Gregory Brook to Donnelly River
Start - Gregory Brook Campsite
Finish - Donnelly River Village
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 20.5km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 340m
Time - 4-7 hours
Date Hiked - 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.
The distinct blue of the water contrasted nicely against the lush green undergrowth and was a nice reminder of my time between Donnelly River and Pemberton in 2017. Winding your way around the landscape, dodging fallen giants and admiring the wildflower display, you come across something pretty special that I think is pretty unique on the Bibbulmun. I am talking about the "Welcome to Donnelly District" sign in the famous Bibbulmun red. It made me stop and smile because it was something official that you are entering a new landscape and one from all accounts is managed by people who really love the area and want to see it thrive. Another oddity here is what looks like a "triple Karri" with three fairly mature trees popping out of the same space. Kind of like the Karri-Marri tree you'll see in a few days time but different, a testament to how rich the conditions for life are here. Popping out onto Willow Spring Rd you cross a major tributary flowing into the Donnelly River over what used to be an old timber crossing but has since been modernised with metal pipes and sandbags.
The scene looks less like a flowing waterway and more like a weird double sided dam but it works and water can pass under the road without any major dramas. The short dalliance with the gravel road is cut short when you are directed back into the forest on what is a bit of a hybrid single/4x4 track that by the looks of it had recently been maintained by driving a digger through it. I initially thought someone had been in here to cause destruction but as it went along it looked like they were just trying to maintain the track for vehicles to drive through in case of a fire. I'm sure it will grow back soon and look more natural but during my passing it looked pretty messy. One nice highlight along here was a massive example of a Karri tree that looked much older than the surrounding forest, potentially being 200 years old or older.
At the 15km mark you come across a significant milestone and a presence that will be with you for the next few days, the Donnelly River. An old timber bridge greets you but because of its age you must stay within the stainless steel guide lines that are slightly off centre. The reason for this becomes apparent with a big section of one plank missing just over half way along the bridge. With only 6km to go and being well ahead of time I decided to take another break and soak in the surrounding from the comfort of the bridge. After a small snooze lying on the decking staring up at the trees I took some different shots of the old girl and started the finishing stretch. The way into Donnelly River follows a series of 4x4 tracks that provide the opportunity to marvel at the size of the Karri trees. Perfect for the panorama, I enjoyed taking quite a few photos here and before I knew it I was strolling into the outskirts of Donnelly River Village. The first of the classic cottages appeared on my right and a sign telling me that Gregory Brook was 21km behind me was a comforting welcome. As I approached the old timber yard I spotted a funny sight, three emus having a bath in a muddy puddle. Forgetting that the locals around here aren't too fussed with humans I slowly approached with my camera ready before they ran away but as I got closer they just continued on having their bath.
One eventually got up and wandered back towards the village so I followed it to the end point of my journey. On a beautifully sunny day I strolled up to the iconic general store and officially stopped my Runkeeper to mark the end of my Collie to Donnelly River trek. Since the bridge over the Donnelly River I had been fixated on taking off my pack and enjoying a nice hot meal so with my parents nowhere in sight (I was early), I ordered the vegetarian lasagne and a flat white. It really hit the spot as I sat in a comfy arm chair and waited for the family to arrive. Not long after I had finished they arrived and mum and dad had brought along my two young nieces for the journey. After finishing my lasagne we decided to go on a lap of the village as the girls hadn't visited before and mum hadn't been since we stayed here more than 25 years ago. I checked out the free shelter for Bibbulmun Track walkers and I can understand why you'd want to upgrade to a room or house as it's a tiny little shelter that looks very uninviting. Someone had graffiti’d in chalk a message of "Enemies of the heir beware" so clearly only Slytherins stay here. The rest of our loop was spent interacting with the local kangaroo population and admiring the small emu chicks that were following dad around.
Final Thoughts - The final day of any multi-day hiking trip is always a bittersweet affair but the excellence of this day makes it a lot more sweet than bitter. Finally transitioning into the Karri forest after many weeks (for E2E-ers) in the sometimes dry Jarrah forest, this is momentous occasion on the track.
While the Karri forest is the main attraction for this day, the interaction with the Donnelly River and its various tributaries is a fun experience. The quality of the forest here is a nice introduction to the next 7-10 days on the track and we are very lucky to be able to hike through this amazing part of the world.
Donnelly River Village may be the smallest track town by quite a margin but I think that is the biggest appeal. Like the name suggests, it is just a small village that caters to a tiny crowd (slightly bigger during school holidays) and feels more like a big Bibbulmun Campsite than a "track town".
You can enjoy a yummy hot meal, a comfy bed and shower and of course get the touristy shots of the animals as they roam around freely.
A fantastic way to finish a week-long trip and a great bounce back from a pretty so-so day between Blackwood and Gregory Brook the day before.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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