Marri Trail | Crooked Brook Forest
Start - Crooked Brook Forest Road
Length - 9.5km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 210m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 18th June 2016
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
The Hike - With the hiking season well underway and the coming weekends all booked out with new hikes or events, I love it when I can adjust my plans to incorporate another new trail.
The opportunity to do this came about with an overnight trip to Bunbury to visit my sister before heading out east of Harvey for the first time to perform maintenance on my section of the Bibbulmun Track. I scrolled down my extensive "to-hike" list for the South West and picked the Marri Trail, a 10km jaunt through Crooked Brook Forest that is only a 25 minute drive from the heart of Bunbury (or Funbury as I like to call it). Leaving Fremantle before lunchtime, I survived the not very interesting drive down Forrest Hwy and made a turn where the South West Hwy comes in from the north and meets the Australind Bypass. From there it is a right turn onto Boyanup-Picton Rd and a short drive past Dardanup to Crooked Brook Rd.
Crooked Brook Forest is well signed from Boyanup-Picton Rd and the drive out there is a fantastic flash past some iconic Western Australian farming scenes (green paddocks, black & white dairy cows and fluffy white clouds). The area is a rehabilitation project that has been going since 1994 and incorporates a few community groups to help improve the facilities and maintain the four walking trails located within the forest. I chose to start at the northern most car park but you can continue on to the main car park further down the road to access the shorter walking trails and lookout. It was a perfect winter’s day when I arrived so took my camera out, adjusted the straps on my pack and set off to find the Marri Trail markers.
It wasn't long before I found a signpost donning a black gum nut on a white background. These will be your friend throughout the walk and are well placed at key points so you don't get lost. I chose to go clockwise today because I felt like it but the markers are placed for both directions. The first section follows the Munda Biddi Trail for a short distance on orange gravel through the forest. One plant I immediately noticed was the unusual Pineapple Lily. Scattered amongst the undergrowth, this variation of the iconic Australian Grass Tree is unique to the area and really threw me off given I had never seen one or heard of it before. It was a good thing there was an interesting new bush to keep me occupied as the trail exits the semi-sparse forest and follows a 4x4 track that alternates between soft white sand and the more familiar compacted gravel.
Put in some headphones for the next couple of kilometres as the trail climbs up towards the crossing at Forest Rd. The uphill stretch ends just after crossing the road and it’s a gentle downward trek to where I encountered a few locals. I heard a rustle in the bush to my left and staring back at me was a curious kangaroo keen to see what was making all the noise. His or her mates quickly departed the scene but as is the case with kangaroos, there is always one left behind to give you a good staring contest. I snapped a few photos and tried unsuccessfully to ask how its day was going before continuing on the trail. Not long after this I came across an odd smell that you usually don't associate with the forest.
The answer appeared in the distance with views into a wide open field poking through the trees. On the western border of the park is open farming land and plenty of cow paddocks (explaining the distinct smell). This section reminded me of the Greenbushes Loop I visited last year and adds a nice bit of variety to the hike. It doesn't last too long though as soon you are directed back into the forest onto some welcome single track paths. A bunny rabbit caught my eye in the distance but bolted away towards a nearby paddock before I could photograph it.
The trail once again runs next to a paddock but this one looks more like a meadow given a hill blocks the expansive views over the rest of the farm. Again this section doesn't last long and it's back into the forest for a short excursion before hitting the Boyanup Pine Plantation. Plantations like this are not my favourite thing to find in what is meant to be a natural forest but necessary evils and all that. The trail heads in a southerly direction, now on a wide 4x4 track and with the sun streaming through the natural forest, I chose to look in that direction instead of the barren pine plantation.
At the end of the 4x4 track is one of the highlights of the trail, the billabong. Built to provide a feature for the area and habitat for various wildlife, the billabong is a fantastic sight and the facilities around it are designed to educate visitors on the local flora/fauna. This is where the main car park is located that acts as the starting point for the other three walks in the forest. The surrounding area is a great place to bring the kids as the walks aren't too taxing and there is plenty to learn and see.
I wondered around for a while snapping away at the reflections in the water (and what looked remarkably like a crocodile) before moving off to finish the trail. There are two options as you exit the car park, following the Munda Biddi back to the northern car park or the much more interesting Wildflower Walk that includes a lookout. While it does involve a small climb, the Wildflower Walk up to the lookout is well worth it with little information boards in front of different plants/trees to educate you to the variety of flora located in this area.
When you reach the top there are sweeping views across the Ferguson Valley and due to its location, it makes for a nice place to watch the sunset. When I arrived there was already a family enjoying the views so I said hello, patted their dog, took some photos and left them to enjoy the peace and quiet. The final downhill section was a very pleasant descent in the fading light along a winding single track path marked with the occasional Pineapple Lily. I soon reached the car with some great memories and another hike crossed off the list.
Final Thoughts – Not really knowing what to expect when I arrived, the Marri Trail and Crooked Brook Forest surprised me with a few cool features and the opportunity to see a Pineapple Lily for the first time. While the 10km Marri Trail does tend to spend too much time on 4x4 tracks, the billabong, lookout and open farmland views more than makes up for the occasional section of 4x4 track.
The best way to view the Marri Trail is to use it as a way to visit the smaller trails within the area and add on some fitness work as a bonus. In spring I can imagine that the wildflowers would spectacular and worth the drive out to see.
If you are in the area and have some time then be sure to visit this little gem, even a quick visit to see the billabong and walk a small trail will be worth the drive out.
Get out there and experience it!
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