We walked into Denmark even though the trail stopped at the inlet. It wasn't a nice walk into town! I had very sore feet as they had been wet all day and I have a small problem with my right foot that I will get to a bit later. It wasn't far, only about 1.5kms. Denmark is a nice town. It is the largest trail town so far and has a hospital and a nice large supermarket and a well stocked hiking shop. (It's ok, we didn't need the hospital...) We did our shopping and walked to our accommodation which was the local YHA called the Blue Wren Travellers Rest. It's run by Mark who is a South African who lived in Taranaki for 4 years before heading to WA and eventually Denmark. He is cool but he needs to invest in some new beds and pillows. The lodge is great and it has a really nice feel to it, a bit like being at home really. We didn't have a day off in town this time. We have 'finish fever' now and the end is so close. So just a freshen up and resupply and back on the trail the next morning.
All of my blogs so far have been about the trail and what we have seen and done along the way. I haven't said very much at all about us and how we have coped with all the days and days of walking with a sometimes heavy and uncomfortable backpack in the different weather conditions. So I thought for this last trail blog on this trip, I would give you all an idea of what it's been like.
First off, it really feels like way more than the almost 2 months it has taken us. It feels like we have been walking for months and months.. In the first few weeks we were walking in singlets and swimming whenever we could, bathing at the end of the day to try to get rid of the sweat and grime because it was really hot. Into the 30's some days. Now, on a clear night it's as cold as... Brrrrr single figures. As I type this I have to put my hand into my sleeping bag every so often to warm it up again. What we wear has changed, and we now look forward to a hot drink instead of a refreshing cold one at the shelter. We have had a lot more rain as well. It's fully winter in WA now. Our bodies have changed too! We have some awesome looking legs and we have both lost some inches around our middles. I am sure we have gained bone density along with the muscle due to carrying backpacks every day. We haven't done our weigh-in but we can see and feel a difference that's for sure. We have had some really great times with each other and with people we have met. We have talked to each other a lot about what we have seen, where we have been, what we have done, about the past and the future. We are closer now and we enjoy each other's company more than ever before.
BUT it's been hard. Sometimes it's been very hard. We have been outside for 7 weeks, been bitten by bugs, had spiders and rodents climb and walk all over us, eaten dirt and dust, had to drink horrible water and been dirty and smelly for weeks at a time. We have had days where we wonder when the fun is going to start, if at all... Then there are our feet. No words can describe the pain of walking for days and days over hard and uneven ground. At times it's like we are doing permanent damage to our feet that could make us hobble for ever! In the morning, it's impossible to walk properly for the first few steps (It's called 'the thru-hiker shuffle'). Christine has feet not well suited to long distance walking and has suffered a lot more than me. She has resigned herself to the fact that long trail walking will involve some pretty serious pain. I have an issue with my right foot where I develop a corn on my second smallest toe, it's happened on every long trip I've done. It's quite large now and is a constant source of pain with each step, especially when my feet are wet. We both live on a diet of paracetamol to help get us started each day and to sleep at night.
Our packs are heavy. I carry all the food and after a resupply in town, I can sometimes have enough food I my pack for 10 days, (thats 20 days of food for 1 person. Put that in your shopping trolley!) With water, I have had pack weights of well over 25 kgs! My pack is not designed to carry that much weight and it becomes very uncomfortable dragging at my back and hips. I have to keep adjusting it to stop parts of my body going numb due to having no circulation and at times I have struggled to even lift it onto my back in the first place. We have fallen over, slipped, walked into sticks and logs and twisted ankles. During the first week I sprained my ankle and it hurt for the next 2 weeks with just about every single step. Christine has bursitis in her left hip which makes it painful to sleep on either side so good sleep has been elusive.
But the pain will be forgotten pretty soon as it's not an emotion, so it cannot be recalled which is why we have done this a few times before and will do it again! In fact THIS trip is just the warm up to the main event which is to finish the Appalachian Trail we started in 2000. That year we walked more than double what we walked on this trip. 2550kms to be exact. We have 900kms to walk to complete the AT, but it is much tougher than the Bibbulmun Track. Are we ready? Yes we sure are. These walks have given us something no one can take away. A quiet sense of achievement in doing something not very many people can. We love hiking but this is quite different. A lot of hikers will never complete a long trail and a lot of long trail hikers will never do a weekend trip but for some reason, we just love it.
We will complete this trip and a few days later we will return to Perth and get ready to fly out to the USA. 20 days from then we will be back on the trail again. We've waited 16 years for this moment to come and it's hard to believe it's now just around the corner.
We stayed at Walpole Lodge, formerly Walpole Backpackers. For a budget lodge, it was by far the best we have come across on this trip. I would like to have added 'so far' but I really don't think it will be beaten by the time we are due to leave Australia. The standout feature was the bed. It was less than 20 years old had no roll together and had a soft topper. To me, that doesn't seem like too much to ask, after all when we book a room we are really only buying bed time. The rest is just fluff that you are not using when you are asleep. But there it was, an awesome sleep waiting to happen! The hosts of the lodge, Mel and Lee were travelers themselves and have cycled all around the world so I guess they sure know what we are looking for in accommodation. They should run seminars on running a successful lodge called 'buying the right bed' or 'how to know when your bed is worn out'
Walpole is not too much of a town, it's all on the main road and is just a supermarket, pub, gas station, cafes and of course, a real estate office. The real estate office is the busiest business in town as with most of the country towns we have been through. The lodge we stayed at is for sale at $595,000. Mel did the sales pitch on me but he had previously told me all about the fact he hadn't had a day off in 4 years! (He wants to go on another riding holiday across Russia...)
On our day off a storm and cold front came through so we didn't do any sight seeing in town which was good as it meant we stayed in our room with our feet up. Fair to say we liked Walpole and Mel and Lee.
The area around Walpole is a rain forest that receives some 1.2 meters of rain a year. That's a lot of rain for Australia. Most of it falls close to the coast and just runs straight out to sea via some large estuaries. Although they are called estuaries they're more like lakes because they mostly have sand bars over the exits and contain fresh water. In this small wet area along a stretch of the south coast, a tree variety called Tingle grows. This tree variety grows in an area of only 60,000 ha. That is only 0.0078% of the total Australian land mass and this is the only place they are found on the planet! The Tingle trees are another truly amazing tree and like the Karri trees I have mentioned before, they are a monster variety. In their somewhat short life for monster trees (around 400 years) they can reach a girth of more than 20 metres! Yes, more than 20 metres around at the base. This is because they grow in wet soft conditions and to hold their massive weight they spread out and grow large buttresses. They have also adapted to the frequent fires by allowing the wood in the middle of the tree to burn leaving the spread out sides to hold the branches and foliage high up away from the flames. They grow along with the Karri and although slightly shorter than the Karri, they are quite amazing to see. Sadly they are now more a museum exhibit as most of them have been felled for their great red colored hard wood and the track we are on will take us to most of the living large trees left standing.
The trail took us to a really great Tree Top Walk built by the conservation department in 1996 to showcase the giant Tingle and Karri trees, it really is an excellent place. Up to 1990, you could drive your car right through an old Tingle tree in the park. Of course, the tree died due to this mistreatment and they decided to build the tree top walk facility. We walked along ramps that took us up to 40 meters off the ground. Us humans in some ways live our lives in one dimension. Looking down on the trees from so far up was like seeing the forest for the first time! Oh to be able to fly and see the world from more than just the ground. We have walked countless miles through the bush but from above it is like a brand new world!
At the tree top walk they had loads of information panels about the area and the plants, animals and people living there. It was really interesting to read about the first Australians. It's well proven now that they have wandered the area for 45,000 years or more! WOW.. What got me thinking was the fact that the Australia that the first settlers came to only a few hundred years ago was not a wild inhospitable place at all, it was a carefully cultivated garden that had been growing the food and animals for the aboriginal people all that time! It had been shaped by their hand over that time and was no accident. The first explorers to the south west described the Noongar people as fat!
The trail we are walking is loosely based on the seasonal travels of the Noongar people. They went from place to place gathering food and supplies in a carefully and well planned route. We were very lucky to meet a ranger at a shelter who is of Noongar decent. He told us a lot about the trail and the way they gathered food. The 'real' trail is much longer and went to the west coast several times on the way north (or south). The trail we are walking was more the route used for the runners to pass messages from group to group. He said that boys were sent off on the trail and returned as men! I'm sure a few girls went along as well!
After we walked through the Tingle forest, we headed back to the south coast where we will stay right through to the end of the trail. Back to the sand dunes! I had mentioned in the previous post we had been lucky with the weather. Our luck ended when we headed to the coast. We have had a bit of rain during the day on this section and it's been windy too. We passed through a very small place called Peaceful Bay. It's just a caravan park and a few dozen holiday homes at a nice sheltered beach. We had the option of the caravan park or the more expensive chalets. The main problem with the chalets were we had to walk a kilometer to get to them and we really didn't want to do that. After having a quick look at the caravan park we asked the owner if we could put up our tent in the kitchen for the night... Cheeky, but he said ok and we had a dry comfortable night and I didn't have to carry a wet tent the next day!
A big storm front passed us when we were in Walpole but several smaller fronts followed that one and we have experienced them all. While this is really not such a problem, what they have done to the ocean was. The low pressure system made the tides much bigger. The caravan park owner said the low can make for bigger tides than a full moon. The southern ocean is wild at the best of times and the high tide is around midday so the beach walking has been action packed. We have had to walk the soft sand above the high tide mark for some of the beach walk sections and it makes for tough going although the very strong tail wind has been great. The longest beach walk was a day out of Denmark and was around 8.5kms. It's a nice change to walk the beaches. The south coast beaches are quite beautiful and are white sand and mostly completely deserted. We have only seen 2 people surf casting and 3 or 4 people surfing on all the beaches we have been along.
The last day into Denmark was a very nice walk. We had the biggest climb of the trip up and over Mt Hallowell. It's only around 300 meters high but we started at sea level... Really nothing for us kiwis but it's quite feared by most on the trail. The track up and over was more like a New Zealand track than any other part of the trail so far. It had rocks, tree roots and climbed up and down.. We even had to climb over a few logs! It will be the last forest we get to walk through on the trip. We have now completed 930kms with around 70 to go!
Pemberton is one of the bigger trail towns we walk through and has 2 pubs! It also has a good size supermarket and bottle store. But best of all it has a place where we can buy our favourite dehydrated meals! Great, we won't be eating too much spam on this leg of the trip!
We decided to treat ourselves with a spa unit at the Gloucester Motel as we have now passed half way. The spa unit was a self contained unit more like a small house with a kitchen and separate bedroom, but no separate bathroom! The spa and shower was right in the bedroom with a shower screen divider for the toilet only! That ended up being a good thing as Christine could just roll out of the king size bed and into the giant bath at will. It got some heavy use I can assure you and when we left we were spotlessly clean and ready to play in the dirt and mud again.
A main attraction for Pemberton is the Gloucester Tree. It's a large Karri tree that has been pegged with big spikes to make a ladder around the trunk winding all the way to the top. It was used as a fire lookout in days gone by. It's just for the tourists now. I don't know how many people fall or injure themselves on this tree but it looks like a real health and safety nightmare. No net, just a lame warning saying no children to climb the tree. We waited our turn and after a load of kids came down, we made our way to the top. I didn't count the rungs but I did have to stop for a breather half way. It's quite some view from the top and a photo doesn't do it justice. The platform is at 58 meters and is a steel cage with 2 levels. Not too sure the tree is all that happy with it though but it has lasted this long and will no doubt outlast me too. This tree is also right on the trail so it's a bit of a mandatory task and we climbed it in 2012 as well. Pemberton also has a working saw mill processing native timber from plantation forests. At each smoko and lunch break a loud whistle sounds to down tools. We could still hear it a days walk from town and didn't need to check our watch to know when lunch was!
We have been in and out of our 'bubble' and think K1 and K2 had an extra day off in Pemberton. We still trail Mick and Erin by a day or 2 and in this section we haven't had the shelters and campsites to ourselves a lot. We did at Schafer Dam shelter and that meant bath time! Nice but very, very cold. We have run across quite a few north bound end to end hikers on this section. It's handy to get the low down on what's up ahead for us. Every now and then we run into some people who remind us why we love the bubble. We stayed at a shelter with 2 ladies. We chatted with them over dinner about the normal things, days walk, trail conditions, people we have met and the like. That night one stayed in her tent while the other stayed in the shelter with us, but also in her tent. This is not uncommon and it's usually to keep the bugs away or for some privacy, the shelters are large enough if it's only a few of us there. At 6:30pm they went to bed! A bit early... We like to keep our hours as close to normal as we can, 8:00pm is a good bed time (albeit a bit early for town days) somethings 9:00pm. We are very careful to stay quiet when others are sleeping and that night was no different. At 5:45am the next morning stomp stomp stomp crash bang! In came the first lady with her tent... WHAT?? Each shelter has a table outside, I asked if it was raining? No. Please do that outside then! The second lady then said 'it's ok I am getting up now too' as if to justify the noise.. Not much you can do other than roll over and wish we were far far away comfortable in our wee bubble!
The weather is still good most days but we have had rain. We have been quite lucky with the weather and so far we haven't had to do any walking in the worst of it, just showers. It tends to rain early morning and late evening and sometimes overnight. A problem when we are sleeping in the tent though as our tent floor has lost its waterproofing! Our mattresses keep us off the ground and dry enough but still not ideal so we will be buying a new (larger) tent for the trip in the USA. This one has lasted 10 years so I suppose that's a lifetime for a tent these days. Problem is we tend to carry it often but it hasn't had too much use in its 10 year life! As I write this, we don't expect to have to use the tent again on this trip as all the shelters are standing from here south so it's just filling out my pack now. A major storm is due to hit the south but during that time we will be in town warm and dry!
We walked 3 days from Pemberton to Northclife for a small resupply. On our last trip we stayed in Northclife but this time we decided to walk through and camp 10kms out to make the next day a little shorter. A good plan but we needed to find a camp site. We ended up staying in the middle of the track again, it was a great sleep! Northclife was great! We sat outside the general store and gas station and made room for the extra food in our packs and ended up staying much longer than planned because everyone that came in and out wanted to chat about the trail and our plans. It was a nice time and we left thinking it was not such a bad place after all. I'm not sure how we ended up discussing the book 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' with one local lady but it sure was funny!
On this section 2 shelters have been burnt to the ground in recent bush fires. They're are in the process of being rebuilt now and the area is more worksite than bush camp. We skipped one by doing a 'double' meaning we walked two days walk in one day. We were lucky the days were shortish anyway but still tough going with 25kms walked that day. As we were heading to the shelter that was being rebuilt, we met the builder walking the other way and of course had to have a chat. It's surprising that they are all covered by insurance for fire and he is working for the insurance company rather than the Bibbulmun Track Foundation. The new shelters are going to be very nice and this time will not be made from timber but local 'desert pea' and cement block walls with steel roof beams and iron roof. Fire proof? Maybe more than the timber shelters... Reading between the lines I think this has been a condition from the insurer as they are currently rebuilding 4 at a cost of 100k each! Sadly we will never get to stay in one of the new ones unless we come back for a 3rd end to end... unlikely.
The trail on this section is different to anything we have seen so far. We have crossed some of the coastal plains and are now heading east along the south coast. It was great to be able to hear the surf from the shelter the first night we got close. After that day we started to head east and moved away from the coast a bit only to hit the coast and beach 2 days out of Walpole. The trail is now very sandy and in the dunes, it is brutal and energy sapping, especially when we have to climb over dunes. We've also seen more wildlife in the last few days coming across some kangaroos right on the trail, also our first snake. A small tiger snake that was sunbathing on the trail. Other hikers say they hear the snakes rustling in the leaves as they slither off the trail before they see them. We don't as we often hike with earphones on. Nothing better than listening to some Shihad really loud in the wilderness! I have found I can walk exactly in time to 'The Call' from Shihad's Killjoy album. Every beat in time.... it's mint! Long trail hiking is great for catching up on music you haven't listened to for a while. I also listen to podcasts and have listened to the entire Freakonomics series. Never bored! We have seen lots of wild flowers in the last few days. Some due to the season and some due to recent fires. They are all very small and colorful and although we don't have all day to stop and look at flowers I have a few seconds to get some photos!
Our first day walking in the sand dunes was hard and not only because of the up and down and soft sand. We had bugs! Gnats. Billions and billions of gnats. It was overcast but still hot so we were sweating a lot and when we walked through a cloud of them about 200,000 would stick to any exposed skin. I was more fortunate than Christine as my beard filtered most of them out but I think I ate at least 50,000 of them that day. It was pretty bad because we could see clouds of them in the air and in front of us and our only option was to keep walking knowing we were going to be plastered in them each time. Again the photos don't show the full horror of it all... hehe still beats working though! We stayed in our tent inside the shelter that night!
The last day into Walpole was another double but only 24kms total. We left the coast and the sand dunes for now and have headed inland back to the forest again. We have had a glimpse of what's to come but I will leave that for the next post.
We walked right into the village and stayed at the free shelter they provide for Bibbulmun Track walkers. What a great place Donnelly River Village (DRV) is! It's the remains of a logging town that was closed in the late 70s when the decision was made to stop logging the mighty Karri trees that dominate the area. It nearly rotted back into the bush but was saved when a group got together a few years back and bought the remaining cottages, general store, school buildings and social club buildings. They are now run as a co-op and some are available for rent but are mostly holiday homes in the bush. It's very peaceful and quiet except for one thing... the tame animals!!
The village has a troop of kangaroos that have been hand reared and are fully tame! It's great and we had a lot of fun feeding and petting them. The store sells Roo feed and you only need to shake the bag, no matter where you are in the village and they will come hopping over. Things can get a little heated when a larger male wants to have you to himself but they seem to know what 'NO' means...
The other animals around were Emu. Although they will eat from your hand as well, they were not as tame and wouldn't let you pet them. They made such a mess with violent pecks at the food that would spread it everywhere and they did have a bit of a funky smell so we did tend to favor the Roos a bit. We were also lucky that night to have a visit from the Aussie favorite the bushy tail possum! Yes, that's the same one we see squashed on county roads in New Zealand but over here if you have one of these little fellas in your roof space, your house is a home!
We had a short days hike into the village so had plenty of time to relax with the animals and although we stayed in the free accommodation, we paid for the showers and kitchen facilities attached to the backpackers that was once the school. The 'general store' is really just a cafe that sells a few other basic supplies so we were right back to zero with our resupply situation again. We had enough dehydrated dinners and tuna and crackers for lunch to get through to Pemberton, so just breakfast and snacks (sugar free of course..) to get. As I have mentioned before, we have a 1st choice and of course a 2nd and even 3rd and 4th. This time we had to settle on 4th choice and something we have never done in all our years of hiking... we are having eggs for breakfast, meaning I will have to carry fresh eggs in my pack. On a typical New Zealand tramping trip, we may have to pass packs up or down a ledge of ladder, over or under any number of obstacles and we may fall over several times a day so eggs were not really an option. On this trail, it's mainly just walking rather than clambering so... we gave it a go! We had 1 soft boiled egg each with a chunk of cheese in a soft tortilla. I have to say it was pretty good. No breakage and it got us along the trail okay for the morning. The tortillas were even provided by other hikers free! They are smart hikers and had arranged for food packages to be sent to them at each town. All good until you get a bit sick of what you are sending...
So off on the next section of trail. The next 5 days are the first of the big ones, in more ways than one. On this section we have 4 days in a row that are more than 20k's and we will walk through some forest with monster trees. The day out of DRV wasn't too bad at 16kms so what better to do before we head off than feed a few more Roos 😀. After breakfast we went to the store and I ordered a flat white as a last little luxury. After I finished my latte, we headed off. The coffee wasn't bad, just not a flat white. And yes, they had it on the menu. I then decided to add a tab to ourepictrip.com and rate coffee and hot chocolates from around the world. With all the kiwis in Aussie you would think you could get a decent flat white eh?
We arrived at the first shelter out of DRV not too long before the rain. On this section of trail we have new hiking buddies, K1 and K2. Due to the shelters being the only place you can get water along the trail, anyone heading in the same direction will be staying with you (or near you) most nights. K2 is recovering from an injury and because the second day was 25kms and they had only walked 16, they decided to load up with enough water for the night and next day and walk for another 6-8kms and stay in their tent, making the next day more manageable. Wow, it poured and poured that night and we were pretty happy to be in the shelter. K1 &K2 are retired farmers that have planned this trip for a while. We think they enjoyed the bit where you get to go shopping for gear as they sure had a lot of it. The tent proved to be a good purchase for them and kept them dry that night!
We thought we were going to be hiking this section alone or as we call it, in 'our bubble'. That's when we have hikers a day behind and a day in front but as we are all heading in the same direction, we never meet up! K1 and K2 have been ahead of us the entire time but had an extra day off at DRV so pop goes our bubble for now. It's good to meet them though, as we sort of know them already. At each shelter there are 2 books, green and red. The green book is for your name, age, finish date and duration along with any small comment. The red book is just for comment. How was your day, did you see something interesting? A shout out to your friends behind you! This book is popular with end to end hikers and we had read a lot of entries from K1 right from the start. Sometimes he did put in a few more words than I was bothered to read though... We are now following Mick and Erin who we walked with for some time and our friend Magpie is now behind us reading our stories. Even though you only see them for a few hours a day, the trail brings people together in unexpected ways.
The trail between DRV and Pemberton is quite beautiful. It's'Karri Country'. Karri are Australia's big trees found only in the south west of WA. They can grow to be more that 60 meters high and the first branches can be higher than 40 meters up the trunk. Most met the same fate as other giant trees around the world but small pockets remain which is great. In some areas the loggers left 'seed trees' after almost clear felling in the area. Some of these trees are still living now and really are a sight to behold. In small pockets around streams trees were saved to ensure water supply quality and what an amazing sight they are. It's like going back in time and evokes primal feelings. They are huge! It's great we have some more of these trees to come, some are classed as amongst the largest living things on the planet today. Sadly these trees make our remaining mighty Kauri look small and lonely.
The walking has been good, sort of too good if that's possible! The trails are mostly on old logging roads and rail formations, flat and smooth! Some could even be described as wheelchair friendly. At one point not too far from Pemberton, we passed by a luxury lodge. They have constructed a trail (wheelchair friendly) around a pretty lake and past a rare flowing waterfall. The lodge visitors are strolling around and near an information panel we noticed a kookaburra sitting in a hand rail. I stalked it getting closer and closer, all the while taking photos until I was right next to it. WHAT, 'a stuffed bird for the tourists', was the comment from a passing European chap. We agreed and all went right up and stood at the rail then suddenly the very real bird flew away and 'boom' it grabs a skink in the undergrowth it had been waiting for all along... It had fooled us all and it was doing some stalking too.
We are now in Pemberton after walking for 31 of the last 35 days. We have traveled 591kms with only 420kms of this trip remaining! We are in 'good condition for our milage' and are all set for the next sections after a zero day (today😀) We will have some statistics for you in the next post along with exactly what we have chosen to carry such a long way.
Balingup is a small town in a beautiful valley. It has a river, parks, main road shops and of course, the Bibbulmun track runs right through the middle of town.
It has a great tree park on the edge of town with trees from all over the world, around 70 hectares in total.
We stayed in the backpackers behind the post office, it's for sale again as it has been the last 3 times we have stayed. The current owner is by far the best at running the backpackers, not sure she likes the post office side though.. Available for the bargain price of $560,000 all inclusive!
Sadly, about every second house is also for sale and the town currently has no soul with empty or closed shops in the quaint main road, the ones that are open sell nick nacks or locally made artistic junk and not specialist hiking food we want... AND the pub has closed until it has a new owner ($1,275,000 if that is more your style..)
Still, a really nice place to visit and have a coffee and cake on the way through to somewhere else with a pub!
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!