Bibbulmun Track - Boonering Hill
Start - Wearne Rd off Albany Hwy
Length - 16.9km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track, Granite Slab
Vertical Climb - 403m
Time - 4-6 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date - 30th April 2017
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - We started on Wearne Rd, a 1.5 hour drive from Perth along Albany Hwy. Turn off on Wearne Rd, about 1km before North Bannister and drive along until you see the Bibbulmun Track markers on either side of the road.
The Hike - After a summer of unpredictable and weird weather, the autumn of 2017 is proving to be a bit of an Indian summer with temperatures consistently in the mid to high 20s and not a rain cloud in sight. The wettest February on record has been followed up by one of the driest autumns on record and the start of the hiking season hasn't felt like it has arrived yet (I was out snorkelling in board shorts the previous day). After a warm Anzac Day hike out at Sullivan Rock (in stark contrast to the previous year where it was raining the whole day), I had my sights set on some more granite hills along Albany Hwy so assembled the Puma Bait Squad for an early pre-dawn departure one fine Sunday morning.
Our target on another pristine sunny Sunday was a day hike to Boonering Hill, a granite dome unsighted as you drive past on Albany Hwy but one that provides some of the most spectacular views you will find in the Darling Range section of the Bibbulmun Track. The drive out to the starting point was very familiar, having taken this route countless times before heading to Sullivan Rock but this time we were going a little further to where the Bibbulmun Track crosses Albany Hwy. Our actual starting point would be where the track crosses Wearne Rd after doubling back on itself to visit the Gringer Creek campsite. There is a 4x4 track on the south side of the highway where the big red Bibbulmun sign is located that you can probably park at but I was happy with our start point, which added just under 3km to the trip.
Upon arriving the car was saying it was a brisk 4C and showing this by sporting a snowflake symbol next to the temperature gauge. Given we had left Fremantle with balmy 14C air, it was a shock to the system to exit the car and breath in some very fresh forest air. Having only packed a thin jumper I was keen to get the body warmed up so we laced the boots and headed into the bush towards the Albany Hwy crossing. This first section is actually quite enjoyable as I had not heard great things about the stretch between Mt Cooke and crossing Albany Hwy. Open Jarrah and Wandoo forest dominates the landscape with a relatively thick canopy and a very open undergrowth. Given that large stretches of the Darling Range and Dwellingup sections are now recovering from bushfires/burn-offs, it was nice to be amongst some mature forest.
Golden Banksia flowers dotted the forest floor, gleaming in the morning sunshine and we even spotted a couple of kangaroos in the distance. The open forest floor takes a detour through a weird patch of thick parrot bush before popping you out on the other side for more Wandoo goodness. Eventually we reached the noise of Albany Hwy and weirdly the track has you walk on the side of the highway for 200m before you reach the large red Bibbulmun sign and head back into the bush. Surely it would have been easy to simply keep the northern part of the track running parallel with the highway until it needed to be crossed. I can imagine this 200m stretch would not be pleasant to an end to ender in the rain with passing trucks kicking up spray at 110kmph.
With Albany Hwy now safely crossed we headed along the 4x4 track that would be home for the next few kilometres. Being dead straight and very flat, there is nothing particularly interesting about this section apart from a granite clearing about half way down. My advice would be to look right as the track follows the edge of a blue gum plantation made up of uniform rows of new eucalyptus trees. Although thankfully not another gloomy pine plantation, the uniformity of the trees was off-putting so instead I chose to look ahead or into the Dwellingup State Forest to the right. Tom and I were leading out front and kept experiencing rapid changes in temperature. All of a sudden it would be super cold and then 2m later it was a very pleasant temperature with my camera also fogging up.
This happened a couple of times and with no wind around we figured this was either ghosts or pockets of air not mixing due to different densities. Would love to know if someone has a scientific explanation of the phenomenon as it was like descending down into a valley very quickly but without any elevation change. We soldiered on and with the temperature settling on the warmer side we removed all jumpers and continued on the straight track. I was starting to wonder if Boonering Hill was actually in the distance until we came across a clearing in the plantation and the peak of the granite dome was hovering just above the tree tops.
With confirmation that we were within range, we spurred on and soon reached the end of the blue gum plantation. Leaving the 4x4 track and continuing on lovely single trails, this is where the serious hill climbing begins and the hamstrings, quads and glutes all start firing at the same time. The return of proper Jarrah forest in all directions is a welcome change as you battle up to a granite outcrop that serves as a good excuse to have a break. Before we reached that point, Tom spotted some blood on the trail that turned out to be sap from a nearby tree that had recently experienced a large blunt trauma and was bleeding a rich red sap on the trail.
Also enjoying a break on the granite outcrop were a few speedy geckos that flittered off as soon as you came near them. We joined them in some sun soaking before moving off and wondering where the spur trail leading to Boonering Hill was going to be as the top of the hill we were on was covered in Jarrah trees. Soon enough our questions were answered as we popped out into a clear section and caught sight of Boonering Hill in the distance. Aron was not impressed as it looked like we would have to dip down into a valley and then do more climbing to reach the bald granite summit. For now though we enjoyed the views to the east as the track exited the forest and into the more open ridgeline between the first peak and Boonering Hill. Eventually though you do reach an exposed point where Boonering Hill comes into full view and you get excited about what it would be like at the top.
The top looks very bare from the bottom so there was no doubt anymore about the quality of the 360 views so we turned our attention to theorising about the location of the spur trail leading to the summit. Much like the old alignment of the Bibbulmun around Sullivan Rock where the track just passed by Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert, the official trail just skirts around the edge of Boonering Hill. We descended around the bottom of the exposed granite section, reminding me of the Caldyanup Trail that runs around the base of Mt Frankland, until I found the spur trail up the hill a little bit. For those that are interested, it is just up the trail from the big granite boulder in the valley and there is a double wagyl in front of the spur. The track will also make a distinct turn to the west so if you find yourself moving away from Boonering Hill in a westerly direction then you may have missed it.
The trail up to the summit isn't easy to navigate with a pack on as it is very overgrown with scratchy parrot bush but the ducking and weaving is worth it when you reach the end and come into view of the cracked granite slabs leading to the summit. I remarked to Mel that our geologist friend Casey would love this area, something that Tom also said on the way back down. Maybe if she visits this section she can let us know how it all happened but the effect is amazing, just a puzzle of granite pieces falling down the slope. Be careful on this section if it is wet as some of the slabs are quite loose and are prone to moving suddenly. The summit is marked with a modest rock cairn, belying the majesty of the views all around you. Unlike the granite peaks north of Albany Hwy, Boonering Hill provides uninterrupted 360 views of the surrounding landscape from its peak of 522m. Mt Cooke and the other granite hills in the area are viewable from Boonering Hill, reminding me a bit of being on top of Talyuberlup and looking towards the peaks of Red Gum Pass.
The gentleness of the slopes on the summit provides a number of viewing platforms and we settled on one looking north near some small boulders that I climbed up for even better views. Everyone enjoyed a snack and a drink whilst soaking in the views and wondering what the clearing next to the blue gum plantation was for. With a relatively flat base Tom & Mel broke out the acro-yoga moves with Aron and myself on photographing duties. With Aron needing to be home by a certain time we packed up our gear, I took a few more photos of Boddington gold mine in the distance and headed off down the parrot bush path. The weather was significantly warmer than when we started and the 4x4 track leading to Boonering Hill seemed much longer on the return journey, perhaps because we were trekking an unknown path on the way there. Eventually though we made it to Albany Hwy and enjoyed the final section back to the car. Another great day hike on the Bibbulmun Track in the bag and some more fantastic memories to go with it.
Final Thoughts - Boonering Hill isn't as well visited as the peaks around Sullivan Rock, most likely because of the extra travelling distance required, and I find it interesting that it is called a hill despite being taller than both Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert. I think it's more fitting to call these peaks as hills given they aren't overly tall compared to the surround landscape, often only involving a vertical climb of 200-300m.
The extra time driving out here and the uninteresting 4x4 track leading to the more engaging single track are well worth it for the amazing views and isolation. The spur trail is only a 300m ascent to the top so anyone doing an E2E should make time, especially if you are heading S-N given the flat section between here and Mt Cooke.
For day hikers though it represents a great spot to enjoy as a halfway point with views you won't find from any of the more popular sections in the Darling Range. I could have spent a lot more time up there on a day like we had and I had a few thoughts on moving the May Pilates hike here.
Telling you to suffer through the straight 4x4 section is probably the wrong choice of words but if you are on your own or the group conversation is lacking then perhaps put the headphones in and enjoy some music or a podcast.
Get out there and experience it!
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