those shots that you look at and think "Straya mate" (at least I do). I reached the top of Rope Hill via a little shortcut and witnessed the whole sunset as it lit up the coastal cliffs in a golden glow.
With the views west now free of a lot of glare, I happily snapped away as I explored the limestone cliffs. Extremely happy I decided to run up here, this is exactly why we go on these trips and I had a big smile on my face watching the sun slowly drop down below the horizon. With a spectacular sunset now finished, I returned back to camp to find my dinner and hot chocolate still somewhat warm and so had those in the dark before settling down to my final night on this shortened trip. I got up in the middle of the night to capture the Milky Way again and with the core right above my head, I decided to get creative with the shoot. My goal was to see if I could get the Boat Harbour sign on the shelter in the foreground and the core of the Milky Way in the background. Without a tripod it was very tricky and in the end I got the shot but the sign isn't as visible as I was hoping for. Not a bad way to finish a mixed day on the Bibbulmun and with my foot feeling much better, I was a happy camper.
Final Thoughts - When Donovan from The Long Way's Better described this day on the podcast as a 5/5 day and his favourite of the whole track, I was expecting something much better than Giants to Rame Head.
It was probably those high expectations that ultimately contributed to me finding this day not having the same appeal as Giants to Rame Head. Adding into that is most likely my early foot issues and the warm weather making the dune slog feel much worse.
It's not a bad day by any means with some fantastic sections including the Irwin Inlet, Showgrounds, Quarram Beach and Rope Hill but there were sections where I feel the track could be better aligned to provide a great day from start to finish (after the Peaceful Bay tip to Irwin Inlet and the dune walking from Back Beach to Rope Hill).
The decision to visit Rope Hill a couple of times was a very good one (thanks again Ben and Bonny) and although it's another climb after a long day, it is the best place to view the sunset (and one I won't be forgetting any time soon).
After some reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy the forest more than the coast when you even out the wow moments with the arduous parts but this day was still a nice experience that I was happy to have.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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