Long Point to Walpole
Start - Long Point Campsite
Finish - Walpole
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 23.5km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 509m
Time - 5-8 hours
Date Hiked - 7th June 2019
The Hike - My last night on the track for this section turned out to be a pretty wild one with strong winds and heavy rain pelting the shelter for most of the night. I didn't have the greatest sleep, not because of the noise but because I was too warm, even with my sleeping bag unzipped. It was a weird feeling after almost every other night on the Bibb being like I was sleeping on the ground.
I had set my alarm early with every intention of leaving camp well before my usual 8:30-9am departure time. That didn't exactly go to plan as I was enjoying a restful sleep and ended up turning it off. Never mind though because I was still up at first light to discover that the rain had disappeared and a gorgeous sky greeted me. Not knowing what the day would bring weather wise because I'm with Vodafone and wouldn't have reception in this part of the world (even in the middle of Walpole), I endeavoured to pack up as early as possible. It sort of worked and I was away from the shelter a tick after 8am, full of energy and ready to tackle my last day on the Northcliffe to Walpole section of the track.
I always find the days leading into towns a big mental challenge as you are very excited to reach a hot shower, hot meal or just to wear clothes/shoes that don't smell and are dry. However you still need to enjoy the day ahead and not rush things in case you miss out on something special in your haste. With a top up of fluids and everything packed away I departed Long Point, keen to experience more of the beautiful coastal walking that I had a taste of yesterday. Walking up the long access road into camp I was amazed at how stunning the sky was with the aftermath of the storm producing a wonderful show of dark clouds, white fluff and blue skies all in one. Looking back at Chatham Island and the ocean I was kicking myself not to wake up earlier and watch the sunrise from Little Cove.
Reaching the turnoff where the campsite sign was I headed onto new tracks for a snaking journey through the dune system before heading inland to tackle Mt Clare. With a fairly flat 4km to start I could ease into the day and enjoy the magical lighting that I was blessed to be experiencing. The feeling of being alone in this wilderness with conditions like this was awe-inspiring and it wasn't hard to slow my pace down and just enjoy the walk. I wasn't always alone as I interrupted a couple of kangaroos as I walked along the ridge line of one of the dunes. It would not have been a pleasant night for the wildlife out here last night but I'm sure they're used to it after calling this place home for a very long time. One feature I was enjoying photographing was a broad hill on the coast that every now and then would be lit up by rays of sunshine peaking through the morning cloud.
As the track wound its way through the dunes I began to wonder if that was the hill that I was going to climb today as after the 4km mark the elevation map showed a bit of an ascent up to 140m ASL. The further I got down the track, the more I was sure that I wasn't going to have to but it would have been nice to head there and get some pretty spectacular ocean views from the top. At one of the higher points on this first section there were some pretty lovely views back towards Chatham Island and the Southern Ocean and this would in fact be the last chance to view Chatham Island, something that is a soothing landmark from the first time you reach the ocean on your way from Woolbales. As I made my way past the broad hill I noticed my first rainbow of the morning, something that would be quite common throughout the first part of the day but being the first one I hurried to capture it before the light changed.
Reaching a sudden turn, the track crosses a small stream where I found more wildflowers and a good smattering of sundews. I had been quite impressed by the quantity and variety of wildflowers this morning with the open coastal heath providing a great home for a variety of different species (plus the sundews love sandy soils). Not far past the creek you are on the edge of a very thick Peppermint Tree grove that was an unexpected surprise. Entering the lush green world of trees, canopies and mossy delight wasn't something I thought I'd see until much later in the day so it was a welcome addition to the morning. Knowing a climb was coming, I soon spotted the staircase leading up the hill and steadied myself for what would be the first of a couple of climbs for the day.
Looking more like the Stairs of Cirith Ungol from Lord of the Rings instead of a gentle collection of steps up a friendly hill, this would be the start of a pretty steep section that averages a 20% gradient over the next 500m or so. Taking my time and enjoying the opportunity to photograph both the stairs and the fast disappearing valley below me, I was soon out of the Peppermint grove and up into the open heath of the exposed dunes. With patches of rain and wet undergrowth lining the trail this morning, my pants were a little bit soggy already so I wasn't too disappointed to be reaching a patch of relative bareness. With the trail flattening out a little I had a bit of a break to appreciate the views back towards the cliffs near Mandalay Beach and wondered if/when I'd reach the top of what seemed like a never-ending series of hills.
I didn't wonder for much longer as I rounded a hill and caught sight of the ocean to the east for the first time. Greeting me was another lovely rainbow that looked spectacular contrasted up against the dark skies. From what I had read in the log book the previous night, down below was Hush Beach and someone had drawn a sketchy map on how to get to it. With a town to reach and gloomy weather on the horizon I wasn't too keen on heading down so instead enjoyed the view from up above. What a view it was too with rolling hills on either side, incoming rain misting off the ocean and a bright rainbow to liven up proceedings. Give me this kind of weather over perfect and sunny any day as it was really something to behold while I was out there.
The further I walked along the top of the hill the better the views got and the brighter the rainbow became. This was one of those moments on the track that you stop and take it all in because full arc rainbows over beautiful landscapes don't happen to me everyday and I wanted to soak it in properly. I came across a weathered old wooden post with a waugyl on it that I managed to frame with the rainbow in the background. Snapping a million photos to try and get the rainbow in a panorama, the results turned out quite well in post production. Knowing the track would soon be heading inland and away from the coast I enjoyed the amazing conditions while they lasted.
A collection of grass trees with their flower spikes piercing the air provided another great photo opportunity so I tried to get creative with the shot (only sort of turned out). As the ocean views disappeared I thought to myself, that was a fantastic send off to receive for the small coastal section on this trip. Having seen the weather coming in off the Southern Ocean I knew I wasn't going to stay relatively dry for much longer. Not helping the situation were patches of undergrowth blocking the track that required you to squeeze through and get soaked by the residual moisture. In the end it didn't matter as the rain started to fall and I stopped to get out my rain jacket, settling in for what would be a soggy hike for the rest of the day.
Winding through the dunes, the track was heading towards the path out to the Nuyts Wilderness Area and what would be a fun side trip to Aldridge Cove if they hadn't burnt down the camping a couple of years ago. With the rain making my camera quite wet, protecting it from the elements was getting harder so it moved from under my pack cover behind my butt to under my rain jacket. This caused lots of issues from lens fogging to drops on the lens but with the help of my lens cloth (that was slowly getting wet itself) I managed to keep shooting as I hiked along. Eventually I reached the wide sandy tracks that lead to the Nuyts Wilderness Area and I enjoyed not having to dodge wet undergrowth. At this point though the rain got heavier and I decided to bury the camera under my pack cover, only taking it out every now and then to get some shots of the relatively boring 4x4 track. The frogs were at least enjoying the rain as I passed a swampy area and all I could hear was a chorus of amphibians croaking away and the sound of rain falling on my hood.
Ahead of me was Deep River and the climb up to the top of Mt Clare, an area I had explored on a previous trip to the area in 2016. This final stretch of sandy 4x4 track and the forest before Deep River would be the last unknown for me on this section. Just before reaching the forest I passed a lady coming the other way to start this section heading north and after seeing the weather forecast later that night I thought they were very in for a rough trip. I entered the beautiful forest not long after and passed the daughter of the woman I'd just passed and even with all my rain gear on she still recognised me as Mark from Real Trail Talk. I gave a friendly hello and thought she must have a great memory as I don't often post photos of myself on the website.
Ever since leaving the ocean, this is what I had been looking forward to as I knew the forest around Deep River was a magical playground of green undergrowth, impressive Karri trees, fungi, moss and everything that you imagine when the term "lush forest" is mentioned. With the rain now falling at a consistent rate, I tried to take photos when I could but it was getting harder to clean the lens sufficiently. I just needed to make it to the Deep River suspension bridge and then I didn't really have to worry about photos, although it would have been nice to be able to take them all the way into town. I had a rest at the wooden shelter just before Deep River and thought I'd see if this was just a passing shower. After having a Clif bar for lunch and a bit of a rest I realised the rain was probably going to be here for a while so would try and wait it out at the Mt Clare Campsite.
I reached the Deep River suspension bridge, a real highlight of this section, and was reminded of my first trip here over Christmas in 2016. I really had a great time on that trip exploring the area and was hoping the rain would stop so I could slow down and take some photos. Crossing the bridge in the rain I took a few shots and decided to try and leg it up the hill to Mt Clare. With the goal of reaching the shelter before the rain got heavier, that was quickly put to bed as the combination of rain and water falling from the canopy meant I was soon reduced to a slow march up the hill with drenched clothes and wet feet. The undergrowth here was looking a lot bleaker than my last visit and it soon became apparent that they had done a burn here during the intervening years. With my sogginess all but a foregone conclusion for the rest of the day I slowed up and appreciated the quality of the Karri forest along here.
It's not a small climb to the campsite with almost 200m of vertical distance to cover but with the promise of a dry shelter and a chance to dry off somewhat ahead of me I powered on. The campsite sign was a welcome relief and I arrived to find the place empty. Stripping off all my wet clothes apart from my pants, I hung it all up hoping (a fool's hope) that it would dry out. Waiting out the rain I eventually became quite cold so dug my thermal top out of my bag and paced around trying to keep warm. With 10km still to go it wasn't like I could just run into town (although the thought crossed my mind). In the end I packed everything up, put my wet gear back on ventured out into the rain. I left my wet socks on because I figured that a dry pair would quickly get soaked through anyway and so the sound and feeling of squelching was going to be with me all the way into Walpole. With my camera now in a dry sack deep within my pack, the photos you see are from when I hiked this section with my brother-in-law back in 2016.
Passing the awe-inspiring Tingle trees around the Mt Clare summit, these giants of the forests brightened my mood a lot. Very rare and endemic to this region of the South West, they have claims on being the largest tree in the world, girth wise. The iconic bell shape at the base is a sight to behold and I wish I could have spent more time enjoying them. I skipped the side trail to the summit of Mt Clare because in this rain I wasn't going to get any views and I don't remember it being that fantastic in the first place. With nothing but downhill to go I set about powering down the track at a decent pace, figuring I'd be in town within a couple of hours. The pleasant forest leading all the way down the hill was lovely in the rain but my shoes felt like they were filled with water (they probably were). I ticked off the John Rate Lookout and every little road crossing in my memory from my last trip until I was on the outskirts of town near the golf course. With the end in sight I crossed the lovely bridge over the Walpole River and joined the 4x4 track leading past all the holiday homes.
With Walpole so close, this section seems to go on forever and my memory of it had it a lot shorter than this. I soldiered on in the rain and reached the bridge over the paperbark lined creek and rejoiced at the sound of cars from the nearby highway. I decided to take the proper route into town and cross the highway to finish at the Visitor Centre. I got several strange looks from people driving by as I must have looked like a crazy person to the casual traveller through town. I stopped at the bakery for something warm to fill my stomach to find they were out of vegetarian options. Figuring I would get dry and come back to find another option, I forgot that my accommodation at the YHA was at the other end of town and required a further walk in the pouring rain to get there. Given I was already drenched to the bone I sucked it up and was soon at the hostel. Turns out I was the only one staying there the night so put my wet boots in front of the fire and went off for a much needed and very welcome hot shower. With no spare pants I had to dry my hiking pants out a little before going into town and wouldn't you know it, the sun had come out finally.
I eventually found a small cafe attached to the BP that had warm vegetarian food (a Turkish roll) so enjoyed that before checking out the dinner options for later on. Much to my disappointment, the place I had been dreaming of since the previous night, the Top Deck Cafe, was closed while the owner was on holiday. I headed down to the Visitor Centre and had a long chat with the man who worked there (Mike) and he said the best option would be the pub. Literally on the other side of town I hobbled down there a bit later to find the restaurant empty and only the regular bar flies in the main area. I ordered my dinner (spinach cannelloni and chips plus some garlic bread) and a wine and sat there all alone. After seeing good reviews in the log books I was a little disappointed. Being somewhat of a garlic bread connoisseur, this was pretty doughy bread with minimal garlic taste and the cannelloni just tasted like something they had reheated and whacked grated cheese on top. It was probably my fault for ordering it and not something like the veggie burger but it was an unsatisfying meal that I had built up as this reward for hiking through the rain all day for. I left pretty quickly and retreated back to the warmth of the fire at the YHA, catching up on the NBA Finals that I had missed while being out on the track. A very restful sleep was had that night and I departed on the bus for Northcliffe the following morning.
Final Thoughts - What a way to finish the seven day Northcliffe to Walpole section of the track. A beautiful sky in the morning, rainbows over the ocean and then a soggy finish through some truly amazing forest.
This day has a good variety of terrain to hike through with the only kind of so-so section being the wide 4x4 track leading from Deep River to the Nuyts Wilderness Area. I really enjoyed the first part of the day leading to where you leave the ocean views and from just before Deep River all the way to the Walpole River is amazing.
Rating the entire section, I can see why people rate this highly and why some people (Donovan for example) do not. For me I thoroughly enjoyed it and I believe it offers the greatest variety of any of the town to town sections.
What other section has open plains, Jarrah forest, Karri forest, Tingle trees, granite domes, beach walking, river walking, coastal heath and wildlife filled lakes?
The elephant in the room for this section is the seasonal flooding it experiences from winter through spring that can cause diversions or a long few days trudging knee or waist deep through puddles.
One day I'd like to get out there and experience the soggy Pingerup Plains experience but was more than happy to have my feet dry and walk through the area as I found it.
Is this a section I would do again? Yes it is and I'd probably bring company along to share the journey with.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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