West Cape Howe to Torbay
West cape howe
The Hike - After an enjoyable introduction to the Denmark to Albany section of the track, I woke up on the penultimate day of walking for my sectional end to end. With such a great vantage point to take in the sunrise, I was up and about early, exploring the area around camp as I photographed the changing colours. Given the location of the shelter and the accompanying viewing areas, West Cape Howe Campsite is best just before first light. There is a calmness to the air and the approach of another day on the track is made all the better by being up early and seizing the moment. Another reason for being up early was I had 29km to cover today between West Cape Howe and Muttonbird. As I've stated before, I have previously being doing shorter days between the designated campsites but for this section I decided to stretch the legs and double all the way into Albany over three days.
The body was feeling great after the 27km day yesterday so I was raring to get going while the air was still cool. After watching the sunrise and packing my possessions away, I was ready to go at 7am, a very unusual occurrence for me. I love walking at first light as the air is cooler, the lighting softer and there is just something about the experience that is much more enjoyable. Back home I often aim to be out on day hikes at sunrise to capture the best of the conditions but out on the Bibbulmun I normally can't find the motivation to be out early mainly because I'd be done by lunchtime and would end up spending half the day sitting at camp. With 29km to get through, this wouldn't be an issue so I headed off on the first section and found a bit of an issue with hiking this early on the south coast. With the N-S direction of hiking, when you hit the south coast it turns to W-E and you start the day hiking directly into the sun. That's fantastic if you're cold and you want to feel the warmth of the sun on your face but when photos are involved, especially through closed in coastal heath, it can be a bit annoying.
As I headed away from camp, the views of the ocean disappeared every now and then, replaced with a winding path through the Peppermint trees and a bright sun right in my eye line. I compensated by shooting either what I had just walked through or on the ground at the various wildflowers and orchids that dotted the path. Occasional ocean views presented themselves but were nothing compared to the epic scenes I would get later that morning as I headed to West Cape Howe. While the previous campsite is named after the southernmost point in Western Australia, the Bibbulmun Track only takes you to within viewing distance, a great shame since it has the opportunity to rival some of the amazing coastal cliff walking they have in Tasmania like Cape Hauy and Three Capes (maybe not quite at Cape Pillar levels). I hope one day the track gets realigned but for the current alignment, a far off glimpse and the occasional lookout is the best we get. As you head through the Peppermint trees the lighting in real life was really good but obviously doesn't translate through the camera due to it's limitations. The dune bashing through here lasts a good 3-4km and while I knew it would eventually get better with a few highlights coming up throughout the day, it was still a bit of a mission to hike through the endless twists, turns and hills.
Coming across Shepherds Lagoon Rd, from a little way back I could see the after effects of the prescribed burns people had mentioned in the log books at West Cape Howe. The south coast is a little different when it comes to prescribed burns as the coastal heath is full of quick burning grasses that left unchecked can cause a lot of devastation in a short amount of time. The burn had happened a month or two back and funnily enough, the diversion to Torbay cut out a significant distance for the day (from memory it was only 10km instead of 17km). Arriving at the edge of the burn I was happy to see the diversion was no longer in place and I was free to walk the full 17km to Torbay. Being near the top of the hill I had been climbing all morning I decided to have a break in the shade and give Caris a call and see how she was. With a diversion essentially cutting out 7km of the day I was really worried that the burn was extensive and I'd be walking through a wasteland for kilometres on end. I sent a picture to the hiking group chat I have and they all made comments about the appearance and also hoped that it wouldn't last too long.
With a decent break under my belt and the morning starting to warm up, I headed off thinking to myself that at least the snakes would be easier to spot now. While endless kilometres through this type of burnt terrain would not be ideal, in short bursts it can actually be quite amazing to see with a tragic beauty to it. It was quite cool to see the contrast between the blackened ground, the green of the new shoots coming through and the blue of the ocean in the background. As much as I don't like the way the prescribed burn program is handled in WA (hot burns over too large an area at the wrong times of year), when done properly I am perfectly fine with it. The colour palette was very interesting with lots of black, orange and red. The snakes ended up being very easy to see as one was near the edge of the track and I managed to catch the literal tail end of it slithering off into the charcoal. Walking through the burnt area, I was pleasantly surprised to see it end after maybe 600-800m of winding through the dunes and a stark contrast of burnt and green coastal heath appearing in the distance. It was a relief to continue through greenery once more with plenty of wildflowers dotting the side of the trail.