Luke Pen Walk
Start - End of East Bank Road
Length - 11.3km (return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track
Dog Friendly - Yes
Vertical Climb - 138m
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 24th October 2016
Best Time - All Year Round
Having scaled four of the six day hikes in the Stirling Range in the past two days I had my sights set on the Porongurups on Day Three, followed by what I had hoped was a clear summit of Bluff Knoll before the rain came in the late afternoon.
This was based off a weather forecast I had seen three days previous and I had not checked my weather app when I was on top of one of the peaks in the past two days. This meant I was not expecting any weather until the afternoon and woke up to the sound of rain on my tent. With no reception at Moingup Springs I had no way of knowing when it would stop. This put me in a bit of a pickle because the plan had been to visit Nancy's Peak and Devil's Slide so I could share it with everyone on here but if the rain and clouds were going to be around for the day then the photos would be a collage of different shades of grey. Lying in my tent I came up with a Plan B of driving into Albany and doing the walk I had planned for the next day (this one). This would give me the opportunity to get coverage and check the weather forecast for the next few days along with doing a walk that I didn’t mind doing in the rain.
I packed up all my gear loaded it into the car for the hour long drive to Albany. As I passed the Porongurups they weren't visible at all so continued on to the Luke Pen Walk. I found reception just outside of Albany and sure enough the weather had fined up when I arrived. As I was already here and there was no guarantee that the weather would improve in the Porongurups, I headed to the start point of the Luke Pen Walk on the banks of the Kalgan River. Driving through the peaceful looking neighbourhoods, it reminded me why I would love to live down in this part of the world in the future. Once you have located East Bank Road, the route to the trail head is signed well enough to follow. East Bank Road comes to a dead end about 3km after the turn-off and this is where the trail head is located, although it's not obvious to start with.
I took the path next to the river and soon came across the information board that officially marks the start of the 11km Hobbit Trail (there and back again). The information board is completed with a map of the walk, a summary of who Luke Pen is (thankfully a local and well respected botanist instead of colonial figurehead) and one very appealing trail marker denoting this as a TrailsWA Top Trail. This rating isn't handed out lightly and this would have to be one of the more low key Top Trails to those outside of the Albany area (and perhaps within it).
I started up my GPS tracker and moved past the wooden bathroom facilities and started the trail properly. With blue skies and fluffy white clouds I was happy to experience this walk with near perfect conditions instead of the drizzle I was expecting as I drove to the start. The first thing I noticed as I made my way to one of many bends in the river was the great selection of wildflowers on display. Being spring this wasn't unexpected but normally there are a few species that dominate a trail. This wasn't the case today with every twist in the path revealing a different colour or display.
Following the eastern banks of the Kalgan River, this trail is a peaceful stroll along the river edge, providing some great views of the calm water and surrounding landscape. The first bend provides a chance to view the nearby Elbow Island that is a haven for bird life in the area and a small granite outcrop gives a clear viewing platform. Moving on you see a stunning art installation that is the most impressive I have seen on a trail in WA, a giant metal kingfisher with its wings expanded. If you aren't expecting it then I imagine this would be a cool surprise and one any young kid (or big kid) will love anyway.
Looking south when you view it means it will most likely be in the best light for photographing this magnificent feature. When you are done admiring the giant avian sculpture it is time to move on and towards a little inlet in the river. Although it takes you away from the main river, you are compensated by a damp excursion over a bridge that crosses one of many streams that feed the Kalgan. I love little scenes like this and despite some thick undergrowth around the stream I was still able to see the flow of the stream and admire it for a brief moment.
From the bridge, the trail takes you up a slight hill and you walk above the river for a long stretch. To your right is a small hill you can't quite see over, providing a nice sense of mystery and also diverting your attention always towards the river on your left. The wildflowers continued to impress along this section and were joined by a few sizeable grass trees. By this point I had forgotten about the Porongurups and had immersed myself in a slow amble along this amazing hike. With each bend in the river there is a new view to experience and subtle new feature to enjoy.
With a bit of wet weather recently the trail changed from compact white sand to be muddy in places and this required a bit of manoeuvring around the bogs. About this time the hills keeping the mystery to the east of the trail disappear and the beautiful rolling farmlands come into view. At times the trail goes right against the fence line and makes for an ideal photo opportunity. Green fields set against bright cloud-filled blue skies and brown cows grazing in the distance. To make the scene complete there was the gentle aroma of farm (hints of cow manure mixed with wet grass) and the brown cows were making curious faces at me. I assume these are the brown cows that make caramel flavoured milk but they weren't close enough to confirm.
Just after the caramel cows is the Riverside Rd entrance to the walk, about 3.5kms in and there is another information board for anyone choosing to use this entrance. Also present is a sign notifying you of the volunteer work in the area to keep this walk in tip top condition. Judging by the hand written sign I saw later on reminding the volunteers not to rip out the surrounding vegetation as it isn't a weed, they love what they do and are passionate about the walk. This next section includes some boardwalk areas through some muddier ground and this is where I encountered my first bit of wildlife that didn't fly, a frog.
Those who read every trail report I do know I am not that lucky when it comes to wildlife (still searching for that first echidna) so it was nice to come across a camouflaged creature in the grasses. I kept a distance away and snapped some photos before moving on. It wasn't until the return leg when I saw the frog in the exact same position that I realised it was recently deceased so I don't think it counts as a proper amphibian encounter. Buoyed by my frog sighting and not having it ruined just yet I skipped off to a culturally sensitive site, the old Noongar fishing trap relics.
With a few small islands and a shallow river bank allowing easy access to the flowing water of the river, you can imagine a scene of ancient aboriginal fishermen working their skills to provide for the community. The reminders of the past don't stop there as it isn't long before you come across a tiny beach next to where the trail ascends. Here you find an old rusted out piece of farming equipment and the remnants of a small jetty, which again sparked my imagination about what this place used to be like before the modern world encroached on it. With the end of the trail in sight, there are a few places where you can wander down to the river bank and photograph the river, now wider than anywhere on the trail.
With calm winds and white clouds I don't think I could have asked for better conditions. The trail rolls on from this point and just around the corner is a wonderful old building with some equally striking warning signs. The old cottage sits on private land not far from the trail as you are well informed of thanks to the previously mentioned signs but I thought it was alright to go a little closer to get some photos without them getting in the way. In front of the cottage is a cool, moss covered sundial that provides a bit more character to the scene.
I may have taken a few too many photos as this is where my camera battery gave out and it was now a game of removing the battery, shaking it about, reinserting it and hoping for a couple more shots. I managed to do this until I reached the rapids and the beautiful wooden bridge that crosses the Kalgan River, which marks the end of the trail. Writing on the concrete wall of the bridge shows the river levels from a particularly heavy flood in 2005, well above the current level of the river and it almost certainly would have engulfed the trail entirely.
After exploring the area quite a bit I had nothing else to do but head back to the starting point and enjoy the trail without my camera. As luck would have it, on the return leg I came across a little cruise boat unloading passengers onto the bank for a short stroll. It reminded me of the stories they mention on the information boards about the Kalgan River being a popular tourist trip for locals before the increased use of cars and the highway network. All in all it took me three hours to complete this relatively easy walk and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Final Thoughts - Truly deserving of its Top Trail rating, the Luke Pen Walk is a local treasure and further cements Albany's status in my mind as the mecca of hiking in Western Australia. Although it doesn't feature big hills or sweeping views, I enjoy the gentle trail that weaves its way next to the picturesque Kalgan River.
With the abundance of wildflowers I saw (the most diverse on a trail I have ever seen) this was another great day of hiking. The volunteer network that looks after the trail does a fantastic job maintaining not only the trail but the river itself.
Normally I am not a fan of walks that border private property but in this case I think it provides a nice variety. With idyllic farm scenes, wineries and the occasional jetty on the opposite bank, there is plenty to look at along the way.
If you don't want to do the full there and back trail, there is the option to park a car at each end for a one-way journey. Personally I've never had a problem with there and back trails as you get to see things from a different perspective and might catch something you missed on the way out.
If you are in the Albany area and want a peaceful walk then go no further than the Luke Pen Walk. It is also dog friendly so your four legged friend can enjoy rolling around in the mud and frolicking in the river.
Get out there and experience it!
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