Start - Boyagin Nature Reserve
Length - 17.7km (Loop)
Rating - Black
Terrain - Off Track, Granite Dome, Forest
Vertical Climb - 388m
Time - 5-9 hours
Cost - WalkGPS Membership Required
Signed - No, map and GPS waypoints required
Date Hiked - 11th August 2018
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Directions - Boyagin Nature Reserve is about two hours east of Perth off Brookton Hwy. Follow Brookton Hwy until you reach the York-Williams Rd turnoff. Turn right here and follow down until you reach the left turn for Boyagin Rd. Follow Boyagin Rd until the left turn for Pech Rd. The car park is a little way down on the left and is well signed.
The Hike - Despite starting a mildly successful but thoroughly enjoyable podcast together, Donovan and I have not hiked together very often. Besides a couple of group hikes early on when we didn't really know each other, we have only hiked together three times. Odd considering every fortnight or so we spend a couple of hours drinking wine and talking hiking for the podcast (not to mention the various group chats we now talk on daily). A theme that started to develop in 2018 was Donovan's pursuit of off-track hiking and his "chasing the dragon" as I like to call it of unspoiled hiking experiences outside of the marked offerings currently available. With our weekend availability matching up for once he invited me to check out Boyagin Rock with Alissa.
The route we were going to walk was mapped out by Dave from WalkGPS and can be viewed here (membership is required for this one but he does have hikes he lists without requiring a membership). Donovan was very interested in a few photos he saw with giant granite boulders and a healthy smattering of one of his favourite trees, the Wandoo. With a confirmed date in place we headed out very early along Brookton Hwy (after a breakfast stop) for an hour and a half before reaching the turnoff. With a lovely morning fog in place over the surrounding farmland we hoped it would last until we were on Boyagin Rock. What amazed us turning off Brookton Hwy were the huge granite boulders found on the farmland and the fact they only survived because the people who were responsible for the extensive land clearing in this area must have put them in the "too hard basket".
Arriving at the Boyagin Rock car park, we set about gathering our gear for the hike whilst also trying to stay warm (it was around 0C). There is a short (official) walk that you can do to the top of Boyagin Rock, which is the reason for the car park, information packed gazebo and basic toilet facilities. While Donovan got his gear together and loaded up the GPS I had a poke around the car park and photographed the lovely forest and the small glimpses of Boyagin Rock you can see. When everyone was ready Donovan pointed his phone at the terrain and said we had to go directly into thick bush instead of the path leading towards the granite dome. Our method of navigation today was the ViewRanger app on Donovan's phone that had a cool augmented reality feature where the waypoints appear on the screen as you point it at the scenery (kind of like Pokemon Go).
Luckily the bush bashing was very short and we soon arrived at a lovely granite slope that would mark the first climb of the day. Very much like Sullivan Rock with lots of moss, lichen and sundews covering the areas where soil had been deposited into the cracks, we were very careful to pick our lines up here so as not to step on any moss (it's a very fragile environment). As we ascended it became clear as to why this route was chosen to start with some pretty cool views of Boyagin Rock and the surrounding forest. Being able to see most of the nature reserve was pretty cool and it served as a good warm-up in the chilly conditions. At the summit of this particular section of granite was an out of place camouflage lock box that we guessed the purpose of, after some light Googling it turns out this is a wildlife monitoring station so they now have some photos of a few hikers in their natural habitat.
With plenty of photos taken it was time to descend down into a small valley area for our first taste of the lovely Wandoo forest that would be home for the majority of the hike. Picking our way down a couple of tricky spots, we eventually made it to the valley and Donovan got excited for the first of the waypoints he was looking forward to. Having seen the photos of the giant granite boulders this became the start of a game I like to call "Is this it? No I don't think it is". The ViewRanger app kept telling us to go in a different direction to the boulders but after a while Donovan realised it looped back on itself as a way of circling around the granite outcrop we had spotted.
Keen to check out the area we did the loop around and explored the top of the rock first with Donovan and myself scrambling up to appreciate the views back to Boyagin Rock. I may have posed for a few photos for Donovan's write-up in an exaggerated manner (being in front of the camera is fun stuff) but we eventually joined Alissa at ground level to explore the cave underneath. Just outside the cave I spotted some cool fungi including a large egg shaped variety that was cracking with the pressure of the extreme growth. The cave itself was pretty cool with a hollowed out area large enough to stand under and a comfy looking bed of leaves that I could have taken a nap on.
With one really cool granite outcrop under our belts Donovan pointed us in the direction of the next waypoint and we began the first extended stretch of Wandoo walking. Wandoo is a favourite of Donovan's (and mine) so we were in heaven as we crunched our way through the open forest (this type of dry forest lends itself to lots of crunchy bark being deposited on the ground). The combination of golden tree trunks, clear morning skies and an ample green canopy produced the most amazing scenes and I was happy that some of that translated to the photos. After crossing one of the management tracks Donovan had a physical display of his Wandoo love by hugging one of the wider examples with Alissa looking on with a worried look on her face.
As we ventured further into the whimsical Wandoo wonderland it may have been remarked that this area was prime echidna territory and that there was a 96.4% chance that we would come across one (I am exaggerating of course). The reasoning wasn't entirely wrong with a well protected and unburnt area of open forest that echidnas would thrive in due to the abundant supply of food so I had my hopes very high that we'd come across one of these spikey cutie pies. This was of course before my trip to Tasmania where seeing an echidna in the wild was still on my wish list so I was super excited for the possibility (it may have been promised before we left).
With no echidnas showing their faces yet we instead had to marvel at this great stretch of forest and boy was there some fantastic scenes to photograph. I think you can see from the photos that we had the perfect conditions to experience the forest but in saying that, it's amazing what a forest can look like when you leave it to it's own devices. While not a tall species of Eucalyptus, Wandoo is still very impressive when allowed to exist in large numbers and the quality of this patch was some of the best I've seen in Western Australia. Making the walk more enjoyable was the gentle slope we were descending so it hardly felt like walking at all. Arriving at another management track, the scenery changed from Wandoo to She-Oak as we joined the 4x4 track for a bit of on-track walking.
The reason for this was to lead you to an old colonial relic and the site for an previous settlement. A clearing now covered in grass and moss reveals an old stone chimney that has been left here from an age gone past. We aren't sure what happened to the rest of the dwelling but it was a cool object to photograph and speculate about. Another delight was a smattering of sundews in the grass, a favourite of mine when hiking in the cooler months. After a short break here we moved on and followed an old wooden fence line for a while, making navigation much simpler. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security here and Donovan was aware of that as all of a sudden the route heads north away from the fence. With an eye on the ViewRanger we were prepared and soon made our way to the first of the flatter granite slopes.
These large open spaces will be familiar with anyone who has hiked the Bibbulmun Track in the Darling Range section and provides a break so you don't get too overwhelmed by the amazing Wandoo. With no obvious path along the granite we had to be very careful to once again dodge the moss as best we could (please also do this). Anyone observing from a distance would have wondered what we were doing but it's important to not disturb these environments if we don't have to. An unnatural noise interrupted us as we made our way across the granite with a plane circling the area at very low altitude. At first I thought it was a local farmer doing some crop dusting but as it appeared every now and then over the canopy, it seemed to just be doing acrobatics.
In the end I didn't get a photo of it but it wasn't for lack of trying. Leaving the granite we were put back into the Wandoo forest again and we all remarked how excellent the walk had been so far. Nestled in the bark covered ground I spotted something that unfortunately wasn't an echidna but a purple wildflower. For early spring there hadn't been a strong showing any kind of wildflower up to this point so it was nice to see one appear out of nowhere. This would be a trend that would continued as we eventually joined back onto another management track, much to the delight of Alissa who was excited about the prospect of good old fashioned road walking for a bit.
As we climbed up a laterite breakaway Donovan realised that we needed to leave the road, much to the disappointment of Alissa. It was all worth it for the wildflowers as we spotted a good amount of Dryandras looking spectacular in the morning sun. As I'm not great with flower names (but getting better) and having never seen one in the wild it was Donovan that pointed them out from a distance. I spent a bit of time here photographing the golden and yellow colours of the various banksias along with some unopened examples that I found fascinating. With plenty more hiking to get through for the day we once again consulted the ViewRanger for the next waypoint off in the distance.
Another short but sweet granite patch gave another opportunity to view the plane that was still buzzing around but it wasn't meant to be. Coming up to the edge of the reserve and being up on the hill we got some views through the canopy of the surrounding farmland. Whilst examining one of the beautifully smooth trunks of a nearby Wandoo I noticed a local camouflaged among all the interesting markings. Being pretty chill as I tried to focus the camera in on it, the spider didn't seem to care about my presence. With Donovan and Alissa already in the distance I caught up and we entered a section of undulation and small granite boulders.
Littered throughout the forest were these marbles providing a cool maze to walk through. Donovan had the ViewRanger out again and was leading the way up and over little creek valleys to a really cool spot on top of a little hill. Here the marbles turned into boulders and we enjoyed spotting faces or objects in the rocks. I saw a likeness to a walrus in one with a grassy moustache and Alissa went down for a friendly smooch. A watering trough or feeding barrel lay near one boulder, hinting at possible grazing in this area before it was turned into a nature reserve, which is likely given the old stone fireplace we found a few kilometres back.
Having a bit of a stop to take plenty of photographs of the moss and wildflowers it was a nice area to enjoy a snack so that's what we did. It's such a cool landscape to walk through here and you can imagine at night this would be full of the nocturnal life thriving in the protected areas provided by the boulders. Continuing on we transitioned back to the rockier Wandoo forest as we approached another laterite breakaway. With orange gravel becoming more of a feature the forest opened up to a drier landscape with less of a canopy. We took a detour down the breakaway to the edge where we were greeted with some sweeping views over the farmland to the north.
With green fields, blue skies and white clouds it reminded me of classic Australian farmland but the first thought that came to mind was what this view would look like if the majority of the wheatbelt had not been extensively cleared of its forest. Posing for a few photos (see my great modelling work over at The Long Way's Better) we moved on and continued on to the next waypoint. With the halfway point approaching we started searching for an appropriate lunch spot and found one not far along in a little valley. With a rainbow slaw/avocado/cheese sandwich to enjoy I found a comfy rock to sit on and savoured my lunch in the dappled sunshine.
Discussing how great the walk had been so far, Donovan was adamant that the spot with the giant granite formation was up ahead and I'm not he would have been happy if we didn't find it (he loves granite). Having finished our sandwiches we grabbed everything and headed off again with renewed energy. More open forest greeted us and with the mature nature of the landscape there was no bush bashing involved, just relaxing plodding through the trees. This was not what I expected when Donovan suggested an off track hike so had the thought that maybe I could chase the dragon too. As we approached a unexpected flowing stream (based off the water levels at lower ground) I spotted an unusual drosera variety so of course had to take a few photos.
Passing through the thicker but drearier area around the stream we reached the source of the water and another lovely stretch of exposed granite. This was a much larger section but by no means were we getting granite fatigue as I'm not sure that is possible on a walk like this. Again, navigating through the moss was tricky and at one point we had no option but to tread lightly over a thick patch near a running stream. We thought it odd because we were near the highest point of the area and there was still a good trickle of water gushing down the exposed granite. As we neared the end of this section we noticed that the moss in the forest was a weird radioactive green. The photos sort of do it justice but it was something that none of us had seen before and this was the only spot on the hike where it occurred.
Climbing up onto the road, Donovan delighted the crowds (just myself and Alissa) by saying we would be walking along it for the time being. As Donovan remarked in his post, it's funny how road walking on other hikes can be annoying but after a lot of off-track hiking it becomes a relief. It didn't last long as we were soon put back into the forest to take us past some more impressive granite boulders. Donovan was once again excited as these were the biggest we'd seen so far and he thought it might be the spot he was looking for. On closer inspection it turned out not to be but that had to mean there was a more impressive set of boulders in our immediate future.
After having a good poke around the formation that looked like a supersized version of the Yippo's Yawn at Wave Rock we continued back on our journey. Next on the highlight reel that was becoming this hike was a smaller granite dome leading up to the highest point of the hike. As we were about to begin scaling the dome we spotted a couple of orchids that looked like they could be Western Wheatbelt Donkey Orchids (please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong). The top of the dome was not the highest point, instead we were directed through a line of she-oaks to another granite section providing some amazing views back to the south and east where Boyagin Rock was just a tiny hill in the distance.
An amazing carpet of moss and lichen extended down into the forest below providing the granite formation version of winter grass and the fantastic colours that come with that. Prying ourselves away from the views we finished the climb up to the summit of Mt Jelcobine, the highest point in the area at 403m ASL. An unexpectedly large summit cairn was waiting for us in among the trees and Donovan took the occasion to have a bit of a rest on it (and make Alissa take photos of him). As we had reached the highest point there was only one way to go from here and so we continued onto another granite platform full of odd shaped boulders looking north.
Descending down the hill the undergrowth got a bit thicker as we moved away from the Wandoo forests of earlier and into more Jarrah. Picking our way through the fallen branches that have accumulated over the years gave us some actual off-track hiking as before this the open Wandoo and granite had been relatively easy going. Finding a good collection of golden wattle in one area was a nice surprise and as the terrain flattened out we were greeted by a lovely example of an unburnt Jarrah. This of course led to a discussion on how long it had been since this area has been burnt and judging by everything we had seen during the day we guessed it had been quite a while (please stay away DBCA).
After a kilometre of walking post summit we reached another road and with good news that it was to be home for an extended stretch (about a kilometre). With a bit of care free walking we settled in to a rhythm as we admired the golden Wandoo forest once again. I did stop at one spot when I saw a clump of what looked like red flowers just off the road. I investigated and found it to be an orange/red pea like flower and as a bonus I spotted a small purple flower poking out of the gravel. Out in the open the warm afternoon sun felt nice on what was a lovely winters day. The road walking had to come to an end at some point and at a scene of golden Wandoo and a large granite boulder, Donovan directed us back into the forest.
It was at this point that we got the rocks that were promised. At first they were just what ifs on the horizon but soon we clapped eyes on a series of very large granite formations that had us very excited. As we arrived right in front of them we let out some cries of astonishment and quickly moved to explore around the base of one of the bigger ones. When we found the cave there was great excitement and Donovan began climbing up through the core to see where it led. I followed with Alissa also joining the fun and we soon worked out it just popped us out on the other side. Much bigger than the cave on the top of Mt Cooke, it required a spider walk technique similar to the one you occasionally need to employ at Hancock Gorge.
This was definitely a cool spot and home to some of the biggest granite boulders I've seen in Western Australia. After playing around and taking a lot of photos we checked out one of the other large formations that turned out to be a mini amphitheatre that you could walk into. It felt like a much smaller hybrid of Cathedral Gorge in the Kimberley and something you'd see from a national park in Utah. With the goal of finding the awesome granite structures that Donovan had seen in the photos now complete he was a very happy man and posed for a photo expressive of this. After picking our jaws up from the ground we headed off, conscious of the time as it was getting late in the afternoon and it was a long drive home. After climbing up another laterite breakaway we were once again traversing granite expanses as the route continued to deliver on fantastic scenery.
While some areas were more impressive than others, we came across the best granite slab so far with a series of gnamma pools filled with tadpoles peaked our interest. Connected by a series of streams, both Alissa and I were keen to see the tadpoles up close so were on all fours on the edge of the pools. We had one last granite platform to explore and this was one of the biggest with stunning views of Boyagin Rock and we would follow this all the way down its slopes to the thick vegetation. With no clear way through, this would be more of the true off track experience you associate with the activity but it soon opened up to clearer Wandoo forest as we approached Boyagin Rock itself. Walking around the base for a little bit Donovan finally pointed us up onto this granite monolith for our ascent to the summit and effectively the end of our off track walking.
In the fading afternoon light we ascended the titular rock for this hike and marvelled at the views of the surrounding forest and farmland. It was great to see where we had been throughout the day and finish on a literal high note. There were some cool gnamma pools to photograph up at the summit and this was the time my camera battery decided to run out of juice (I didn't plan on taking this many photos). Thinking the descent back to the car park would be easy we made a navigation error and had to do some bush bashing over a creek to finally reach the official path. Back at the car we reminisced about what a great walk that had been (despite not seeing an echidna) before finally setting off home. Our non-echidna sighting ended up being a mute point as on the gravel road out we spotted a numbat in the middle of the road and got a good look as it scrambled into the bushes. What a fantastic way to finish the day as they are extremely rare in the wild and I'd never thought I'd see one.
Final Thoughts - What a day!!! Having read Donovan's posts from a couple of his other WalkGPS hikes I was intrigued to come along to one myself. Having eyed off Dave's routes for a while now I said to myself I would eventually get out there and do one at a later date.
With the augmented reality of the ViewRanger app that Donovan was using it felt like an on-track hike for a good part of it although the open Wandoo and granite played a big part in that (warning - it drains the battery quite a lot and you will need to carry a good sized separate power bank).
The scenery out here is amazing and it really hits home how devastating that this forest type was cleared en masse for farming wheat and canola (something like 70-80% of it has been cleared). You can see it for yourself if you search for Boyagin Nature Reserve on Google Maps and change the view to be satellite imagery. Just imagine the majority of that land mass as forest and you get the picture.
So it remains a bittersweet feeling that we can experience a great area like this (self navigated) but reminders of this only being a very small pocket of what was originally here are plentiful.
While it would be nice to have a marked track through here it would never get approval because the route Dave takes you on is full of the very fragile granite and moss ecosystems that you don't want a lot of people standing on. If Sullivan Rock and other parts of the Darling Range are anything to go by, we'll end up losing a good chunk of the moss as people trample down a pad.
In the end though this was one of the best trail days I've had in my life because the scenery was amazing, the company was excellent and the weather played its part too.
If you want to do this walk yourself then I cannot stress enough how much you need to be able to read a map and to navigate by compass. As much as we relied on technology on this day, both Donovan and I are able to navigate the old fashioned way if need be and so should any visitors wanting to do this walk.
I deliberately haven't put the usual map here out of respect for the WalkGPS subscription service and please do not email me asking for the GPX file, you will just get linked back to Dave's site.
If you're an experienced hiker or looking for one of Dave's easier off track hikes then this is the perfect day out.
Get out there and experience it!
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