Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The wild and crazy west - bushwalking on the Bibbubulum Track from Bow Bridge to Denmark

The forest smells of sun-warmed rain. The trees by the track drip with water. It wets my boots and I feel damp leaves against my bare arms.  The path winds between twisted, low gum trees. But, this kind of track walking makes me look inwards more than outwards. A dozen ideas, conversations, random stories and thoughts jostle loudly in my head. 

It feels both cleansing and annoying to let the internal noise run its wild path as we leave the road behind us and begin climbing towards Nut Lookout. The white sand track becomes mesmerising. I watch my feet and am still only half aware of my surroundings so that Caz has to stop me and bring me to the moment. Look at the view, he says. It ranges across verdant farm paddocks to the coast that stretches eastwards. I search, uselessly, for the exact route of the Bibbubulum Track, and where it will takes us over the next 7 days as we wend our way from our starting point (Conspicuous Beach) all the way to the town of Denmark, about 82km east. 

There are track notes for this walk in plenty of obvious places - the reliable and endlessly admirable authors John and Monica Chapman cover this section in their Bushwalking in Australia book. And you can get detailed notes through the Bibbubulum Track website as well as a plethora of other information online and in print.

What you will get here, at awildland, is a combination of the noise in my head and Caz's beautiful images. You'll get the cleansing process that comes with long walks.

My tumultuous thoughts are largely a result of the crazy ride to get here. We left our car at the caravan park in Denmark and walked to the bus station to catch the early morning, daily service that goes to Perth. At the bus stop, a pretty blonde woman in a stylish grey Kathmandu coat and black knee high boots greets us. After the briefest of introductions, and without drawing breath or pausing for punctuation, she delivers this monologue:

"Hi, my name's --. I'm one of the mad sisters. You might know us, no. I live at -- Mews. The mews, the mews, the meeeews. Freemantle. I'm here visiting my sister. I drove my gorgeous new VW beetle to leave at her place. It's red. There's been three car bombings in a month in the carpark beneath the flats. I filmed the first one. It was all flames and explosions but I deleted it because all you could hear was me going Oh my god, oh my god. What with the wife revenge attacks and then there’s the guy next door who can’t get a girlfriend and has sex with a hole in his cupboard door, just through my wall. At least it’s a cupboard, I suppose, and he’s not out raping someone. Now I am so excited just to be going back to Perth and away from my crazy family."

Once on the bus and heading for our drop-off, the 'conversation' barely lets up and I am so relieved when the bus driver calls out as he executes an equally crazy pullover on a bend on the narrow highway. He has graciously agreed to drop us close to the track-head rather than us having to walk 6km from Bow Bridge. We tumble into the gutter beside the road and race to grab our packs from beneath the bus before he roars off down the road. Then immediately comes the first heavy shower of rain; wet weather gear on. Then the warm sun; wet weather gear off.

Hence the tumultuous dialogue in my head as we reach Nut Lookout. After taking in the magnificent view I try to focus instead on the world I now inhabit - nature.  It is up & down, up & down - along the top of sand dunes and down into gullies and swales. The forest is draped in flowering native wisteria and filled with marvellous striped snails. At Conspicuous Beach we skip the whale watching lookout and take the boardwalk to the beach. It is wild, lovely coast. The track heads up onto the top of the cliffs. The climb is steep but short. It is windy. We take a slight detour off the track to stand on the lip of the cliff. Squalls of rain are beating their way across the sea.

Rame Head Hut is awesome - humble but luxurious accommodation - with three walls, a large sleeping bench and a table. A stunning location. But, we are not alone. Mark, from Perth, is doing the Bib Track in sections; this is his second last one. He says it is the most scenic so far, having come from Walpole, through the Tingle Forest, and then to the coast. Turns out I feel like the crazy lady; talking all afternoon, too much, in the forced confines of the hut as the sky drops as many rainbows as it does showers of rain and wild wind smacks into the walls with each passing downpour. 

On day two we wake to drifting showers and soft light on the horizon. Full wet weather gear again. From the Hut we reach a point where we can see back to the spectacular Rames Head and below us is a road leading to the beach with footprints down on the coast. According to our Chapman track notes we should be heading along that wonderful littoral but at the bottom of the hill the track disappoints. We are diverted away from the coast for a long, flat walk through thick inland heath. It does, however, introduce us to more of Western Australia's amazing variety of flowering plants - red and purple grevilleas, hakea and more. But what a disappointment to be so far from that beautiful, wild shoreline. We begrudgingly, but diligently, follow the Bib Track signage until eventually it takes us back to the coast and we are reunited with the powerful, surging green surf and wild wind.

Today's walk passes smooth slabs of granite sliding into the sea. There is a stretch of limestone pinnacles worn ragged by the pounding waves. Sitting eating lunch on the lee side of the coast, it takes a moment to recognise the unfamiliar but not unknown. At first I think I am looking at big lumps of bull kelp lolling in the swell off the rocks. They are seals, their flippers lazily waving in the air.

At Peaceful Bay we share hot chips with Mark and in the pouring rain, make an impulsive decision to share costs and hire a cottage for the night. It is a good chance to dry everything out...so everything can get wet again the very next morning.

First light is 6:30am and it is a nice time to be walking. It is a big kilometre day today. Something common on the Bib Track. Today we have more than 20km to cover. There is a canoe crossing. There is sand walking, soft sand, up and down dunes. It is hard. The wind is howling when we reach Irwin Inlet. Caz has a difficult paddle across to the other side to collect the second canoe. Mark and I luck it, offered a lift in a tinny from Allen, a fisherman who catches yellowfin whiting for restaurants in Perth. On top of the dunes, over the other side, are great views across the inlet. A white breasted sea eagle cruises overhead. Twenty pelicans are waiting for Allen at the boat ramp.

More up dune and down swale. Mark walks ahead and we don't see him again until the end of the day. Lots of kangaroos. Rain jackets on, then rain jackets off. Then on again. Off again.

Heading around to Little Quarram Beach is the most rugged coastal scenery I have ever earned the privilege to view. We sit having lunch on the slabs on granite, looking along the sand-scoured cliffs with rolling green heath pushing to the edges.

By the 14km mark my feet feel like planks of wood and my socks like sandpaper. The muscles in the arches of my feet, tight as guitar strings. But, we get into the hut at 2pm. After I have my afternoon cup of tea, I stand up and it feels like standing on two big bruises. Still, I manage to muster the energy to join Caz exploring the ridiculously beautiful Boat Harbour and its magnificent granite slabs. The wind is howling; the sea is smashing. The boulders are huge. It is spectacular.

There are mozzies tonight so we pitch the tent inner on the sleeping platform. In the morning, another 18km day lies ahead. The track stays a bit too far off the cliff edges. It is very windy, again. Up & down, again, which means good views - north to farmland and forest and south to the wild, wild sea. There is one super-soft sandy ascent and I practically crawl up on my hands and knees. The track has been re-routed and does not climb Hillier Trig. We find the old path anyway and climb up for the stunning views. My comment is: "They've taken us up every other f******g sand dune we may as well go up that one."

It is a cooler morning but dry at least. Until we reach Parry Beach. Dense, dark clouds are chasing us from the west. We sit out a shower of rain in a picnic shelter. It is tempting to stop the day here and relax. In hindsight, I would. Even so, we linger but eventually set off again down a narrow tunnel through lush bushland to emerge onto long, long Mazzoletti Beach. Mark's footprints are clear and we follow those to Parry Inlet where he has drawn us some arrows and a suggestion that we take our shoes off for the crossing. We go further, and take everything off from the waist down. The day is warm enough now, and the beach deserted.

Then is the long, slow walk another 5.5km along the beach to its eastern end. I am happy for the pace, we pause and sit on the sand and admire the complete The sky behind is wicked. An off-shore squall spears another rainbow into the sea. We clamber off the beach, cross a bitumen road, and begin climbing up to tonight's hut, tucked amongst the forest and near some sculptural granite boulders that prove good lookouts and sunset viewing. It's the first night we see stars.

Another 20+ kilometres ahead today. But, we get to climb a mountain. First though, more spectacular coast - this time protected from prevailing winds and swell. At Lights Beach, granite boulders laze about in a bay of turquoise water, white sand, seagulls resting, and stinking mounds of rotting weed that we squelch across to reach the stairs that takes us off, finally, away from the coast and into the hills.

After enjoying the days of wonderful, vibrant, animated coastline now I am happy to head inland and try something different. The track winds through heathlands, flowers, then increasingly tall forest. We end up, eventually, in semi-suburban streets trying to find the trail to the top of Mt Hallowell. Okay, it's a hill. It is just 295m above sea level. It's a nice walk and we take our packs for the short side trip to the summit. I enjoy the bushland, heading down across granite slabs and amongst larger trees for the first time.

There is a sense of hard yards for the last kilometres, meandering along the Harding River and staring into people's backyards, resting on their makeshift wooden waterfront seats. It is transitional, this final section, weaving back into bushland and off busy bitumen roads and while it would have disappointed or frustrated me a week ago, now I take it in my stride. A path must go one way or another.  My feet are throbbing but that will stop too at the end of the day. We have lost Mark, not even seen him for a farewell. But, that doesn't matter either. I haven't much to say anymore. My head is empty of thoughts, worries, crazy conversations and that incessant buzz. I feel quite relaxed, tired, footsore, empty and yet full. The winds have blown their freshness into me and the storms their energy, while cares dropped off like autumn leaves, as John Muir once so elegantly put it. Down the final stretch of forest path I look as much outwards as inwards and both are as natural and quiet as each other.

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  1. Stunning pictures and beautiful words, love the John Muir quote. Your website is wonderful

    1. Thanks for the kind words Yvonne and for dropping by our little blog page.