Schafer to Northcliffe
Start - Schafer Campsite
Finish - Northcliffe
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 14.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 219m
Time - 3-4 hours
Date Hiked - 4th August 2018
The Hike - Waking up to another beautiful morning on the track, this would be the last day of my trip and also the shortest in terms of length at only 14.1km. Setting off at around my usual time (8:30am) this would be a fairly gentle day and a bit of a change from the Karri dominated experience of the previous two days. With my pack on and the weather looking good I decided to leave the rain cover off the pack but I made it about 100m before it started to rain out of nowhere. The sunny skies quickly turned to overcast and with my pack cover now on I set about leaving Schafer Campsite on the straight 4x4 track heading due south. A fairly easy start to the morning was made a bit more difficult when my hopes for a day of dry socks was dashed after a few hundred metres. The 4x4 track had become inundated after the overnight rains and there was no option to go around without disturbing a whole lot of undergrowth so I just waded straight through the skin deep water and embraced that cold and wet feeling of soggy socks.
With that experience over I continued on and after a kilometre the track turns and borders a hardwood plantation with its uniform layers and creepy vibe. It isn't long before you leave the 4x4 track near a distant farm and head onto a single track path through some regrowth forest. A shadow of the giants seen in the previous two days it is still better than walking past a plantation and over time it will grow into a beautiful forest full of life. The forest walking does not last long and you are soon spat out onto a smooth gravel road that introduces you to the first sustained section of tea tree walking you will encounter. The walk along the road sees you pass a low lying area that was flooded when I came through but the road provided a dry path to walk on. Paperbark trees line the road before you turn off onto a dedicated trail leading you off the road. This is where things started to go a little downhill and I mean that both literally and figuratively. This area had been burnt quite recently and that always leaves the place looking a little ragged and unwelcome. Sometimes it can look quite amazing but with tea trees and scrappy forest it didn't have this effect.
I understand why they do controlled burns but sometimes their methods and locations baffle me. In a clearing you could see that 50m away the forest was unburnt and its my understanding that they just walk along the track and burn because it's an easy way to get their pie in the sky targets fulfilled. It's sad that the track is meant to be an advertisement for the state and it is treated like a giant firebreak. This type of scenery continues for the most part all the way to the farmland with some of the more interesting bits occurring in the non-burnt sections. I came across a recently fallen Karri tree that by the looks of it must have fallen very recently as the roots were still covered in dirt and the rainfall had been quite pronounced in the past few days so you would think it would have washed away. I had some fun marvelling at the size of the root system as it projected up into the sky and an issue that had been plaguing me a lot this year occurred again, camera fogging. I apologise for the hazy look of most of the photos but that's what you get for having your camera uncovered a lot of the time and then walking through humid forest.
Reaching the farm section was a bit of a shock as this was much more open than the farm visits on previous days with no forest bordering the paddocks. Instead you walk along a 4x4 track between green fields that are lined by some very mossy trees. As a bit of a poster child for the drainage powers of the native forest, this area was very boggy and waterlogged so with already wet socks I just waded through the small lakes of water that sometimes reached my knees. About halfway along the first 4x4 track it rained quite heavily but it was all part of the fun and I continued wading. Relief eventually came from both the rain and the wet track as I reached another 4x4 track that was a bit more substantial than the one I'd previously been on. Turning south I was delighted to see a dry sandy road leading into the distance and with open views all around I could watch the dark clouds roll by. Some pristine farmland is located on either side with a few lots of farming equipment to photograph plus the odd herd of cows in the distance. I really enjoyed this part as it was carefree walking through a lovely part of the countryside.
As you continue along towards the house the trees get a lot bigger and it transported me back in time a little bit when perhaps this walk into town from the nearby properties wouldn't have been such a foreign concept. The romantic notion of country life stayed with me as I passed the house and the track leads you into a small section of bush bordering Middleton Rd. Seeing a car rush past on the tarmac road brought me out of my little nostalgic state but once I crossed the road and continued down the Karri lined gravel road that connects up the properties along here, I was back into feeling like I was in another time. This is also where the Bibbulmun first joins up with the Munda Biddi as they both head into Northcliffe. Reaching the end of the 4x4 track, I was confronted with tape blocking off the way forward. Thinking a diversion was in place I had a look around at where the track could go from here and the only option was to go onto private property so I accessed my inner rebel and walked over the tape.
Not sure what it was doing there but this was definitely the proper way as you head deeper into the forest and alongside the Gardner River. It isn't long before you have to cross the river and this is done by a wide-ish wooden bridge for both the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun. Dual markers right next to a heavily moss covered log provided a nice example of the two long distance trails getting along nicely and this wasn't the only fun thing to photograph. The river wasn't a raging torrent at this stage but was big enough to try some long exposure shots as the water collided with the mossy boulders. It wasn't anywhere near as impressive as the Cascades from day one but it was fun nonetheless. The trail splits with the Munda Biddi just up the hill and the Bibbulmun continues along 4x4 tracks along the Gardner River. You get close to it a few times but have to scramble off track a little bit of you want a really good view.
The next point of interest is a picnic area that looked a little creepy in the overcast conditions but this area is home to a fun feature down by the river, a concrete weir. With a better chance to do some long exposure shots, the end result looks like molten caramel falling into a frothy cappuccino. Navigating back up the slippery granite it wasn't long before I hit the final section leading away from Muirillup Rd. If you take this road it will guide you directly into town but the Bibbulmun takes you on a better route through the forest and away from the traffic and distraction of man-made creations. The track running parallel to the road is a great escape and final section leading into town with some tall trees and a final stretch of walking along the Gardner River. Coming across a little shelter called the Acacia Picnic Spot I was surprised to see a map of some named trails in the area. All my previous googling of Northcliffe only came up with the Understory Art Trail, Mount Chudulup and Lane Poole Falls Track as the only hiking trails in the area but this map suggests there are four other trails of various length that might be worth checking out in the future.
Confirmation of this occurs not long after as you see a big sign for the Bardi Creek Trail and this is the one you follow to the outskirts of town. It's a great final walk in and after a little boardwalk section you pop out over an incline and are presented with the main streets of Northcliffe. A Bibbulmun red post gives you directions to Albany, Kalamunda and the Town Centre but my finishing point was the visitor centre that was located along the old railway tracks so I followed them. My car was there waiting for me so I signed the book, unloaded all my gear and walked across the street to get a feed at the Hollow Butt Cafe. It hadn't been a very long day so I had plenty of time to get back to Funbury. I was about 25km out of town when I realised I hadn't seen my camera in a while. Panicking, my only thought was I had left it at the visitor centre when I was signing the book. With my heart in my mouth not wanting to lose 2000 photos of Karri forest goodness I raced back to Northcliffe and luckily it was sitting exactly where I had left it. With photos in hand I returned to my journey, happy to be able to share them with the world.
Final Thoughts - While the first two days had been a magical affair filled with giant Karri trees, rivers, moss and fungi, I was happy for a change on day three. The walking is mostly downhill for the day so you can enjoy a relatively easy stroll into town.
The recent burn offs weren't ideal to walk through but I always enjoy seeing tea trees, mainly because they remind me of being on holiday in the South West and I'm a big sucker for farm walking so an extended patch today was alright by me.
Northcliffe has an unpretentious feel about it as if people just want to get on with their lives here and not be worried about creating an image or representation of the town. You can feel that as you walk in and I remarked to my dad that I'd quite like to find a property in the area and just escape the craziness of the modern world.
All in all, the three days from Pemberton to Northcliffe is one of the shortest but best town to town sections on the Bibbulmun. If you are looking for a quick escape in some of the best forests the South West has to offer then look no further than here.
Would recommend this section to anyone looking for a challenging but rewarding experience.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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