Start - Potters Gorge Campsite
Length - 10.2km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 225m
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 16th December 2017
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Directions - Located within Wellington National Park, Potters Gorge Campsite is well signed from the highway leading into the park. The trail head is located off the paved road leading down towards the water. Trail markers are orange for the Sika Trail.
The Hike - With my place of residence being taken over by a bunch of rowdy hens for the night I was asked to vacate home and seek alternative accommodation for the night. I took this as an opportunity to head out into the wilderness and perhaps get a hike or two in while I was there. Wellington National Park was meant to be a destination I visited earlier in the year on my annual South West road trip but due to my car issues I had to scrap the drive out here. With three decent sized hikes in the area and a couple of photogenic water bodies in Wellington Dam and the Collie River, this is one area I was looking forward to exploring.
2019 Update - Wellington National Park has undergone some serious prescribed burns over the last year (plus some flare-ups that resulted in more fires) so the area is not as pristine as it appears in the photos. Hopefully it will recover in the next few years but the soft grey Jarrah will be replaced by blackened trunks for at least another five years.
After helping setup for the party I packed my own gear in the car and set off for the two and a half hour drive out near Collie. The weather was perfect for late December with temps in the mid 20s for the Saturday and overnight rain turning into chance of a shower on the Sunday. I arrived at the newly renovated Potters Gorge just before 3pm and selected a camping spot in the unusually quiet (for a Saturday night) campsite. With four hours to complete the 10km Sika Trail before sunset I wasn't too fussed about pace so eventually wandered down to the start of the loop, dodging many a Jewel Spider (Christmas Spider) along the way.
For no particular reason I decided to do this trail clockwise and I was immediately greeted with some stunning Jarrah forest and a surprising amount of wildflowers for early summer. Every now and then you would get a glimpse of the shimmering water of Wellington Dam but the real treat in this area are the slopes of tall Jarrah trees and the mature undergrowth. Donovan and I have discussed at length the merits of Jarrah forest on Real Trail Talk and how awful it can be when it's constantly burnt out all the time so it was refreshing to see a patch where it has not been touched by the ravages of fire and brimstone. There was a nice canopy, the tree trunks weren't as black as the night sky and the undergrowth as I mentioned was a nice thick carpet but not overbearing like regrowth forest can get.
The trail follows the contours of the landscape, which was a nice bit of trail design and I came across a patch of what I suspect is not a native plant variety to the area. A thick covering of ivy like leaves washed over a section of the forest floor and being summer I appreciated the high levels of greenery still lurking around. After an enjoyable first kilometre you arrive at the car park for the Kiosk and a chance to grab a snack or two if you are feeling peckish. I had other business here as I had forgotten to grab some cash for the camping fees so popped in for a visit to pay via card, which they were more than happy to accommodate. With camping fees paid I headed back to where I left the trail and continued on my journey, this time along one of the many wider paths that take both hikers and mountain bike riders in comfort.
This trail is a dual use trail and judging by the tyre marks found along the trail, it is well used so be wary of traffic and don't hog the space. One creature I was happy not to be sharing the trail with was a group of Christmas Spiders that had constructed elaborate webs in the bushes nearby. Happy to photograph them from a distance and not get a face full of spider web I moved on to one of the long stretches of uninterrupted Jarrah forest. The thick Jarrah forest is broken up by a brief trip across Pipeline Rd where you get a break in the canopy and you get your first sighting of the water pipeline that runs from Wellington Dam to the surrounding areas (I think it is used by the local mines).
Unfortunately the views aren't terribly impressive but you are pitched back into the forest for more Jarrah goodness. The trail in this section is a bit straight and flat, great if you're on a bike and can blitz through the distance but as a hiker it didn't make for engaging walking. Luckily it is only a kilometre of hiking before you reach one of the vistas overlooking the Collie River Valley. Granite outcrops can be found below you and the occasional large boulder provides an interesting feature along the trail but my gaze was off into the distance and the rolling hills. Wishing I was here a bit later to enjoy the sunset, I moved on as the trail once again moved into thick forest, which in this case was no bad thing.
An upward sweeping series of curves takes you to another crest and the forest around here felt a little special, perhaps it was the afternoon sun or maybe it was the endorphins kicking in but I really enjoy this section. You get another little valley showcase here before descending down a small hill and towards a meeting point of several trails. A busy sign lets you know there are now three trails sharing the same path, the Munda Biddi, the Kurliiny Tjenangitj Trail and the Sika Trail. There is a small map showing you where you are and is a good opportunity for a breather as this is the start point of the only sustained climbing of the hike (which still isn't very long). The quality of the forest continues to be excellent with not a burnt trunk in sight and a thick green undergrowth starting to become a golden colour in the late afternoon sun. With better lighting conditions for the rest of the hike I was loving this trail more than I thought I would, especially given I was visiting in summer when it would not be at its best.
As I started to descend from the highest point on the trail I came across the T-junction where the Sika Trail departs the two other trails in a spectacular meadow looking section of forest. The density of trees here is much less than other parts of the trail and a blanket of green undergrowth takes over (I'm easily impressed). The descent continues and I came across a large fallen tree that was located on one of the steeper gradients. The track diverts around it for ease of access for mountain bikers but being on foot I could continue on and enjoy the elevated position it provided. The trees ahead were cast in a ray of sunshine and the scene looked so amazing I didn't notice the burnt out motorbike below me. It's not unusual in WA to find burnt out car wrecks but I had never seen a motorbike before and from far away it almost looked like an art sculpture or one of those ornamental planters you see for sale at garden centres. I had a bit of fun photographing it before moving onwards to the crossing of Wellington Dam Rd.
It is all flat walking from here on out and the wide trail between here and another meeting with Pipeline Rd was a pleasant affair with small daisies lining the path in spots. The run-in with Pipeline Rd is also where you cross Tom Jones Drive (wonder if it was named after the singer) and begin the final stage of the hike. Being a dual use trail I did not expect to see the thick single file trail that you find immediately after leaving Tom Jones Drive. It was overgrown (in a good way), full of late season wildflowers like the purple Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus manglesii) and a joy to hike in. I knew I was close to the campsite again as you can see it peaking through the forest on the other side of the road in but I wasn't impatient and enjoyed the final few hundred metres until I came across the path I had taken to get to the start. Still needing to backtrack to get to the campsite I headed down to the water and photographed the dam in the afternoon light.
Final Thoughts - Having planned to do this trail in the height of spring I was pleasantly surprised to find it still holding a certain magic in summer. While Wellington NP is better known for Honeymoon Pool and the Jabitj Trail, the Sika Trail is still a nice escape into some of the best Jarrah forest in the state.
Being dual use should not be a problem with most of the trail being wide enough for both riders and hikers and very little turns where you would be surprised. Keep the headphones out and listen out for riders and you will be fine.
With a bit of money being put towards the redevelopment of Potters Gorge, they have done a great job and it was nice to have the option to stay there after a pleasant hike. With three trails in the national park, it is more suited to a weekend away than a day visit.
All in all this was a nice experience and while it may not feature a great deal of elevation or spectacular views, there are subtle differences in the forest that make this more interesting than just a walk through a Jarrah forest. I would love to do this in the spring with an assortment of wildflowers in bloom so it's definitely going on the return visit list.
Get out there and experience it!
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