Walpole to Mount Clare
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.