Ngank Wen Bidi
Start - Roland Smith Bus Stop (#12)
Length - 8.3km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Beach, Paved Path
Vertical Climb - 113m
Time - 2-4 Hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Purple Markers
Date Hiked - 7th March 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - The trail can be done in either direction, anti-clockwise by following the signs down to the beach from the road running parallel with Digby Dr or clockwise by walking south of the Roland Smith Memorial and locating the Ngank Wen Bidi trail markers leading into the bush.
The Hike - With the Wadjemup Bidi recently being finished off with the completion of the Ngank Wen Bidi (Sun Set/Down Track), I received an invite over to the island to check out the final trail before it officially opened and to finish off my experience on the now completed Wadjemup Bidi. Having completed three of the other walks on the island and finishing up the Wardan Nara Bidi last year in the start location for this walk, I was keen to explore the wilder western side of the island and enjoy some more of the ruggedly beautiful coastline. For the sake of logistics it was easier to walk the newer trail first and then finish the day off with the Karlinyah Bidi to complete my set of finished Wadjemup Bidi experiences.
Arriving on the earliest ferry possible to maximise time spent on the island and to take advantage of potentially empty trails, Wife of Py (Caris) and I stopped in at the bakery for breakfast before meeting up with our VIP lift organised thanks to Eilidh, the Wadjemup Bidi Trails Coordinator, that would take us to the start point. We met Jimbo, another Trails Coordinator, in the main settlement and he took us out in one of the big motorised golf carts to Narrow Neck so we didn't have to wait for the bus. The forecast was for light winds, some cloud and then sunshine later so that was going to be perfect conditions for the day. Light winds on Rottnest are a blessing given how exposed everything is so to not have to battle the elements today was a good bit of fortune. We arrived at the trail head and Jimbo wished us luck as we departed on the recently completed trail entrance (literally finished last week). The first section if you head in a clockwise direction like we did is a winding stroll through some scrub-lined hills, highlighted by some great views looking back towards Strickland Bay, Wadjemup Lighthouse and the southern coastline. With the sun occasionally trying to peak through the grey clouds I was hoping that these conditions didn't stay the whole day as the photos wouldn't make for a very appealing post.
As this is billed as the "wilder western side" it wasn't fazing me for this section of the walk and I actually preferred this to bright blue skies. There was always something to photograph on this section, even if it doesn't look very appealing visually, as you constantly change perspective winding around the hills and cliffs. Caris spotted an osprey nest on a small island and just as she pointed it out to me, an osprey flew off it with something grasped in its talons. That was nice little highlight that spurred us on through some fairly mundane scenery as the trail snakes in and out of the barren, windswept landscape. We were hoping for some wild quokka sightings and given how much evidence of their existence was deposited on the trail, it was a bit disappointing not to have a run in with one of the less tame locals. One bit of wildlife that couldn't stay away from us were the march flies that took a liking to Caris' pants and kept biting her. Purely for her wellbeing I was swatting them away if they landed on the bits I could reach, mainly around the rear section just between her lower back and above her hamstrings.
It isn't long before you come to one of the spots where you can get a closer look at the weathered cliffs and crashing waves. Every now and then along the first few kilometres to Cape Vlamingh there is a clearing near the cliffs that allows you a brief opportunity to see the coastline a bit clearer and look down at what the powers of time, wind, waves and rain have done to shape this island. The jagged cliffs and waves crashing over slippery platforms are an amazing sight to behold and I imagine with a howling gale it would feel very wild indeed (do be careful on the cliff faces as limestone isn't the sturdiest of rocks and can shift at any moment). For us though it was calmer experience as we wound our way up and down the hills overlooking Wilson Bay and Radar Reef (apparently a good surf spot but it was a bit flat when we were there and I couldn't see a safe access point anywhere). Just before Radar Reef the scrub trail ends and you join a paved road called Aitkens Way that will be home until you reach Cape Vlamingh. The road walking isn't all bad and with one of the WWII concrete shelters looming in the distance, there are some nice photographic opportunities here.
At the end of the road is the first real highlight of the trail and one I enjoyed quite a bit, Cape Vlamingh and the West End Boardwalk. Set at the very western tip of the island, you first pass the anchor of the Kiryo Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel that is now wrecked off the coast somewhere (I couldn't see any evidence of it) and an area overlooking Fish Hook Bay, a sheltered bay with high cliffs and one that looked like a great place to snorkel if it was accessible at all and not subject to the unpredictable seas. The real treat here though is the lookout giving you fantastic views out along the coast and to the headland along with the new boardwalk section taking you to even better views of the wild coast and Fish Hook Bay. The boardwalk is there for a reason as this stretch of the island is home to the burrowing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that lay their eggs underground (please stick to the path all throughout this walk). At the end of the boardwalk you get views of the natural limestone arch and if you come at the right time, it is the perfect spot to watch the humpback whale migration (May to December). We weren't so lucky but the sun had briefly come out and we enjoyed spotting several King Skinks in the vegetation and photographing the spectacular coastline.
With a couple of walks to get through in the day and another highlight arriving very shortly it was time to move on to one of things I was most looking forward to today and one Caris was also excited to see. It's a short walk from Cape Vlamingh to Cathedral Rocks where there is another viewing platform to observe the local New Zealand Fur Seals population. Although called New Zealand Fur Seals, these playful doggos of the sea are found all along the southern coast of Australia and have a very nice home here on Rottnest Island. The platform is an excellent vantage point to view them and we were lucky that a large group were congregated along the shore in the still waters just chilling and relaxing. Occasionally one would dive down a little and flap about but mostly they were lying on their backs or had one flipper hanging out of the water. If you aren't so lucky to have them right on the shore then there are two sets of binoculars that are powerful enough to see them close up on Cathedral Rocks in the distance. Caris enjoyed watching them play but I eventually pulled her away without a tantrum and we moved on to the final stretch home of the walk that is home to some of the many excellent bays and beaches found on the island.
Just past Cathedral Rocks is Eagle Bay (not the famous one with the brewery in Dunsborough) and as you round the path it becomes clear that it is quite a pretty location with a long white beach, high cliffs, plenty of sea bird activity and lots of well weathered limestone features. There is a path leading down to a better viewing area just after you join the paved road leading to Mabel Cove so I explored that and was happy I did given the quality of the views from there. I didn't see any access point to the beach at Eagle Bay and please don't try to climb down the limestone cliffs so I'm guessing it is only accessible via a kayak. It would be a great location to have a picnic at given you would likely be the only people there. With some great photos of this amazing bay we got back on the road to Mabel Cove and were there in no time at all. After Eagle Bay, Mabel Cove was a little less grand but you can access the beach here and given it is well off the main road, you are likely to have this one to yourself too unless it's school holidays.
The walk out of Mabel Cove requires a short climb and some uninteresting 4x4 tracks but the payoff is the views over Majorie Bay when you arrive at the staircase down to the beach. This is one of dozen postcard perfect beaches on the island and the first one we came across with lots of boats anchored up, giving it more of a holiday feel. One boat owner had come ashore and as we arrived at the staircase he had finished climbing them and was ready for a rest on the park bench. He asked us where we had come from, what we were doing on the island and even knew Jimbo when I mentioned that he had dropped us off at Narrow Neck. We said our goodbyes and as we were walking along the pristine white beach of Majorie Bay, Caris remarked that she would love to be an old, retired white guy so she could have a boat and enjoy a lazy Wednesday floating off Rottnest. I responded by saying she was a quarter of the way to her wish being true. Marjorie Bay marks the first of a couple of beach walks to finish the Ngank Wen Bidi and at this point I wish I had packed my thongs so I could walk barefoot for this last section and enjoy the sand and surf between my toes.
I was quite content to walk in my shoes though given the excellent nature of the scenery before my eyes and we spotted the exit marker leading us away from the beach and back onto the trail. There is a short little hill you must pass over in order to reach the final beach of the walk, taking in half of Rocky Bay. Winter was definitely not coming at this stage with the clouds disappearing quickly and the sun bearing down on us. Add in the light winds and a bit of humidity and it felt like a perfect summers day (for one of us at least). We took a break on the stairs leading down to Rocky Bay and I photographed the stunning turquoise waters and white sands. The final beach walk was a bit of a slog in the heat but we managed it just fine and climbed the last set of stairs to finish at Narrow Neck. With no shelter in the area we sat down on a bit of limestone and enjoyed some well earned lunch and a drink.