Mt Cooke to Nerang
Start - Mt Cooke Campsite
Finish - Nerang Campsite
Campsite - Deep South
Distance - 13.4km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 317m
Time - 3-5 Hours
Date Hiked - 27th July 2019
The Hike - Continuing on from one of my favourite sections on the track, the hike between the Mt Cooke Campsite and Nerang is no less spectacular. Mt Cooke is a popular day hike in the Perth Hills and holds the distinction of being the highest point of the Darling Scarp with an elevation of 582m at the summit. Having been destroyed by fire in 2003, the old campsite at Mt Cooke was in a much better location on the edge of a small valley but the new one is just as nice and has plenty of space to wander around. I've always enjoyed a stop in at this campsite because as a day walker it is a nice place to rest before tackling the climb up to the summit and beyond.
From the campsite you head out along the wide trail towards the looming presence of Mt Cooke that is just there letting you know that some tough cardio will be ahead, even more so if you're carrying a big pack. The trail is very nice single track and in winter and spring this patch comes alive with wildflowers and sundews. Although I have visited this area plenty of times, the walk from the south side of Mt Cooke to Nerang was a section I'd not done for my sectional end to end. With this in mind I planned a lovely overnight trip from Sullivan Rock to North Bannister to tick off this section and also to get out to enjoy some hiking. With perfect weather conditions greeting me on a late July weekend, I enjoyed my walk from Sullivan Rock to the Mt Cooke Campsite (see the last post for details). After a short break I was ready to begin the ascent up Mt Cooke, which funnily enough is not the single biggest elevation change from bottom to top on the track despite looking like a pretty big gain, that honour goes to Mt Hallowell (about 240m instead of 230m for Mt Cooke). With the wildflowers out in bloom and a bit of light cloud around, I was blessed with some ideal photographic conditions for my voyage to Nerang. After crossing the bridge over the creek that runs nearby the campsite, I was greeted with the fragrant smell of Karri Hazel that is just heavenly on any hike.
I located the source pretty quickly and it turns out I wasn't the only one enjoying the aroma as there were plenty of bees buzzing about. I managed to get a pretty cool photo of one still buzzing around and about to land on the Karri Hazel, luckily showing the details of its face and body. As you walk along the 4x4 track there is plenty to see and admire with breaks in the tree cover providing occasional glimpses of the slopes of Mt Cooke. Exposed granite can be seen through the carpet of vegetation and this stretch always brings out the excitement in me as I know what great views are coming. Of course to get up there requires a bit of ascending but with so many stops to photograph flowers and different viewpoints, there is no need to rush. Some darker rocks (potentially laterite) form the basis for some steps as the trail has a couple of switchbacks to help get you up the hill. This is also the last place for a short while where there is a break in the forest and the very short flat section provides some nice views looking back down the valley towards Sullivan Rock and Mount Vincent.
Saying goodbye to the views for now, you reach a forested section that is full of grass trees and more wildflowers where you can put your head down and tackle some of the elevation gain. A nice feature as you're reaching a more open section is the pink granite that I really took notice of on my first visit because of the different colouring to most other granite around this area. It also means that you are close to the first of a few platforms that provide some nice views across the landscape, perfect for taking a short break. The first of these is a small open area where you'll get a taste of the views to the north and east but the better stopping point is right off track on a granite platform. Looking back at the sweeping vista to the north and west, the iconic trio of Mount Vincent, Cuthbert and Randall are standing proudly in the distance. This is a really cool spot to sit and take it all in, especially on a lovely day and if you're feeling energetic, a great spot to come and watch the sunset if you're staying at Mt Cooke. Moving on from there you head back into the forest where you'll come across a plethora of round granite boulders that have rolled down the slopes over the millennia and now form interesting features among the trees.
Reaching another exposed area of granite, this one extends all the way up the hill and is covered in a soggy carpet of moss and rocks. The trail goes to the left so you don't damage the moss and as you climb up, the views back become better and better. There is a final resting point near the top where I took one of my first iconic photos of me standing on an oblong shaped rock with the blue sky behind me (see my day hike Mt Cooke post for that one). From here it's small jaunt through the forest to the official summit, which is nothing more than a rock cairn, small summit sign and no views at all. It's a bit of a lacklustre moment but luckily the fun doesn't stop there as the ridge line of Mt Cooke is a wonderful place to explore and there are plenty of views later on. I noticed on my last visit that someone has built another summit cairn on top of some large boulders nearby and I suppose they are correct that this is indeed the highest point (even if they ignored Leave No Trace principles to do it).
If you're heading off to explore the ridge line or looking to continue south on your adventures, the trail can be a bit tricky to locate again. It's to the left of the main summit cairn and once you find it then it's very easy to follow all the way along the ridge line. With a healthy tree covering it doesn't feel like your at the highest point of the Darling Scarp but after passing over a small granite platform you are presented with an open expanse looking south that feels much like you'd expect. I love seeing the different patterns in the granite caused by the forces of time, pressure and water and there is a cool section to the right where the granite looks to have dragon scales thanks to a lot of cracking in the rock face. This open section is the beginning of a really fun section of the day where you dodge granite boulders, weave in and out of interesting formations and get some amazing views. Unfortunately one of those views is of the bauxite scaring to the south west that is now becoming more visible as the cancer of bauxite mining spreads throughout the Darling Range. I mentioned it in my last post and I'll mention it here again, it's a topic that is rarely discussed but is one of the biggest causes of habitat loss in Perth and will only continue to spread. My hope is they never cross Albany Highway but mining is god in Western Australia and heaven forbid we do anything to stop jobs and growth ahead of protecting the environment.
On my visit the area looked like Mordor as the dark clouds in the background along with the smoke rising from their operations provided a suitably grim feeling. Forgetting the greed and destruction of bauxite mining, my attention shifted towards enjoying the hike and that meant spotting yet more wildflowers and climbing up and down the rocky steps. Everyone that I've taken here has been amazed at the scenery and it's quite enjoyable exploring the ridge line, especially in spring with all the colour. The views to the east and west are pretty spectacular, more so to the east where you'll get more of the endless forest feeling that I love about Mount Cuthbert. After a bit of up and down you come across one of my favourite spots in the Perth Hills, a sloping granite platform with some expansive views looking east. It was here I stopped to turn around on my first visit and where I always enjoy taking a break, no matter what the weather is like. If it's sunny then I love to lie down and soak in the warmth of the sun and then just stare out at the horizon, soaking in the sights, sounds and stillness of this magic spot.
From here you can look back at the ridge line and poking off to the right is the tiny hill of Mt Dale way off into the distance. As I was taking photos of it, a couple I met at the Mt Cooke Campsite came up the path and were talking about the Mt Cooke Cave. The woman was staring at a piece of paper she had printed out and was saying that they must have missed it and should turn back. I overheard and informed them that it was close and to keep going over the hill and look for the two boulders. Knowing they were headed there I went back to my lunch and enjoying soaking in the views and sunshine. After enough time had passed I continued on my journey and off to the famous Mt Cooke Cave. It's easy to find if you already know where it is but for first timers it can be difficult. I spent a few trips trying to find it but always in bad weather or by not remembering the track notes well enough so I never went far enough along the ridge. The key to finding the cave is to watch for the section where the views to the south open up and you start heading downhill. At the top of the hill there, look east and you'll see two boulders, one small (on the left) and one big (on the right).
The cave is located between them and will require a bit of light shuffling to get down there. Look for the log book near the entrance and please don't be an idiot and graffiti the cave, no one cares about what you have to write there, leave those comments for the log book where people might care more. Once you've enjoyed the cave and had a bit of a poke around. it's time to move on and that means descending down the southern slopes of Mt Cooke. With expansive views ahead of you towards North Bannister and further into the distance with Boonering Hill and Mt Wells, this is a really cool spot to visualise your next few days on the track. Once you hit the granite slopes things can become tricky, especially in wet conditions. There are waugyls bolted to the granite to guide your way plus plenty of cairns so be mindful as you move through and please don't step on the moss. Watch out for the really slippery granite that is usually black and shiny as it can quite easily cause you to be flat on your back. A cool feature here that I noticed was a tree growing in a bit of the granite where soil had collected that made it look like a little bonsai eucalyptus.
From the bonsai tree you then enter the forested section of the slopes and some really thick regrowth Jarrah forest. I really enjoy walking this section as the quality of the forest is outstanding and it makes you feel immersed in the soft greys of the Jarrah. Add in a few boulders of different colours, a smattering of wildflowers and you have the recipe for a lovely stretch of walking. It also helps that it's all downhill and the rest of the day is as flat as a pancake all the way to Nerang. Reaching the open spaces of where the track meets the power lines you unfortunately have to walk along this wide and undulating 4x4 track for about 700m before continuing east again along Cooke Rd. What it does give you is some slightly elevated views of the flat plains to the east and it always gives me the sense of possibility when I'm staring out into the distance. Turning left onto Cooke Rd, this 4x4 track will be home for the next 8km as you meander through the forest towards Nerang. Based off the burn notices each year, this area seems to be a favourite of DBCA's to burn and driving along Albany Hwy you wouldn't be wrong in thinking the whole forest is like that. So when I arrived at a section that had recently been through a prescribed burn my heart sank, thinking the walk to Nerang would be nothing but burnt forest.
To my surprise and delight it only lasted a short distance and soon I was walking among the lovely green and grey of the Jarrah forest. With nothing to do but enjoy the final couple of hours into Nerang I slowed up my pace and really soaked in the experience of being out in nature. Observing the various wildflowers, subtle changes in the make-up of the forest floor, spotting the winter fungi growing on the track and just having a really good time in general. Sometimes in life we forget to slow down and take in our surroundings and as I get older, I'm finding myself doing this a lot more. The purpose of these trips for me is not to pound out the kilometres as quickly as I can (it used to be in my younger days) but to settle in a natural rhythm and not be too worried about time or kilometres. Standing still to watch a bird flutter about, admiring the patterns of the bark on the trees or just having a sit in the middle of the track and taking some deep breaths, this is what I enjoy more than anything else about hiking.