Gringer Creek to White Horse Hills
Start - Gringer Creek Campsite
Finish - White Horse Hills Campsite
Campsite - Standard
Distance - 17.8km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 533m
Time - 4-7 hours
Date Hiked - 12th September 2019
The Hike - North Bannister to Dwellingup has been one of those sections I've planned to hike countless times but have always been thwarted by one reason or another. I think I've delayed or postponed this section about four or five times now since getting serious about my sectional end to end in 2018. First it was because of an achilles injury, then the Google Trekker opportunity came up, then in 2019 the area around Boonering Hill and Chadoora went through a large prescribed burn so had a temporary campsite installed and finally I was busy with work so delayed once again. So here we are, over a year since I first planned to hike through here and this would be the second last section I needed to tick off before finishing my sectional end to end.
The original plan was to finish my end to end by completing Walpole to Albany in two sections so it's a bit muddled having a section of the Darling Range splitting them but here we are. I was beginning to wonder if there was a cosmic reason why this section was delayed so many time, only time would tell. The logistics for this section are a bit tricky if you're on your own as Dwellingup doesn't have a TransWA service so you either have to go with a friend and leave a car at each end or have someone willing to pick you up in Dwellingup when you finish. Luckily Caris once again agreed to pick me up so I booked my ticket on the TransWA service that departs the East Perth Terminal for Albany and stops at North Bannister. This handy access point to the track is a short spur trail from Gringer Creek so on a warm spring day I arrived at North Bannister ready for action.
It was 11am by the time I reached Gringer Creek so with a tick under 18km to hike with a couple of hills in between I had to be mindful of the time. Having already done the first 10km of this section as a day hike back in 2017, I was familiar with what to expect so wasn't worried about time. After signing my name in the Gringer Creek log book, I immediately set off towards Albany Hwy on the short linking trail. Having been in the area a month and a bit ago completing Sullivan Rock to Gringer Creek, I was impressed with the increased variety and quantity of wildflowers around. Yellow Buttercups were everywhere and looking resplendent in the bright midday sun. My favourite plant, the sundew, was also out in force and this would once again be a time where I would go crazy photographing almost every one I could see.
The 2.5km section to the highway is a lot of open forest, intersecting various 4x4 tracks with the constant drone of traffic indicating that civilisation is not too far away. With headphones in this could be in the far reaches of a national park and so I pretended that was the case. Oddly, the track puts you out onto the highway where you must walk along it for 100m or so before joining up with a 4x4 track and heading back into the forest. Surely a better track alignment would simply move the track to where the crossing is but I think the added expense of a bridge over the small water course you cross while on the highway must be the reason. As the track continues along the 4x4 track I noticed an increase in wildflowers just in the area near the road, some I'm not entirely sure were native but the extra colour was very welcome.
Spotting wildflowers along this section would be a pleasant distraction as the track runs alongside a blue gum plantation for 5km, a long time to be spent on a 4x4 track, especially when one side of your view is unnatural looking plantation. I'm all for renewable forestry and would like to see more of this on land that has previously been cleared instead of pillaging the state forests of our native timber. My annoyance with this section is the choice to have the track run parallel with the plantation when the Dwellingup State Forest is right there and it wouldn't have taken much effort to put in a single track 50-100m further north so you didn't have row after row of blue gum in your eyesight for kilometres on end.
Having hiked here before I knew it wasn't going to end soon so instead played a game of trying to spot and photograph as many wildflowers as I could. Being the middle of September I had come at the right time with plenty of variety dotting the forest floor. The quality of the forest was also quite spectacular with some very mature trees providing a good amount of shade and also a feeding spot for some Red Tailed Black Cockatoos that paid me a visit. I didn't manage to get a good shot of them but it served as a good time to stop and just observe these funny birds. While I didn't spend much time staring at the blue gum plantation, I did notice that it looked much taller since my last visit, something that was confirmed when I looked back at photos after my trip.
About halfway down the 4x4 track you come to a large granite expanse that provides a break in the monotony of the 4x4 walking. The blue gum plantation also takes a break and a field of green appears so try not to get overwhelmed by all the changes when you're walking through (kidding). Another change from the dead straight 4x4 track is a short little half loop that takes you into the forest and over a small water course. Why the track couldn't have done this earlier and then continued a little further away from the fence line is beyond me. As you reach the start of the incline relief is not far away with a departure away from the plantation. This is the biggest incline you will face since Mt Cooke with the initial climb being over 150m and is quite steep in places.
I love this climb though because after the fairly uninteresting section from Albany Hwy you get the feeling like you're finally hitting the granite hills again and there is a world of possibility waiting over the hill. In the heat of the day this was a tough little incline but I stopped a few times to look back and take plenty of photos. The forest here is very lovely with some more mature examples of Marri and Jarrah trees standing proud. Evidence of the prescribed burns was showing as you get to the top of the hill and I was amazed to see only small patches burnt, a rarity in the era of large scale perimeter burns that seem to be the norm these days. Happy that I wouldn't be walking through scorched earth for kilometres, I powered up to the summit of the first hill.
A small granite platform is a good resting spot and if you're here on a warm day then watch our for the speedy Ornate Crevice Dragons. Rising up over the first hill you walk along the ridge line and get some wider views looking to the south that will be your first taste of what's to come over the next couple of days. Boonering Hill appears in the distance and is a good reward for the effort getting up to this point. Here the prescribed burns continued but they were very light and helped me answer a mystery had been with me since 2015. During my first hike of the Mt Dale Circuit I photographed what I thought was a red flower that only came out right after a bushfire. Turns out the effect is just Parrot Bush that has gone through a burn so mystery solved and I can now close that chapter of my life.
The wildflowers in this open section leading to the base of Boonering Hill were amazing with an assortment of varieties that I'd seen on the long 4x4 track along with a couple of new ones. Reaching a rocky section before Boonering Hill you can see the granite dome extending all the way up into the sky but with no obvious way of getting there. The track actually takes you to the right and into the forest where you'll have some more climbing to reach the spur trail to the summit. Unfortunately there is no sign pointing you to the summit, only a couple of double waugyls making sure you notice the track direction. That's a shame because if you don't have the guidebook or aren't looking at the map then the trail to the summit isn't very obvious.
Once you find the path leading to the top it's a tunnel of grass trees and parrot bush that doesn't disappoint. Once you reach the granite dome there is a cool section of cracked slabs that you must climb over in order to get to the great views. I love thinking about the powerful forces that must have gone into fracturing the granite like this and it's a nice hiding place for the Ornate Crevice Dragon so keep an eye out. The top of Boonering Hill (523m ASL) is easily the best of the granite hills in the Darling Range section in terms of being able to see in every direction. While that may sound great, sometimes you aren't staring at the best things (Boddington Gold Mine and the Suez Resource Recovery Park) but on the whole it a really nice place to be. You can look back the peaks of Mt Cooke, Mt Dale and the trio of Mount Vincent, Cuthbert and Randall all in one shot.
On the podcast for this section I described this as a mini Stirling Range view as you get all these peaks lined up in the distance and it looks kind of cool. There is plenty of space up here to have a rest so with a couple of cheese and salad rolls for lunch I picked a spot and admired the views. I said to my boss that I'd send a photo of my lunch view because I'm that jerk and she is always curious about why I go on these trips so with 4G reception (a luxury given I'm with Vodafone) I activated jerk mode. as I was doing this I noticed an unusual bug crawling around my feet so grabbed the camera to try and get a shot. As I approached it turned around and reared up at me, obviously not happy with the attention, so I quickly got a photo and went back to my lunch. After editing the photo and doing a bit of light googling I think it is a Milkweek Bug. It looks rather striking and I'd never seen one in my travels so was happy to get a clear shot of one for the records.
With lunch finished and still 8km to go I thought it was best to get moving again. From here until Dwellingup would be all new terrain for me and I was excited to see what was ahead. The thought of this section for me has always had felt a bit special and in my mind it was always a case of getting over Boonering Hill and discovering an untouched world of old forest and the occasional granite peak. Of course I knew that the track goes super close to Boddington Gold Mine and there is the cancer of bauxite mining plus a lot of old forestry tracks mixed in but it is fun to dream sometimes. Back at the track intersection I continued on my way and began the descent from Boonering Hill. This area was part of the recent prescribed burns so was a touch black leading down the hill but it didn't last long and soon I was on the 4x4 track that is home for a couple of kilometres. While not super happy to be on a wide 4x4 track, the quality of the forest here is fantastic with a mature understorey and big Wandoo trees everywhere.
As I approached a creek crossing I noticed something splashing around in the water so slowed down to observe what was a red breasted robin taking a bath. I only got one quick shot before it realised I was there but standing there watching it go about its business brought a smile to my face. Right after the creek crossing you depart the 4x4 track and start the long ascent up to the top of Kimberling Hill, the second of the big hills of the day. The turnoff is easy to miss (as one of my fellow hikers would point out later on) so be mindful in this area. The climb is very gradual so at times you don't really notice you are going uphill and weaving through some of the thick regrowth keeps you occupied. I'm guessing this area was burnt quite severely in the past 2-3 years as there is a section where all the trees have their green jumpers on all the way to the top and there is a thick growth of new trees in the bare soil.
It does transition to unburnt forest as you approach the granite slopes and the wildflowers return in great numbers. The first of the granite patches looked like a really cool place with some nice views looking back so I found a log and stopped for a short rest. With only a short climb to go before reaching the top I continued on and the scenery just got better from here. As I was lining up a shot of some grass trees I had a black bird of prey fly right through my shot so that was kind of fun (I wasn't quick enough to get a follow-up shot to see what it was). As you approach the summit there is an open section of granite that you must climb up and this provides the best views you'll see from Kimberling Hill. If you have the energy then this would make a really cool spot to watch the sunset as the platform faces west but it would be a 2km round trip to get here from the campsite. The top of Kimberling Hill (498m ASL) is covered in forest so is a bit of an anti-climax if you're expecting views but the wildflowers up here were some of the best of the day with both sides of the trail lined with a fantastic display.
It's only a short downhill before you reach the campsite and I was curious to see if I would be alone for the night (and the next few days if there wasn't a N-S end to ender at camp). I heard voices and sure enough there were two gentlemen having a chat on the table outside, Cliff who was on a S-N end to end and Stephen a N-S end to ender who was on the same schedule as me all the way into Dwellingup. We conversed over the afternoon as we all prepared for the evening and enjoyed dinner around the campfire. I wasn't expecting anyone so it was nice to have some company for the night. The campsite itself is located in a lovely patch of forest much like Grimwade or Nerang and lights up with a lovely golden colour in the afternoon given its westerly facing position. Everyone retired just after it got dark so I settled in for a couple of episodes of Jim Henson's Dark Crystal (highly recommended).