Kattamordo Heritage Trail
Start - Hardinge Park, Bickley Reservoir
Finish - Sculpture Park, Mundaring
Length - 34km (One Way)
Grade - Black
Terrain - 4x4 Track, Single Track
Vertical Climb - 913m
Time - 7-11 hours
Signed - No, Occasional Faded Yellow Markers
Date Hiked - 25th June 2016
Best Time - Autumn Through Spring
Directions - This walk requires a car drop at the Mundaring Sculpture Park. The start point at Hardinge Park can be found by taking the Kelvin Rd exit from Tonkin Hwy and turning onto White Rd. Follow that until you see the signs for Bickley Reservoir and the car park is further on.
The Hike - Where to start with the Kattamordo Trail (apart from the beginning). This is a trail I found last year whilst on a trip to Victoria Reservoir and had been keen to hike it ever since but a combination of logistics, unknown variables and a lack of a willing hiking partner kept this one on the backburner until now. What eventuated was an epic day filled with rain, sun, great trails and a fantastic workout. Let's start with a short history lesson first to provide some context for this forgotten but amazing trail.
Back in the late 80s, with Australia gearing up to celebrate the bicentennial of the British invasion of this island, some funding was provided to the Heritage Council of WA to create a network of Heritage Trails in Western Australia. The Kattamordo Heritage Trail was one of these trails (I will be doing extensive research on the other "lost" trails to see if I can recreate them in the future) and forged a path from Mundaring to Bickley that incorporated some important historical sites along the way. I'm not entirely sure what happened that caused the trail maintenance to be abandoned (I suspect a lack of funding) but there is no modern record of the route described in the 1998 brochure I found. The brochure is a fascinating read into the history of the area so I won't be going into too much detail about it in my account, instead focusing on the details that are lacking (i.e directions and critical way points). The original trail was called Kattamorda (trail markers have this spelling) but was corrected to Kattamordo in the 1998 brochure (I have used both spellings depending on what I am referencing). The name comes from the aboriginal translation of Katta meaning "hill" and Mordo also meaning "hill" so translated it is the Hill Hill Trail (or the aboriginal name for the Darling Range).
Joining me today was long time Life of Py fan and recent hiking enthusiast, Aron (many of you have met him on the group hikes), and a plan was devised to drop a car off at Mundaring and then head to the starting point at Bickley Reservoir. The reasoning for starting at Bickley was twofold, firstly I knew the trail was marked at the Bickley end as I have visited the area before and The Long Ways Better recently hiked the start of the trail as it is the same as the Mason and Bird Heritage Trail. Secondly and most importantly, Mundaring has a very nice bakery and one of the critical requirements of hiking with Aron is that there is a bakery of some variety at the finish. The weather was looking alright on the drive back down Great Eastern Hwy from Mundaring but as we hit Tonkin Hwy it started to bucket down.
I knew showers were forecast but in Perth that usually means it rains for five minutes and then is clear the rest of the day. We found the car park at Hardinge Park and sat in the car waiting for the shower to pass before heading off. Once it had slowed to a drizzle and we had fitted ourselves and our packs with the appropriate wet weather gear the hike began. The Mason and Bird HT that you follow at the beginning takes you past Bickley Reservoir (looking decidedly gloomy with its wet concrete walls) and the Bickley Outdoor Recreation Camp. Instead of using the road, which is the official trail, we found a single track path in the bushes to the south and traversed that instead. After finding a chained up army helmet (interesting) we figured the wide gravel road was the true path and set off into the distance.
It wasn't long before we reached the historic Munday Brook Bridge, built in 1872, which I had previously visited on the Victoria Reservoir Trail and had hoped to get some good photos of it with a flowing Munday Brook. Unfortunately the heavens opened up again and I did my best to try and get some reasonable angles whilst protecting my camera from the rain. Aron had some fun crossing the bridge before we started the first climb of the day on the old Horse Tramway.
It's a rocky ascent up the wide path and quite a sad one when you read up on all the problems they had transporting timber down it. For us the rain was still a companion and our focus was keeping the feet dry and avoiding the running water and frequent puddles as we climbed up the hill. Once we were at the top we started searching for the narrow path into the forest that had first sparked my interest in the Kattamordo Trail last year. Knowing the white gates meant we had gone too far we scoured the trees for a Shire of Kalamunda marker and sure enough, with the gates in sight Aron spotted the path. This would also be the start of a fun game of spotting the old Kattamorda trail markers (the yellow markers have the Kattamorda spelling). With some care taken to avoid the growing puddles that had taken over the trail (the rain had now subsided) we found our way to the entry road for Victoria Reservoir.
Along with the brochure we were also using a GPS file I sourced from the interwebs as the map on the brochure was woefully inadequate, being both out of scale and zoomed out quite a bit. We hoped the guy who posted the GPS file on Map My Hike knew where he was going but were only using it as a rough guide in places. The next leg of the journey took us across the road and into the recently burnt out bushland. There are remnants of the warnings placed before the prescribed burn-off had occurred but as it had already taken place we were confident that fire wasn't about to rip through the area.
We found a 4x4 track that matched up with the GPS and were treated to a nice surprise. Much like my adventures out to Mt Dale & Beraking (or #bearking), the fires had given the bush a very different and striking colour palette. Instead of the greens, blacks and browns of the previous section there was a mix of reds, oranges, blacks and yellows. Being a prescribed burn and not a life threatening bushfire I felt a little better at enjoying the landscape as I snapped away happily. Investigating an odd placement of trail markers we backtracked a little bit and discovered a large wooden Kattamorda HT with an information board attached that included a map. Concluding that we didn't take the right way in from the access road (later confirmed), we had a look at the map and everything was not as it seemed.
The "You are Here" point on the map showed us at the corner of Pickering Brook Rd and Canning Rd, some 4km east of where we were. Someone has tried to inscribe a correction but if you aren't looking really close then you won't see it. Was it aliens that moved it, a planning error on the Heritage Councils behalf or had it been moved to protect it from bushfires and never put back? A mystery for now I think. We ventured back in the right direction and the path is fairly intuitive so we enjoyed the blackened scenery as the sun came out. Having dried (I did at least, Aron was still soggy) I decided to remove the wet weather gear but that turned out to be a mistake. As we reached a point where the 4x4 track made a turn south towards Victoria Dam, we had to find the correct trail leading us to Pickering Brook Rd and the rain started again.
The GPS file looked like the path was fairly straight and thus should have been obvious but we couldn’t see anything. There was a 4x4 track leading north but we wanted to go east and figured that wasn't the correct one. In the end we headed into the bush for some good old fashioned off track hiking in the direction we thought was correct. After a while we didn't see an obvious path so adjusted the route northwards and soon came across the 4x4 track. It turns out that the original 4x4 track may have been the right one but we had good fun in the pouring rain plodding through the bush (well I did at least).
The 3km stroll to Pickering Brook Rd was fairly uneventful in the rain but the scenery was still spectacular so I had fun trying to take some moody photos of the still burnt out forest scapes. With plenty of puddles around there was the opportunity to take some photos of reflections (not ripple effects Aron) and I got a decent one of Aron silhouetted in the water. When we reached Canning Rd it wasn't far until the intersection with Pickering Brook Rd but before that was a sign for the Pickering Brook General Store and more importantly, fresh coffee. I persuaded Aron that a coffee wouldn't be a bad idea and given it was right on the trail we stopped off.
It's not often in Perth that you can go on a day hike and a quarter of the way through you can stop for a coffee. Given most of the hikes are in national parks this makes sense but it was nice to feel so disconnected from the world and then stumble across this place only to then disappear back into the forest when we were done. The coffee really hit the spot after a mostly wet hike so far and just as we were leaving the rain started up again. Both maps showed the trail heading north from the intersection and going along the North West side of Pickering Brook Sporting Club. From the road we picked one of the many paths into the forest and continued on our merry way.
This section was back to a healthy green and sported some of the biggest Sundew plants I have ever seen. As this was a section that looked quite easy to run off course (there are markers everywhere for different trails) I kept an eye on my GPS tracker (no phone service meant we couldn't view the other GPS file) and made sure we weren't straying too far from Weston Rd. I think we made a wrong turn at the archery sign (initiating some Game of Thrones banter from the Battle of the Bastards episode) and kept going along the path we had chosen.
We reached a few houses at the end of Francis Rd and the trail turned in what seemed the wrong direction. Assessing the landscape and realising we were headed in the wrong direction we doubled back and found a red marker on Francis Rd pointing us in the general direction of Weston Rd and followed it. After stumbling upon a disused mountain bike ladder/jump feature we surmised that we were on an old bike track and to keep an eye on the GPS to make sure we kept close to Weston Rd. All was going well and we even came across some locals that weren't as shy as the other mobs we spotted earlier in the day. Aron spotted three grey kangaroos in the bushes and instead of jumping off they posed for a photo and one even stuck around for a while to have a chat (mostly one sided). Moving on we followed the trail downhill a little bit and the scenery on one side of the trail changed to beautiful rolling orchards.
At the bottom of the hill we came across the boundary of a couple of private farms and investigated from a distance an old building that was overgrown with vines. On that wide trail we spotted an official Kattamorda marker and let out a cheer. Figuring that we weren't on the Kattamordo for that last little section and looking at the GPS file we were referencing, we concluded that our shortcut was better given the fact we weren't hiking on Weston Rd. Heading back towards Valento Rd, the scenery had a very "Shire" feel about it in the sunshine. This is also where I again made the decision to ditch the wet weather gear, hoping that this would be the last time (Aron wasn't convinced but shed a layer). This was proved to be a good choice as the climbing started again up some steep-ish roads and with the sun out and trail markers a plenty, the mood was good.
At the top of the hill we came across an untouched wooden sign for the trail and given the 4x4 track is only used by the small number of people that live in the area it makes sense that this section is the best preserved. Until we hit Patterson Rd it was like hiking on the Bibbulmun Track, markers at well placed intervals and a calming feeling knowing you are going in the right direction. After you cross Patterson Rd you will find an intersection with a well known trail in Western Australia, the Munda Biddi. This trail will become a familiar sight for a lot of the remaining 18km and it’s nice to know that most of the trail has now been repurposed for people to enjoy.
We stopped for a snack here as there were a few car bodies that had been burnt out and then taken back by nature (see gallery). From here on out it seemed like smooth sailing given we had a well maintained trail to follow and just had to keep an eye out for cyclists so we could be polite and get out of their way (we were on their trail after all). We still managed to find a couple of Kattamorda markers as we headed towards Gunjin Rd and up the wide track to Mt Gunjin. One sour point was a massive pile of rubbish that some idiot had left on the side of Gunjin Rd. Moving on, the road up to Mt Gunjin is very wide and we were passed by a few 4x4s and a couple of cyclists that looked like they were doing a long stretch of the Munda Biddi.
The Munda Biddi leaves Gunjin Rd but our route took us all the way to the 400m peak where we found some cyclists planning their next descent. The area is popular with mountain bikers for good reason; there are some great technical trails leading down from Mt Gunjin and some great cross country trails leaving various car parks on the close by Mundaring Weir Rd. We descended down Gunjin Rd for a while until we found the path taken back into the forest on the GPS file we were using as a guide. This is where things went slightly off plan.
We reached the intersection of the path we were on and the Munda Biddi (which we should have taken down to Mundaring Weir Rd) but looking at my GPS tracker there was a road not far down our path that then took us directly to The Dell. After checking the GPS tracker further down the trail it said we had passed the road that shows on Google Maps, only we didn't see an obvious road.
We continued on and did find a trail that headed in that direction only to find this just zigzagged back and forth. Knowing this was a mountain bike track (Mercury St to be exact) we decided to continue on it as it must lead back down to Mundaring Weir Rd. It sort of did but kept doubling back on itself so we went off track again and beat a path back to the Munda Biddi. Our off-Kattamordo excursion probably added another kilometre but given we only had about 8km to go (or so we thought) it didn't really matter.
Arriving at The Dell, the starting point for many mountain bike trails and the Dell to South Ledge walking trail, we found a picnic table and tucked into a roast beef roll and some Anzac biscuits. With a bit of phone reception we checked up on the world and I studied the maps to see what paths we needed to follow for the next leg of the journey. It all seemed pretty easy; right, left, right, straight, straight, Helena River. Turns out it was that easy (relief after our before lunch detour) and we found our Kattamorda trail markers again so enjoyed this peaceful section of forest.
The run down to the Helena River is fairly steep and the views across the valley get better the lower you go. With dam levels not in a great state I wasn't expecting the river to be flowing and I was proven right. At the crossing there was a decent amount of standing water on one side (see gallery) but the other side was sparse to say the least. On the opposite side of the river we were greeted by an old friend, the Munda Biddi and this signalled the end of referencing maps as the Munda Biddi pointed us the rest of the way to Sculpture Park in Mundaring. The trail exits the forest and you are forced to walk on the narrow strip of gravel on Mundaring Weir Rd as it makes its way up the hill towards Mundaring Weir Hotel.
Be mindful of cars and cyclists as you trudge up the steep incline but make sure you turn around and enjoy some nice views over the valley (sadly views of the weir are limited). At the top of the hill you will see the wooden signs for Mundaring Weir Hotel and the thought of stopping here for a pint and a parma was strong but the end was almost in sight. At this stage we had just clocked up the 26th kilometre and with 99.99% confidence could say that the 27km length mentioned in every document about the Kattamordo was incorrect. The remaining 0.01% could be put down to a magical teleportation device installed in Mundaring Weir Hotel that transports you to Sculpture Park (will investigate that option at a later date).
For the next couple of hundred metres four trails share one path, the Bibbulmun, Munda Biddi, Kep Track and Kattamordo. After locating yet another Kattamorda Wooden Sign we continued on our merry way, not sure how long the path to Sculpture Park would be. I knew it was all uphill and with the feet feeling the effects of 27km of walking we ventured off into the distance. Thankfully to distract us there are many information boards along the way detailing historic sites and providing an insight into what life was like in Mundaring many moons ago.
Occasionally we would see the Munda Biddi heading off into the bush and take our own path closer to Mundaring Weir Rd only to be rewarded with another Kattamorda marker (and a cheer of excitement). In the fading light we were treated to golden sun streaming through the forest but I had a bit of a conundrum with my camera, lack of space on the memory card and a very low battery. I couldn't erase photos without using battery life and I couldn't take photos without sufficient battery life.
I ended up warming the battery up in my hand in between shots and this worked surprisingly well until I had no room left and packed up the camera for the day. After the sheep paddock there wasn't much to see apart from a newly renovated Sculpture Park. We found the information boards and searched for the Kattamordo Trail, finding it buried under a different title and still sporting a 27km length. The final thing to do was to pack the car up and drive back to Bickley to drop Aron off at his car. Worried that the gates might be shut at Bickley we arrived in the final few minutes of sunlight to open gates and a sigh of relief.
Final Thoughts – Retracing a historic trail like the Kattamordo was something I had wanted to do for a while now so finally being able to do it was a thrill. Even with the heavy rain the whole experience was confirmation of why I love hiking and I definitely had a few "today is a great day" moments out there.
As I have previously stated, I'm not sure why the Kattamordo Trail was not maintained but even as a ghost of its former self, it was fairly easy to navigate. Yes we took a couple of wrong turns but that's part of the fun and we got there in the end.
The vast number of original markers still visible was amazing and certainly a comfort when they appeared frequently on long stretches. As Aron pointed out when I remarked about how high they were, they have had 30 years of tree growth to raise them high above eye level.
Given that GPS wasn't fully operational in 1988 (trail inception) and wasn't easy/cheap to use in 1998 (brochure date) I will forgive the gross underestimation of the trail's length (27km instead of 34km). With its adjusted length (34km) and vertical climb (913m), this trail marks the second “Black” rated trail after the Six Summit Challenge.
I highly recommend doing this trail if you are fit enough and want an adventure that involves a bit of navigation and some great scenery. With such a variety of landscapes and trail types this is certainly a unique hike in Perth that deserves to be revived, at least in spirit.
If you would like a GPX or KML file of our journey then feel free to email me for it. Hikers walk this trail at their own risk.
Start in Bickley so you can enjoy a morning coffee at Pickering Brook but be prepared to finish with an uphill
Keep your eyes high for trail markers (and woot when you see one)
Forget what it says, it is 34km!!
I loved the sense of accomplishment for getting to the end and highly recommend it
I apologise for wearing a fluoro yellow pack cover and ruining the photos (he didn’t really say this but I want him to)
Be sure to tag any Kattamordo Heritage Trail photos with #thelifeofpy and if you enjoyed this hike then feel free to share this page on Facebook with your friends.