Bibbulmun Track South (Denmark to Albany)

Denmark to Nullaki Campsite (16 km)

The Bibbulmun Track has one major barrier at Denmark - a large body of water called Wilson Inlet. If the entrance of the inlet is blocked by a sandbar it can be easily crossed, if it is open the recommended route is to hire a dinghy to cross from Denmark to the southern shore of the inlet. The entrance was opened a month ago to help flush the lake and stop problems of eutrophication - one of these problems was a build up of algae near the shore, which effectively stopped boats from mooring at the pier on the southern side, seemingly knocking out both options in one hit.

Most walkers were getting a taxi to drop them off near the south shore start, which cut out 6km of track. Rather than do this, we thought we would check the entrance option on our rest day and went down to see how deep it really was and what the tides were like. The actual entrance looked a bit dodgy, with a narrow but deep channel and breaking waves, but a few hundred metres further inland the channel was broader and seemed shallower. There was only one way to find out; off with the jeans and wade out ........

This explains why we have started this day of our trek with no trousers on and our shoes hung around our necks, as we follow the shallower sand banks of the channel in a loop for about 100 metres. It was mid-tide, but still we only reached thigh-deep water in a couple of places before emerging ready to continue our Bibbulmun adventure a little further west than we had ended on the last day - two steps forward, one step back.


Wading the broad channel of Wilson Inlet

Our food stashes waiting to go - we hid them
along this section before setting out

Sand dunes near the entrance to Wilson Inlet

Ruins of an old jetty on Wislon Inlet

The rare white sub-species of waugul, locally
common on the southern shore of Wilson Inlet

Boots and shorts back in place, we headed eastward along the sandy dunes on the southern side of the entrance, quickly entering an area of reedy shoreline, where we picked up a slightly overgrown 4WD track. Out on the lake, the silhouettes of black swans and a couple of pelicans drifted slowly by.

Gnarly old melaleucas with their white papery bark began to appear in amongst the reeds until the track turned slightly inland, passing through dense and intensely green littoral woodlands. Eventually it sidled back toward the inlet shore, with its more open scrubby vegetation.

Paperbarks on the edge of the inlet

We had a number of strange faunal encounters while strolling along the inlet. At one stage, a peacock appeared out of the bush, took one look at us and scurried off down the track - feral peacocks? that is a first for us. A little later, we were brought to a sudden halt by a curious snaky knot on the path. On sensing our presence, the knot untangled with one snake heading rapidly in one direction and a second in a different direction. Had we disturbed a couple of tiger snakes in flagrant delit? - that would be another first. Our third encounter was not so amusing - for the first time on our walk, the March flies were out and biting well.


Tannin-stained waters of Wilson Inlet

Big go on the track

Gnarly old paperbarks dot the inlet shore

We also saw our first goanna in nine days on the track (very different to the Cape to Cape where we saw almost that many in a day). All the wildlife here seems particularly wary and skittish - even the cormorants, herons and ibis are taking off at the slightest hint of our approach - is there something about Wilson's Inlet that we should know?

Stopping for a bite at the new Pier, we found ourselves back on the formal Bibbulmun Track, which led us past a bird hide at Pelican Point (it worked - we went in and all the birds hid). The strong easterly wind was whipping up white caps out in the centre of the inlet as we continued down a long reedy section lined with twisted papery-barked old melaleucas, looking for all the world like giant bonsais - what great trees they are!

Finally, we passed by Eden homestead and followed the track between inlet and road for a couple of kilometres, picking up our food stash where the track crossed the road. Sadly, it then followed the same road for over a kilometre on the other side. Still, this gave us a chance to watch a procession of vintage motor bikes - out on a ride from their get-together in nearby Albany. The deep-throated burgle of these old machines was certainly nostalgic, much nicer than the high-pitched whine (like a mosquito on steroids) of the modern motorbike.

Oh Bibbulmun Track where art thou?
Beneath the developers dozer and plough!

The track finally turned inland - we were initially impressed by the new 15m wide tar sealed section of track. Unfortunately, this was not for us but was a new road leading into the Nullaki Wilderness Estate, which aims to turn this entire peninsula into a series of 40 acre lots with large houses on them. The tarred road eventually degenerated into a 15m wide bull-dozed scar, disfiguring the bush and dismembering the Bibbulmun Track.

The bull-dozers were hard at work burying more signage, when we finally found a still-upright waugul pointing off to the left. We gladly followed it, out of the private domain of the land developers and back into pristine peppermint and yate woodlands.

At last - back in the pristine bush

A short sharp ascent and descent of an old dune to cross a swampy area by boardwalk, followed by a steady climb up into the dunes, brought us to the secluded site of Nullaki Camp with its shelter set amongst the white-flowering peppermints.

View from the campsite toward the Stirling Ranges 80 km to the north

I have to confess that having to pass through this "development" has left us feeling a little depressed - the first time a day has ended so. I think that eventually a little realignment of track may be needed. Still, tomorrow we will be heading deeper into the West Cape Howe National Park - hopefully that will cheer us up again. The soft wail of the black cockatoos settling into their evening roosts nearby and the soft hush of the wind in the peppermints as we fell asleep had already started to do that.


Nullaki to West Cape Howe Campsite (17 km)

We awoke to a leaden sky that seemed to sap the colour from the bush and the energy from the bushwalkers. It was time to head on and try and shake this lethargy. Dropping down from the campsite we crossed an interdune area dotted with superb old banksia trees, before climbing back up into the peppermints and making a slow and steady ascent of the high dunes that have built up behind the cliff line.

Looking over Wilson Inlet and its hinterland


Gnarly old banksias

Soon we could look back inland and see Wilson Inlet in the distance and the much closer and much smaller Lake Saide off to its right. Several white plumes of smoke were beginning to drift up from behind Denmark, where more control burning was underway.



Track through the sandy heath

Here, however, we were in mature coastal heath that had not seen a wildfire for many years; the different layers and textures of green distinguishing it from the uniform height, uniform age stands that spring up post fire. As we gradually climbed, we noticed a number of strategically placed and cunningly designed seats, where we could stop and sit to admire views while a second bar took the weight of the pack from your back (congratulations to the volunteers who installed these - they are appreciated!). From these viewpoints, we could look out over the peppermint and heath towards the distant Stirling Ranges, a hazy silhouette on the northern horizon.

One of the ergonomic bushwalkers' seats

New growth on the coastal banksias

Every so often views opened up toward the coast - westward back to Cape Hillier and eastward toward Knapp Head. Despite the heavily overcast start to the day, the expected weather pattern was slowly repeating itself - the cloud was starting to disperse, though it took a fierce south-easterly wind to move it on.

We meandered on through these dunes on paths lined with yellow daisies and tiny white and pink trigger plants, sometimes sheltered in warm hollows, sometimes blasted by the cold wind on exposed ridges.

Looking down at Knapp Head

The vibrant colours of the coastal heath

Black cockatoos - icons of the south-west

Curiously, it seemed the further east we headed, the more diverse became the wildflowers. Descending into a wide and partly sheltered valley just to the west of Knapp Point, they seemed particularly brilliant; a new banksia with reddish-green candles and orange new growth, blue star-lilies and blue trigger plants lining the path.

As we descended, a well-recognised wail floated over from the hillside and a flock of twenty plus black cockatoos flew just above our heads in their curiously erratic flight. It was great to watch these iconic bird, more often heard than seen, at such close range. For us, they will always be associated with Bibbulmun Track, as they have always been part of our daily stages, both in forest and in heath.

Coastal cliffs extending from Lowlands Bay to West Cape Howe

For safety install a bull-bar on your car

Pimelea and scaevola lighting up the heath

We slowly descended the broad valley and, just after stopping at another backpackers' seat to admire the view of the cliff line extending towards West Cape Howe, had our second pleasant surprise - a new species of spider orchid. The lethargy of the beginning of the day had been well and truly dispersed by these encounters.

Soon we reached the gravel road near Lowlands Beach and, collecting our food stash from the bush nearby, we wandered down to the shelter above this beautiful spot to sort out its contents and spend a long lazy lunch watching the surf roll in through the turquoise waters of the small bay.

A long and steady, but not difficult climb up a wide trail slashed through the heath waited for us after lunch. It led us on for four kilometres, past views out to sea across the blue and pink topped vegetation, until we reached a hollow filled with peppermints and the West Cape Howe shelter. It was good to be out of the brunt of the wind.


The idyllic setting of Lowlands Bay


Views from above William Bay Campsite
along Bornholm Beach toward West Cape Howe

As we arrived we noticed a pair of boots with the front of their soles held on by duct tape - Tom, a kiwi end-to-ender whom we had met in Denmark was here (he had walked the last 300km of track with his boots held together like that).

Tonight would be only the second night that we had shared a campsite with another walker and it was good to have the company. The cold swirling wind that invaded the shelter, however, ensured that an early night was had by all.

West Cape Howe to Torbay Campsite (17 km)

When we emerged from our tent at 6am, both Tom and the sun were already up. The latter was a bit of a surprise as we had not seen it this early since starting the walk. However, it was but a cruel hoax - 10 minutes later the sun disappeared as grey clouds rolled in, driven by the easterly wind that had blown all night.

By the time that we left, the wind was becoming strong and gusty as we played hide and seek with it in the dunes, protected in the hollows and peppermint thickets, exposed on the ridges and low heath. The track slowly climbed up to the high point at 270m, as it meandered through the dunes trying to keep to the contours. Dropping off the high point, we reached a gap with extensive views down the impressive line of cliffs toward Lowland Beach. Ahead, West Cape Howe jutted out into the leaden sea and into the mist.


Leaden skies and leaden seas

Looking east toward West Cape Howe

Trompe d'oeil - is Nello going down or up?

West Cape Howe jutting out into the Southern Ocean

Rest stop amongst the woollybushes

A steep descent took us down a set of 180 wooden steps, through a stand of beautiful silvery woollybush, and back on a steady easterly climb again. We only now realised how much we had been protected as we found ourselves climbing up through low regenerating heath into the face of the fierce cold wind. The sky was now becoming increasingly dark and it wasn't long before it started to drizzle; the high velocity horizontal raindrops, few though they were, were not a pleasant experience .... and here we were on exposed post-burn heath with no shelter.

Looking along the steep cliffs west of
Bornholm Beach

Into the wind across the burnt heath

White-tailed black cockatoo

Despite the weather, you could not but marvel at the pink splashed tapestry that surrounded us. The pimeleas were almost past their use-by date, but still had enough colour to light up the heath and add some cheer to the bleak day.

Some luminosity on a bleak day

Pimelea patch in the post-fire regrowth

Limestone ridge above Shelley Beach

Eventually the rain passed and we arrived at a more mature and more protected area of heathland as we followed the contour across the spine of Cape Howe to emerge at a jagged limestone ridge above Shelley Beach. It was an interesting traverse of the short but narrow razor-back ridge in the fierce cross wind, but we were rewarded with great views down towards the eastern side of Cape Howe.

View over Shelley Beach and West Cape Howe from the ridge

It was good to descend from the ridge into the protection of eucalypt woodland, passing next through a melaleuca grove to a boot cleaning station at the side of the Shelley Beach Road for the obligatory brushing to prevent the spread of phytophthora spores. Crossing the road, we followed a flat track through swampy heath with its yellow puffballs of melaleuca, before climbing up and over a series of large granite slabs, with their specialised flora - white tailflowers, orange poison peas, blue and purple lilies. Stunted tailflowers grew in moss-filled gaps in the slabs, looking for all like miniature Japanese gardens.

Japanese gardens in the granite slab

Even the foliage is spectacular

Down off the granite topped hills, we wound our way through low paperbarks along the eastern side of Torbay, before crossing back into the low heath, illuminated with the yellow puffballs of melaleuca shrubs and the lemon candles of dwarf banksias.

As we passed, we were treated to several views over the pure white sand of Dingo Beach, before finally crossing Forsyth Bluff and reaching Torbay Campsite. It was a relief to find that it was protected from the cold winds.

Dingo Beach

A friendly Torbay campsite bandicoot

100m tall, the turbines of the Sandpatch Windfarm dominate the skline across Torbay

Tom was already there and not long after four more trekkers arrived on a three-day walk; it would be the biggest group at a hut to date. Just before evening, the sun broke out briefly to reveal the 65m high turbines of the Sandpatch Windfarm slowly turning on the cliffs across the bay; from today's weather, it was clear why they had been put there. Strong winds are part of the south-west environment and, in a way, we were glad that we had experienced their full force.

Torbay to Hidden Valley Campsite (17 km)

In daylight-saving deprived Western Australia, the dawn chorus of bird songs begins before 5am. However, the sound that really woke us just after five was completely different - thunder! The first storm just skirted us, enough to wet the fly of our tent, and then stopped to allow us time to move everything back into the shelter, where everyone else was still trying to sleep. Several heavy showers passed by as we ate our breakfast - as the fair Nello said "the only good thing about this morning is clean underwear".

By 8.30am the sky looked a bit clearer - time to head on. For the first time on our walk, we set out in wet weather gear.


Track through the wet bush

There is something invigorating about the scent of the wet bush, trees dripping and the branches of bushes bent over with the weight of water. We passed quickly down through gnarly old hakeas, and then coastal casuarinas, to descend a wooden staircase into Cosy Corner Campground. It was time to take the goretexes off and hit the beach.

A nice stand of coastal casuarinas

In search of blue sky - Perkins Beach

Perkins Beach is 7km long and, with the wind initially at our backs and whipping in large doses of negative ions, we set out confidently on the firm intertidal sand toward the distant patch of blue sky in the east. There is nothing like a long walk on an isolated beach in a fresh wind to reinvigorate the spirit. We stopped for a quick bite at the sandbar blocking Torbay Inlet, before continuing on to the calm waters of Port Hughes at its eastern end, protected from the wind by the bulk of Shelter Island, just offshore. Climbing the wooden steps up from the beach, we were greeted with sweeping views back over the long beach and Torbay.

A quiet little corner near Shelter Island

Looking back over Perkins Beach and Torbay

It was time to head inland again. We climbed slowly up through stunted jarrah, crossing a stile into a local rifle range (duck Nello!) and out again, then steadily climbing up past granite topped hills and into the heath yet again. The low heath was spectacular as usual - speckled with yellow melaleuca puffballs, clusters of tiny white stars, the blues of flag lilies and trigger plants, pinks of pimeleas and lemon candles of banksias. However, we had by now become very familiar with this and the awe of fresh discoveries was missing.

Crossing the stile in style

Hanging Rock


Duck Nello!!

Well at least its not another flower!!

The wind turbines beckon between a gap in
a peppermint thicket


At each ridge, views opened up; back over Torbay to West Cape Howe, inland to Torbay Inlet, Lake Powell and the surrounding farmlands, ahead toward the turbines of the Sandpatch Windfarm.

Gnarled old hakea


Views inland across the low heath toward Lake Powell

Another glimpse of Sandpatch Windfarm

At each crest the wind turbines were closer and larger and, like Don Quixote, we were being drawn towards these giants.

A short sharp shower broke this reverie and the sound of distant thunder hurried us on our way along the meandering pathway through the dunes; crossing heath of varying height and tunnelling past wind-sheared banksia or peppermint thickets. And just when the awe was fading, some new orchids appeared to bring it back!

Green thelymitra orchid

Blue sun orchid

Leopard orchid

The local camp scavenger

Eventually we reached Hidden Valley campsite in its sheltered peppermint thicket. It was time for late lunch - the sun broke through, drying the tent fly and warming the spirits.

We went for a short walk; the call of the wind turbines was too strong and we headed over to the nearest one, to look and listen as the strong winds cranked its three 35m blades around and the generators whined away sending megawatt after megawatt of clean energy back into the power grid.


Like Don Quixote we couldn't stay away from these giant windmills
with their 35m blades on 65m high towers

Returning, we discovered that the the four walkers from Torbay Campsite had arrived. The fair Nello joined them for a game of cards as I wrote up the daily log. However, such games were not to last; with evening came a horde of mosquitos that sent everyone quickly off to their sleeping bags and mesh screens. Now I know why the skink that lived in the shelter was so fat.

Hidden Valley to Albany (19.5 km)

The last day of our Bibbulmun adventure dawned under clear blue skies. We set off early after packing up our tent and gear for one last time. It was good to be away: good because tonight we would have a hot shower, a cold beer and a warm bed; good because for the first time in several days we were setting off on a still, sunny morning; good because we were no longer the main course at the Hidden Valley shelter and buffet for mosquitoes.


Simplicity, elegance, power, sustainability

Last morning to pack up on the track

The road home along the cliffs of Torndirrup

The magnificent Sandpatch Cliffs

We quickly picked up the track, realigned between cliffs and wind turbines on a nice gravel bed. What a superb first four kilometres it was; constant views along the cliff line in both directions, every now and then opening out to magnificent vistas across a placid azure sea to West Cape Howe and Torbay.

A small offshore island

The richness of the heath above the azure sea

The fierce winds of yesterday were but a gentle zephyr that barely turned the enormous blades of the wind turbines, as they free-wheeled slowly and silently while we passed. There are people who intensely dislike the idea of giant turbines "blotting" the landscape, but for us there is something appealing about them; the simplicity and elegance of design, conveying a sense of strength without domination - I guess this is what green power is all about.

Morning tea at Sandpatch

Panorama of Torbay and the Sandpatch Windfarm

We walked through the low flower-speckled heath along the cliffs, passing these giant monuments to ingenuity one by one until the last was behind us. A section of boardwalk took us past the Sandpatch lookout, where we stopped briefly to soak up the sun and the views before continuing on. The track now reverted to its traditional meandering journey through heath, with views more eastward towards Eclipse and Green Island off the Torndirrup Peninsula.

One last photo of the brilliant colours of the coastal heath with Eclipse Island in the rear

View over Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound beyond

One last stop, one last view toward the Southern Ocean, and we turned our backs to head northward away from the coast towards Albany. Entering Torndirrup National Park, we had our last foray in the heath before a wide sandy road led us straight as an arrow down towards the shores of Princess Royal Harbour.

Before we knew it we were crossing a bitumen road and re-entering civilisation. The track followed a cycle path around the low-lying swampy western shores of the harbour with the town of Albany reflected across the water. The one good thing about this part of the track was that you could walk quickly on it - the end point of the track at Albany was calling more and more loudly.

Albany reflected in the waters of Princess Royal Harbour

Pelicans resting on the harbour shore

Now that is something you give way to on
the track!

The track made a slightly circuitous entry into town. Passing an abandoned woolstore, we crossed the train tracks (wisely stopping first to to allow a 30 carriage diesel train to pass by) and climbed up to skirt the bushland of Mt Melville at the northern end of the harbour, bringing us into the old surburbia of Albany.

Some of the buildings of the original 19th century settlement

Wandering through the streets of
old Albany

The end at last!

Finally, we followed the streets south through the old historic precinct, turned east and there we were, tired and elated, at the southern terminus of the Bibbulmun Track. While we hadn't walked the full 960km, I am pretty sure that our "short" 214km section gave us a pretty good idea of the Bibbulmun experience. It has certainly been an experience that we will savour for a long time to come.

The sun finally sets on our Bibbulmun adventure