Helena Pipehead Walk
Kalamunda National Park
Directions - The end of Helena Valley Road has now been declared a No Stopping zone by the council as the popularity of this trail has caused issues with access into the area. Please park at Helena Primary School and walk down Helena Valley Road to the start, this will add a further 2km each way to your journey.
The Hike - With a subdued Easter on the cards in 2020 thanks to the regional travel bans, my goal was to try and get in a few more of the Shire of Kalamunda walks that I had yet to experience. A cloudy adventure on the Channel 10 Tower Walk before this was a good warm-up but the Helena Pipehead Walk was what I was really looking forward to given the positive reviews I'd heard about it. Saving this for the second walk of the day, I wanted to experience it in the afternoon light although this wasn't looking too promising given the cloud cover still lingering around when I arrived at the small car park at the end of Helena Valley Road.
I managed to get the last parking spot in this car park (there are a couple more spots further back along the road) and decided to wait as two cars had just arrived. Knowing I would be walking slower due to taking many photos, I checked the socials while the other hikers headed off down the path. Although this area would be much better in spring, the lack of hiking options in the Perth/Peel region that wouldn't have been super crowded on an Easter Sunday meant I was happy to switch this hike to earlier in the year. The Helena River Valley is a really cool place that I think is underdeveloped but thanks to the archaic rules around trails in water catchment areas, it most likely won't ever be developed apart from the access tracks that litter the area. I had great fun on the Golden Helena Valley Loop last year and so was looking forward to seeing what this section a bit further downstream looked like.
Initially the track isn't very thrilling as you walk past the white gates and onto the open 4x4 track that will be the basis for your path for the entire loop. Off to the right of the vehicle track I noticed that there was a point leading down to the Helena River or what is left of it after Mundaring Weir and the Lower Helena Dam have done their bit to stem the flow. While still early in the autumn and a dry summer, I wasn't expecting to see any water so was surprised to find some near what was an old gauging station, similar to the one I'd seen at Wungong Gorge. Down here there were some Paperbarks that provided a different texture to photograph and looking upstream it was a bit moody, something I really enjoy. Heading back to re-join the official trail, you cross over a bridge and start rising above the river. This is where the hike starts to get interesting as the views into the valley start to get better and you are looking down at the thick vegetation lining the valley floor.
Looking across to the other side of the valley you can see granite outcrops and what looks like a really cool area to explore (might head there later in the year for some off-track exploration). Being a bit dry I noticed some of the flora on the side of the hill to your right looking a little parched and this created a cool looking effect on the spikier species clinging to the mossy rocks. It was starting to clear up a little in the west and that meant that the sun was starting to break loose. This created a stark contrast between the track being illuminated in bright sunshine and the dark clouds still heading off in the distance. This happened as I reached the point where you cross over a little hump and the really nice views of the Lower Helena Pipehead Dam and hills stretching out into the distance appear. This really is the money shot of the hike and really set off my imagination wondering what this area would have looked like before the two dams were built. I imagine it would have been a bit of a paradise with a nice flowing river, granite boulders and ancient forest as far as the eye could see (although these tracks wouldn't exist and walking through the area would have been harder).
I really slowed up here to enjoy things as it wasn't only the rolling hills and valley that were pleasing to the eye. The forest and granite leading up the hill to your right was looking fantastic with the sun streaming through the limited canopy. The buildings of the Pipehead Dam come and go before you reach an area looking down at the dam wall itself. I'm not actually sure what purpose it serves as it doesn't look to hold a lot of water and Perth doesn't rely on water catchment into the dams for most of it's water needs (although the dams are used as storage for desalination). As I moved on and the views of the water became clearer, I noticed that it was full of bird life including a few Black Swans. That was a little surprising given how isolated this area is from other parts of the Swan River where they are usually found. I switched out my camera lens and tried to get a good shot of them but even with the 200mm lens they were still very far away. After a bit of an average hike on the Channel 10 Tower Walk, I was feeling much happier here and revelling in the good lighting and moody skies.