Monday, May 31, 2010

Riding - no, pushing - my bike along the Munda Biddi Trail

I rode three days along WA's renowned Munda Biddi Trail. No, not really, much of it I had to push my bike.

Munda Biddi Trail

The Munda Biddi Trail stretches from Mundaring in the north, in the Perth Hills, down to Collie and Nannup. Some 500 kilometres south, it is planned that the trail will reach the 800 kilometres to Albany sometime next year. I chose to ride four days from the northern trailhead at Mundaring. Wrong choice.

The riding was tough, this was immediately clear on the day I set out. Within the first two kilometres I fell off my bike twice. What was to become a familiar pattern, the rutted gravelled track was no friend of the bike trailer, or for that matter a bike with panniers.

I had planned to ride from the northern trailhead, itself in the town of Mundaring, but due to the lack of accommodation options (the caravan park was a no-show) I drove some seven kilometres down the trail to Mundaring Weir, staying the Perth Hills YHA. Here I could safely leave my car, and would be able to catch two trains and a bus back to Mundaring, but would have to walk the seven kilometres down the Trail back to the YHA, there being no public transport to the weir, despite the parks and picnic areas.

I discovered later from others that the section from Mundaring to the first campsite, Carinyah, is notoriously difficult. Indeed, this whole section from Mundaring to Dwellingup is glorious, but tough. I really should have done more (or for that matter, some) research. A guy with a similar bike trailer rode from Mundaring to Collie in 13 days, although he was ill-prepared and carrying too much weight.

The first 12 kilometres of the first day took me over two and half hours, plus the time it took me to replace a blown tyre and repair a puncture. Thank you to Graham for giving me that habit of carrying a spare tyre, my tyre was unrepairable! This section was labelled as challenging, indeed it was a ripper. It was very difficult to push the bike and trailer along, riding was out of the question. Even pushing the bike my feet would slip on the narrow, gravelled, rutted path. Only two or three kilometres into the Challenging section I came across an alternative route option for touring bikes. There was no question in my mind as to what route I would be taking!

From here on whenever I came upon a section labelled challenging, I would seek out the alternative touring route, or where none was available, seek out dirt roads that I could get around the area. It was very well worth it, as proven on the third day's ride when I rode a section labelled challenging, but this time without the trailer, and with two boys instead. It was hard work to push the bike up those river valley sides, it would have been impossible to push the bike and loaded trailer.

I met and rode with some great people along the trail. On the first day I didn't meet anyone, and camped alone at Carinyah campsite. Carinyah in the local indigenous language means Happy Home and indeed it was a fanastic campsite. A very spacious hut with park benches, sleeping platforms, bike racks and even a bike fixing rack. Very nice! I wish the Department for Environment and Heritage in South Australia would take note and build similar standard huts, the Bibbilmun Track huts were of a similar high standard. It was easily the coldest night - a mere 3 degrees - I have spent in Western Australia, even colder than the night spent on the Nullabor.

On the second day I met Reg, as I was parking the bike for a moment's rest, he rode up behind me. We discussed bikes and plans for the day, he was impressed with my bike trailer and wondered how it performed. He followed me up a hill to witness it's performance. With a trailer one is forced to travel slow uphill - it's hard work - and going slow downhill is advised. With a rutted, gravelled track one wrong move and the trailer could bounce into the rut, bringing the bike and you into the rut with it, and most likely you off the bike. At the top of the hill, he took off past me down a ridiculous hill at an adventurous speed. Indeed, this trailer was certainly slowing me down. At the bottom of the hill though Reg was nursing his bike, he had just broken a wheel spoke on the downhill run.

We lunched at Wungong campsite together. Another excellent campsite, but I was there by 12.30pm and Jarrahdale was only 26 kilometres away, the section of track being labelled as easy. We rode into town together, some of the ride following an old logging railway. The ride was indeed very easy, it would have been interesting to have noted the different average speed for this after lunch section compared to the morning's section, I think it would have been vastly different.

Reg assured me he had heard of cyclists staying at affordable accommodation in town, and although a free campsite was my preference, dividing the track up in this way made much more sense. At the General Store and Cafe I asked about nearby hostels and campgrounds, there are none I was told. Well shit me. I sauntered off down the pub to ask there, and they told me of an option just out of town. I returned to the Store to tell Reg and grab my bike. He had been busy on this iPhone looking up options, probably concerned about him misleading me. An assistant at the Store overheard our conversation and returned with a leaflet with many options, but mostly B&Bs. Too expensive for me, no worries though she said, you could stay next door. It is set up like a hostel, only $30 a night, we administer the bookings. What! This is perfect, why did the other girl tell me there was nothing around here! The community run hostel is in the former Nurses Home for the now demolished hospital. Called the Environment Centre, it is also a community centre of sorts. The facilities are excellent, good beds, hot showers, fully stocked kitchen and heating! Perfect for passing cyclists, if you want to use it remember to insist it exists if you are told at the General Store and Cafe that there is nothing around here!

On the third day I saw a mother with a couple of kids riding. The husband, Nick, was meeting them with the car at regular intervals, and at once such interval I stayed to share some lunch - such a great lunch spot it was. Jane was riding with her two boys, Cameron (11ish) and Lachlan (9ish) to North Dandalup Reservoir today, this would complete their ride from the trailhead and Mundaring to Collie, some 300 kilometres to the south. They had originally set out during school holidays to ride the whole distance, with home-made panniers and their camping gear but the weather got the better of them after eight days on the track. They planned to continue their ride over coming weekends, completing the trail south of Collie down to the present southern trailhead at Nannup. They had previously completed walking the 1,000 kilometre Bibblimun Track, and are hoping to publish a children's book later this year.

I took up Nick's offer to put the bike trailer in the car trailer, and ride with Jane, Cameron and Lachlan to the dam. Oh my goodness, it was glorious indeed riding trailerless - it's like moonwalking. Jane soon recognised her boys had met a match, and took a ride in the car, leaving me to ride with the two boys along a section labelled challenging to the reservoir. The boys make an excellent team, looking out for each other and planning not one step but two steps ahead with their map reading.

At the reservoir I took up Nick and Jane's offer to drop me in town down on the plains. I had already decided that morning that I would camp just past the reservoir at the Dandalup Campsite, and get up at 5am the next morning and ride downhill, out of the ranges to meet the 7am train to Perth. My knees were sore and would only get worse, I don't think I had another day in me.

At the Pinjarra Caravan Park I booked my train ticket for the following morning. I had always intended to finish here, but after riding a fourth day to Dwellingup and then down from the range to this plains town.

Sorry, not many photos this time, cycling a hard trail and caring to take photos at the same time was too much. Anyone who has cycled before will know that photography and cycling arent a good mix anyway.

Download Google Earth KML file of the first three days south from the northern trailhead of the Munda Biddi Trail
Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Munda Biddi Trail (Mundaring to Dandalup)
Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
28/5/2010 29/5/2010 30/5/2010 31/5/2010
Mundaring Weir (YHA) to Carinyah campsite Carinyah campsite TOI Jarrahvale Jarrahvale to North Dandulup Reservoir Mundaring to Mundaring Weir (YHA)
Distance 32.7km 59.0km 29.1km 7.5km
Start Time 9.30am 8.15am 8.15am -
End Time 4.00pm 3.45pm 2.00pm -
Moving Duration 3h58m 5h29m 3h33m -
Stationary Duration 2h35m 1h58m 2h15m -
Moving Average 8.2km/h 10.8km/h 8.2km/h -
Overall Average 5.0km/h 7.9km/h 5.0km/h -
Oodometer 32.7km 91.8km 121km 128km

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cape to Cape Track

Stretching 135 kilometres from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, the Cape to Cape Track follows the coast between the two lighthouses that mark the start and finishing posts. Wild isolated surf beaches, limestone cliffs and karri forest, all contained within the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.

The Cape to Cape Track, Leeuwin-Naturliste National Park: 150km over 6 days

Leaving my car in Augusta, the closest town to Cape Leeuwin in the south, I caught a bus north to Dunsborough, near Cape Naturaliste. From here I could have hired a taxi for the 13 kilometre ride out to the lighthouse, but instead opted to walk the distance, in part because of a trail that went most of the distance, the Meelup Trail, and also because I saw a few stunning photos taken along this stretch. Setting out from Dunsborough early Tuesday morning, I walked along the coastal pathway through the lush green lawns, past the nice beachfront homes and people walking their dogs and those doing their early morning run.

Upon entering the Meelup Reserve, the trail commenced and the people all dissappeared, from here on it was only the occasional person fishing. The 13 kilometres turned out to be 16.5, but I was at the lighthouse for an icecream and an early lunch by 12.

At the Three Bears beach I sat at the lookout by the carpark, overlooking the surf and the many surfers. Clearly to be a surfer here, one needed a 4WD ute, and preferably a dog to keep you company, to access the sandy tracks to the remote beaches. The waves were huge, so it was with some awe that I watched the guys riding them in. Chatting with a local surfie, he didn't seem to think the waves were that special today and he probably wouldn't bother going out there.

My six day walk could easily be mistaken for a tour of the best surf beaches, so abundant were the beaches with enormous waves. It wasn't at all uncommon for me to be walking along an isolated beach and to see a car approach, the driver carefully selecting an area with good waves and heading out into the surf with his board.
Many beaches had names obviously influenced by the surfing conditions: Guillotine, Gallows, Left Handers, Suicides, and of course the Three Bears - Papa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear.

At one beach I was gobsmacked to see the size of the waves. It was difficult to see if the surfers were out there for recreational surfing or were being pumpelled to death. Someone had scratced into the handrail on the beach staircase the words "This is Heaven." I think for a surfer without a high skillset though, it would probably be hell.

The limestone and granite rocks along the Cape to Cape Track made for some stunning scenery, from the potholes of Cape Hamelin, the cliff of Joeys Nose, the grottoes of Redgate Beach and the many submerged reefs or rocks that created large waves both close and far from the shore.

The long, isolated walks were punctuated, almost daily, by small coastal towns set by idyllic beaches. Some were calm swimming bays, others rough surf beaches. At Yalingup, the submerged reef invites tropical fish to their southernmost location.

The hike could also be a walk through history. There is the discovery history, the geographical French names by Baudin and the English names by Flinders in 1802-3. Due to the many headlands and submerged rocks the coast has laid claim to many shipwrecks. In one ten year period there were 80 ships wrecked. The larger ships coming from across the world dropped anchor in Albany, and the many smaller ships carried the loads north to Perth, around the two capes. Names like Gracetown comemorate the efforts of a small girl and her brother who saved so many people from the surf after they had been shipwrecked. In Hamelin Bay just a few pylons remain of the jetty that once loaded much local felled karri timber, the jetty a victim of rough storms. In a single storm four ships had been wrecked in this harbour, many lives being lost. The telegraph line to the north to Bunbury was out, with no less than 351 trees having fallen across it. Shipwrecks aside, there was not one, but two rusty, calcified waterwheels to be seen along the way - one at Ellensbrook Homestead and another at the very end of the walk at Cape Leeuwin.

A small section of the trail heads inland to pass through karri forest. Heralded as the western most karri forest in the world, I think this is one of those absurd statements people make to draw attention to something's uniqueness. Statements like "the tallest main-made free-standing structure in the southern hemisphere" - there are a lot of sub-clauses there. So too with this western most karri forest. Endimic to the south west of Australia, of course the karri forest has an extreme at each corner of the compass. The forest could hardly have been growing any further west since it had run out of continent on which to grow itself upon.

That said though, it was still a very special day to walk through the forest. The deeper I went in, the narrower and more overgrown the track became, but also, the louder and broader the number of bird calls.

The weather, so much a part of the traveller's life, was for the most part superb. The first three days were in stunning sunshine - hot days marked by a cool breeze and refreshing ocean swims. My choice to walk from north to south was in large part incidental, but I came to realise my good fortune as the sun was always behind me. The fourth day things began to turn, locals warned me of storms coming. Nothing much but grey cloud showed, and it wasn't until dusk that the first rain fell and thunder could be heard in the distant west. It was a slow moving thunderstorm, it wasn't until three am that the thunder reached me. The following day, the fifth day, was downright miserable. The surfers were gone, and the fishermen packed up their gear at the first sign of rain. The towns and beaches were empty, but I battled on, anticipating finer weather for the last day. Finer it wasn't, overnight the wind picked up, which left me walking into a headwind along an eight kilometre beach.

The campsites weren't outstanding, compared to those on the Bibblumun Track or Victoria's Great Ocean Walk they were downright miserable. I think the settlers and surfers got in first to choose all the best sites, most of the campsites seemed to me to be poorly sited. They had difficult or no beach access, and were often viewless. The facilities were minimal: flat ground - well mostly, a park bench, a toilet and some rainwater. These are all good, indeed very much needed, but what was glaringly lacking was a shelter of some sort, somewhere to retreat to in the rain and meet other walkers. Well, okay, there wasn't much in the way of other walkers, but in the rain it certainly would have been nice to have that focus point of a good campsite. The campsites were good in that they were hiker dedicated, you could only walk in, there was no vehicle access, so rubbish and nuisance campers are kept to a minimum.

It is possible to avoid the campsites altogether, instead opting to stay in caravan parks along the way. Literature suggests most people do this hike between five and eight days, and the many accommodation options along the way allow for lots of possibilities. I hiked some long days, usually between 24 and 29 kilometres a day. Faced with a short 20 kilometre day, followed later by a 30 kilometre day - in an effort to avoid paying caravan park fees - I decided to even out three days, converting from 20-27-30 kilometres to 26-26-28 kilometres. I did this by camping in a nice spot near Kilcarnup Beach, a distinctive place called Joeys Nose. Surfies had made vehicle tracks every which way here, and many campsites too.

The days may be long in kilometres, but not so long in duration. There is never much gain in elevation or climbing, so long kilometres are easily possible. I usually walked 16-18 kilometres before lunch, and finished hiking around 3.30pm. Sunset was just after five, the winter solstice being just weeks away.

The track is marked, good topo strip maps are available from the Cape to Cape website and Lonely Planet's Walking in Australia guide. The Lonely Planet guide was immensely helpful, not for the maps but for the track notes. The trail markers have no arrows, so often they will guide you into a carpark or town, but you are left there scratching your head. It isn't until you have walked a few metres down the correct track, that you see another trail marker confirming your choice. Often there was no confirmation, which is where instinct and the Lonely Planet guide was so helpful. The guide would mention things like "take the second - not the first - staircase off the beach," or, "at the Y-junction take the right fork" and so forth. The towns weren't such a problem, or matterred that much if you take a wrong turn, as you can figure out how where to exit the town from the detailed town maps inset on the topo strip map. Beach exits were particularly troublesome, often there would be a large sign reading "Cape to Cape Track", but sometimes not. Following the footprints in the sand seemed to be the key, except in cases of tracks between carparks and beaches where the footprints could lead you astray.

In towns I kept detouring the local general store in a bid to find some duct tape, my Thermarest Neoair, or should I just say neo, air mattress wasn't lasting the night. Generous use of some duct tape should remedy the problem until I can fix it at the end of the trip. No-one seemed to sell it, after a 1.2 kilometre walk to a store and back on the third day, I gave up.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in purchasing a state-of-the art piece of plastic, drop me an email. Upon reaching camp you consume all remaining energy blowing into it to inflate it, topping it up just before bed time as your warmed air has now cooled and condensed, and you have a very comfortable bed for at least two hours, and some air in it for at least six. Extra light and compact, thin bits of plastic to sleep on were never so comfortable. Upon finishing my six day hike, I spent twenty minutes searching everywhere for the source of the leak. This aint no finding-a-puncture-in-a-bike-tyre experience let me tell you, the holes seem to perform only under a wriggling body, I could find no sign whatsoever of a leak.
My Exped Vela I Extreme tent went very well. I have only used it briefly in New Zealand, and on two nights of the Bibblumun Track last week. I was able to test both packing up and setting up in the rain, as well as cooking in the vestibule - it excelled at each task and I was most comfortable in the spacious tent and vestibule - and importantly - me and my gear remained dry.

I had planned to walk from Cape Leeuwin into Augusta to my car, but decided, in part due to some hip pain (oh goodness here's a new one), to call a cab. Having done so, it allowed me to get to the supermarket to restock with food before it closed for the day at 1pm (it was a Sunday), if I walked into town I would be buying some foodstuffs at a servo and/or eating out for dinner. My car seems to be mouse free, the mousetraps untouched in the last seven days. The car does smell rather though, as I read somewhere that mice hate mothballs, so I had bought some and placed them in the cabin and engine bay before catching the bus north, having removed them now smell still lingers somewhat...

My photos, for the first time, I have geotagged them using some fancy software that matches my GPS unit's track times with when the photo was taken, so in Picasa each photo includes a map which shows exactly where it was taken.

Download Google Earth KML file of Western Australia's Cape to Cape Track
Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit. The file has been modified from the one displayed in the map above, I removed my various detours and getting lost moments, so it should be quite an accurate record of the track (the path through some towns isnt quite right).


Cape to Cape Track, WA
Tue Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
18/5/10 18/5/10 19/5/10 20/5/10 21/5/10 22/5/10 23/5/10
Dunsborough to Cape Naturaliste Cape Naturaliste to Mt Duckworth campsite Mt Duckworth campsite to Moses Rock Campsite Moses Rock Campsite to Joeys Nose Joeys Nose to Point Road Campsite Point Road Campsite to Deepdene Campsite Deepdene Campsite to Cape Leeuwin
Distance 16.6km 10.2km 24.2km 26.6km 26.7km 29.1km 16.0km
Start Time 8.10am 12pm 8.10am 8.00am 7.45am 7.45am 7.45am
End Time 12pm 3.30pm 3.30pm 3.10pm 3.15pm 4.05pm 11.30am
Moving Duration 3h13m 2h7m 5h13m 5h25m 5h19m 6h13m 3h15m
Stationary Duration 56m 52m 2h8m 1h47m 2h8m 2h10m 30m
Moving Average 5.2km/h 5.2km/h 4.6km/h 4.9km/h 5.0km/h 4.7km/h 4.9km/h
Overall Average 4.0km/h 3.7km/h 3.3km/h 3.7km/h 3.6km/h 3.5km/h 4.2km/h
Oodometer 16.6km 27.8km 52.0km 78.6km 105.3km 134.4km 150.0km

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bluff Knoll

I drove out to the Stirling Range National Park and hiked up southern WA's highest peak - Bluff Knoll.

Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia

The relatively compact Stirling Range rises high above the surrounding plains. The path up Bluff Knoll is wide and well made, but it is still a 650 metre gain in elevation. The hike up took me under and hour, return was about 40 minutes. I quite like peak climbs and hiking, so this was quick, the official recommendation is 3-4 hours. It was a very clear day, and the views rewarding.

I purchased a fantastic photo of the mountain by Christian Fletcher, which I have since framed. Beautiful work.

Photographer: Christian Fletcher

Peaceful Bay to Walpole, Bibblimun Track

A three day taster of the Bibblimun Track, near Albany

Peaceful Bay to Walpole, Bibblimun Track

On Wednesday I drove over to Walpole, checking out some of the local beaches along the way. Leaving my car secure at the caravan park in Walpole, I rode my bike some 32 kilometres back down the road to Peaceful Bay. It was quite an enjoyable ride through the forest, and there was not much traffic around. I camped at Peaceful Bay and was treated to a nice sunset, followed by hours of intense rain. I was pretty thankful I had brought my four-season tent along with me. The following day the rain had eased, and I set out on a three day trek along a small section of the Bibbulmun Track.

The Track stretches some 1,000 kilometres from Albany in the south to near Perth in the north. I walked 60 kilometres, a mere three percent of the track. The section I covered was through the Walpole-Nornalup National Park and included some coastline consisting of beaches, dunes and clifftop walking and some forest walking. It reminded me, as many hikes somehow tend to remind one of another hike, of the beech forest walking of Victoria's Great Ocean Walk.

The second day I walked through the Valley of the Giants - the forest dense with tall red tingle trees and karri trees. It is not uncommon to see tingle trees with hollow bases, the centre of the trunk being burnt out by bushfire, but the outer living bark layers remaining. The trees are up to 60 metres tall and some hundreds of years old. It cant all be believed though, I pondered, as I walked past the site known as Douglas' Lookout with nothing but very dense forest to see. I skipped the Tree Top Walk as it sounds far too much like a scheme designed for me and my money to part ways. Much nicer to walk through the forest by oneself for three days.

The campsites are very well set up and I enjoyed staying in one at Frankland River, which included a pergola looking out over the river. This walk is detailed in Lonely Planet's Walking in Australia, but is included as a four day walk - 12km-18km-13km-18km. I walked 22km, 21km and 13km (the last day would have been longer only I miscalculated).

I didn't see or talk to anyone for these three days, which is quite an odd experience - especially in an eerie forest. A couple of times I was scared half to death by large, rapidly moving forest creatures, only to discover them as passing cars on nearby parallel roads. I would have liked to have someone else to walk with, if only to walk ahead of me thereby clearing all the spider webs.

On the final day I caught a few glimpses of patchie sun in the forest as the sun struggled to shine through the clouds. Walking into Walpole it finally shone brightly for the first time in three days.

Three days on the Bibblumun Track

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cape Le Grande Coastal Trek

I met Andre and Jeanette on the Nullarbor at a roadside camp, we did the Cape Le Grande Coastal Trek together.

Cape Le Grande National Park

We rose early, driving south through the fog to Esperence. After a quick fruit and veg restocking - oh the grief of having it all confiscated at the SA/WA border - we drove out to Cape Le Grande National Park. Here we walked the 15 kilometre Coastal Track, well most of it. We walked from Le Grande Beach to Lucky Bay, maybe some three to four kilometres short of the full trail. Somehow we still managed to walk 14.8 kilometres though! The park is spectacular, it is mainly low lying but interspersed with huge granite mountains rising some 200-300 metres.

The beach sand is white, the water azure blue. I had seen photos in magazines, but in real life, with the sun shining, the sand is white and the water azure blue! We ate lunch sitting high above Hellfire Beach, watching four dolphins play in the surf.

We shared a bbq meal together that night, the following morning we parted ways again. So sad, but nice to meet such travellers!

Coastal Track, Cape Le Grande National Park

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit