Dwellingup to Swamp Oak
Start - Dwellingup
Finish - Swamp Oak Campsite
Campsite - Standard
Distance - 13.3km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 300m
Time - 3-5 hours
Date Hiked - 2nd June 2018
Directions - The start/finish point for the Bibbulmun Track in Dwellingup is the visitor centre located on Marrinup St. There is parking available at the visitors centre but please inform staff if you want to leave your vehicle there for an extended period. The trail head is easily spotted with the familiar red of the Bibbulmun Track coating the information board.
The Hike - With a large chunk of annual and long service leave available to me, 2018 was going to be the year I completed my sectional E2E of the Bibbulmun Track. Everything was planned to complete it over the course of the year but unfortunately a couple of challenges have been placed in my way so this won't end up being the case. Having suffered a setback a month before this trip with some Achilles Tendinitis requiring some heavy R&R plus rehab, I had to cancel the North Bannister to Dwellingup trip I had planned and do everything I could to get ready for this trip. Having never suffered an injury that kept me from hiking for more than a week I was more than motivated to rehab properly and rest up. My podiatrist set out a plan and I mostly stuck to it so when it came time to lace up the boots at the Dwellingup Visitor Centre I was ready to test out the body with a seven day stretch on the Bibbulmun.
Joining me for the full seven days was Deputy Assistant for Regional Trail Experiences, Aron (aka 1A1R) and for the first three days we would be joined by his new lady friend Jen and her friend/personal guru, Sruthy. Some may recognise Jen and Sruthy from the group hike pictures or being joint Miss Decembers on Instagram and it was on one of the group hikes that Aron met Jen and love blossomed (pause for effect). We dropped Jen's car off at the Driver Rd access point, which was super busy due to the long weekend and made our way back to Dwellingup for a second breakfast at the always fantastic Blue Wren Cafe (I had smashed av but have a mortgage so you can't judge me). Luckily the Blue Wren Cafe is right on the Bibbulmun Track so we loaded up our gear and headed off down the main street to begin our adventure. At this point I may have taken the group on a slight detour past the primary school to check out a massive pumpkin but eventually we made it to the entrance of the forest and never got lost again (should never have doubted my gut leaving town).
With sunny weather forecast for the first few days we only had a brief 13.5km day to start and entered the forest full of hope and conversation topics. I like that the transition from town to forest is brief and you are immediately thrown into lush Jarrah forest, quite the contrast to our exit off the trail in a week’s time. A small descent down a hill is an easy introduction and at the bottom we were greeted with a fun little display on the fence of an adjoining property. The owner or a very enthusiast trail lover had decorated the fence line with an elaborate series of knitted shapes, flowers and buildings. It certainly brought a smile to our faces and given it was attached to private property there shouldn't be complaints from the grumpy pants that dislike anything unnatural on the track. While we were photographing the fence Jen yelled out that there were flowers near my boum (bum in a Manchester accent but the spelling is still up for debate). This got a bit of a laugh and was a constant joke over the next few days although the dry autumn meant we didn't see many flowers on the trip.
Moving on from the unexpected craft display we were back in the forest listening to the sharp melodies of the black cockatoos. Crossing a 4x4 track we ran into a couple that were having one last rest stop before heading into Dwellingup and we could tell that they were looking forward to a hot meal in Dwellingup. For us though it was still the beginning and we enjoyed the kilometres in the sunshine through excellent quality forest. It's a bit of a flat walk towards the crossing of Nanga Rd but enjoyable none the less as we stopped for a break at a fallen log just before the road to tend to some Aron issues (possible split webbing but he's a trooper). We crossed Nanga Rd, a place that seems to take one minute to get to in the car but was a hour and a half by foot and set out on the second half of our day's hiking.
Nanga Rd marks the start of a long descent and after a brief period of more lovely Jarrah forest you reach the section that most people remark on when it comes to Dwellingup to Swamp Oak, the pine plantations. I am not usually a fan of pine plantations, especially when they were created by chopping down native forest, are located within state forest and are run by the leeches that are the FPC. Having driven past this particular plantation a few times getting to my maintenance section I was curious about why it was there and why the Bibbulmun ran right through it but having now hiked it I accept that it is a worthy detour (until they decide to harvest it and the place becomes a bleak landscape again). Being on a bit of a slope gives it more of a magical quality as the sun peaks through the tall pines where your eye line naturally sits when facing north. Add in a very damp feel, the abundance of blackberries (are they considered a pest if the forest isn't native?) and the way the pines look like candles with the white sap pouring down the trunk and you get a very different and memorable place.
Coming out of the thick pine plantation and onto the forestry road gives you a sense of perspective as you see the vastness of trees that have been planted here. Arriving at the bottom of the hill and passing into what looks like private property, you are directed into more pine plantation and up the biggest hill of the day. This section of pines wasn't as cool as the other being north facing and a bit more open but would be the last section of pine plantation we would go through on the trip so we took it slow to appreciate the scenery (kidding - it was slow going because of the hill). Near the top of the hill you are thrown out onto a 4x4 track for the briefest of times before heading into some more natural Jarrah forest. This section was a delight with a decent canopy overhead and a good ground covering that had obviously been there a while, full of fallen logs, grass trees and small shrubs that would create a amazing wildflower display in the coming months.
There is one more hill to go on this section and with occasional glimpses down into the valleys below, you get a feel for how the Murray River has shaped this landscape. I enjoyed some mindful breathing as we strolled along leisurely, a highlight of the day and an exercise I reminded myself to do more often as the trip went on. We passed a couple who had stayed at Swamp Oak the night before and they remarked at how many people they had seen and it would be a full campsite that evening. Given it was a WA Day long weekend I didn't expect it to be quiet but so long as we had a tent site I would be happy. Worryingly they mentioned a Scouts group and this perplexed me as I'd checked the BTF website for any groups on the track the night before and there wasn't anything listed so to rock up to camp and find it full of Scouts would have been disappointing. We enjoyed the last little downhill into camp including the lovely little sign marking the "Plavins Lodge" and were relieved when the sign for the campsite came into view.
Swamp Oak was pretty full when we arrived but there is plenty of room so we found a couple of tent pads near the shelter and set about making camp before the sun set. The area around Swamp Oak is very peaceful Jarrah forest and with the late afternoon chorus of black cockatoos and 28s dropping gumnuts everywhere, it was a great finish to the first day. Mexican Rice and tortillas was on the menu for Aron and I before heading to bed around 6pm for a movie and finally some sleep. Considering the temperature dropped to near freezing that night in Dwellingup it wasn't such a bad night's sleep. Incorrect fluid intake in the afternoon meant I was up a few times during the night to experience how cold it actually was.
Final Thoughts - Being only 13.5km from Dwellingup, the walk to Swamp Oak is the perfect starter for this section as it gives you time to drive out to Dwellingup and organise car drops or if you're an end to ender, enjoy a lazy sleep in and breakfast in town before departing.
Being in an area that receives much higher rainfall than Perth means the forest is extra lush and although you don't get to walk next to the Murray River, you can see its effect on the landscape. While the wildflowers weren't out yet due to the dry autumn, this place would be amazing to hike through in spring.
While I'm not usually a lover of pine plantations, the first one you come across on the day's walking is an exception. As an amateur photographer it was a fantastic location to shoot although if given the choice then I will always pick Jarrah or Karri over Pine. I understand people’s fascination with pine plantations but they're not where I would choose to spend my time walking in Western Australia.
All in all a great half day of walking in near perfect weather with some good company. It didn't matter that the campsite was almost full as that means more people are enjoying the Bibbulmun and that is never a bad thing.
Thankfully there is an area of Lane Poole Reserve that you can only access via walking in as I don't want to imagine what the drive in campsites would have been like on a long weekend. Sometimes the best things in life are the ones you have to put a little hard work into getting.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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