Hands up if the words “Class 4 challenging, physically demanding, 12.5km walk” send you ducking for cover in the nearest coffee shop?
That’s how I felt whenever someone suggested I do the Bald Head walk. Don’t get me wrong. I love nature walks, just not ones that will probably end with me finishing the last kilometre on my hands and knees. I like to leave those to the ‘professionals’.
But late last year I was presented with the opportunity of walking the Bald Head trail with the amazing Professor Stephen Hopper, WA’s botanist extraordinaire, and it was too good to miss. So I crossed my fingers and said ‘yes, I’d LOVE to come!’
It turns out it has been the best decision I’d made all year. If you haven’t done it before, put it on your list now! It really is one of the most spectacular walks on our amazing south coast. And guess what?
The best part of the walk is the first 2km, so you don’t have to be a winner of the New York marathon in order to enjoy it, though you do need a reasonable level of fitness. When you’ve walked as far as you like, just turn around and come back. Doing half or a third of it, I have discovered, is better than never doing it at all.
The Bald Head walk trail, for those who don’t know, is located at the end of Frenchman Bay road in Albany. The trail takes you over Isthmus Hill, a large granite outcrop that overlooks Misery Beach (recently voted Australia’s best beach), then along the backbone of Flinders Peninsula, and extends in an easterly direction for several kilometres before making a dogleg to the south-east, ending in a large domed granite headland. Captain George Vancouver named it ‘Bald Head’ back in 1791. The headland is hard to see from the mainland, but was said to have been visible to early seafarers ‘from 14 leagues out to sea’.
Professor Hopper showed us a drawing by William Westall, a landscape painter on Matthew Flinders’ voyage of exploration to Australia in 1801, which showed that the view from atop Isthmus Hill looking down the peninsula, remains unchanged in over 200 years, to the point of having the same wind-blown banksia plant (identified as the threatened banksia verticillata) on the rocks in the immediate foreground.
After the initial climb up Isthmus Hill (yep you start with the steepest bit), most of it is a series of small undulations like walking the backbone of a giant dragon guarding the entrance to King George Sound.
And for those of you who, like me, don’t like the idea of doing the whole walk, you’ll be delighted to know that, just after Isthmus Hill, you can take the ‘money shot’ of the entire trail. For, as you turn the corner on the way down the hill, the entire length of Flinders Peninsula unfurls before you. It is this view that will stop you in your tracks and have you recommending the walking trail to all and anyone you meet thereafter.
Our group did proceed a little further, though, continuing along through low coastal scrub that periodically gave way to limestone ridges and small, sheltered woodlands alive with banksias (the most beautiful I have ever seen), orchids and other wildflowers in late spring. Occasionally we would see an Australasian gannet gliding over the wild ocean on the western side. We also saw a heath monitor that lumbered along the track beside us and an assortment of small birds like silvereyes, western spinebills, southern emu-wrens and, of course, New Holland honeyeaters.
We got as far as a large expanse of granite on which, Professor Hopper pointed out, were ancient lizard traps, used by the local Menang Noongar people to catch the skinks, and an astonishing variety of unique and specialist granite-loving vegetation.
Stopping to enjoy the heritage and floristic diversity of the area meant that we were never going to make it all the way to the end. But what we lacked in quantity, we made up for in the quality and richness of the experience.
Unfortunately, the track is currently closed for restoration work. But the good news is that it is due to re-open again in spring, just in time for you to take advantage of it when at its peak floral beauty and with new, easy-to-walk paths to guide you on your way.
So pencil it into your travel diary now. And when you go, if you do manage to get all the way to the end, remember to send me some photos. It’s just possible I will never get that far myself, and you know what? That’s OK. The best walks are about the journey, not the destination.