Northcliffe to Gardner
Bibbulmun Track

northcliffe

gardner

15.8km

254m

4-6 hours

Directions - Northcliffe is located four hours south of Perth and 30km south of Pemberton. From Pemberton take Pemberton-Northcliffe Rd south and follow the signs to Northcliffe. The trail head is at the lovely Visitor Centre where you can sign the book or restock with supplies (Back Country meals and gas cannisters sold here). 

The Hike - With the goal of completing my sectional end to end moved from 2018 to 2019 thanks to an achilles injury and a couple of unplanned Google Trekker adventures, my focus turned to planning which sections I wanted to do and in what order. My hope was to have all the gaps plugged in the Darling Range section before finishing with the entire Northcliffe to Albany section broken up into the various town to town sections. Unfortunately the best laid plans don't always work out and thanks to a very warm and dry autumn combined with some heavy handed prescribed burns around Dwellingup, this section would be my first overnight hiking trip of the year. 

With the first week of June meaning a short working week thanks to the WA Day public holiday, I scheduled another week long trip so as to save on precious annual leave. The other reason I chose to do this section now was it is notorious for flooding once the rains start to hit and while I some day would like the full Pingerup Plains experience of wading knee deep in puddles for days on end, I wanted to experience it with mostly dry feet and without the risk of being diverted in sections around some of the nicest parts (Lake Maringup mostly). With that in mind I packed up my things including a few new items that were purchased to improve the quality of my hiking experience this year. The first (that was actually a present from Caris and came with matching gifts from close friends) was a new Osprey Atmos 65L pack and associated dry sacks and 3L water bladder. The upgrade from my old pack was due to that one being very uncomfortable over long distances thanks to inadequate shoulder straps and just being an inferior bag in every way.

 

The point at which I thought Osprey was for me happened at Harris Dam Campsite when I tried on Aron's pack at the end of the day and found it to be a dream compared to mine. The new pack coupled with the insulated version of Sea to Summit's ultralight sleeping mat and a new pair of Heat Holder socks meant I was going to be a lot more comfortable in 2019 than I was in 2018. After driving down to Funbury the night before to see my family and to break up the driving (and enjoying some of dad's world famous pancakes), I arrived at Northcliffe Visitor Centre ready to start my seven day journey and began by signing into the green log book located on the table. With beautiful blue skies forecast for the first five days at least, I was in for a lovely week of hiking as I set off towards the landmark red sign on the old rail tracks telling you distances to the two ends of the Bibbulmun. I had hoped to arrive here and stare at the Albany 334km part of the sign and feel a sense of excitement that I only had that section to cover but it wasn't meant to be.

I still have to cover that distance to complete my sectional end to end so in some ways I could still feel like the finish was in sight but I don't think it was the same. The first section leading away from the Visitor Centre is along the old railway that used to run right through town. I enjoy the old railway sections that the Bibbulmun uses and this one feels extra special as the overgrown nature of the path really adds that element of a long forgotten track.  For a small town like Northcliffe, exiting into the wilderness is a very long affair with the track crossing or joining Windy Harbour Rd about four times before actually leaving to go into the forest for real. Looking at the map there doesn't seem to be a better way to exit town unless a deal could be struck to take a shortcut through a few of the farms leading south from town (not likely). The result is a hodge podge of trails that cross various roads, walk along them in places or right along a narrow wildlife strip on the side of a road.

 

It's not entirely a bad experience but every time it seemed like you were finally away from it all the track changed direction and you would be staring at a road section again. This first section did give me the opportunity to scope out the wildflower and fungi situation I might possibly encounter along the track as it weaved through some denser pockets of undergrowth. While spring is the main time of the year for wildflowers in Western Australia, the catch 22 of this section is that during that time it is most likely flooded and not that enjoyable to walk through (some people enjoy it a lot). The trade off between relatively dry walking and seeing wildflowers is something you have to keep in mind when planning this section and with no campfires allowed south of Dog Pool, the opportunity to dry your boots becomes limited to the available sunshine.