Frankland River to Giants
Start - Frankland River Campsite
Finish - Giants Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 16.8km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 508m
Time - 4-8 hours
Date Hiked - 18th August 2019
The Hike - After a chilly start to my Walpole to Denmark adventure, the night was unsurprisingly just as cold but now having the right gear, this presented no problem. With another short day on the trail I wasn't really in a big rush to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag and get ready so I didn't.
Peaking my head out of the shelter, there wasn't the rolling mist or fog along the river that I was hoping for. With that I retreated back to my sleeping bag until the sun was a little closer to the top of the canopy. Listening to the sounds of the birds, the river and the wind through the trees, it wasn't a bad way to start the morning. With the light now getting stronger and the call of a cup of coffee beckoning, I left the comfort of my cocoon and started my morning. While the water was boiling and the coffee brewing, I had a bit of a wander down to the various spots near the campsite to view the river. This is a spot I could spend a lot of time at, just sitting and listening but with a whole day in the forest, I was keen to get off exploring and spend as much time just dawdling along.
With my gear all packed up and breakfast consumed I said goodbye to the Frankland Campsite and disappeared into the thick undergrowth leading into the forest. With a light drizzle hanging around, I was in perfect hiking conditions for a day spent in the Tingle forest. The map and distance calculator indicated about 15km for today and the elevation didn't seem too bad (although the end figure for the day was relatively high) so I was careful not to rush my hiking. Slowing down and taking every opportunity to photograph a flower or piece of moss, this is the kind of hiking I really enjoy. To start with there are occasional glimpses of the river and you begin a semi-circle to take you back towards Tingle Drive, the 4x4 track that you walked down on the previous day to reach the valley floor. To warm the body up, you depart the river and head uphill where I found a lovely array of wildflowers and moss dotted along the path.
As always happens with moist conditions in the southern forests of WA, I was having to wipe my lens quite a bit and also take photos as quickly as possible to combat the lens fogging from my body heat. The upside of this is the air was humid and being deep in the forest and on the other side of the hill from the ocean, there was no wind to chill the air further. I didn't get the opportunity to warm up much as my pace was super slow thanks to plenty of fallen logs, wildflowers and amazing wide shots of the forest. One particular plant along here was capturing my attention a lot as it was in the perfect flowering window and that was the Tassel Flower. Looking similar to bamboo, the green leaves look out of place compared to the other plants of the southern forest but it is native. The flowers are a very delicate pink and white affair that drape down from the stem and look very nice when in full bloom.
Coming down to the bottom of the hill you reach a road that I understand was put in after the Bibbulmun Track was routed through this area and is of a possible sinister nature for a national park (i.e logging). Looking back down the road there is a row of strategic Karri trees to give the impression of everything being cool and normal. As is the case with this day of hiking, you are very rarely on a flat section so once again you are climbing, albeit very gently. I made a cool discovery here with my eyes catching something unusually bright and green where my foot was going to step. Not having the best of luck with wildlife on my hiking trips, it was great to see (and also not step on) a bright green frog that I think is a common Motorbike Frog. My last frog sighting on a trail was on the Luke Pen Walk and that one was unfortunately deceased. Not wanting to disturb this one, I assumed it was fine, otherwise I'm sure it would have eventually returned to the circle of life.
Rising up the hill, the Karri and Tingle forest I was used to started to disappear a little and in its place was what I would expect to see near Dwellingup. On top of this little hill was a patch of Jarrah forest complete with some tall Kingia Australis to provide some variety to the walking. This wasn't entirely unexpected as I'd listened to the episode of Real Trail Talk we did on this section while having breakfast to prepare for the day (and also hear Donovan and Steve's voices) but it was still great to see in person. Being up high compared to the trees growing on the slopes of the valley, it was great to see the impressive age and girth of some of them where the undergrowth isn't as thick in places. A really cool piece of fungi stuck out at me that looked like beautiful coral and I'm glad the fogging issue stayed away for that shot. Descending down the hill towards Sappers Bridge, the Jarrah forest disappears and it's a return to the smooth trunks of the Karri forest. It started to rain a little harder around here but thankfully there was a tunnel of undergrowth I was happy to spend a bit of time under while I waited for the rain to pass.
Having glimpsed the river a couple of times coming down the hill it was a nice surprise to pop out of the tunnel and see the wide open space of Tingle Drive and Sappers Bridge ahead. Feeling somewhat exposed, the rain that I thought had eased was still falling. Unsure if it would stop in the near future I decided to press on and take in the rather utilitarian aesthetic of the new Sappers Bridge. I saw new because it was once a rustic old timber bridge but due to requiring a lot of work be done to it and occasionally being too low for the river level, has been replaced with a concrete structure that looks more suited to a mundane urban environment. With function over form being the mandate for this bridge I instead focused on the stunning rapids of the Frankland River that ran either side of it. Having brought my ND filters along for the journey, this would be as good a place as any to break them out for some long exposure shots of the river. The new bridge provided a solid base for my camera, albeit a soggy one after the morning rain, and using my hands as a rain cover I successfully bagged a few shots of the flowing river.
Being the best time of year with regards to the water flow and rapids, it was cool to see the shots in their unedited form showing the flow of the river as it bounced off various rocks and swirled around. Happy with the photos I had taken, it was time to continue on my journey and this mean crossing over the bridge and joining the Munda Biddi as it heads along the hilariously named Brainy Cut Off. Whether this is a clever commentary on what your mind should be doing on these long walking and cycling expeditions or just the road leading to one of the first lobotomy clinics in Western Australia is anyone's guess. Either way it is a fun little distraction for the morning and makes for a funny photo to show others. From Sappers Bridge you begin climbing up the hill on the 4x4 Track that is Brainy Cut Off and this is a really enjoyable stretch. The width of the road opens up the views of the forest and you get to appreciate the size of the Karri trees through here. Some are home to some massive burls, caused by a reaction to bacteria or fungus, they produce extraordinary growths off the tree that here are quite large.
I was enjoying staring up at the Karri forest so much that I almost missed the turn-off as the track heads off onto a purpose built path through the forest. With much sunnier conditions now, the challenge would be getting the photos to look semi-decent with the harsh contrast between light and dark. Thankfully as I continued on through more excellent forest, the clouds rolled over again and I was back to having great light to shoot in. The terrain somewhat flattened out here and it was a good time to get some kilometres under the belt. The track crosses one of the familiar bridges of the Bibbulmun Track that is a wooden platform and one handrail that look so good in photos so I stopped here for a little break to photograph the bridge and enjoy a little snack. The forest had also changed through here with the Karri trees now joined by more Tingles and it felt like I was deep in the forest once again.
Occasionally interrupted by the crossing of a 4x4 track, this was a small price to pay for such an enjoyable walk. In the short space between two of these roads I came across a really cool sight that I dubbed the Triple Tingle. Three large bell bottomed Tingles in a tight space with the track splitting them is a real highlight in a day of highlights. Trying to get them all in one shot was a difficult task and the sun popping out of the clouds at this point was not helpful. Eventually I got a few that I hoped would gel nicely into a panorama and just stood there for a while admiring these wonderful trees. This was turning out to be a fantastic day and I was in no rush for it to finish. Moving along the forest continued to be excellent with plenty of fungi, thick boi Tingles and wildflowers to catch my attention.
Another interesting feature I came across was a gel like substance coming out of a cut section of a Zamia Palm. It was mesmerising to look at as the light caught the gel and refracted in odd ways. Coming across another small bridge I checked my GPS and figured this would be a good point to stop for lunch. With the sun shining I sat on the bridge and enjoyed a Clif Bar, just listening to the sounds of the flowing water and birds chirping away. Little did I know that a bit further on was another bridge but over a more interesting area with rapids. It's always the case for me with my lunch spots but I had all the time in the world so got out the ND filters and had a go at getting the silky water effect of this stream. The forest once again changed with a thicket of smaller trees you'd normally associate with coastal or low lying areas along with plenty of sword grass. From here it's a series of up and downs all the way to the big ticket item of the day, the Valley of the Giants but it's mostly uphill.
The size of the massive trees around the area really come into the fore here with some big Karri and Tingle trees around including one that has fallen over, requiring a bit of a realignment of the trail. Admiring the fallen giant, there were some fungi hiding on the shadow side that will thrive in the decades to come as the tree slowly decays. Happy to put on a podcast and just meander along the path, the forest never seemed monotonous as stretches of large Tingles were broken up with patches of Karri She-Oak. As you get closer to the Valley of the Giants you can hear cars driving along, raising a little excitement that it isn't far off. Crossing the main bitumen road, there is still a few hundred metres to go until you see one of many signs for the famous tourist spot. Passing several impressive Tingle trees, it is nice to see a few more in the wild as you approach another "zoo" (see previous day for explanation. It was a weird sensation popping out into the car park and seeing cars, people and "normal life".
Getting plenty of looks with my large backpack and un-touristy like looks, I headed down towards the main entrance. Having visited here a few years ago with my family, I was excited to return and spend some time walking the Tree Top Walk and Ancient Empire Walk in better conditions. As I purchased my ticket to walk the Tree Top Walk, I asked the nice ladies there if I could leave my pack somewhere safe so I could enjoy the experience without 15kg on my back. They were more than happy for me to leave it in their storeroom so feeling super light, I waltzed off to start the famous tourist walk. The Tree Top Walk is a series of platforms rising up from the forest floor with linking bridges to create an experience where you feel like you are apart of the canopy. Being a Sunday I was surprised that it wasn't busier but was happy to have it mostly to myself and get some photos that weren't full of selfie taking tourists.
While I'm not great with heights, this type of thing is fine but peering over the side still gave me a slight jelly leg feeling. From up here the views are fantastic, both looking down and off into the distance. As you approach the highest point you can see the hills and farmland to the north and it's a view I find really comforting. With the warm afternoon sun beating down on me, this was exactly the experience I was hoping for and one I can recommend if you're on the fence about adding it to your day. I finished my first loop and went straight to the Ancient Empire Walk, a ground based experience that takes you around some majestic Tingle trees including the Grandma Tingle, a massive bell bottomed giant that just leaves you in awe. Much like the Giant Tingle Tree Walk, the walk is mostly on boardwalk to protect the tree roots and keep people on the right path. It's a fun little walk that allows you to walk through a couple of the hollowed out examples and again I recommend checking it out.
Heading back to the gift shop that doubles as the exit for both walks, I had a look around at all the various items you could buy. I love a good gift shop and there is a good range of local products but I was mostly interested in the food items as this would be my last chance to buy something nice until Peaceful Bay in a few days time. I settled on an ice-cream and a juice as my afternoon delight and went to the educational section of the complex to have a sit and watched the old school videos about the Walpole area. It was really nice to sit down and enjoy an ice-cream while watching some 90s style videos that reminded me of my childhood holidays to the South West. With less than a couple of kilometres from the Valley of the Giants to the Giants Campsite I had plenty of time to go for another loop of the Tree Top Walk so I did just that and enjoyed it just as much the second time.
Deciding it was time to head off, I retrieved my bag and said thank you to the ladies of the gift shop before heading off down the path to the car park. Heading N-S it is easy to spot where you are meant to go but I've heard S-N walkers find it difficult to locate the way out due to it being buried in the very large car park. With a minimal amount of fuss I slipped down a small bridge and into the forest. It didn't take long to feel like I was well away from civilisation and back into a deep forest feel. The section leading up the small hill is full of Karri She-Oak and with the fading afternoon light, it was looking a treat. The amazing Tingle trees also continued with a large hollowed out example that resembles one of the Uruk Hai from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with the white hand of Saruman painted on it. The stroll into camp continues to be pleasant all the way to the point where the shelter pops into view.
After the luxury of the decked out Frankland River shelter, it is back to the standard Nornalup design for the Giants Campsite but being nestled in the Karri forest, it is still an excellent campsite. With no one joining me yet again I set about unpacking my gear and setting up my sleeping area for the night. The sunny conditions continued all the way through the afternoon and I enjoyed my usual routine of sitting at all the tent sites looking for wildlife. The tent sites behind the shelter and up the hill were particularly fruitful with plenty of birds being active in the canopy above. One wildlife sound you will have to get used to during your stay here is the occasional loud moo from the nearby farm. It is kind of off-putting to start with but once you know what's going on it is quite funny. Watching the colours of the forest change as the sun set, I retired to my sleeping bag not long after for some chocolate, wine and the second of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Final Thoughts - The only full day of walking in the Tingle forest on the Bibbulmun Track and what an experience it is.
These wonderfully unique trees are a spectacle to behold in real life and to have the opportunity to spend the entire day walking among them is a true pleasure.
Add in the Frankland River, a multitude of different fungi, mosses and wildflowers and you have the recipe for one of the best days on the entire track.
This is even before the cherry on top, the Valley of the Giants. A tourist attraction that has stood the test of time, it's a fun side trip to your day and a different experience to admiring the forest from ground level.
I cannot rave about this day more than I have, you really need to start planning a trip out there. With plenty of options in terms of pick-up and drop-off locations (Walpole to Conspicuous Beach or Walpole to Valley of the Giants are good options), there really isn't an excuse.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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