Harris Dam to Collie
Start - Harris Dam Campsite
Finish - Collie
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 21.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 373m
Time - 4-7 hours
Date Hiked - 8th June 2018
The Hike - Our final day on the Bibbulmun Track between Dwellingup and Collie and with dry socks and shoes thanks to a roaring fire last night, it was shaping up to be a lovely walk into the largest track town that doesn't have a starting/finishing terminus at it. With no rain expected today we would have an unusually dry day (for this trip at least) so all we had to worry about was keeping warm to start the day and we were set.
Deciding it would be best to get an early getaway we were packed up and ready to leave by 8:30am with our packs considerably lighter than when we left both Dwellingup and Driver Rd. Another lovely forest sunrise lit up the canopy as we headed back onto the closed 4x4 track that services the campsite and departed towards the first highlight of the day, Harris Dam. Before you reach the second dam of the Bibbulmun if you are travelling north to south, there is some more fantastic Jarrah forest to walk through and a very divisive point of interest. About 3km in and within walking distance of Harris Dam is a little fairy garden made up of magical figures usually associated with kids fairytales. I have no problem with these things as it's a good way to bring kids out onto the trail and I believe there has been work to clear lots of the plastic items that are bad for the environment. Sometimes you need a bit of whimsy in your life and if this sort of thing makes you annoyed then take a step back and think of a child’s face when they'd been promised a trip to a fairy garden and they find nothing. Exactly...
With a few photos in the bag we descended down the hill to Harris Dam and after a full day the previous day of no camera fogging, I came across the issue again. Slightly annoying as it wasn't even that humid or wet, I hoped that it would eventually sort itself out so I could enjoy the last day's walk. As we reached the waters of the Harris Dam spillway, it had defogged enough that I could take photos but the scenes in front of us were not done justice by the soap opera haze that ruin the images. A peaceful and quiet morning meant that the water had a lovely mirror finish to it and with the limestone look of the spillway making everything look very French countryside (been watching a lot of Tour de France lately).
We both took a lot of photos as we stared out at this picturesque waterhole that serves as a getaway for the residents of Collie. Crossing the bridge over the Harris River (now just a stream) we arrived at the Harris Dam Picnic Area and the first tarmac road since the conveyor belt a few days previously. We didn't check out the dam wall that is located off track and powered on back into the series of trails leading away from the picnic area. This is where we got the first taste that we were approaching Collie with several areas looking like they are frequented quite a lot by dirt bikes. Lucky for us they weren't around today so we could enjoy the nondescript Jarrah forest. Soon we arrived at the first of three power line crossings, a reminder that Collie is home to some large coal powered stations that feeds most of Perth electricity demands.
Being out in the open we could appreciate the sunshine and use the opportunity to lose a layer or two of clothing. It was a weird feeling being warmed by the sun but a welcome one so we moved back into the forest where the sun was less apparent. Despite being regrowth forest, the quality here wasn't too bad with some taller trees sprinkled in around the thinner trunks that formed a fairly thick tree coverage. This kind of walking was very pleasant during the middle stretch of the day with not much to do but admire the forest and take photos of it all. Sure there was evidence of trail bikes using the area but for us that day, we had the whole forest to ourselves. Making a good pace I decided that in a slight opening in the forest we would stop for lunch and it turned out we were close enough to Collie that we had reception once again.
Enjoying the last trail lunch of the trip and a catch-up on social media was nice but with the end goal in sight it wasn't long before we dusted off the pants and continued on our merry way. Not long after our lunch stop we came across a bit of a traffic jam of trails with the Munda Biddi, Bibbulmun and another MTB trail all converging at a small bridge. Having previously remarked to Aron about if we would share paths with the Munda Biddi, it was funny to have it happen not long after. It's also a friendly reminder that Collie is a significant trail town and you are coming up to a built up area that is used by many people. A further reminder up ahead comes in the form of the first paved road you will cross today, Mornington Rd.
Having seen the tarmac at Harris Dam Picnic Area, it wasn't so much of a shock to the system but there's always something weird about coming across a road on a multi-day hike. I feel like I'm in a zoo as passing cars have a look at you and probably wonder what you are doing with your giant pack in the middle of the forest. Soon after Mornington Rd was another shock and something that may sound silly but I didn't notice until that point, I saw my first fence in I can't remember how long. Not sure why that made me stop but I guess I had been used to walking through nature reserves and state forest with no man made limitations apart from tracks. Thinking about it now, this section has that luxury for longer periods than any other section so I've never really noticed until now.
Also throwing me off at this point as we walked down a very straight 4x4 track was the different coloured trees to our right. Having not seen a Wandoo tree all trip, there was an entire forest of them just sitting there with their golden trunks and masses of shedded bark. I wonder if someone was replanting in the area and decided that Jarrah was a bit boring and just planted a better looking tree instead. Along with the Wandoo there were a few wattles providing some excellent colour we had been lacking on this trip due to being out of wildflower season. At this stage and I can't remember what triggered it but Aron started to run off into the distance. Something that is understandable given he'd spent a week with me and probably wanted to get away as quickly as possible but I caught on and started running to catch up. I think we were testing how light our bags were and if we could potentially run the final 8km but we soon realised the error of our ways.
Getting off the straight 4x4 track we passed some evidence of bogan activity and left next to the track was an empty can of "Wild Boar" that I had a chuckle at because...pig hunters. Crossing another landmark in Patstone Rd we were now traversing pockets of forests separated by roads so this part of the day felt disjointed and I was keen to get it over with and reach Coalfields Hwy. I got into mental maths mode trying to figure out how long it would be instead of just enjoying the walk and was soon a little too far ahead of Aron. Eventually we reached the railway that runs parallel with Coalfields Hwy and we stopped to take photos. Aron saw the tail end of a bunny rabbit disappear into the bushes as we crossed the bleak looking railway (the clouds had once again gathered) and made our way along the small track between paddocks that leads to the highway crossing.
There was a large tree (I want to say Marri or Blackbutt) in the middle that provided a good photo opportunity but the thing that struck me was how open this area is. I’m sure a few trees sprinkled around couldn't hurt the grazing animals (horses in this case) and would make things look a lot nicer. Crossing the highway felt less like the milestone I thought it would and soon we were in the Westralia Conservation Park, a place both Donovan and Michelle didn't rate highly when we discussed this section on Real Trail Talk. With low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised and the despite being a little straight and somewhat unnecessarily taking you away from Collie, the whole area with the burnt she-oak forests reminded me of the Kattamorda Trail. Lovely hues of magenta and green contrast nicely and the sandy soil is home to one of my favourites of the trail, the Sundew.
On the map it looks a bit unnecessary to scoot around the edge of Collie like this and my thoughts as we were doing it revolved around when were we finally going to turn east and begin the hike into town. It finally did and with 2.5km to go we came across the elephant in the room when discussing the Bibbulmun and Collie, the spur trail. I get why they want to put the Bibbulmun Track through the Westralia Conservation Park but having to use the same 2.5km trail getting in and out of Collie isn't an ideal solution. Looking at the map, there is an opportunity to turn east before the railway and have a trail run right through the forest there and come into town via a less built up area. The exit out of town can then use the spur trail and continue south via the Westralia Conservation Park. I wouldn't rate the walk after Coalfields Hwy as good enough to warrant the extra distance just to take you through there.
At the spur trail sign I messaged my parents to let them know we were almost in Collie and if they left Funbury now then we would probably meet up at around the same time. The descent down into Collie is fairly nice until you reach the highway and it becomes a bit of a sore point. Granted it was a dreary afternoon with spitting rain and gloomy clouds (great for forest walking but not so great in an urban environment) but the combination of hard pavement walking, diesel fumes from the highway and watching trucks roll by full of timber (hope it was plantation) didn't make this an enjoyable entry into town. I love Collie as a town and enjoy visiting but this isn't a great introduction and the walk along the highway is about a kilometre so a solid 10-15 mins of that experience. We eventually arrived at the lovely Visitor Centre and were greeted warmly by the staff who handed us the log books to sign. I was really hanging out for something hearty from the bakery so we made our way down to Forrest St and the Hot Bread shop (not sure why Collie doesn't have a proper country bakery). Being pescatarian these days I was limited to the vegetable pie and was sorely disappointed when it turned out to be just broccoli, cauliflower (yuck) and a lot of cheese. Luckily we had pizza night at mum and dad’s to look forward to with a mountain of garlic bread. It was a great feast with Caris and Jen driving down from Perth to meet us in Funbury and join in the celebrations.
Final Thoughts - One week, 128km, lot of memories later and we have finished Dwellingup to Collie. Through the sun and the rain, the cold and the cold, we made it and came out better as a result.
A big thank you has to go to Aron for joining me on this trip and providing some excellent company throughout the trip. Not sure I would have had the same motivation during the wet and cold days to keep going in such high spirits.
The final day was actually a lot better than I expected and apart from the unavoidable road crossings, there wasn't too much of an interruption from civilisation on your walk into what is a pretty big town. Obviously there is evidence of incorrect behaviour (I laughed at the disregard both horse riders and trail bike riders have for the do not enter signs) but on the whole it was a pleasant day.
I have heard rumours that the track may be aligned to be friendlier and I really hope that is the case as they are putting in a lot of effort into becoming a better trail town with a new network of MTB and hiking trails in the works.
Coal mining and forestry are not sustainable long term options and hopefully shining a light on the natural beauty of the area will be the first step in regenerating the economy away from the unpleasant crutch it relies on now.
I would have liked to have stayed in Collie and had a serious look at the Coalfields Hotel but staying with mum and dad won over because I hadn't seen them in months and it was a good chance to catch up. There are definitely some great options to stay and eat in town and with seven days since Dwellingup, you would certainly work up an appetite for some luxury.
If you are wanting a week long adventure in the forest to clear your head and test the body then look no further than Dwellingup to Collie. If you have any questions about the logistics or terrain then please email me, I'll be happy to answer them.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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