At 1002km, the Bibbulmun Track is one of Australia’s longest thru-hikes. Caroline tackled the whole thing last year – grab a cuppa and come for a hike with her.
Australia’s Best Hiking Trail?
Last year in September, I was itching for adventure. I wanted to explore more of my own backyard, but somewhere that still felt far away. I decided to escape the city and spend two months delving into uninterrupted nature on the other side of Australia.
The plan? To hike the 1002km Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia.
The Bibbulmun Track is a long-distance hiking trail (also known as a thru-hike) in Western Australia. 45,000 years ago, a subgroup of the Noongar First Nations people lived in the region where the track passes.
The Bibbulmun people would walk long distances through the forests for ceremonial gatherings. Their name was adopted for the trail, so hikers today can reflect on the same feeling of oneness with nature of those people of long ago.
Read more: These Are Australia’s Four Thru-Hikes
The track travels through a significant region known as the Southwest Australia Ecoregion. It’s globally recognised as one of 34 major ‘biodiversity hotspots’ (collectively making up 2.3% of the Earth’s surface, and inhabited by over half of the planet’s living species).
This region alone is one of the richest reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth, home to over 2000 types of plants and wildflowers.
The track stretches from Perth on the west coast, down to Albany on the south coast, passing through a diverse range of forests, plains, and rugged coastal cliffs.
While my plan was to hike the Bibbulmun Track in one hit, the route strings together a whole range of stunning day hikes and multi-day walks.
‘It took me 54 days to walk 1002km ‘end-to-end’, stopping at 49 campsites and 9 towns. I’d carry up to 18kg, and my longest day was 34 kilometres (40,000 steps).’
I want to point out that to embark on such a journey, you don’t need to be the most physically adventurous and ‘bush smart’ person. The key is to have the right mindset: preparation, motivation and perseverance.
Being a city dweller myself, I learnt as I went, starting with preparing for the journey. I gathered my research by reading the official track website, watching ‘hiking how to’ videos online, and posting a million questions on the Bibbulmun Track Facebook group (frequented by thousands of veteran hikers, and where I got the most practical advice).
I got my gear fitted properly at reputable hiking stores. I prepared my own food and sent resupply boxes to the towns I would pass through. The hardest part was predicting what I’d feel like eating two months ahead!
I packed only the essentials and left the rest behind. I was building up the mindset of JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) – which can be hard for me as an extrovert. More on that later.
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Diving into the Jarrah and Marri Forests of The Darling Range
I left the track’s northern terminus at springtime. This is a special time to start, being the end of the wet season and the start of wildflower blooming season.
I was both excited and nervous. What I was about to get myself into? Luckily my friend Steve, an experienced hiker, was joining me, so I set off feeling safe in his company.
The Darling Range was a mix of dense jarrah and marri forests, open wandoo woodlands and undulating farm hills. There were epic views while walking and at three of the campsites.
The first two weeks of walking the track are when most end-to-enders drop out. It’s an intense transition into the wilderness. Imagine everything at your fingertips suddenly disappearing – clean running water, electricity, the shops down the street.
This first section is also the most physically demanding (especially with a huge backpack). I was climbing some steep mental and physical learning curves.
I was abruptly thrown into the deep end. On day two, my hiking buddy Steve started feeling unwell. He’d stop every 10 minutes – very unlike his normal fit self. Something was wrong.
That night, Steve vomited and passed out. The next morning he was having agonising chest pains. With one bar of phone reception, I called the ambulance. The paramedics arrived in a 4WD as the access road was too rocky for the ambulance.
That same afternoon, Steve was in a hospital undergoing an operation. They removed his infected gallbladder and a huge gallstone. Obviously, he couldn’t walk for at least two weeks. That left me nervous.
I’d never hiked alone before and wasn’t expecting to. But what choice did I have? I’d spent too long preparing for this adventure. I had to go for it. And so I did. After the initial anxiety of stepping back out onto the trail alone, I settled into my own company.
I was 100% responsible for myself. I had to be confident reading maps, and trust my ability to navigate my limits. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
This section was popular with day walkers, weekenders, sectional hikers and everyone in between. I met four other solo female end-to-end hikers, who inspired me immensely. One of them gave me this advice:
‘Always quit the day after you decide to. You’ll rest and wake up the next day realising everything is ok.’
Deepening Karri Forest
A few hundred kilometres in, the jarrah and marri forests transitioned to majestic karri trees, some of the tallest flowering gums in the world.
There were restful swimming holes and riverside campsites. The track came alive with an amazing variety of colourful flowers.
‘My comfort zone was stretching and it was toughening me up. Life was raw yet simple. Time became irrelevant – my body would naturally respond to the light and the climate.’
I’d wake up to the birds chirping, eat breakfast then head off as the sun rose. After walking for a few hours, I’d take a break at the hottest part of the day.
After an afternoon of walking, I’d arrive at the campsite, set up and change into warm clothes. Dinner was usually by a campfire in the company of other hikers.
At dusk, my body would naturally feel tired, so bedtime was early. This was my new lifestyle now.
I’d arrive every week or so at a town for a ‘zero day’. Here, I’d shower, wash clothes, collect my resupply box, check for messages and devour a massive meal before passing out in a ‘luxurious’ pub hotel bed.
Despite those luxuries, it felt strange being back in civilisation. There was an overwhelm of choice, and everything was complicated compared to the simple trail.
Ironically, rest days in town felt lethargic, lonely and depressing. I was always keen to get back on the trail ASAP. Luckily it would only take about half a day to get my positive spirits back.
Except this one time.
Leaving Pemberton, I was unusually irritated, and I couldn’t shake it off. Something felt wrong, and I couldn’t pin down what it was. In my other life I’d usually find countless ways or people to distract myself.
But out here, my feelings had nowhere to hide. The more I ignored them, the stronger they got. Irritation soon morphed into anger. What was so I pissed off about?
When I finally took the courage to self-enquire, the protective layers of anger began to peel away. Underneath my anger was frustration. Then overwhelm. Then insecurity. The armour around my heart dropped away.
I began to cry. I put my pack down and lay on the trail as tears of sadness flooded out. I hadn’t cried for such a long time, and until that point, I didn’t realise how much I needed to.
‘I suddenly sensed how emotionally numb I’d been for a long time – with society’s constant pressure to stay positive, stay strong, and always have my shit together. It was rare for me to show my messier parts.’
And so out here, after weeks in raw nature, I purged it out in one go. It felt safe. The karri trees were my only witnesses.
I had a nap on the trail and then continued on, feeling relieved after expressing my emotions. I walked, slightly dazed, for another 15km to the next campsite.
Later, I arrived at camp and was greeted by other hikers. Over dinner, we shared nourishing conversations about the power of authentic expression.
We spoke about vulnerability and cathartic releases. How the trail is the safe place to be raw without judgment or expectation. It was refreshing to have honest conversations with like-minded strangers.
I am yet to fully understand why I had this experience. Maybe it was an essential element of JOMO. But what I do know, is that I need more of it.
I discovered mother nature’s healing magic, and I can always access it – it’s just a matter of going back out to spend time with her – even for a day or two.
Finding The Zone On The Wild Southern Coast
My experience changed dramatically when I reached the southern section. Dense forests transformed to open plains and the epic south coast. It was remote and there wasn’t a bar of phone reception.
I was coming to terms with such a simple life in nature, and with my raw self. I was ready for the challenge. I could see and feel more deeply as distractions slipped away.
I noticed that my ‘outer’ world reflected my ‘inner’ world. If the terrain was the same over a few days, I would experience it very differently depending on my mood. The better I felt inside, the more beautiful the experience felt – even if the weather was horrible.
When I crossed the 501km midpoint, I felt a new wave of confidence and drive to keep going.
The rest of the journey transformed into a blurry, timeless slipstream of experiences.
I climbed 58m up the Gloucester Tree, historically a fire-lookout tree. I celebrated my birthday at Mt Chance – at the top of this gigantic granite rock, I saw the Pingerup Plains stretching far and wide.
The next day, I was in those plains, wading through knee-deep water.
I caught my first glimpse of the wild southern ocean. I walked along the epic coastline before briefly returning inland, to the mammoth Tingle trees over 400 years old and found nowhere else in the world.
I then returned to the rugged coast. I endured blistering sun, downpours, hail, and spectacular lightning storms sending rain sideways into our hut at Rame Head.
I canoed across Wilson Inlet, before traversing the ‘showgrounds’ (intriguing-shaped sand dunes that were excruciating to climb). I savoured my last days on the trail spotting snakes and lizards while climbing steep sand dunes.
On my final day, I passed the tremendous turbines of Albany wind farm scattered along the coastline. This symbolised my return to civilisation.
The Southern Terminus
Arriving at the Southern Terminus, I had accomplished my goal. But it felt like a non-event – another rest town, as though I’d be continuing on after a rest day.
This hike was all about the journey. That timeless slipstream with no past or future represented living in the present and embracing every moment: joy and tears; inspiration and dejection; feeling invincible then falling over, hairy armpits and wet stinky socks, swatting a million flies and being at peace – all at the same time.
‘My journey taught me about simplicity, patience and appreciation. Walking in nature for so long showed me a simple life filled with richness.’
By slowing down and paying attention, I learnt to appreciate small things I would normally overlook in my busy urban life. I discovered nourishment by disconnecting from the world, and in turn, fully connecting to myself and what surrounds me.
Post-hike, my life is simpler. I now embrace JOMO because I’ve learnt how little I need to enjoy life. Walking 7-10 hours a day made me aware of how much I sit down – on the couch, at my work desk, in the car.
So now I walk and cycle more, and go on weekend microadventures into nature whenever I can. This helps me reconnect to mother nature, my emotions, and my learnings from this spectacular journey.
I’m inspired to show others who have always wanted to go on an adventure like this, that they can do it too – all it takes is preparation, determination and perseverance.
Watch a newly released documentary series about Caroline’s journey at Great Walks of the World.