Wiilman Bilya Trail
Wellington National Park
Directions - The northern trail head is located just off Coalfields Hwy. Look for the gravel road on the right hand side about 7km past the Wellington Dam Rd turnoff. Turn right again, drive through the gates and park in front of the Wiilman Bilya Sign.
The Hike - The creation of a new hiking trail in Western Australia is rarer than spotting a numbat in the wild with by our recollections on the podcast episode about this hike, the last Parks and Wildlife built trail being Eagle View sometime in the 90s (the excellent Wadjemup Bidi on Rottnest was mostly grant/sponsorship driven). With such a long wait, Donovan and Alissa from The Long Way's Better and myself were excited to check out the new trail, located a short distance from Collie in the stunning Wellington National Park. While the trail was officially launched in January 2019, we thought we'd wait until at least winter to experience in the right hiking weather and to maybe have a chance at early season wildflowers or winter fungi. At 20km one way it was either going to be an overnighter to take advantage of the brand new campsite or we would organise a car swap and do it in one day.
With both myself and Donovan having limited time and wanting to preserve some of our weekend for other activities we decided a car swap would be best with the initial plan being that once we got to Wellington Dam Rd, Donovan and Alissa would drive my car to the Kiosk end and I would drive their car to the Coalfields Hwy end. Starting at opposite ends we would meet in the middle somewhere and swap keys so we could drive our own cars back home. When it came time to do the hike though Alissa was still battling a cold so decided that a full day of hiking in the predicted stormy weather probably wasn't the best idea (rightly so). Donovan and I then decided to walk it together with a car at each end, which actually worked out well as one thing we didn't think about was both Donovan and Alissa don't have manual licenses so wouldn't have legally been able to drive my car (we would have figured out a system though). As I mentioned the weather was predicted to be rough with afternoon storms set to dump upwards of 60-70mm but I was confident that we would miss most of that if we finished in the mid afternoon. Setting off on the two hour drive to Wellington National Park we left Donovan's car at the Kiosk car park and drove my car out to the start point. Finding the new Wiilman Bilya Trail sign where it said it would be, we were bemused when it showed the location of the actual trail start to be on the other side of the drainage channel that I'm assuming in late winter and spring is full of water.
We tried locating a path to the highway but in the end crossed the channel and made a few comments about the interesting choice not to link the car park with the start by a more obvious path. We figured they expect you to walk back along the gravel road you came in on and then hike along the highway over the channel until you reach the start. We eventually reached the other side of the channel and found the trail, which we had to backtrack on so we could begin at the intended start point. Finally reaching the official start right next to the highway we found nothing but a sign stating no motorbikes but were excited based off the short section we had just walked through. Immediately off the highway you enter a world of great Jarrah, lush ferns, green moss and plentiful fungi. Having experienced how nice the Jarrah forests of Wellington National Park can be while on the Sika Trail and Jabitj Trail, I was very excited for a long one way trail that explored the edges of the dam. With access to such a large water source and being in a fairly wet area to start with, the Jarrah forest around these areas can thrive and I believe it is the best in the state (it's a tight race between Collie and Dwellingup).
For those that listen to the podcast or follow The Long Way's Better know of the running joke that Donovan is not the biggest fan of the Jarrah forests, whereas I see it in a more favourable light. Expecting something similar, if not better, than the Sika Trail, I wasn't surprised as we walked along the vehicle track next to the dam and it was just kilometre after kilometre of stunning Jarrah. While following a vehicle track is usually something I don't like, in this case it made sense because it provided a good mix of dam views along with having the beautiful forest on your right. I've said before that vehicle tracks in Karri forest are sometimes better as you get a better sense of scale to the forest and this mature Jarrah was exactly the same. As we twisted around the track different views would open up with more of the dam showing, across to more lovely forest and the sounds of black cockatoos in the distance. Donovan was a convert at this stage and was beginning to really enjoy his Jarrah forest experience, having been wary of the "World Class" label that DBCA had put on this hike in their release documentation. About 2.5km in from the start we arrived at the purpose built for this trail, Nyingarn Campsite (meaning echidna).
Donovan and I had a laugh because as many of you may know, I've yet to see an echidna in Western Australia despite thousands of kilometres hiked over the years and with the drizzly weather I wasn't expecting to see one here (but you never know). The first thing we came across was the toilet block, which we originally thought was the shelter but as we approached it, it became clearer that this was only the beginning. Wonderfully constructed and thought out, the campsite is really high quality and both Donovan and I more than once said that we would love to stay the night here. Perhaps when they finish the proposed Collie Loop Trail that will link up this trail with the town and form a loop with the Bibbulmun Track spur. The shelter are not exactly what you'd expect from a typical Bibbulmun Track shelter and more like the group campsites. There is no sleeping platform, instead just offering up two walls and a roof to keep you a bit dry. There are four bench seats for you to enjoy and the whole thing looks out over the artificial lake created by the dam (I'm going to start calling it a lake from here on out).