Bibbulmun Track - Kalamunda to Mundaring Weir
Start - Northern Terminus
Length - 34.1km (Return)
Grade - Black
Terrain - Single Track, Stairs, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 1,015m
Time - 8-12 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyl
Date Hiked - 30th July 2016
Best Time - Autumn Through Spring
Directions - The Northern Terminus is very easy to locate, drive to the roundabout where Mead St and Railway Rd meet and find an entry to the Coles car park. The trail head is across Railway Rd, you can't miss it.
The Hike - This was the first hike I published when I started The Life of Py many moons ago as I had spent plenty of hours training on this particular section of the Bibbulmun Track during my younger years. At the time of the first post I didn't have my camera with me for a reason I can't remember so the page for this hike never really did it justice. To amend this I organised a re-shoot and this time I would extend it all the way out to the Mundaring Weir Hotel. You can view the archived version here if you want to but the updated hike is a magical tale of quicksand, camels, thieving 28s, spooky tents, bromance, missing persons, acro-yoga, hill people and a wet, dark finish. This is going to be a long read so pause here if you haven't already brewed up a tea or coffee and go do that, we will wait.
The northern point of the world famous Bibbulmun Track is a place many end to enders feel either a great sense of accomplishment or trepidation, depending on whether they are starting or finishing the 1,000km adventure. For me this first section to Mundaring Weir is one I know like the back of my hand (which was well tested at the end of the hike) and every visit is like seeing an old friend. Sharing this hike with me today were good friends Aron, Tom and Mel along with new friend from the group hikes, Kiera.
Aron was with me on the Kattamordo so had experience on a day long hike, Tom and Mel have done half-marathons and trekked in Patagonia so were right as rain (Tom even came off a 12 hour night shift straight into this hike) but for Kiera this was going to be a personal best. The meeting time was 8:30am due to Tom having to get home after night shift and get ready but this proved useful as I was still nursing a wine hangover from a particularly enjoyable work function the night before. Waiting at the Northern Terminus picnic table was Kiera and when we arrived she was talking to a Bibbulmun expert. He gave us tips on the hike to come and explained he had covered more that 25,000km on the trail in his lifetime. He was trail running to Hewitt Hill Campsite so we would see him on his return journey.
The start of the trail is one I have always been perplexed by and surely must cause some confusion with those doing it for the first time. You go through the little landmark and off into the forest, only to come across a suburban road and houses 100m later with no obvious direction to take. It isn't until a further 200m down Spring St that you are pointed back into the forest and can begin your journey. Seeing as how this wasn't foreign to me we all scrubbed our boots at the first dieback station just off Spring St and continued on towards where the trail meets up with Jorgensen Park. Tom, Mel and myself were here last Sunday as part of dog week so it felt a tiny bit like déjà vu.
Stopping at the top of the hill to overlook the valley containing Piesse Brook, everyone snapped some photos and lamented the lack of a photo competition on this hike (sorry guys, group hikes only). The downhill run to the picture perfect section next to Piesse Brook was a breeze as we admired the wildflowers coming into bloom but we weren't without incident. There are very small sections of squishy mud that disguise themselves like hard rock and Mel discovered just how deep they were when she stuck her foot into one and was consumed by the muddy chasm. Later retellings of the story involved Tom heroically rescuing his wife from a ravenous quicksand deposit whilst shirtless and being attacked by a puma. While it wasn't quite as bad as that, Mel did have uncomfortable mud up past her ankles and it required a good wash when we arrived at Piesse Brook.
One of the best stretches of this hike is just past the steep section of loose rocks as the trail makes a turn east and turns into a single file track running parallel to the flowing waters of Piesse Brook. This sometimes tricky descent is a delight with the sound of running water, granite rock formations on both sides of the trail and if you are lucky like we were, a large number of Black Cockatoos. Words can't describe how nice this place is when the brook is flowing and the pictures don't really do it justice either. It is quite a long little descent filled with technical rocky steps so take care as it is quite easy to roll an ankle.
The section ends with a turn onto a wide 4x4 track but this doesn't last long and when you reach the bridge over Piesse Brook you are pointed back into the forest and up a steep hill. This was my first proper visit to this area this year so I hadn't seen the full extent of the summer bushfires that have hit a wide expanse of these hills. The smell of smoke lingered as we climbed up to a landmark that always gets a giggle out of everyone that passes by it. It is known by many names but at the top of the hill is a granite formation that I like to call "Cock Rock". Let me know in the comments if you have a special name for it. It was here that we stopped for a snack and Tom decided to change shirts, much to the delight of everyone, especially Aron.
This would be the start of burgeoning bromance that provided some quality humour throughout the day and had both Mel and Kiera a little bit worried at times. The eye candy and good times were shortened as we continued on due to the devastation of the recent bushfires. Traversing the top of the hill I always had fond memories of a thick undergrowth but the fires had scorched everything and the place felt so open and exposed. The very steep descent leading down into a little valley used to be concealed with overhanging bushes that made it feel shorter than it actually was but now you can see all the way down and I wasn't quite sure how to feel.
There aren't many sections north of Albany Highway that you can do a day hike and not come across large tracts of bushfire devastated forest. I thought this first section would be safe being so close to civilisation but apparently not. Not all of the bush has been damaged like this but what used to be a fairly closed in section now feels empty and will do for some time. The trail began to climb up through the pink quartz deposits and past what used to be a sacrificial site for the 43rd Legion of the Skull and Bones Society. The satanic symbol has now been replaced by a simple addition/multiplication sign (depending on how you look at it) so one can only deduce that one night over the summer, Ed Sheeran battled the devil and love prevailed.
If you forgot to bring a goat to sacrifice or your guitar to bust out "Give Me Love" then the trail heads uphill and twists through the granite lined valley. The western and northern side of the slope is all burnt away and the recovering grass trees produce a very striking image. At the top of the hill you can take a breather and rejoice in the fact that most of the hard work is behind you. While it isn't flat terrain all the way to Mundaring Weir Hotel, the majority of the steeper bits are done with and your legs can recover.
Passing through the exposed landscape created by the power lines, the flat 4x4 track is a welcome relief on sore muscles all the way to a small deposit of farming land on Fern Rd. Remember to bring some coin as there is a small wheelbarrow of fruit on the corner with an honesty box. We didn't have any change but still re-enacted the silly ANZ ad for fun and decided the fruit would be of more benefit on the return leg. I can't say the next 1.5km is all that interesting (never have found it to be) so we talked away until we were interrupted by something you don't expect to see in the Australian bush, camels.
It is no secret that there is a Camel Farm in the hills of Kalamunda as it's a very popular spot to park your car and explore the mountain bike trails in the area. This was one of those lucky moments where you come across the camels taking people on walks through the forest and it is quite a fun sight to see them pop out from behind a tree and stroll past. We took some photos and then headed past the Camel Farm and into the spooky forest. It's not really that spooky but does have a certain feel to it and there is certainly an opportunity to take some moody photos.
On the way out to the first campsite at Hewitt's Hill we stumbled across a tent just off the trail and kept quiet just in case the occupant was still sleeping. Tom wasn't sure anyone was in there as it was flapping around and there were no signs of life. We decided to check it out at close range and to my great relief there was no dead body inside. The whole scene was a bit odd with a beach shelter type tent, a pair of ugg boots and an empty can of bourbon the only items left behind by the mystery camper. Perhaps they got too cold and abandoned the idea of staying out in the bush or maybe the puma got him.
A little unsettled we moved on to Hewitt's Hill campsite and a bit of a break from the trail. It was empty when we arrived so everyone took a seat and chilled out, admiring the great location. With an eye on the time, we continued the journey and onto the open expanses of the 4x4 track above the Helena River Valley. Utilised in the Dell to South Ledge loop, this wide section of trail provides some great views of the surrounding country once you reach the top and allows you to bask in the morning sunshine. From here we got a glimpse of Mundaring Weir and the halfway point of today's adventure.
The best views of Mundaring Weir of course occur at Golden Lookout and luckily the Bibbulmun Track passes right next to it. After a quick descent and ascent to get to the South Ledge car park, we headed down to the lookout and wondered onto the wooden platform that smelled like someone had just given it a heavy coat of eucalyptus oil. With the lunch stop so close and the taste of wood fired pizzas on the tips of our tongues we had renewed energy on the descent down to Mundaring Weir. Coming out of the forest and onto Mundaring Weir Rd, the scene is amazing with Lake CY O'Connor visible through the bushes and the weir wall in the distance.
Having the track cross the weir wall is genius as it is a very pretty place to be when the sun is out. We took some group photos on the weir and then proceeded across to the lovely old monitoring building (no longer in use but a great feature) to take more photos. On previous hikes to the area I would turn around here but the call of pizza beckoned us on and so we started the 600m hike up the side of the hill to the Mundaring Weir Hotel. Formerly the Reservoir Hotel, this fantastic old building is a treasure of the area and a very popular spot for tourists. Walking through the front bar, we got slightly lost as we wandered around the charming interior. Eventually we found the cafe (down two lots of stairs) and were struck with the tough decision of what to order for lunch.
My dream was to complete some of the hike in the rain, get here and sit down in front of a roaring fire with a lamb casserole to warm my bones but as it was a sunny day we all ordered wood fired pizzas and sat outside on the edge of the amphitheatre. The food arrived quickly and the setting was ideal, a well gardened building with plenty of space and lots of character. Everyone enjoyed their meal and then we were treated to a show as the brave 28s (parrots) scavenged from the table next to us with reckless abandon. Their favourite item seemed to be chips and they looked hilarious grasping them with one claw and bringing them up to their beaks. One got stuck into the remnants of a chocolate cake and the best fed birds in Mundaring looked quite happy with the feed on offer.
This is around the times things got a bit silly. Mel warned us that Tom gets a little funny after a night shift but we weren't prepared for what ensued after lunch. I can't remember exactly how it all started but some dehydrated mango came out and the words "thicker than expected" set Tom off. Hysterical laughter followed and we all had trouble keeping a straight face for a few minutes. I had to restrain myself as every time Tom looked over at me, he started up again. Eventually we composed ourselves and decided it was best to move on as we had less than four hours to make it back to the start before darkness set in.
With our bellies full and legs refreshed, there was renewed energy as we departed back towards Kalamunda. Before the hike we agreed that it was probably necessary to include some headphone time during the day and after crossing back over Mundaring Weir it was decided that this was the moment. The kilometres practically walked themselves, although Keira left her headphones at home so there was always someone keeping her company. We passed the abandoned beach shelter, which had yet to be claimed and it was noted that we never saw the trail runner from the very start of the trail on his return leg.
As the day grew longer and we approached the Camel Farm it was becoming apparent that we would be struggling to finish by the 6pm schedule. To make things worse, the weather that I had been expecting all day was closing in and the skies to the west were darkening. We reached the Camel Farm soon enough, had a look around at the animals (many thinking about taking a sacrificial goat to the Illuminati circle we saw earlier) and chose to have a rest while we unpacked our wet weather gear. Under gloomy skies we knew the next 8km were going to be tough and just as we crossed the road it started to sprinkle.
Thankfully it was a bit of a false alarm and the threatening clouds never unleashed their fury on us. The skies cleared as we passed under the power lines again and it was actually quite pretty as we descended down the valley towards Illuminati field. The rocky descents were brutal after 27km+ and the pace slowed down a bit. Climbing up towards Cock Rock in the afternoon was a new experience and in the exposed areas on top of the hill I could tell we weren't making it back while the light was still out. We slowly descended down towards the Piesse Brook Bridge and decided that an earlier plan to visit Rocky Pool, 100m down the trail, was still a good idea as we would be hiking in the dark anyway.
Having visited Rocky Pool earlier in the year when the rains had not yet hit with enough gusto, I was keen to see the area and dip my feet into the cold waters. The transformation was amazing and in the fading light it was fun to explore the area. I was the only one to take the boots off and treat my feet to the cooling effects of the water but Tom and Mel had a better idea for our visit here. Recently they had been taking classes in AcroYoga and after deciding a few spots earlier on in the day weren't quite suitable, they found a bit of bare granite to showcase what they had learned. With the help of Aron as a spotter they did very well considering the amount of kilometres in the legs (not to mention Tom hadn't slept in 24 hours).
A few attempts later and Tom's legs weren't playing ball so we moved on and made our way to the beautiful uphill section that follows Piesse Brook. I was out front when it happened but Aron at the rear got wolf-whistled at as we left the 4x4 track to which he replied with "great eyesight". By the time we reached the top of the hill and where the trail meets Jorgensen Park, the light had truly escaped us for the day and out came the phone torches. For the remaining two kilometres we were under the guidance of our torch light and thankfully I could navigate through the maze of trails that dot the area. Most of the wagyls were reflective so that made it a bit easier and there was a great cry of relief from the group when we reached Spring Rd and some streetlights.
Just as we reached the road it started to sprinkle again and the scene was quite pretty. In the white light of the streetlights, the rain looked almost like snow falling and I can't say I have had a more spectacular finish to this section of the Bibbulmun. There was a half hearted effort to run the last little bit to beat out the nine hour mark but that was missed when I realised I forgot to show everyone the pair of shoes nailed to a tree near the Northern Terminus sign. Day over we gathered in the sprinkling rain and said our goodbyes. As Keira departed in her car, I played a lullaby for Tom and he was out like a light.
Final Thoughts - As mentioned previously, this was the first hike I did for The Life of Py and one that I had been meaning to re-do as it's such a special section of the Bibbulmun. When I planned the trip out here I knew it was going to be a fun adventure but what transpired was way beyond my expectation.
The combination of the great company, a perfect winter's day and the variation in the trail made this an experience I'm not going to forget anytime soon. To have such amazing variation and quality on a trail so close to the heart of Kalamunda is fantastic and the first few kilometres are some of the more challenging in the Darling Range section.
If an all day 34km epic isn't to your taste/fitness level then there are plenty of other options if you want to experience this section of the Bibbulmun Track.
Northern Terminus to the Camel Farm - 8km (16km return) - This walk will provide the most bang for your buck by including the most challenging hills. If you coordinate before the hike then you can park a car at each location, otherwise it is just as fun going back the other way.
Northern Terminus to Mundaring Weir Hotel - 17km (one way) - By parking a car at either end you can experience this amazing section without the need for the 17km return journey. Finish the hike with a pub meal at the Mundaring Weir Hotel.
Camel Farm to Mundaring Weir Hotel - 9km (18km return) - A much flatter walk than starting at the Northern Terminus and you get to experience some great views of the Helena River Valley and Mundaring Weir.
I try to do this section at least twice a year but this was the first time including the Mundaring Weir Hotel as a lunch stop. This is something I will be doing on every trip from now on. After hiking the Kattamordo Trail, Six Summits and now this section, I am really starting to enjoy the all day 35km adventures.
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