Notes for Potential Hikers of the Bibbulmun Track
The Bibb connects the outskirts of Perth on the west coast with the town of Albany on the south coast. It is roughly 1000 kilometers in length. The route is well mapped, way-marked and maintained. There are about 50 open sided shelters along the track, most a very easy day’s walk apart. These shelters have sleeping platforms, picnic tables, a privy, a fire pit, and most importantly, water tanks filled with rainwater. The shelters are unstaffed and free on a first-come, first served basis. Only once did we encounter a shelter that was near capacity and most of the time they were empty. The shelters all have log books for hikers to enter their travel data: name, date, residence, start point, end point, and estimated travel time. It was great fun to see who was ahead of us and guess whom we might catch.
The northern portions of the Bibb pass through Marri, Jarah, and Karri forests. Other than a couple of extremely short sections along clearings or in towns, the track essentially remains in the woods. The trees are sometime huge; Karri trees can reach 80 meters in height. The southern Bibb travels beside the south coast, through coastal heath and occasionally on beaches or along headlands.
The route is meticulously laid out to stay in either the forested or coastal areas and just a few kilometers pass through agricultural zones. The track goes to great lengths to avoid sharing a path with vehicles or bicycles. There are some sections of track that are quite convoluted to avoid using a rarely driven dirt road. Outside of entering or leaving re-supply towns, the track rarely touches pavement. A lot of the walking is on old abandoned and closed logging roads and railroad beds and there is little purpose built single-track. There are only a few small stands of old growth forest on the Bibb, however the second or third growth trees are big and the forests are quite impressive. The heath along the coast appeared, to our untrained eyes, to never have been grazed and seemed to be biologically intact. Ironically, the only place we shared our route with cars was on some of the beaches. We were astonished and disappointed that even in National Parks, beaches were often open to vehicles. While most of the drivers we encountered were polite, there were the inevitable testosterone poisoned jerks careening down the beach and into the adjacent dunes as fast as they could.
The trail is incredibly well maintained with only a few blow-downs and a couple places that felt slightly overgrown. This is a monumental task given its length and density of the vegetation; the volunteers who maintain the Bibb deserve enormous credit. The tread is generally good except in a few marshy areas that are seasonally waterlogged and/or under a few centimeters of water. This is more of an issue in wet years and the walker should be prepared to wade long, shallow pools. We experienced no difficult or dangerous water crossings. There were surprisingly few aggressive plants with thorns or spines. There are no allergenic plants like poison oak that we are aware of.
Most people walk the route north to south. We passed 15 people on southbound thru-hikes, but met only one northbound thru-hiker. The wildflower season unfolds starting in the north and progresses southward, so we walked in that direction in hopes of maximizing the show. Other than that, we see no advantage to walking in either direction.
Perth is a major city and well served by international airlines. From Perth, the trailhead in Kalamunda is easily accessible via public transit. As of this writing, you can take the Midland rail line to the Midland station and transfer to the 297 bus; get off at Railway Road in Kalamunda.
You can return from Albany to Perth via a daily Transwa bus. The ride cost about Australian $63.
Maps and Navigation
The trail is supported and managed by an active trail association, the Bibbulmun Track Foundation. They publish a guidebook and a very good set of maps available on their website. The guidebook is a useless anchor that verbalizes turn-by-turn instructions on an extremely well way marked track. The maps are well-designed, quite helpful, accurate, durable, mostly up to date, and quite expensive. The eight-map set weighs almost 11 oz. A gpx file is available from a past hiker or from our CalTopo page.
The track is so well way-marked that it might be possible to walk it without carrying maps. There are, however, a few places where the route is ambiguous and the map and gpx data was helpful. We carried the maps and were glad we did. They were also useful for planning the day and for understanding the trail in context. Additionally, the maps helped when we had to go off-track for resupply.
The way-marks are custom made yellow and black tags placed on trees and posts. They are generally easy to see except where the trees or fires have eaten them. They very clearly indicate direction of travel. In most places they are placed at frequent intervals but sometimes you can walk long distances without seeing one.
Forest fires are common in southwest Australia. In addition to lightning generated fires, the Aboriginal inhabitants regularly burned forests.
As in the US, fire suppression by European settlers has altered the fire regimen and led to the build up of huge amounts of dead material and subsequent catastrophic fires. The Australian Forest Service has started controlled burns to reduce the dangerous fuel loads, however large uncontrolled fires still occur and have affected the Bibb. Large fires in February of 2015 destroyed several shelters and closed sections of the track. In all cases but one, the Bibb has been re-routed around the affected areas. The Bibb traverses a number of recently burned areas and it was interesting to see how the various habitat types are regenerating.
As of this writing, a section of track near Mt. Cooke is closed due a September 2015 fire and has not yet been re-routed. Check the Bibb website for further information. Ironically, we were on the track and in the area when this fire occurred. A planned burn was in progress and jumped its lines. We innocently walked into the fire zone while following a mapped and posted re-route around the burn. Suddenly a ranger appeared looking for stray hikers in a fire service vehicle with lights flashing. He told us the fire was out of control and that we could not continue. We were driven around the active fire and deposited back on the track south of the fire line. We were grateful that they patrolled the trail, found us, and kept us out of trouble. Technically, we have not thru-hiked the entire Bibb as we missed about 13 miles of walking and there was no opportunity to re-do this section. Do we still get our badge?
While on the trail, check the Bibb website frequently for track updates. Unfortunately, if you live a long distance from the track, you will have to plan your trip in advance. If a fire starts, you may have to modify your trip.
All the other hikers we met used the shelters. Even if they carried a tent, they camped at the shelters. We walked each day as far as we felt like and did not plan our end point at a shelter. Although discouraged, it is not illegal to camp along the path except in a few of the re-supply towns. Due to the usually heavy off-track vegetation, camping on the edge of the track was often difficult. However, there are a plethora of abandoned logging tracks and we frequently set up our tent on these. A few times, we camped on the Bibb track itself, setting up at sunset and breaking camp before sunrise so as not to disturb other hikers. We camped on the beach a couple of times and on a beach overlook platform once. We stayed in a caravan park in Dwellingup with showers and laundry facilities, and camped on a horse racetrack in Denmark. Finding a decent place to set up the tent was not difficult.
There are no shelters located near the re-supply towns. You either have to use commercial lodging or stealth camp in order to sleep near a town. We camped in towns several times, and with discretion, had no problems. When we asked for advice, local residents directed us to the town’s recreation center or a local park with level grassy areas with nearby toilet facilities. The Tourism Information Centers were not helpful on this front, but the employees of the grocery stores, taverns, or fish & chips shops consistently offered good advice. We camp in towns because it is a lot quieter than the hostels, hotels or caravan parks and prefer the calm comfort of our tent.
Water is frequently and predictably available because all the shelters have rainwater tanks. We always treated the water. The Forest Service even provided cans of water at the burned shelters. We bought food in grocery stores in the resupply towns and at the very occasional café along the route. Kalamunda has two large grocery stores but it is about 200 kilometers down the track to the next store. This is the longest stretch without re-supply opportunities. The size of the shops in the other towns varies and some have only very basic supplies. Store locations are listed on the Bibb website. We never had any challenges with re-supply except finding good ice cream. We mailed one re-supply box to the shop at Donnelly River Village.
In the fall of 2016, the Australian dollar was worth about $0.75 US and even at that favorable exchange rate, food was generally more expensive than in the US. There are ATM’s in all of the re-supply towns.
Options at Denmark and Wilson Inlet
- Cross the mouth of the Wilson Inlet at the coast. However, you either miss the major re-supply point at Denmark or have to walk an extra 20 kilometer round-trip to get there. Also, the sandbar allowing safe passage across the inlet may or may not be there, especially in the spring hiking season; you can’t tell for sure unless you walk even further away from Denmark to check it out.
- Hire a boat in Denmark to take you across Wilson Inlet. This requires advance notice and cost Australian $160 in 2015.
- Take a taxi around the inlet to Eden Road, which is “allowed” by Bibb Foundation thru-hike “rules” but seems quite unsporting. This option cost about Australian $60 in 2015.
- We chose to walk around Wilson Inlet and regain the trail near the end of Eden Road. The first six miles is on the very fine Heritage Trail east of Denmark. The next five miles is along a trunk road carrying some traffic, but with quite wide and flat shoulders, making the walk noisy, but safe. The last five miles is along a little used country road. Presumably you could also hitchhike the road portions.
We walked the route in 31 days. This included our involuntary ride around the fire, but also all of our town stops, walking from Denmark to the Nullaki Shelter around Wilson Inlet, and an off-route round-trip to the very scenic West Cape Howe which is not on the track. Based on entries in the shelter logs, the average time to complete a through hike is around 50 days. This is likely because most hikers walk shelter to shelter. The walk itself is not technically difficult and altitude gain, except for “Heartbreak Hill”, a massive 150-meter climb, is insignificant. If you are willing to camp away from shelters, you can easily set your own pace for the walk. If you limit yourself to shelters, then you may find that you have days that will be awkwardly short (“single-hutting”) or awkwardly long (“double-hutting”). When we ran into other thru-hikers, the first question usually asked was whether we were single or double hutting.