Gregory Brook to Donnelly River
21st September 2018
The Hike - The final day of my week long adventure in the South West and I have to say it was a bittersweet moment waking up at Gregory Brook. On one hand I was returning home to the family, along with having a shower and decent meal but then there was the realisation that I would no longer be living the simple life of eat, drink, hike, photograph, sleep and repeat. I woke up pretty early as I got my maths wrong on the daily kilometres and thought that I had 23km to get through today but it wasn't until my lunch stop that I realised this wasn't the case and I could magically take 2.5km off my estimates. With no fellow hikers at camp I was free to wander around with no pants on but it was cold so I elected to go the pants on option as I prepared a morning brew and packed away my belongings.
This was one of my earliest getaways from camp as I'd told the parental units while I had reception in Balingup that a 2pm pickup in Donnelly River would be ideal. Thinking I had 23km to get through I figured six hours was plenty of time so left just after 7:30am and began the only sustained period of uphill on the whole day. It's only about 60m vertically over 5km to the highest point of the day and then it would be mostly downhill all the way into Donnelly River. My foot issues meant getting into a rhythm in the morning took a while but today was the worst of it. Hobbling around the lush Jarrah forest was not ideal and I was wondering when it would get better (or the drugs would kick in). Luckily there was plenty to keep me distracted with wildflowers, grass trees, zamia seed pods, fungi and more wildflowers. Coming off the single track forest, you are deposited onto a sandy 4x4 track for a while. A smile came on my face as you reach the sign for the intersection of Guy Rd and Petunia Rd because Harry Potter. About 3km in you start to see the forest change from predominantly Jarrah and slowly transition into the beautiful Karri forest that will become home from this point onwards (if travelling south).
The track takes you through one of the famous Karri tunnels formed when the shedding bark drips over the undergrowth and forms these amazing chaotic structures. This coincides with your arrival at Karri Gully, a access point located just off Brockman Hwy where apparently there are a couple of chickens wandering around (the red book suggested they were still there recently). Having visited Karri Gully in 2016 whilst checking out the Bridgetown Jarrah Park and Golden Valley Tree Park, I wasn't that keen to see it again (although chicken sightings would have been cool) so I followed the red sign for the Bibbulmun Track and kept going. Coming across another large collection of Karri trees I was really happy to see them given I'd been in Jarrah forest for the last six days and I may have hugged one for an undisclosed period of time. At this point my camera fell out of my bag, rolled down the path and took a picture of me doing this so that was lucky as it was a very special moment between hiker and tree.
The track runs parallel with Brockman Hwy for almost a kilometre and here I found a new wildflower I hadn't seen in the past week, a kind of purple, blue and white star that I'd seen elsewhere in the south west but not so far on this trip. Finally reaching Brockman Hwy, I found a little spot next to the Bibbulmun Track sign to have a small break before the run down to Donnelly River. With a small collection of Karri forest near Karri Gully and this being the highest point of the day I thought that from here on out it would be straight into a world of Karri tunnels, magic, towering giants and everything else I love about the Southern Forests region of WA. Crossing the highway I was a little disappointed to see a world of Jarrah, and blackened Jarrah at that. It's not that I don't like Jarrah but my silly expectations had me thinking it would at least be mixed Jarrah/Karri and it was something I was looking forward to. In Balingup the Victorians I had run into were praising the Jarrah forest for how lovely it was and I just smiled and said "wait until you reach the Karri forest". This isn't to say the walking wasn't enjoyable, I was just hanging out for something different and it finally arrived a couple of kilometres later as the burnt trunks disappeared and the spindly undergrowth that you see in the Karri forest starts to make more of an appearance.
Crossing under a power line you reach a long and straight rail formation and the fun really begins. With cloudy conditions and the chance of rain about today I was looking forward to ideal photographic conditions and the long tunnels along this section were providing some shots reminiscent of previous trips to the Southern Forests. While this section may appear boring to some, I was loving it as you come across the small gullies that feed the ever closer Donnelly River. Coming across the Willow Springs Camp, a public area where I'm guessing you can setup your tent or camper van for the night, I decided here was a great place to enjoy at lunch break. Sitting on a fallen log I was enjoying the last of my Clif bars whilst looking at the map to double check how long I had to go when I realised that my calculations had been off. With a more relaxed day ahead of me I could slow the pace down a bit if I wanted and enjoy some of my favourite scenery. It would only get better from here with an endless maze of trees, gullies, single track and dense undergrowth. The first fun highlight was a moss covered bridge over another gully in a lovely patch of forest. I enjoyed photographing this bit quite a lot and it felt like you had finally reached the Donnelly River area properly.