Cape to cape cru­saders

A West Aus­tralian walk un­veils magnificent coastal scenery

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH ELEN

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.

JU­DITH ELEN

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

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