Golden Helena Valley Loop
Start - Golden Lookout, South Ledge
Length - 12.1km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 225m
Time - 3-6 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi markers
Date Hiked - 18th May 2019
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - From the centre of Kalamunda take Mundaring Weir Rd towards Mundaring Weir. Take the turnoff for South Ledge (look for clearly marked red sign) and drive all the way along the gravel road to the car park. Follow the signs down to the Golden Lookout to begin the hike.
The Hike - The Beelu National Park and Mundaring Weir area has so much potential that it almost seems a waste to have so few trails in the area given how lovely it all looks. With the two major long distance trails in WA (the Bibbulmun and Munda Biddi) running right through the forests here, it's an area of major significance. Day hikes in the area are limited to return journeys on the Bibbulmun, short walks around Mundaring Weir and the popular but uninspiring Shire of Kalamunda walk, Dell to South Ledge. I've often thought there was a better loop trail in the area that showcased the best of the area into a pretty manageable distance.
After following part of the Munda Biddi near Mundaring Weir for the Kattamordo Heritage Trail I began to wonder if it was possible to link up the Munda Biddi with the Bibbulmun to create a loop that also took you over Mundaring Weir and up to the Mundaring Weir Hotel as an added bonus. I mapped it all out and the numbers came up right so I just needed a day for it. Fast forward six months and thanks to yet another cancelled trip to do North Bannister to Dwellingup (thanks to over zealous prescribed burns this time) I had a spare weekend. It was also Election Day (RIP the environment or the future under the Liberals) so there was a great chance the trails would be quiet and given I'd already voted I could head out whenever I liked. Having experienced Mundaring Weir on a misty morning two years ago for Michelle from WalkingTwoByTwo's final walk in on her E2E, I wanted to wait until autumn or winter to try and get similar conditions. With a chilly morning forecast (1-2C minimum) I made plans to check out the loop to see what it was like as a whole. Aiming to be at South Ledge for the sunrise over Mundaring Weir, I arrived bang on time to find the whole place shrouded in the fog I had wanted.
I absolutely love these conditions so quickly got everything together and set off via the Bibbulmun Track to capture some moody shots of the Wandoo forest and the valley to the west. Arriving at the Golden Lookout, the view was somewhat limited thanks to the fog so I admired the grey nothingness for a couple of seconds before deciding it was best to rush down to the weir before the fog rolled away. Continuing on the Bibbulmun Track through the forest and down the hill, I chose to go in an anti-clockwise direction (and encourage you to do the same) for reasons that will become a little more obvious a bit further on. This stretch on the Bibbulmun is really enjoyable with a lovely canopy overhead and the odd placement of random Wandoo trees in the middle of the 4x4 track. The pop of golden coloured trunks is very welcome against the darkness of the Jarrah trees and is something I find to be a delight here. As you reach near the bottom of the hill you turn off the 4x4 track and onto some lovely single track that comes alive in spring with an abundance of wildflowers. Winding your way through the trees, you rise over a small, whimsical mound and are presented with the tiniest of glimpses of Lake CY O'Connor (at least if there wasn't fog around).
I passed an older gentleman who was heading in the other direction that I later found out was finishing an End to End of the Bibbulmun, raising money and awareness for Alzheimer's WA. Crossing Mundaring Weir Rd (watch for traffic), it's a short walk along the side of the road before you reach one of the highlights of the Perth Hills, Mundaring Weir and Lake CY O'Connor. The last few times I had visited they were still doing renovations to the dam wall and buildings so access was restricted. It was a nice surprise to get to the viewing platform and find the gates open and a fully restored weir wall looking the goods in the morning fog. Despite the cold conditions (I was swapping my hands between my jacket pockets to stop them from going numb) I was loving being here in this moment. It seemed that no one else was keen to brave the temperatures as I was the only one around and it felt very peaceful to be standing there in the silence, watching the fog roll over the weir wall. Taking a million photos, this was shaping up to be a better show than my previous misty visit here. The lighting looking back to the Golden Lookout was a mixture of deep greens as the forest was shrouded in fog and a golden ray of light as the sun struggled to break through the atmospheric barrier. As I stepped onto the weir wall, the views looking up and down the valley were magical. You could feel the gentle wind pushing wisps of fog up and over the wall, disappearing as it rose into the grasp of the soft sunlight.
Staring out over the surface of the lake into the distance, a usually very impressive view without the fog, was an epic light show ranging from soft golds to deep blues. The horizon was hard to make out with the uncertain cloud of white rolling through the valley and an illuminated hill falling into the lake provided a nice focus point for the photos. As I approached the beautiful monitoring building (now longer functioning in that capacity) I could appreciate the restoration work they had done with fresh paint making it look a treat. The yellow edging and dark grey dome add a great focal point for photos and brightens up what is really a dark concrete wall. I had a peer over the dark wall and it has a certain moody quality to it as you look down into the spillway. As your eyes divert upwards you view the old brick pumping station and the tall red chimney that is a beacon for the valley. After taking some up close photos of the monitoring building I headed off to the end of the weir and over to the new viewing platform on the other side. Providing a great vantage point to look back at the dam wall and Lake CY O'Connor, I didn't spend long here because my hands were freezing and I had dreams of a warm breakfast.
Following the Bibbulmun signs again I headed off in the direction of the two massive pipelines that pump water up the hill towards the goldfields. Now the restoration works are completed there is less confusion over where the track goes although there are still a few paths you can take that might confuse newcomers. Keep heading towards the pipelines into an open area that doesn't look like the correct path but at the end there is a set of rock stairs leading you up the hill towards the Mundaring Weir Hotel. Admire the red cockatoo mural painted on the side of the pipeline and then make your way over the pipeline via the metal bridge to the path in-between the two giant grey pipes. I arrived at the popular hotel and eatery, wanting to get some better photos as my previous visits had not produced a decent one. I spooked a couple of kangaroos who were grazing next to the road and managed to get some wide shots of the hotel exterior in the morning light. There wasn't much sign of life but given it was 8am on a Saturday morning I figured they would be open for breakfast so went through the side entrance to admire the gardens.
The café is located at the back with the entrance at the top of the amphitheatre steps. It was equally as deserted inside but I was soon joined by a staff member who was happy to take my order. Ordering poached eggs with mushrooms and hash browns with a flat white, I sat down inside and happily waited for my order (it seems I was the only customer for the morning). Admiring the inside of the little cavern, the place reminds me of a mix of the Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron and one of my great desires on a hike in the area is to finish a hike here, enjoy a hearty meal and sit by a fireplace with some wine watching the rain. Unfortunately this downstairs bit doesn't have a fireplace unless you count the one in the kitchen so I'd have to use my imagination. After enjoying a lovely breakfast I said goodbye and headed back in the direction I had come. This I had planned as a short side trail from the weir as a fun detour to grab a bite to eat, support local business and add an extra element to the loop besides just the hiking.
I headed back down the pipeline path, slightly warmer than before and noticed the fog had lifted, leaving a crispness to the valley. Once you reach the weir again take the stairs directly below the dam wall. Providing a different perspective, there is a mature palm tree that makes for some good photos looking back up the wall and a similar style building to the monitoring station. Unfortunately the lighting wasn't good and access was limited so I moved on down the road to Pumping Station No1. This historic brick building houses one of the old pumping stations that has since been decommissioned and is now open for tours. It's a beautiful building and the chimney right next to it provides a fun feature for the area. With it all being shut I took a few photos and moved on to the area I hadn't explored in full so was quite keen to check out. Follow the access road west towards Mundaring Weir Road to the sign pointing you to either Mundaring or Kalamunda. I loved this sign as it reminded me that you could potentially walk to either town, an occurrence that is rare in WA because everything is so spread out and mostly between large tracts of farmland.
This is really the only tricky navigational part of the loop and really it's not that bad. Climb up the bank on the other side of Mundaring Weir Rd and locate the Munda Biddi marker attached to a large Marri tree. The Munda Biddi will be home now as you walk through the valley but please be aware that hikers must stay to the left and always be aware of cyclists. It's a privilege to be able to walk on the cycle track so don't be that person or group that takes over the whole path and ruins it for everyone. This is an area I had briefly passed on my attempt to retrace the Kattamordo HT and was intrigued when I passed a pool of water just off the Munda Biddi. My hopes were that there would be more of them as the now dammed Helena River flowed down towards the second pipeline dam. The Munda Biddi initially follows a series of single track and 4x4 track but I spotted where I'd previously been and the pool looked a little empty. Being in the river valley the quality of the forest is excellent with a thick canopy and undergrowth. The double pipeline will be a companion along most of this section heading west and provides an interesting subject to photograph as it snakes along the landscape.
Happy with how this section was unfolding, I was beginning to think I was onto a winner. Worried that it would all be along the 4x4 track that is used to service the pipeline, this was not the case and the single track was actually very enjoyable as it put you right into the forest. While the Helena River is not what it used to be thanks to Mundaring Weir, it still holds water occasionally and I was surprised to see a large pool just off a section of single track. There was a small path leading down to get a better view so I took it and happily photographed what looked like a normal river scene (not what I was expecting). Re-joining the 4x4 track, there was a better view looking back and I was starting to believe this wouldn't be the last pool I would see. With bright blue skies I headed off along the pipeline, ducking in and out on the single track with a big smile on my face. While usually very unlucky with other forms of wildlife (echidnas in WA mostly), I am lucky that the bird life don't seem to mind my company and I managed to get a couple of slightly blurry photos of a Scarlet Robin and a Western Whistler along my travels here. They are quick little things and without my zoom lens I had to get right up close, not always the easiest thing. Coming across a wide open part of the landscape where the pipeline disappears to the right, the nearby hills struck me as a very nice and unexplored (at least with marked trails) area that has lots of potential.
I understand the annoying stance that Water Corp take with regards to recreational activities in water catchment areas but given this is downstream from the main catchment area, I'm not sure it should be included. The Munda Biddi leaves the pipeline road and goes along another 4x4 track leading over a crossing of the Helena River (very barren thanks to our dry autumn). Here was the site of another lovely pool, this one with a few rocks to sit on to enjoy the tranquil surroundings. I stayed here for a while listening to the sounds of the birds and photographing the reflections in the water. I'm sure in winter and spring it wouldn't be possible to be here without getting a little wet so be prepared for wet boots if you're hiking later in the season. From here you begin a long climb out of the valley to begin the loop back to the start. The forest here changes from Jarrah and Marri to be more Wandoo dominated and the golden colours of the trunks were glowing spectacularly in the sunlight. Several trees had some interesting growths up and down them that in another 50-100 years will look quite gnarly. Coming across the border of a farm, you are reminded that civilisation is close but after making a turn to the south you are put back into the forest as you hike up the hill.