September 16, 2021
FICIFOLIA ROAD TO NUT LOOKOUT WALK
I’m super happy because we went walking in spite of the sheep hypothermia weather alert that’s current with a very wintry cold front crossing the Southwest today. I completely missed out on hiking and outdoors time all last weekend because I was recovering from bronchitis. I’d felt much better the last two days and started walking the dog and mowing the lawn again; this morning I took a look at the radar and thought the front was patchy enough to get lengthy rain breaks, and that we should be able to do a road trip with at least a little hike.
I’d not left the property for a week (since a small hike near Cosy Corner last Thursday) and not gone into public for nearly a fortnight; it’s funny how people like us don’t notice a huge difference between lockdown versus no lockdown. Even in the initial prevention lockdown at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 we were allowed to go hiking throughout our regional area:
That’s 300km by 200km and it’s pretty easy not to go further than that – we don’t hike that often to the west of Walpole-Nornalup anyway. All the green stuff on the map is Nature Reserve, and stuffed to the gills with walk trails, plus there’s the famous Bibbulmun track all along the coast west of Albany. Brett and I spend more than 10x as much time on hiking trails than socialising with other people, and during the handful of short snap lockdowns in Western Australia, hiking and other remote outdoors activities have always been allowed in our region, even when visiting other people was not.
So, bronchitis interfered with our hiking plans where the pandemic hadn’t in 18 months. I guess it gave me a small taste of feeling antsy and locked-down. Today we headed west; morning tea in Denmark and then to Ficifolia Road near Peaceful Bay. By the time we arrived we’d already traversed some squally rain bands, and things looked clear for a while. It was cold and windy, but at that stage the wind was still blowing from the north-west, and the Antarctic blasts from the south-westerlies weren’t expected until mid-afternoon.
There’s an 8-9km return hike from Ficifolia Road to Nut Lookout I’d had my eye on for months. Usually that would have been stacked in with another shortish walk or extra sightseeing, given the hour’s car journey to get there; but by itself it was a perfect distance for the tail end of bronchitis recovery. If you overdo it, you can get setbacks. Today I’ve pulled up fine, so that’s great.
The wind was blowing mightily on the road where we parked the car, surrounded by low coastal heathland; but this track went up into hilly landscape that was forested on the ridges, and the thick understorey acted as a fabulous windbreak. This was us just after starting up the trail, and out of the wind.
You can see the road and the coastal heathlands behind it from this shot looking back:
The bright yellow in the foreground is a flowering wattle (Acacia sp – lots of different species). The red blotch in the next photo is a Beaufortia flower (AKA Swamp Bottlebrush). And if you’re wondering why the tree trunks and the big branches are so dark, it’s because this place had a hot fire three years ago, just like 10 hectares of swampland on our farm nature reserve coincidentally did that same year. Three years ago, this entire landscape would have been burnt black – the understorey has regenerated from underground structures, and from seed.
The bare branches in the photo above would have been burnt in the hot fire and died as a result, but the eucalyptus trees themselves survived and made new branches from epicormic shoots.
The grass-trees in the foreground are Xanthorrhoea preissii. Next is a close-up of a Redgum (Eucalyptus calophylla) trunk. Redgums are named after the sap they ooze, which is good for closing wounds on the tree that can be caused by animals (including insects), fungi etc. Normally this tree has grey bark, but the burnt exterior layer can stay on for 3-5 years after a hot fire. Underneath, the tree has healthy bark – it just hasn’t exfoliated the burnt top layers yet.
We had a burst of sun:
The bushland flowers gloriously 2-3 years after a bushfire, and we were completely spoilt today.
We really enjoyed the gently undulating landscape, diverse plant communities and spectacular flowering displays.
The middle section of this walk reminded me uncannily of a place called Clifton Park more that 35 years ago, which no longer exists. It was a 200 hectare area of uncleared native vegetation near Lake Clifton which an investor with links to the local government had bought cheap hoping to subdivide at enormous profit for residential lots down the track, and eventually that was exactly what happened, as it always does when investors have mates in government, even though there’s allegedly a clearing ban, but this is one of several ways the small remaining fraction of Australian native vegetation continues to be destroyed. In the agricultural and urban areas of Australia, between 80 an 95 percent of native vegetation has been bulldozed (and continues to be bulldozed), in just over 200 years of European occupation – and this is the main reason we have the highest rate of species extinction in the world.
Between ages 12 and 16 I used to ride a horse solo on bush trails close to my parents’ farm to get away. I didn’t have a bicycle at that point because my father didn’t want me to be mobile, so I started riding horses long-distance instead and this was something my parents were unable to stop me doing. In truth, they often had no idea just how far away I went; I rode upwards of 25 kilometres though the local bushland, and this is not something they ever did themselves, so they probably could not imagine me doing it. Therefore I got away with it.
Clifton Park was nearly next door and beautiful, and the gateway to state forests that stretched over 80km south. It was undulating country near the coast, with wooded ridges and heathland flats, bursting with wildflowers each spring and just a magical area I grew to love. The years exploring these places on horseback reinforced my growing passion for Australian wilderness; I started hiking seriously the month I began to earn my own income post-university and have never stopped. I can still see Clifton Park in my mind’s eye long after its demise and I still grieve for it; for millions of years of evolution going back to Gondwana, razed to the ground to make way for essentially feedlotted cattle and sheep on hobby farms, just like on my parents’ farm. It’s a crime when it happens in the Amazon and it’s a crime when it happens in Australia. Don’t get me started on exponentially growing human populations with ever-increasing material greed per capita and what it’s doing to the planet, and how what the pandemic is doing to our species isn’t even on the register compared to what our species is doing to the planet…
Here’s a satellite image of Australia’s Southwestern agricultural area – dark areas are what remains of the native vegetation; the rest- the vast majority of it – has been cleared. We continue to lose what’s left of the vegetation and associated wildlife on a daily basis.
We talked about this in the mid-section of our walk, about how someone could just come along and push it all over with machines and kill over 99 percent of the species and individuals there and then be happy with the “parkland” they had made and the “close to nature” lifestyle they could spruik. We were walking in National Park, where that is unlikely to happen at least until civilisation collapses, but it’s still happening all over the planet on a daily basis, while people cheer the stock market going up and their investment portfolios getting fat.
Too few people in this country ever take even an hour’s walk in remote unspoilt wilderness. Most who venture out of the cities do so in 4WD vehicles and miss all of the minutiae, not to mention the communion with nature.
When we bought our rural property, it was because it happened to have 50 hectares of largely unspoilt native vegetation on it which the previous owner, whose family had it since the area was “opened” to agriculture (i.e. okayed for bulldozing), had carefully preserved, right down to carrying on with traditional Indigenous fire management. We bought the place so that this area would continue to be conservation area in our lifetime. While ostensibly there is a clearing ban, there is nothing illegal about buying a place like this and putting 2,000 goats into the bushland, and they will devastate it in a few short years. If a politically connected property developer buys it, they will eventually get government permission to bulldoze it to “parkland” and subdivide it into residential properties. If the government wants to give someone permission to frack or explore for minerals (which they can do on anyone’s rural property), they will have permits to bring in the bulldozers both for the exploration and for the “development” stage that may follow. That last possibility we can do the least about, although we’d try, like the Lock the Gate movement.
Meanwhile, we are conserving the native vegetation and continuing agriculture on the 12 hectare section that was cleared in the 1950s. Here we are working largely organically and focused on sustainability, which is why we have planted shelter belts of mostly native vegetation back into the cleared area in the last ten years. We continue to farm this 12-hectare patch because if we don’t, it will increase the pressure to clear the little that’s left of largely unspoilt native vegetation elsewhere in the world to produce the beef cattle that this property produced before us, that we’re continuing with. Ideally we’d be encouraging kangaroos and harvesting the population excess for meat here – it would be much kinder to the soil and general environment – but that’s not permitted, even though that’s what the Indigenous people did, and still do in areas they have a say in.
It’s funny; we have a voluntary conservation area and small eco-farm, and the people who come to our educational farmstay are usually already people who are interested in nature and conservation – but when we take them on walks through our on-farm conservation area, they often say to us, “We’ve walked through bush many times before but we’ve never noticed so many things you’ve shown us today.” So we’re doing our job, for what it’s worth – but the people who come here largely care, and sadly, many really couldn’t care less if every last scrap of Australian ecosystems were bulldozed into the ground and replaced with housing, parks, farms and industrial areas. The divorce from nature is so huge in this country.
These tall grass-trees are Kingia australis:
The yellow of the wattles in bloom was spectacular. This is springtime in the Australian bush.
Brett with a Kingia:
Kingia stems grow around 15mm a year; this makes the specimen Brett is with over 200 years old. We’ve seen stands twice that height. Many Kingias were cut down after European colonisation to make brooms and brushes from the fibres in their ancient trunks. Our culture seems to have trouble valuing other life forms for anything other than what we can eat or otherwise make a buck out of.
I swear my husband could fold himself up into a dinosaur egg. He just drops down like this to talk to the dog. The secret to remaining flexible is to never, ever stop exercising your flexibility. Way too many adults never sit on the floor and actually can’t get up without using their hands. Both of us sit on the ground regularly and have no problems getting off the floor no-hands. A lady who lived to be 100 told me when I was in my 20s that you must never stop doing things like this or you will lose them – it’s not age, but lack of use that stops most Westerners doing these things as they get older.
View off the Nut Lookout:
A bit further on:
Some photos from the way back:
The last two are a Macrozamia palm.
We were really lucky with the weather – it turned nasty soon after our walk, and rained most of the rest of the afternoon. By the time I was feeding the animals back on the farm, the wind chill had the apparent temperature below zero. Brrrr. So we made a mushroom risotto and enjoyed our warm house – which was warm just from the bursts of sun today, being a solar-heated house.
That’s quite a few photos, but not nearly all of them. If you’d like to walk through front to back, click here – then use the right arrow and stop at the photo of the “rainy cows” (from the way home).
We loved hiking through this spectacularly species-diverse area today, and ooohed and aaahed over the brightly coloured flowers everywhere. We hope you enjoyed your vicarious hike on the South Coast of Western Australia, and that some of you will post hikes in your part of the world for the rest of us to enjoy – and send us a link!
September 16, 2021
PEACEFUL BAY TO RAME HEAD HUT WALK
I am very happy that today we did a major hike – a 16km return walk from Peaceful Bay to Rame Head Hut. You can see on the track map that this is twice the distance of the hike we did on Thursday.
On a very sunny day back in July, we had already done the around-the-headlands section from Peaceful Bay to The Gap (magnificent seashore walk!), then shortcut back along a 4WD track back to Peaceful Bay. This time we took that same shortcut track to get back out to the Bibbulmun Track near The Gap, and hiked across dune paths towards Rame Head Hut – a section we’ve never done before today.
You can also see on the map that we now only have one section to go to complete Peaceful Bay to the Nut Lookout in both directions; in day-walk sections. We’ll get to it soon, but I think we’ll go back to the Karri forest or the mountains before we do another coastal walk.
The shortcut track out:
Pretty soon it turned into a billabong. It’s been the wettest winter in years. (The 4WD vehicles drive straight through this stuff.)
This exact same thing had happened in July, and it’s really annoying to bush-bash around it. When we got stuck in tangles of vegetation today, I went back to the track and waded the section barefoot with my pants rolled up – the water was clear and I could see to the bottom, so I thought that was OK. Brett, who was worried about broken glass, persevered with the vegetation, and we met up again around the same time on dry land the other side of the water feature.
Views southeast and southwest from the track:
Start of the Bibbulmun Track proper:
Pretty soon, we were dealing with water over the track again. The boardwalks looked more like pontoons. Unfortunately we had not brought an inflatable canoe.
Wildflower season is in full swing.
Looking north, we could now see the walk we did three days earlier. We’d started near the exposed granite on the left-hand side in the background, and walked across the hills to Nut Lookout near the tower on the right-hand side.
Today’s walk took us along the side of a huge swale.
Eventually, we got near Rame Head.
After a long, loooong time and many false hopes before various bends in the track, we finally got to the hut – by this time we were really ready for our lunch (pasta salad, fruit, chocolate, nuts).
We saw that bees had recently made a hive in the wall cavity of the hut. They were flying around the door and into a gap between the interior wall and the elevated camping platform.
The hut was rather artistically decorated and had messages written on the windows of its sunroom.
There we met a party of walkers in their 50s and 60s ex Walpole, who looked wonderfully fit and happy after walking 20km through hilly terrain from the Giants campsite to Rame Head Hut today. They are looking forward to having hot showers in Peaceful Bay tomorrow night, after camping out tonight. I sat with my thermos of hot lemon tea chatting with these lovely people. Because Brett and I keep bees, we were able to reassure the campers about staying out of trouble with the resident hive: Bees are generally OK, but don’t go too close to the hive entrance (2-3 m away is good and stay to the side); avoid their flight path in; wear a beanie or hat near bees to avoid them getting caught in your hair and panicking (getting stung in the scalp usually means that for the next week you look like you’ve done a losing round in a boxing ring), back off if they buzz you and protect your nostrils and face in general (bees like going up your nostrils to sting if they get mad – as happened to me once in a Psychopathic Bee Incident).
Bees also don’t like the smell of scented shampoos, deodorant etc (riotous laughter at this from the campers, who felt they were at the opposite end of that spectrum), and they are a bit suspicious if you wear dark, fuzzy/woolly clothing. If you do get stung, and you are of an older vintage like me, try to get stung near your finger joints because bee venom is reputed to help some people temporarily with their arthritis.
The female campers and I exchanged embarrassing getting-caught-with-your-pants-down incidents when trying to discreetly go bush. It’s my personal view now that if you point your posterior at the direction unguarded by your walking buddies, you have a strategic advantage because nobody will be able to subsequently identify you by your posterior, while they would very likely remember your face.
After more pleasantries, Brett and I headed out again for our return to Peaceful Bay, which was thankfully net-downhill now. Some views back:
This is Brett collapsed at the starting point:
We were both tired after our outing, but worst of all, our feet had been screaming at us for the last 5km of the walk. When I ripped my boots off the moment I got to the car, I found peeling skin and outraged blood vessels. Brett wouldn’t take his socks off for fear of what he might find. It was decided that the leather boots we have are excellent for scrambling up and down the minor mountains of Western Australia, but rather useless for long cross-country walks, and we’ll look for something more cushioned for that particular purpose. Anything over 10km will in future disqualify our leather boots from accompanying us.
We had lots more photos as usual and if anyone hasn’t had enough yet, you can click on the track map photo to go to Flickr and then just click the right arrows until you hit the next track map.
September 27, 2021
LOWLANDS BEACH TO WEST CAPE HOWE HUT WALK
We’ve done this walk quite a few times before, as it’s not far from us, and I even wrote it up for this thread in April this year. But I never actually showed the track map before, and also they’ve built a new walkway at Lowlands Beach.
We started at the Lowlands Beach car park:
If anyone is wondering what we’re doing walking on a Monday, I say, “Thor save the Queen!” It’s a public holiday and we didn’t get out the previous two days because we had guests. They were lovely people and one of them made us sourdough bread, and left me a culture to use, and detailed instructions! So we had a happy weekend, but today we really needed a good walk, and this is 10km including decent uphill on a track section which I always seem to walk as fast as I possibly can – probably for two main reasons:
1) The vegetation doesn’t change very much all along and there’s very few lookout points, so I don’t spend much time taking photographs
2) The walk to West Cape Howe is net uphill, the return is net downhill – so I can make it back quickly even if I’ve pretty much exhausted myself on the way up. The gradient of the walk doesn’t interfere with taking long strides, it just makes you work hard on the way up. Then, on the way down, you can go fast even on jelly legs because gravity assists you.
The weather today was miserable, and the soaked landscape is bleeding water again after days of rain. Today was 15 degrees and drizzling, but by the time we got to the walk trail we only had to deal with light drizzle, and it had lengthy breaks in it.
This was about two thirds of the way to the hut – there’s a bench at a lookout point which invites you to have a little break and snack. This pretty much means you always end up taking the same picture back towards Lowlands:
After the Rame Head Walk screaming-feet experience, we bought boots more suited to long cross-country hikes than our mountain boots:
I’ve had these exact ones before but after three years, had walked their soles off. They were the most comfortable hiking boots I ever had and I was very happy to buy them again (amazed actually that they still made them). Keens make a really comfortable toe-box that’s nearly square, instead of rounded like most manufacturers. I think that would save quite a few toenails on long-distance hikes – for example, on Thursday we did Cosy Corner to Dingo Beach – the maiden voyage for our new footwear – and met someone called Jack who’d walked nearly 600km from Perth, and he told us he’d lost six toenails on his walk.
This is Jess at the lookout, when she was exhorting us to get going again and I asked her if she wanted “more walkies?”…
The camping hut:
Rolling dunes on the way back:
At the conclusion of the walk, we checked out the new walkway at Lowlands Beach, which was built because the old one had been damaged in a storm that had caused beach erosion. The waves were thundering into the bay today, and there were interesting things down on the beach, including bluebottle jellyfish and marine snails with floats.
Happy outing and good fitness training. For the full photo set, click here and then use the right arrow.
September 30, 2021
VALLEY OF THE GIANTS / NUT LOOKOUT
Today we had excellent weather and a wonderful sanity outing. After a scenic drive nearly to Walpole, we walked from the South Coast Highway into the Valley of the Giants, then back to the highway (first 10km) and then from the highway to Nut Lookout, which we’d approached from the south on a previous walk two weeks ago (+4km). We’ve got one day walk to go before we will have effectively walked all the way from Peaceful Bay to the Valley of the Giants and back again – that’s a total distance of 64km, of which we have done 48km so far on 4 outings (plus another 7.5km in leadout tracks so we could split one section into two day walks, = 55.5 of 71.5km of that section done).
The above forest floor detail shows some eucalyptus flowers scattered around a discarded bit of bark. The flowers can fall off the trees in the wind, but are more commonly dislodged by cockatoos feeding on them.
Pretty soon, we were getting into tall timber…
The whitish-barked trees are Karri, and these enormous buttressed trees are Tingle. Other tree species, like Jarrah, Marri and Casuarina, also occur in these forests, with each species having their own preferences for soil type etc.
This is a stand of Casuarinas. They shed needles (but aren’t conifers) which are always superb to walk on – springy, and also the needle carpet seems to hush the sounds all around quite a bit.
Tree hoveas have purple flowers – not in focus here because a breeze blew in…
When we reached our destination, I lay down on a comfortable log and looked at the sky for a bit.
Meanwhile, Brett was getting us ice-creams from the shop at the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. The school holidays are here, and children were screaming like howler monkeys getting out of cars at this popular tourist destination. Not just children from one car, but children from quite a few cars, making an ongoing ululating din. Grrrrr.
Their howling disturbs bird breeding and children should be taught the same manners going into natural cathedrals as they are taught going into man-made ones. There’s plenty of places you can scream, but this isn’t one of them. It’s amazing how loud people are. I’ve also observed this in nocturnal houses at zoos.
Here comes the ice-cream man.
Dangling from his left arm are two Macadamia/Salted Caramel ice creams. We don’t normally get ice-creams at our hiking halfway marks – this definitely added several stars to today’s experience. The walk from the highway to the Valley of the Giants includes 130m of net uphill, and even more if you count the total uphills from all the ups and downs. It was a good workout, and the ice-cream was very welcome after that. The way back was net downhill.
Brett inside the base of a very old (400+ years), still alive Tingle Tree:
Tingles grow around 50m tall; historically there were 75m tall Tingles before most of them were logged.
The white flowers are Clematis, a climbing plant.
We probably should have stopped at the highway, but walked another 2km to the Nut Lookout to close the gap from a previous walk, where we’d approached that lookout from the south. The forest here is completely different; it’s not Karri/Tingle wet forest, but sclerophyll – Jarrah/Marri open forests and woodlands with a far more species diverse understorey, as you can easily see from these pictures.
The view from to the coast from the lookout:
…and some interesting trees from the way home:
To see all today’s photos we thought worth keeping (50 of them), just click on the track map and then use the right arrow as usual. Plenty more shots of wildflowers etc and also our own mugs.