Porongurup National Park

Ascending from Denmark and Wilson Inlet on the Bibbulmun Track, on my way to the coastal shelter near West Cape Howe, the northern vista affords you a view inland as far as Mount Barker, the mountains of the Stirling Ranges and the granite peaks of the Porongurup National Park. With this scene ingrained in my memory, it was inevitable that I would end this stay in Australia with a couple of days bushwalking there.

It is a good four hour drive from Perth to the 12 kilometre long Porongurup Range, down the Albany Highway; indeed, it is only 48 kilometres from Albany itself. Pronounced “Prong-grup”, the range consists of a collection of granite domes, the highest being Devil’s Slide, at 670 metres, and is said to be the world’s oldest mountain range.

The range has a collection of recommended short trails, and, being pushed for time, I wanted to complete the most significant of them in the one day. Aside from the Castle Rock Trail, the rest start at the Tree in the Rock Day Use Area and overlap each other so this appeared to be possible. That would allow me to head off to Bluff Knoll, in the Stirling Ranges, the next day.

The trails are: Devil’s Slide Trail (5km return), Hayward Peak and Nancy Peak Walk (5.5km loop), Wansborough Walk (4km one way). It would then need me to drive the short distance to the Castle Rock Trail and Balancing Rock (4.2km return).

Whereas some of the trails are straightforward, there is quite a bit of ascent, so assuming my fourteen gluttonous days in Perth drinking and eating hadn’t undone all my good work on the Bibb, it was a simple plan I should be able to achieve.

Monday morning, I was up at six and setting off from the day use area about 6:45 am, scaling the first trail; Hayward Peak and Nancy Peak Walk. I was soon blowing but making good time up through the Karri.

Karri along the Nancy Peak Walk
Karri along the Nancy Peak Walk

It felt liberating to be hiking with a day pack after so long! When I reached the first clearing, it was all worth it! At first, the views of the Stirling Ranges were hazy, but as the morning progressed, the visibility got better.

Views of the Stirling Ranges on the Nancy Peak Walk
Views of the Stirling Ranges on the Nancy Peak Walk
Nancy Peak Walk
Nancy Peak Walk
Stirling Ranges from Porongurup National Park
Stirling Ranges from Porongurup National Park
South to the sea from Hayward Peak
South to the sea from Hayward Peak

As I walked the rocky ridge, over both Hayward and then Nancy (652m) Peaks, to the right were the ranges, whilst to the left the coastline I had walked two weeks ago could just be made out in the distance. In front of me, the stunning granite bulk of Marmabup Rock on the other side of a gully.

Nancy Peak from Hayward Peak
Nancy Peak from Hayward Peak
Hayward Peak
Hayward Peak
Stirling Ranges from Hayward Peak
Stirling Ranges from Hayward Peak
Marmabup Rock
Marmabup Rock

Eventually, all good things come to an end, and the trail descended through forest on a precarious rocky path to the gully and the intersection with the Wansborough Walk.

Descending from Hayward Peak
Descending from Hayward Peak

This track, as does the Devil’s Slide Trail, shares 1600 metres of the Wansborough, and where the paths cross, I took the Devil’s Slide trail to Marmabup Rock. Another rocky but relatively shady climb, thanks to the flora, this was no problem to reach the summit, at 670 m.

Marmabup Rock
Marmabup Rock
Nancy Peak, Hayward Peak from Marmabup Rock
Nancy Peak, Hayward Peak from Marmabup Rock
Views from Marmabup Rock
Views from Marmabup Rock

Returning to the Wansborough Walk junction, I turned left to follow the track down through Karri back to the Tree in the Rock Day Area.

Wansborough Track
Wansborough Track

I then drove the short distance to Castle Rock car park, stopping enroute to take a picture of a lizard lounging on the edge of the road.

Lounging Lizard
Lounging Lizard
Lounging Lizard
Lounging Lizard

It didn’t take long to get up the 2.2 km path, through Jarrah and Marri, then Karri forest, to Balancing Rock.

Balancing Rocks
Balancing Rocks

The ‘balancing rocks’ of the Porongurup Range are giant sculptures shaped by natural forces. The Range started as a huge bubble of molten granite that hardened deep below the earth’s surface. As overlying rock wore away, the release of pressure and changes in temperature caused the granite mass to crack, usually in straight lines that are called joints. In a process that is ongoing, rain seeps into the joints, dissolving and washing away molecules of granite, causing the cracks to widen slowly. The surface slowly weather and flakes, graduall sculpting the blocks of granite into smaller and smaller rounded shapes.

Department of Environment and Conservation noticeboard
Balancing Rocks
Balancing Rock
Balancing Rocks
Balancing Rock

Then two routes were presented; a short easy 500 m stroll to the Karri Lookout, and also a 65 m scramble with a 20 m ladder to the Granite Sky Walk. I got the first out of the way no problem, where you also get a glimpse of the sky walk from below.

Karri Lookout
Karri Lookout
Granite Sky Walk viewed from near Karri Lookout
Granite Sky Walk viewed from near Karri Lookout

I had some issues with the scramble, though. I just couldn’t, with my dodgy shoulder, and awful sense of balance, reach the hand hold. The shoulder had been playing me up for the last few weeks of the Bibbulmun Track, as the cortisone injection had worn off, but since returning to Perth, the mobility in my left arm is at an all time low. When I return to the UK, I have some intensive physio sessions to look forward to and hopefully that will fix it.

The scramble up to the Sky Walk
The scramble up to the sky walk

Eventually, a couple came down from the sky walk and the bloke offered me a hand to get up the first section. As he took my hand to steady me up to the first hand hold, I felt my shoulder crack, he heard it click, and a familiar pain shot through my arm. I was in agony, but at least I had made my way up over the first granite boulder section. On the other side, there came two options for the next set of boulders; up and over, or crawl under. I chose to crawl, and once I had squeezed through the gap, I was at the bottom of the 20 metre vertical ladder.

Sky Walk ladder
Granite Sky Walk ladder

As I contemplated the next hurdle, the wind picked up and whisked away what little confidence I had left. Exacerbated by the injury, I climbed a couple of rungs but I was uncomfortable now, and so after a little deliberation, I turned back.

I wasn’t too disappointed I hadn’t reached the sky walk, it’s an eyesore, and anyway, Nancy Peak had been my highlight of the day. I was more concerned that I had to get down!

Lizard
Lizard

The couple had kindly stayed at the bottom of the tricky boulder section in case I needed help. Mindful of the pain sustained from the up bit, I came down with my backside firmly gripping the granite instead of relying too much on my left arm for support, and so didn’t need the extra help.

View from below the Granite Rock Sky Walk
View from below the Granite Sky Walk

Off the rock, I thanked them for waiting and then returned to the car along the same unremarkable track. My recommendation if you only have time for one walk here, choose the Hayward Peak and Nancy Peak Walk.

With the Porongurup tracks done by about 12:30 am, it gave me the afternoon to rest; I should be up to the 1095 metre Bluff Knoll the next day.

Published by Moorland Walker

Paul is a backpacker, tor bagger, Bibbulmun Track End to Ender and West Ham supporter. He moved down from London to live in Okehampton in 2016, after realising he was spending most of his weekends on Dartmoor and it just made sense to make it permanent!

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