It is perhaps a little ambitious to use the word ‘adventure’ in the same sentence as the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail. After all, I practically grew up on this track. I have fond memories of racing along the trail as a 13 year-old in the Pony Club Ride and Tie event , puffing and panting my way along the gravel as the glassy expanse of Wilson Inlet dropped away to the south.
I pulled out noxious weeds along its verges as a Year 10 work experience student. Much later, as an exhausted first year teacher, a wander along the rail trail was much-needed afternoon reprieve. The rail trail subsequently served as launchpad for my wobbly five year old cyclist. All in all, the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail has been the one constant over the years, quietly facilitating each new whim or direction.
Surprisingly enough, I had yet to traverse in all in one feel swoop. With a 16 day trek coming up, I needed an opportunity to test out my gear, so Fly and I set out for the end of the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail and back.
There are three sections of the trail currently open: Wilson Inlet to Denmark, Denmark to Parker Rd, and Peaceful Bay Rd at Bow Bridge to Nornalup.
Not fancying a jaunt along the busy South Coast Highway, I opted to ride from home to Crusoe Beach, then out to Parker Road and back (horses are not permitted along the Hay River section).
Firstly, as a newcomer to one-horse trekking, packing was a revelation.
“Where’s everything going to fit?” I muttered between buckle fastenings, staring aghast at all our belongings strewn across living room floor.
I soon took on the persona as host of a bush-ified version of The Apprentice, examining each and every one of the ‘contestants’ and the merits they could bring to the team .
First up- a blue plastic water filter bottle.
“Okay, you stay”, I agreed. I glared over at its heavier cousin, which had thus far served as backup out bush. “But you’re out”, I said.
A green Thermarest caught my eye. “And what can YOU offer? A comfortable sleep? All for the price of 900 grams… No”, I thought as I tossed it aside. Saddle blankets would have to do- I could handle smelling like a horse for a few days.
So with ruthless elimination and scaling down, Fly and I were soon packed and set off down the familiar back roads of home to greet the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail.
Day 1 on the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail
Fly’s paddock to Somewhere-Near-Mt Hallowell (17km)
I must first confess that the scenery along the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail is pleasant at best, but hardly spectacular. The history of the trail, however, is rather more interesting.
History of the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail
In 1895, the Millar brothers secured private leases for 20,000 acres of old growth Karri
forest, and built the Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail to service the mill. The Millars exploited the trees so rapidly that within ten years, the entire forest in the region was decimated.
The WA Government Group Settlement scheme of 1923 saw the migration of many new families to the district, many of whom toiled and struggled with many hardships. When the railway line had done its bit for forestry, it became a commercial line for these isolated migrants. Subsequent rail extensions assisted the local dairy, agriculture, timber and fishing industries.
According to the Denmark Historical Society, even though the distance between Nornalup and Denmark was only 34 miles, the country was rugged and presented many engineering problems. Deep gullies had to be filled with earth, many rivers and creeks were bridged, and huge cuttings were carved out of the gravel hillsides.
Fly and I soon traversed our first embankment, which I must admit had failed to impress me in years gone by. It is, after all, just an embankment. But the work was extremely rough, carried out with picks and shovels, axes, cross-cut saws and gunpowder. No bulldozers, backhoes or chainsaws were used or even available- just a ‘steam navy’ to excavate some of the bigger cuttings, and plain hard work by many determined men and their wonderful horses.
‘Plain hard work’, I pondered as I dismounted to adjust Fly’s saddle bags and peer over the precipice at the swollen creek far below.
In summer the workers toiled through steamy heat, with its accompanying flies, and
through cold, wet winters. The men worked a 44 hour week. A typical day for the
supporting train crews started at 5 am and finished around 10pm.
Personally, I find walking, camping and minding horses all day hard enough without having a railway to build. And I’m not sure the rail and road workers of today could really hold a candle to those folks of old. It seems they were made of pretty stern stuff.
After the Second World War, the motor car had become more popular, roads were being built and improved, and the railway line from Elleker to Nornalup closed in 1954. The tracks and sleepers were eventually removed and the line was re-purposed for recreational use.
Riding the Denmark-Nornalup Heritage Trail (Part 1)
After witnessing this impressive feat of engineering, we crossed McLeod Road and the South Coast Highway, before the trail took us behind the huge dam on Wentworth Road. Fly and I soon found a nice little inconspicuous corner to tuck ourselves into for the night, before he set about getting to know the neighbours.
If there was ever a theme scent to horse travel, it would have to be the smell of burning methylated spirits and horse sweat. I fired up the Trangia in anticipation of a hot mug of tea, adrift in a haze of trail memories.
This was Fly’s ‘big boy’ camping debut- his first time overnight without other equines for company. He didn’t settle at all that evening, calling out to the thoroughbreds at the stud down the road.
“Hey guys, she’s got me out here all alone- help!”, he seemed to be calling.
Likewise, I tossed and turned in my little tent, despite being in bedding heaven (Ah,saddle blankets. Those cowboys knew a thing or two).
When I go bush on my own (even if its only a ston’s throw from home), it always takes a night or so to get back into trail mode and, well, toughen up. As Fly paced anxiously, my own thoughts followed, wandering from stalkers to axe murderers to the giant cats of Denmark. Never a good idea to read the news before setting off on your own. Or ever, really.