Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Bibbulmun Track (WA) - Donnelly River Village to Tom Road


Day four of an eight day hike on the Bibbulmun Track, the walk from Donnelly River Village to Tom Road is one of the easier days between Balingup and Pemberton - and one of the prettiest. After leaving the kangaroos and emus of Donnelly River Village behind, walkers pass through lush Karri forests and along the Donnelly River itself before reaching Tom Road - one of the Bibbulmun's best and most stunning campsites.   


Distance: 16.2 km (one way)
Gradient: Relatively even for most of its length, with some short, steep ascents and slow descents around the middle four kilometres
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the Waugal providing very clear directional information.
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4 Hours, including snack break
Steps: Some formal steps
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Summer
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: This section was walked from campsite to campsite, however the walk is easily accessible as an overnight return hike from Donnelly River Village and is clearly signed leaving town beyond the old school. 


Although the small bunk beds of Donnelly River Village's bunk rooms were very basic, Alissa and I had one of the most comfortable and restful nights of sleep we would have over our entire eight days of walking. As excellent as our Sea to Summit sleep systems are, there is nothing like a night's sleep in a real bed, and Alissa was a little saddened by the fact that it would be 4 nights out on the trail before we would reach our next real bed in Pemberton. After breakfast, returning our towels to the General store and chatting with fellow hikers Jerry, Helle, Sonya and Peter, Alissa and I left for our next campsite at Tom Road. Before we would leave however, we had one final glorious moment of Donnelly River Village magic.



As we turned to follow the Waugals out of town, a mob of kangaroos and their emu friends all came rushing out to greet us. Looking longingly at us with the kangaroos stretching out their front paws in a begging fastion, they clearly were hoping for an early morning feed. Although they were probably disappointed at our lack of food, we enjoyed the show they put on - a truly fitting send off from a really special place.



We even got to see a mother kangaroo with a baby joey in her pouch!



The Track is well marked through the village streets, and the trailhead at the outskirts clearly indicates which way Tom Road is so that hikers don't get confused and walk the wrong way to Gregory Brook.



The Karri forests that immediately surround Donnelly River Village are really beautiful, and we again agreed that this was a place we would happily return to in the future.



Immediately out of town, the Bibbulmun alternates between following old forestry roads and purpose built walk trails, transitioning back and forth between Jarrah and Karri-dominated forests.



This back and forth between Jarrah and Karri, road and walk trail continues for the first four or five kilometres, and although not overly exciting it does at least offer a fair bit of variety.



The track passes by sections of Blackbutt in Blackbutt Nature Reserve. These are touted as some of the best examples of this Eucalypt along the track, and I although less impressive than Karri, I am inclined to agree with this assessment.



Eventually though, the track settles on Karri forest, with the trees dominating most of the day's walking from that point on.



The lushness of the forest in this area is a real treat, with much of it running near watercourses and eventually running alongside the Donnelly River itself.



Having misjudged how far we had travelled yesterday, Alissa and I were hesitant to believe that we had truly reached the halfway point of our walk when we encountered the first set of twin bridges crossing the Donnelly River. After checking our maps against the information and signage around us, we were pleased to confirm that we had in fact reached the first set of bridges in very good time.



Having reached the halfway point so early, Alissa and I decided to stop for a snack by the idyllic Donnelly River and save our lunch for our arrival at the Tom Road campsite.



Which is just as well - not long after sitting down and eating our snacks, the weather took a significant turn for the worst as it started to rain quite heavily. We had had smatterings of rain over the preceding days, however this was easily the biggest downpour yet. Thankfully, we were hot and sweaty from the walking and the cold rain actually made for nice and cooling (albeit difficult to see) walking.



All day, my camera had been fogging up due to the humidity of the Karri forest, and with the rain it became even more of a challenge taking photos. I was still able to get in a few shots as the rain fell, including some views of the Donnelly River that ran right by the walk trail.



By the time the rain stopped, we were pretty soaked through, and were looking forward to changing into dry clothes at the end of the day.



To add a bit more challenge to the rain, this middle section also features all the major ascents of the walk, including the steep climb away from the river to Mt Mack Rd as pictured above.





After the steep ascent to Mt Mack Rd, the track begins its descent back down to cross the Donnelly River once again.



During the descent, the track occasionally rises up briefly only to descend again, however the walking here is fairly pleasant and engaging. Along this stretch, Alissa and I saw a massive, seemingly dead termite mound that had been built on top of the stump of an old Karri, with a mushroom growing along its side. It really quite beautiful to see such recycling of resources as a natural process that takes place during the life of a forest.



The descent eventually passes by an informal campsite before leading to an old vehicle crossing known as Twin Bridges. Alissa and I noted that we had rejoined Tom Road at this point, and that there probably was a shorter, less steep route that the track could have taken following Tom Road. I suppose the Bibbulmun Track planners had opted for the more scenic route, although in discussing this with Jerry later, he noted that he thinks tracks are sometimes purposely routed through more hilly terrain to keep it interesting/make it more of a challenging even though the easier route might be just as scenic.



Reaching Twin Bridges meant we only had three kilometres to go until the end.



The only problem was the full three kilometres would run entirely on Tom Road, and with very little in the way of landmarks, we would be walking with ever-growing anticipation while the road would seemingly stretch on forever.



During the long walk along Tom Road it began to rain again, and I saw a hiker coming towards us. Initially I thought this must be a hiker heading to Donnelly River Village who must have set out late from Tom Road campsite, but as the figure came closer I realised it was Helle. With Tom Road running for so long, Helle had begun to second guess herself and had turned around to see if she had missed a turn off to Tom Road. Although we had seen a potential side trail running off to the right, I assured her that we were still on Tom Road. After checking the map to confirm that the Tom Road campsite was indeed along Tom Road, the three of us walked on.



About 15 minutes after running into Helle, we arrived at Tom Road campsite. Jerry had arrived a short while before us and was impressed by the fact we had clearly legged it and caught up with him in spite of having left some time after. Alissa, who had thought it was much later, was surprised to find out it was before 11:30 am, meaning we had walked the day's kilometres in under 4 hours! Had the next day not been a long day of walking, I would have considered double hutting, but to do so would have missed out on the wonders of Tom Road campsite. 



Located along the banks of the Donnelly River, Tom Road was one of the few original campsites kept from the original Bibbulmun Track alignment, and we could definitely see why - the site is really superb and I would consider it one of the most beautiful campsites along the track - right up there with such gems as Waalegh, Frankland and Giants.



Tom Road's Hut is a fairly unique building as it is a prototype version of the Deep South shelter, and thus is slightly different from the final design. The most obvious difference is the fact that the ladders leading to the upper bunks do not feature the ladder post going all the way to the ceiling - a later design change that I feel is a safety improvement



Our usual routine had been to arrive at camp by 2pm, chill out for three hours, starting cooking dinner around 5pm and be in bed by 7pm, so the very short day of walking meant we had a lot of free time on our hands. In warmer times, we would definitely have filled up our time with a swim, as the campsite offers direct access to a lovely permanent pool along the Donnelly River.



This is a really stunning bit of the river, and even though it was far too freezing to take a dip, it was nice just standing by the water's edge and watch the river's gentle flow downstream. Had the weather been better, there was a perfect tent site right by the river that we would have loved to have set up in.



Just beyond the tent sites, there is bit of a secret trail that continues along the river bank for a short distance to a spot overlooking series of large granite boulders on the other side of the river, as well as a rocky area of rapids around the river's bend. This was my favourite scene of the day - definitely sealing my already glowing impression of Tom Road campsite. 

Unfortunately the golden glow of the sun from when I was photographing the river would not last, and in fact the weather would be fairly miserable and extremely cold for most of the afternoon and evening - it even hailed a few times! Upon returning home, we would learn that it had snowed on Bluff Knoll on the same day; based on how cold we all were, I am not surprised. Given the coldness, Alissa and I set up our both walls of our tent to keep as much warmth in as possible and all six of us went to bed fairly early. 

In spite of the less than optimum weather, Donnelly River Village to Tom Road was a nice, relatively easy day on the Bibbulmun Track with some very pretty walking through Karri forests and along the Donnelly River. At the time, I thought that this was probably the best day of our walk yet, although leaving the magic of Donnelly River Village had had such an impact on Alissa that she does not remember the day with the same fondness I do. For me, the sheer beauty of Tom Road campsite really made the day, and I would happily walk this section again as an overnight hike in warmer weather to really appreciate all that Tom Road has to offer. Although the next day would be even better, I can thoroughly recommend this as an excellent taster of the Karri forest section of the Bibbulmun Track. 

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