Walking from Northcliffe to Pemberton took a lot less time compared to the long section between Walpole and Northcliffe. The journey to Pemberton is 59km, with two shelters in between, making this a manageable walk that shouldn’t take more than three days.
After departing from Northcliffe with some hot food and a milkshake in tow from the Hollowbutt Cafe, I followed the waugal track markers, through the forest next to the town. The path emerged along a long, straight road under tall karri trees, with farmland on either side. Eventually, the way led into the trees again, some of it blackened from recent burns.
After 14km of walking, I arrived at Schafer shelter, named after Geoff Schafer, the man who proposed the idea of the Bibbulmun Track. The shelter faced a little watering hole that might have been nice for a dip in warmer weather.
A short time later, a couple walked in from the north side of the track. They were Ian and Cathy, a couple of New Zealanders on a southbound end to end. They were the first backpackers with some impressive ultralight gear: a HMG Windrider and ZPacks Arc Blast! Their packs displayed patches of legendary thru hiking trails such as the PCT, signalling their pedigree and experience. We chatted easily about hiking and gear, and they did not recoil at my cold soaking, having done so on other trails — but not while they were on the Bibbulmun in djeran, when chilly evenings and mornings do make warm food a comfort. They also told me the track ahead of me would go up and down a lot.
Some rain was forecasted for the night into the next morning, and I had told myself to leave after most of the precipitation had fallen. Rain droplets pelted the shelter roof and I slept fairly soundly in the early hours of dawn, even as I heard some morning shuffling from my fellow campers. When I got up, all traces of Ian and Cathy were gone. They had left for an early start.
The 20km walk through the forest to Warren campsite is undulating, with smatterings of light rain that kept my wind jacket on. The track joins the Munda Biddi on this segment over the dual-use River Road Bridge.
At Warren shelter, while preparing my dinner, I accidentally caused my packet of instant noodles to explode, scattering a lot of dry pieces. Little birds started to hop in slowly to feed; even a Western rosella joined in!
The next morning, I woke up before the break of dawn so that I wouldn’t get to Pemberton too late, especially because there were two side trips along the route: the Cascades and the Gloucester Tree nearer to the town.
The track takes me along some farmland that reminds me of the famous Windows XP wallpaper, ‘Bliss’.
I wonder which revolution this road was named after.
When I arrived at the Cascades, I found it underwhelming, but being one of the drier seasons of the year, I shouldn’t have expected anything impressive. I’m sure it’s a sight to behold after a day of heavy rain.
After some steep uphill walking, I reached the Gloucester Tree, just 4km before Pemberton. I have a distinct memory of visiting this tree as a child with my family (and Pemberton!) when we roadtripped from Perth.
Back then, I was a short boy who felt as if I might’ve have easily slipped between the metal rungs stuck into the tree. My dad had forbidden us from climbing it then. But now as a grown man revisiting the Tree, climbing it felt like the right thing to do. I left my backpack on a nearby bench (trusting no one to rifle through my belongings) and started climbing.
When I clambered into the old firewatch post at the top, I felt accomplished, even though the view ended up being nothing to shout about.
I climbed down, shouldered my backpack, and resumed my walk into the town of Pemberton. I arrived just before 1pm, looking forward to a quick check-in before heading out for lunch. On the way to the Pemberton YHA, I spied some fries left behind by a customer outside a cafe; I steal them into my mouth, ravenously.
I find the Pemberton YHA, and wait patiently at the unmanned reception. After some waiting, I decided to save time by getting my resupplies at the nearby IGA supermarket. Over there, bought myself a cheesecake as a treat.
I was finally attended to after three hours — a long wait! Although their excuse was that they had my date of arrival mixed up, I was still disappointed with the lack of staff at reception during their purported office hours; a lady had come in without a prior booking wanting to check in, and couldn’t.
When I was given access to my sleeping quarters a lengthy walk across the road, it was basically a large and comfortable house that was practically empty. So other than the poor service, it was a good place to get some rest.
After finishing my personal chores, I wanted to pop out to see if I could find some affordable grub. The brochure listing cafes and restaurants in Pemberton was sorely outdated, and I needed to go out myself and see where I could eat for cheap. There was a nice-looking cafe which unfortunately only accepted cash (which I didn’t have much of) so I passed on it. A newly opened fish and chippery called Brockman Fish and Chips with only one review on Google Maps turned out to one of the only places that was affordable — and looked tasty too — so I got a takeaway.
To my misfortune, there was a light but steady drizzle on the way back to the hostel. I walked as fast as I could, hoping the DWR on my down jacket would prevent it from wetting out, looking forward to my hearty deep-fried meal.