Walpole to Frankland River
Start - Walpole Visitor Centre
Finish - Frankland River Campsite
Campsite - Decked Nornalup
Distance - 19.2km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 437m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 17th August 2019
Directions - The trail head for the Bibbulmun Track in Walpole is located just near the Visitor Centre opposite the main shopping strip. Make sure you sign the log books in the Visitor Centre and then head towards the main strip where you'll find the waugyls along the footpath heading east.
The Hike - Having completed the Northcliffe to Walpole section of the track way back in June, I had scheduled the Walpole to Denmark section for later in the year to make sure I was hiking it at the best time of year. With Walpole and Denmark being a bit too far for my usual transport plan of getting Dad to drop me at the start, I drove down to Denmark after work on a Friday and caught the early TransWA bus from Denmark to Walpole the following day. After a sensational breakfast of Truffle Mushrooms at Ravens in Denmark, I headed to the bus stop with my worldly possessions for the week and was soon travelling through the rolling hills between Denmark and Walpole. Given it would take me a week to walk this section, it was rather amusing that the bus trip takes less than an hour.
Arriving in Walpole, I popped into the Visitor Centre to see if Mike was working and to buy the Albany Map as I didn't have time to procure one before leaving Fremantle. Mike was there and he recognised me from my last visit in June so we had a bit of a chat while I signed the log books. With 19km to cover before reaching camp and most of that in my favourite kind of forest, I thought I'd best be on my way. There was a big storm the night before that I had to drive through to get to Denmark and although it had cleared by morning, the air was bitterly cold and there was a strong wind still blowing. The good news was the cloud formations looked stunning against the deep blue sky so at least the photos would be good. Once you find the waugyls heading east out of town it is a pretty pleasant walk as far as town walking is concerned. Turning at the post office you head down towards the inlet (which is a small inlet inside the bigger Nornalup Inlet) and this is where I got geographically embarrassed. It always happens out of town (did the same thing in Dwellingup) for some reason but there was no waugyl on the run down to the jetty so I kept going. I only went a further 50m or so until I checked the map and realised the error and I'm sure there was someone watching from their house wondering what this idiot was doing.
Once I figured out the right way I was a happy camper and the jetty down on the inlet was looking a treat. The combination of the white railing, fluffy clouds, dead tree and bright blue skies was great to photograph and was a nice way to start this section. From here you follow the edge of the water as the track tunnels through the Peppermint Trees and thick grasses. I kept an eye out for differing wildflowers as I walked along and was just happy to be walking in the South West again, a place I always enjoy visiting. Every now and then there would be a clearing in the Peppermint Trees and I'd see the inlet, which also meant a face full of cold wind. Along the edges of town there is a sign pointing you off towards Coalmine Beach and the feeling of being near a town starts to disappear. The wide path and thick undergrowth was great for blocking the wind and home to a variety of great wildflowers, most of which were hard to photograph as the wind wasn't completely blocked out. Crossing Collier Creek, you have the luxury of some boardwalk to keep your feet dry and here there are some magnificent paperbarks mixed in with some character filled eucalyptus trees.
As you head towards the first landmark of the day, Coalmine Beach, the paperbarks relent and the landscape opens up into this wonderful grassy plain. With big, fluffy clouds filling the sky it was quite the scene and off to the east I could see where my journey would be taking me as I climbed up into a magical world of Karri, Tingle and lush surroundings. Not letting my mind skip ahead too much, I concentrated on the here and now, which meant enjoying the wildflowers dotted along the wide gravel track and waiting patiently for them in the cold to stop moving in the wind so I could take a photo. It didn't work very well but I managed to get a couple of shots before moving on to get the blood flowing again. After crossing the road leading into Coalmine Beach you are deposited into the car park where I was greeted by a lone tourist making his way back to the car. He probably decided a swim in the cold conditions wasn't a good idea and I don't blame him. Despite the weather and the pretty depressing name (apparently they wanted to setup a coalmine here back in 1900s), Coalmine Beach is a really nice place and I can see why it's a popular spot for tourists and residents alike. Braving the wind for a few minutes, I headed out onto the beach and took a few photos of the white capped waters of the bigger Nornalup Inlet.
Having explored the two inlets on my brother in law's boat during our 2016 Christmas holiday, I have fond memories of that trip when things were much calmer but it was nice to see it from this perspective. Doubling back and finding the track again, you head down the long bitumen path that runs parallel with the beach. A small park to the left revealed my first wildlife sighting of the trip with three kangaroos just chilling on the grass. They weren't really fussed about me being there so I got right up close for photos, including some of the fluffy juvenile. It's always the case with WA wildlife sightings, you can go days without seeing anything in the wild and then you come across a paddock or lawn and they are everywhere. The reason for the paved pathway is the Coalmine Beach Caravan Park is just up ahead but is hidden well enough that it doesn't distract you from the walking. I spotted more kangaroos here and unfortunately these would be the last of the day for me. A series of beach entry points dot the path, including a small shelter that provides some information on the area and what to look out for (along with nice views of the inlet).
Winding your way through some thicker undergrowth, the sound of the highway becomes audible every now and then. This means the move away from the inlet is close and as I popped out into a little clearing, a grove of many limbed and thick Karri trees appeared making me very excited. While I had enjoyed the walking along the inlet, I had a yearning to get back into the Karri and Tingle forest after a couple of months away from the area that included a mid-winter trip to the warmer climate of the Northern Territory. With Walpole being the home of the Red Tingle, a giant of the forest that is often claimed to be one of the largest trees in the world in terms of trunk girth, the next two days would be spent exploring the hills above the coast in a lush paradise of moss, wildflowers and thick trunks. Crossing South Coast Highway the trail immediately begins to ascend at a decent gradient and you feel like the forest is hugging you in close. The sunny conditions of the morning were now playing against me as the contrast between light and dark is never good for photos in the forest.
Hoping the clouds would soon roll in and provide some better lighting, I concentrated on discovering what was hidden among the undergrowth. Plenty of Tassel Flowers were right by the track, a good sign that you've reached the wetter forests of WA and a nice collection of different mosses and fungi. It took a while to spot my first Tingle but I was still enjoying the transition Karri forest as I continued to climb up the hill. An introduction to the Karri She-Oak, a gnarly barked tree that I always confuse for the Warren River Cedar, was pleasant as I very much enjoy the She-Oaks of the Jarrah forest. The Karri variety are even more interesting with their bright orange colour and most of the time they are covered in a bright green moss that really stands out as you walk along the trail. Sheltered under a fallen log were two odd mushrooms I had not seen before with a blue and yellow tinge to them and I was hoping the new discoveries would continue. I finally spotted my first big Tingle and it was just as glorious as I remember. They really are one of the more characterful trees in the world, especially when they reach their massive girths and have burls dotted all over.
I received my wish of cloud cover as I approached the Hilltop Lookout but luckily still had bright blue skies to the south east. This meant for the time being, the Karri forests had a nice blue backdrop as I received glimpses of the ocean in the very distance. It was a really cool scene (that doesn't quite translate to the photos sorry) to see all the thick Karri trunks in the foreground and then leading down the hill was the ocean. As you approach the Hilltop Lookout you can hear cars on the nearby road, drawing you back out of the feeling that you have escaped the world and are buried deep in the forest (that will come later though). Having visited the lookout on the aforementioned 2016 holiday, I knew the views were going to be nice and they didn't disappoint on a return visit. It's kind of a weird spot as there is no reason to have the Karri forest cleared here for the sake of a view for the tourists so I'd be interested in knowing what the original purpose was. I could see the approaching clouds and as I was admiring the views, the rain started to fall. Just a sprinkle but given the darkness of the clouds rolling in I thought it was best to get out the pack cover and rain jacket just in case.
To say I was enjoying the drizzle was a bit of an understatement. The lighting was now much better and although I was still next to the road, as soon as you were away from the lookout, it felt like you'd disappeared into a fantasy realm of forests and fungi. The colours along here were amazing with the brown and orange textures of the trees contrasting well with the greens of the undergrowth. Flashes of Sword Grass provided bright patches of green, more so now it was drizzling and the Tingles were starting to become more plentiful. I was curious to see how many were actually around as the top of Mt Clare had a few but the stretch where they were didn't last very long. It was nice to see a lot of them, especially the ones that were hundreds of years old as they only grow here. When they are standing upright they are really impressive but coming across one that has fallen over is truly astonishing. The track takes you past such an example and wowsers those root systems are huge. Unfortunately the photo I took of me standing inside the base of the truck didn't turn out but I was dwarfed by it. It was really awe-inspiring to see it up close and marvel at the hollowed out interior up close.
This was truly Big Tingle Country as the closer you got to the next touristy stop, the more of them appeared around each corner. With the rain getting a little heavier I decided to take shelter in the hollow of a bigger example and I could easily fit in with my pack and have room to spare. It was only a brief shower so by the time I had finishing checking out the inside of the Tingle it had passed. The amazing fungi displays continued, a delight as it was nearing the end of winter but one I was revelling in. I love photographing the intricate shapes, textures and colours in the forest and fungi are some of the more interesting objects to look at in details. I reached a familiar sign that gives the distances to Walpole in one direction and the Giant Tingle Tree car park in the other direction. Here I encountered an older couple doing the 1km Giant Tingle Tree Walk and we had fun with the usual jokes that get made about pack size and walking distance etc when you come across regular folk on these walks. Moving on, I figured out the correct way to visit the Giant Tingle and was soon at the boardwalk viewing platform surrounding a couple of ancient Tingle trees.
These hollowed out examples are some of the biggest in the forest and really show just how massive they can get. It really is hard to get them in one shot so I took a few to stitch together later, along with one of me standing in the middle of one where I look tiny (except my fat belly resting on the straps of my bag). Here I was joined by a few other tourists so I let them have the trees to themselves and moved on to find somewhere for lunch. Luckily there are a few benches along the paved section of the trail and so I dropped my pack for a well earned rest. Later on at the campsite I would read in one of the log books someone pointing out that this area felt like a zoo where the trees were on display and walking the Bibbulmun felt like seeing them in the wild. I had a chuckle at this because yes it does feel like that when you think about it but it's not like the Giant Tingle Tree has the ability to get up and move. It was an interesting point that stuck with me all throughout my time in the forest and I certainly found it better to see them in the wild rather than surrounded by boardwalks. Leaving the Giant Tingle Tree Walk, it didn't take long before the wild population started again and through here were some of the best of what I would describe as the middle generation of Tingles.
Not so old and fire affected as to have their entire hollows burnt out but old enough to have some girth to them and a fair bit of character. The shot I am using as the cover photo for this post can be found here and although it has some of it's insides burnt out, it remains a vibrant and healthy tree that was very cool to stand near and admire. As I had more or less reached the top of the hill, the walking through here was a series of small ups and downs with the trail meandering around the contours. It was very easy to slow down here and just soak in the magic of walking through a thick and lush forest. One thing that was slowing me down was having to pick my through a recently fallen tree that had been deposited on the trail thanks to the previous night's storm. Successfully stepping from branch to branch with only a minor slip, I was soon back on track and enjoying the gentle going. Passing a duo of large Tingles in close proximity was a treat (the next day would be even better) and it made me think about the deep bond they would have over their lifetime given the discoveries scientists are making about trees and the complex connections they make with each other through their root systems.
Having done a pretty much a semi circle since leaving the Giant Tingle, you are popped out onto Tingle Drive, a wide 4x4 track that will be home for the next couple of kilometres. This part of the day was a highlight for me as the track provides some stunning views over the Frankland River Valley and it felt like you were part of the forest much more thanks to the canopy being so close. On the podcast episode we did on this section of the track, Steve Sertis from the Bibbulmun Track Foundation remarked that he found this bit very meditative and I would agree 100% with him. The first day on a week long trip by myself is always a bit emotional for me as I detox from regular life and transition into a very solitary one on the trail. Don't get me wrong, I love doing these trips but it's a shock sometimes when you're isolated from your family and your routines. I was along here that I started to find my trail rhythm and the calmness I look for when walking through the forest. By now it was mid afternoon and the sun was beginning to break through the clouds and into the valley, creating this really enjoyable feel to the scene. As I've always said, the 4x4 tracks are very much suited to the Karri forest as the extra width allows you to appreciate the vastness of the trees and this was certainly the case here.
Part of the enjoyment along here is that you are descending down towards the Frankland River and the air becomes closer, cooler and the smells are much better. While the Frankland River is your home for the night, you still have over an hour of hiking until you reach the campsite so it was nice to know the excellent walking would be continuing on for a little bit longer. My favourite thing along here was to walk on the edge of the 4x4 track and stare down the fairly steep slopes into the valley. Staring down at the Karri forest is a pretty unusual thing (although once again wait until the next day) and so to feel like you are one of the birds of the forest is a wonderful thing. Reaching the bottom of the hill and the point where you depart Tingle Drive, I was a bit sad to finish the highly enjoyable descent. One of many small streams that feeds the Frankland is flowing nearby but the only access point to interact with it is when it runs under the 4x4 track. Tingle Drive continues on and you'll eventually reach it again early on the next day but the track heads north where it won't be long before you reach the campsite.
You go up and over a small hill and find yourself in a mixed forest of Jarrah and Karri, very weird considering this is in a low lying area and would be prime location for a thick and beautiful Karri forest. You pass over Creek Rd and through the white gates sectioning off this area from unauthorised access where you continue walking along the sweeping 4x4 track. After spending most of the day in the Karri forest it is a bit of a shock to be walking in Jarrah, despite there being plenty of mature trees around. Closer to the campsite you come across what looks like a young regrowth forest with lots of small diameter trees and the satellite view certainly indicates there is a large man made clearing right near the campsite. Given this is national park you would hate to think that the government allowed loggers in here and evidence of a road leading straight into the clearing suggests this might have been the case. Descending down a hill you get a glimpse of the Frankland River and soon the shelter can be seen in the distance.
The Frankland River shelter as you can tell by the photos is unique on the track in that it has a raised deck area to protect it from potential flood waters. Steve on the podcast said it's never been surrounded by water that he is aware of but it is nice to know they prepared for the worst. The advantage of the raised deck is you have the luxury of walking around the shelter in your socks or barefoot without worrying about them being covered in a layer of dirt or mud. It's the one thing I don't enjoy about the shelters, especially in the northern sections, so to have this little decked area makes all the difference. The campsite location is spot on with it being situated right on the Frankland River. From the deck you can watch the gentle flow of the river and listen for the birds singing in the abundant undergrowth. If you're feeling adventurous there is a fallen tree right in front of the shelter that provides an opportunity to see more of the river, especially in the wetter months when the river level is much higher. There are a couple of other paths leading down on either side of the shelter if you don't feel comfortable negotiating the tree and allow you to see up and down stream much better.
With no dinner to cook tonight (day one on the trail is always something brought from home like fresh rolls) I setup my sleeping gear and started to unwind for the afternoon. Brewing up a hot chocolate, I explored the campsite area a little and did my usual thing of sitting in each tent spot long enough for the birds to get used to my presence so I could observe them properly. It was a sunny afternoon so I was looking forward to the sunset that I hoped would be stunning with all the clouds around. As the light slowly faded there was a light pastel colour to the sky but in the end it didn't live up to the promise and the sky in the photos was too overexposed to truly capture what it was like. I stood on the fallen tree while I ate dinner and enjoyed a second hot chocolate, just watching the river and taking a million photos. In the drier months I imagine it is possible to explore the rocks and rapids to the east but during my time here the water level was too high and they were fully submerged. As it turned to darkness I retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag (it was still a very cold day) where I enjoyed some wine, chocolate and a very on point viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (they really are beautiful movies and thoroughly detailed).
Final Thoughts - Walpole to Denmark was a section I had earmarked early as one I wanted to save up for the peak time and I'm very happy I did. While this day I knew was going to be thoroughly enjoyable on account of the Tingle forest, I was still blown away with how amazing it was.
The ability to walk through such an epic forest with your whole life on your back and feel nothing but joy and admiration for the natural beauty of Western Australia is the true luxury of hiking in this area.
The fact that more people don't do it and instead are happy to drive to places like the Giant Tingle and Tree Top Walk blows me away but I understand that not everyone is in a position to do this. Those places do a lot to engage people with the beauty of the area but if everyone that was able did a few days of hiking through here then there would be a lot more done to protect what is left in WA.
Frankland River immediately jumps into the conversation as one of the best campsites on the Bibbulmun and when is all said and done I think I might have to have a serious think about defining that list.
As you can tell by the number of photos, I really enjoy the Tingle forest and I encourage everyone to plan an adventure like this.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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