Kalamunda Railway Heritage Trail
Start - Corner of Tella Street and Williams Road
Length - 26km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Vehicle Track, Single Track, Pavement
Vertical Climb - 217m
Time - 1-3 Hours (Bike), 5-8 Hours (Hike)
Signed - Yes, Follow the Donkey Orchid Marker
Dog Friendly - Yes
Date Biked - 16th May 2021
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - You can start at either end of this trail with the northern end starting at the corner of Tella Street and Williams Road in Gooseberry Hill. From the centre of Kalamunda takes Williams Road north until you reach the intersection with Tella Street. The trail starts on the western side of Williams Road with a gravel trail heading down the hill from the road. The southern end begins opposite the Pickering Brook General Store.
The Ride - With a rekindling of my relationship with mountain biking and a planned E2E of the Munda Biddi scheduled for August 2021, I was keen on getting a few new bike trails under the belt while also doing some training. A trail I have had on my to-hike list for a while is the Kalamunda Railway Heritage Trail but the memories of hiking along the straight northern section at 2am, cold and tired on the 2014 Oxfam Trailwalker had always meant other trails got preference.
Recently this one has popped back onto my radar with an upgrade to the trail from Kalamunda to Pickering Brook peaking my interest. With a free Sunday in May, I asked Assistant to the Regional Trails Manager, Aron if he wanted to head out into the hills and cycle a gentle rail trail. Having given the map and website a brief look over, little did I know the upgrades to the southern section would turn this from a run of the mill rail trail into something a bit more technical but more on that later. To reduce our environmental impact, I drove to Aron's and then we made our way up to the planned start at Gooseberry Hill in his new vehicle that has been fitted out with a fancy dual bike rack. Officially they show the trail starting at the Gooseberry Hill Siding but I could see that it ran all the way up to Williams Road so that's where we started (also made parking on the verge of Tella Street easier). This turned out to be a good choice as it meant a very long downhill run to finish but conversely, an uphill to get the legs warmed up. With my new photography setup for mountain biking involving a Peak Design Camera Clip holding my camera on the straps of my backpack, I could easily stop and take photos whenever I wanted. This had worked quite well on the nearby Railway Reserves Heritage Trail and was put to good use along the early stages of this ride too.
Initially the trail isn't terribly interesting as it's sandwiched between Williams Road and Railway Road until you reach Kalamunda but the trees here are mature enough to be interesting with a nice variety of Marri, Jarrah and Sheoak. The uphill is relatively gentle so you don't really notice it and I was stopping a lot anyway to take photos of various angles that took my fancy. The lighting had a soft and golden aspect to it thanks to the overzealous approach to large scale burning DBCA has taken this year thanks to an extra $22mil of funding for incinerating Numbats and continuing to use the traditional approach to fire management that the indigenous people used (i.e. dropping fire from helicopters to achieve pointless burn targets). A highlight of this first section to Kalamunda was the sound of some noisy Kaaraks in some nearby trees. Aron and I both stopped for photos and I first noticed a lone male up on the highest branch but Aron soon pointed out a lovely mother/daughter combo on the lower branches that were sharing food and having a bit of a cute snuggle. I love these cheeky birds and it always lights up my day when I see them, more so when they are easily visible in the trees like this lot. The straight trail past the Gooseberry Hill Siding is well frequented by locals walking their dog and I'm surprised this style of green space isn't utilised more often in suburbs as it seems like a great way to get places while also providing a fleeting illusion of nature.
I was much happier to be on the bike for this section as it wouldn't be terribly interesting on foot as it does seem to go on for a long time without much change in scenery. Reaching the outskirts of Kalamunda, we made our way around the Kalamunda History Village, Zig Zag Gallery and Visitor Information Centre, with me stopping for quite a few photos of the public art and old trains/buildings. I caught up to Aron near the Kalamunda Hotel and we rode down towards the Northern Terminus of the Bibbulmun Track. I love the redesign they've done as it now feels like more of a proper event to start or finish the track instead of just being a dull affair opposite a Coles carpark. The landscaping works have come a long way with some Pin Cushion Hakea flowering near the edge of Mundaring Weir Road. Crossing over the road we came to the start of the upgraded section and I was very excited to see if the work was just signage or something more substantial. Initially it just looked like new signage and a couple were busy checking out the main board so I cycled further down to the next one explaining this first section to Grove Road. I love the Donkey Orchid trail marker they have come up with as it's one of my favourite orchids in WA and the orange and dark blue colour combination looks the business. After cycling along some single track out the back of some neighbouring properties, I was hoping that the trail parted from the fringes of urban life and headed into the bush a bit more.
Further ahead we kept seeing multiple signs for the trail and something clicked that this trail might be a bit different. We soldiered on and didn't think too much about it, reaching the old railway station for South Kalamunda (or Guppys Siding). This railway was built in 1891 as a way to transport timber down to Midland and there were several stations along the way that they have marked with named signs. This particular one at South Kalamunda features some pretty cool views over the valley to the east with a sea of trees making for a nice spot to stop. Continuing on, we came across more markers and finally deciphered the system they have used for the trail. In some sections there is a trail that everyone uses, some where walkers and gravel bikes are encouraged to go and others where only mountain bikes are allowed (with dual direction or one-way systems in place). We reached the first of the pure mountain bike sections of single track (which was actually the second as we'd ridden past the first accidentally) that is either green rated (easy) or blue rated (moderate). I love a winding single track so bolted ahead of Aron and had a blast on this first section that was a good introduction to mountain biking if you don't have the technical skills just yet. Unfortunately with the speed I was going and the limited space to pull over and take photos, it meant I don't have many shots from this area and this would be a theme for the ride.
While waiting for Aron I had fun photographing some early season wildflowers dotting the edge of the trail and providing a splash of colour to the bush. We had a chat about the single track and Aron had come across a rider I didn't that had yelled at him about being on the wrong section. Later we checked the map and figured out that was a dual way part of the track so the guy must have been confused over the marking system. Crossing Lesmurdie Road East, the mountain bike symbol was pointing us onto a blue trail and this started a very nice section of forest with larger trees and Balgas everywhere. You could see the walking and gravel bike option on the wide rail formation above and it's a real improvement for mountain bikers to have the option to ride something much more interesting. Crossing Grove Road, there was still a little debate over what sign we were meant to follow so initially kept going on the rail formation, checking out the Walliston Station (1 Mile Siding) wooden board before doubling back. Now realising that it would mostly be on single track from here to the end, it was a case of finding the right marker and following that route through the bush. This was the introduction of more technical options on the trail with the first feature being a bumpy log bridge that I didn't see in time and took the exit option to the right. I stopped to see if Aron went over but he didn't like the look of it and instead posed for a photo. As I mentioned before, stopping to take photos along the blue rated sections was hard and this style of photo journaling will not work if I ever decide to step into that world (which I will eventually).
The medium I use now just doesn't work and without photos of the various jumps, log rides and obstacles, it would simply be me saying "then I launched into a full sick nuts on this jump and then carved up a gnarly log ride" without much context. I don't particularly like the idea of riding technical trails then walking them again for photos but we'll see what happens in the future. I can say that the blue rated trails here were decent enough and some of the fast flowing sections were very fun to ride. The quality of the scenery through here was also much better than I expected given we were still in the heart of the hills suburbs with a healthy forest containing a nice variety of flora. At one stop I heard some more Kaaraks in the trees and was quick enough to snap a couple of shots of one flying off. I got lucky with the shot and I really enjoy the pose I caught the Kaarak in, one of my favourite photos of these iconic birds. Crossing Glenisla Road, we started the final section of the trail and the initial part was some of the best technical single track. It doesn't last long but is really good fun before the trail flattens out and enters some of the more picturesque forest of the entire trail. I love this area around Pickering Brook and the winding trail through Balgas and Jarrah was really relaxing. Soon we came across the new markers for the Kattamordo Heritage Trail and I knew we were close to the Pickering Brook General Store. Aron and I did this 34km trail in 2016 and this area around Pickering Brook is one of the wrong turns we made so it was nice to see where it was meant to go. The General Store marks the end of the line and you'll find one last information board that acts as the southern point of the trail.
With the return journey left, usually at this point I write a couple of sentences and include a few photos from my experience on the way back. This trail however is different because thanks to the one way system in place, it feels and is a different trail for the majority of it. A great example of this is when you pass under a very large section of hollowed out tree that lost is top many moons ago. I was kind of dreading the return section on single trail as heading south it felt like a lot of it was downhill and going north would involve a lot of climbing. This didn't turn out to be the case and the uphill section were short or not as bad as I thought they would be. The close proximity of the two one way trails in sections allowed me to stop and photograph the obstacles as stopping while heading uphill isn't as much of a safety issue. The single trail does become an issue when it is meant to be run in both directions as there isn't any space to let the downhill riders pass without trampling on some plants. There is also the issue of having time to get out the way if you cross paths near a bend and we found this out a few times on the section where you cross a few driveways off Glenisla Road. For walkers that are reading this, there is a separate walking trail from Lawnbrook Road East to Pickering Brook on the opposite side of Glenisla Road so you don't have to worry about dodging mountain bike traffic.
Coming across a few obstacles on the way back was fun and the log ride was my favourite part but Aron didn't want to risk it. Further towards Kalamunda Aron opted to ride the wide rail formation while I carved up the single track including a section that had a nice double hairpin going downhill and then another one going back uphill. I found it amusing when we came across a burnt out car wreck because it wouldn't be a Shire of Kalamunda trail without one appearing. I believe this one is a late '70s or early '80s Holden Gemini based on the shape of the rear light cluster but I am happy to be corrected. Reaching Kalamunda once again, we experienced a fun section of multi directional single trail that we missed on the way out before arriving at the Bibbulmun Track. From here it is a relaxing downhill ride to the finish and what didn't seem like much of a hill on the way up was very obvious on the way down. When I wasn't stopping for photos, the pace was easily up around 30kmph and we were quickly back at the car ready to head home. Thanks to the haze hanging around we were treated to some interesting lighting as we finished with fleeting views of the Perth CBD from certain vantage points.
Final Thoughts - Rail trails can be a fantastic addition to the trail landscape but on the whole they are generally better suited to riding than walking. The wide track, gentle gradients and length does not often agree with a slow moving pace but riders can easily skip through the "boring bits" a lot quicker.
This is certainly the case for this trail between Gooseberry Hill and Kalamunda but where they've applied the upgrades south of Kalamunda, it becomes a more interesting prospect for both riders and walkers.
Dedicated single trail takes it away from being a thoroughbred rail trail but I don't think anyone but purists will argue with that. I really enjoyed the fast flowing sections and again, it wasn't easy getting photos of these parts in the flow of the ride.
Since this ride I've invested in a newer GoPro and my foray into the world of mountain biking will most likely be in this medium (but not for quite a while given the equipment needed to edit videos that I don't have right now).
The upgrades to the trail have transformed it into a very enjoyable experience and while it's only 26km return, the Kalamunda Mountain Bike Collective is only a short drive away if you want to experience more trails.
If you're hiking then I suggest starting at the Bibbulmun Track Northern Terminus and skipping the section north of there.
Get out there and experience it!
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