With the halfway point feeling close enough to touch, I set out on another very lovely and very short stretch – this time joined by Teresa, Dan (occasionally), and Zoe and her dad George.
IS THE WILDLIFE OUT TO GET ME?
Balingup – Blackwood, 17.4km
This was by far one of my more dramatic – some may say melodramatic – days on trail.
After a ridiculously yummy final breakfast at my Balingup bnb, I headed into town to soft-launch the day with a final coffee. While there, I waved goodbye hello and see-you-later to Zoe, George and Teresa, who hit the trail far earlier than me, and then ran into Dan. It was such a nice treat to see him, and we caught up for as long I could put off starting the day’s hike.
Eventually though, I had to get up and go. It’s so funny how two days in town makes you so soft; my brain whinged at me about having to walk, about the heat, and about my sleepy legs, for at least the first few hours of the day!
The trail passed through the Golden Valley Tree Park, an arboretum on the outskirts of Balingup, which I really enjoyed meandering through.
That is, of course, until the magpies attacked.
I don’t know what it is about me, but my god the magpies hate me on this day. One swooped me incessantly for over a km, and it wasn’t until I left the arboretum that I escaped its wrath!
Alongside the initial hour or two of mental discomfort – before the shift back into walking mode hit – I really felt in this stretch a desire for new scenery. We talked about this later, at camp, and it’s a feeling all the end-to-enders have shared. After over 400km of jarrah and marri forest, we had decided we’d reached “100% gratitude” for the landscape. While trying not to wish the trail away, everyone was itching to hit the magical Karri forest section.
Anyway, I did enjoy the day, but the standout feature of it was the intense animal encounters I experienced. For starters, the day was (surprise surprise) a hot one, and the flies were SO bad that my fly net was a constant necessity throughout the day. At one point, the Bibb crossed through some private farmland, and it was here I began to again get violently swooped. It got so bad that at one point I started sprinting along the gravel track, half-blinded by the bug net and moving as fast as someone with a heavy pack on can go, yelling desperately, “please, oh my god, please stop! I promise I’m not here to hurt you! pleaaaase!”
After surviving and escaping that ordeal, I went on to almost step on three different blue-tongue lizards, and then had a bit of a confrontation with a fully hench kangaroo, who wouldn’t leave the track. I had to panic-google what to do with an agro kangaroo, and it told me to do a deep, low, short cough?? (I did it, and it worked, which is hilarious).
As you can imagine, I was well and truly ready to arrive at the hut and be amongst people and within walls, even if they’re not exactly enclosed!!
Blackwood hut is on a big hill overlooking a valley, so has a really gorgeous view. The hut was mouse-infested, so i set up my tent in the grass and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and starry night.
Unfortunately, the mist, grass and humidity meant that by 2:30am, my tent was so covered in condensation that I woke to drips falling onto my sleeping bag. In a half-asleep daze, I shoved everything back into my pack and stumbled into the hut for a much drier, albeit mice-ridden, few more hours of sleep.
Like I said, a dramatic day!
Blackwood – Gregory Brook, 18.2km
After a lovely misty morning and slow start, I set off on a hike that began with an insaaanely steep and slippery downhill. 1km in, my feet began to hurt, which was a bit of an uh oh moment, but as far as I remember they sorted themselves our eventually! The trail then wound along and over the Blackwood river, which was beautiful, and then up a steep incline that we were all fairly scared of, but that ended up being super easy.
At a large water dam, I caught up with Zoe, George, and Teresa, and although they stopped here for a snack I forged ahead. I’m really not good at stopping during the day; I just feel really antsy, and I’d rather just keep going! The other big motivation for pushing on is that I’ve been getting seeeeriously hungry. Like, by the time I get to the huts for lunch, I am properly properly hangry. It’s ridiculous! Luckily, Zoe has been feeling the insatiable hunger too, so at least I’m not alone in it. Despite the growing hunger, the day’s walk was great, with wildflowers out in full force.
At the hut, we had a lovely campfire, and I decided to go back to my roots and sleep in the hut. Zoe joined me in order to escape George’s snoring, and as she was setting up I made a joke about this being our first sleepover in over a decade. Funnily enough, the night accidentally became a bit of a sleepover, as we stayed up “really late” chatting and laughing about anything and everything, just as you would as a kid!
Gregory Brook – Donnelly River, 22.5km
Despite being a town day – “Anni day!!”, as I kept calling it – this day was definitely in the top ten so far! My mate Anni was meeting me in Donnelly River, so I had something wonderful to look forward to and push for, which made the day fun! The walk itself was easy, and incredibly exciting, as it was the day we finally, FINALLY hit the Karri forest!!!
The Karri tree is a giant eucalyptus (aka white gum) tree native to the southwest, and they’re properly magical. They absolutely tower over you, and just get taller and more majestic as you get further into the region. I looooooooooove them, and it was amazing to finally see some! At one point along the trail Teresa and I caught up to one another, and I excitedly asked her if she’d seen the Karri trees. “What, the naked ones?”, she replied, which I thought was a great description of them!
With about 4km to go, I finally met Anni along the trail, who had walked from Donnelly River to meet me, and together we walked into town. It was so great to see her, and we had such a fun catch up.
At Donnelly River, Anni revealed what she’d brought me for lunch, and it was an absolute feaaaast. Incredibly homemade sandwiches, fruit, chocolate, a donut, a spinach and ricotta roll, coffee, even a cold beer! It was magnificent. The only slight downside was that we weren’t the only ones interested in the picnic: the very persistent magpies and local emus were quick to come over and try grab what they could (to no avail, luckily for us!).
After our feast, I met up with the others, and after food and heaps of deliberating over accomodation options (which were fairly dire), George very generously offered that if we all were to chip in what we would have paid for a spot in a room of bunk beds, he’d grab a chalet for all of us.
The chalet was SO MUCH FUN. It was very simple, but that almost added to the holiday house charm of the whole thing. George went in the “master bedroom”, Dan got a little bunk bed room all to himself, and Teresa, Zoe and I had a giiirls rooooom (sleepover time!!).
With an afternoon left to fill, Zoe and I decided to go find the town’s swimming dam, where we came across some child-sized kayaks and spent a ridiculous and hilarious hour paddling around the lake and swimming in the icy water. (See @issygoeswalking for video evidence of this adventure!)
After heavenly warm showers, Dan and I went to collect firewood, which he then used to get a fire going in the house’s old fireplace. By evening, we were all sat crammed in the living room, toasty warm and sunken into couches that felt genuinely divine. We chatted, ate very random dinners, and fell about laughing at a German phrasebook Dan had carried for Zoe since Dwellingup. It’s from the 90s, and the bizarre sentences that Zoe and I attempted to say to Teresa (who is German, for context) had us all absolutely hysterical with laughter. It was such a wonderful, happy, cosy night, and really felt like a holiday within a holiday. What a treat!