The Munda Biddi of Py
A collection of Thoughts
With all my Munda Biddi days written and posted about over the past six months, I thought I would do something similar to the end of my Bibbulmun Sectional E2E and summarise the experience as a whole. This has been my longest continuous trail experience so far and that in itself was a big accomplishment. This was a different kind of trail offering than usually graces the pages of this website so it was fun to branch out and try something new, even if the basic premise of getting from A to B was the same. Brew a coffee or tea, sit in a comfy chair and settle in for a semi-curated brain dump of how I found the track, what I enjoyed and what I learned over the course of the 1065km journey.
The Why - Bikepacking is something I'd never considered as something I would take up in a serious manner until my friend and podcast partner decided to give it a go during the early stages of this ongoing pandemic. My vague plan for the Munda Biddi in those before times was that it would be something I would add onto the end of an E2E of the Bibbulmun when/if I was made redundant from my current job. Even thinking back to 2015 and my first visit to Quinninup and seeing the Munda Biddi markers there, my thoughts were "how are you meant to ride over 1000km with all of your camping gear attached?".
Fast forward many years and many adventures later and it wasn't so daunting thanks to a lot of experience hiking the Bibbulmun and slowly improving/upgrading my hiking gear. I had been a semi-regular bike rider in my younger days on a mix of road and gravel so the concept of riding for fun wasn't new to me, it's just that hiking took over as the predominant activity in my spare time. Re-igniting the spark was joining Donovan for a couple of sections of the Munda Biddi in 2020 and realising how much fun it was to ride these distances and see a great variety of landscapes over the course of a day.
It did help that we did some of the better sections on the trail like Donnybrook to Nannup and Pemberton to Northcliffe but the sense of limitless freedom and a good physical challenge was the overriding feeling I took away from those rides. With no major plans for any hikes in 2021 other than an Easter trip to Tasmania, I thought that my big spring adventure would be a Munda Biddi E2E, so started planning a leisurely itinerary and asked good friend Aron to come along. With nine months or so to plan, train and buy gear, we would hopefully be well prepared for the adventure.
The Trail - Having already ridden about 160km of the trail before setting off and being familiar with the areas that it passes through in other sections thanks to the crossover with the Bibbulmun and other hiking trails, I knew roughly what to expect. The Munda Biddi is a much newer trail compared to the Bibbulmun with the full Mundaring to Albany route only being completed in 2013 and because of that, there are still plenty of development opportunities. The two long distance routes are essentially the same kind of experience with a mix of single trail, old vehicle tracks, gravel roads and tarmac roads making up the 1065km route with purpose built campsites and towns dotted in-between. One thing I loved about the Munda Biddi was the ability to cover a greater distance each day, which had its advantages and disadvantages. Even on our very relaxed itinerary, it did feel like you'd covered a decent chunk of terrain over the course of a day and some days you pass through a great variety of different landscapes from forest to farmland to open plains.
Making sure you can cover those distances means that most of the time the route is chosen for convenience rather than enjoyment, with a lot of the trail being on old vehicle tracks or gravel roads. From a riding point of view I didn't find this to be an issue provided the scenery was acceptable and the road wasn't too wide. I think if it attempted to be all on single trail, the riding would be compromised as the undergrowth would suffocate the experience, especially after a prescribed burn, which is becoming more frequent as DBCA gets extra funding to carry out these activities en masse. With new blood in the Munda Biddi Foundation providing a fresh enthusiasm for the trail, we are already seeing the benefits of this with targeted improvements in key areas like William Bay, Mundaring, the Canning River and the Serpentine River. If these improvements continue then the trail is just going to get better and better to the benefit of all riders.
One advantage the Munda Biddi has over the Bibbulmun, although this is a matter of opinion, is the quality of the campsite structures. Having experienced this style on the Hakea Trail before visiting an official Munda Biddi hut, I was looking forward to the increased space, seating areas and in most campsites, the wooden decked floor. They may not have campfires thanks to being built later than the Bibb shelters and the rules changing but that's a small price to pay for the increase in quality. Apart from two nights at Carinyah and Booner Mundak, we had the campsites to ourselves but as the popularity of the Munda Biddi and bikepacking grows, I expect you will start to see more people enjoying them. As I did with the Bibbulmun, I've ranked my favourite campsites and towns based on my experience, not necessarily the quality of facilities or surrounding beauty.
1. Yirra Kartta - The first campsite we stayed at after a long town to town section between Donnybrook and Northcliffe, Yirra Kartta's party piece is the granite dome and the spectacular views you get from the top. Add in a great sunset and some clear skies for astrophotography and this was a memorable night.
2. Kwokralup Beela - Another fantastic campsite located right after Yirra Kartta, this one shines thanks to its location right on the edge of the Frankland River. Although I didn't get as much time here thanks to a late arrival, it was a really peaceful place to stay.
3. Dandalup - Located on the edge of the Darling Scarp and providing some really nice views overlooking the coastal plain, this is a campsite I was a bit sad not to be staying at. I'll be back to experience this lovely spot in some excellent forest.
4. Booner Mundak - This campsite gets a high ranking due to an excellent day of riding plus being located in the literal middle of nowhere. Surrounded by lovely forest, bird song and plenty of wildflowers, I look back at this campsite with fond memories.
5. Wungong - One of the first campsites on the trail, we had to alter our plans to bypass Wungong but I was really impressed with my brief visit thanks to the quality of the lush forest and the out of the way feel, even though it's pretty close to the highway.
1. Nannup - Set up well for cyclists and located at the end of a really nice section of old rail form, it also didn't hurt that we enjoyed a rest day here. Small enough to feel cosy but big enough to have plenty options for dining, Nannup was a pleasure to ride through.
2. Pemberton - I love any visit to Pemberton with pretty terrain all around thanks to the Karri forest and the town now has lots of quality food options for trail users.
3. Donnelly River - It's hard not to love the charm and character of Donnelly River, especially on a drizzly afternoon enjoying a warm meal and watching the native fauna stroll around this old timber town.
4. Denmark - Another spot that is just the perfect size for a trail town and surrounded by natural beauty. This is a bit of a theme but there are great food options here (when they are open) and it's a great place to enjoy a rest before the final push into Albany.
5. Quinninup - More of a holiday settlement than a town, Quinninup is a lovely place to spend the night with a great pub, a relaxing walk trail around Lake Katherine and nice surroundings thanks to the Karri forest.
Riding With Aron - Having hiked most of the Bibbulmun on my lonesome, I thought it would be a nice experience to do the Munda Biddi with someone. Aron aka 1A1R had joined me between Dwellingup and Collie in 2018 and was no stranger to cycling so I approached him with the idea in late 2020. He accepted and we both started planning an itinerary, looking for suitable gear and getting in some training over the summer. Everything was going well with gear sorted and some early joint training proving fruitful but as the winter progressed, I noticed Aron's Strava going suspiciously quiet. As the start date rolled around and we set off on that first day, it became apparent that the itinerary I had planned for the northern section did not agree with Aron's current fitness level.
Only making it to Carinyah on that first day was a bit of a blow to my plans but after a couple of days of pushing through and some planning changes, we got back on schedule around Donnybrook. That first night at Carinyah was difficult as I really thought he would pull the pin after a couple of days and I would have to ride to Albany on my own. Thankfully he soldiered on and we enjoyed what would be a fantastic journey together. Although most of the time I was waiting for Aron to catch up, my pace would not have been too much faster as I was stopping 300-700 times a day to take photos, depending on the day. The result was a lot of photos for each section and I'm happy I didn't feel rushed while I was out there.
The Bike and Gear - I've written a post about the specifics of my bikepacking setup here but I'll reiterate my feelings in this post too. Bikepacking requires a solid investment in gear and I did a fair amount of research trying to get the best balance between cost, weight and storage size. In the end my decision was mostly guided by availability of gear as the pandemic had caused a shortage for most brands. I was completely sold with my Restrap gear and look forward to many future trips using their equipment. I had no issues with my gear at all, with the only niggle being a clip coming off my saddle bag a week into the journey and having to manually tie the strap from then on.
Having previously owned a knackered and heavy Reid mountain bike, anything was going to be an upgrade but my Norco Storm 1 SE was perfect for the Munda Biddi. Well geared, light enough and comfortable with plenty of clearance for my bags (I do have an XL frame because I'm over six foot). At the time of writing I've covered over 2200km on it and that number will continue to grow as I re-do sections of the Munda Biddi and explore new MTB networks. I would have loved a super expensive bike but for the price, the Norco did really well and continues to run strong.
How Does It Compare With Hiking? - Bikepacking is a different beast to hiking in my opinion with the physical challenge being a lot harder than what I found for long distance hiking. Although it would have been nicer with a bit more training in my legs, I found the climbing a lot harder with the weight of a bike and camping gear to push up. With hiking, I can set a decent pace and then recover on the flats but with bikepacking, it was a constant effort on the hills and flats to maintain momentum. Once the quads start to scream then it can be difficult to recover quickly. You do eventually gain a trail fitness as you progress but if you aren't prepared then it can be a real shock to the system.
In terms of the experience, I think I much prefer long distance hiking as I'm one to slow down and really soak in the environment around me. At times on the Munda Biddi, I knew I was riding through a nice section but often it would be over quite quickly. While hiking, it feels more natural to stop and really savour an area. On the flipside of that, when you reach a so-so section of the trail when riding, you can power on through and get it over with quicker. As someone said to me in response to a recent Instagram post, "it doesn't get easier, you just get faster".
What Next? - Having exhausted a lot of annual and long service leave over the past few years to complete these adventures, 2022 might be more of a quieter year. With the focus having been on new adventures and experiences, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to hike/bike some sections of the Munda Biddi and Bibbulmun again. At the time of writing I am a few days from riding Donnybrook to Northcliffe over Easter and I've already lined up a couple of overnighters on the Bibbulmun this hiking season. Add in plenty of day hikes/rides over the winter/spring plus a potential trip up north and I'll be a happy camper. As for bikepacking, I'll start researching other parts of Australia and NZ but if you have any suggestions then let me know in the comments.
Summary - The majority of us work to enjoy our time off and for me this is 100% correct so when I do take leave, I want it to be for a good reason. Spending three weeks with nothing to worry about except cycling to the next destination, eating enough to fuel the body and stopping to photograph all the beautiful scenes along the way is heaven. The Munda Biddi was an awesome experience through rain, hail and sunshine and I'm glad I committed the time and money to do it.
Some memorable highlights from the trip include seeing my first echidna in WA, riding through the Karri forest either side of Donnelly River, Pemberton to Northcliffe, watching the sunset at Yirra Kartta, the 104km day from Booner Mundak to Denmark and the final day into Albany.
A big thank you to everyone who has read a post or two, liked, commented or reached out. If you've taken up bikepacking or thinking about doing a Munda Biddi E2E because of these posts then I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
If you need help with your end to end then I recommend becoming a member of the Munda Biddi Foundation and using their expert knowledge with any questions you might have. Alternatively shoot me an email and I'll be happy to help out where I can.