Cape to cape crusaders
A West Australian walk unveils magnificent coastal scenery
ON the West Australian coast at the country’s most southwesterly corner stands the stark white spire of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. The 1895 foundation stone at its base proclaims it ‘ ‘ Dedicated to the World’s Mariners’’ and, here at the conjunction of the Indian and Southern oceans, it continues its work, its faceted lens glinting pale gold as it revolves in the sun.
For us, it is a land beacon marking our starting point on a sevenday walk that will take us from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, the arm of land further up the coast that shelters Geographe Bay from the Indian Ocean. There, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse satisfyingly brackets the 135km walk.
The much-anticipated Cape to Cape Track unlocks, for everyone, this extravagant stretch of cliffs, beach, wild surf, rocky shoreline and native forest, known to locals as the Capes Coast. With eastwest roads and housing, this once ancient Aboriginal way was all but lost. A Bicentenary grant in 1988 triggered a project to reclaim the track, which became a reality in the 1990s through the work of government and community organisations, and it was officially opened in 2001. It is still heavily assisted by volunteers, a couple of whom we meet in subsequent days as they check trail markers.
I am in a group of six setting off from Augusta to wind our way on a self-guided walk along this stretch of coastline between two capes and two lighthouses. We’re hitting the trail with the ambitious plan of covering the full stretch in one seven-day go, but in the most access-friendly way possible, with Auswalk, an Australian walking holidays company that follows the inn-to-inn system well known to European walkers.
Auswalk’s walking holidays around the country are supported by pre-booked accommodation, meals and luggage transfers. The Cape to Cape walk is a recent addition to its list and we have in hand Auswalk’s detailed walking notes; the company also keeps checks on changing trail conditions, such as planned burn-offs, flooding and tidal movements.
Our group is a mix, but no one here is a teenager. I am not a regular hiker, unlike most of the others (and the rest are at least exercisers). I am reasonably fit for my years, but feel some trepidation about the distances we plan to cover every day. On the other hand, I know how gorgeous this part of the world is, and that being on foot in the landscape is the only way to really see it.
Shouldering our light packs containing lunch, water and other daily needs, we pay our respects to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin and begin working our way around the headland towards Skippy Rocky, periodically tearing our eyes from the seascape to gaze back at the lighthouse until it becomes a white pencil-stroke on the horizon (at night its light is visible 400m out to sea).
Wewalk the beach, strewn with small rocks and seaweed and cupped by low cliffs, and thread our way into coastal bushland. There are low-growing, wind-bent trees, xanthorrhoea grass trees (‘‘blackboys’’) and occasional flowers at our feet (spring must be stunning in this corner of the wildflower state). We go along a narrow, sandy, stony track through low heath land, and the white lighthouse now looks tiny, way off across bays and headlands. Our path is high, weaving around an open granite cliff-top, with the sea and jumbled rocks a constant lure for our camera lenses. The beach walking is heavy going but it is also intensely beautiful to be here, with wide arcs of sea and sky, and cliffs and caves that would enthral Enid Blyton’s junior adventurers.
Our Auswalk notes describe the tufa limestone formations and their bell-like cave structures, interesting plants and their Aboriginal and colonial histories, birds and animals; we spot an endangered hooded plover stalking the beach in a soft fringe of foam. At one point a cluster of narrow rocks shooting up out of the translucent water forms a cloister of colonnades and arches, the tide washing through and retreating.
On our first day we walk about 21km to Deepdene, where Auswalk’s regular taxi driver waits to collect us at the arranged time.
On certain sections of the trail (divided to fit the best local accommodation), the day’s walk continues to the next overnight stay. Onothers, walkers are driven to the previous night’s accommodation, to be returned the following morning for the next section of the trail.
On day two, I walk an hour or so into the bush, since further on there is more heavy sand work, then retrace my steps. I’ve arranged for the taxi to collect me to return to the motel at Augusta, from where I explore the boardwalk around Hardy Inlet on Blackwood River, busy with pelicans and black swans.
My second full day (the third of the walk) begins on a beautiful forest trail through huge karri trees, bull banksias ( Banksia grandis) and feathery peppermints. We continue on sandy, rocky paths past limestone caves and sweeping bays viewed from high up. The following day — passing the mouth of the Margaret River and gazing out from Cape Mentelle — is another saga of ocean vistas, thrilling cliffs and bush trails, ending at boutique Margaret River accommodation.
I do another shortened day next, walking with the group as far as the beginning of a tough, sandy section and then retracing my steps through an entrancing forest grotto of tree ferns and rockencircled waterfall, with steps, boardwalk and discreet information on the Aboriginal story of Meekadarribee, the moon’s bathing place. The penultimate day is a long, hard one, which I miss (the others return exhausted but alive with their experience), to resurface for the seventh day, a varied and beautiful walk of about 15km that brings us to the lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste (founded 1903) and a final night’s stay at the luxurious Bunker Bay Resort.
I have walked four full days and part of the trail on two others. The rest of the group, tired but happy, has done it all.
We have seen a mother kangaroo and her joey resting beside the path, blue-capped king parrots, a couple of snakes, a pod of dolphins, ospreys, cormorants and sea eagles. The seascapes and landscapes, surely unequalled anywhere, have been dramatically different from hour to hour, untouched, unique and literally at land’s end. Judith Elen was a guest of Auswalk Walking Holidays.
For much of its duration, the walk along the Cape to Cape Track is a saga of ocean vistas, thrilling cliffs and bush trails
The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse has shone a beacon since 1895