Gloucester National Park
Directions - From the centre of Pemberton turn onto Ellis St from Vasse Hwy and follow this as it snakes through the residential section of town, becoming Kennedy St and then Burma Rd. Follow the signs along Burma Rd all the way to the car park for the Gloucester Tree. The trail head is located to the right of the Gloucester Tree next to the Bibbulmun Track sign.
The Hike - The opportunity for another trip down south presented itself with my parental units recently purchasing a house near Bunbury. With a bit of moving and painting to be done, I took a week off work and made plans to escape one day for a couple of hiking adventures. Wanting to make the most of my time I pulled up my "to-hike" list for the South West and started narrowing down areas to visit that would be worth the drive. Having visited the Gloucester Tree last year whilst staying in Quinninup and skipped doing the full 10km Gloucester Route, I decided that this time I would make time for it. The two hour drive to Pemberton along the South West Highway from Bunbury at sunrise was very scenic as you pass through the various sized towns along the way.
One thing I couldn't help noticing was how much land had been cleared either side of the highway for farming purposes. I wonder how much is being done to try and replant some of the forests that used to thrive in this area before European settlers came along. I eventually arrived at the starting point and I had hoped that there would be an attendant at the collection station as I didn't have the correct change for the national park fees. Luckily just as I was getting out of my car, an attendant pulled up and I paid my $12 for a pass so I was all set for the day. The sun was still low in the tree line as I walked the short distance to the famous Gloucester Tree and admired the metal pegs leading up to the platform 72m into the heavens. One of my many failings as a person is a severe dislike of heights so without someone to goad me on I would not be attempting the climb today. Even watching YouTube videos of the climb makes me anxious but I did climb up a dozen or so pegs just to test out if my nerves had gotten better with age (they had a little). What I was here to do though was the 10km Gloucester Route that lets you escape amongst the giants of the forest and explore the lovely little gullies and valleys of the Gloucester National Park. The start of the walk is located south of the Gloucester Tree with a big wooden sign pointing you off into the bush. This marks the start of the Dukes Walk (400m), the Karri Views Walk (800m) and the Gloucester Route (10km).
Immediately you are immersed in a green paradise of towering Karri trees and cool, dense undergrowth. Passing the trunks of several spectacular Karri trees, you get an up-close appreciation of the size of these beauties. With their bases covered in a thick moss, these impressive trees are the kings and queens of the forest and a quick look up sparks even more wonder as you try to comprehend the sheer size of them. Taking my time to soak it all in (a theme that would develop during the day), this is a very peaceful place to be even if you only do the smaller walks that loop around the Gloucester Tree. Eventually though you leave the last of the turnoffs for the small loops and continue downhill along the Bibbulmun Track. You follow the trail all the way down to where it meets Burma Rd and the first of many cool bridges to explore. The Bibbulmun Track continues on down Burma Rd once you traverse down the set of stairs but the Gloucester Route continues west down another set of stairs where you come across a mossy bridge. Diving down into the gully, this idyllic spot provides plenty of photo opportunities and is just a fun place to be in the morning sun. I stayed here for a while soaking it all in and taking plenty of photos as the sun tried to stream through the forest canopy.
Surrounded by the Karri giants you get a sense of scale that doesn't really show up in the photos. Reluctantly I moved on, knowing there was more to come thanks to the recent post by Nature Mondays, and started the short but steep climb up the other side of the valley. The narrow trail then widens as it comes across an intersection and this is where the loop section starts. The trail marker points you in an anti-clockwise direction and I'm not one to argue with wooden signs so I continued climbing on the now open trail. Normally I'm not a fan of hiking on 4x4 tracks but with the large canopy of the Karri forest providing a suitably closed in feel, it didn't feel like a 4x4 track. The gentle uphill provides sweeping views to the south through the tree line before slowly descending again to another superb bridge crossing. Normally if I get one picturesque bridge or river crossing on a hike I am a happy camper but to be spoilt by having two within the first 2km is a real treat. I took the pack off at this point, poured myself a slightly cold coffee from my thermos (the two hour drive sapped most of the heat much to my dismay) and stood there admiring the area. The sun was now high enough that it streamed through the canopy and illuminated the trail ahead so I picked up the camera and started snapping away. Again I didn't really want to leave but I soldiered up another small hill and onto yet another bridge.
Yes, three bridges within 3km and they were all different streams feeding East Brook located south of the trail. This stream was a bit more vigorous than the others and the bridge overlooks a nice set of rapids. Having not expected this I left the tripod in the car so played around with taking a few shots with the shutter open for a little longer to try and get a smoother effect of the water flowing over the rocks. Without a tripod the results were always going to be a bit on the blurry side and next visit I plan on bringing all the gear to get some better shots. Realising I wasn't going to get the shot I wanted I sadly moved on and started the journey to the much anticipated Lavender Berry Farm. After some more climbing the trail snakes its way through the Karri giants and with the sunshine pouring through the canopy I had a moment that I won't forget anytime soon. Admiring the scene around me I was overcome with a calming sensation that I have felt before but not on this level. I stopped walking, felt the warmth of the sun on my skin and just rode the calm wave that had entered my body. It's really hard to describe but it's almost like a warm floating sensation and it stayed with me for quite a while as I meandered through the forest. I wasn't worried about how fast I was walking, I just wanted to stay in that moment and was happy to let it continue for as long as possible.
Looking at my GPS data, it lasted over 10 minutes as my pace dropped off to 2-3kmph but as soon as the feeling had left I was aware that things were different and back to "normal". Just writing this now is bringing the feeling back but nowhere near as strong. With the mysterious magic force gone it was back to the usual 5-7kmph hiking pace and apart from dodging a few fallen trees, the going was easy. Another creek crossing came into view but instead of a proper bridge, this one was a few long planks to get you over the water course. I had some fun photographing the various angles but there was one thing on my mind at this stage. Just after the 5km mark you come across the big wooden sign letting you know that refreshment is close in the form of the Lavender and Berry Farm. A short 500m diversion from the trail, this detour is well worth taking and with only solo hiking on my agenda today I was more than happy to take a break and enjoy some tea and scones. The Berry Farm is accessed by taking the gravel 4x4 track towards the sealed road that is Browns Rd and from there you can spot the car park just down the road. Being a Thursday morning at the start of spring it wasn't busy and I had the entire cafe to myself. I looked around the shop for a little bit before ordering a pot of tea and one of their giant scones.
Taking a seat in the fantastic little garden I was soon tucking into a warm scone complete with their own mixed berry jam and fresh cream. As I was eating I had some tiny visitors in the form of colourful green finches that reminded me of many enjoyable visits to the Berry Farm just out of Margaret River. These finches weren't as friendly but did get close enough to investigate what was going on. Capturing them on camera was tricky as they were quick and after a few reasonable attempts I put the camera down and enjoyed the rest of my treat in the serene gardens. With a couple of cups of tea in me along with one of the best scones I have ever had (behind my girlfriends of course) I packed up my bag and set off back to the trail (not without buying some of their excellent jam). The scene heading back to the Gloucester Tree is very similar with impressive Karri forest, plenty of fallen trees and fungi to admire and an abundance of green. The last unique water crossing does not have a bridge or even a plank so if you do this hike after a rainy period then prepare to get your feet wet. The 4x4 track that the trail follows for this section isn't without joy as the creek crossing has a very nice scene of a solitary submerged tree and a deep green undergrowth.
I enjoyed this little slice of temperate forest a lot and stayed for a while trying to capture it as best I could. Hoping I could get at least one good shot I moved on to tackle the crossing. Luckily the water wasn't too deep and I got away with only slightly damp socks. From there it is a pleasant walk through the forest to the point where the loop section ends and the trail takes you back to the Gloucester Tree. That doesn't mean the fun is over as you get to experience the first bridge for a second time (with different lighting) and I spent even more time here photographing away. The rest is a good thing as the final kilometre is all uphill and covers off 80m vertically. It hardly feels like climbing though when you get to walk so close to the trunks of the monster Karri trees and of course that involves stopping to photograph them once more. Closer to the Gloucester Tree I came across a couple taking in one of the smaller loops before arriving at the base of the Gloucester Tree to finish the hike. With another hike to go in the day on the Warren River Loop Trail and not feeling confident to climb the tree on my own, I left it at that and walked back to my car.
Final Thoughts - I had this day ear-marked in my calendar for quite a while and had been looking forward to it for some time. To be able to take a week off and dedicate one day solely to hiking is a great luxury in life and I was adamant I was going to make the most of it.
I had expected Pemberton to be nothing short of amazing and my expectations were truly surpassed. This hike had it all, wow-inspiring scenes around almost every corner, walking amongst the giants of the forest, plenty to photograph and a lovely little food stop at the half way mark.
My little episode was a welcome addition to the hike and I wonder if this forest is just a little bit magical.
If you are planning a trip to the South West then Pemberton has always been a must visit destination. The Gloucester Tree is an awe-inspiring place to visit but don't just limit yourself to hopping out of the car and taking a look (or climbing the tree), bring the hiking shoes along and immerse yourself in the wonder that this place has to offer.
Plan a good few hours to fully appreciate this trail and make time to stop at the cool places to just slow down and become aware of the beauty that is all around you.
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