Bibbulmun Track - Walpole to Mt Clare
Start - Walpole Town Centre
Length - 17.7km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 451m
Time - 4-6 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 28th December 2016
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Minang People
The Hike - With Christmas holidays booked in for Walpole I was excited to see where the accommodation was so when mum emailed me the address I was immediately on Google Maps to check it out. I happily discovered that the Bibbulmun Track literally went past the backyard so I went to the Bibbulmun Track website to research the area a bit further. Being one of the track towns, I was already planning a walk along the Bibbulmun but the location of the holiday home influenced me to head west out of Walpole towards the Mt Clare campsite. The BTF website suggests this is a good overnight hike and a good day trip would be John Rate Lookout to Mt Clare return (8.6km). I used the distance calculator and found out a return trip from Walpole was only 20kms so being a fit and fairly young whippersnapper, I was all systems go to spend a morning exploring what is often regarded as one of the best areas of the Bibbulmun Track.
The plan was to do this on the 27th but rain put a dampener on this plan as for some reason I didn't pack my rain jacket for this trip. The hike was moved to the following day where grey skies and temperatures in the low to mid teens greeted myself and my brother-in-law Haydn, who would be accompanying me into the forest. It was a 5:30am rise to get out onto the track early and we successfully disembarked without waking my nieces or anyone else. As the holiday home was about 1km west of the town centre we only did 18km today but having walked into town a few days earlier, I think that counts as having done the whole journey. The 1km we missed isn't terribly interesting with the majority being on a 4x4 track that runs in front of all the holiday homes. Our start took us on said 4x4 track but only for a brief time before we came across the bridge over the Walpole River. This picturesque little bridge was donated by a couple of Bibbulmun Track loving locals and even with the gloomy morning greys around, it was a lovely place to be.
The beautiful boardwalks continue on after the bridge to protect the surrounding environment that is mainly river rushes, wildflowers and paperbark trees. After the lovely natural beauty of the river you begin to climb and we came across a scene that was familiar to me, the walk between holes on a golf course. There was a good reason for that with the Bibbulmun Track passing right through the Walpole Country Club and intersecting one of the paths between green and tee. While it would have been nice to see a scene like this, it was a funny distraction that is sometimes life on the Bibbulmun. Returning to the "wild", there was a nice forested section after the golf course leading all the way to Rest Point Rd. Having only covered a kilometre we didn't take this as a rest point (insert eye roll here), and soldiered on towards the grassy expanses of the next section. Having read about how great this part of the track was, I wasn't expecting this and it came as a bit of a surprise. Instead of the damp, towering forests I had been experiencing in the past few days, there was just thick grass and the occasional grass tree to liven things up.
This area has been affected by bush fires in the past but to have no eucalypt species survive is rather odd so I would be interested to find out why this landscape is so different to everything surrounding it. With the overcast conditions and the cold, it couldn't have been further from a typical Aussie summer but I was enjoying the nice little return to winter. I still had my jumper on, something that rarely happens even in the middle of a Perth winter. Occasionally the small amounts of trees/scrubs would clear up and you could get a glimpse of the Nornalup Inlet but with the skies the way they were, it was hard to distinguish between the water and the horizon. The best views are where you reach the gravel access track of Isle Rd and you can see all the way down to the inlet. Thankfully this is where the grassy fields end and the forest starts back up again.
I was at home again amongst the tall Karri trees and the deep green of the undergrowth. While you notice that the track isn't exactly flat, it doesn't feel like a big uphill but the consistency of the gradient tricks you into not noticing the hill. It's not a big climb by any standard but it makes the surprise of John Rate Lookout a little bigger when you do arrive. What is also a surprise is how close you are to South Western Highway as the lookout car park is right on the side of the highway. The lookout itself is a small boardwalk and provides a much better view back towards the Nornalup Inlet than the previous section and reminded me of the lookout on the Warren River Loop. With many photos taken it was time to move on but 4kms of uphill had taken its toll and it was time to finally remove the jumper. The next section was a real treat with a mix of Karri and Tingle trees, moss covered logs, thickets of closed in forest and dense undergrowth. With nothing but fresh air, my own thoughts and some quality time with Haydn, I could get used to this holiday malarkey. Along the way we passed a cool collection of fungi growing off a tree trunk, several large branches that had been deposited over the trail (not blocking the way) and a hollowed out tree where Haydn practised his best serial killer pose while I was taking photos (see gallery). The fantastic forest scenes were interrupted when the track made it's way near some underground power lines.
I'm guessing the power lines used to be overhead and have recently been moved to a more visually appealing home under the earth. The track follows the power line for a little bit and there is no way you would miss that there is underground power here with all the brightly coloured warning markers every 50m or so. This slightly open section doesn't last too long and takes you towards the next road crossing that is Tinglewood Rd. Spitting you out onto the wide gravel road, the size of the nearby Karri trees becomes more noticeable. Weirdly though the trail ducks back into the forest for maybe 30m instead of using the road before coming back out again at the car park for the Nuyts Wilderness Area. Having not heard of any walks in the area (my research wasn't that deep given I already had a full schedule), I was happy to find an information board with a wealth of trail information. Along with some smaller trails (watch this space), there are a few longer options that utilise the Bibbulmun Track before departing down to the coast. I added them all to my to-hike list and started thinking about how long it would be until I could return. The car park/trail head is quite well fitted out with a toilet block, information board and a few picnic tables dotted around the place. On the information board there is a joking (I think) quote along the lines of "Walpole's best kept secret so shh don't tell anyone" that was from 2003 so they have achieved the status of keeping quiet. I apologise sincerely if this then ruins everything.
With a world of possibilities running around my head we continued on to the turnaround point of the Mt Clare campsite. To get there it's a short 1km stroll up the wide 4x4 track that takes you past some impressive examples of the Red Tingle. These bell bottomed beasts are certainly a sight to behold and after reading at the Valley of the Giants that their shallow root systems are quite fragile I made a point to avoid stepping on any large roots that were visible on the 4x4 track. It wasn't long before we reached the little side path that leads to the summit of Mt Clare. We followed the sign and beat our way along the overgrown path to the first granite dome. With some views but nothing too fantastic we figured this wasn't the end of the trail and continued on what looked like another path. We were right and soon came across the final granite dome that was more expansive and looked south towards the coast. Again the grey clouds made it hard to distinguish between ocean and cloud but it was still a worthy side trip to take. Doubling back we found the Bibbulmun again and then it was a hop, skip and a jump to the campsite at Mt Clare, which is located perfectly under some impressive Tingles and surrounded by dense thickets of forest. This gives it a great closed in feeling and I couldn't stop taking photos. Being summer I didn't think anyone would be out here but as we closed in on the hut it was evident that there was a large group staying inside.
A couple of families were doing Northcliffe to Denmark having come from another multi-day hike in the Northern Territory. In their party was a seven and ten year old, which is an impressive feat for the young ones to complete. Having some leftover Christmas chocolate in my bag that I was planning on having as a snack here, I instead offered it up to the kids as I figured they would love a break from camp food. The mother made a joke about me carrying chocolate on the Bibbulmun to offer to kids and I laughed it off because that's just silly talk. We had a bit of chat and I signed the new log book before leaving them to finish packing. I took some last photos of the super cool mossy outhouse and we started the 9km trip back to the holiday home. The walk back was just as enjoyable as coming out and we got to see some wildlife I had not seen before. After telling Haydn all about a fluorescent green worm I had seen on Instagram, I noticed something slightly odd about a twig on the ground. I stopped to investigate and realised it was a fluorescent yellow worm that was still alive and kicking (see gallery). We also came across a large group of spiders in the grassy clearing that I referred to as Mexican spiders while we were out there because of their red and yellow colouring. Turns out they are Jewel Spiders or Christmas Spiders as their appearance usually coincides with the arrival of Christmas.
Final Thoughts - Having spent a bit of time in the South West over the past couple of years, I hadn't gone out to hike a specific section of the Bibbulmun Track until now. I am glad I finally made the effort to do a Bibbulmun day hike and don't think I could have picked a better spot considering the overcast weather.
Walpole is such a great little town to base yourself out of and although the holiday home I was staying at was right on the track, I don't think you would be more than a few hundred metres from a section of the track, no matter where you stay.
Mt Clare was an amazing campsite and what I would have expected a Tingle forest campsite to look and feel like. It would have been nice to sit there for a while enjoying the campsite with no one there but it wasn't to be.
Haydn played the Aron role very well, making sure he was out of shot when necessary and keeping me company. I can't remember the last time we spent time together just the two of us so it was nice to have him along.
All in all it was another great hike with the to-hike list only getting longer after a visit to the information board at the Nuyts trail head. I will be back Walpole to discover more of your secrets.
Get out there and experience it!
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