This blog entry is being posted a month after my return so I expect it will be much abridged compared to previous entries since my memories are now pretty blurry. I am seriously thinking of taking my tablet next time so that I can write the entries daily. It is a little heavy but much more useful than my phone for accessing the web (email is almost but not quite impossible to read on my phone). The tablet takes a really good photo too. And it doubles as my reading material. Although it does use a lot more battery, obviously. So many decisions…
Thu Oct 19 (Day 11): Dwellingup to Island Pool
Dwellingup to Collie is a six-nighter, so it took some time before I was able to arrange both the time off and transport. In the end mum runs me out to Dwellingup on the Thursday afternoon, and then we have a beer at the very pleasant Dwellingup pub, so it is about 3pm by the time I get going. That gave me about 3.5hrs to sunset, which should be doable.
The track goes right past the pub, through the town, and enters the forest just after the primary school. Medium-light jarrah forest, good wildflower display. Pass a few sweet houses tucked away in the forest and get occasional glimpses of nice rolling pastures through the trees.
The track crosses a bridal path several times before I finally get my wish and descend into a pine plantation.
I know it is not politically correct to like pine plantations but they have always held a fascination for me. Very Narnia. The smell is hard to describe – slightly chemical and not at all Christmas. All I can say that it smells cold, although the weather was pretty warm. The only plant that thrives here, apart from the radiata pines, is blackberry.
Emerging from the pine forest I reach the diversion point. I knew that Swamp Oak campsite was closed for prescribed burning so I wasn’t concerned.
As with previous diversions the diversion track runs along roads, but these are through the Lane Cove National Park so it is a pretty attractive walk. It is 13.7km from Dwellingup to Swamp Oak, which should have been doable in 3.5hrs, but it seems the temporary campsite is a bit further because it is pitch dark by the time I arrive. Not really a problem because I am walking along a good road with little traffic.
As it turns out the temporary campsite is the Island Pool picnic site, which is a very nice spot on the Murray river with a landing for canoeists. Normally you aren’t allowed to camp here. Since the picnic site already has public toilets the only addition required for bibbulmun walkers is water, which is provided in two jerry cans.
You are not supposed to light campfires here, but then again you aren’t supposed to camp here either so I assume that doesn’t apply to me since I have bought sausages for my first night and they won’t keep. I make a very small, well shielded fire in the sand next to the river. I cook my instant mash and dried peas in my cookpot over the flames, managing to melt the handle in the process. I impale the sausages on a green stick and cook them over the embers. It isn’t particularly successful and it turns out the sausages aren’t all that good anyway, but it is edible. I drink both my beers to compensate for the uninspiring meal.
Since there is no shelter at temporary campsites this will be the first time I use my bivvy bag, which is basically a waterproof bag with a bit of a tent over your head. It takes a while to work out how to fit the poles and I am glad it is not raining while I am doing this. You don’t really climb into it like a tent, what you do is assemble the tent bit, unzip the bivvy, then make up your bed in the bag and unzip the sleeping bag. Then climb into the sleeping bag, zip it up and then zip up the bivvy. Would be pretty trick in heavy rain.
I looked around for somewhere fairly level to set up and decided that a picnic table was pretty similar in size to a bed. I put the foam mattresses on the table, under the bivvy. The thermarest goes into the bivvy. It works out surprisingly well.
Fri Oct 20 (Day 12): Island Pool to Murray
I sleep reasonably well in the bivvy. No rain, so I am able to keep the vent above my face open. Otherwise it would have been unpleasantly hot and stuffy. In the morning the sleeping bag is pretty damp from condensation, but I expected that and I can hang it out to dry when I get to the Murray campsite. It could be a problem if I ever need to use the bivvy two nights in a row without anywhere to dry it out.
I wander back down to the water and take a few photos now that I have some light. It really is a very pretty spot.
I fill my spare drink bottle from the jerry cans and head off.
The diversion largely follows a rail formation so it is fairly easy going. After rejoining the main track it gets steeper. At one point I stop for a breather and I hear some rustling in the leaves just off the track. On investigation I discover a bungarra, about 1.3m long. He makes a slow getaway, cautious but not really threatened by me. Quite rightly of course – there is no way I am going to get near enough for him to get his claws into me.
It soon got even steeper. Nice country but hard work. I stop for lunch where the track crosses a small stream on a steel bridge. This is when I discover that I have lost my drink bottle. It was nearly empty but it means that now I have only my spare 1.25L bottle. At least I still have that, and I filled it this morning at the temporary campsite. Unfortunately when I take a swig it tastes foul and I spit it straight out. They have put some sort of treatment in the water and there is no way I am going to drink it.
I remove my boots and soak my feet in the creak. Heaven…
I have another 5.2km to the Murray campsite, which doesn’t sound too bad. After climbing up out of the valley the track skirts the Murray river although it never actually descends to the river. It is a rather narrow, pretty trail through lush greenery but I am pretty dehydrated at this point and am in some distress. As you get dehydrated you get physically weak and start to get a little irrational. I really don’t want to stop because I am afraid I won’t be able to get up again. If I can just make it to the campsite I can fill up from the water tanks.
Eventually I give up, dump my pack and collapse on it. Then I drink that horrible water. After about 10min I feel a bit better and I get going again. Soon enough I arrive at Murray campsite.
Very few of the campsites are located close to water. Murray is a lovely spot looking straight down onto the river. It is suitable for swimming although the riverbed is pretty slippery. The water is cold but no way am I going to pass up the opportunity to get clean.
I hang my sleeping bag out to dry then collect my dirty cloths and wade out into the river to wash them, including the ones I am wearing. So it is a good thing I had the camp to myself. You aren’t supposed to use soap or detergent close to a water supply so I just rinse the clothing (and myself). I hang everything out to dry on the rails in front of the camp.
I really don’t feel hungry. I eat some apple, cheese and salami for dinner. Then I make a cup of tea and wander back down to the river to poke at baby marron. I promptly slip on the bank, landing on my bum in the mud and slipping my foot into the river. Now it looks like I have shat in my longjohns and my socks are wet. I put my cup down so that my hands will be free and continue along the river. Coming back I can’t find my cup.
I wash my longjohns and hang them out with the socks before retiring. My hip is pretty sore from rubbing on the pack belt.
Sat Oct 21 (Day 13): Murray to Dookanelly
In the morning I make two passes along the river, looking for my lost cup (which is also my saucepan). No dice. I reckon the potkoorok stole it.
I depart Murray at about 9am, being sure to fill my remaining water bottle. For most of this leg of the track it follows the Murray river, usually about 50m above and never descending to the water. The track is pretty attractive, although seldom more than 10m from the Murray River Fireline road you would never know it – the track makes for good walking but is too narrow to allow vehicle access.
Soon after leaving Murray camp I encounter large areas of moss with unusually large, rusty-coloured sporophytes.
The Dookanelly and surrounds is also closed for prescribed burning, which I was expecting. The diversion starts about 16km out of Murray camp and 3.6km shy of the Dookanelly campsite. Unfortunately the temporary camp is awful – right next to the Driver road bridge, which gets a fair amount of traffic, with no separation between the road and the campsite so that any 4WDs boring down the road and night would have you right in their headlights as they approach the bridge. Check out the photo – that really is where we are supposed to camp, next to the temporary dunny. You can see the road continuing over the bridge on the left. There are two jerry cans of water next to the dunny. I have a taste and sure enough the water is foul. I don’t contaminate my water bottle, figuring I would rather drink river water. As it turns out the river water here is pretty saline, probably not safe to drink, but I didn’t know that at the time.
There is a nice enough spot just over the bridge but a couple of bogan 4WDs have moved in, with eskis and stereos etc so I don’t fancy pitching my bivvy here. Besides, it is still only 2pm – plenty of time to put some km behind me. If I am going to camp anyway I might as well knock a bit off tomorrow’s walk, especially since the diversion adds a few km to the leg.
Normally the track runs east of the river, skirting a number of plantations. Having crossed the river at Driver road the diversion follows the Captain Fawcett 4WD track along the west side of the river. I am hoping it will descend to the river at some point so I can find a nice spot to camp, but the track stays clear of the river and the bush is pretty dense on either side. I am pretty hot and wrecked by now and just about out of water so I decide to follow another vehicle track which seems to head towards the river. It does lead to a fairly nice spot although a bit steep for camping. I remove my boots and soak my feet in the river. Very cold!
While sitting here resting my feet a guy wanders down the bank with his two boys. They are doing a bit of a reconnaissance trip, looking for somewhere good to camp. They left their 4WD about 100m back and walked down. I am somewhat surprised because from the look of the track it hadn’t seen much use. We have a bit of a chat and he offers to leave me some water, for which I am most grateful. I head up the bank and pick up the water – two 600mL bottles, nicely chilled. Those 4WD guys do it tough…
I still have about 3hrs of light so I decide to push on. There was a sign shortly after the bridge which said that the 4WD track was closed to vehicles because it is unsafe, but I am passed by several 4WDs. They really chew up the track something terrible.
I pass a couple of guys going the other way. They had planned to cross at the new footbridge and stay at Dookanelly. Not only is Dookanelly closed but the bridge was taped up because that is the other end of the diversion. They were a bit annoyed because the bibbulmun foundation has been trumpeting about the new bridge and encouraging everyone to come and check it out. I warned them about the dodgy temporary site.
It is about 5pm so I decide to take the next track that heads down to the river. It does go down to the river, but the river is a bit swampy and gloomy at this point (think “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees”).
There is a good level campsite about 100m from the river, however, so that will do. The forecast is for storms overnight so I try to pick a spot that won’t turn into a gully if it rains. I am just setting up when I realise I am almost on top of a sergeant ant’s nest. These guys are really stroppy – most ants are oblivious of anything my size unless I stomp around but this guy can obviously see me and stands up on his back legs, ready to take me on. For those who have never had the pleasure of interacting with a sergeant ant, they are about 20mm long and their bite feels a bit like a bee sting, maybe a little worse, although the swelling and pain usually passes after about half an hour. I decide maybe I will find another spot to pitch my bivvy.
Since I am expecting rain I am not going to be able to leave the top vent in the bivvy open to the sky, but it is really quite hot. So I rig up a bit of a construction using my poncho as a tarpaulin and my hiking sticks as tent poles. This means I can open the vents up but will be protected from rain. It seems to work okay. I make myself dinner – ready-to-eat green chicken curry with instant rice. It looks gross but tastes pretty good really.
I get into bed and even with the vents open it is still hot and uncomfortable. I can’t open the bivvy up any more without letting the mozzies in. Imagine sleeping in a garbage bag on a hot, humid night with a tiny tent pitched over your head which leaves you with about 2 inches between your nose and the roof of the tent. Still no sign of rain. Eventually I get some sleep.
Sun Oct 22 (Day 14): Dookanelly to Possum Springs
The storm arrives at dawn. I wake to the distant sound of thunder at about 5:30am. Still no rain. The thunder gradually gets closer until it is following pretty hard on the lightning. At this point it occurs to me that I should probably have put a little thought into what I am camping under. They are young jarrah with smallish branches pointing upwards at a good angle so probably pretty safe.
The rain arrives about 6am and falls pretty hard for about half an hour. The bivvy works a treat.
Once the rain stops I am able to make some breakfast and chai. I can’t really make coffee because I only have one pot so I have nothing to strain it into. Even so I am in pretty good spirits because of the success of the bivvy. I pack up and return to the track.
The track continues to follow the 4WD route. I have decided I hate 4WDrivers. I used to think that at least they were getting out in the bush and experiencing nature, but I hadn’t realised just how much damage they do. Every km or so there is another muddy pond where a succession of vehicles have bellied out on the mud. The undergrowth around the track tends to be fairly dense because of the extra sun, so I have the option of either bulling my way through prickle bushes or wading through the puddles. I find that the puddles are shallower in the middle and usually I can wade through without going over the top of my boot, although a couple of times I get my feet wet.
The track meets the river several times and the river is more attractive at this point. On the other side of the river I can see the plantations being laid to waste. At this point I discover that the river water is saline. I drink the last of the water the 4WD guy gave me yesterday.
The diversion meets the original track, but continues to follow the 4WD track for a bit. The track crosses a creek on a culvert. The water looks pretty good so I decide to fill my water bottles. I descend to the creek and my boots start to sink in the mud. The water looks really clean and I fill one 600mL bottle and drink it straight off before refilling it. I decide one bottle is enough and retreat before I lose my boots completely.
Climbing back out of the creek I meet the two hikers I met yesterday. They said got to Driver Rd and the 4WD camp was turning into a party so they weren’t going to camp there. Since the forecast was for storms they decided there was no way the prescribed burn was going to go ahead today so they stayed in the Dookanelly campsite and then returned down the West side of the river this morning. I can’t fault their logic but the idea of being caught out on the track during a burn gives me the horrors.
They are returning to their vehicle on the Harvey-Quindanning Rd to the south. I follow behind and, since they are walking somewhat faster than I am, they soon disappear.
The 4WD track terminates at what was a pine plantation but was razed in bushfires in 2015. Low vegetation is making a good comeback but not much in the way of trees. Plenty of nice wildflowers though.
I have heard the rumbling of the Worsley Conveyor all morning and now I start to catch glimpses of it in the distance. I cross the Harvey-Quindanning Rd. Just to the east of here was the old Long Gully Bridge. This impressive timber railway bridge was where the bibbulmun used to cross the Murray. It was completely destroyed in the 2015 bushfires. The crossing is now at the new pedestrian bridge (which I still haven’t seen because I diverted around it). I decide not to go and look at a bunch of blackened stumps and instead I cross the road and ascend a steep hill in the shadow of the conveyor. The noise is incredible as I suppose you would expect if you transport thousands of tons of rock on a high-speed conveyor belt. Of course it is a complete abomination to find something like this out in the bush but I can’t help being impressed by the sheer engineering bollocks of the project. I pass under the conveyor and continue to the crest of the hill.
It is another 6km to the Possum Springs campsite and I arrive about 4pm, having covered about about 25km. Possum Springs is a rammed-earth structure. I think the original timber building was lost in the 2015 fires. At any rate it is huge and I have it all to myself. I take the opportunity to have a bucket bath, using a drysac full of water as my bucket. It isn’t entirely successful but I feel much better. My hip is looking worse though.
I also wash my clothes – stuffing them into a drysac with water and pumping them up and down to rinse them out. It is reasonably successful but there isn’t enough sun left for them to dry. I hang them up in the hut overnight but they are still damp in the morning.
Mon Oct 23 (Day 15): Possum Springs to Harris Dam
Most of the country I am walking this morning was badly affected by bushfire in 2015. This makes for good wildflowers but not a lot of shade.
Also more of our mystery fewmets. Whatever it is that is doing these dumps has been eating zamia fruit, which doesn’t seem very smart since they obviously go straight through. I remember someone telling my when I was a kid that birds will eat the zamia fruit but they are poisonous to humans. It occurs to me that the mystery creature could be an emu – they are big enough to down a zamia fruit, the dumps are about the right size, and they are stupid enough to eat just about anything. Only I haven’t seen an emu anywhere on the track since I started.
Around midday I start to cross the Harris River flats – slightly swampy, flat heath. Not the most interesting country but pretty easy walking.
Something is bothering me, and as I approach Yourdamung campsite I realise the problem – it is Monday and I am supposed to be on a Coach out of Collie on Tuesday evening. That means I am going to have to double-hut either today or tomorrow. Or I suppose I could do another half leg today and camp between huts. I am a bit wrecked and was really hanging out for a rest so the idea of pushing on is unappealing.
I arrive at Yourdamung campsite. It isn’t particularly interesting and there is an old guy there who arrived earlier. I discuss my problem and he encourages me to continue to Harris Dam campsite, which is another 15km. He says it is pretty flat and a young guy like me shouldn’t have any trouble. I suspect he just wants to camp to himself but I decide to push on.
The going is pretty easy, mostly along old railway formations. Just shy of the Harris Dam campsite I pass the remains of an old wooden railway built by timber loggers. Not just the sleepers, but the actual rails were made of wood. The guidebook doesn’t say what ran on the rails but I suspect the wagons would have been pulled by horses because I doubt the rails would have supported an engine. Apparently the rails were restored in 1999 but were damaged by vandals. There isn’t much left to see.
I arrive at Harris Dam campsite, completely wrecked, just after sunset. Today I have walked 33.6km. Already at the camp are an older couple and two younger European girls. I have another semi-shower behind the hut, this time using my water bottle instead of a bucket. Dinner is satay chicken. This is the first time I have shared a camp since Dwellingup. It makes for poor sleep.
Tue Oct 24 (Day 16): Harris Dam to Collie
The older couple are up around 5:30 so I get up too. I end up being the first out on the track at 6:30, which is a bit of a record – usually it ends up closer to 9am before I get going.
The first few km of track are a pleasant descent into the Harris River valley. Before reaching the dam I pass a rather odd phenomenon – an extended village of gnomes. Apparently there is a tradition among walkers of adding to the community. No doubt this would give the bibbulmun foundation conniptions but it is pretty funny.
A little further on I pass the wall of Harris Dam. There is a good bridge here and boardwalk. Also carpark, picnic area and short day-walks marked. It seems like a nice place for a picnic and the town of Collie obviously maintain the facilities well. The pool below the dam wall would be a nice place for a swim. I seem to think about swimming a lot, but opportunities seldom come up at the right time.
From the picnic area the track continues towards Collie, overlapping with other marked tracks, including the munda biddie. I stop for morning tea on a bridge over a nice little stream at about 9:30am.
An hour later I cross a railway line and I am back in farming country. Nice country it is too – green with plenty of water and enough slope to be interesting while making for viable pasture.
I cross a major road. When I left the Collie spur was closed for burning but obviously burning is complete and the track has been reopened. From now on I am walking through freshly burned forest. It is a little surreal.
Finally I arrive on the outskirts of Collie town. Walking along the footpath, with my backpack and poles, I feel a little out of place. A passing car gives me a honk and a wave and I feel better. Passing the local motel I hear what at first I take to be a school carnival, but then the yelling seems a bit agro. Peering over the fence I see about a dozen people facing off and yelling at each other in the reception centre carpark. I guess that wedding was a bit of a bust. A bit further along the road a police car passes me. Then another with the lights and sirens going. Welcome to Collie!
I arrive at the tourist centre at midday, with the whole afternoon to kill before my coach leaves at 5pm. The people at the centre let me leave my pack in their back room so I don’t have to haul it around the place.
Outside the centre is a display with several engines I am no trainspotter but it is a pretty interesting display, especially when I get to the story of F398:
The F class heavy freight locomotives were introduced in 1902 and later superheated to an Fs-class.
The locomotive before you will best be remembered for its part in a fatal accident at Swan View in 1942.
Number 97 goods train left Perth for Northam at 9:15pm on the 4th November 1942 with four crew on board. The train, powered by F398 (F class) and L251 (L class) locomotives, made its way via Midland and soon commenced the demanding climb towards the Swan View Tunnel. Inside the tunnel the train struck a dislodged chaff bale which had fallen off the previous train resulting in the train being stalled. The usual restart procedures were tried to no avail and within minutes the crew members were overcome with hot choking fumes from the engines of both locomotives.
One of the last acts of driver Thomas Beer was to put the train into reverse which resulted in the train gathering speed down the hill with an unconscious crew on board. The train crashed into granite boulders at the end of the dead end siding specifically built for runaway trains. The cab of engine F398 took most of the impact and that was where Thomas Beer lost his life.
The remaining crew survived. Engine F398 was rebuilt and superheated in December 1949 and renumbered Fs 452. It saw out the end of steam on the Western Australian Government Railways, finally being written off in June 1971.
I wander around town which is bigger than I expected with several pubs and both a coles and a woolworths. I have a really good pie for lunch (I recommend Forest French Hot Bread bakery) and hang out in the park. I pick up my pack from the tourist centre before they close at 4pm then buy a pizza from dominos and a beer from the bottleshop, which I consume while waiting for my coach.
When the coach arrives it is not quite what I was expecting – it is just a coaster bus. 4 or 5 people get off and then I board and we head off since I am the only passenger. It takes about half an hour to get to Bunbury and drops me at the bus port. Half an hour later I get on a proper coach which makes good time into Perth, dropping me at Cockburn station about 8pm. Ness picks me up and makes me wind the window down. Apparently I smell bad. When I strip for my shower I find that my merino longjohns have stuck to the sore on my hip, ripping it open. Sore, but it heals cleanly.
The theory is that you should carry all the weight of your pack on your hips, but this requires that you actually have hips. In my case I have to cinch the belt really tight to stop it sliding down and the belt then rubs on my skin. On the last day I tried taking part of the weight on my shoulders and that seems to help, especially if I adjust the straps regularly to move the load around.
[Heh, blog entry turned out pretty long after all]