Gardner to Lake Maringup
Start - Gardner Campsite
Finish - Lake Maringup Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 17.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 285m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 2nd June 2019
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.
At the end of the side boardwalk you enter another pocket of Karri forest albeit a very brief section. I didn't mind and was happy to discover a new wildflowers and a thick concentration of the sword leaved plant that loves the wetter areas of the Karri forests. Exiting back onto the sandy 4x4 track once again, this would be the final stretch until the halfway point of the day so I decided to take a break and enjoy a shady spot where a tributary of the Gardner River flowed under the track. Settling down for a drinks break and just a general lie down on the sand (something I said I'd do more while on these town to town hikes), it was nice just to be still and not worry about pace, time or distance. Looking down at the water course from above it seemed to be flowing quite well, odd considering it hadn't rained down here in a while.
After a while I decided to press on and continued along the 4x4 track as it made its way up and down small hills next to the river (but still not close enough to enjoy it). A good concentration of the purple and blue foxtails (another favourite of mine) dotted the sandier parts of the track and I stumbled across some fresh 4x4 tracks along with what looked like paw prints in the middle of the road. Most likely pig hunters from the previous day or night and I was glad they didn't interrupt camp life last night (they are not known for being the most social or friendly of people). It wasn't long before I stumbled across Chesapeake Road West and the main access point for day hikers into Lake Maringup. Walking down the gravel road I saw it was blocked off by some very large logs and beyond that was a bridge.
Looking at my GPS tracker confirmed that I was about halfway so decided to stop here for a lunch break even though it was still fairly early in the day. With the Gardner River flowing below this was another ideal spot for a rest and the thick vegetation surrounding the bridge made for a very peaceful scene. Large Peppermint trees dominated the banks of the river and with all the birdlife calling out, lunch was spent just listening out and experiencing the joys of being out in nature. While the view from up the top of this tall timber bridge was nice, the little kid in me wanted to explore the river bank and see things from down below. On the other side of the bridge is a path leading down and things certainly looked a lot better from down by the river. It's a beautiful old bridge and it's great that this area escaped the 2015 bushfire as it means we get to keep another timber bridge and the Bibbulmun Track Foundation doesn't have to fundraise for a replacement (along with the scenery just looking better without the effects of fire).
With a long break under my belt I was ready to head off, keen to get to Lake Maringup and see what all the fuss was about. Walking down Chesapeake Rd East for a short distance you are pointed into the forest by the familiar red of the wooden Bibbulmun Track signs for what was an unexpectedly delightful stretch of walking. I thought the green tunnels you get in the Karri forest were long behind but in this very lush feeling section of Karri you get to experience it once last time (at least for the time being). The unburnt nature of this stretch leading along the Gardner River makes me sad to think that all the Karri sections between Northcliffe and Walpole were probably this good before the fires came through. It was a vastly different feel than the Karri since leaving the Warren River and I was loving this unexpected return to the wetter and less disturbed forest.
There were all kinds of interesting fungi that I tried to photograph but my hand wasn't steady enough and the photos were too blurry. I managed to capture the same types over the next few days so hopefully there is a good shot or two of the Super Mario style red and white mushrooms in the archive. This stretch of Karri forest lasts for a glorious 1.5km before you are once again thrown out into the open for some sandy 4x4 track walking through stunted Jarrah. This section actually had a lovely feel to it, again partially because of the cool but sunny conditions but also because this had a little more elevation so you could see further into the distance. This gave off a feel of an endless horizon, adding to the adventurous enjoyment and making it feel like less of a sandy slog along vehicle tracks.
I say this is through stunted Jarrah but it is a little bit more than the negative connotation that phrase eludes to. The trees aren't very tall but occasionally you'll come across a mature clumping that you appreciate for the tough conditions it survives in and through all the harsh summers and nutrient poor soil, it has endured. The track continues along with the same type of scenery for a while before making a series of right hand turns and rejoining the area closer to the Gardner River. This will be your farewell to the river and it's nice to get one last section actually walking within sight of the water as you've spent most of the last two days mainly avoiding it. As the vegetation got thicker I was hoping for a nice spot to have a rest and maybe sit and admire the river that had been part of this section since before Northcliffe.
My prayers were answered when a small path leading down the banks to a sandy beach presented itself and I may have let out a little squee. After the exposed walking on the open plains I was feeling a little warm so dropped the pack on the sand and took my boots off. Dipping them in the cool water was a soothing experience and it was a luxury to submerse my legs in the running water, providing a relief to what really had been a pretty easy couple of days walking in hindsight. These moments are again why I love multi-day hiking, there is no pressure to be somewhere by a certain time and if I want to stop and dip my legs in a river then I have the luxury of time to be able to do that. I must have sat there for about 30 or 40 minutes just observing the finches flutter about and laying back watching the tops of the Peppermint Trees blow in the gentle wind. This area did remind me a lot of the opening scenes of LOTR - Return of the King when Smeagol is fishing with a friend and finds the one ring that sets off the chain of events that feeds the main story.
It was a nice farewell to the river I barely got to know and with my boots firmly back on my feet I scrambled back up the banks to resume my journey once again. Still winding around with the meanders of the river you rise up a small hill and finally depart southwards from the river towards the Lake Maringup Campsite. Another short section of open plains greet you but then the scenery starts to change from these sandy soils to orange gravel and then finally a very swampy feel. The emergence of Paperbark trees and a very thick undergrowth suggests that you are getting closer to the end goal for the day. A few Karri trees pop into view and during a series of rolling hills you are welcomed into the forest with open arms where you'll start to feel the magic of Lake Maringup. The best Karri forest you'll experience between Northcliffe and Walpole, this area escaped the bushfires of 2015 and I am very happy it did because it is something very special.
There is a sign pointing you off to the right if you want to take the four hour side trip to the Coodamurrup Hut (a proper four sided hut) that is located close to the beach. One day I'd love to visit but for now I was happy to continue on to the campsite and see why some people rate this as one of the best on the entire track. As you approach from the rear you get that first glimpse of the shelter nestled among the tall Karri trees overlooking the lake and this was one of those moments on the track where you just smile and have a little laugh about how beautiful WA can be if you are willing to explore a little. You pass the raised bathroom block to your right that has some lovely forest views and a little way down the hill you finally experience the complete surroundings of the campsite. Situated up on a small hill in the Karri forest, from the front of the shelter you get sweeping views of Lake Maringup and can hear the constant orchestra of bird songs along with the ribbits of the frog life echoing from the lake.
I set down my pack and immediately rushed down to the edge of the lake to get the full view of what the largest body of fresh water you'll experience on the whole track. With little breeze to speak of the surface was like a mirror, something I was hoping would last for sunset and sunrise. Given I had arrived just after 1pm I had plenty of time to explore and enjoy camp so went back to the shelter and got my gear setup in the Nornalup style layout. After getting the busy work out of the way I made myself a hot chocolate and began exploring the nearby tent sites, the back of the shelter I rushed past earlier and had a good explore of the lake's edge to scope out the best spots for photographing the sunset. One thing I was very impressed with was what I dubbed the "thick boi" Karri trees just at the back of the shelter where I may have given one of them a hug. They must be 200-300 years old and have the thickest limbs rising up high into the canopy, something we are lacking a lot in WA thanks to most of the old growth being "managed" by loggers.
The extent of the Karri forest around here is very impressive and although the clear views are obstructed by the undergrowth, there is one spot where you can fight your way through to a log and stare out over the "Valley of the Karris", a thick green depression to the east where the golden trunks of the Karri rise from the well watered ground up towards the heavens. As the afternoon wore on I spent time in different areas, just sitting and enjoying the peaceful landscape. I even had a bit of a play with the ukulele that the maintenance volunteer has left with a songbook for those that know what they're doing (thanks Mr McGrath). As I was sitting in one of the well hidden tent sites I heard a bit of a rumble and when I returned to the shelter I found a fellow hiker had arrived. Brett was a teacher from Perth that was visiting a friend in Albany and had decided to park up at Chesapeake Rd and stay the night on his way home. A previous end to ender, this was a favourite campsite of his and I have to say it was quickly becoming one of mine.
As the afternoon wore on I could see the skies starting to change colour and kept ducking down to the lake to take more photos. As the sunset was in full swing I prepared dinner and went and sat on one of the Paperbarks leaning into the water, just sitting there enjoying some Mung Bean Fettuccine with Red Pepper Pesto and Cashews (it was super yum) and listening to the sounds of the lake. With a muted but beautiful light show over the course of an hour or so the sky changed from deep blue to a combo of orange and blue to a afterglow of purple and orange. While some clouds on the horizon would have certainly livened things up, I wasn't going to complain with clear skies, little to no breeze and plenty of colour. Brett had started a fire so I went and joined him to chat about the track, life back home and what we enjoyed about hiking. With the clear skies and new moon I was fairly confident I was going to be in for a good night sky and sure enough I could see the Milky Way disc very clearly overhead.
I didn't have my tripod with me so had to improvise with a piece of firewood to prop up the lens but I managed to get it to work. After some trial and error with the ISO, shutter length and focus I finally struck gold with some shots I was happy with. Framing the reeds and the Paperbarks was what I had in mind with the core of the Milky Way rising over the lake so to see it on the screen in pretty good detail made me very happy. There's nothing like that feeling of waiting for the shutter to close, just looking up at the night sky and Lake Maringup had the bonus of the sound of distant waves crashing (you aren't that far away from the ocean here). A night I'll never forget and the astrophotography really was the cherry on top of a fantastic day. Not long after I returned to the fire we saw lights down by the lake as a Swiss couple had arrived after doubling from Mt Chance. It struck both Brett and I as weird that you choose to walk the track and then miss out on seeing some of the best campsites during the daylight hours. Each to their own I guess.
Final Thoughts - You can be told that a campsite is fantastic and it can be hyped up so much that you start to get cynical that it could be as good as described. Lake Maringup was everything I had been told and so much more.
A very unique spot in WA that I'm glad that you can only walk in and experience it because that feeling of isolation certainly is one of the features that makes it so great. It also helps that it's in the middle of a fantastic piece of Karri forest, it's on the edge of a pretty large lake filled with all kinds of wildlife and has next to no light pollution.
While the walking into Lake Maringup avoids the Gardner River way too much for my liking, there is plenty of variety to keep you interested and is a good preparation for the days to come in terms of not expecting the same scenery for long stretches.
I'm very thankful that the Karri forest from the Gardner River Bridge onwards escaped the fire as you get a good feeling for what this section must have been like before the fire along with providing hope for the future.
Although I'm not quite finished with the track at the time of writing, I'm fairly confident this will be a Top 3 campsite for me. I really lucked out with the conditions but even so, there is a majesty to this place that words could never describe.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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