Gardner to Lake Maringup
The Hike - After a lovely first day between Northcliffe and Walpole I was keen to test out the new additions to my sleeping system. I had purchased over the summer a new Sea to Summit Insulated Sleeping Mat and a pair of Heat Holder socks with the aim of keeping me feeling toasty and warm during the Western Australian winter. While it wasn't exactly Collie in the middle of winter cold, I was warm and snug the whole night while wearing less clothes than I usually would. Yes, the mat squeaks and is noisy when you move but that is the case with most ultralight options these days. So a great success to begin the trip and it means I can take less on future trips. Another addition I was keen to try was my new GSI Outdoors Java Drip, the lightweight way of getting real coffee out on the trail. Having previously used coffee bags as an alternative, I decided that this year I would try and add a few creature comforts to my hiking and real coffee was at the top of the list.
Having consumed coffee made this way throughout my travels in Costa Rica, I am very familiar with the style. You can read my review here but I have to say that enjoying a nice coffee and dry granola while listening to the early morning chirps of the local birdlife was a pretty great way to start the day. Being close to the winter solstice sunrise was at a more acceptable 7am so both Malcolm and myself were up and about as the sun was rising. Malcolm commented on it being a cold night so that gave me confidence that the new sleeping system was going to work out just fine going forward. After a relaxed breakfast I began to pack up my gear, a process that seems to take forever no matter how much gear I have or how well it is organised before I go to bed and is responsible for my late departures from camp each morning. This was actually one of my earlier departures from camp of the trip, something I didn't mind as it was a short day and I was looking forward to spending as much time at Lake Maringup as I could (you'll see why). I said my goodbyes to Malcolm and wished him all the best for the rest of his end to end and began my own journey for the day heading southbound. I had one look at the area near the Gardner River to see if there was better lighting before crossing the bridge and finding the track leading away from camp. Initially starting in the forest near the river, the track joins up once again with the 4x4 track you finished the previous day into Gardner Campsite on.
This will be your home for the first half of the day and rather disappointingly you are disconnected from the Gardner River. I get that the track probably goes along here because it is expedient but when you're close to a nice river it's nice to be able to walk next to it and experience the diversity of life that exists because of a mostly stable water source, even if it's just for a short while on purpose built single track. While I wasn't aware at the start that this would be what was in store, I was happy enough walking along the cool sandy tracks that wind through the stunted Jarrah woodlands in the area. After clearing the "Karri Occurance" (green dots on the map that are moments on this section to look forward to) near Gardner Campsite I was out in the openness of the plains. Looking back at the forest and towards the Gardner River provided some really cool scenes as the slowly moving mist clung to the trees and swirled around in the very gentle morning air. While I had seen some of the famous Swamp Bottlebrush on the previous day, this would be my introduction to large scale swathes of these bright red flowers that certainly add a nice dose of colour and spectacle to the sometimes washed out looking plains. Early morning dew still clung to the delicate strands of the flower and provided a cool photo opportunity. The Swamp Bottlebrush wasn't the only showing of colour on my travels as an array of other wildflowers and fungi dotted the fringes of the 4x4 track.
Just before entering another island of Karri I spotted a few purple trigger plants, a variety that I would find to be the most common throughout my seven day journey but still exciting to see so early in the season (and after a very dry autumn). Also prevalent were spiders webs dripping with dewy droplets, looking very moody in the morning light. Entering the Karri forest for a brief period you could definitely notice the temperature drop as the thick undergrowth and semi-closed canopy made me feel at home. This really is the start of the typical style of walking that you will encounter during your time between Northcliffe and Walpole where you are essentially walking between islands of forest along open or stunted plains. It's a welcome feeling entering the denser forest and with plenty of Bracken Ferns around it felt very special. The undergrowth here can be quite rampant in places but there was just enough of a gap to squeeze through without getting wet from the morning dew. Admiring a patch of thick Karri trees, I was kind of hoping this would be what I would get for most of the day. I knew that wasn't going to be the case so enjoyed it while it lasted, photographing every bit of fungi and every flower I could see.
Sure enough it didn't last long and soon I was walking along the sandy Jarrah lined plains that dominate long sections of the track here. This is not to say I don't enjoy walking in the open air, I was enjoying it a lot. The cool and still winter air combined with the morning light that seems to stretch on forever made this a very enjoyable experience but I can see how it might not be as enjoyable when the weather is a little warmer and the UV is much higher. One advantage of the open plain sections is the variety of wildflowers and interesting things you'll see along the way. I fell in love with seeing the Swamp Bottlebrush on this day and it was a delight to see that last right up until the final day. The sandy soils combined with the 2015 bushfires meant that new banksia plants were starting to appear along the track with new flowers of bright orange. It was also heartening to see some sundews thriving in the sand as they are one of my favourite things to see hiking in the South West of WA. At one point near a large collection of Swamp Bottlebrushes the track widens and you get a feeling for what the track is like when the rains arrive. There is a boardwalk next to the track but I assume by this point your boots would already be pretty damp.