Adventure is at your doorstep. On any given weekend you can walk out of the city with a pack on your back and a map in your pocket and follow one of WA’s amazing trails into one of the world’s great wildernesses.
And there is no better time to do it than in the glorious Noongar season of Djeran* (April/May). The weather is getting cooler, the first rains are bringing a flush of green into the bush and the animals are out and about instead of sleeping in the shade.
Most of us are pretty familiar with the idea of going for a bushwalk for an hour or two, tops, but going on an overnight hike can feel a little daunting, especially if you are doing it with kids.
It’s hard enough to pack for a day at the beach, how on earth are you supposed to fit a whole campsite into a bag, let along keep the kids interested, right?
Well, there are ways to ease your way into family over-night hiking and we’ve got a few ideas and places for you to get started. But the big question is why? Why would you go to the trouble of mounting a family expedition, by foot, into the bush on one of our world-class trails?
First-of-all, you should do it because it isn’t just fun, it’s an adventure. Few things will set a kid’s imagination soaring like having a backpack with a sleeping bag and a pocketknife and walking off into the unknown with adults they love and trust. You could be discovering lost worlds, searching for dragons, exploring a new planet, marching in a daring campaign, or be in search of the world’s rarest and most beautiful butterfly. And the spell of that imaginative world can linger well beyond the trip itself.
It is also the very best way to connect to the natural world. You usually start a hike by bringing the city into the bush with you. You walk like you are in the city, head largely down, mind turning over details of things that aren’t in front of you, and occasionally swiping your eyes over the bush like you’re looking for road signs.
But over time your city-bubble fades and nature seeps in. Your gaze lifts, softens and widens. Rather than scanning for some kind of neon detail, you begin to engage in your surroundings more peripherally. You start to see, hear, and smell the things that were always there, but didn’t step inside your city-bubble, introduce themselves, offer you a business card, and suggest a coffee sometime soon.
Kids transition out of their city-bubble quicker. But they still need time to do it.
The third reason to take the effort to engage in a family overnight hike is that nothing creates a sense of separation from the torrent of details of modern life like a hike.
As soon as you step away from your car, you leave behind so many of the triggers of our daily drama. No fridge. No bill stuck to the fridge. No email. No lists. Instead of searching for car keys and trying to remember to get dishwashing liquid on the way to hockey training, you are focussing on simpler things. Moving through the bush; staying hydrated; stopping when you’re tired; cooking simple food; eating; talking around a fire; being warm. Sleeping. Just the basics. And there is something strangely therapeutic about that.
And lastly, because time in nature is memory rocket fuel. When your kid’s look back at their childhoods, two or three days of hiking with their parents will stand out like a golden lighthouse among the years of the daily business of being a family. Or to switch metaphors, in the pantry of their memories those few days will take up a shelf – and it will be the one with the marshmallows.
So, how do you get started? Here are a few thoughts.
Start with a family day trip to a National Park!
Working your way into hiking is always a good idea. The trick is to introduce it in bite-sized bits and make every chunk as fun as you can.
- Break the drive up with an ice cream stop.
- Take games to play at the park – frisbee, cricket.
- Cook lunch on a barbecue – let the kids be tong masters.
- Go for an hour walk on a trail.
- Try setting challenges: how many different kinds of bird can you see; the first person to find animal skat wins; etc.
Spots to try:
John Forrest NP has lots of great trails, but if you want to start easy the Glen Brook Trail is a 2.2 km loop that you can do in around an hour and there are lots of things to see along the way, including the resident kangaroos (or Yonga in the Noongar language), lots of birdlife, and the Glen Brook Dam.
If you live down in the Southwest or are just visiting, make your way into the Beedelup Falls National Park west of Pemberton. This 4.5km walk will take you up to three hours, but the pay off is huge. Cross a waterfall on a suspension bridge, walk among towering Karri trees, and picnic in the bush.
The Syd’s Rapids and Aboriginal Heritage Trail is well-marked, making it perfect for families just starting out on their hiking adventures. The terrain is flat and is suitable for wheelchair users and prams.
There is also plenty of signage along the trail, which goes into greater detail about the Aboriginal history and ecology of the land. This trail is best done in a clockwise direction, starting from Walyunga Pool.
Please note: Walyunga NP campground is currently closed due to damage during bushfires. The walk trails are open, but please check Trails WA website for latest information.
Find more trails at trailswa.com.au
Progress to camp and hike!
With this style of hiking the trick is to find a good place to camp, and then use that as a base to explore on foot. It is a great way to elevate the nature connection in your camping experience and make your hikes more comfortable.
- Pick a spot camping spot that has a good trail running past it.
- Set up a nice comfy campsite.
- Leave your car at camp and go for a 1-2 hour hike.
- Try setting challenges like the first person to find animal tracks wins; spot a birds nest and get two extra marshmallows in your hot chocolate!
- Take snacks and drinks and don’t be afraid to stop and enjoy a good spot. Remember this isn’t an Olympic event, it’s a way to connect with nature and your child’s inner adventurer.
- Walk back to your camp. Eat a good meal, tell stories around the fire, drink hot chocolate, look for shooting stars, sleep in a warm bed.
Spots to try:
You can set up camp at Nanga Mill or Chudditch campground to enjoy this 7km walk. Both sites are surrounded by trees and close to the Murray River. Nanga Mill is nestled up to Nanga Brook with its quiet bubbling waters. The walk is moderate (some inclines) but there are lots of facilities along the way and you get to enjoy being amongst our iconic WA jarrah forest. Keep your eyes out for the small local marsupial the Chuditch (or Western Quoll). Find more details, including maps, at trailswa.com.au.
Contos Campground and Cape to Cape
Camp in among the peppermint trees at Conto Campground. You can book a site through the Park Stay website, and then take day hikes on the beautiful Cape to Cape trail that runs from Cape Naturalist to Cape Leeuwin. The trail runs along the western edge of the campground and you can head north to wander along the limestone ridgeline and admire the ocean below, or head south and have a forest walk.
Camp at Honeymoon Pool along the edge of the Collie River in the spectacular Wellington National Park. When you are ready, you can head out on the Jabitj Trail that runs all the way to the Wellington Dam kiosk. The trail is a 12km return, but you can turn back whenever you are ready and head back to camp for stories and a hot chocolate. Find more details, including maps, at trailswa.com.au.
Find more trails at trailswa.com.au
Advanced manoeuvre, go on an overnight hike!
We are lucky to have two fantastic long-distance hiking trails in WA in the Bibbulmun Track and the Cape to Cape trail. And while they aren’t the only places you can do multiple day hikes, they are well maintained, well signposted, and a great way to dip your toe into with a one or two-night hike. You may be able to arrange for a drop off and a pick up, but there is also nothing wrong with hiking in to a camp, spending the night, and then hiking back out to your car. You go over the same ground, but you could walk the same trail 1,000 times and see new things every time.
- Pick a trail with somewhere convenient to leave your car, and a campsite you can hike into
- Involve your kids in the planning as much as possible.
- Don’t overload any of your hikers! Keep things as light and simple as you can, but don’t skimp on bedding!
- Weigh out your kit with bathroom scales – get the kids involved in thinking about what can be carried and what needs to be left behind. A good rule of thumb is to avoid carrying more than 20% of your body weight.
- Borrow or rent any equipment you don’t have. Buying equipment is a big investment and not one you should make until you are hooked on hiking. The Bibbulmun Track Foundation rents pretty much everything you’ll need here.
- Take your time. Look around you. Remember to lift your gaze and get out of your city-bubble.
- Stop and rest when you need to. Drink lots of water and eat snacks as you walk.
- Take a map and compass with you and keep a keen eye out for trail markers.
See safety tips below
Spots to try
The Bib’ Track is one of the world’s great trails that runs 1,000km from Kalamunda to Albany and it has many great options for an overnighter. One good place to try for new hikers is in the Wellington National Park near Collie. Try parking at Harris River Road and walking the 3.8kms of beautiful jarrah forest to the Harris Dam Campsite, stay the night and the next day hike back to your car. Bib’ Track maps are available from good camping stores, and for more great overnighter hikes, trip planning tools, safety information and much more go to the Bibbulmun Track Foundation website.
The Cape to Cape is a coastal walk that takes you from the tip of Cape Naturaliste to the tip of Cape Leeuwin and through one of only 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The trail passes the Margaret River regions iconic beaches, but you will be amazed at how much of the area has been protected for environmental conservation. The Cape to Cape has multiple opportunities for overnight hiking experiences. One great coastal camping experience worth trying is the Moses Rock campsite. Park at the Moses Rock car park and walk the trail south. In about 2.8km’s you’ll reach a fantastic little campsite tucked in under the tea trees. For more information visit the Friends of the Cape to Cape website. You can also purchase walking guides from the site or from some good camping stores and there is even a Cape to Cape app available for iPhone and Android.
Other things to keep in mind
- Always check the weather before you go.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Always carry water and be SunSmart.
- Stick to tracks and stay together.
- Always carry a charged phone and consider buying or renting a Personal Locator Beacon for longer hikes.
For a great introduction to minimising your impact in nature, visit the Leave No Trace website.
- Talk to your kids about the living things around them and remind them to treat these with respect.
- Develop an appreciation for plants. We live in one of the world’s great biodiversity hot-spots, so once you start actually looking you will be amazed by how many different plants species are all around you.
- Don’t forget the small things. Sometimes just sitting in one spot and watching the commerce of insects can be fascinating, and funny!
- Turn up your senses. Sight, sound, touch and smell can all tell you things as you move through natural places. Look for changes in the soil, rocks or plants. Listen for bird calls and see if you can see who is making them. Can you call them back? Touch the bark of trees you pass to imprint the texture in your mind. Smell the air. Is the smell the same as where you started? What do you think is making the change?
Play in WA App
Find out more about each of these gorgeous locations, and plan your hike, using our Play in WA web app!
The app is accessible via your computer, tablet or smartphone (no downloading required). Simply click on the below button and save it to your smartphone using the share button (more instructions below).
Note: if your phone is displaying distances in miles click the drawer (top left) to access the app settings and change the units to ‘kilometres’.
How to save the Play in WA web app to your home screen
1. Click on the Share button at the bottom of your screen.
2. Swipe up on the pop-up screen.
3. Select the ‘Add to Home Screen’ option.
4. Save the app to your home screen by clicking on the ‘Add’ button (top right).
* Nature Play WA’s offices are located on Whadjuk Noongar land, and Djeran is the Noogar Autumn season (bonar), running from April to May. Find out the Aboriginal season for where you live – Bureau of Meteorology