Go Bush, Skippy
Melanie Whitmarsh, WEEKENDER | Thu, 04/26/2012 1:31 PM |
Direct flights from Jakarta to Perth put Western Australia’s Bibbulmun Track in our backyard.
Amid the thickets are two wild kangaroos. Gray ears twitching. Small front paws held limply. Suddenly, the mad cackle of a kookaburra in the canopy overhead. A flash of pink as a galah flaps between branches. Ahead the orange pea gravel trail wends through eucalyptus forests for hundreds of kilometers.
This is the Bibbulmun Track, one of Australia’s longest walking trails.
The Bibbulmun Track stretches for 964 kilometers from Kalamunda, near Perth, to seaside Albany in the south. Despite its formidable length – or perhaps because of it – the Bibbulmun Track is designed to be pecked at in short hikes, encouraging people to “go bush”. In addition to campsites, the trail passes through 12 towns with bed and breakfast accommodation.
“You can really rough it, testing your stamina, or do a boutique walk and stay in some really nice places,” says Steve Rose, a former regional architect of the Bibbulmun Track, now working in Banda Aceh. “It’s all things to all people.”
The track is beautifully maintained. Frequent distinctive yellow and black triangular markers featuring a daisy-eyed Waugal guide trekkers through the wilderness. According to the local Noongar people, the Waugal is a snake-shaped spirit charged with creating and protecting rivers, lakes and wildlife.
Trekkers also have to keep an eye out for real snakes.
“Snakes are prolific,” recalls Rose. “Once I had a showdown with a tiger snake. They’re notoriously cranky and voraciously hungry when they waken from their winter hibernation. I saw one basking across the trail in the 25 degree heat of an October day. Full of venom and not at all bothered by my presence. I threw rocks to move it on, but it didn’t want to go.”
Steve says he stood at this serpentine impasse for two hours.
Flying to Perth from Jakarta, I access the Bibbulmun Track from the Perth Hills National Parks Centre, spending two days on the trail. At six in the morning, the air is cool and the wild russet kangaroos graze the grass, wary of walkers but not bounding away. A joey peeks over the lip of his mother’s snug pouch.
When ambling, kangaroos lean down on their small front paws and swing their hind legs forward in a frog leap, using their tail as a balancing and propelling limb. When moving fast, they boing upright, their tails both rudders and horsepower.
The track south of Mundaring Weir snakes through the jarrah and marri woodland of the Beelu National Park; it’s cool and quiet, with wildflowers blooming pink and blue. Our footsteps on the skittering gravel and dry leaves seem strident against the soft soundtrack of birds and breeze. Sporadic signs remind us about the risks and damage of fire, and tree survival strategies. One extraordinary tree, the grass tree or blackboy, has a dark trunk and an exploding headdress of green, needle-like leaves. We glimpse retreating mammals through the foliage.
The trail north of Mundaring through the Kalamunda National Park has granite outcrops and expansive views. Kookaburras squawk like gibbons in the trees, and the flora clicks with insects. Spiders hang in webs over the path, flashing crimson and yellow body markings. At lunch on a rock in a dried riverbed, I jot in my notebook: Perfect trekking path: awesome day. We have barely come across anyone and when we do they are like rare buoys announcing “Here is Mankind”, then they bob away and we are left alone with the great Australian wilderness.
Poised stealthily on the side of a tree is a long black lizard with a charred appearance. Overhead, cockatoos make a rosy hoo-ha in the trees.
Weir and Beer
Set on the Helena River is the Mundaring Weir, one of the greatest hydraulic engineering works in the world, built between 1898 and 1903 to deliver water to the arid eastern goldfields. During the day, the Bibbulmun Track traverses the water via the weir wall; at night the wall is locked. At dusk, the scene is tranquil, the still water reflecting the evergreen trees and darkening sky. The kangaroos are coming out. A couple with a small child strolls nearby. We descend the path away from the weir wall toward the No. 1 Pump Station. Suddenly the child leans over the railings and yells down to us: “Open the f**king dam gates.”
Without tents, we stay overnight at the rambling Mundaring Weir Hotel. The pub smells of yesterday’s beer and employee Rory tells me there are ghosts: “I’ve seen dark shapes.”
A solitary Bibbulmun Track camper sits at the bar, while we drink fine pints of Kilkenny in a garden of inquisitive parakeets. A notice on the gate forbids patrons from wearing certain outlaw motorcycle gang insignia and a brick keeps the gate from opening and the kangaroos lolloping in.
The following night, a day’s trek away in Kalamunda, we stay at Kalamunda Carriages: an entire English cottage experience inside an old converted railway car. Highly recommended.
There are 48 campsites spaced between 10 and 24 kilometers along the entire track. Facilities include timber shelters, tent sites, picnic tables, rainwater tanks and toilets. The rainwater can be a lifeline.
“My wife Helen and I had run out of water,” reminisces Rose. “We were desperate. The campsite water tank was almost empty, and the remaining water was full of wrigglers [mosquito larvae]. We needed to strain the water before boiling it. But what could we use as a filter?” They assessed their clothing, but their socks and T-shirts were dirty and sweaty. “Then we remembered Helen had a clean pair of underpants in her bag …”
Chatting over coffee in Jakarta, he concludes, “The thing about the Bibbulmun Track are those pinch-me moments: those moments when you feel alone with the wilderness and think, ‘I’ve got to remember this’.”
When to travel:
The best times are probably spring (September–November) and autumn (March–May). I visited in January, high summer, and found it hot, quiet and spectacular. However, the fire risk is higher during summertime.
How to get there:
From Perth Esplanade City Bus Port take the 296 or the 299 to Kalamunda. The Bibbulmun Track northern terminus is at the junction between Railway Road and Mundaring Weir Road. Alternatively, for the Perth Hills National Parks Centre, 40 kilometers from Perth, take the Great Eastern Highway to Mundaring, turn right into Mundaring Weir Road for 8 kilometers. At the roundabout, turn left onto Allen Road; the center is 1 kilometer further on.
Water, food, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, a trail map, a litter bag, your watch.
Bibbulmun Track: www.bibbulmuntrack.org.au
Bus timetables: www.transperth.wa.gov.au
Kalamunda Carriages: www.accommodationkalamunda.com.au
Kalamunda Visitors Center, ZigZag Cultural Centre, 50 Railway Rd, Kalamunda
Mundaring Weir Hotel: www.mundaringweirhotel.com.au