Warren River Loop Trail
Start - Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
Length - 11.8km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 319m
Time - 3-5 hours
Signed - Yes
Fees - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 8th September 2016
Best Time - All Year Round
The Hike - With a week booked off work to help my parents move into their new home and paint a few rooms, I had planned an escape for one day to see some of the best day hikes in the South West.
My planning had narrowed down the location to Pemberton and after taking in the 10km Gloucester Route in the morning, it was going to be hard to top that experience. Luckily for me Pemberton is full of great hikes and I had the opportunity to explore a walk that has been rated one of TrailsWA's Top Trails. That rating isn't handed out lightly so I was looking forward to experiencing it for myself after reading about Donovan's own trip on The Long Way's Better. The drive from the Gloucester Route takes you through Pemberton town and towards the Old Vasse Hwy. Sealed roads soon give way to orange gravel but the rally driving is cut short as the entrance to the Warren National Park appears. As I had already paid for a day pass at Gloucester NP I didn't need to use the pay centre but if this is your only national park visit for the day then make sure you have correct change and fill out one of the envelopes.
I parked up the car and made my way to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, a 75m giant that is one of the popular climbing trees in the South West. This tree was not one of the original fire lookouts, instead being converted as part of the bicentennial celebrations in 1988 (hence the name). Dave Evans I found out on the information boards was thankfully not someone from the 1800s that had visited the place once and then left back for England but a local man who put a tremendous amount back into the community. When I arrived there was a man climbing the tree while his wife looked on so I took a stroll on the path that circles the tree to see what was what.
The little loop trail was full of thick green undergrowth and its end came at the back end of the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree platform. As I arrived at the bottom of the tree the man who was climbing it decided he was done and yelled down to his wife that he was coming down. Given the rains that had fallen overnight I don't blame him as it would have been slippery up there. Having suitably explored the picnic area it was time to move on and find the start of the much anticipated Warren River Loop Trail. The trail head is located at the large wooden information board aptly named "Walkers Information". Surprisingly for an area of this beauty, there are only two official walks in park. The very short Lorikeet Stroll (250m) and the one I was here for, the Warren River Loop Trail (11.8km). Setting off from the information board you are immediately transported into something from a postcard as the wide trail is engulfed by some truly impressive Karri monsters.
One example is not facing the right way and lies on its side for you to get a sense of scale of these behemoths of the forests. This wonderful little section serves the purpose of taking you down to where the loop section begins and you are left with a choice on which way to take. The trail is marked for both ways and looking at the map I decided to leave what looked like the best bit until last so I headed in an anti-clockwise direction (the theme of the day). This first section is a great introduction to the Karri forest with a wide 4x4 track snaking its way through the landscape, allowing you to soak in the sights and sounds of the forest. The calmness of the forest was interrupted by the sounds of laughing kookaburras early on but I soon escaped their judging noises and revelled in more Karri goodness.
The gentle rolling hills allow you to ease into the hike and with plenty of trees, plants and flowers to look out for, the kilometres practically walk themselves. At the 3km mark you come across a little information shelter that provides an opportunity to sit down and rest. With no rain about the only noise was the sound of forest debris hitting the tin roof. This shelter is accessible from the nearby Heartbreak Trail, a 4x4 trail that loops around the national park and provides access to the campsites located on the Warren River. Had I have done a bit more research beforehand I would have realised that the Pemberton Wine Centre is a 600m walk away and perhaps procured a bottle of vino so I could enjoy a glass or two down by the river. Given the quality of this trail I think I might return for a few more visits in the future so won't be forgetting that detour.
I had a short break and enjoyed an energy bar before setting off on a southerly path towards the first of the picnic areas, Maidenbush. I'm not sure why but I expected this section down to the river to be over in a flash but the predominantly downhill terrain kept going and going (for 3km to be exact). This is perhaps because the trail dips down towards a bridge that takes you over a creek before rising up the other side of the valley. From here I thought it would be a steep downhill to the Warren River but the trail remains fairly flat for the next 1.5km until it really starts descending. The trail is by no means boring along this section as you are amongst the Karri trees and with quite a few of them strewn across the trail in places, it can be an adventure to get through them.
I do love the strict adherence to the Leave No Trace principles here as hikers seem quite happy to just walk their own path over the obstacles with minimal evidence of the detours. Things really get exciting when the trail starts to descend at a more rapid pace and you know what is coming up, the Warren River. Having seen photos of it before I knew what to expect but nothing prepares you for the real life experience. I was lucky today as there were no winds, a slight cloud cover and the river was very calm. The first taste of the river comes in the form of one of the many excellent boardwalks that have been constructed along the riverbank at the Maidenbush picnic area. Seemingly blending into the landscape, these welcome additions allow you to sit on the river and enjoy the peaceful scenes around you.
I was lucky that I had this place all to myself and spent quite a bit of time soaking it all in and marvelling at this amazing location. The combination of the mirror like river, towering Karri trees along the bank and damp feeling really makes this one of the best places to sit and relax in Western Australia. I can imagine with a little morning fog rising from the river and a nice cup of coffee that you could easily forget about the real world. With many photos taken around the boardwalk and lookout I reluctantly moved on and found the path leading along the river bank. Rather than give you a little teaser and have you head off into the forest again, the trail meanders along with the river and you are treated to plenty of moss covered logs, glimpses of the river and some very photogenic scenes.
It was going to take a lot to wipe the smile off my face from here on out as I scrambled up the trail and investigated any little deviation that might lead down to the river for a better photo opportunity. In the hidden majesty of the Warren River Valley, the mosses, fungus and ferns are allowed to thrive and boy do they put on a show. It seems around every corner there is something new to see or explore and the landscape changes from magical river setting to damp creepy forest. I was like a little kid snapping away and jumping from hill to hill and when I came across a new bridge or water crossing the excitement increased. Before I knew it I arrived at the first and largest campsite along the Heartbreak Trail, Drafty's Camp. This is where I spotted the only other humans on the trail with some grey nomads enjoying the peace and quiet in front of their camper. I didn't explore the campsite as I was down by the river admiring yet more boardwalks and lookouts.
Again it was an amazing experience to just sit on the boardwalk and take it all in. With the calm waters, the forest that lines the south side of the river reflects brilliantly on the surface and makes for some great photos. I wasn't in any rush so spent a lot of time here snapping away, enjoying a snack and counting myself lucky to live in Western Australia. There was plenty of riverbank still to explore so I moved and headed back onto the trail. Switching between idyllic river scenes, creepy she-oak forest and moss covered logs; this section is a continuation on what makes this hike so special. Every now and then you come across a smattering of green bushes that have very scratchy leaves and when they rub together it gives the hike a very creepy soundtrack. Not expecting a creepy witch or river monster to suddenly appear I kept shooting and soon enough I came to the Warren Campsite and unfortunately the end of the river walking.
To ease the pain there are more boardwalks and lookouts but the winter rains had rendered one of them useless unless you love a good foot soak. The chairs were still above water but one of the boardwalks was well and truly in the river. I'm sure if you wanted a cold foot soak this would be a pleasurable experience but I didn't have a towel with me so took some photos and went and relaxed on one of the staircases leading into the river next to some cool submerged trees. Knowing this was the last bit of river walking I stayed a little longer than the other stops before taking one last mental note and heading into the camp to find the trail. Being a Thursday in early spring, there was no one around so I had a look around the fee station, took some brochures for the area (I will be returning again this year hopefully) and then headed back into the forest towards the final highlight of the trail.
After a long section of flat walking, the trail climbs up into the forest and the she-oaks take up a lot of the real estate. In stark contrast to the almost white Karri trees, the she-oaks are a little gloomier but all is not lost with the occasional Karri livening things up. After about a kilometre you arrive at the Heartbreak Trail again and cross the dirt road to the final highlight, the Warren Lookout. The previous climb doesn't feel like a big one but the lookout shows you how far above the river you now are with spectacular views eastward over the valley. It truly is a magnificent sight with a high up view of the valley and it is no wonder they put this scene on the cover of the national park brochure. One of the more interesting features (to me at least) is the information board titled "Why is the Warren River Salty".
I wouldn't have thought that it would flow back from the ocean so was intrigued as to why it would be salty. The answer is unsurprisingly to do with the deforestation well up river near Kojonup. Apparently measures have been taken to reduce the salinity in the river but the information on the board is about a decade old so not sure if they have reached the targets they have set themselves. After getting my fill of photos and beautiful views it was time to move on and tackle the last section back to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. This last little bit is a gentle stroll on wide tracks and is a mini-goodbye to the Karri forest with some great examples of the towering giants. With no inclination to climb the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree due to my severe dislike of heights and having a two hour drive back to Bunbury, I hopped in the car and set off with the memories of one of the best trails in the state freshly in my mind.
Final Thoughts - With a day to spend in the South West I don't think I could have picked a better location for a day of hiking. The Gloucester Route is a great introduction to the wonderful Karri forest but the Warren River Loop Trail takes the cake as best trail of the day and truly deserves its Top Trail status as one of the best in Western Australia.
The combination of gentle paths through the Karri forest, magnificent river paths, excellent boardwalks and viewing platforms and damp moss covered logs makes this a very special place to experience. The fact that it was empty apart from one couple is a real shame as this has to be one of the must see attractions in the South West.
While I understand not every is fit enough to tackle an 11km loop or has the time to do it, they are missing out on the crown jewel of the Warren National Park. For those that do lace up and venture out on the trail, this will be a hike you won't forget any time soon.
If you are planning a trip anywhere near Pemberton then make sure you include some time to visit the Warren River Loop Trail. I can't state enough how wonderful it is.
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