David and Hilary Bardsley
Whilst visiting my brother in 2018, my wife, Hilary and I did the Great Wilderness Challenge and resolved to do it again. Geoff Bardsley who has done the challenge more than once I believe, lives in Cove and we try to visit him there each year. But then Covid intervened and we have not been able to leave Western Australia for the last 18months. It was good news to hear that a virtual Challenge was being run this year in a location of your own choosing – we do NOT lack choice of wilderness in Western Australia! Our first attempt at a location 3 days’ drive out into the bush fizzled as the car broke down 2hours from our destination and we had to be towed home – 1300kms! For our second attempt we chose the Nuyts Wilderness Trail near Walpole, much closer to home. Starting with a suspension bridge over Deep River, it follows the Bibbulmun Trail before branching off to head straight for the Southern Ocean coast at Thompson Cove. Incidentally the Bibbulmun Trail starts in Perth and ends in Albany, a 1000 km walk normally taking about 50 days which was a tad too much for us. Thompson Cove is the dead end of the Nuyts Trail – next stop Antarctica – there are no other tracks in the Wilderness so the only way back is the way you came, a round trip of 15 kms.
The weather in July had been exceptional with 28 days of rain during the month with numerous storms and floods and I guess we should have expected some damp conditions. But the 6th August dawned beautifully bright and sunny so we left in good spirits – even “Skippy” and his mate popped up in the bush to say farewell. We parked in Tinglewood, a remarkable place in itself as the Tingle trees are truly enormous, one having a girth of over 20 metres and most reaching 40 metres or more in height. The undergrowth is dense in the forest but following the trail is not difficult as there is only one way you can get through. It’s necessary to sign the log book at the start of the trail as Rangers monitor who is in the wilderness and if you don’t sign back out, a search is initiated. It is really isolated. We didn’t see another person or even a footprint all day and there is no phone coverage.
The suspension bridge is remarkably wobbly but it’s the only way to cross Deep River which surprised by being almost over its banks – normally it is tame, gently flowing down to the Walpole Inlet. That day it was a raging torrent. The track then winds through the thick undergrowth for a few kilometres. But before we had gone much further we were brought up short by floods over the path and no obvious way round. I was thinking of plan ‘C’ but Hilary hardly hesitated, taking her boots off and wading into the black waters. Paddling with bare feet on a muddy base covered with branches and razor sharp leaves through over a foot of water is not the most pleasant experience but had to be done if we were to continue. Fortunately we don’t have crocodiles (or piranhas!) in the South West of WA but I did learn afterwards that the highly poisonous dugite snake can swim. With boots back on we continued for a few more kilometres through the forest until the country opened up into rolling heathland, delightful walking as we left the Bibbulmun Trail, heading generally south to the coast.
The delight was somewhat tempered however when we descended a short way into a shallow valley and found our way once again blocked by floods. This time the water looked really wide and deep, coming up to the lower branches of the small trees by the trail. We were not going to turn back now and we removed boots and trousers before wading through. It was a wise move as the water turned out to be well over our knees in places. This was more pleasant than the previous flood however, the bottom being sandy and it would have been almost enjoyable if it had not been so cold. Fully clothed again we continued through the heathland which went up and over a couple of small (by Scottish standards) hills before the great Southern Ocean came into view. The descent to Thompson Cove was very overgrown and steep and it was something of a fight to get through the prickly vegetation – there is nothing soft in Oz.
Thompson Cove is small with a lovely sandy beach but there is no temptation to bathe. The rollers were driving in, some 4 metres in height beyond the Cove. The undertow would have been lethal but it was a beautiful lunch spot. Progress had been understandably slow and it took us almost 3 hours to get there. The only thing now was to reverse the process and walk back.
The sun was remarkably warm for a mid-winter’s day and the fight back out of Thompson Cove was pretty exhausting. Consequently, our progress back was as slow as on the way out. When your halfway point is at sea level, the way home is all uphill of course. Without the floods it would have been a good day’s hike but having crossed the equivalent of four rivers with boots off, it turned into a most eventful and indeed wonderful experience. Raising funds for Charities on the other side of the world is never going to be easy and our total is rather modest but we enjoyed the adventure immensely and trust our contribution will go a little way to support communities in the Highlands, another place we love very much indeed.