Wungong Gorge Adventures
Start - Cnr South West Hwy & Rails Cres
Length - 16.6km (Loop)
Grade - Black
Terrain - Rocky Paths, Overgrown Trails
Vertical Climb - 657m
Time - 5-7 Hours
Signed - No, see WalkGPS site
Date Hiked - 14th August 2016
Best Time - Autumn through Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - From Armadale head south on South Western Hwy until you see the Armadale Reptile Park on the right. Rails Crescent is opposite the Reptile Park and the car park is on the corner of South Western Hwy.
The Hike - One of the many things I like to do when researching new trails is to have a play around on Google Maps and take a look at national or regional parks that look interesting and then see if they have any hiking trails in the area. One region that caught my eye was the large patch of green located just out of Armadale that is simply labelled "Bungendore Park". When googling "Bungendore Park" or "Wungong Gorge Hiking", the list of results is very short and all reference back to the WalkGPS website for a 17km hike that involves some off-track expeditions.
If you have ever googled something like "hiking in perth" then you will be familiar with the WalkGPS site and the basic format of his hikes. Generally they involve following GPS waypoints on a combination of existing trails/tracks and off-track bush bashing. For the purpose of this website I tend to stick to the marked trails so only ever looked at them with a curious glance. With the case of Wungong Gorge though, I had no other choice but to use his maps/GPS points as a reference for a hike. Armed with a screenshot of his map, a txt file containing his trail notes and my own GPS tracking app (Runkeeper), I headed out with Life of Py Regional Assistant Trail Officer (aka Aron) to the starting point to see what was what. Wungong Gorge is an interesting place with the now damned Wungong Creek carving a pretty steep chasm (for Perth) into the granite over a very long time. The two sides of the gorge rise 200m above the path that snakes next to Wungong Creek and views from the top of the hills and bottom of the gorge are equally as impressive. Looking at my Runkeeper map after I had finished, there seems to be several named mountain bike trails scattered across the area but I can't find any reference to them online so the area looks to be a severely untapped recreational resource. The start point is very easy to find and the muddy car park already had a few cars in it so it was safe to assume that the on trail sections were fairly popular with locals. Today would also double as a field test for my new Life of Py Tri-Blend hiking shirt from Redbubble so I was keen to see how it performed under sunny conditions. With a trail located we set off in the general direction of the map and kept an eye on Runkeeper to see when we should be making a turn into the bush.
The first section is fairly open and littered with conflicting trails so it was guess work as we climbed up the first of three pretty substantial hills. With some nice views looking back towards the west, the climb was a challenging introduction to the area. We left the winding MTB trails once we hit some grass trees referenced in the WalkGPS notes and started our first off-track section. The going was tough as we tried to reconcile where we were to what the map looked like and to what the notes said. After seeing some very pretty terrain (wildflower season is always a treat no matter where you are) and getting up close and personal with some thick bush, we popped out on a 4x4 track. I'm pretty sure we hadn't taken the right path but seeing as how the WalkGPS hike was documented in 2003 (I think), I wasn't expecting to see exact routes through the off track sections. We studied the maps at great length (not a great sign after a couple of kms) and surmised we must head to the very top of the hill and get our bearing there. This turned out to be the right way anyway and at the top of a 4x4 track we came across some spectacular views to the north-east on a small granite outcrop. This marked the start of another off track adventure and to rectify the navigation issues I switched my Runkeeper map to the satellite view and things became much easier. With the morning sun streaming through the forest this off track excursion was a delight (mainly because it was a straight line in reasonably open forest) and we soon came across the next 4x4 track.
From here it looked like the navigation would get a lot easier and we started finding the waypoints with more ease (still not perfect but part of the fun). The next significant point was on top of a granite outcrop overlooking the gorge. The trail notes mention the remnants of a camp but we couldn't be sure what we saw was a camp so just enjoyed the beauty of the views and the granite expanses. Being careful not to step on the fragile mosses, we moved down the hill a little to what looked like a less intrusive path through the bush and then headed back west towards the next 4x4 track. The rocky sections get a little steep and precarious so if you find the same path as we did then take care not to roll an ankle. After some Marco Polo exercises to find each other we joined the 4x4 track and headed down towards the main trail running through the gorge. This 4x4 track is fairly steep and rocky and even though it hadn't rained for a couple of days, there was a trickle of a stream following us down. Eventually we reached the bottom of the gorge and headed off east again on what is a very enjoyable section. The first point of interest on the wide trail is a giant pile of granite. The trail notes make reference to this being the remnants of the granite quarry used to build the Garden Island Causeway. This seemed like a good spot to break for coffee and a snack so I had a play around on the rock pile while Aron enjoyed some coffee from his new thermos.
After the break we continued on our merry way, looking forward to some on-trail comforts like knowing where you are going and not having to check the phone every minute. The bridge over Wungong Creek appears after a short stroll and is a very pretty scene in winter with the cobbled rock contrasted against the green undergrowth. The beauty continues when you arrive at a short detour down to a gauging station and a very impressive rock formation. We spent a bit of time here taking it all in and being creative with the photos (Aron especially). When we had finished exploring snapping and exploring we headed off again and enjoyed the walk through the bottom of the valley. The trail slowly rises and up towards the point where we make a turn north to start the second major climb of the day. The 4x4 track heading north doesn't look too bad from the bottom but after a while you start to feel it. A quick look behind us confirms that we are no longer in the valley but with more climbing ahead it was no time to feel a sense of accomplishment. While most climbs involve hiking up to a "drier" landscape, this one provided the opposite as you all of a sudden come across a canopy of trees and a thicket of ferns usually found in the wetter valleys.
The cool relief this section provided was welcome after the steep ascent and we decided to have a break not far along the trail at the location of the old house that used to be here. Only a section of the foundations are left and some non-native plants in what I assume was the garden so we sat on some rocks and sampled a variety of energy bars whilst enjoying the sweeping views (I understand why you would pick here for a home site). With full bellies and the packs a bit lighter we checked the maps once again and continued on what was already a fantastic day's hike. Passing into the southern edges of Bungendore Park, the landscape became very dry but the abundance of wildflowers was more prevalent here than anywhere else on the trail so far. This point marks where we didn't quite follow the WalkGPS route but after some on-trail walking followed by an excursion through the gravel pit he mentions we decided to stay on a 4x4 track that headed in the general direction we needed to go. This turned out to be a great decision as we headed downhill towards what we dubbed "The Shire". I always reference The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings when writing about hikes and most of the time it's a bit of a stretch but in this case you really could imagine a few hobbit holes in the green rolling fields.
The only difference being that The Shire doesn't have grass trees the size of teenage elephants (or Oliphants if you will). We spotted a rather large (and presumably old) grouping and I made Aron climb up the hill to get a perspective shot. This next section leading all the way back to the crossroads where we began the previous climb was in a word, idyllic. The rolling green hills coupled with wildflowers on the side of the track and the white fluffy clouds made for picture perfect scenes. The old Windows desktop theme comparison was brought out at one stage and we had great fun just soaking it all in. The only sign of civilisation appears in the form of some small power lines and a disused concrete water tank. I'm not sure if there are houses in the area but we didn't see any evidence of the trail being used extensively by cars so perhaps the 4x4 track is just a relic of when this area was used for farming purposes. At the bottom of the hill the trail heads west again and the fantastic postcard scenes continue.
Wungong Brook comes into sight again to provide yet another brilliant photo location and the memory card starts to fill up at an alarming rate. Slowly we make our way back to the crossroads and took the southern track down and over Wungong Brook. With the winter rains it required some careful rock hopping but we managed and the other side of the brook provided more photo opps. We followed the track up the hill until we came to a point where it made a sharp turn to the south. This is where WalkGPS makes an off-track detour and after our previous efforts trying to find a way through the bush we decided that we would go our own way and follow another 4x4 track I could see on the satellite. The track we wanted ran parallel to the one we were on but required hiking up a very steep section of hill where there was no path. It wasn't easy but we managed and in no time at all we were on the right track and had some nice views of where we had just come from. Both maps showed that this track went north for a little bit then did a complete 180 and then headed west for a longer section. Not worrying about trying to bush bash our way through what looked liked some very thick scrub, we tackled the third and final climb of the day in the midday heat.
The trail notes say the views on this section are limited compared to his route but they weren't too limited from my angle and we were treated to some fantastic vistas down both ends of the valley. When the trail levelled off the Perth Coastal Plain was in sight and provided yet another photo opp. This post would have been so much less time consuming if every turn didn't reveal such a beautiful scene. The map suggested that instead of taking one of the perpendicular paths leading south that we would be able to take this track all the way as it turned south west. We rounded a corner and low and behold, another great vista, this time complete with sparse granite outcrop overlooking the coastal plain. A little bit of posing later and we set off down the south west track until it just kind of ran out. A fairly wide 4x4 track that looked great on the map just ended and we were left with a decision to make, continue on and hope it appears later on or turn back and find one of the previous perpendicular tracks.
In the spirit of adventure we soldiered on into the thick bush and soon found that the 4x4 track did not appear again. The WalkGPS map shows a fairly straightforward route that we were on and we both commented on how there really wasn't another option to take apart from the one we took. We continued on at a very slow pace, trying to pick out any kind of way that looked like someone or something had come this way before. What we stumbled upon was so much better than any 4x4 track could have provided. Figuring the rocky sections provided some relief from the thick, scratchy bush, we followed that where we could and ended up traversing a rocky gully down the hill. Exposed granite sections with a flowing stream littered every way we took and despite the tough descent, the scenery was amazing. I heard the sound of a frog coming from a nearby chasm and tried to replicate the sound to triangulate its position. Not two seconds after Aron commenting that it isn't how it works, I received a reply and kept at it until I found a rough location as to where it could be. Unfortunately there were too many hiding places he could be and I gave up. We took a seat on the granite nearby and had a small break. This unfortunately is where a small incident occurred that blighted what had been an amazing day. A simple error of forgetting to zip my pocket back up led to my phone falling out and crashing into the granite.
It wasn't a big fall as I was sitting down but enough to crack the screen and render my phone useless. With the touch screen not responding I had no way of checking notes or the map to see where we were. Luckily we could see the 4x4 on the other side of the valley we needed to get to and Aron was still tracking us via Strava. Not letting this small incident ruin the hike we pushed on and found the track we had been looking for. Having spent the previous hour scrambling down that hill we were happy that the way back was simple and we could enjoy the rest of the hike without scratching our arms to pieces. It wasn't all smooth sailing with the next section being a bit hilly and full of rocks (I got put on my ass after a small slide). We crossed Wungong Brook for the last time, this crossing proving trickier than the last. Aron held my camera as I crossed and then seemed concerned when I asked him to throw it back to me over the brook. My comforting words of "safest hands in the club" didn't fill him with confidence but the catch was easily made and I videoed his crossing (will post later when I figure out how to convert the file to YouTube acceptable format). The hike back to the car was along the popular walking track leading up and down Wungong Gorge and a short detour north to find the trail we used at the start. Another day, another fantastic hike in the books.