Peak Head Walk Trail
Start - Peak Head Rd
Length - 4.4km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Granite Dome
Vertical Climb - 219m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - No, Only One Trail
Date Hiked - 27th September 2019
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Located in Torndirrup National Park, from the centre of Albany head out on Frenchman Bay Rd until you reach the sign for Stony Hill. Follow that road all the way to the top and the car park for Peak Head is on your left.
The Hike - Peak Head is a place that I didn't have the best luck on my first visit so I always had it in the back of my mind to return one day. You can still read the old post here but the weather was so bad that I didn't make it all the way to the top of the granite dome and I managed to take about ten photos before being forced to put the camera away. Over the years I never managed to make time for Peak Head and most recently it was put on the back burner thanks to the 2018 fires that swept through Torndirrup National Park. After planning a relaxing day not doing much, this was aborted when the sun came out with a long walk from my AirBnb to do the Mount Adelaide Nature Trail and Ellen Cove to Albany Port.
The idea if the weather was good was to head out and walk a little of the Bald Head Walk Trail as I hadn't been there in quite a while and some updated photos were required. With car issues putting a dampener on my post-Bibbulmun stay in Albany, I thought I would risk it and even brought my sleeping bag with me just in case it wouldn't start up again. After walking the first section of Bald Head up and over Isthmus Hill to where you get the iconic views, I realised I would have enough time to drive to Peak Head and catch the sunset from there. I hadn't actually planned to walk Peak Head but the sunset was shaping up to be a cracker and the spare of the moment decision felt right. I jogged back to my car and luckily it started so I was soon at the Peak Head car park ready to re-capture what is a very underrated trail. I only had about half an hour until sunset when I arrived and with some epic lighting already starting to turn, it was going to be a rush to get the whole trail in before it was dark. Luckily I had just completed a five day stretch on the Bibbulmun to finish my sectional end to end and with new trail runners so my legs were feeling great.
This hike would actually be more of a trail run with the occasional stop for photos (I took over 600 so more than occasional) and this was made very easy by the first 1.5km of the trail out to the granite dome being all downhill. After giving my shoes a good scrub at the boot cleaning station, I headed downhill and immediately the effects of the fire were noticeable with a green undergrowth making way for the skeletons of the old Peppermint trees. A very different landscape to my previous visit, the only consolation was that the views were a lot more open from earlier on and what spectacular views they are. Laid out in front of you is the vastness of the Southern Ocean, the granite dome of Peak Head that will be the end goal for the hike and Eclipse Island off in the distance. As I bounded down the hill, it was a balance between maintaining a good speed and also stopping to enjoy the views and wildflowers that were abundant along the trail. Given it would be dark by the time I ascended this hill on the way back, I felt it important to photograph as many of the wildflower varieties while I still had the light and was lucky to come across some Cowslip and Donkey Orchids, a Coneflower and a Coastal Banjine among others.
With a golden light pouring over the landscape, I was feeling very fortunate to be here in this moment and was doing my best to appreciate that. It was magical to see the granite dome of Peak Head glowing in the soft light and as you descended down the winding trail, it became more and more of an imposing figure on the horizon. Eventually you are low enough that the peak rises above the ocean and the realisation that a bit more of a climb is in order than what it originally looks like from the top of the trail. With the trail now right at the bottom of the hill, it was a glorious sight to witness with the snaking trail making its way up to the granite dome, sunshine cascading down the hill and the clouds changing hue from gold to magenta. As soon as I got back from this trip I edited up one of the photos (8th photo in on the above gallery) and it's been my desktop wallpaper ever since. Feeling good about the light situation I stopped at the point where the trail runs very close to the cliffs below and you get some pretty nice views looking down at the churning water. Even on a calm afternoon like I was having, the wave action on the granite was enough to make you think twice about wanting to head off-trail to get a closer look (which you shouldn't be doing anyway). I remember on my last visit that the sea was angry and putting on a good show.
Passing the closest point that the trail has with the ocean, you reach a more open spot where the views to the west start to open up. This meant instead of being in the shadows, I was mostly in the light of the setting sun. With the landscape now opening up so the bay down near Torndirrup Beach could almost be seen and the other side of the hill I had just descended now bathed in beautiful glow. Starting the ascent, I was confident that I would reach the summit of the dome before the sun fully set but just in case I ran up anyway. The higher I got though, the more the views opened up and eventually I could see the sun for the first time on the trail. It was already looking a treat so of course I stopped for photos before setting off at pace. Much like Bald Head, the track is quite eroded in places, so much so that the gap in-between in pretty much person size. While the views looking west were fantastic, the views looking back towards Bald Head to the east were just as good. A prominent Facebook page had their cover photo as this view for the longest time and it was a pretty average picture with the horizon at a comical angle and it always makes me laugh when I see photos of this view. Climbing ever higher, it was even more clear that I was in for an epic sunset with the whole coastline being washed out with an orange glow.
Reaching the start of the granite dome, the dragons nest of rocks was where I stopped on my previous visit thanks to very slippery conditions and heavy rain. With dry granite ahead and nothing but sunshine I could finally visit the summit of the dome to watch the sunset. It's a bit tricky to find the track once you hit the granite but once you see the big expanse, keep heading along the base towards the ocean instead of trying to bush bash through the scrub where there are many goat trails. This will put you at the bottom of the granite slope where you can join the rock face and start the ascent up to the top (please be careful in the wet as this area is not called the Dangerous Coast for nothing). The views kept getting better as I scrambled up the granite and after one last push I was up on the flatter section but still not able to see the sunset to the west. Picking my way through the cracks and gnamma pools, I reached the top and what an absolute wow moment it was. I had arrived at the perfect time with the sun sitting in the low clouds on the horizon and the whole scene just lit up with a very Miami Vice like orange and pink hue. Wandering all over the flat top of the dome, I was busy photographing everything I could and with 360 degree views from here, there is a lot to capture.
There was the bay to the north, Black Head, Cave Point and West Cape Howe to the west, Eclipse Island to the south and the endless blue of the Southern Ocean covering a lot of distance. I eventually settled on a spot and sat down to watch the sun dip below the horizon. In the calmness of a perfect spring evening I started to reflect on the last few days and what it meant to finish a three year journey hiking the Bibbulmun Track in sections. I didn't really think about it too much on my last day into Albany but seeing West Cape Howe in the distance made me realise what an absolute amazing time I've had completing new sections and all the great people I've met along the way. Hiking really has been a life changing addition to my life and it's really moments like this that really confirm why I do it because why wouldn't you want to hike two and a bit kilometres on a perfect afternoon to watch the sunset from your own private granite dome in one of the most beautiful places in WA? With the gorgeous sunset coming to an end, the colours were fading and so I thought it was best to head back while I still had some light to work with. I reached the start in the dark and with my car starting it meant I wouldn't have to sleep there tonight (although I wouldn't have objected).