William Bay to Denmark
Start - William Bay Campsite
Finish - Denmark
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 21km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 312m
Time - 5-9 hours
Date Hiked - 22nd September 2019
The Hike - The final day of my Walpole to Denmark stretch but as circumstance would have it, the second day of my Parry Beach to Albany expedition that would see me complete a sectional end to end. The clouds that had rolled in the previous afternoon had hung around overnight, meaning I was occasionally woken up by rain on the roof.
This meant my plans to wake up early and catch the sunrise from the great lookout near camp also fell apart as it was a very grey morning. I still did it anyway and although I wasn't greeted with a golden glow, you still can't argue with waking up to sweeping ocean views from a granite platform. While I was watching and waiting, I saw some birds in the distance flying in the V formation that made me nostalgic for watching the Mighty Ducks movies. After realising I wasn't getting the brilliant colours of a nice sunrise, I retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag once again and listened to some music. I was in no hurry today as check-in at the YHA wasn't until 4pm and I had a leisurely 21km to get through. Figuring seven hours was enough time to complete this task, it was a relaxing morning around camp eating breakfast, inspecting wildflowers and drinking coffee.
With everything packed up just after 8:30am, I was about ready to leave when I heard a rumbling in the bushes near the shelter. Thinking a few kangaroos had come into camp, I went to grab my camera only to spot two hikers coming round the corner and towards the shelter. A bit surprised to see hikers at this time of morning, I thought they had started in William Bay but as we talked it turned out that Riley and Mon had come all the way from Parry Beach. A young couple from Victoria, they were pumping out big kilometres each day to finish in around 30 days. They would be staying at the YHA that night and were keen to get into town so headed off before me and suggested that maybe we'd see each other during the day. Little did they know how slow I'd be walking today given all the excellent scenery, abundant wildflowers and fantastic photo opportunities. They headed off along the trail and I wasn't far behind them.
As I'd seen coming into camp the previous day, the wildflowers to start the day were just epic with a vast array of colours and varieties that blanketed the coastal heath. As I passed Tower Hill I noticed a little goat track leading off towards the rock formations so decided to check it out. It was a little overgrown in sections but was worth the effort to get to the base of the rocks. They are even more impressive close up and do not at all look like Gondorian nipple helmets. The ocean views here are really cool, even with the moody skies out on the horizon. After exploring the area a little, I headed back to the track and enjoyed the continued wildflower display as I headed mostly downhill. My previous hiking trip before this one was in the forests between North Bannister and Dwellingup and it was special when I spotted an orchid but through here it was like they were a weed. In among the Foxtails, Pink Banjine, Yellow Buttercup and Flame Peas were Cowslip, Pink Fairy and Donkey Orchids and it was a delight to walk through and photograph the area.
Heading down into a thicket of Peppermint trees, always a favourite of mine, it leads you to a space containing some granite slopes that was a little bit unexpected given the previous few days of dune walking. This is a sign of the transition you'll experience as you get closer to Mount Hallowell, a relatively tall granite dome that is a feature that will be with you for the whole morning (and one you'll have to climb up later). It doesn't last long as you find yourself dipping down into a small valley between two dunes and the ocean views disappear. Along here I spotted a couple in the distance and thought it was Riley and Mon but they were coming towards me and soon I was face to face with an older couple that were just enjoying a walk to the William Bay Campsite and back. Remarking what a lovely day it was, I left them to their walk and headed up above the valley onto the ridge of a dune. The views returned and this was a really enjoyable stretch of walking due to the views looking towards the headland close to Ocean Beach and also further to Nullaki Peninsula.
The cool but humid morning air was really pleasant and in the distance I could spot a large granite boulder poking out from looked like a glorious eucalyptus forest. I knew this day contained a return to the Karri forest but to see it so early in the day was a welcome surprise. Heading down small dip, the transition between coastal heath and forest is very quick with a fern indicating that this was an area not short on water access. There is indeed a creek flowing through this section and it supports a thick eucalyptus forest that was a sight for sore eyes (even though this was only day two on the track). It is just a precursor to the walking further on and actually does a good job of shielding you from the excellent scene up ahead. Rounding a corner you come across some very large granite formations that put the previous boulders from Elephant Cove the previous day to shame. These things are massive and as you continue along the path, all you can do is stare up in amazement. The track takes you up close to them and I was loving the patterns and colours of the bare rock extending up into the sky.
With that wow moment providing a highlight of the morning, it was time to head into another Peppermint thicket as you continue the journey down to Lights Beach. Just as you step off the granite platform it was nice to see the return of the special granite waugyls that are silver in colour. Again, the excellent wildflowers along here continue and my pace was very relaxed to say the least. The track opens up as you descend and you reach a 4x4 track that is actually a welcome addition to the day because of the moody views back towards Mount Hallowell. This stretch had the feeling of walking through a swampy expanse and this is not surprising given there is a swamp nearby including a little lake that unfortunately you don't get to see from the track. The 4x4 stretch doesn't last very long but it was fun spotting all the different orchids on the edges, a spot they really seem to enjoy. At one point there was a dozen or so Cowslips in one tiny spot that I was blown away by. As I said before, it is exciting to see a couple on one day in the Darling Range, little did I know this would become completely normal in the next few days.
While the 4x4 track doesn't end, the open space does and soon you are headed into a green paradise of Peppermint trees and thick grass. The orchid love continued with my first Purple Enamel Orchid sighting as you wind your way along the sandy 4x4 track. The lake I mentioned before is not too far away and the creeks that feed it run through where the track goes. Occasionally it can get flooded but luckily the Munda Biddi is not too far away and they get a bridge over the troublesome area. I was highlighted to the existence of the Munda Biddi by a passing cyclist who was riding the path just above where I was and it was nice to see people out enjoying the trails. Now in the thick of the Peppermint trees, it was magical spot that I was very happy to experience with heavy cloud cover. This type of vegetation is really hard to capture when the sun is out and really fun to walk through when it's cloudy. It has a really enclosed feel to it and I love the combination of close green canopy, mossy patches on the trunks and the orange leaf litter marking where the trail goes.
The magic continued as you get closer to the beach and you'd be forgiven in thinking that the salty water and white beach wasn't on the menu anytime soon if you couldn't hear the sound of the waves crashing in the distance. What I was enjoying seeing was the native geranium that was popping up in more frequent numbers. This purple flowering plant looks almost out of place against all the pea varieties and orchids but it's something different and I really enjoyed seeing it all along the coast from here to Albany. Arriving at Lights Beach, it was great to see the ocean up close again and with cloudy skies, it was looking a treat. The first section of the beach is really small but it's still nice the track came here as walking along the beach is always special and seeing more of the granite boulders was pretty cool. While my eyesight isn't great, I managed to spot where the track exit was as there is a great big staircase leading up into the dunes on the opposite side. Not taking the direct route so I could get closer to the waters edge, I eventually got there and realised the path was blocked by a small stream. Too big to jump in one go and not really wanting to get wet socks in what I assumed was going to be the only place where this could happen all day, I saw some rocks upstream and used them to successfully navigate over to the other side.
Climbing up the stairs I found my path blocked with marking tape and a hive of activity in the car park. Turns out I had interrupted the Denmark Half Marathon but had previously been warned about this from Jacko and the couple I passed earlier so it wasn't unexpected. I passed over the tape blocking runners from taking the wrong path and wiggled through the crowds, trying not to get in the way. As it so happened, I was there at the exact moment of the finishers coming in so there was lots of applauding (not for me) and with the wonders of modern technology, I recognised a couple of runners from Instagram. I had a wander around the lookouts near the car park while I eyed off the coffee van that was parked at the finish line. A muffin and a hot chocolate would have been heaven for morning tea but I wasn't feeling that hungry so decided not to (I should have at least bought a muffin for later in hindsight). On the other side of the coin, a runner recognised me from Instagram and a presentation I had done for the Bibbulmun Track Foundation earlier in the year so we had a bit of a chat before I departed the craziness of the race finish and headed up the hill.
Initially you walk along the pavement and this was the last bit of the running course so as I hiked up with my big pack, runners were finishing a half marathon. We were both covering the same distance, the only difference being I was taking a lot longer to complete my 21km. They were all friendly and I gave them a cheer of encouragement as they passed, which I think they appreciated. The track leaves the pavement and heads up the hill on a dedicated single path, a nice detour and one that led to a bevy of wildflowers that you wouldn't have seen if the track stuck to the pavement. It was amazing walking through the thick heath and spotting a variety of different colours and species hidden next to your feet. Everything from Pink Fairy Orchids to Donkey Orchids to Banjine to Geraniums to Blue Fan Flowers to different types of peas, I was frequently stopping to take photo after photo. It wasn't only the wildflowers that was catching my eye because if you turn around and look up, the coastal views are just as spectacular. There was a little bench in a clearing and it provided some excellent views down towards Lights Beach and even as far as the headland near Parry Beach.
The track criss crosses the pavement as you ascend further and the imposing figure of Mount Hallowell looms in the distance. For now though I was concentrating on the wildflower display and watching for runners as they made their way down the hill. Even though I was off in the heath, it was still nice to see them go past and I got a nice feeling of community from the event that really added to the morning. Where the track leaves the pavement for the last time and begins heading towards Mount Hallowell, there were two volunteers for the event directing runners and offering encouragement. We had a bit of a chat about how lovely the area is and what a great time of year it was for the wildflowers. One of them said she lived on the edge of the forest next to Mount Hallowell and I should stop in fro a cup of tea on my way past, which would have been nice but I didn't see her out in the garden. Heading back on single path, the wildflowers continued with different varieties showing up including Albany Catspaw, Foxtail and I spotted a really cool beetle hanging onto a Pink Banjine. While the wildflowers were great, up ahead there was a timely reminder about the hidden threat to the Australian bush, Dieback.
There is an information board telling you about the dangers of the fungal disease that has the ability to destroy the Australian bush and render it virtually lifeless. Rather than being a mere warning, there is a dieback affected area right in front of the sign and you can certainly tell it apart from the surrounding heath. My only concern here is that it is so close to the track, surely it would be easy for hikers to pick it up in wet conditions and transport it with them. Heading north there are no dieback stations to scrub down on and it would be a real shame if it spread. With that timely reminder of boot hygiene, it is time to move on to a really cool bit of the track before you reach the serious uphill for the day. After reaching a sandy 4x4 track, you walk along it for a while before coming across the set of stairs used to climb over the fence line. Much like the climb over the fence just after the Beedelup Campsite, this one is to gain access to private property without the livestock disappearing. Having this easy access to be able to get to Mount Hallowell saves the track following what looks like a long and boring detour so thank you to the farmer that owns this property.
After climbing over the fence you are in much the same kind of scenery as before, albeit with a bit more of a canopy thanks to some Peppermint Trees. The sandy soil around here is lacking the thicker undergrowth you usually get with this type of scene and the reason for this becomes clear the further you walk along. While most farms have the green grasses of the paddocks separated with fences from any sections of remnant bush, this farm appears to let the livestock wander wherever they want and as a result you play a game of dodging the massive cow pats that are deposited everywhere. Coming across a big open field, it did feel like a scene out of Jurassic Park with a fallen tree reminiscent of the scene where they are running with a herd of dinosaurs but the only animals here were cows mooing in the distance. The owners must have done a sweep of the property as I've read that some native plants are poisonous to livestock, particularly the seeds of the Zamia Palm. It made for an interesting scene to have the path basically intersect the border of green fields and coastal heath but it doesn't last long and soon you are walking across a small patch of green to hop over the fence again.
A short distance from the fence is Lights Rd and the car park for Monkey Rock. This marks the beginning or end of the Sheila Hill Memorial Track, a one way hike up and over Mount Hallowell that I was lucky enough to hike with Donovan and Alissa from The Long Way's Better way back in 2017. Funnily enough, with all the granite domes found within the Darling Range section, this is actually the biggest climb of the track in terms of vertical distance covered from bottom to top. You don't realise when you start as the Karri forest completely blankets the view as you look up at it so if you don't look at the elevation chart from the maps then it might come as quite a shock to you. Having done this before I was very much looking forward to the wonderful scenery I would be seeing as I hiked up. After a morning of cloudy conditions, the sun decided to come out right when I didn't want it to. As I've mentioned many times before, bright sunlight in the forests is never good for photos and this was the case here. Concentrating on photographing the wildflowers instead of the wider scenes, I was fortunate to see the clouds come over as I approached the bottom of Monkey Rock.
A popular climbing destination, the granite slopes are impressive to see from the bottom and the track takes you right up against the rock face for a closer look. This is a good introduction to what will be your experience heading up and over the hill with lots of granite and lots of beautiful Karri forest. The climbing is manageable here and rounding a corner onto a wide 4x4 track, I knew the side trip to the top of Monkey Rock was very close. While not marked, head south from the 4x4 track towards the bare granite and you'll see a set of wooden steps leading the way up onto the granite. It's a very cool spot to stand on and stare out at the landscape in front of you, ranging from ocean views to granite poking out of the Karri forest and to the east is the Wilson Inlet and Nullaki Peninsula. While I busy photographing the lovely views, a local woman came up onto the granite and we had a little talk about how lovely the area is. She does this walk a lot and mentioned I should check out the cave on the other side of the summit, something I didn't see on my first visit here two years ago. I thanked her for the tip and continued on, still heading uphill through the forest.
The forest up here is simply epic with large Karri trees everywhere and a thick undergrowth that mixed in with the rocks strewn everywhere, makes navigating a bit tricky sometimes. It's easy to take a goat track up here but there are enough waugyls to spot that it becomes obvious when you're not on the right track. I passed a family enjoying (or judging by some of their faces not enjoying) the walk and found a spot on the rocks to let them pass. While the forest reigns supreme here, there are a few spots where you get some lovely views looking off towards the Wilson Inlet where there is a break in the tree line. This is usually caused by some giant boulders and there is one that I decided to explore a bit further as there was a gap in between two that looking quite interesting. I followed the path in and if you squeezed to the very end there was a knotted rope used to reach the top of the boulder. It looked quite cool and just being in the little slot was like being in a different world but in the end I decided against climbing up the rope. With some more ascending, it isn't long before I popped out into an intersection and saw the now broken signs pointing you towards the summit, Ocean Beach Rd and Monkey Rock. The sign was broken on my last visit and the bottom bit now just sits on the floor, still pointing in the right direction.
I dropped my pack and took the side track to the summit or at least a granite platform that makes it feel more like a summit. It's a cool little path that takes you past some moss covered rocks and through one final thick bit of undergrowth before depositing you on the granite that is very similar to the top of Monkey Rock. With better views to the north, including the small bumps in the distance that are Mount Lindesay and more elevated views of the ocean and farmland below, this is a really cool spot that is worth the little side trip if you are thinking of skipping it. I spent a good amount of time up here just photographing the various views and soaking it all in before deciding to move on and begin the easy part of descending down the hill and beginning my journey into town. Joining the track again, I was happy to see some Karri She-Oaks that I remembered being quite striking up here and the wildflower show continued to be amazing. This time of year is really the best time of year and Western Australia is home to some of the best walking if you want to see wildflowers. You almost get a bit blaise about it if you're a local but I like to remind myself that it is very special and to enjoy the show every spring.
Mount Hallowell is a weird hill as it seems to go on forever and there are several false summits thanks to the thick forest covering the whole hill. I remember coming to a clearing on my first visit and asking Donovan if this was the summit as it certainly seemed like it but he was adamant it kept going (and he was right). Reaching that same clearing today, it brought back some memories and I really enjoyed seeing the Bibbulmun post that looks good in the foreground of shots looking towards the Wilson Inlet and Nullaki. The views towards Mount Lindesay were also much better and I love these points where you can spot landmarks and piece together your various adventures over the years. As the area here is really open you would assume that it would just be a simple path through the forest to get to the bottom and the wow moments were over but the track has one last surprise for you in the shape of some massive boulders that contain a little secret. When you first spot them it really is awe-inspiring as they are so big it's hard to fit into one photo.
They are beautifully coloured too with some pale orange/peach patches dotting the smooth surfaces. While I wasn't exactly in a hurry up to this stage, I felt it was needed that I spend a bit of time here exploring the rocks and looking for the cave that had been pointed out to me earlier. It wasn't that hard to find in the end with a small path leading to the right taking you to the large gap you can see in the second last photo above. While the Mt Cooke Cave is quite popular, mainly due to the increased number of day hikers in the Perth area, this cave I would say is more impressive due to it's size and the views you get out of it. You can kind of do a loop once you reach the entrance by climbing the obvious path to the left and then heading towards the main chamber to the right. Further into the chamber is what looks like indigenous art painted on one of the rocks but I am 99.9% sure this is fake news that someone thought would look cool. I sat down in front of it and instead looked out at the view from inside, which looked really cool with the Karri forest below framed by the edges of the rock. I am happy both for the tip I was given and the luxury of time to spend here as I imagine it's very easy to miss this spot (as we did on my first visit).
Prying myself away from the cave, it was time to move on but it was still a slow progression as I walked along the base of the giant boulders, admiring the scale of them and also because it's very rocky here. A stainless steel bar can be found on a slippery section of bare granite that is very handy in the wet but other than that it is fairly easy going. As you depart the boulders, there is one spot where you look back and can admire them one last time from a distance. Moving down the hill and towards the finish of the Sheila Hill Memorial Track, you get a few smaller boulders spaced out around the place that are nice to see if you haven't had your fill of granite so far today. These disappear on the lower slopes, replaced by this beautifully dark and wet section of forest that is full of moss, fungi and fallen trees. A canopy of Karri She-Oak adds to the pleasant gloom and instead of staring in amazement at the granite boulders, I was scanning the branches for the birds that were fluttering about everywhere. Not having much luck, I continued on and reached the wide open spaces of the 4x4 track leading down to Ocean Beach Rd where you come across some large Karri trees and houses on the left hand side.
The volunteer from before wasn't waiting with a cup of tea so I kept walking and was soon on the edge of Ocean Beach Rd looking at a familiar spot. This was where I parked my car on our previous visit and this marks the long and somewhat arduous walk into the centre of Denmark. As most of the suburbs of Denmark are located on the edge of the Wilson Inlet, it becomes tricky for the track to showcase the best scenery around Denmark but also provide somewhat of a wilderness experience too. With 7km still to go, you might reach the suburbs here and feel a bit of despair that it will all be along bitumen roads but I am happy to report that those sections don't last very long. Wandering through a suburb did feel very weird but after following the waugyls I found myself staring down a road and at the end was a lovely seat overlooking the waters of the inlet. At the start of the Little River Walk Trail I had a bit of a rest and called my sister while I sat on the bench to see how she was going and to sort out plans for her visit up to the big smoke the following weekend. Someone had setup a little table in front of the bench and it was a really relaxing spot to sit and watch the happenings of the inlet while I chatted away.
Heading off once again, the walk along the inlet is really nice with something very similar to the walk out of Walpole. Thick vegetation surrounds the path with lots of Paperbark and Peppermint trees providing shelter. Much like the Walpole walking, there are lots of access points from the various homes along the inlet so you are never too far away from a break in the vegetation for a view of the inlet. This means you can get a clear shot of the small rocky island just offshore that seems to be teeming with bird life all the time based off the photos I have seen. When I walked past there was a large grouping of Pelicans and Shags calling it home but without a good zoom lens, the best I could do was a fairly average picture of them all. Soon after that you reach the bridge crossing over the Little River, a pleasant spot where you get more great views looking up the river and out into the inlet. A trail runner approached as I was on the bridge so tried to make some room as she sped past and I envied her no pack as I ventured on towards the finish.
After finishing the Little River Walk Trail you are deposited back into the suburbs for a small section of road walking before descending down towards more inlet walking. You pass the remnants of an old building that still has its foundations there and given how new they look, I wonder what was there and why it wasn't completely removed. Reaching an open grass area, there are some more nice views of the inlet and this looked to be a nice place to have a picnic under the shade of one of the nearby Peppermint trees. Now you've hit the inlet walking and been introduced to the coastal vegetation, it wouldn't be wrong to assume that the Karri forest walking would be over but low and behold there is a glorious section of it just after the grassed area full of wonderful giants. Happy to be walking through a tall forest again, it doesn't last very long and soon you are back in the suburbs. As you walk along the pavement that is the shortest route to the next patch of forest, I couldn't stop eyeing off a new house that had been built right on the edge of the forest. There is lots of quiet money in Denmark and it's a popular holiday escape so it's no surprise but I just found it to be a good looking building.
Reaching the end of the last bit of suburban walking, you enter a Jarrah forest that unfortunately is infected with dieback. There are signs warning you of this and it's a shame to see it in this state because I really enjoy Jarrah forest and to see it devoid of colour was sad. Luckily it doesn't seem to be a very long stretch that has been affected as the further you continue along, the more wildflowers appear and the greener the undergrowth gets. Seeing the grey bark of the Jarrah tree made me a happy camper and it was fun skirting the edges of the 4x4 track looking for wildflowers to photograph as I went along. One thing I will say about this section is that it feels like you are heading in completely the wrong direction from town. I tried to get my bearings with the sun but it still felt off, even if my GPS tracker confirmed I was still heading in a northerly direction. I kept following the waugyls and they guided me from one 4x4 track to another and past some excellent Jarrah forest that to be honest I wasn't expecting (I had forgotten this section of the podcast where Donovan has a rant about it).
After passing a very wide and waterlogged section of track that some local kids had converted to a cool series of jumps for their bikes (I remember being a kid and having fun doing this), it was a relief to join the raised Denmark Nornalup Rail Trail. Now a dual use trail, this was the home of a railway line that used to operate way back when and after passing some very lush Paperbark swamp you can see a section of the track that still remains. With the return of the Karri trees, this was a really special spot that was looking a treat in the afternoon light. As you continue along there is all kinds of remnants leftover from when the railway was used, culminating in a museum right next to the trail. With a town to get to and a hot shower I didn't explore the museum but it was cool to look at everything as I walked past. The official end to the Bibbulmun is just over the road and curiously there is a sign before you reach it that is not the usual Bibbulmun red/brown colour, instead a shade of green that I believe may be the one of its kind.
Reaching the trail head, there is still about 1km of walking to get you into the centre of town and the reason for this is because of the unique way the Bibbulmun exits Denmark. The official way is to take a ferry from the Denmark River where the trail head is but given the availability of the ferry operator (plus the enormous cost for a single hiker), this is not a viable option anymore. The other options are to walk many kilometres south and cross the Wilson Inlet on foot (when the sandbar is closed) or to get a lift right around the inlet and be dropped off on the Nullaki Peninsula. It's a bit of logistical challenge but given most people will need to head into town anyway, I think the official trail head should be moved to the centre of town. My rest point for the night was the Blue Wren YHA and the 1km walk into town was very pleasant as you follow the Mokare Heritage Trail along the Denmark River all the way into town. Once there I saw Riley and Mon again and met the fellow guests at the YHA while I tried to get my car started (it was having head gasket issues that would ultimately be fatal). Dinner that night was pizza and garlic bread from Massimos Place while I watched the Singapore Grand Prix on my phone in front of the YHA fireplace. Lovely.
Final Thoughts - This day in my opinion is the most complete day of walking on the entire Bibbulmun and was definitely one I would rate very highly.
Ocean views, wildflowers, coastal dunes, Karri forest, granite boulders, Peppermint groves, beach walking, a big hill, Jarrah forest, inlet walking, a rail trail, a couple of rivers and finishing in one of the best towns on the entire track.
It pretty much has everything you would have experienced over the past 900 odd kilometres all packed into one day.
While the moody weather played a part in my enjoyment of this day, I still think it would have been enjoyable on a warm, sunny day.
The suburb bashing near town isn't ideal but they are short sections and I think it's the quickest way to link the patches of forest you walk through to get into Denmark.
A fantastic way to finish what is one of the most highly rated sections of the Bibbulmun. I am completely sold on this being a great section and despite not enjoying the dune walking, on the whole it really is a fantastic experience I would be more than happy to repeat several times.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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