Helena to Waalegh
11th September 2016
The Hike - Helena is one of those spots you wake up at and don't feel like leaving. Unless you are planning on triple hutting that day, there is always time to spend a little extra time making yourself a warm beverage and sitting out on the granite platform to watch the sun rising over the valley. As I mentioned in the last post, this is just one of those special places that makes you slow down and appreciate how lucky we are to have the Bibbulmun Track as essentially a free escape from our urban lifestyles (but please donate if you can). Not to spoil the ending of this post but this luckily won't be the only campsite in the Darling Range where you'll get to experience this magic. Once you've enjoyed your morning cuppa and packed away all your gear, the first obstacle is the climb out of the campsite on that steep gravel track.
It's not a long path but to start with that straight up is one of those fun things about Helena you have to accept. The good news is for the first three kilometres down to Chinaman's Gully, the track is either downhill or flat so you can enjoy a gentle stroll to start the morning (or a tough finish if you're coming from the other direction). Re-joining Driver Rd, the first little section is mostly downhill on the 4x4 track as you enjoy the open Wandoo forest with the same type of views you experienced to end the previous day. After a leisurely beginning you reach the turn-off for the single track that not only avoids more road walking but is a fun little diversion through some cool granite spaces. This little pocket of winding single trail is full of wildflowers in late autumn through to late spring and is a real delight to pass through. With views over the little valley here from up on the granite, you can gaze upon Wandoo country that will become your home for the next couple of days. This beautiful tree thrives in the hilly areas of the Darling Scarp and the terrain leading to and away from Waalegh is ideal for them. Heading down from the small granite platforms you pass a seasonal pool of water near some grass trees before joining a sandy 4x4 track.
The return to Jarrah style forest after viewing the magnificence of the Wandoo ahead is a bit of a shock but it doesn't last long before you start climbing up the first of a few hills for the day. As you gain elevation the undergrowth opens up and the sparse Wandoo trees dominate the landscape. It was here on an overnight group hike in 2016 that I sat and had a chat with Donovan while we waited for the group to catch up. This was the second time I'd ever met Donovan and it was nice to spend some quality time together given we both had hiking websites and shared that common interest. Now we are good friends and enjoy hosting a podcast together so it's weird to think back to those times. While we waited I admired the various wildflowers on the slopes of the hill and I'm glad that the track deviates up this hill instead of following the more obvious route along Allen Rd, closer to the river. It provides a more interesting walk and allows more time in the better scenery, more than acceptable in return for the extra effort of getting up the hill.
Descending down you come across a pretty major point of the day, even if it is rather unceremonious, the crossing of the Helena River. This is technically the second crossing of the river with the first being the walk over Mundaring Weir where they dammed the Helena River (it still survives downstream from here and flows into the Swan River). The crossing itself is on Allen Rd with the wide bridge and overgrown banks not really providing a wow moment. After ducking onto some single track it is a short dalliance before more 4x4 track. Not long after you start climbing up the hill there is a turnoff for some lovely single track taking you higher up to the ridge line. Again the Wandoo forest here is spectacular and if you're lucky to be there during Karri Hazel season then the smell is incredible. As you wind your way up and down the little valleys leading towards the campsite it really is one of those areas where you don't appreciate how good it is until you're reflecting back on the journey. By now you are truly in the depths of the hills, despite the 4x4 tracks reminding you otherwise, and it remains this way all the way to Waalegh (place of the Wedge-tail Eagle).
Another amazing location on the side of the hill, Waalegh maybe ranks higher than Helena in my opinion because it takes a lot to get here (20km from the access points at either end) and you are directly facing the sunset. I've been here a few times and every trip has been a great experience with the sunsets living up to their fame. The combination of Wandoo, a quiet bench to watch the sunset and the sounds of the forest make this one of the best campsites on the track in my opinion. The tent sites and space around the shelter are great to explore with different views of the valley and like Helena, the awe inspiring sight of watching the mist roll through the valley as you wake up is magical. While this is another very short section at 9.4km, the hills here make for a tough day if you are double hutting all the way from Ball Creek or the Perth Hills Discovery Centre. The reward for effort is quite high in return and everyone I've talked to about this campsite agrees that it is one of the best.