Friday, October 21, 2016

Bushfires, river crossings, orchids and women walkers - Dwellingup toCollie

After a well needed rest day in Dwellingup, where the laundry got done, the blog got updated, the blisters dried out, and the pub got frequented each evening, it was time to leave town and head further south.

Day 14 - Dwellingup to Swamp Oak (13.1 km)

First stop the Blue Wren Cafe for a coffee, then it was turn left past the school and an informative poster on bush tucker then on out of town.

It rained a short while and then cleared up. In fact the light was perfect for taking pictures of the beautiful flowers in the bush. I was still travelling with Bill and Dong Hyeon but they were well ahead of me as I dawdled along taking in the floral displays.

It wasn't a long day, and we were at the shelter within 3 hours, just before it began raining again. The weather has been quite cold for October, and with the rain we all had a quiet afternoon, no fire, and went to bed early.

Day 15 - Swamp Oak to Murray (18.5 km)

The last two nights we'd been joined by Phil, another End to Ender, but on a faster timeline than myself. In fact most people seem to be walking the Track faster than me. Whilst that doesn't worry me at all it does seem to be worrying Bill, and I can see that he is anxious to pick up the pace a bit, particularly as so many people pass us by.

When I researched walking the Bibbulman Track one of the recurring comments from so many walkers was wishing they'd taken longer to do it. So that's exactly what I'll be doing. From now on I'll only be single hutting, as the distances between supply towns are much shorter than the first section. But I'm unsure how long Bill will stay....

From Swamp Oak the track goes over a rather large hill and down to Yarragul Form Rd. It's a tough climb and descent, but the bush is beautiful, and someone has kindly put some benches in for weary walkers...

From the road the track climbs again, before descending to the Murray River and traversing high above it to the Murray Campsite. This area was badly burnt in February this year, part of the same fire which destroyed Yarloop, and by some miracle the shelter is intact. The Perspex roof panels and drain pipes melted, so the roof has been covered with a tarp to make it waterproof.

Unfortunately it's too cold for a swim in the river, but late afternoon we are joined by Juan, an American carrying a ukulele. Bill is ecstatic, and an impromptu concert occurs. The other campers, and an old timer who is on his fifth End to End, Cliffy, make up an appreciative audience.

Day 16 - Murray to Dookanelly (17.7 km)

Cliffy, who is walking south to north, gave us the welcome news yesterday that the Murray River can be crossed. This means avoiding a 30km diversion that has been in place since the river rose a few months ago. The original old wooden bridge was burnt down in the Feb 2015 bushfires, and the new suspension bridge is yet to be completed.

The boys shot on ahead of me as I scanned the regenerating bush land for orchids. Apparently in the first six months after a bushfire all sorts of plants grow and flower, influenced by either the fire itself or the opportunity of more sunlight due to a reduced canopy. And yes, I found a very strange little orchid growing by the track.

The track followed the Murray River most of the day before leaving it at Driver Rd and heading up and over a hill to Dookanelly Campsite.

Dookanelly marks the one quarter mark on the Bibbulman Track, at just over 250km from Kalamunda. 

Bill and Dong Hyeon arrived well before me, and tomorrow intend to double hut a full 38km because Bill is raring to go faster, and Dong Hyeon is running out of food. Neither fact is a surprise to me, so our final night together we toast the last of my marshmallows on the fire and listen to more songs on the ukelele.

Day 17 - Dookanelly to Possum Springs (19.3 km)

I say goodbye to the boys, who leave before me, and head out of camp a little before 8am. It is a tough walk as the track goes up and down many times following the fence line of a eucalyptus plantation before heading into bushfire regenerated scrub where the path becomes very difficult to follow. Because this track hasn't been used much in the past few months as the diversion is still officially in place, new growth obscures the path and I backtrack a few times to make sure I'm still following the Waugals.

The cycads are fruiting this year, something they only do every 8-10 years. I am yet to see any emus, which love to feast on them.

At last the path descends to the Murray River at the site of the old Long Gully Bridge. This was an old historic wooden railway bridge, but now it is just a few stumps sticking out of the water.

I strip down to my knickers, put on my trusty "crocs" and wade across. I stupidly don't take the time to wash my muddy feet, instead I ascend the other side and stop for lunch in a sunny spot whilst I dry out. The boys leave me a hello message in charcoal on the concrete footings.

I have reached Harvey-Quindaning Rd, which is the end of the diversion. Whilst I am lunching I hear two ladies approach. They are Nikki and Linda, whom I'd met the evening before when they walked in to Dookanelly to sign the book before heading out on the diversion and camping overnight. They are heading to Collie also, and will be my campsite companions for the next three days. We chat and eat, then I clean my feet and put my clothes and shoes back on, and head off.

First I must climb a hill and pass under the Worsley Conveyor. This carries ore from the mine to the refinery at Collie, and then it is sent by train to Bunbury. We have been hearing the conveyor all day, and even last night at Dookanelly. I miss a Waugal whilst enjoying the wildflowers so find myself passing under the Conveyor belt at not quite the right spot. I flag down a car on the maintenance road and they direct me to where the track officially crosses. They offer to give me a lift, but besides the fact that that would be cheating, I'm only a couple of hundred metres off track!

The track continues uphill, through more luscious greenery post bushfire. So many flowers, and beautiful orchids.

Possum Springs is a new rammed earth shelter, only completed a few months ago. It replaces a hut burnt down in 2015. Personally I prefer the wooden huts, they seem to have more character. Plus there's a severe lack of hooks to hang stuff up out of the way of vermin.

Nikki and Linda join me later. All three boys have continued on to the next hut, so that will be the last I see of them.

It's nice to meet other female walkers. Both these ladies enjoy taking their time and are in no rush like the boys. They have all sorts of lightweight gadgets too, so we compare gear and exchange information about which websites we use to order our gear.

Day 18 - Possum Springs to Yourdamung (18.6 km)

This is my absolute favourite day of the walk so far. It is a sunny day and the wildflowers are out in force. I miss a Waugal early on so take a slightly longer route along a bush track which joins up with the route again. 

The track then enters a magical area called "Plonkhole" on the map. This is low lying sandy soil, quite open, and home to many flowers and orchids. I see two different varieties of spider orchids, one I've never seen before.

The road then enters more  forest as I ascend then descend to the Harris River. I meet two spry men walking the other way, one is Mike from Waggrakine, just up the road from me. Small world...

The Harris River is a vast wetland, all low scrub and paperbarks, hundreds of snake tracks, and swampy with many tadpoles. But I see my first ever donkey orchid!

I see no live snakes, though I do see some lizards, including a bobtail at the campsite when I arrive.

The girls turn up as I am cooking my dinner, a good four hours after I had arrived. I had begun to get worried, but the mystery of their lateness was solved. They too had missed the first Waugal, but hadn't realised this, so when the second Waugal turned them off the road they were on they took it, right back to Possum Springs hut!! As Nikki said, their first time double hutting! We all had a good laugh at that, as they too prefer to enjoy the scenery along the way.

That night Linda made bliss balls. What a great idea for a track treat. Delicious!!

Day 19 - Yourmadung to Harris Dam (13.6 km)

A short stroll today. Overcast conditions, few flowers, some huge old trees and no hills. I met Georgia, another End to Ender going south to north, and spied a large flock of red tailed black cockatoos.

Most annoyingly the fuel line to my stove caught fire this morning, but Nikki provided a scalpel and duct tape, I performed anastomosing surgery, and we are back in business!

I also tried a new way of walking using my poles. Linda has ergonomically designed walking poles, designed by a British physiotherapist, and the idea is to use the poles with each step, mimicking a quadruped. So I am trying the technique and will see how the joints feel in a few days...

I also tried out cooking using my lightweight tripod. I mostly use it with my frypan, as my fuel stove has too small a platform to support it, but it is also designed to be used with a small twig fire, so my afternoon billy of tea got made the old fashioned way.

Day 20 - Harris Dam to Collie (21.3 km)

It rained overnight but we woke to clear skies and set off early. It was cold, so I kept a brisk pace and before I knew it we were at the Harris Dam picnic area. I farewelled the girls and continued on ahead.

The walk crossed a number of large roads, and there were some beautiful kangaroo paws, and some glorious casuarina forest to walk through as I neared Collie. Casuarina is great to walk through, because the ground is usually sandy with a cover of needles, making it really soft on the feet. Plus there's a silence in amongst those trees that you don't get in the Jarrah and Marri forests.

However, a few kms before Collie I rounded a corner and stopped short pretty damn quickly when I saw a big snake across the path. He hissed, flattened his body and slithered into the undergrowth, at about the same speed as I took a few hasty backward steps. Yes it was a Tiger snake, and no I didn't stop to take its picture!

The rest of the walk into Collie I stopped looking for flowers and just concentrated on the track in front of me!!

I checked in to the Colliefields Hotel, a place I can highly recommend for the great service and attention to the needs of a Bibbulman Track hiker. Like free use of the washing machine, a really good hot shower, and a big bottle of shampoo and conditioner so I can wash my hair! Bliss.

And the cafe does really excellent coffee. Don't mind some cake with that too!

I'm staying a day in Collie to look around as I've never been here. 

That's next!

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