Donnelly River to Tom Road
Start - Donnelly River Village
Finish - Tom Road Campsite
Length - 16km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 296m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 18th June 2017
The Hike - After selling my soul as a young man to the world of finance and big banks for ten years of service, I found myself at the ripe old age of 31 having 13 weeks of long service leave up my sleeve. A trip to Europe for four weeks was already on the cards so I decided to use a bit more of my leave and spend a few days out on the Bibbulmun Track to take some "me time" away from the soul sucking grind of the daily hamster wheel (I exaggerate) and get the body in tip top shape for the European summer.
Now I just needed a section to do and one that immediately came to mind was Donnelly River to Pemberton. I absolutely love the Karri forests and the thought of spending five days wandering in-between the giants of the forest and staying in some of the best huts on the track was too good to pass up. Every review of this section placed it as one of the most beautiful and challenging sections so I booked the leave and prepared for what would be a very relaxing and enjoyable adventure. The plan was to drive down very early on the Sunday to Funbury, get my dad to then follow me to Pemberton to drop my car off and then take me to the start at Donnelly River. That idea was scrapped when dad offered to pick me up from the finish in Pemberton so I just needed to get myself to their home in Funbury.
Leaving before dark I arrived just as the sun was rising and I convinced dad to cook me his world famous pancakes before setting off for Donnelly River. Given the first day was only 16km and fairly flat I wasn't worried about getting there super early so I spent some time with my young nieces that were staying with mum and dad for the night before loading up the car. The drive to Donnelly River via Nannup was very pleasant and soon we arrived in Donnelly River Village as it bathed in glorious sunshine. The village was full of emus and kangaroos so we enjoyed a coffee (later I found out it was the mayor of DRV that served us) before walking around and taking a look at all the postcard perfect holiday homes. I had stayed here as a kid on a family holiday but don't remember much about the trip. I can see why people love it as it's a good look back in time and just a very comfortable place to walk around.
I located the correct exit that was made easier by the sign telling you which campsite was in that direction, said goodbye to the old man before taking a deep breath and setting off into the forest. The start is fairly nondescript Jarrah forest, which is not my favourite but forest is forest so I made good time on the flat section. Not far up the 4x4 track I came across a large tract of bushland that had been recently burnt out. I was not amused and was really hoping that large tracts of the trail had not been affected by burn offs. Thankfully it soon ended and I continued on my merry way. The first few kilometres aren't particularly interesting as the trail follows 4x4 tracks through grey Jarrah forest and the conditions were very bright, which caused some issues with the photos I was taking. Unbeknownst to me until I went to edit the photos, everything was extremely overexposed and I lost a good chunk of them, never to be recovered in the editing stage.
With the Munda Biddi also passing through Donnelly River, the two trails occasionally cross paths and on the single track sections it seemed that riders much prefer the Bibbulmun to the Munda Biddi. I didn't see anyone out there on a bike but kept an ear out just in case they rounded a corner and I got a front wheel up the trumpet. I escaped unscathed and came across what I had been waiting for, the Karri trees. Coming over a hill and down into the valley I caught sight of them and it was a mini Land Before Time moment where the sun was shining off the golden trunks and all was well with the world. It's no coincidence that this also marks your arrival at Yanmah Brook and the start of a six kilometre stretch walking next to Yanmah Brook and Donnelly River and all the lovely dampness that it entails.
At this stage the clouds rolled in and put an end to the super bright conditions and it felt a lot more like winter in the Karri forests. I arrived at where the track joins Donnelly River and starts to alternate between single track and old forestry roads. Both have their advantages with the single track providing a very closed in and lush feel while the forestry tracks give you a good sense of scale of the Karri giants. If the next four and a half days were going to be like this then I would be in heaven. Although no one was around I was beaming with joy as I traversed the narrow paths and roamed around freely on the 4x4 tracks. The flat section ends when you arrive at the bridge where Tom Road crosses Donnelly River and I found I wasn't alone.
Across the bridge and having a break where the track dips back into the forest was a tour group from Adventurous Women. Armed with their light day packs they commented on my pack and I asked if they were staying at the huts (thankfully it wouldn't be crowded at camp). I left them to their break and set off into the distance and up the only real hill of the day, which is a light 70m vertical ascent so not that big of an issue. I passed a couple that were out for a trail run and then at the top of the hill I caught up to an older couple that I had seen in Donnelly River who were only out for a day walk. They eyed off my big bag and asked what my plans were, then told me I was in for a treat with the section coming up. I knew but it was nice to have more confirmation of this section being one of the best.
The trail then descended down into some lovely single track Karri forest with dense undergrowth dripping with the shedded bark from the Karri's. This was a fun little section full of dips and turns as it traces its way along the contours above Donnelly River. I walked past the termite mound that Donovan from The Long Way's Better mentioned in his blog post and had a bit of a chuckle. The sun emerged again as I came across the second lot of bridges known as Twin Bridges. At this point I knew I was only 3km from the campsite and the final stretch was along the wide 4x4 tracks of Tom Road. I took some photos of the bridge in the bright sunlight (Donnelly River was bone dry) and enjoyed the walk into camp. There were some beautifully tall Karri trees lining the road all the way to camp and it was a nice way to end the day's walking.
The campsite was empty when I arrived so I dropped my bag and before setting up for the night I immediately walked down the stairs to river and started taking photos. I knew this was one of the better campsites on the track but to see it in person was amazing. There are paths leading around the river to various tent spots but the real treat was further down to see the big granite boulders on the other side of the river. Given the relatively dry start to the winter, there wasn't much water flowing in Donnelly River so I could walk right across a fallen tree and over to the other side for a closer look. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this area for a while and eventually thought I should set up for the night or stretch out the muscles so headed back to the shelter.
Not long after I had started unpacking, a lady rocked up with her overnight gear called Chantelle and it turns out we had exchanged comments over Instagram in January. She follows the website and we had a fair bit in common being lovers of nature, Fremantle and all things environmental. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting dinner ready, starting a campfire and talking about anything and everything. My sleep wasn't the greatest as I had just bought a new Sea to Summit sleeping system and I was still ironing out the best way to use it. I woke up cold a few times but managed to get a few broken hours of sleep under my belt.
Final Thoughts - This was the perfect intro day to a five day hike as it wasn't long at all and fairly flat. Given I had to drive up from Perth and get dropped off in Donnelly River, a full 20km+ day would have seemed like a rush and I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much.
The highlights were definitely the stunning Karri Forest, weaving in and out of the 4x4 tracks on the single paths and of course, Tom Road Campsite. It's just a very peaceful place to be sitting on the rocks with a warm cup of coffee just listening to the sounds of nature. It would end up being my favourite of the four campsites on this section and I would happily return again.
All in all, not a bad way to start a chunk of long service leave and having a fellow hiker to share it well was a great experience. It would also be the only night where I had company in the shelter.
Get out there and experience it!
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