The Bibbulmun Track is one of the world's great long distance walk trails, stretching nearly 1000kms from Kalamunda, a suburb in the hills on the outskirts of Perth, to the historic town of Albany on the south coast of Australia.
In this post, our "End to Ender" Dave Tomlinson, shares his experience on planning, equipment, food, shelter, clothing, cooking and navigation.
There is some great information in this post to assist anyone planning all or part of the Bibbulman Track - something we would love to undertake in the future.
The Bibbulmun Track has wooden shelters generally spaced between 13km and 24km apart. The average distance would be about 18km, although in the Kalamunda National Park they are only about 10km apart. I recommend passing through every second one in that section.
Inside the Waalegh shelter - great facilities
At the time of year I completed the track I had 80% of the campsites totally to myself. So there was no need to carry a tent and I appreciated not having the extra weight. I could assure anyone walking in summer that you'd always find accommodation in the shelters. However, the most popular period for hiking is in spring time when the wildflowers are out. Based on what I read in some of the logbooks, I couldn't give the same assurance during this season.
The Waalegh shelter - water tank and fireplace
The facilities of the track are world class and very well maintained. I often thought of the wooden shelters as large 'bus stops', with three sides that always offered protection from the prevailing winds. There was a difference between the shelters in the northern half and those in the south. Those in the north had a picnic table in the middle and hardboard bunks on either side. In the south the sleeping platform extended around two walls in a large L shape with the picnic table in the remaining space. Both would be able to sleep a maximum of 16 people.
The campsites were generally in a very pleasant location and well landscaped. Apart from the shelter and picnic table, there was a pit toilet that often had toilet paper. There was a large rainwater tank beside the shelter and this is checked by park staff through the dry season to ensure there is always an adequate supply. There was always a fireplace that can usually be used for cooking but I respected the summer fire ban and used my camp stove instead. Most sites also had a second picnic table outside the shelter.
The one campsite which was different from the others was Mount Wells. This was fully enclosed hut because it's in an exposed and often windy location. You feel a bit like Scott in the Antarctic staying there but as the wind whistles around outside you appreciate having the four walls and it's a nice view when you awake in the morning.
My camp stove is a simple arrangement that folds up into a small pouch. It uses the butane gas canisters that have a threaded attachment to the stove. I found, on average, that one standard size canister would last about a week and they were easily found at every town along the track. There was one occasion when I ran out of gas and had to (very carefully) break the fire ban to cook.
The offending fireplace...
Again, this depends largely on the time of year. I walked during February and March which is the warmest time of the year in Western Australia. So, I usually only needed t-shirt and shorts when I was hiking during the day. Sometimes I'd use a light windbreaker along the southern coast but it was never cold. It was sometimes cool in the evenings so I put on a sweater and long pants. Altogether, I only had about four days of rain in seven weeks but appreciated having my Goretex jacket when it did.
One of the most important recommendations I could make about clothing relates to your feet. They are what will carry you each day and you must look after them. Firstly, ensure your boots are well broken in and comfortable. Secondly, wear two pairs of socks and always carry at least one other pair. Wearing a thin pair of socks under your hiking socks will help prevent blisters. Also, ensure that your toenails are always cut short, especially in sections that involve hills.
My sleeping bag is rated 5ºC and this was adequate…just! There were some nights, especially in the southern section, where I needed my warm clothing inside my bag at night. Obviously, the rating of your sleeping bag will depend on the season you are walking but I'd make a simple recommendation: go 5ºC below what you think you'll require. A bag with a hood is best, especially in the colder conditions.
Apart from my clothing, sleeping bag and cooking equipment, there were a number of other important items that should be taken. If you are hiking in summer then ensure you have good supplies of sun cream and insect repellent. A basic kit and first aid knowledge are essential, especially if you are hiking alone. Know what to do if you get a snake bite.
I had a headlight and very small torch as a back up. If you enjoy the camp logbooks as I did, there is usually plenty of reading at each site but I recommend taking a book and also a journal. In such tranquility, I enjoyed writing about my thoughts and experiences each day. I also recommend taking an MP3 player. Listening to some music for half an hour is always a pleasant way to end the day. The one thing that I wish I hadn't taken is my deodorant. I meant well but really…who needs it out there?
A couple of things I did find very useful were an inflatable pillow and a net you can wear on your head to keep flies and mosquitoes away. I didn't need the latter too often but really I valued it sometimes. I found my pair of gaiters to be useful in the southern sections that involved walking though sand dunes. Never forget your sunhat, especially in summer and I recommend carrying a beanie at any time of the year.
Food, glorious food. In planning any hiking trip, this is undoubtedly one of the first considerations. Between Kalamunda and Albany, the Bibbulmun Track goes through a total of seven towns, past a roadhouse and a camping ground. So, you always need to be supplied for between three and ten days along the way.
Mushrooms along the Track - don't think this one is edible
The longest leg is the first from Kalamunda to Dwellingup. This is ten days, although you do reach the roadhouse at North Bannister after a week. Apart from a good takeaway meal, an ice cream and some snack food, don't count on being able to re-supply here. The other option is to hide a food drop here for the three days through to Dwellingup.
Each of the other towns has either a general store or even small supermarket where you can get the food you require and also a new canister of cooking gas. If you need to buy any new clothing items (I wore out a pair of socks), Collie, Pemberton, Walpole and Denmark all have a reasonable range. I also recommend the bakeries in these towns, although the one in Collie does close early on some days.
There is also a small store in the settlement of Donnelly River that stocks some hiking food. There isn't a great variety but you'll certainly find enough to get you through to Pemberton. Peaceful Bay has a general store at the caravan park which was well stocked when I was there. However, this is a seasonal place and wouldn't have the same choice at other times of the year. I suggest checking in Walpole if you're unsure.
Youth Hostel at Walpole - Dave was very impressed with all the "locals" he met along the Track
Personally, I like to carry at least a small quantity of fresh food. This was usually in the form of a cucumber and a few apples, tomatoes and carrots. I recommend carrying fresh food, cheese and salami in a small cooler bag, especially in warmer weather. This will help it stay fresh and protect it from getting squashed in your pack.
Ensure that you have a large plastic bottle (at least 1.5 litre) with you. This will carry your water while you're hiking but I also used it to have a bath at each campsite. Remember that water is heavy so don't carry more than you need to each day. Consider the weather conditions, distance and whether you will be passing a campsite along the way. I usually arrived at my destination camp each day with about 100ml of water. This small amount was kept in case anything unforeseen happened.
As with all of my trips, I had my digital camera with me. Although it's a little more bulky than most, it does have 6x optical zoom. Compared to the 3x zoom of many cameras, this is often very handy. To conserve batteries, I removed them from the camera each night and replaced them again in the morning. I was able to recharge them at each place I stayed at along the way. Always carry a spare set though because there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to capture that beautiful scene because of dead camera batteries!
I always carry my camera on the front supporting strap of my pack. That way it's always easily accessible without having to stop. I always ensure it's kept dry and away from sand and dust as much as possible. It's a good idea to have a second data card and always ensure you have enough space on it for the photos that you're likely to take.
There is no need for a detailed topographical map or GPS unit. The track is very well marked along its entire length and any navigational errors were simply due to my own inattention at vital moments. Keep watching for those yellow triangle track markers! It's not essential, but I recommend a small guide book or at least some notes from the internet as a reference for the terrain and any particular things of interest along the way.
Bibbulmun Track - Part One - A very long hike
The Official Site:
Bibbulmun Track - Trip Planning
Many thanks to Dave Tomlinson for his fantastic words and pictures for this post.
Don't forget to check out his other posts on the Great South West Walk, another long distance hike on the other side of Australia.
GSWW - Section 1 - The Cobboboonee Forest