Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay


One of the most diverse days in the most diverse section of the Bibbulmun Track (Walpole to Denmark), this 23.4km trek from Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay passes through rugged coastline and heathlands, white sandy beaches, the unexpected grassy plains of the Showgrounds and crosses the Irwin Inlet by canoe. This challenging but rewarding day of walking is amongst the Bibbulmun's best and most spectacular. 



Distance: 23.4 km (one way)
Gradient: Some hilly sections and steep descents. The soft sands in some sections make the gradient more challenging that it would usually be. 
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained, though some of the heathlands were a little overgrown. Also there were only 3 canoes as the time of our visit when there should have been at least 4. 
Quality of Signage: Well signed, with the Bibbulmun Track's Waugal trail markers providing very clear directional information. 
Experience Required: Bush Walking Experience Recommended - this is a fairly long and challenging section of the track. Some 4WD experience would also be recommended to get to Boat Harbour itself. 
Time: 6.5 Hours
Steps: Some steps in sections, especially beach access points. There is a very steep descent down a significant flight of stairs leading from coastals cliffs down to the beach.
Best Time to Visit: All year round, though best to avoid in stormy or very hot weather. Access to Boat Harbour may be impossible after heavy rains. 
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Boat Harbour is accessed from Boat Harbour Rd off South Coast Hwy. The road is unsealed towards the end. As it passes through Owingup Swamps, the conditions can be either very sandy, muddy or even flooded out. 4WD is definitely required, and high clearance would be recommended. Peaceful Bay is easily reached via Peaceful Bay Rd. Parking is available just by the Bibbulmun Track trailhead, located to the left of the Peaceful Bay General Store. 



The first time I walked a section of the Bibbulmun Track was December 2003. I had picked a somewhat unusual destination for my Year 12 Leavers, and somehow convinced a number of friends to join me on the journey. To this day, the Walpole to Denmark section of the track ranks amongst my favourite walks - it is a truly stunning. When Alissa and I decided to start a sectional End to End, I was particularly looking forward to walking this part of the track again. With Alissa's parents living in Denmark, day walks are quite easy for us and we made use of the WA Day long weekend to complete the section from Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay.

The first part of the drive down Boat Harbour Rd was very pleasant, and our decision to wake up fairly early was rewarded with a lovely golden sunrise, made all the more beautiful by the presence of a rainbow. I just had to get out and take a photograph, with the above photo being the result. During the second half of Boat Harbour Rd, the road becomes very sandy, and it would be very easy to get bogged here. This area can become muddy and flooded out later in the year, and it is best to contact DPaW or the Bibbulmun Track Foundation for up to date information.



Arriving at Boat Harbour, we parked up our car in the large sandy area near the beach. A large wooden Bibbulmun Track sign confirmed that we were in the right location, with the trail running to the right into the heathlands.



But before heading to our destination, I stopped for a photo of Boat Harbour itself. The bay is a lovely little spot, framed by the beautiful granite rock formations so typical of the area.



After briefly ascending through the coastal heath, we arrived at Boat Harbour Campsite and filled in our details in both of the hut's books. The trail continues on behind the hut, leading up to the coastal cliffs beyond.





The first few kilometres alternate between dunes and coastal cliffs, providing an excellent vantage point to view the raging, powerful Southern Ocean crashing into rocky islands and other formations jutting out into the ocean. Its almost hypnotic, and Alissa and I found ourselves repeatedly pausing to watch the waves come crashing in.



As the coastal cliffs give way to sandy beaches, the track descends a steep wood staircase. Its a fairly easy descent, but its the kind of stairway that makes you very glad you're not walking the other direction.



The beaches in the area - Little Quarram and Big Quarram - are truly beautiful, with many areas totally deserted. The track features a lot of beach walking in this section, alternating with the odd excursion up into the heathlands when rocky terrain along the beach makes it restrictive.



Given the seclusion, there is a nice sense of wilderness in the first few sections of beach walking - which makes the appearance of a large sea container door along the beach particularly odd. This door was here when I walked this section in 2003, and seems to have become a noteworthy landmark mentioned by more than a few walkers online.



As you head down the beach towards Peaceful Bay, you're much more likely to run into other people fishing from the beaches. Rather than going to the mouth of Irwin Inlet, the trail veers inland over sand dunes and transitions into a unexpected grassland. Known as the Showgrounds, the area looks like a grassy area that has been cleared, but is actually a naturally occurring micro-environment. The oddness of this section in relation to the surrounding area is being studied by scientists, and there are staked off areas throughout the area that show where experiments are taking place. Walking in this section can be a bit tough - there is very little in the way of shade, and the sandy hills can be a slog to climb. Walking this in December of 2003 was a real challenge, and we all couldn't wait to get out of this section. The cooler weather of May 2015 was considerably better, making the difficult hills worth the effort while the recent rains made all the grass green and lush.



Being grassy and remote, this area is basically paradise for kangaroos - there are mobs everywhere. While not as tame as those in areas like Mundaring Weir or Yanchep National Park, the kangaroos here seem to be less wary of humans, only moving once we were very close to them. 



After walking for the three and a half kilometres of the Showgrounds, the trail reaches the eastern boatshed along the Irwin Inlet. This is my favourite inlet crossing on the track, as it calls for a change of pace as you paddle across to the other side. 



When I did this crossing in 2003, there were more than enough canoes - my estimate would be as much as 8. By the time of our crossing in 2015, there were only 3 and I had to go to the other side of the Inlet to pull the other two across so Alissa and I would have one each, plus leaving one for the next Peaceful Bay-bound walker. I contacted the Bibbulmun Track Foundation about this issue, and while they knew of one of the canoes having floated downstream, they were surprised that the situation had become so dire. DPaW were apparently contacted and this situation might be improved now. Still, it was better than arriving at the shed and finding no canoes at all!





After the canoe crossing, the area on the Peaceful Bay side of the inlet began with heathland vegetation and Peppermint Trees as the Bibbulmun makes its way over some dunes towards an old vehicle track. This broad track was the only really boring part of the day, as it was several kilometres of bush on both sides that prevented any really interesting views. Even worse was that the area seems to be really popular with spiders, and I kept walking into spider webs across the track throughout this section. Being so dull, I didn't bother to take a photo, though I wish now that I had so I could illustrate just how dull it was. The pay off at the end of this boring section was arriving in Peaceful Bay and being able to eat an ice cream from the General Store, and being picked up by Alissa's parents.



Other than the boring ending, Boat Harbour to Peaceful Bay is one of the more intrepid sections of the track, with parts that felt much more like a wilderness walk than can be said of the Bibbulmun Track as a whole. With such variety and quality of views - not to mention the novelty of the canoe crossing - this is one of the best and most fun sections of the track to walk - more than making up for some of the challenging, sandy hills and stretches of beach walking. 

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