Nullaki to West Cape Howe
Start - Nullaki Campsite
Finish - West Cape Howe Campsite
Campsite - Nornalup
Distance - 16.9km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 420m
Time - 4-8 hours
Date Hiked - 23rd September 2019
The Hike - After a nice warm-up walking from Pelican Point Jetty to the Nullaki Campsite, I enjoyed a bit of a break in the heat of the day just re-hydrating and enjoyed a snack while writing in the log books.
While this would have been the shortest day of my end to end had I have stayed here, Nullaki isn't always described as the best place to camp so I decided to double to West Cape Howe. With another 17km to hike through some undulating coastal terrain, I put some tank water in my hat to cool off and set about leaving camp. While I had not enjoyed the dune walking around Boat Harbour on the previous section, finding the track heading inland unnecessarily and away from the nice coastal views, I at least knew the first part of this section would be like this. The Nullaki Campsite is located inland and you have to switch from the Wilson Inlet to the ocean to see water again so it is fair that some dune bashing is in order. Returning to the track via the small spur trail, I soon rejoined the trail and began what was a very long uphill section.
Making me a happy bunny was the emergence of some distant cloud over my lunch break and so I was hoping that it would roll over and help the lighting conditions, which can be a little harsh at this time of year in full sun. Out in the open and on wide shots it's acceptable but when you start getting into the Peppermint trees it becomes a big problem with the shaded areas too dark and the sky being horribly overexposed. For now though I was walking along a fairly open area with the occasional ancient Banksia tree for company and a continuation of the excellent wildflower show from the previous section. A Prickly Hakea provided a break from the never ending supply of Donkey Orchids and I really enjoy the contrast of their sharp leaves and soft noodle like flowers. Much like the area around Boat Harbour, there have been some measures put in place to reduce the erosion caused by the walking trails dissecting the dunes. A black mat that looks like a never ending tyre with holes poked in it provides a harder surface to plant your foot and seems to be doing a good job of not letting your boots dig in to the sand.
While inspecting the black mat and looking where to place my next step I noticed a shiny green object in one of the holes. Thinking it might be a piece of glass, I reached down to pick it up and was happy to see it was a fluorescent beetle just chilling in the gap. Continuing up the hill, the track heads through a Peppermint grove, momentarily providing some much needed shade and also looking very pretty. Unsure if the bevy of orchids would continue now I was away from the constant water of the inlet, I can report this did not stop them from popping up everywhere. Donkey, Fairy, Cowslips, they were all there and every few steps contained yet another one. I had to calm my farm slightly otherwise I would have ended up with a full memory card after a couple of days. I'm not just talking one or two popping up, quite often they were just in clumps of three or four, sometimes up to a dozen or so. Realising this would be normal, I only took a photo if they looked super good but it was really hard to restrain myself.
Coming out of one of the many Peppermint groves in the area, the first of the inland views can be experienced. While a direct path straight to the coast would mean ocean views sooner, I was actually enjoying the gentle detour inland before reaching the ocean. While sometimes it felt like the track was just aimlessly wandering, it is mostly dictated by the various dunes so can't be a coherent path all the time. To the north you continue to see Mount Lindesay and while the Munda Biddi does go near there, taking the Bibbulmun near there would be a tough ask logistically just to climb a few hills. There is more than the distant hills to admire with a series of lakes/swamps dotting the landscape that also includes a lot of farming land. Spotting more wildflowers (Foxtails and an Albany Catspaw this time), it was really cool to have your attention constantly switching between what was on the ground and what was further afield. This wasn't doing wonders for my average time and at this pace I wouldn't be in camp until sunset.
The occasional set of stairs was handy to cover the vertical distance in relative ease and also served as areas where they built little seats, possibly with leftover materials from the stairs. A nice design feature specifically for hikers is a second plank that is slightly raised behind the first one so you can theoretically rest your pack on it and not have to worry about taking it off. This area is far from the top of the hill but respite from the exposed walking comes from a shady section of Peppermint trees where I would come across my first of many Bobtails for the day. These stumpy little lizards are funny creatures and are usually slow or casual enough to let you stop for photos. The first one I came across was pretty friendly, letting me take several photos and not moving too much. Get too close and they'll let you know, opening their mouths and exposing their tongues, which can be blue depending on the species. After annoying the locals for long enough I headed off, hoping the coastline would come into view soon.
It wasn't long before you pop out of the coastal heath and are presented with what are pretty average views of the ocean. Given there will be an abundance of opportunity over the next 60 odd kilometres to get some spectacular views I wasn't worried about only getting a small glimpse to start with. It was a funny little section that really goes "here you are, this is the ocean" and then almost immediately doubles back and heads back into the coastal heath. I didn't mind as it meant more Peppermint trees, orchids, wildflowers and shade. One wildflower I'm always happy to see because of its unique shape and infrequent occurrence is the Yellow Tailflower. A very delicate but plentiful star shaped flower, it can be difficult to photograph properly as the interesting dark colours on the inside of the flowers are usually pointing down. One plant that was not infrequent through here was Karri Hazel. When in flower you will smell this plant well before you see the almost comically dull flower that gives off the lovely fragrance.
It's a strong and sweet smell that to me is just spring rolled up into one lovely musk. When you find it in large swaths it is heavenly to walk through and a fragrance company should definitely make it into a scent (Eau de Bibbulmun perhaps?). After doubling back to the inland section, the track then decides it wants to go back to the coast and it really felt like aimless wandering this time. Finally staring out over the ocean from the track, the views are much better with more perspective of the coastline. Getting to see the rocky headland of Knapp Head provided something cool to photograph as the thick coastal heath up to this point meant that you could see the water and not much else. I can now see why the route has you go inland if they couldn't cut a safe path near the cliffs but it would be pretty spectacular if they didn't have to worry about the risk. The clouds were definitely here to stay for the afternoon so these exposed sections were much more bearable and the lighting was also getting better.
As I loved through a section of lovely Karri Hazel, I heard a screeching that I was not expecting on the south coast, that of the Black Cockatoos. While there are eucalyptus trees in the area, I wasn't sure if they were large enough to provide homes to these magnificent birds, let alone to find them in the coastal heath. I slowed right down so I didn't spook them and managed to get a good distance away where the photos wouldn't be too blurry. They ended up being the endangered Carnabys with white plumage in their tails and the shorter beak (Baudins, the other white tailed cockatoo have a longer beak). I watched them for a while, holding the camera steady in case they flew off and showed me their tails. I got lucky as most of the group departed, one of them flared up with the white tail feather and I caught the moment. A solitary male stuck around (distinguishable by the red eyes) and we were friends by the time he decided to join his family as they flew away. With the afternoon getting on, I kept going and reached an area that felt like I'd visited before.
I hadn't made a wrong turn but the track heads opens up with views of the lakes and Mount Lindesay once again. It's nice to break up the sections of thick coastal heath but you get the feeling of deja vu seeing it again and again. The seats were nice and if you find one that isn't covered in ants then it's a great spot for a rest. Some of the seats have grown some cool moss that adds plenty of character and almost makes you want to avoid sitting on just so you don't ruin it. While the first half to this section wasn't bad during my visit, the wildflowers more than making up for any uninteresting or meandering trail, from here on out I think the day gets a lot better. You get one last view of Knapp Head from the top of the hill before beginning a descent that takes you all the way to the coastline you would typically associate with the Denmark to Albany section. The climb up to the top of the hill wasn't particularly strenuous but being on the descent was a welcome change, allowing an uptick in pace and it just feels more relaxing.
A bit overgrown in sections (more than okay with me but makes it harder to see the snakes), this was a very enjoyable stretch of walking. Weaving through Peppermint trees and Karri Hazel, there were wildflowers here that I hadn't seen much of all day or some that I'd never seen in my life. The one that struck me the most was the one that doesn't even look like a flower to begin with. It has green, leaf coloured petals and yellow filament to create a quite unique style that I found fascinating. I finally got a decent picture of the little Orange Stars that always look like angry faces to me and becoming more common were the white Cow Licks that are long and look like they are hugging themselves. The Peppermint trees started to become more mature as the track heads down along a protected valley and the emergence of some taller eucalyptus trees was a sight for sore eyes (sore = coastal dune eyes). As I approached the last of the dunes before coming across the start of the fantastic coastal views, I spotted a pretty cool occurrence.
There were three Pig Face flowers lined up in a row and in front of them was a matching Pink Fairy Orchid that was a happy coincidence. Rising over one last hill, another wooden seat marks the introduction to what I called the "proper coastline". This is the first time you catch eyes at West Cape Howe and it's pretty special as this headland will be your life for the next day or so. The southern most point of mainland Western Australia, it is a pretty cool part of the state that I wish the Bibbulmun explored much further as it feels like a lost opportunity. For now it's an exciting moment and provides fresh energy to finish the day. Just out of sight is Lowlands Beach and it will be a little while until the full views open up. There is more Peppermint covered dunes to contend with and some out of place views of a pine plantation, giving you the first indication that this area is not all wild land. There are a few houses here too that can be seen from the track, taking you out of the wilderness experience slightly but this is forgotten once you see Lowlands Beach and further along to the sloping cliffs of West Cape Howe.
There was a little side track that takes you down to some pretty cool views of the bay and further to the rugged cliffs of West Cape Howe. Here I spotted another Bobtail that was enjoying the afternoon sun so I took its picture and let it be. With a stirring in my adventurous soul, I was eager to continue forth, hoping that the track took you down to see the might of the waves crashing against the granite rocks. After crossing a 4x4 track you begin an uphill climb that will last for the rest of the day. The track unfortunately doesn't take you directly to Lowlands Beach but you cross Tennessee Rd South, a gravel road that leads all the way to a lookout and side path down to the beach. I stood there really thinking hard about whether I wanted to take the few hundred metre journey down there and in the end I decided against it because I wanted to be at West Cape Howe for the sunset. Continuing the climb up the hill, it isn't a steep one by any stretch of the imagination but a sustained one nonetheless. With the high cloud now set in for the afternoon, the lighting was amazing and as I kept rising above the ocean, the views back towards where I'd come from kept getting better.
The refracted light and the spray blowing in from Lowlands Beach created a cool effect that was fantastic to witness first hand. Things kept getting better as the return of Karri Hazel along the track brought a wonderful scent to my afternoon and looked really cool as it blanketed either side of the trail. It was here I heard a familiar call and it was a lovely surprise to see another Crackle of Cockatoos (that's the right collective noun I think). It may well have been the same crackle as before given this was the direction they flew off in. If I translated their calls correctly they were saying "not this idiot again, why can't he just leave us alone". Once again there was a solitary bird hanging about (a female this time) after the others had made their Top Gun style escape (I think they look like fighter planes in the photo gallery) so I happily took plenty of photos with the Karri Hazel flowers in the foreground. It soon left me so I continued with my journey towards West Cape Howe Campsite, admiring all the wildflowers in the soft light including some Blue Fan Flowers (Scaevola), Water Bush (orange pea variety) and a very solid and waxy plant with a ball of white flowers (I'm terrible with wildflowers).
Coming around a bend I spotted what was my fourth snake for the day but the only one that stuck around long enough for me to get the camera ready and focused. A medium sized Tiger Snake, it was curled up in the sand and showed no signs of moving anytime soon. I was a little bit excited as I don't often see snakes while hiking and the three I had seen so far were off into the undergrowth before I realised what they were. I got a close enough to take some photos of its beautiful orange markings but far enough away that if it decided to strike then I would have some distance to move away. They are much maligned creatures as people have this irrational fear of them, most of the time they are more scared of you and will move off before you reach them. Show them respect and watch where you are stepping and they won't pose a problem at all. With that excellent moment over I was buzzing around, keen to get to camp and enjoy the last little bit of the afternoon. The final section up to camp is a mix of Peppermint groves and occasional views of the ocean and coastline. You reach the top of the hill and catch eyes at the point of West Cape Howe, another special moment that means you are very close to the end of the day.
Descending a little, you come across the glorious campsite sign and through some Peppermint trees is home for the night. The shelter is set back in the large Peppermint trees to protect it from the elements but there are excellent ocean views to be found up a small path. I dropped my bag (Riley and Mon had indeed continued on to Torbay) and immediately wandered up to the second picnic table to take in the awesome views of West Cape Howe and Southern Ocean. It's a magical spot up on the cliffs that I was happy to have to myself for the afternoon. After checking out the views I began setting up for the night and with sunset not too far away I ended up making dinner to have with my afternoon ritual of writing in the log books and my own personal journal. With the high cloud cover I was hoping that an epic sunset was on the cards and as I sat on the upper picnic table thinking over what had been a highly enjoyable day, the colours started to change. In the end it was a bit muted with flashes of orange and purple but given the site doesn't face west you don't get the typical Western Australian sunset over water. The helipad is just around the corner so I kept switching between the two areas, admiring the cloud formations and snapping away at the changing light. With the clouds hanging around my plans to capture the Milky Way as it set were not going to happen so retired to bed, very happy with a 27km day along the coast.
Final Thoughts - With Pelican Point to Nullaki being a good introduction to the last section of the Bibbulmun, Nullaki to West Cape Howe is where you hit your strides and start to experience what makes this section so special.
Doing this in spring meant plenty of wildflowers and orchids, something that lifts the occasional bit of dune bashing to a much more enjoyable experience and I recommend hikers so this section in these conditions.
While there is no official beach walking on this day, there is the option if you have time to head down to Lowlands Beach for a sandy walk but even without it, this is still a lovely 17km of walking.
The campsite is set in a really nice spot and although it has the West Cape Howe name, it is still a distance from the headland. The views are nice but the following day will be more of a proper West Cape Howe experience (although still not as good as it could be).
This was the longest day of my sectional end to end and with the body feeling good I jokingly thought that now I was hitting the end I must have found my trail legs.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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