“Munda Biddi” means path through the forest in the language of the Noongar nation. It’s a 1,000km mostly off bitumen route that cuts across the south west corner of Western Australia. When Colleen and Rolf Muller found out that the trail was completed over its entire length, planning was started and tickets were booked. Here is their story:
We decided to ride in the Albany to Mundaring direction in April. The primary reason is the weather being more comfortable starting in the cooler south. There is still plenty of daylight. Rain increases as you get into winter. But one disadvantage is that on average, the sun is in your face most of the trip.
The second reason was ease of transport. The fares that Flight Centre arranged for us with Virgin Australia meant we could get ourselves and bikes from Sydney to Albany in one easy day and at the other enjoy a week sightseeing in Perth.
We decided to allow just over a month to do the whole trip, providing opportunities to do some side trips or spend a little longer in places we liked. Food and accommodation worked out at ~$76 per person per day. We made use of the camping shelters out of town and used the Munda Biddi Trail Foundation’s web page for cycle friendly businesses for accommodation in the towns. All met or exceeded expectations.
Faster riders can save a lot of money by stocking up with food in towns and then making more use of the shelters. Those who decide to ride it hard and fast can expect to have more mechanical issues as the trail is tough on bikes and riders. Take a spare derailleur hanger.
The trail has a wide variety of conditions, but the one thing cyclists from the east coast should know about is that there is a choice – pea gravel or sand. After a few days it took to master, we then encountered another form of road garnish – gum nuts the size of golf balls. Autumn is the time of year for hazard reduction burns. One day the smoke came uncomfortably close, so it pays to check during preparation time and just before going into the area. We also encountered a few diversions due to logging activities. Over 1,000km it’s practically impossible for conditions to remain unchanged.
Highlights of the trip in route order were:
Albany to Denmark 75km. The longest and easiest leg of the trail. Most of it is crushed gravel off road track along the coast. Magnificent fluoro orange Swamp Bottle Brush and Kangaroo Paw line the route.
Jinung Beigabup campsite has a palatial camping shelter. The newer shelters are toward the Albany end. All the shelters were clean and tidy with composting toilets. Despite warnings, tanks were nearly full and water good to drink, though we did take the precaution of treating it.
Tree Top Walk Recreation Site a few kms before Walpole. We took in the view from the tops of the giant Tingle trees.
The route to Krowkralup Beela campsite climbs up through fragrant Karri and Casuarina Plantations. We did a 22km side trip to Mt Frankland and were rewarded with spectacular panoramic views.
Yirra Karta campsite was party central that we shared with a number of different groups. Among them were 4 solar engineers from UNSW who were in the final days of a 12 day trip. They looked knackered.
Northcliffe had the aptly named Hollowbutt café.
We spent an extra day at Pemberton and took the opportunity to climb the enormous Gloucester tree. The pubs at this end of the trail have nice food.
We met a honeymoon couple with trailer in tow at Manjimup. They were doing the trail end to end. If they were still talking to each other by Albany, the marriage should last a long time.
Donnelly Mill is no longer working and has been turned into a holiday village. We got to the general store in a nick of time for a restorative cappuccino and chocolate brownie. Lots of tame kangaroos and emus.
We spent an extra day at Nannup that rightly promotes itself as a garden town. This stop marks the half way point. A lovely spot to rest for a day!
The ride to Jarrahwood marked an abrupt change from the tall Karri to the drier Jarrah forests. Most of it was along a fast rail trail that would be great for a beginner’s day trip.
Nglang Boodja campsite was nestled in a beautiful secluded gully.
Collie is a coal mining centre with a rich cycling history – the miners used to race bikes for sport. There is a cycling museum that was regrettably closed due to lack of volunteers. We did make the acquaintance of “Sprocket” the manager of Crank’n Cycles bike shop. His staff were very friendly and helpful. We enjoyed a Coal Mining tour at the local museum.
Dwellingup rest day saw us take the tourist train through the bush and soak up some history.
Dandalup campsite gave us the first indication that we were getting close to the end of our trip. The shelter had a nice view of the coast and we could see the lights below night glow of Perth.
We arrived at Jarradale on Anzac Day. We were able to find accommodation at the Environmental Centre, a house that had been converted to nurses’ quarters.
The ride to Wungong campsite was along old logging tramways that were converted to rail trails.
The ride to Carinyah campsite showed definite signs of impinging “civilisation” with more frequent piles of illegally dumped rubbish. The trail was getting more rutted and the pea gravel deeper. Found a log book entry from some old bush walking club friends Katy and Scottie who were there last September. They estimated the duration of their trip “for as long as it takes”.
I’m glad we did the trail from south to north as the hut logs at this end recounted many stories about the “hell of the north” and ill prepared tourers pulling out.
Penultimate day on the trail. Rain from the previous night made the pea gravel and sand a little firmer. There was one spot where I did have to walk about 200m. I made a slight detour to the Perth Observatory and had a look at their visitor centre and chat with their staff. Lots of big ups and downs finishing at the Mundaring Weir hotel for lunch and a room for the night.
Last day was a 7km ride into Mundaring. Although the trail officially ends at Mundaring, the icing on the cake is the Railway Reserves Heritage Trail which takes you off the escarpment and into the outer suburbs of Perth. Perth has a good network of cycle ways that will take you right into the heart of town.
I must say that a month of riding through the bush is one of the best ways of spending a holiday. Though there is very little old growth forest along the route, the re-growth, plantations and reserves are well worth visiting. It was great watching coastal heath give way to the giant Tingle and Karri forests and finally the drier Jarrah forests north of Nannup. Although out of season the wild flowers still beat anything we’ve seen on the east coast. Fauna was everywhere, bird life especially. We even spotted a couple of shy tiger snakes slipping off into the grass.
We felt accepted and welcome everywhere we went, both on the road and in the towns. We encountered many types of riders from the gung-ho who were doing the whole trip in 12 days, honeymooners and some large family groups doing their first overnight trip.
Bearing in mind that our intention was always to do an unsupported trip for the whole length of the trail, here are some things we did to make the trip a success:
- Allow plenty of time.
- Experience. For anyone who has not done an extended MTB tour I strongly recommend they do a trip over 3-4 days before committing to the Munda Biddi. Else there are companies that run fully supported trips.
- Be flexible and prepare to compromise.
- Equipment. MTBs with wide, knobby tyres are definitely the easiest ride for the Munda Biddi. Our hybrids were marginal. The bikes must be in top notch condition.
- Go light, leave the formal wear at home. We averaged about 15kg payload each. We were able to enjoy hot food every day, never felt cold at night (we had 4 season sleeping bags, lots of layers & beanies – it was chilly in the shelters when the sun went down). The tent never did leave its bag, but it is nice to know we could have camped anywhere if we wanted to.
- Read the log books in the huts – lots of valuable information.
Colleen and Rolf have been cycle touring on and off for over twenty years, covering places such as Europe, Canada, NZ and Australia. The full account of their trip can be found under: https://mundabiddi.wordpress.com/