I vividly remember the day I committed to walk the Bibbulmun Track. It was at a travel writing workshop with Susan Storm in early 1998. I’d read an article about the newly aligned Bibbulmun Track that would be opening later in the year, but hadn’t thought much more about it.
The Bibbulmun Track is one of the longest continuously marked trails in Australia, stretching 963 kilometres from Kalamunda, 20 kilometres east of Perth, to Albany on the southern coast of Western Australia. It was originally envisaged by keen bushwalker Geoff Schafer, in 1972. The first version of the Track (from Kalamunda to Northcliffe) was marked in 1974, and named after a distinct Aboriginal language group, who inhabited some of the areas the Track passes through. It underwent many changes over the next two decades until, in 1993, work began to turn the Bibbulmun Track into one of the world’s great long distance walks, modelled on the Appalachian Trail in the USA. The Track was radically realigned (retaining less than 10% of the old route) and extended to Albany. The current incarnation of the Bibbulmun Track was opened to the public in September 1998.
During the workshop, Susan asked everyone to talk about what their dream trip would be. The other participants spoke of travelling to exotic places or going on extravagant cruises. I waited for my turn, not knowing which of the places on my bucket list to choose. I decided to see what my heart picked for me when the time came. What my heart chose surprised even me.
“I want to walk the Bibbulmun Track,” I said confidently when my turn came.
Everyone looked stunned. Me most of all – that article had obviously made a bigger impression on me than I’d imagined. Although I had grown up in the hiking mecca of Derbyshire in the UK, I’d never done a multi-day hike and didn’t even own a pair of hiking boots. But once my heart had spoken, I felt I had to follow through. The first thing I needed to decide about was when to start the journey.
Spring (September to November) is the best time to walk the Bibbulmun Track. At this time the wild flowers (including orchids) are out, temperatures are moderate, and the streams and water tanks are likely to have plenty of water in them. Autumn (March to May) is another good time weather-wise, though water supplies will be low if you set off early in the season before the rain. Winter conditions (June to August) are not for the faint hearted, particularly further south where temperatures are lower and rainfall higher. During the summer months (December to February) very hot weather, low water supplies, and abundant flies can make long walks very uncomfortable and even dangerous.
With that decided, training should have been next on the list, but I was pretty fit so figured I didn’t need to do much of that. After all, hiking is only walking … for a long time. Also, the campsites, which are located between 10 and 20 kilometres apart, are closer together near Perth, which is useful for end to end walkers to ease themselves into condition. However, even if you walk regularly, it’s surprising how much difference carrying a heavy backpack makes.
(Next week – what to take)