Northcliffe to Walpole

The introduction for Munda Biddi’s map number 7 starts enthusiastically enough: “This very beautiful … section … offers … the splendour of the Walpole Wilderness and the majesty of the south-west jarrah and karri forests”. Great stuff.

Then in Feb-March 2015 came a major, as in MAJOR bushfire. No more ‘majesty of the south-west jarrah and karri forests. Just burnt lands. Some of it showing impressive but limited regrowth with spectacular contrast between the unimaginable blackness of the burnt trees with the vivid green of the regrowth.

Fire regrowth. A long slow process
Fire regrowth. A long slow process
no undergrowth following the fire
no undergrowth following the fire

There was or is a rather tricky side-effect of the fire. The nearest campsite – Yirra Kartta – is also victim to the fire. Consequently, instead of 50 km ride I have to ride 70 km to reach Fernhook Falls campsite where, apparently, the fire did not reach.

70 km is a long day’s ride. I wake up 0530 and are on the trail before 0700. I check on the map. There is no easy way to get from Northcliffe to Walpole. If I wanted to take a main road I’d have to ride the long way along Middleton Road until I hit the South West Highway. All the tracks lead from these roads direct to the coast. Non go west-east, the direction I go. Except the Munda Biddi. So I was quietly horrified as I came to a cross road with one of these coast-heading tracks. And there, on the other side where I want to go is a large sign very specifically stating ROAD CLOSED. If this is true, then I am seriously f****d. Then I notice a far smaller, less dramatic sign telling me “ … except for cyclists” and I am saved.

errr ... if the road really IS closed I've a looong deture
errr … if the road really IS closed I’ve a looong deture

150813 no need to worry

70 km is a long day’s ride on good roads. On tracks & trails it’s very good. On tracks through post-fire devastation it’s near impossible.

Post-fire the forest has become a desert. There are no sounds, no birds, no animals, no kangaroos, nothing. Nothing. Just that green beginning to return to the area.

burnt marri
burnt marri

I spent the whole day riding through this awful landscape. The fire damage means track is covered in dropped bark, dropped branches, fallen trees, and more. It is a long arduous bouncy day with limited capacity for any form of steady cruising.

150813 burnt karri forest

Then the track is wet and soft. Then there’s the sand. And that puddle: straddling the sandy track where the swamp from one side slowly oozes into the swamp on the other side. The dark tannin rich water is unfathomable. I’ve no idea how deep it is nor weather it is likely to be slippery nor even if the sand has been conveniently washed out and it’s a nice hard pan.

150813 wet sand, for kms
wet sand, for kms

I tried to keep to one side, since the middle bit of the track is covered in vegetation and impossible to ride. Doesn’t work. The track is deep, over axle deep. Peddling furiously I make it but now with wet shoes.

In keeping with every time I’ve tried to stop, say for lunch, and now to dry my feet, it rains. Forcing me back on Dreamer since there is no point in sitting down and just getting wet. And cold.

The Munda Biddi’s condition is horrible. I start plotting ways to reduce track-distance, finding a couple of ‘short-cuts’. Exciting in a way to take such tracks. Should I face a problem, breakdown, fall and injure myself there’s even less chance of someone coming along than should such a fate befall me whilst on the trail itself. Also, now off the trail there are no handy little trail-markers to reassure me I am going the right way. I ride carefully.

I pass a significant milestone as I ride the fat open if gravel road to Fernhook Falls: the 1000 km mark since arriving in Australia. Only about 11 500 km or so to go.

150813 999.9 km 150813 1000.0 km

And because I am now used to the Munda Biddi’s raucous nature, and because I am fit, and because I do plot the odd short cut which does actually turn out to be a short cut I make it to Fernhook Falls in excellent time, arriving before 1400.

Fernhook Falls, on the Deep River, is a nice camping area including a hut with fire place. And thus do I dry out. Though I never did quite work out how to make a good fire. Took an hour to get it to burn since all the wood was wet. I took heaps of small twigs and got a good bed of ashes before sequentially adding larger and larger bits. In a fit of camper-friendliness the good Australian Department of Environment and Conservation has provided firewood. Only … the wood is in H U G E chunks and I, on my little Santos, have no way to reduce these chunks to ‘fit-into-the-fire’ sizes. With a bit of brute strength and shear dedicated Caveman Joe antics of hurtling large chunks of wood at other large chunks of wood with sharp-ish edges I smash off pieces small enough to fit in the fire place.

150813 Fernhook Falls hut
Fernhook Falls hut
drying out at Fernhook Falls hut
drying out at Fernhook Falls hut
150813 I never got the fire to really GO
I never got the fire to really GO

Fire duly started I check out the falls. The water is almost black in colour testament to the tannins that leach out from the forest. The quieter sections of the river have strange and alluring patterns from a white foam which striates through the dark waters of the river.

Deep River showing character, Fernhook Falls
Deep River showing character, Fernhook Falls

In the boisterous parts at the foot of the falls itself the foam is sculptured into a fascinating fantasy world of towers and precipices. No idea what causes the foam but it’s not a product of anthropogenic activities. Someone told me it may be due to the high level of organic matter and micro-organisms which wash into the river. Could be true.

Amazing foam sculpture, Fernhook Falls
Amazing foam sculpture, Fernhook Falls
Deep River's Fernhook Falls
Deep River’s Fernhook Falls
Fernhook Falls
Fernhook Falls

I enjoy my fire and my hut and rest well.

Next day I make my way along the Munda Biddi. It continues to be a challenging ride. The track alternates from bad to dastardly to rocky to sandy to leaf and litter strewn. I have nearly 50 kilometres and at my current pace it’s not only going to take all day it’s gonna take all my energy.

I start studying The Maps. The trail parallels a gravel road. It zig-zags all over the place whilst the road goes pretty much dead straight. Both head east whereas Walpole is south-east.

I ride the road.

Where the Munda Biddi does finally turn south it follows some convoluted twisted route as if the trail planner had a real wild waking-nightmare whilst drawing it out.

150814 sandy Munda Biddi
sandy Munda Biddi
150814 swamp views
swamp views
150814 the Munda Biddi
the Munda Biddi

The map, however, shows something else. A road, Doug Road, heads due south. Due south is where Walpole lies. I decide to take Dougy. I question my wisdom when Doug Road presents some alarming steep bits which redline me as I huff and puff up. But after a while it kinda settles down, finally joining Angove Road and the Munda Biddi and I make my way to Walpole.

150814 open views
Open views along Angove Road

Walpole’s a small quaint one-street town. I make my way to Coalmine Beach campsite where they do not differentiate between me, a bike and a tiny one-person tent and a thumping great 4WD drive with a caravan and I pay, reluctantly, 30 AUD to camp there.

150814 me an icecream & Coalmine Beach Walpole
me an icecream & Coalmine Beach Walpole

I do manage to do some washing and in the morning sunshine the following day to dry everything out.

Early in the afternoon I start the 30-odd kilometres to Ayr Sailena farmstay, halfway to Denmark.

Max

13 August, Walpole.

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