Sheila Hill Memorial Track
Start - Ocean Beach Rd, Denmark
Finish - Lights Rd
Length - 5.5km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Granite Slab
Vertical Climb - 288m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Bibbulmun Waugyls
Date Hiked - 7th October 2017
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Minang People
Directions - From the centre of Denmark, follow South Coast Hwy west until you reach Ocean Beach Rd. Turn left onto Ocean Beach Rd and follow this down the hill until you reach the corner of Cotswald Drive. The trail head is located on the west side of Ocean Beach Rd.
The Hike - With car issues hampering my two week road trip, I was given the news in Albany that my car could not be repaired there without waiting a couple of weeks for parts so my only option was to limp it home as best I could (turns out the issue was a clogged catalytic converter meaning I had no power and was struggling to maintain speed). Cutting several planned hikes out of the schedule, my time in Albany was coming to an end and the next destination was the campgrounds at Shannon National Park. Knowing Don and Alissa were in Denmark for the rest of the week I messaged them and asked if they wanted to join me as I hiked the Sheila Hill Memorial Track in Denmark as it was on the way. This would be fitting as it was their post on The Long Way's Better that alerted me to the existence of this trail and I really enjoy their company so it was nice to have them along.
After a trip to one of the excellent bakeries in Denmark, I met them at the corner of Ocean Beach Rd and Cotswald Dr to organise the car swap. As my car was broken and Donovan knew where to go, we loaded up into his X-Trail for the very short drive to the start or finish in our case (more on this later). The Sheila Hill Memorial Track runs entirely on the Bibbulmun Track but is a good way of separating out one of the more spectacular sections close to Denmark with hikers taking in both Monkey Rock and Mt Hallowell. Starting at almost sea level, the climb up to the summit of Mt Hallowell (296m) is a delightful meander through the last of the Karri forest you will experience on the Bibbulmun Track if you are doing it north to south. It had been over a year since Don and Alissa had done this trail and with it being spring it would be understandable if it looked a little different to them.
They didn't remember it finishing like the loop section we initially walked along but shrugged it off and eventually we spotted a Bibbulmun Track waugyl so away we went into the Karri forest that borders private properties to the north. It had rained heavily about 15 minutes before we started and there was still the threat of a rain shower or two around so we kept our rain gear on as we hiked in one of the more open sections of the trail. The wildflowers were out in force with all the colours under the rainbow being represented so I was being a slow coach and taking photos of all of them. Understanding what is involves in documenting a trail for the first time, Donovan and Alissa were very accommodating by going slow and making sure to not get in my shots unless I wanted them to (take note Aron!!). One feature of this hike is that it is pretty much a constant uphill for the first 3.8km, which is unusual for Western Australia as the hills are typically rolling and you are never far away from a downhill section.
The benefit of this apart from a great workout is that you ascend through a variety of landscapes, starting with one of my favourites, Sheoak forest. The familiar brown needles littering the floor and the rough bark of these lovely trees mixed in well with the moss covered logs strewn everywhere and an increasing number of rocky sections. This would herald the start of where the path increasingly became rockier and a transition into the lush Karri forest. Picking your way through the forest is easy thanks to the abundance of waugyls and this ease continues as the size of the granite boulders reaches massive proportions. You would be forgiven at this point with thinking you were near the top of the climb as it certainly feels that way as you are surrounded by boulders the size of Peppermint Grove mansions. The path takes you past the smooth rock faces and up and over some tricky areas with a handrail installed in one area due to the difficulty in getting down the rock face when it's slippery.
We were lucky in this regard as the weather had fined up and we were enjoying the walk among this maze of granite and Karri. We continued climbing as the boulders disappeared for a while and we approached one of many exposed granite platforms that provide excellent views of the ocean. This first opportunity to glimpse upon the dark blue beyond was a reward for the climbing so far although the forest and boulder section had been a reward in itself. I took plenty of photos and asked Donovan if we were far from the summit as I couldn't quite tell from the landscape ahead (more forest). He confirmed we still had a bit of hiking to go and we continued on with both Don and Alissa spending a good amount of time playfully arguing over the exact spot where Alissa fell over on their first visit here. I enjoyed listening as the two of them debated who was right and which spot looked more familiar.
We entered the forest again and scrubbed our feet at the dieback station that is there to protect this unique landscape from the dangers of the soil based disease. Soon we arrived at the spur trail that leads to the summit of Mt Hallowell and we inspected the damaged signs. There is only meant to be one sign, standing bolt upright and pointing you in the direction of Ocean Beach Rd, Mt Hallowell and Monkey Rock but the bottom part of the sign with the Ocean Beach Rd and Monkey Rock plank was detached and now rested on the ground. The Mt Hallowell section was sort of still standing but was being propped up by the surrounding bush, somewhat being eaten by the undergrowth. We attempted to fix the Mt Hallowell sign before giving up and taking the spur trail to the exposed granite top that marks the summit. Here we were treated to some spectacular 270 degree views taking in the might of the Southern Ocean, the surrounding farmland and back towards the other fantastic day walk in the area, Mount Lindesay.
This is certainly a very lovely spot to enjoy the landscape and I love that they chose to take the Bibbulmun Track up here instead of skirting around the coastline. The weather was clear but windy here so we snapped a few photos and videos before moving back to the sheltered part of the trail. Being the summit this marked the end of our uphill adventure but this didn't mean that the excellent views would be coming to an end. Donovan was sure that there was another spot where the forest framed the ocean in a particular way that he enjoyed quite a lot. Getting there required some hiking past more giant boulders and back into the Karri forest. We found his spot and I agree that is was a very nice view, framed perfectly, just like a painting as he pointed out. This was where I was confronted with a familiar issue that I was hoping did not rear its head on me today, battery problems. These were again self inflicted but just like my DRV-Pemberton hike, the camera went from showing three bars to one solitary red bar in an instant and then dead. It was at this point that I checked the GPS and it was showing that we had done just over 4km so it wasn't long to go until the end.
At this point I also confirmed my suspicions that we weren't going to arrive back at the car by the 5.5km finishing distance as we were nowhere near the starting point on the map. Before that point we still had another highlight of the trail, Monkey Rock. A popular rock climbing area, the exposed granite is similar to the summit at Mt Hallowell, providing more amazing views of the area. After we had soaked in all of the views and took more photos (on my phone this time), we moved on and proceeded to the finish line. My GPS had already confirmed that we were not going to find an X-Trail at the car park so it was a fun moment when we exited the track and Donovan also realised. The trail head on Lights Rd is an exact replica of the one we parked at and we all reminisced about how the drive seemed a little short getting out to the "finish". All that was left now was to walk the 4-5km back to the start point along Lights Rd and Ocean Beach Rd.
We called this section the "Bibbulman Track" after we had seen another hack post by The Urban List Perth earlier in the week on their "Best Hikes in the South West" where the author states they had done the hard yards and kilometres (googling is not hard yards) to come up with the list. They listed the section of the Bibbulmun Track between Walpole and Peaceful Bay as one of the hikes (spelling it Bibbulman twice!!) and state that it only takes 5-6 hours. This is true if the only research you did was type Walpole as one location in Google Maps and Peaceful Bay as the other and changed the travel type to walking (seriously, try it). This of course takes you directly along South Coast Hwy and nowhere near the Valley of the Giants as they state or the Bibbulmun Track, which would be a two night/three day journey if you did it properly. I absolutely despise the click bait, zero research, fluff posting that Urban List represent and this is a prime example of their hilariously frustrating lazy practices. Given we were walking on roads to get to our destination we joked that this was a true Bibbulman experience and that it wasn't very enjoyable at all. We reached the car in the end and celebrated with a well earned visit to the Denmark Chocolate Company and Bartholomew's Meadery.
2019 Update - With the completion of my sectional end to end of the Bibbulmun Track, I returned to the area with a full camera battery to capture Monkey Rock. It's a fantastic spot that is worth checking out from Ocean Beach Rd if you don't have the time (or ability to car swap) to do the whole Sheila Hill Memorial Track.