Ngank Yira Bidi
Start - Thomson Bay Beach
Finish - Oliver Hill Battery
Length - 9.4km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Beach, Pavement
Vertical Climb - 120m
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Blue Markers
Date Hiked - 29th of August 2016
Best Time - All Year Round
When you think of Rottnest the first thing that comes into mind for most people is quokkas, white sandy beaches or leisurely riding your bike around on a family holiday. Did you know that Rottnest is home to some great walking trails with more on the way?
The construction of the Wadjemup Bidi trail network on the island means that previously inaccessible locations can now be reached on foot and with more trails coming, this is a great way to explore one of Western Australia's favourite tourist destinations. I had this trip marked down in my calendar since I started planning the hiking season over the summer. The plan was to wait for warmer weather in late September and make a day of it but an opportunity came up through Sightseeing Pass Australia for a trip over so I decided to move it up a month so everyone else can see what the Wadjemup Bidi was all about and visit during the spring months. The booking process was very smooth and the range of tours, experiences and packages means there is something for everyone. I didn't even know some of the attractions they offer existed (check this one out if you like old school gaming) but will definitely be doing a few later in the year.
A Friday was chosen for my visit and the tickets were booked but in the week leading up to the trip the weather forecast was looking like heavy storms hitting during the day. Deciding that I wanted sunnier skies to really showcase these walks, I asked the team at Sightseeing Pass Australia if they could change my ticket date to the following Monday, where the weather looked infinitely better. Within five minutes they had confirmed a change of ferry dates for both myself and my partner and the whole experience was an example of great customer service. With the date change all sorted we had to contain our excitement all weekend but Monday finally arrived and we crawled out of bed to catch the earliest ferry across. Departing at the B Shed Markets, the blue skies were dotted with a hint of cloud and it was shaping up to be an enjoyable day. The crew on the Rottnest Express ferry were fantastic when my partner started experiencing the effects of the sea and quickly offered a sick bag, bottle of water and then as we were getting off they advised of the best seats to avoid getting sea-sick on the way home (the back of the ferry for those playing at home).
When we arrived at the main jetty we quickly set off for the bakery for a bite to eat and to say hello to the quokkas before tackling the first of two trails planned for the day. The first trail, the Ngank Yira Bidi (Bidi means walk) is a 9.5km journey from Thomson Bay along the east and south coast where you retrace the military history of the island, specifically the role it played in protecting Fremantle during WWII. The official start of the trail is located on the beach, just south of the main ferry jetty. Guiding you on your walk will be blue trail markers outlining the Wadjemup Bidi logo and these are placed at crucial waypoints.
In a stark contrast to my usual hiking adventures, starting on a perfect white sandy beach with blue skies overhead is not how I imagined a late winter's hike but with great weather and beautiful scenes, it was ideal. Caris had fun combing the beach for shells and other interesting objects as I snapped away at the fluffy clouds and blue skies. One of the first points of interest you come across is the Army Jetty where equipment was loaded/unloaded during WWII. Dotted along the trail are information boards containing the history of each location and an insight into life on the island during WWII. The trail then deviates away from the beach and up the path to the Kingston precinct, home to the old army barracks and the start of the still working railway line that runs all the way up to the finishing spot at Oliver Hill.
The trail then follows parts of the old railway line that was used during WWII, providing some great photo opportunities as you are given glimpses of the ocean and pass by the old buildings of the Bickley Battery. More information boards explain the beautiful overgrown mess of trees and concrete that still exists from when Rottnest was vital in the strategic defence of Fremantle. The old gun towers, looking stations and railway are fascinating remnants of a bygone era and a good reminder that life wasn't always as safe as it is now.
From the dense scrub and concrete you emerge on the south side of the island and the trail really opens up as you traverse the windswept grassy dunes, providing great views of Phillip Point and Phillip Rock. Heading down into the grassy section, the trail snakes around until you reach a short diversion at Jubilee Hill. This old tower was vandalised in the early 2010s but has since been restored so you can get 360 degree views of the island from within the tower. Stickers placed on the viewing windows provide direction on where to look and what you are looking at, another little detail that makes the experience mean something more than visiting an old concrete tower.
Once you have finished looking out over the island and playing out your military fantasies, the trail heads inland and up towards another cool feature, this time something a bit more modern. "Beachcomber" is one of the first sculpture installations on the island and is made from 80% recycled materials. It certainly livens up this section and provides food for thought about what might wash up on the beaches of the island. Another aspect of island life on display in this section is the trees, more importantly the direction they are pointed.
Due to the unrelenting winds that batter the island from the expanses of the Southern/Indian Oceans, they have been persuaded to adapt to the wind direction. In higher points around the island they are almost horizontal and this provides an interesting spectacle to observe. After passing a small woodland area filled with these trees you leave the grasslands and arrive at Henrietta Rocks, a dangerous section of reef that contains one of many shipwrecks scattered around the islands.
Visible from the viewing platform and the beach, the "Shark" shipwreck has an interesting story and I won't spoil it so you can read about when you visit. You can get a closer look at the bits of the Shark rising from the reef as the trail heads down the stairs and begins a long beach section. With a mix of sand and limestone rocks, this section to Porpoise Bay was a relaxing stroll in the sunshine. We kept changing views from admiring the amazing scenery to scouring the beach to see what had washed up.
Keeping us company were a few turns and the always present seagull and along the way we spotted plenty of shells, washed up jellyfish, fishing gear and an abundance of cuttlefish. At just over a kilometre long, this stretch of beach is a perfect way to experience what makes Rottnest so great without going overboard on the beach walking. Thankfully the sand is quite hard so you won't be dreading the walk like you do on some sections of the Cape to Cape. The beach walking ends when you hit the steps up to the road and they provide one last viewpoint of the stunning beach you have just traversed.
Crossing the road you will find a 4x4 track that while it's not a very interesting walk, is a necessary section in order to reach the next feature. This section is not without photo opportunities as it passes over the Oliver Hill Railway and right next to the Rottnest Island Airport. If you are lucky you might get a shot of a plane coming in or taking off but for us the time was spent reacting to all the noises in the bushes as we walked by. The cause of the commotion was one of the many lizard varieties found on the island deciding they didn't want to be around us. We only got a good look at one but it scampered off before I could get a photo.
The 4x4 track is worth it once you round a corner and get sight of Serpentine Lake, one of the many salt lakes found on the interior of the island. This is one of the bigger lakes and the bitumen path takes you right along the edge as you admire the beautiful calmness of the waters with small limestone hills dotted in the distance. Along the way I couldn't stop taking photos across the lake and every now and then a duck or two would appear on the shoreline. As we rounded the corner and caught sight of Wadjemup Lighthouse, a family of Australian Shelducks appeared with eleven little ducklings in tow. After a very pleasant kilometre and a half of walking around the lake edge, we headed towards the finishing point at Oliver Hill. With the trail markers pointing us in the right direction we passed the large bike rack next to the road and began climbing up the biggest hill of the trail to the high point of 30m ASL.
Coming across the railway line again, the quaint little Oliver Hill Railway Station lies below the impressive Oliver Hill gun turrets. The train does run but wasn't stopping at the station until 2pm so we had a look around the turrets and said hello to the volunteers that run tours starting from Oliver Hill. The end of the trail is actually a loop around the back of Oliver Hill where you get to see one of the plotting rooms used in the war. There are quite a few steps here (not shown on my elevation as I stopped my GPS tracking too early) as you dive in and out of the grassy dunes. Once you have finished the walk you have a few options given it is a one way trail. The first is the 4km walk in a straight line back to the main settlement or you could continue walking towards Wadjemup Lighthouse on the Wardan Nara Bidi (purple trail).
This trail actually starts back at Porpoise Bay and goes along the coast towards the finishing spot at Rocky Bay. Due to the tight timing of whether we will make it to the bus stop in time for the next bus or not we elected to head in a more direct route towards the road leading along the coast. We still took the Wardan Nara Bidi but in the opposite direction than if you continued on to the lighthouse. We were in the middle of booking our tickets online when the bus rocked up at the Wadjemup stop (down the hill from the lighthouse) and we enjoyed a scenic tour of the island back to the main settlement. The bus takes about 30 minutes to reach the settlement and loops around the island all day so you are never more than 45 minutes away from the next bus. Day passes are $20 or you can purchase a one way ticket ($10) if you only plan on hopping on once for a part of the journey like we did. We arrived back at the settlement just after 12pm and headed to the bakery for some lunch, more quokka selfies and a rest before tackling the next trail.
Final Thoughts - Having spent a lot of my childhood holidays down south in Albany or Busselton, I had never visited Rottnest Island until a cricket trip in my mid 20s. Even that was only for some beach cricket fun at Pinky's and then an afternoon at the Rottnest Hotel so I had no idea what the rest of the island would hold.
Being such a relatively small island everything is within walking distance if you have the time and the trail network does a great job at adding another option to exploring the island, taking in sights you might not get to see on the bike or bus.
The Ngank Yira Bidi excels at diversifying the scenery along the 9.5km trail with a good mix of beach walking, old railway paths, grassy dunes and lake walks. You never get bored of one section and the information boards do a great job of connecting you to the islands past.
This was a good first up walk in the morning and I loved retracing the history of Rottnest's involvement in WWII along the way. Even though it covered a small section of the island, there was plenty to see and if you take the bus back to the settlement then you get to see the rest of the island (with commentary) you might not have the chance to explore if you are only here for a day trip.
A highly recommended walk if you are visiting the island and with more trails to come (there are five trails planned for the Wadjemup Bidi network), it is a great alternative to seeing the island by bike or bus. The main attraction of the Ngank Yira Bidi is the fact you get to see much more than if you were on a bike so make sure you pack some walking shoes on your next visit to Rottnest Island.
I also love that the trails have been named after consultation with Noongar language specialists and approved by the Whadjuk working party. It is infinitely better than another Queen Elizabeth this or Royal Charles that that the government seems to fall back on with their naming policies.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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