Saturday, 3 September 2016

Bells Rapids Walk Trail (Bells Rapids Reserve)


One of Perth's best dog friendly walks, the Bells Rapids Walk Trail takes walkers alongside a series of iconic rapids famed for being part of the Avon Descent. A 5.5 kilometre loop, the trail follows the river downstream before ascending up the valley slopes to provide sweeping view of the river below. Featuring views of interesting granite formations and even a waterfall, this is an ideal walk to undertake with four legged friends

Distance: 5.5 km (loop)
Gradient: Starts easy and flat before a moderately steep ascent and descent. 
Quality of Path: Clear and relatively well maintained path. Some sections can either be rocky or muddy. 
Quality of Signage: Poorly signed, with the few markers available either faded or vandalised. Walkers are advised to refer to City of Swan's downloadable guide.
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required, however ensure you have the downloadable guide if you are uncertain about navigation. 
Time: 1-1.5 Hours
Steps: No formal steps, but some of the rockier sections are naturally stepped
Best Time to Visit: Winter-Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts from the car park at the end of Cathedral Ave, off Great Northern Hwy in the Swan Valley. 


Meet Elvis. He's Alissa's parents' dog, and easily the most placid and loving Jack Russell I've ever met. With Alissa's parents up for the weekend looking at cars, Elvis joined them for a holiday and we decided to surprise him by taking him out on an adventure with us. Although most walks are in National Parks and thus limits to dogs, there are still plenty of dog friendly walks in the Perth area. One such walk that we'd been meaning to get around to was the Bells Rapids Walk Trail - a 5.5 km loop walk near a section of rapids along the Swan River famed for being one of the iconic sections of the annual Avon Descent. I had visited Bells Rapids in Autumn 2010 and had never gotten around to checking the walk out during the wet season. With Elvis in town and with favourable early Spring weather, it was the perfect time to tick the Bells Rapids Walk Trail off our to-do list.


Although the walk trail's loop is on the north side of the river, the Bells Rapids car park is located on the south side, with walkers crossing an impressively long wooden foot bridge to the other side. 



This is a spectacular start to the walk, as it places walkers right in the thick of the rapids. Its almost hard to believe the raging waters here are the same as the tranquil Swan River near Perth! 




Once across to the other side, we found that the already highly insufficient trail head had been rendered useless by graffiti, with much of the signage difficult to discern. Since we knew that the track would be a loop walk, we were not overly phased by the poor quality of the signage, however it does mean that the City of Swan's guide is fairly essential reading. 



Alissa and I decided to tackle the walk in a clockwise direction, with the trail running alongside the river. Being so close to the river, we were not surprised to find that it was very muddy. None of this seemed to phase Elvis, who in typical dog fashion was completely fine with the fact his paws and belly were becoming extremely filthy very quickly. 



The trail features numerous excellent vantage points from which to view the river - a definite advantage given that the trail would get very crowded with onlookers during the Avon Descent. 





With Spring in the air and so many wonderful smells throughout the valley, Elvis was extremely excited and was so eager to explore that he was almost pulling Alissa along! For most of the walk, Elvis was the leader; always wanting to be the first to explore.



Having walked many of Perth's dog friendly trails, I had expected to find the terrain overly manicured and easy, however I was suitably impressed to find that there were some rocky sections to give the walk some interest. Even a small dog like Elvis was able to negotiate the rocky terrain with ease, and I would suggest this would be suitable for all but very old dogs. 



The trail is rather bereft of directional signage, and there were a few times were there appeared to be multiple ad hoc trails that branch off the track. A simple rule of thumb is to follow the path that is closest to the river. After the lack of clarity, the arrow above showed that we were indeed heading the right way. 



After heading through a section of tall trees, the trail eventually reaches the junction pictured above. Again, some directional signage would have been welcome, however the track's guide helpfully indicated that we were to turn right and ascend up the valley. 



The ascent is up an old vehicle track, and is surprisingly steep and rocky. This is certainly an ascent to get the heart pumping, and we could see Elvis noticeably slow down once we were about halfway up the the valley slope. 



The ascent levels out for a bit, allowing walkers to catch their breath. Along this stretch of the track is a sign identifying a nearby granite formation as 'Buttock Rock' which we found to be aptly named. Elvis took our bait as we lead him to the rock, and I was able to capture him take a sniff of the rock's crevice. 



After Buttock Rock, the trail grows steep yet again, ascending to the highest point of the walk. 



The vantage point at the top is excellent, providing an expansive view of the valley below. Bells Rapids and the bridge crossed earlier can be clearly seen. Observant walkers may also notice that there is a waterfall visible in the distance. These falls look impressive but are not very well known, largely due to the fact that a railway line cuts the falls off from Bells Rapids, with signs informing potential visitors that it is illegal to cross the tracks. Don't think you won't get caught either - we had a look to see if we could get across and found that they have security cameras filming the only vehicle access point!



From the high vantage point, the trail descends along the vehicle track, eventually leading to a T junction. Walkers should turn right here, and take the path on the right side of the gate pictured above. 



Unfortunately, we thought the gate was opening onto a private property, so we took the path on the left side. 



When we got to the bottom we realised our mistake, as we had inadvertently walked through a private property instead. More signage at the upper end of the trail would have prevented this from happening, and I imagine that many walkers have made this mistake in the past. 



We could see that the Bells Rapids Walk Trail turned right on the other side of the fence, however we were able to find a fairly well maintained trail to follow from where we exited the private property. To our surprise we realised we'd stumbled upon a section of the Camino Salvado. Also known as the Pilgrim's Trail, this walk links Subiaco to New Norcia and mirrors the long journeys Bishop Dom Rosendo Salvado used to make on foot when he was the New Norcia monastery's first abbot. 



The Pilgrim Trail runs a short distance along the river before returning to the bridge, thus completing a loop. 



From there its an easy, short walk back across the river to the car. Before heading off, we found a safe spot in the river to give Elvis a bit of a wash. After being so happy over the length of the walk, Elvis was far from impressed to be getting washed off, and he refused to look at me or accept a doggy treat as he gave me the face that says "I've been betrayed and I don't want to look at you anymore". Thankfully, all was forgiven later in the day as he was happily accepted my pats and offers of snacks/forgiveness. 



Poor signage aside, the Bells Rapids Walk Trail was a lot more exciting than I had expected, with excellent views across the Swan River valley, and a good mix of easy and slightly challenging terrain. Although hardly a long trail, the 5.5 kilometre length felt like a good distance for a dog walk, and didn't give me the 'is that all?' feeling of short and easy dog friendly walks like the Noble Falls Walk Trail. Based on his extreme excitement, Elvis definitely gave this walk his tick of approval, and I would thoroughly recommend the Bells Rapids Walk Trail as a perfect Perth trail to take a four-legged friend out for an adventure on. 

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