Bibbulmun Track - Woolbales to Long Point
Start - Woolbales Campsite
Finish - Long Point Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 18.7km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 367m
Time - 5-7 hours
Date Hiked - 6th June 2019
The Hike - Another restful sleep with my improved (insulated) sleeping system meant I was happy to wake up when Wendy and Leonie started packing away their things at around 5am. After a long day they were committed to the pre-dawn start so they could double into Dog Pool.
On one hand I admired them for trying to battle through and complete the track on their tight schedule but at the same time I wondered how much of the experience they would miss out on by rushing through the kilometres. I'm not sure if they continued on like this or if they didn't sign the log books but when I was doing an overnight hike from Mt Dale to Sullivan Rock a few weeks later I didn't see their names anywhere. At their previous pace they would have well and truly finished by the time I was there so I'll wait to see their names in the Bibbulmun Track magazine. They were very apologetic to me about the lights and noise but I was more than happy to have a chat and see them off.
It turned out to be a good thing for them as they didn't know where the exit leading north was because they had come in at night. There are three paths in the same area that confuses things in the dark with one leading to the toilet block, one leading south and one leading north. I noticed them pacing up and down after I said goodbye so got up to point them in the right direction, wishing them a final goodbye. With a more relaxed schedule I headed back into my tent inner to try and get another hour of sleep and woke again as the sun was rising. I rushed up to the top of the granite hill behind the shelter and was greeted with a nice sky right before sunrise. Not quite as spectacular as the previous morning's fairy floss delight, it was made better by a couple of birds of prey circling the granite looking for a morning meal.
It wasn't until I left the campsite that I realised the focus was still on manual from the previous night's bungled astrophotography attempt so the shots of the birds were unusable. With the morning routine over and everything packed away I started the penultimate day of my seven day adventure between Northcliffe and Walpole. I was on the home stretch and was very excited because this was the day I would reach the coast. Saving the southern coast for last, I would be emulating a typical N-S end to ender by having this day be the first time I would walk on a beach on the Bibbulmun Track and I was looking forward to it. With the grey clouds rolling in the previous afternoon, things had not improved by sunrise and the start of my day was a dry and overcast walk along the 4x4 tracks of the open plains.
A kangaroo sighting and plenty of Swamp Bottlebrushes provided some points of interest along the way and knowing it would get better helped things. The reason for the improvement was Woolbales came into sight. While the campsite is named Woolbales, the small granite peaks in the area are actually the real Woolbales Hills and stand out as a feature of the morning. Instead of taking you up and over the 170m peak, the track instead skirts around it, providing occasional views through the scrub. All around the area are some interesting granite features like some impressive rounded boulders. I'd like to see a side trip up one of the hills as I think there would be great views from up above the plains. Leaving the open plains behind you take a right turn and head into the forested section where I was greeted by a Rosella sitting on a nearby branch.
This wonderful section takes you through a mix of Jarrah and Karri forest that is broken up by some lovely granite platforms. Large enough to need markers bolted to the granite and navigation cairns, I smiled when I saw the silver waugyls that they decided would be better for the granite sections. I first saw one of these on the climb up to Mount Lindesay and thought it a bit odd considering it is well away from the Bibbulmun (40km to the north) but this might have been the prototype for granite markers that didn't quite make their way to the northern granite domes. With views out towards Broke Inlet, this is a nice spot to stop and admire the water shimmering in the distance. Picking my way along the granite, finding the markers and cairns easily, you are soon back in the forest for a short section before reaching a boardwalk section crossing a small creek.
With wildflowers a plenty here (relative to my walk so far) and the noises of frogs croaking away, this was a really cool area to walk through. A gaggle of trees lining the creek provides an interesting feature as you both walk through and beyond the boardwalk section. Looking back I got a golden glow through the trees and it was a nice moment to leave the last of this style of open plain. Entering the last of the tall forest for the day you get some very thick boi Karri trees along with a lush undergrowth it parts. I stopped for a break on one of the small granite platforms because I was making good time and wanted to enjoy the last of the tall trees before hitting the coast.
On from my break you get a definite border leading away from the forest as you climb up a sand hill complete with a large rubber mat designed to help hikers up and lessen erosion. This obvious departure from the forest introduces you to the dune system that will be your home all the way to the coast from here on out. A combination of Banksia trees, coastal heath and introducing my favourite coastal tree, the Peppermint Tree, this section winds up and down the dunes as you make your way in a westerly direction. Reaching the dunes I got really excited as it felt like the coast was close but in reality you have a good 45 minutes to an hour of hiking before you see the ocean properly.
Having studied the map over breakfast I knew that it wasn't until the 11km mark until I could enjoy the wild salty air of the Southern Ocean in my face. Putting on some music to bop along to while I hiked through the coastal landscape I was enjoying the transition period between the forest and the more unforgiving looking heath. The sandy soils added a splash of colour with this being the preferred home for a lot of sundews, one of my favourite plants along the Bibbulmun Track. I love getting right up close and seeing their sticky pads glistening in the sunlight, although today was not turning out to be a very sunny day. Several crops of bright red and orange mushrooms added more colour as I made my way along the tunnels of Peppermint Trees.
As you get closer to the coast the Peppermint Trees start to disappear and you are left with the very open coastal heath, occasionally highlighted by an old Banksia tree. Climbing up onto one of the dunes that runs parallel with the coastline you are presented with some encouraging views out toward the ranges in the distance and every now and then you could see the top of Chatham Island poking out. As you head down one of the hills towards the Banksia Track you reach an amazing valley of grass trees that is quite the spectacle. Spikey heads of green and gold run up and down the contours and even in the grey conditions it was looking quite colourful. There is one last hill between you and what I thought would be the epic ocean views but at the top of said hill you still don't get that magical moment.
It isn't long before you reach the wooden sign pointing you towards the Scenic Lookout (there is a shortcut here if you don't want to make a big fuss of this momentous occasion). A hop, skip and a jump and you round a corner revealing the majestic power of the Southern Ocean stretching out towards an endless horizon. Marvelling at the impressive granite formation that is Chatham Island and the cliffs to your right, this was a pretty special moment even though I am only doing a sectional end to end. There is a nice rock feature with a wooden bench for you to drop your pack on and continue staring out over the vastness ahead of you. With the excitement of stepping out onto Mandalay Beach ahead I gathered up my pack and headed down the steps towards the car park. A popular access point on the track for those looking to break up this town to town section, I was interested to see if anyone would be here on a grey Thursday in winter.
I arrived to find no one around so had a look at the information board before heading down the paved path leading to the beach. Mandalay Beach is famous for being the site of a shipwreck from 1911 when a Norwegian ship ran aground here and thanks to a local pioneer, all 13 crew members survived and made their way back home. It's quite an interesting story and there are information boards here to explain it in full if you have the time. With a large wooden boardwalk/stair section leading down to the beach I thought this would be a great place to enjoy a spot of lunch as I enjoyed the relatively calm waters from the great vantage point of one of the wooden benches. Sitting there listening to the gentle crashing of the waves, the light breeze whistling past my face and the various birds sqwarking away in the distance, this was one of those moments you appreciate how lucky you are to have the luxury of being able to do these long distance hikes.
I was soon joined by a retired couple just out to see the beach so I watched them head down to the white sands before deciding I was ready to move on. I knew stormy weather was expected in the afternoon but wasn't sure when it would arrive. Reaching the soft sands of the beach, it was much different to the hard surface that had been home during most of the Bay of Fires trip I had been on over Easter. Mandalay Beach isn't a long stretch of walking so a bit of soft sand was a good warm-up for the dune climbing ahead of me. Getting close to the edge of the water I was enjoying watching the waves gently crash onto the beach and admired the grandiose Chatham Island, a feature that will be with you for the rest of the day. Keeping an eye out for the beach exit I was expecting a clearer marker to indicate where to leave but I was distracted by a kangaroo in the dunes and completely missed the faded post. In hindsight it was pretty clear but after a while I doubled back and found the proper exit. It's almost like the kangaroo was trying to guide me and silly me kept going.
Ahead of me was a lot of dune walking and having listened to the podcast episode where Donovan and Ben recall how it seems to go on forever, I was mentally prepared for a bit of a slog. A slog is what I got after passing the grass lined creek that much attract all sorts of creatures like my mate, the kangaroo. The soft sand combined with the steepness of the track means your steps are somewhat limited and you end up losing ground every couple of steps. The reward for your effort is the ability to stop for breaks and enjoy the fantastic views back towards Chatham Island and the cliffs to the right. The higher you get, the better the views and the framing of the island is perfect as you look back down the dune you've just conquered. That first hill is only 60m vertically but because of the slippy sand, it feels like so much more.
Mercifully I reached some harder ground and let out a sigh of relief, hoping that the more compact trail would be home until the campsite. Higher up and away from the beach you enter typical dune heath mixed in with valleys of Peppermint Trees. A flatter section of the trail was a joy to walk through as it wound through the landscape and I spotted a plethora of golden wattle, wildflowers and grass trees. While you're heading in an easterly direction in general, the trail winds around quite a lot, not just left and right but up and down. Occasional sandy climbs slow you down but I was loving being in a different style of flora compared to the previous five and a half days. Most hikers heading north on an end to end comment about how they are happy to leave the dunes behind and after a couple of weeks I can understand but for me this short 7km stretch to the campsite was a great experience.
With bigger hills ahead I was constantly wondering if the track would go up to some of the higher points and plotting where I could see the track going. Expecting to see more coastal views there were some nice inland sections where you walked through hills full of grass trees, resplendent with their flower spikes rising up into the air, an indication that the area has been burnt within the past couple of years. The grey clouds were adding a moody atmosphere to the photos and I was enjoying taking plenty of them as the scenery kept changing. At this point I thought I'd covered a lot more ground than I had and looking at the map revealed I still had a decent distance left. Putting my head down, a return to the coastal views perked me up along with some very impressive green hills that you end up walking around (instead of going over them thankfully).
With Long Point coming into view along with the smaller headland of Little Long Point, I knew the end of the day wasn't far off (visually at least). This was the most stunning section of coastal walking since leaving Mandalay Beach with the tall cliffs leading down to some bright turquoise water. A battered old wooden seat that was sinking back into the dunes provided a cool rest spot to admire the views and I took this opportunity to have a good search for whales out to sea. Unfortunately I didn't see any but this would be a great vantage point if they were passing by. With a very short walk along the cliff edge you reach a turn that takes you down into a lush grove of Peppermint trees and the 4x4 track that leads to Lost Beach. As I walked up the sandy 4x4 track I noticed something in the sand that didn't look real, a baby snake.