Understory Art Trail
Start - Northcliffe Visitor Centre
Length - 1.4km (Loop)
Grade - Green
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - Flat
Cost - Entry Fees Apply
Time - 1 Hour
Signed - Follow the Map
Date Hiked - 8th June 2019
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Bibbulman People
Directions - Located behind the Northcliffe Visitor Centre, if you are coming from Pemberton take Pemberton-Northcliffe Rd all the way into town. Cross Wheatley Coast Rd and turn left into the Visitor Centre car park. Payment can be made at the main desk.
The Hike - After finishing the Northcliffe to Walpole section of the Bibbulmun Track I had stayed the night in Walpole and caught the bus back to my car in Northcliffe the following day. Having parked at the Visitor Centre I was reunited with my car on a bright winter morning and more importantly, I had a fresh set of clothes to put on after a week in the wilderness. My original plan was to do this walk when I first arrived but in the end I settled on it being my farewell to the area before driving back to Fremantle. It's a trail I had been eyeing off ever since my visit to the area in 2017 but decided to leave it for a future visit. With a future visit now upon me and the weather looking good I bought my ticket and walked around the back of the Visitor Centre to begin the loop.
Billed as one of TrailsWA's Top Trails, this art trail has been the pride of the Northcliffe community since it's first inception and construction in the early 2000s. Much like the Swarbrick Art Loop, the concept was born out of love for the forests and seeing much of the South West coming under threat from logging. Fiona Sinclair and Peter Hill were instrumental in the creation of the trail that has grown and grown over the years to become a very enjoyable and thought provoking experience. In the wake of the devastating 2015 Northcliffe bushfires there have been numerous additions to the trail to commemorate the losses of the wider community and nature itself. To complement the walking experience there are audio tours you can listen to while taking in the exhibits ranging from artists speaking about their works, stories and poems from the forest and music inspired by the forest. I had limited time here as I was meeting Donovan and Alissa from The Long Way's Better for lunch in Pemberton so opted to take the self guided option but when I return I think I'll take a lot longer and enjoy the audio tour. The 1.4km loop is well laid out with a natural path to follow and plenty to explore. Make sure you look at the map every now and then as some exhibits aren't always right in front of you and take some exploring to uncover their secrets. The highlight of the first section was the response to the 2015 fires and the abundance of faces carved into the burnt sections of the trees. These are found all along the trail but are concentrated more along the start of the trail.
Rather than being a race from exhibit to exhibit, the quality of the forest here means the bits between the art pieces is just as enjoyable. While having spent a week walking in the wilderness, I was by no means tired of this type of environment. How could you be? The quality and variety of the art along the trail struck me as very impressive but not surprising given the effort gone into creating the trail. A great variety of installations from local, interstate and international artists has produced a quality that attracts visitors from all over the world. I didn't include a few pieces in the photos as they are best experienced in person and I found it hard to stick to my allocated time of 45 minutes. There is certainly a lot packed into such a short trail with plenty of benches to use as reflection points and a lot of hidden detail. After much deliberation my favourites pieces were Sundew by Natalie Williamson, Feeding by Francois Davin and Rising from the Ashes by Kim Perrier. Although I don't claim to be extremely cultured by any means, having spent a lot of time in the forest over the past few years, I think I understood most of these pieces and the message they were trying to convey (I hope). But art is a subjective thing so meaning will be different for everyone. With my brief time on this trail over I was feeling refreshed and ready to head home after a wonderful trip to this amazing part of Western Australia.
Final Thoughts - A real icon of Northcliffe, the Understory Art Trail is a fantastic experience that if you are passing through the area, you shouldn't miss out on.
A great deal of thought and planning has gone into the trail with a fantastic number of installations all coming together for a powerful visitor experience. The cost of entry may seem high for a short trail but believe me when I say it is worth it.
Take your time, admire the craft and thinking that has gone into each piece and please respect the work.
Northcliffe should be proud of the trail they've created and it's a magnificent example of what is possible when people come together and collaborate on something that they have a sincere passion for.
Get out there and experience it!
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