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“Was that another cyclist up ahead?” I thought to myself. At that point, it was day ten for me on the Munda Biddi Trail, a 1,000km long mountain bike trail running south from just outside Perth to Albany in the southwestern corner of Australia. Apart from two mountain bikers, out for day rides, I had not encountered a single cyclist on the trail for one and a half weeks. And, at that moment, I was finally convinced that heat, humidity, and exhaustion ultimately led me to hallucinate.
What drew me to the Munda Biddi, meaning “path through the forest” in the indigenous Nyoongar language, was, at first, its location. I knew close to nothing about Western Australia, which made me curious.
The promise of an off-road mountain bike trail, meandering through Australian wilderness in a remote corner of an already sparsely populated country, increased the appeal of this adventure. Well signposted, with purpose-built huts along the trail as accommodation options and passing through towns occasionally to resupply, many of the logistical challenges seemed taken care of. I was excited when I stepped off a local train in Midland, just a few kilometers from the official trailhead in Mundaring, roughly 30km east of Perth, on a sunny Sunday morning.
From my research, I had already learned that I would see the most challenging terrain during the first few days. There were some steeper climbs, yes, and I am not too proud to admit I had to get off my bike occasionally to push. What was way more frustrating were the sections of sand and, even more annoying, pea gravel.
Sometimes lasting for a couple of hundred meters, close to perfectly round stones, varying in size from a pinhead to pebble, filled those parts of the trail. My tires would bury themselves in those gravel pits every time. Without fail, I had to dismount and push the bike alongside me until the trail conditions would become rideable again. The heat, with temperatures in the 100F+ range, and high humidity, turned those episodes into highly frustrating endeavors.
I spent the first four nights on the trail in those dedicated trail huts, and I was equally impressed and happy every time I came across one. These campsites, dotting the trail in intervals of roughly 30 to 40 kilometers, provide a sheltered bunk-bed area, picnic table, and a sizable water tank, usually sourced by collecting rainwater from the roof of the hut.
While no five-star accommodation, these sites make the logistics of any person attempting the Munda Biddi considerably easier. Primarily, they alleviate the need to carry a tent. Additionally, given the sizable water tanks, enough water should be available as well, keeping in mind though that it needs treatment before consumption. For planning purposes, they also make for perfect milestones to aim for on a day-to-day basis.
There is no need to sugarcoat it: Not encountering a single person, cyclist or not, on the trail for multiple days and the seemingly unchanged forest scenery eventually got to me. On day five, however, something shook me out of my trail blues. I felt a jolt of excitement when, out of the blue, a mountain biker overtook me on a sandy trail section roughly 20km outside the mining town of Collie. With a population of close to 8,000, it was the first bigger town I was about to come across since departing from Perth.
Brad, in his fifties, but looking fit and lean in his skin-tight cycling clothes, riding a Specialized hardtail, had stopped just in front of me and we started chatting. Living in Collie, he was almost done with his standard loop and on his way home. “You wanna meet up for a beer sometime later?” he offered kindly, an invitation I gladly accepted. Not only would it pull me out of the mundane routine I had gotten myself into, but it would also give me a chance to learn about and talk to people local to the area. Instead of just having a drink, I would later chat with Brad and his wife Codie over Australian barbecue, consisting of grilled kabob skewers, steak, ribs, sausages, and pasta salad.
It was also in Collie where I got to visit Crank’n Cycles, a top-quality bicycle shop and legendary among those riding the Munda Biddi. The shop, located roughly a week into any attempt riding the full length of the trail, is well set up to fix any occurring mechanical issues. Furthermore, from looking at online forums, Erik, the owner, and his team have successfully pulled many riders out of despair over failing equipment. Given that it is the last bike shop until the end of the trail in Albany, a stop there is almost a must.
“When you get to Boyanup, you are more than welcome to stay for coffee, or even longer if you like,” John, in his seventies and helping out in the shop once a week, kindly offered. I had mentioned to him that I had cycled in New Zealand recently and he was eager to question me about my experience. He had signed up for a cycling event, happening in New Zealand the coming year, not too long ago.
The following day, shortly after I had left yet another trail hut I had stayed for the night and without agreeing on a particular time or place, John met me on his gravel bike right after an uphill climb roughly 10km outside of Boyanup. An avid cyclist and former professional mountain bike racer, his slender built and the way he commanded his bike revealed his high level of fitness despite his age. Granted, I had some additional weight to carry, yet I had a hard time keeping up with him as he led us to his house, where I got to meet his wife, Karen. Instead of just staying for coffee, I gladly accepted their offer to stay the night and enjoyed learning a bit about their lives.
At this point in the journey, I felt reasonably tired and a bit frustrated by the monotony and, in parts, the routing decisions made when the trail was conceived. Talking through it over breakfast, John happily agreed to give me a lift past the upcoming and, in his words, “uninspiring section” of the route. “You won’t miss much,” he assured me. He dropped me off south of Donnybrook where I picked up the trail heading straight south. On the mostly flat Sidings Rail Trail I made it to the quaint and well-maintained town of Nannup. The noticeable groups of tourists leisurely walking down Main Street or patronizing one of the two local coffee shops gave away the increased importance of tourism for the local economy.
At Donnelly River Village, a former timber mill town converted to a holiday village and event space, I finally made my first real encounters with Australian wildlife. While I had spotted kangaroos from a distance on the trail countless times already, they would usually dash off into the forest as soon as they would notice my presence. The animals here, both kangaroos and emus, had gotten so used to humans that it was a challenge to maintain a healthy distance from them. Given their size, close encounters with either can reach an almost intimidating level. Additionally, catching sight of the colorful Australian Ringneck bird, a yellow collar stretching around his neck being his distinct feature, was delightful.
After an overnight stop in Manjimup, the spell of not seeing another fellow Munda Bidda cyclist was finally broken on day ten. Chris, from Adelaide, had been made redundant from his IT job recently and decided it would be a great time to attempt another cycling tour. His mountain bike laden with roughly 20kg of equipment, securely stowed away in Ortlieb bags, he was aiming for a place with a bed and shower every night, as opposed to using the trail huts. No stranger to traveling by bike, he had done two cycling tours in Thailand previously. Overall I enjoyed the company, yet I realized how rusty I had gotten at making conversation. The distraction from increasingly routine scenery that my chats with Chris provided, however, was priceless.
No change in scenery? Well, not quite. Slowly but surely the impressive Karri trees began to line the forest around us. Growing up to 90 meters high, they are the tallest trees in Western Australia and one of the tallest in the world. Believed to reach an age of up to 300 years, Karri can be recognized by their tall trunk, smooth, colorful bark and a few leafy branches at the top, arranged in distinctive “broccoli”-shaped clusters. Toppled over specimen made for great photo opportunities to demonstrate scale and cycling amongst those giants can only be described as nothing but extraordinary.
Halfway between Northcliffe and Walpole, I finally had enough of the Munda Biddi experience and decided that rather than continuing on a trail that had increasingly lost its appeal to me, I’d instead increase my mileage by switching to tarmac on the South Western Highway. While not without peril, for Australian motorists are notorious for not being too fond of cyclists, overall I did not encounter a dangerous situation. I found that especially the drivers steering bigger trucks and road trains would give me a wide berth.
Arriving in Walpole, the deserted look of the town felt a bit disheartening. One restaurant was closed because “son auditioning for a movie in Perth,” as the printed sign at the door announced. Seemingly everyone who decided to stay the night flocked to the hotel restaurant at the southern end of town, which also seemed to double as a pub to hang out at until dawn.
Having cycled through more or less nothing but foliage and trees in all shapes and forms for twelve days, all I could think of now was the sight of the ocean. At Greens Pool, a sandy white beach area, about 15km west of Denmark and part of William Bay National Park, it finally arrived. I relished the view of the crescent moon shaped beach for a while, before tackling what came to be the most beautiful section of the Munda Biddi Trail.
For about 23km, I enjoyed ocean views to my right while meandering through coastal scenery, and past overlooks pointing my gaze south towards Western Australia’s southern shore and the horizon. Riding initially on gravel and later on firm tarmac, the vegetation transitioned from patches of forest to an arider looking seaside flora. Reaching the highest point along the coast at the Denmark Community Windfarm, it was all downhill from there into the town of Denmark, where I enjoyed an additional day off while waiting on some rain-heavy weather to pass.
A combination of smooth rail trails and hard-packed dirt forest roads, past acres, and acres of farmland, brought me to Albany, the southern terminus of the Munda Biddi Trail, the following day. With heavy freight trains slowly creeping by, the location of the official trail-end sign right beside the old railway station made for a bit of an anticlimactic conclusion of this adventure.
As I was sitting at a cafe a few minutes later to rest and reflect, I couldn’t help but fondly look back on the previous two weeks. I got to experience an area few visitors to Australia ever get to see. So remote and distinct, both in terms of its environment and, from what I gathered, its people as well. As much as I had cursed multiple times at the turns the trail was making, the remoteness and feeling of unbound and untouched nature made this a very unique and, in its way, beautiful cycling journey.
Before I started out from Perth, I had downloaded the Munda Biddi Trail GPX file from Western Australia’s Open Data website and imported it into RWGPS. However, my actual route slightly differed in some areas, because I eventually grew tired of the monotonous riding in a forest environment.
One thing to keep in mind as well is that occasionally, prescribed burns in some areas along the trail can occur and force rerouting and detours. These are usually well signposted and easy to follow, however something to keep in mind when planning daily distances.
The northern terminus of the Munda Biddi Trail is in Mundaring, roughly 30km east of downtown Perth. I opted to take a Midland Line train out of central Perth to Midland and start cycling from there, mostly along the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail.
After spending a few days in Albany, the southern terminus of the trail, I got my bike boxed up at Impulse Cycles and took a TransWA bus (one of the Great Southern (GS) routes, depending where you are staying) back to Perth.
Purpose-built trail huts dot the Munda Biddi Trail in intervals of 30 to 40 kilometers. These provide sheltered sleeping quaters, picnic tables, a sizeable water tank and usually a pit toilet. In case space runs out inside the hut, most of the time the area around them also has dedicated campsites to be used to pitch a tent.
The huts almost alleviate the need to bring a tent, however I still carried one as backup and some folks also like to use it inside the huts to keep any critters out. While there is usually enough water in the tanks, it still needs to be treated before consuming it. This can be done by either boiling it or using a device like a Steripen.
Especially at the beginning, the trail passes through towns with options to buy food fairly infrequent. Therefor it is advisable to carry food for at least 1-2 days and be sure to stock up in Jarrahdale, Dwellingup and Collie.
As with all the other rides as part of my Star Alliance Round The World ticket, I rode my Trek Checkpoint ALR5 gravel bike. However, especially within the first 4-5 days, there are dreaded sections of pea gravel and sand, which are close to impossible to navigate on gravel tires. Additionally, some portions of the trail e.g. after Collie towards the Honeymoon Pool area, contains technical/rocky terrain. Other days, however, the route takes the rider on fairly smooth gravel and dirt roads.
While one might wish for three different bikes along the full length of the trail, to really enjoy the ride, a mountain bike with at least two inch tires would likely be ideal. The lack of suspension and smaller tire contact patch area was, at times, a bit too much on the gravel bike.
Other resources I found useful:
- Munda Biddi Trail Facebook Group
- The Munda Biddi Trail Foundation. Official website covering all types of information pertaining to planning a Munda Biddi Trail adventure.
- WA Parks and Wildlife Service. Basic information on the Munda Biddi, with links to current trail conditions.
- Munda Biddi – Path through the forest (BIKEPACKING.COM) . Short blog post, photos and a great 3 minute video by Mick Turnbull and Danielle O’Hara.