Bridgetown Jarrah Park
Start - Brockman Highway
Length - 5.9km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - 138m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - Yes, Wooden Boards and Markers
Date Hiked - 12th May 2017
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Bibbulman People
The Hike - With a scheduled trip out to do some maintenance on my section of the Bibbulmun Track coinciding with Michelle from WalkingTwoByTwo passing through the area on her E2E, I thought it would be a good idea to keep going and stay a couple of nights in Funbury with the parents. With track maintenance on the Thursday I had a free day on the Friday to explore some new trails around Funbury so whipped out my ever growing "to-hike" list and scoured the trails within an hour or so of Funbury to tackle. I narrowed it down to three trails that met certain criteria (not dependant on wildflowers, worth the drive out there and preferably with some pristine forest) so made a plan to do a big loop with a stop off for lunch. A quick change of plans in the morning meant I reversed direction and would be taking in this trail first, something I was very thankful for in hindsight. Google suggested driving through Nannup to get to the trail and I am happy I checked this instead of driving out on South West Highway. Passing through a lot of state forest and national park was infinitely better than the cleared land that dominates the landscape along South West Highway. Passing through the picturesque town of Nannup was a delight as always and I will be back in this area later in the year when spring hits.
The drive from Nannup to Bridgetown is a cracker and the turnoff from Brockman Hwy for the Bridgetown Jarrah Park is well signed so you can't miss it. Happily I was the only car in the roomy car park so set about gathering up my pack and headed to the information board to see what was what. The info board contains a wealth of information about what to expect in the area, the types of flora and fauna that lives in the area along with a visitor’s book. Turns out the last people to sign the book visited over a week before I did but you never know how many come but never sign the book. I had found this trail on the TrailsWA website but a short description and limited photos meant I didn't know what to expect. Admittedly I didn't have high hopes for a place with a name like Bridgetown Jarrah Park and my preconceptions were of 4x4 tracks containing regrowth Jarrah forest and not much else. Based off the info board I was dead wrong with the area containing Jarrah, Marri, Karri, Blackbutt, Sheoak and Banksia trees along with a large variety of other smaller plant species. There are multiple trails in the area but having driven over an hour to get here I was going to do the longest trail possible, which is just a combination of several smaller trails. The trails are well signed from the beginning and having sighted the maps on the info board I knew roughly what route I would be taking for the day.
The first thing that strikes you is the quantity and size of the surrounding trees, this is clearly an old forest and not regrowth. Great care has been taken to identify plant and tree species and you come across several markers telling you which species you are looking at. The gentle start has you meandering through the Marri and Jarrah forest admiring the wonderfully swept path (I think there had been some maintenance done recently). I discovered the reason for this later on down the trail when I hopped on the Hollow Karri Trail, the second little bubble section, and came across the start of the Karri forest. The annual Karri tree bark shedding process was occurring with the summer protective bark slowly being disposed of by the giant Karri trees to make way for their smooth golden trucks. The result was the forest floor and skinny thicket that usually forms the undergrowth in a Karri forest literally dripping in bark. The stuff was everywhere and the effect was quite enjoyable, especially when you came across a tree right on the trail and the pile at the base was overflowing onto the track. The Hollow Karri Trail marked the start of a more overgrown trail experience with no neatly swept path for you to follow. Instead you are left with something much more enjoyable and akin to a proper Karri forest experience. You are no longer observing the forest from the sterile feel of a maintained path but feel like you are part of the forest without ever worrying about where the trail is headed. With bark stringing itself all around you the feeling of being enclosed is very strong and something I found very comforting.
It was on this stretch that I realised that doing my next hike in the centre of Bridgetown wasn't of great importance and I would much prefer to spend as much time here as I wanted. I was in my element here, taking plenty of photos, staring aimlessly around at the variety of interesting things to look at and thanking my lucky stars that I chose to do this hike first. Eventually I came across another path diversion and the final loop section that is only part of the full 6km Blackbutt Trail. Running along the creek, which was very dry after a pretty barren autumn, the quality of the trail didn't waiver and occasionally you were greeting with a slight opening in the undergrowth allowing you to fully experience the height of the forest canopy. With a healthy number of fully grown Karri trees, along with the largest Blackbutts I have ever seen, you really feel a sense of scale and wonder at everything around you. This is also apparent when you pass several of the largest fallen trees I have come across complete with amazing mossy/fungi growths. With such a healthy forest containing a variety of trees and plants it was no wonder that the bird life was also equally as impressive. Whilst not always visible, the number of different bird calls was impressive and had me stopping quite a few times to see if I could spot any of the originators.
While I spotted plenty of female birds, their colourful male counterparts eluded me on this section. The first of two wooden bridges comes into view and as always happens when I see a creek crossing or bridge I take a million photos from all different angles. This bridge is a tiny plank affair but the mossy rocks, exposed from the lack of running water, had me wondering how good this scene must be in the winter and spring. It's definitely something I will be coming back to see and bringing along the full tripod/IR remote setup to get some cool effects. It was at this bridge that I stopped for a break and just laid down taking in the sights, sounds and smells. I believe they call this experience "forest bathing" and I fully understand how it recharges you and gets rid of any stresses you carry. Learning to be in the moment, practicing your breathing and just being focused on your surroundings takes a while but once you reach that state then the benefits are wonderful. With the more relaxed pace I ambled on down the path and came across a granite boulder hiding yet another bridge, this time with a grassed area that might be great for a small picnic.
Whilst photographing the area I thought I heard a low growl in the bushes but when I paused and looked around I couldn't see anything. Having heard Didier speak before about his dingo sighting and how they stay around granite I had that in the back of my mind but didn't see anything so the noise will remain a mystery. I kept shooting but eventually moved on to the only fault I could put on this trail, the blackberry bushes. Known to be a noxious weed throughout WA, this particular section was overwhelming at places with their thorny branches attaching themselves to my pants, pack and shirt. Even in places where you could still see the trail clearly I would get stuck and have to gently untangle myself from the thorns. I'm guessing this is next on the maintenance volunteers list of things to do and given its location near a 4x4 track I hope this isn't too much of a drama to access. It looked very thick in places so it will take a large effort to get the bulk of it removed. Thankfully it doesn't last too long and scratches are only temporary. Soon you are spat out onto a 4x4 track and again you get to see the forest canopy in a wider space. The 4x4 track serves as a nice place to tackle the climb out of the creek valley and up into a higher section of forest. It doesn't last long before you are pitched back into the forest and towards the Blackbutt (or Yarri) forest. I have probably passed several large Blackbutt trees in my travels but not having the knowledge to recognise them, I would have been totally unaware. The more impressive specimens are marked like all the other tree varieties and boy are they massive when fully grown.
I understand they aren't as numerous as Karri trees and I think that makes them a little more special when you get them at the size they are here. This section on the slopes of the valley is not short of fallen trees so photo opportunities present themselves quite regularly. This contributed to me taking over an hour to do the 1.5km final loop section before returning to the trail you use to get to and from the previous intersection. With the Blackbutt Trail completed I headed out on the northern side of the Hollow Karri Trail and enjoyed yet more Karri goodness. The trail snakes its way up and down the forest with an overall uphill feel. Karri trees make way for Jarrah and Sheoak sections, notably with a much thinner undergrowth and I stretched my legs with a quicker pace. Stopping at another fallen log to take photos I finally spotted a Scarlet Robin fluttering about. I tried to get closer but it kept flying away so I had to settle on a blurry photo shot from distance. Pretty soon I was at a meeting point for where the Faller Brand Trail and Shield Tree Trail make their way back to the car park and I had to decide which one to take. I chose the Shield Tree Trail as it skirted the outside of the overall loop. In hindsight this wasn't the greatest decision as the trail soon put me on the 4x4 track that I drove in on so wasn't very enjoyable. Next time I will take the Faller Brand Trail that is single path excellence through the forest. With the trail completed I was extremely happy I took the time to do it properly and couldn't wait to start editing the photos. For now though it was a lovely drive to Bridgetown on cracking roads and lunch at The Flying Duck (the pumpkin, pea and parmesan risotto really hit the spot).
Final Thoughts - Calling this place the Bridgetown Jarrah Park is like calling Disneyworld the Anaheim Amusement Park. Yes it is technically accurate but sells it well short of the magic you will experience. Given the choice I would rename it the "Majestic Forest Trail Extravaganza" but that's just my personal preference.
There might be some recency bias in here but as far as immersive trail experiences go, this is right up there with the best for the South West region. In terms of getting a workout in, this isn't a very difficult trail but if you come here for that purpose then you are really missing the point.
The ability to walk into an ancient forest, and this one is truly ancient given the size and quantity of both the vertical and horizontal trees, and just forget about everything but your current experience is something this state needs more of. I take my hat off to the volunteers that look after this place and are so passionate about providing an excellent trail experience.
If you visit this place and I really hope you do, make sure you do the full 6km Blackbutt Trail as you are doing yourself a disservice by not taking in everything this area has to offer.
Despite the somewhat mundane name, this is a jewel of the area and given how much of the surrounding area is affected by logging I am happy that at least this part is well looked after. Imagine if large pockets of the South West was covered by this type of diverse forest?
Anyway, go visit this place and take your friends, families, kids and get everyone connected with nature so more people want to preserve the forests we have left and maybe work towards planting more for future generations.
Get out there and experience it!
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