Over a month has passed by since our return from the south-west corner of Western Australia and we still reminisce about the superb walks that we did there. We walked 380 km, mixing long treks with day-walks and passing through seven national parks and a nature reserve. The diversity of landscapes that we crossed was incredible: the Cape to Cape Track gave us rugged limestone cliffs, granite headlands, long stretches of sandy beach and dunes, different types of heathland, woodland and tall forest; on the southern end of the Bibbulmun Track we walked through wetlands, along estuarine inlets, rivers and amongst some of the tallest forest trees on the continent, as well as woodlands, heath, tall coastal cliffs and dunes and beaches. On both tracks you can walk long distances without meeting another soul. Despite this magnificent isolation, the two tracks were never too far from civilisation in the form of delightful little townships, such as Margaret River, Augusta, Walpole and Denmark.

Cape Leeuwin - the end of the Cape to Cape Track and the end of a continent

Amongst the forest giants on the Bibbulmun Track

In the Stirling Ranges, we walked amongst the rugged peaks and bluffs of a unique "island" of mountains, isolated by the dry flat plains that surround them. Finally, our trip was completed by an unexpected gem, the best coastal day walk in Australia along the orange-red granite coastline of Cape Le Grand, with its magnificent white sand bays and unbelievably clear blue waters.

The rugged beauty of the Stirling Ranges

The incredible colours of the coastline at Cape Le Grand

In all of these walks there was one unifying feature - the superb wildflowers of south-west Western Australia. The descriptions of our walks on this site are unashamedly a homage to this unique flora. September to November is certainly the time to go walking in this area if you love wildflowers and, for us, the walks would not have been as exciting had we gone at another time.

The local community and Department of Conservation and Land Management are to be congratulated for their efforts in developing and maintaining the long distance walking tracks in that part of the world. The Cape to Cape Track was only officially opened in 2001 and, for us, was a magnificent introduction to coastal landscapes, heathland and forest of the region. More importantly the infrastructure of the track, plus highly informative guidebooks and a dedicated website, run by the Friends of the Cape to Cape, greatly facilitate organising the 135km walk.

Similarly, the Bibbulmun Track was developed as a joint community-government effort and was opened in its present form in 1998. Almost 1000 km long, with 48 campsites and well-designed and well-equipped shelters spaced within a day's walk of each other, plus informative guidebooks and other resources, it has quickly become the premier long-distance walking track in Australia. In fact, shortly after we finished the last section of The Bibbulmun Track, it was awarded the title of Western Australia's most significant tourist attraction for 2006.

Not everyone has the time or perseverance to walk the track from end-to-end. We chose the 210 km section from Walpole to Albany because it offered the greatest diversity. If you only have a week to spare, we would recommend the section from Walpole to Denmark and if you only have a few days, the part from Walpole to Peaceful Bay offers a little bit of everything, from magnificent forests to wild coastal scenery. If you don't like camping out, there are plenty of day walks along the two tracks, in the Stirling Ranges or along the aridly beautiful coast east of Esperance and plenty of B&Bs nearby where you can sleep in a comfortable bed, eat well and drink the fine local wines after a good days walk. There are no excuses, people from the ages of 8 to 78 are doing it already.

If you are looking for an excellent walking experience - go west!

Demography of the Bibbulmun Track

The shelters on the Bibbulmun Track all have log books in which walkers are requested to register for safety purposes. The information in these provides a fascinating insight into track usage, at least for those doing longer multi-day treks: extrapolating the log book data can be an interesting way of passing the evening for the statistically-addicted. The official figures state that people take 137,000 walks on the track, with three quarters being day-walks and the rest ranging from overnight to eight weeks. The following information, gleaned from entries at Giants and Rame Head shelters over the previous 12 months, gives insights into who and from where these walkers are, as well as what they are doing and when they are on the track.

When do people walk the track?

There is always someone on the track, but the spring and autumn are the two peak periods. The latter is most popular and I daresay the presence of wildflowers is the big attraction. This said, the track is far from overcrowded; we were there in the spring peak and only met 20 day-walkers and 12 people camping out. We stayed in a shelters on 8 nights and were the sole occupants on 4 of these.

What is the age of the walkers?

For some reason the log book asks the age of walkers - for some reason most people write it down. It produced a fascinating age profile of track walkers. Apart from the obvious fact that the very young and very old don't walk the track (still there were serious walkers from 8 to 78!), there are big differences between the age distribution of the general population of Australians and those who do long walks that involve camping out.

There were fewer teenagers than expected (walking is not cool?), more than expected in their twenties (the adventurers, including overseas backpackers), and fewer again in their thirties when life just gets too busy with work and family. A curious peak in the late forties might be due to mid-life crises (some buy a motor-bike, some walk the Bibbulmun?), while the senior age groups formed a consistently higher than expected proportion of walkers (leaving the workforce gives you more time to pursue your dreams?).


Where do the walkers come from?

As would be expected, most people staying overnight in a shelter were "locals" from Western Australia (72%), while 18% came from the eastern states of Australia and another 10% from overseas. Of the overseas contingent, the New Zealanders headed the list, followed by German, British, American and Canadian walkers, with the odd person from Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Estonia and Singapore. The Bibbulmun is certainly on the international trekking radar. Official statistics suggest that 85% of walkers are from Western Australia, but this would include day-walkers who would be biassed towards the locals.

How long are the walks being done?

Log book entries indicate the start and planned end points of all walkers overnighting at a shelter. This enabled a look at the types of walks being done.

Curiously, of the 256 people who signed the book at Rame Head shelter, the largest group were the end-to-enders. Taking these and the overnighters out, there was a good inverse correlation between the length of the walk and the numbers doing it. However, it should be appreciated that these shorter walks are occurring all over the track, while there is only one group of end-to-enders, so over the entire track there would be many people more doing shorter trips.

Well, so much for statistics - the important thing that they tell us is that, because of the Bibbulmun Track, people are out there enjoying the outdoors and learning about this wonderful part of Australia.