Bibbulmun: Walpole to Northcliffe

The walk from Walpole to Northcliffe is 142km, and I took seven days to finish it. This was the most remote stretch of the Bibbulmun, rarely intersecting any sealed road, save for Mandalay Beach; the rare signs of civilisation you’ll encounter are the few hikers plying the route and empty 4WD tracks. This section also has many quick side trips to scenic views, and some of the best shelters on the Bibbulmun Track, in my opinion.

After the intensity of my hike from Denmark to Walpole, my ankles felt strained, and I needed a day of rest. Thankfully, there was free Wi-Fi at the Walpole YHA. I did a resupply at the nearby IGA, streamed some TV while sitting as much as I could, and also bought a delicious pizza from Flaming Hot Takeaways for dinner.

After the zero day, the pain in my ankles had not fully subsided, but I found that I could walk a lot better than two days ago. I decided to just do a short single-hut to Mt. Clare shelter. At 12pm, fully packed and ready to go, I walked at a slow and steady pace out of Walpole. The weather was sunny and bright; a great start.

I got to Mt. Clare shelter at 3:37pm, with plenty of daylight to spare. No one was at the shelter besides me; this might be my first solo night on the track.

The bottom of Mt. Clare (really a glorified hill, like many of the ‘mountains’ on the Bibbulmun) is just a short walk nearby, so I left most of my stuff and my pitched tent and went to check out the summit view. Turns out it wasn’t really much. I left about the time I saw the odd sight of a few girls lugging a column stool to the top. There is a car park nearby, so that’s where they must’ve come from.

It was dark at the shelter when another person arrived. John was interested in my ultralight gear, but was still carrying more traditional backpacking equipment. He even brought a luggage scale, and weighed my loaded pack, which was about 13kg. In return, I told him the names of a few cottage companies he could look into. He gave me a few of his extra energy bars, which I gladly accepted.

The next morning, there was a strong rain in the early morning. I waited for most of it to die down before I left, around 10am. John was planning to stay in longer and was heading into Walpole later, so I said goodbye and started walking.

I thought the gloomy weather would make the days’ walk not very fun, but I actually enjoyed it. The clouds blocked a lot of sun, so the weather was pleasantly cool. A drizzle came and went throughout the day from the overcast skies. But the landscape was still evocative. I sang loudly to myself as I walked with glee through the bush, cheerful in my remote solitude.

When I reached Long Point at 1:42pm, I found two girls huddled in a tent in the shelter. They were also doing an end to end northward, and their trail names were One Sock Wonder and PB Steam. I had known they were ahead of me for a while now, as I’ve seen their names in the log books, but I didn’t expect to have caught up with them so quickly, since they have been walking quite fast, double hutting or even just camping on the track itself. They needed a rest at this point though, and had taken a zero at Long Point shelter.

A trail led away towards the nearby sea, to the Long Point lookout. I followed it and was greeted with a magnificent view of powerful waves battering the rocks, churning the water so relentlessly that it was permanently white. I stayed here for a while, singing into the wind.

I found a tiny hole in the mesh of my tent’s door. It bummed me out a little, but with a bit of black tape, it was sealed. Wear and tear is part of using gear, anyway. The wind from the sea blew loudly through the night; I had to wear my earphones to get some sleep.

The next day, the duo left before me. I continued my walk and eventually got to Mandalay Beach, the last shoreline I’d see on the Bibbulmun Track. The dark clouds on strong winds made me hurry along. Later ascending to higher ground, I read some plaques and learned that this was the site of the shipwreck of the Mandalay, which beached in 1911.

I stopped on the wooden steps for a quick pee and also a break to admire the waves. A nearby kangaroo was browsing in the heath.

Since I was hiking in djeran (Nyoongar season corresponding to ‘autumn’), there weren’t any flowers out, except for Albany bottlebrushes. The scenery and weather of this day’s walking felt similar to the day before; I liked it.

When I got to Woolbales shelter, I found the girls resting there. There was still plenty of daylight left, so they opted to keep going, while I stayed here for the night by myself, for the very first time on the Bibbulmun, and the beginning of solo nights until Northcliffe.

I woke up the next morning, feeling cold. This day would bring me through the main attraction of the section, the Pingerup Plains. I heard it brims with wildflowers in spring, but since it’s djeran, the plains were just green. Still, the open plains were wonderful to walk through.

I met a southbounder (track name ‘Alby’) who is finishing his sectional end-to-end from Pemberton. That’s still some way more for me!

A side trip up Mt. Pingerup brought me up to a nice vantage point where I could see all the plains from on high.

Walking through the forest, I sometimes encounter signs of other hikers such as names written from laid stones.

When I get to Mt. Chance shelter, I find Mt. Chance itself at the very foot of the shelter. Basically a large rock with a steep but still walkable face, I get to the top to find a marvellous 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. I bring up my dinner and slowly eat, also taking photographs of the sun setting over the horizon.

The day after, I woke up early before dawn to see if I would catch an equally fantastic sunrise. I shivered in the morning chill, eating my bars for breakfast while waiting for day to break. Alas, the cloudy skies meant there wasn’t really much of one. I went back down the hill, and packed up to go.

The day of hiking was mostly on nondescript, unchanging sandy road. With not much scenery or greenery to excite the senses, it was the most boring day I had on the Bibbulmun.

With not much to stop for, I walked quickly to the next shelter, Dog Pool. With a stream babbling in the background, it’s one of the most praised shelters for its idyllic atmosphere. I certainly wished for a friend to enjoy the surroundings with. It was also the first shelter I saw with a fire ring. I tried to start a fire, but despite how many matchsticks I used, I couldn’t get one alight.

I woke up in the morning, shivering harder than ever before. My breath was foggy. I realised that it was definitely going to get closer and closer to freezing at night as makuru (the Nyoongar ‘winter’ season) approached. Most of the day’s walk was through the forest; a pleasant experience.

I reached Lake Maringup shelter very early, around 1pm. The next shelter was too far to keep going though, so I just stopped for the day. There were birdwatching guides and a ukelele in this particular shelter, so I wouldn’t be bored even if I had spare time after my camp chores. This location also had an outstanding view of Lake Maringup. I wished I had a kayak or a packraft with me to go for a bit of a paddle.

Later in the afternoon, I noticed the air turning hazy. The smoke must be coming from burning somewhere. There was network coverage, so I was able to check if there were any bushfires nearby I should be concerned about. Thankfully, the smoke was from some small controlled burns, and I had nothing to be worried about.

It rained in the middle of the night. Unlike previous nights, I had pitched the fly to trap a bit more heat, so I was warm enough tonight. I’ve also found myself walking up in the middle of the night and finding it hard to go back to sleep. So I embraced a biphasic sleep pattern by just putting on an audiobook until I fell asleep again.

I planned to possibly double-hut all the way to the town of Northcliffe, so I began walking early at 7:24am. About two-and-a-half hours later, I arrived at Gardner campsite. I logged myself, took a short break, then moved on.

As I followed the trail, signs of town began to emerge: fences, roads, pastures. I followed some unused train tracks, and eventually found myself in front of a signpost pointing left into town and right back on the Track. I took the left, of course. I was in Northcliffe! Compared to Albany or Denmark, it seemed like the town centre was tiny and sleepy, with not much going on.

I resupplied and rested at the general store, and called a lady who had an ad in one of the logbooks that listed her as a provider of a homestay for Bibbulmun Track hikers; she was cheaper than the motel option in town. She agreed to have me for the night, and drove over to the general store to pick me up. On the way to her home, she grumbled a bit about how she’s been doing this for years and was too old at this point to keep going, but she still provided me with a comfortable room and a hot dinner and breakfast. I was very grateful for some comforts after seven days in the wild.

On the weighing scale in her bathroom, I was 57kg; I had lost significant weight.

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