Key Points:

Lincoln Zuks, a young Western Australian, will forever be known by my family as the man "who saved my life" on the Bibbulmun Track.

The claim is something of an exaggeration, of course, but it is a good story and I'll readily admit that Zuks did make things a tad more comfortable for me on Western Australia's long-distance trail.

End-to-Enders take five to six weeks to walk the 956km trail from Perth to the southern coast at Albany. But the beauty of the Bibbulmun is that it is in 58 connected sections, each about a day's walk. Many of the tracks have vehicle access wherever the track crosses a road.

So you can start and end wherever it is convenient or wherever the terrain takes your fancy - a legacy of the trail's originator, Geoff Schafer, who wanted to get WA's urban dwellers, who mainly live in a string of coastal towns south of Perth, into the bush.

Go inland from any of these towns and you'll eventually hit the Bibbulmun Track somewhere.

So it was easy to consult a track guidebook and work out a convenient section that would keep me out of trouble for four days before enjoying a family holiday near Perth.

The weather forecast promised a fine day of 38 degrees by mid-morning, climbing to 42 or higher by midday.

"You need to be on the track by 6am to avoid the heat," advised my West Aussie wife. In the event, she dropped me at 8am at a trail junction near North Bannister, about 85km south of Perth on the Perth to Albany Highway. It was already sweltering when I eased myself out of the air-conditioned comfort of the car and hefted my sack.

I had what I thought was a fairly minimal load and the route ahead, along a fence line and through a scruffy pine plantation, looked a doddle.

The trail soon moved into typical open eucalypt forest. One side of the fence was private property, the other a nature reserve. On the map, the whole area was covered with the close scribbling of dotted red lines, which were somewhat euphemistically described as vehicle tracks.

You would think that these rough dirt tracks through the "bush" - the legacy of generations of bush prospectors searching for a mineral Ed Dorado, small-scale mining and jarrrah logging - would be just the ticket for anyone designing a long-distance trail from scratch.

And so they might be under any other sun than this relentless beast, which, on the "vehicle track", was uninterrupted by nary a flicker of over-hanging shade.

Eventually, the trail moved into the more densely wooded Duncan conservation area and a steep, 3km climb to the top of Boonerring Hill. It was probably the first time I have ever welcomed an uphill walk, but the shade and tiny puffs of breeze that came with the height gain were delicious. So was the track, for that matter. It wove through large granite outcrops and precariously balanced boulders, black-trunked grass trees, ferns and - an unexpected bonus - a colourful assortment of wildflowers. The state is renowned for its wild flowers, but they are at their best in early spring, not mid-December.

The 360-degree view from the top of Boonerring Hill was worth a small detour but I quickly left it to the lizards lounging in the sun on the granite slabs and headed downhill to my guidebook's promised permanent waterhole at Boonerring Spring.

It seemed an appropriate place to stop for lunch and sure enough, another hiker was already lying in the shade beside the spa pool-sized hole of dirty water.

He was stretched out on a sheet of plastic, dozing the afternoon away until the sun lost its heat.

It seemed like a good idea so I ate, slid down the bank into the waterhole to cool off - my clothes dried on me in minutes - and tried to doze. Instead, I got restless and reckoned I was drinking as much water sitting around as when I was walking.

It was about 5km to the White Horse Hills campsite, which didn't seem too arduous, even though it involved climbing up about 300m Kimberling Hill to get into the range. So I plodded on and swigged water, until I got unbelievably tired and sat down in the shade - about 10 minutes, I estimated - from the campsite.

This is crazy, I thought, as I roused myself after a short time. I had only walked about 15km on an easy trail.

About five paces later all willpower to keep moving vanished and I sat down again. Maybe that young dude was right. My water was gone, too. So I crawled into the shade, drank the juice from a small pottle of fruit, and set myself to wait for sundown.

In time, the guy from the waterhole came along the trail.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, fine, just waiting for the sun to go down."


"Hey, you don't have any spare water do you?"

"No, I'm out. Do you want me to bring you some?"

"No mate, I'll be Okay."

About 15 minutes later I heard footsteps on the trail. I bet that's my Guardian Angel, I thought. And it was. He made me sit and slowly drink most of a bottle of water before we moved on.

By the time we covered the short distance to the campsite I was feeling relatively normal.

Campsites on the Bibbulmun contain three-sided wooden shelters - the materials donated by industry and the building done by volunteers - with sleeping platforms and a table. The roof collects rainwater into a large tank, or two, for a drinking water supply.

My young rescuer, Zuks, sporting the most awful mullet cut imaginable was "training" for a bush survival course on which students must spend several days walking in the Outback with nothing but bush lore to sustain them.

To harden up, he was walking the Bibbulmun for a few days with just a sheet of plastic-bubble wrap to sleep on, a jacket to sleep under, muesli bars and water. He wore long pants - as a snake barrier, he said - and his head was swathed in a Bedouin-style cloth.

I had over-catered as usual so I gave Zuks a generous serving of rice, tuna and vegetables, which he polished off with gusto, followed by hot tea, biscuits and cheese.

I set off next morning not long after 6.30am on a 14.5km section through granite outcrops and valley flats to the Mt Wells campsite. Zuks soon passed me and I didn't see him again until reaching the fire watchtower and campsite on the summit of Mt Wells.

"Where's your pack," he asked as I gulped water from the rain tap.

"About 10 minutes down the trail," I admitted, explaining I had dumped it about halfway through the steep 250m climb to the summit after running out of water again, and planned to go back for it when it was cooler.

"Do you want me to get it for you," he asked.

"If you insist," I said, being far too old and wise to be proud. So Zuks dined well again that night.

It was barely light the next morning and Zuks was still sleeping when I left for the Chadoora Campsite, a downhill or flat, 15km section that stronger walkers knock off in the same day as the White Horse Hills-to-Mt Wells section.

I was at Chadoora by mid-morning with excess water and Zuks still behind me, and with an afternoon of reading, dozing and teasing bull ants into a fight to look forward to.

My water carrier spent the afternoon shaping a lump of glass with a steel tool.

By now the pattern was set and Zuks, an aircraft maintenance engineer, lightened my food load again, so much that I romped the 20km section into Dwellingup, an easy trail along an old rail line and a string of local walkways, well ahead of him.

My family had been given a short-hand version of events by text message and they greeted me at Dwellingup with much derision at my "stupidity" in running out of water. Zuks, to whom I had offered a ride back to his home near Perth, was greeted as a hero. I let him bathe in the glory.

A few days later he took my son on a four-day surfing trip to Margaret River and he later stayed with us while touring New Zealand - which just goes to show where running out of water on a sweltering hot day in Western Australia can lead.