Bibbulmun Track | Mundaring to Helena
Start - Perth Hills Discovery Centre
Length - 23.2km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 588m
Time - 5-8 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 2nd July 2016
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - You can come in via either end of Mundaring Weir Rd depending on where you are coming from and take the roundabout east on Allen Rd. The car park is located at the end of the sealed road with the trail starting from the Bibbulmun Track sign on the eastern side of the car park.
The Hike - With the recent demise of the Paten's Brook Walk Trail at the hands of DPaW's trail marker removal tools, I thought I would take a visit out to the area and provide an alternative hike to the much loved loop trail. While the Paten's Brook trail was a much easier 8km loop, this 23km there and back trail is well worth the extra kilometres. Providing several hours away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this wonderful section of the Bibbulmun Track between the Perth Hills Discovery Centre and the stunningly positioned Helena Campsite is a wonderful escape for any keen hiker.
Another early start beckoned and I was out at the starting point before dawn. The run of chilly nights had not abated and the temperature gauge in my car was reading an icy 2.5C with a picture of a snowflake just to rub it in. With my Hufflepuff beanie keeping the warmth in I started along a path I had hiked many times before. With the smell of smoke lingering in the air thanks to a DPaW burn off (it looked like a big pile of green waste smoking in the middle of a paddock) I quickly covered the section up to where Paten's Brook used to depart the Bibbulmun. I stood there and poured out a little water to commiserate the loss before moving on to start a long downhill section.
The sun was casting an orange glow through the tree line to the east and it made for a spectacular sight. The photos don't really do it justice but it was one of the reasons why I wanted to be out so early. There is something magical about hiking east through the forest at sunrise. Perhaps it is because you can't see very far into the distance thanks to the glare or maybe it's just the changing colours in the morning sun. Whatever it is I love it and on a clear, crisp morning I was in my element. At about the 2.5km mark you descend into a little valley that is home to the Ball Creek Campsite. I wouldn't expect too many hikers to stay at this campsite given it is reasonably close to the warm beds and hot meals of Mundaring Weir Hotel but it is in a nice location.
When I arrived the sun had not yet peaked over the forest canopy but I could imagine that the open campsite would be bathed in warm light each morning, much to the delight of those staying there. I was keen to keep going so crossed a very dry Ball Creek and headed up a short hill and back into the forest. With the headphones in I happily hiked away on the rarely used 4x4 track that the trail follows until I came to the first steep-ish section of the day. Luckily it was downhill (although that meant uphill on the way back) and the views down into the valley were amazing now the sun had climbed a little higher. I missed the turnoff (deliberately this time) and ventured down the 4x4 track a little further into a small clearing containing a granite outcrop. It wasn't an impressive formation but allowed me to soak in the warm sun and scope out the hills to the south east that I assumed that I would be climbing up. I set off back up the hill and found the turn-off into the bush. After increasing the body temperature with a spell in the sun, that was quickly rendered redundant as the narrow trail descended into a lush valley where the temperature dropped a few degrees. The reward was the stunning undergrowth of the forest and expansive canopy above. Ferns now joined Grass Trees and Zamias on the forest floor and this little stretch had a very Fern Gully feel to it.
It didn't last long as the trail climbed ever so slightly but to a stretch of granite overlooking a small billabong. This was one of many highlights on the day and would be a great spot to stop for lunch and just chill out. I wondered around a little bit, taking photos and marvelling at this little slice of Australian bush before moving on towards Allen Rd. The trail briefly goes along Allen Rd before slicing back into the bush and overlooking Manns Gully (continuing on from the billabong in the previous stretch). There are a couple of granite boulders you can stand on that provide great views north towards the gully and in the distance you can see some much larger boulders poking out from behind the trees. Capping off a great couple of kilometres is a small (tiny) bridge crossing after another open granite section. This is the lowest point of the hike and the climbing starts up again as you exit the valley. Lining the trail are some impressive giants of the forest that help to distract you from the increasing gradient. At the top of the aptly named "Unnamed Road" you will pass an old concrete water tank that is surrounded by some very colourful yellow wattle.
There isn't much of distinction for the next kilometre and a half apart from the forest feeling a little drier due to the change in altitude and new plant species (mainly banksias). The trail crosses Allen Rd and then eventually joins up with Driver Rd, taking a slight detour to showcase views over the valley. The view is spoiled by the abundance of pine plantations in the distance (surely the government can find alternative land that isn't right in the water catchment area and replant the native forest) and the trail quickly diverts back to Driver Rd as if embarrassed by the view. You soon come to an open expanse of granite that slopes down towards the valley and is full of glistening sundews in a carpet of soft moss and patterned lichen (do not step on the moss as it is very delicate). Take a breather here and prepare for the final hill before the Helena Campsite. I thought I had missed a turn when I continued along Driver Rd as the markers were very few and far between but that wasn't the case and eventually I spotted one and breathed a sigh of relief. The climbing eventually stops and you are treated to sweeping views to the south. In the distance a marker is visible, pointing you down a steep path towards the Helena Campsite.
The first building you come across is the throne room (sporting million dollar views) before sighting the back of the main hut. The reason you see the back of the hut first becomes apparent as you walk around the water tanks and to the open side of the building. The views across the valley are amazing to say the least and the thought of waking up to that view brought a smile to my face. The hut was empty when I arrived so I explored the area a little bit while I refuelled and ventured down the hill a bit further and onto a granite clearing. With the warm sunshine beaming down on me I laid down on the rock and just took it all in for quite a while. The calmness of the forest sounds was only interrupted by the occasional plane flying overhead. I could have stayed there all day but all good things must come to an end so I dragged my now warm body up and headed back up the hill. The temperature was now warm enough that I could remove my jumper and beanie for the return leg and I powered home, stopping a few times to admire the landscape once again.
2020 Update - With the horrific bushfires of early 2018, the Helena Campsite shown in the above gallery was destroyed and a large area around the campsite was burnt. Thanks to the great fundraising efforts of the Bibbulmun Track Foundation, insurance monies and a generous bequest by Chris Piggford, a previous maintenance volunteer that sadly passed away. With the wooden shelters now confined to the existing structures, the new shelters are now being built out of rammed earth and the Helena shelter is an uber version that can cater to up to 24 hikers. It certainly is a nice design (although disappointingly not the extravagant one I suggested on the podcast) and I'm sure will get a lot of use in the future as a popular spot to enjoy an overnight hike. In April 2020 I finally returned after my last visit to check out the new shelter and to see how badly the area had been affected by the fires.
With COVID-19 closing the campsites, it was disappointing to see people ignoring the restrictions and still deciding to stay there (day hikes to the area were allowed if you don't touch anything around the shelter and facilities). The area around the campsite was looking much nicer than expected and the shelter looks fantastic. It suits the area well and those views dont get tired, even if the bottom of the valley is looking a little sad after the fires. The area should continue to get better with time but it was disappointing to see that the Forest Products Commission has cleared a large section that the track runs through and has replanted with some hideous pines. The walk from the concrete water tank to the campsite is a little sad with the burnt forest, cleared land and the ever increasing size of the pine plantations that I find baffling given new trails in this area are strictly forbidden because of the archaic water catchment rules. I might return in a couple of years to see how things are going but for now I think I would stop at the concrete tank and head back.