Big Brook Dam
Directions - Big Brook Dam is a ten minute drive from the centre of Pemberton and the way there is well signed. From the main strip in town head east along Vasse Hwy until you reach a left turn for Golf Links Rd. Follow this road until you reach a left turn on Mullineaux Rd then take Percival Rd followed by Range Rd.
The Hike - Continuing on after my visits to Mount Chudalup and Lane Poole Falls, the next stop on my Tour de Northcliffe and Pemberton was a place I had visited a few months earlier, albeit in different circumstances. Big Brook Dam is one of the highlights of the Bibbulmun Track on the day into or out of Pemberton and my lasting memory from my visit here in June was that it was a very enjoyable location but the tarmac paths were murder on my already sore feet. I have returned though with the goal of just enjoying the entire loop walk with a lighter pack and fresh legs. This hike had been on the to-hike list well before my visit here in June so it was nice to finally get stuck into it and with fantastic weather greeting me on this lovely spring day.
Big Brook Dam is one of the stops of the Karri Explorer tourist route that takes in some of the more accessible and family friendly area around Pemberton. I like the idea of getting people to places they might not have thought of visiting and of course it helps support local businesses that are located around the area. The facilities around Big Brook Dam are certainly setup for families and people with accessibility issues, containing a tarmac path all the way around the dam and a network of open cabins/bird hides. Starting at the car park on the eastern side of the trail, I thought I would go anti-clockwise as I had not seen that half of the trail before. Immediately you are thrown into the combination of tall Karri trees, wildflowers and excellent views of the water. This recipe doesn't change much over the whole 4km loop but there are subtle differences to look out for as you trundle along. The first highlight of the walk is the white sandy beach, usually reserved for the beautiful coastline of WA. That is the advantage of building your own recreational area, like what has been done here in 1986 along with providing another water source for the Town of Pemberton. The effect is quite idyllic with the deep blue of the water contrasting well with the white sands and tall Karri trees. Picnic tables and BBQ facilities provide another reason to stop and enjoy this spot and even though dogs are allowed on the trail, they are banned from being on the beach or in the water.
When I arrived there was a European family enjoying a picnic so I left them to it and went on to explore the rest of the trail. Continuing on the sealed path, you come across the first of many small jetties where you can get a clearer view of the water. The dam does hold trout (stocks topped up annually) and marron but licences are required if you want to catch both. At the northern tip of the dam you are treated to a reedy area and the first of the three cabin type structures. Before that though there is an information board telling you to be on the lookout for what is described as the "otter of Western Australia", the Rakali. A native water rat (not related to the 90s TV show), these guys don't appear in great numbers so if you do see one then follow the directions and report it. It's no coincidence that the sign is placed there as the nearby bird hide provides an excellent location to potentially spot one of these Australian otters along with the abundance of bird life/amphibian creatures. On the inside of the bird hide are a number of information boards telling stories of the area that gives off a holiday vibe to them and would really help you keep the kids entertained if you are doing this as a family. Once you've spotted enough birds and heard enough frogs, the next stretch provides some of the best views of the water on the entire hike with several benches and jetties giving you ample opportunity to take it all in.
After enjoying a good sit on a bench just enjoying the peace and quiet and my time off exploring the South West I moved along and turned the corner to where Big Brook enters the main dam. Here you will find another cabin with more stories and an area where you can go all the way to the waters edge. If I was a kid and this was in my backyard then I would love it, it had that feeling where you just wanted to do kid stuff like climbing trees and playing in the water but today was not that day. The bridge over Big Brook is not too far away and you get a close up view of the Warren River Cedars (not actually Cedar trees) with their rough bark and out of place look compared to the Karri forest. The bridge is a standard steel and plank affair but the reeds are nice and this is another chance to spot an otter. This rounds off the section I hadn't already done as I came across the Bibbulmun Track marker and the sign to Big Brook Arboretum, which can be done as a side trip but having already seen it I wasn't keen for a return visit.
The finishing section to the dam wall isn't the strongest stretch of the hike but I did see some interesting fungi species including a wet blob mass that I also found on a side trip to the Orchid Trail in Quinninup a few days earlier that I didn't think was a natural occurrence at all. The final cabin is also found here and for a 31yo I enjoyed the cartoon adventures of Walter the Water Molecule way too much. This intriguing and heartfelt tale is designed to teach you about the biology of the Karri forest and also features an engaging recount of the water cycle. Thank you to whoever came up with that idea as it had be entertained so I'm sure any kid will find it captivating too. After the cabin I passed a rest spot that I spent a bit of time at trying to will myself on for the remaining 7km into Pemberton in June. The last thing to do was to walk across the dam wall and appreciate the water views for the last time. The dam wall is a good opportunity to see the last of Big Brook before it flows into Lefroy Brook further downstream. Another hike done and another great experience in the memory banks.