I’d learned my lessons from the day before. Arriving at Kalbarri’s Z-Bend river trail hike, I had water, I had my mobile battery pack, I had even managed not to get lost on the way. But there was something I wasn’t prepared for: rain.
It was 6 am, and I had no time to hang around; I wanted to make the trip back to Perth today. There was no option other than to get on with it.
Although it was a much shorter hike than the Loop the day before, the Z-Bend is also classified as more difficult.
Luckily for me, getting out of the car the rain was barely noticeable — I felt almost like it was a test of if I was really determined to do this, but I hadn’t driven to Kalbarri to do one measly hike.
Because the car park was deserted, I was reasonably confident I wouldn’t see anyone on today’s hike. I knew I needed to be careful, especially if rocks might be slick with rain, even on a short walk I couldn’t afford to injure myself. Boots laced, pack on my back, I set off down the trail.
A few metres onto the trail there was a signpost, did I want to go left to the Lookout, or right to the river trail? Neither said “Z-Bend”, and I didn’t want to accidentally embark on the much-longer Four Ways Trail, or the multi-day river gorge hike, so I shrugged and set off to the lookout.
When the signpost had said “100m” I hadn’t realised that wasn’t where the trail started; it was where it ended with the lookout itself. I could still see the car park from here.
The path is as a “moderately easy walk” which goes to show that the difficulty of these things is often exaggerated. It was more like “very gentle stroll” than anything else. While the views from the lookout are worth taking in, I was more interested in the walk itself.
Back to the fork in the road, there was no other option than to follow the river trail and see what happens next.
As soon as I started the trail, I realised my phone had no signal. I’d presumed that since it had reception throughout the entire Loop walk the day before, it would here, too — but not so.
I comforted myself that because the hike itself shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, and because it was early in the day it was still cool. In an emergency, even if I needed rescue, I’d (probably) survive. And off I went.
What makes the Z-Bend different, and more challenging than the Loop is the trails can be much steeper, more rugged, and in places, you have to climb down ladders. This would cause problems for someone with limited mobility.
It’s universally true of me that I will often make life more difficult for myself than I need to. A case in point, coming to a narrow gorge, it seemed obvious to me that what I needed to do was inch my way along a narrow ledge. Pressed flat against the steep wall, I’m exhilarated at how difficult this is — it’s more than I expected, though part of me has a nagging doubt that doesn’t this seem out of character for a walk like this?
It’s only when I get to the end that I realise I should have been walking along the solid ground the whole time.
Dead End Streets
The good news is that even if you make life more difficult for yourself there is never any doubt where you are going with this trail. At any point, if you are unsure, a quick look around will show a clear trail marker.
This is useful for times like when you come to a very narrow canyon that looks like it just ends in a sheer rock wall.
There’s no doubt where the trail goes. There is no ambiguity. It goes straight ahead. To get into this very narrow canyon there are large boulders to clamber over, and it’s at times like this you need to be especially careful — a twisted ankle could be the least of your problems if you hit your head on a rock.
I climb carefully down, still doubtful about what’s meant to happen here, but curious if I’m going to need to climb back out the other side. I almost laugh with surprise at the end of the canyon: of course, it isn’t a dead-end at all, instead, the trail turns so sharply that until you’re on top of it, there’s no way to tell it continues.
There’s another sharp turn almost immediately after, with more clambering over rocks and another ladder descent. One of the more surprising things about this river trail hike is how quickly it goes from climbing over rocks and narrow chasms to flat, easy trails.
The other surprising thing is how short it is. Before I knew it, I was climbing over some rocks beside the river. The hike is called the river trail, so surely there must be more to it than this?
I walked further down along the river until I got to a distant marker post, to see what it said. It clearly pointed back the way I had come.
Too often with hikes like this, I always push forwards and onwards to get to the destination. It can feel like I rush right through the parts where I should be paying attention. If I’d known how quick the hike would be, I could have walked more slowly.
Having a camera at times like this can be a good way to remind me to stop, take it in, admire the sheer rock walls and the layers of the sandstone. If you have to pause to take photos and really look at everything you have no choice but to slow down.
The Way Back
Unlike the Loop, the way out of the Z-Bend river trail hike isn’t through — it is simply turn around and go back the way you came.
The marker posts that were so clear for the way down to the river make slightly less sense heading back, their placements are obvious only for going downhill. This doesn’t mean I was worried about getting lost, but there were several occasions when I needed to actually look around for the marker and work out where I was going.
Heading back the way I came means that I got to appreciate the trail a little more, and see it from a different perspective. Rocks I’d climbed down over, I now needed to find ways around to get back up.
While it’s slightly disappointing that the Z-Bend river trail hike is so short, the more challenging aspects of it made it a worthwhile adventure for me. I look forward to walking it again another time, when I know what to expect and have a realistic view of how long it will take.