Bibbulmun Track South (Walpole to Peaceful Bay)

Walpole to Frankland River Campsite - a taste of tall timber (17 km)


The skies were grey and a heavy shower was falling as we waited in Denmark for the bus to take us back to Walpole for the beginning of our Bibbulmun adventure. The previous day we had driven in the reverse direction, burying one stash of food and leaving a couple more at places we intended to stay. Everything was organised, apart from the weather. Still the forecast said "morning drizzle" and it turned out to be right - by the time we reached Walpole the sun was out. Our day would be partly cloudy, partly sunny, but not at all wet.


A cappucino at the Walpole cafe and we were on our way, wandering down through the centre of this small village to meet up with the Bibbulmun Track - and there it was, the "waugal" on its yellow triangle pointing the way. We turned east and followed the path into the Walpole-Nornalup National Park, through the melaleuca swampland that fringed Walpole Inlet, welcomed once again by a blaze of wildflower colours - whites, creams, blues of various hue, orange, pink and red.

Nornalup Inlet

Crossing a small flat peninsula, we emerged at Coalmine Beach on the shores of the larger Nornalup Inlet, following the shoreline along a low cliff. Every so often the tall shrubs cleared to give a view out across this wide inlet. The floral display continued with tea-trees covered in white blooms, pink callothamnus brushes and yellow pea-flowers lining the path, plus our first (and only) orchid sighting for the day - a solitary shiny-petalled blue enamel orchid.

The sound of traffic told us that the coastal highway was near, and soon we emerged from the bush to cross it and enter the world of the tall forest. The floral displays were not as intense in the forest, but the luminous light blue of dampiera and orange/pink of flame peas dotted the path as we climbed up the hillside, surrounded by the towering trunks of karri and tingle.

Entering the big forest

A stand of young karri (only 30-40m tall)

Base of a large red tingle

No not a cave - but the burnt out base of
a long-fallen tingle

We were entering the domain of these forest giants and the soft rush of the wind in their crowns 40-50m above us soothed us as we ascended. Reaching the top, the track flattened out along the ridgeline as it meandered between these magnificent trees; the tingle is one of the 10 largest living organisms on the planet and is only found in the region around Walpole. Its knobbly rough bark and immense trunk girth exudes strength and cries out "I am a tree!", in contrast to the taller, smooth barked elegance of the karri and the graceful weeping foliage of smaller casuarinas that share the forest with it.

The smooth-trunked elegance of the karri
and the massive trunk of the tingle

The 24m girth of the big tingle - still alive
despite the base being completely burnt out

We passed many such large trees, some with their bases hollowed out by fire, eventually reaching the boardwalk that meandered around a grove of these giants, including the largest of all with a girth of 24m. It was a good spot for lunch.

Another massive red tingle

Another giant red tingle

Lone karri illuminating a stand of casuarinas

The tingle twins - check the base
for some perspective

Leaving this tourist area, the track took us back into the forest, never logged and unburnt for decades, it was a magnificent stroll in amongst the dappled shade of some of the biggest trees in Australia, listening to the songbirds and the wind above.

40m karri and tingle with
intertwined crowns

The smooth straight elegance of the karri

Deep in the forest

The track eventually wound its way down toward the Frankland River Valley - we followed a road along, looking down the steep slopes to catch occasional glimpses of the dark tannin-stained waters of the river through the tall trees. Finally, we crossed a small ridge and emerged at the Frankland River campsite.

Frankland Campsite

It was our first stay at a Bibbulmun shelter and we were highly impressed with the large 3-sided raised wooden structure, complete with water tank, sleeping platforms and tables. Time for a coffee and then a wander down to sit in the sun on the flat rocks at the edge of the Frankland River, soaking up the late afternoon warmth as we watched its smooth black waters flow slowly by and the grey fantails hawking insects from the shrub-lined bank.

We were the only occupants of the shelter and felt very content with the day as we went to sleep to the quiet rippling of the Frankland beneath us and the croaking of the frogs along its shore.

Reflections in the still black water of the Frankland River


Frankland River Campsite to Giants Campsite - a day in the forest (14 km)

We were woken by the dawn chorus of forest songbirds. It was a beautiful morning at the Frankland River. The sun rose slowly, lighting up the tops of the tall Karris before reflecting off the dark waters of the river and warming our campsite. We set off in fine spirits, parallelling the river, but higher up in the tall scrubby understorey of the Frankland Valley forest. There was no wind and the forest was very still - the birds had ceased their morning serenade as we moved silently along the track and only the occasional calls carried down from the canopy far above. The sound of the river again announced our arrival at Sappers' Bridge, a wooden crossing that took us to the eastern side of Frankland and on to a wide forestry road.


Crossing the Frankland at Sappers' Bridge

By the time we crossed the river, the wind was slowly picking up and rustling through the canopy. We ambled along this route for a while, eventually leaving it for a footpath through the jarrah/marri forest on the east bank of the river. Blue fanflowers of scrambling dampiera lined the path, with the occasional small pink stars of boronia or yellow flowers of hibbertias. A sleek tiger snake slithered off the track a few metres ahead at the vibration of our footsteps. The track led us back into more tingle/karri/casuarina forest, crossing several small creeks via wooden bridges. We stopped at the last one for a bite to eat as the water babbled by.

A 50+m forest giant

Sometimes the Bibbulmun follows forestry roads

Casuarina / karri / tingle forest

So what are they trying to tell us?

Dampiera on the track

Leaves of the tassel flower

Nello and the three big trees

The track undulated along, passing over a drier sandier ridge, through tall tea-tree thickets in a scrubby jarrah woodland, followed by a ridge of iron-rich rocky nodules. Descending back into the valley on the far side of this ridgeline, we found ourselves once again in the cooler, shadier and lusher tingle/karri forest. We wound past these giants of the forest once along a track thickly lined with sword grass. Soon we crossed paths with a tourist photographing the large bole of a tingle - we had reached the Tree Top Walk, one of the major tourist attractions in this area. Following the boardwalk we emerged at the entry to the Walk. It was a good chance to sit down and enjoy an icecream (not always possible on long bushwalks).

Burly trunk of a giant tingle

A cluster of forest giants


Casuarina grove in the forest

When we had finished we paid for our tickets and headed off, climbing slowly up the 600m long steel walkway until we were 40m above the valley floor, face to face with the crowns of the giant tingles. It was worth the experience just to look down on the forest for once, rather than look up.

I was impressed with the set up of the walkway, but even more impressed that I actually walked 40m above the ground on a 1m wide metal frame that swayed slightly with every step - it is a sad thing to be altitudinally challenged, especial when the fair and fearless Nello strode out and across without a care in the world.

The Treetop Walk

40m above the forest floor

Eye level view of a 60m forest giant

We also followed the boardwalk through the Ancient Empire - an interpretive walkway amongst some of the giant tingle trees in this area. It was all very well done - if you can't bushwalk through the forest at your leisure, this is a good way to experience it.

From the Tree Top Walk, it was short stroll along a sword-grass lined path beneath the big trees, before dropping down through drier jarrah /marri forest to our campsite for the night. Just before we reached it, we passed through a recently burnt part of the bush; the trunks were blackened but new green growth was springing up all around. We set up, had a late lunch and it was time to explore our surrounds.

Giants Campsite

Scorched jarrah trunks and regrowth from a recent fire

I returned to the burnt area, hoping to find some orchids amongst all the new growth; success at last, several specimens of two beautiful species of spider orchid had emerged. Giants campsite was a pleasant spot, with a similar shelter to Frankland, but at ground-level. Tonight we would fall asleep, not to the sound of a gently running river, but to the sighing of the wind in the canopy of tall jarrahs above us.


Giants Campsite to Rame Head Campsite - from tree to sea (19 km)

We awoke full of anticipation - it promised to be a day of great interest as the track would take us from the tall forest to the ocean through a range of vegetation zones. Setting off early, we climbed up through the recently burnt section of jarrah forest, soon reaching the moister south facing slope, where we had our last look at the giant tingles and karri reaching skyward through the casuarinas. These latter trees are often overlooked in the world of tingle, karri and jarrah, but with their flaking bark, graceful drooping branches and the most soothing sound of any tree when the wind blows through, they contribute to the character of this forest.



Kingia grass tree beneath the jarrah

Two giant tingles in a grove of casuarina

Big burl on a big tree

One last pose in a hollowed-out tingle

A steep descent down the south facing slope saw us cross the South Coast Highway and leave the big forest behind. We followed an old railway alignment along its woodland path lined with melaleucas and tea-trees, and dotted with ground- flowering plants of every kind.

Walking along the old railway alignment

The fearless grey fantail

However, better was to come as we turned south once again, climbing steadily up through the woodland of the Nut Block Reserve; every few metres seemed to bring a flowering plant that we had not seen before. Reaching the high point, we were greeted by sweeping views across farmland to Peaceful Bay in the east.

Farmland neighbouring the Nut Block

The vegetation of the Nut Block

The track now led us down through a recently burnt out area that was awash with new plant growth and wildflowers of every shape, colour and form. It was simply brilliant and did not end, as we wandered in and out of low casuarina and coastal mallee woodlands and areas of open swampy heath.

Mixed casuarina - eucalypt woodland

Eventually, the track brought us to the broad gravel Ficifolia Road, named after the magnificent red-flowering gums that line it; summer - autumn bloomers, they would be one of the few floral sights that we would miss on this trip.

After a short distance on the road, we left to head into an area of low swampy heath, dotted with white, cream and yellow flowers - the first coastal banksia appeared amongst the melaleucas. Flat swamplands gave way to densely vegetated old coastal dunes, and soon we found ourselves undulating up and over sets of sand ridges, climbing, following the ridge then descending to cross over to the next dune.

Swamp pea

Entering the inland dune habitat

Donkey orchid

Low dune woodlands

With the overstorey yet to be replaced in burnt out areas, the smaller flowering shrubs and herbs had taken advantage of their opportunity to proliferate and bloom. At times it was like walking through a country garden - orchids, trigger plants, daisies, boronias, lilies, fanflowers, melaleucas, pea-flowers and myriad others all competing for our attention.

In the flower gardens of the dunes

Trigger plants - like a swarm of tiny white butterflies

Crossing through the sword sedge of one last swampy interdune valley, we followed the next sharp dune ridge along until, eventually, the deep blue of the Southern Ocean came into view.

The sun was battling with grey clouds and the cold south-easterly was slowly strengthening by the time that we reached Conspicuous Beach and, before descending the wooden steps to have lunch at the beach shelter, we retrieved our buried stash of food. Tonight, despite what the weather would bring, we would eat well!

First view of the ocean near Conspicuous Creek

From the lunch spot, we descended onto the beach towards the imposing profile of Conspicuous Cliffs. A short walk in the soft white sand and a long climb up through the foredunes saw the start of our ascent up to the cliff top.

Boardwalk alongside Conspicuous Creek down to the beach

Heading towards Conspicuous Cliffs

Small perched lake in the dunes near Conspicuous Cliffs

So where has the track gone?

This area had also been burnt and in places the heath shrublands had regenerated so densely that we were walking through a tunnel in otherwise impenetrable 3m high scrub, in other places the regrowth was shorter, but sharp-leaved acacias had almost closed off the track, while in more exposed areas, the regrowth was lower and riot of pimelea pink and scaevola blue.

View westward from Conspicuous Cliff

Diversity of the low post-fire heath

The last bit of sunshine lights up Rame Head

Reaching the high point just behind the cliffs we undulated slowly downwards to Rame Head Campsite, set in the heath behind the headland of the same name, with superb views eastward along the coast to Point Irwin and across to Irwin Inlet and Foul Bay.

However, the grey skies had won the day and the south-easterly was now blustering and cold. We settled into the shelter, partially protected by a glassed wall on the open easterly side. Reading the shelter logbook, other had fared far worse on this exposed headland, with tales of drenched people barely able to stand in gale-force winds as they struggled up to the campsite. For this and for the great day we felt content. It had been a slow and pleasant trip from forest to sea.

As evening approached we were joined by two Queensland women heading in the opposite direction from Peaceful Bay - the first time that we had shared a site with fellow Bibbulmun Track walkers and it was pleasant to share experiences with nice companions.

View from Rame Head Campsite towards Point Irwin


Rame Head Campsite to Peaceful Bay (13 km)

We awoke to grey skies. There had been a few drops of rain overnight, but the weather was largely wind and bluff. For the first time we set off wearing fleeces, but the clouds were already being chased from the east by the cold wind and with the arrival of the sun, the warm gear was quickly dispensed with. The track followed an old 4WD route through the regenerating heath, old burnt peppermints already had 1-2 m of dense new growth reshooting from their bases, grass trees all carried flowering spears from the previous year and the heath was a sea of new green growth splashed with the pink of pimeleas. A couple of years ago this would have been a blackened wasteland - it never ceases to amaze how resilient the bush is!


New green heath beneath the grey skeletons of burnt peppermint

Pink patches of pimelea are prominent in regenerating heath

Death and renewal - the twin impacts of fire

Leaving the 4WD track, a footpath took us on an undulating trip through the sand dunes, climbing up to the of of a steep dune for impressive views towards the sea, over pale green new heath and grey patches of old dead shrubs, burnt in the fire. Descending we crossed paths with the first dugite of the day, its tail disappearing into the heath as we rounded a corner.

Heath covered sand ridges near Rame Head

Be alert but not alarmed!

Bull banksia cone

At times the track almost lost itself in
regrowing peppermint thickets

The track in this dune section was often overgrown, but eventually led us to that unique Western Australian feature - a boot-cleaning station in the bush. We took a breather and scrubbed away, continuing on with the soles of our boots squeaky clean and certified phytophthora-free.

Pink pimelea-splashed heath

Black cockatoo keeping an eye out

How considerate - a spot to clean
one's boots!
Soon we were crossing a low swampy area, where a series of boardwalks suggested that the water level was often a lot higher than the present. Today we were treated to a display of white and pink flower-spikes dotted throughout the dry swampland.

Flower-speckled swamplands

Path to the sea via The Gap

Leaving this flat area, we climbed up through the dunes to emerge at The Gap, a break in the cliff-line leading to a beautiful rock-dotted sandy beach with superb views back towards Rame Head. It was a great place to stop and soak our feet in the refreshingly cold sea water as we watched the big waves roll in.

Eventually we had to push on and, wandering behind a rocky platform to cross a boulder-strewn beach, we were accompanied by the sound of the surf and the big seas crashing onto the rocks in explosions of foam.

Crossing the dunes to The Gap beach

Big seas at the stony beach


View back toward Rame Head across The Gap

Pig-face and coastal daisy covered shoreline

Climbing the granite slab of Castle Rock

The track now led us back up through the sand dunes, covered in thick unburnt heath with only the odd flowering herb along the path. From the dunes, the climb continued up the red and grey granite-gneiss rocks of Castle Rock at the summit of Point Irwin, with its spectacular views back along our path to the west and towards our destination at Peaceful Bay in the north.

View west to Rame Head from Castle Rock

View north to Peaceful Bay from Castle Rock

The top of Castle Rock was a veritable rock garden with small wind-sheared shrubs tucked in amongst the red granitic boulders. On the descent, we encountered several other plants that only grow in these granitic soils (and just when we thought that we had seen them all!).

The rock garden of Castle Rock (Point Irwin)

Some of the curious wind-sheared granitic flora


The Quarram dunes across Foul Bay

Soon after we met our second snake for the day. This dugite had not heard that snakes are meant to slither rapidly away and lay along the path eyeballing us for a few minutes. Only an Irish jig by the fair Nello managed to chase it into the bush (I confess that it almost made me jump into the bush as well!). Continuing our progress northward, we crossed a succession of shelly beaches, lined with rocks covered in brilliantly orange lichen, until eventually we reached Soft Beach. Fortunately, it did not live up to its name and the intertidal sand was quite firm - we made rapid progress alongside the translucent green water of this protected beach.


Dugite on the track! That makes 5 to date

The rocky shoreline of Foul Bay north of Point Irwin

The tranquil waters of Peaceful Bay

Crossing a dune at the end of Soft Beach, we overlooked the equally limpid green and calm waters of Peaceful Bay - peaceful by name, peaceful by nature. It was only a short distance up the pathway to the Caravan Park, where we had booked in for a day's break. Two nights in the comfort of a real bed in our little green van, a great feed of fish and chips at the local shop and a cold beer that we left in our food stash at the park - luxury!!