GREAT SOUTH­ERN LAND

WESTERN AUS­TRALIA’S GREAT SOUTH­WEST IS A HIKER’S PAR­ADISE WHERE THE RAW POWER AND BEAUTY OF THE SOUTH­ERN OCEAN CAN BE WIT­NESSED UP CLOSE

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE| ESCAPE - ● For more in­for­ma­tion on the Al­bany re­gion go to www.amazin­gal­bany.com.au WORDS:ERLE LEVEY

“Go to West Cape Howe Na­tional Park,” he told me. “Shel­ley Beach.

“One day when we were there, a body­board surfer kicked a sal­mon and it landed on his board... so he brought back a nice sal­mon to eat.”

Gra­ham had worked at Al­bany, 30km to the east of West Cape Howe, and be­ing a keen hiker he had plenty of tips to pass on.

With that, he handed me the keys to his car. And that was why we were parked at the look­out above Shel­ley Beach one day in late Fe­bru­ary.

This is a place of sea cliffs and sand beaches, of whales, dol­phins, seals and car­niv­o­rous plants.

Here, you wit­ness the raw power and beauty of the South­ern Ocean as it crashes against dramatic cliff and rock for­ma­tions. Then turn a corner and find a beau­ti­ful cove with squeaky sand.

From the look­out car park, you can see the clean, white stretch of Shel­ley Beach curv­ing be­neath the steep lime­stone hills that drop sharply into the sea.

Twenty me­tres away is a ramp for hang glid­ers to launch them­selves off a per­fectly sta­ble rock face into the air.

Away to the south­west is Dun­sky Beach and Tor­bay Head. Be­yond that, there’s noth­ing be­tween you and Antarc­tica – only ocean.

Tor­bay Head is the south­ern­most point of Western Aus­tralia. And Dun­sky must rate as one of the more re­mote beaches in the world.

A small stretch of golden sand sur­rounded by cliffs and heath­land. That’s our desti­na­tion. It’s a 15km round trek from Shel­ley Beach. The only ve­hi­cle ac­cess to those ar­eas is high-clear­ance four-wheel drive. Even then it would need an ex­pe­ri­enced off-road driver, as some of the tracks can be quite cut up.

We recog­nised the walk would be a chal­lenge on such a warm day but the breeze was cool enough, so we de­cided to give it a go.

Fifty me­tres away from where we parked the car was the Tar­bot­ton Track – part-board­walk, part-sandy path.

Where the board­walk ends, the sandy path con­tin­ues along a lime­stone ridge be­fore meet­ing the Bib­bul­mun Track and of­fers views down a rocky val­ley to Shel­ley Beach and the ocean.

The Bib­bul­mun Track is one of the world’s great treks: a long-dis­tance walk­ing trail of 1000km from Al­bany to Perth. The name comes from the Bib­bul­mun, or Noon­gar peo­ple (indige­nous Aus­tralians from the Perth area).

The marker, with its Wau­gul sym­bol of a black ser­pent on a yel­low back­ground, would be the start of this day’s trek.

We had wa­ter, hats, long-sleeved shirts and trousers to pro­tect us from the sun, the sharp na­tive grasses and bushes.

What we hadn’t fully ex­pected was the grandeur of the na­tional park.

Make the time to fully ex­plore the wild coast­line, Gra­ham had said. Get off the tracks most taken. It’s rugged but worth it.

If you can’t ex­plore this re­gion in the time you’ve al­lowed, then stay longer.

Don’t come back un­til you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it. Can­cel flights and make sure you see what’s around you.

Only in Esper­ance, fur­ther to the east, can you find a bet­ter beach than those around Al­bany. Forsyth Bluff, the eastern-most point of the na­tional park, gives a won­der­ful view out over the top of the bluff.

On the south­ern side of the out­crop is Dingo Beach: a 900m long south­east-fac­ing strip of sand.

From the high points, look to the east to the penin­sula of Torndirrup Na­tional Park with Al­bany and mag­nif­i­cent King Ge­orge Sound be­yond that.

West Cape Howe is re­mote, sparse and has lit­tle mo­bile phone re­cep­tion.

It was a chance to es­cape the world of “hav­ing to” for a while – hav­ing to do this, hav­ing to do that.

In­stead, you just had to take in the un­fold­ing nat­u­ral land­scape and the ocean – no tele­phone tow­ers, no traf­fic lights, no fast food shops. And it’s so ful­fill­ing walk­ing in the clean air. You feel like you are at the end of the world.

Not long into the walk, you leave the Bib­bul­mun and head south through the un­du­lat­ing heath­land – al­ways with the lure of the cape in the dis­tance.

Un­like the Bib­bul­mun, this trail is over­grown in parts so we chose to fol­low Dun­sky Rd. It was more di­rect but the soft sand and rut­ted ar­eas made it hard go­ing at times.

As well as tyre tracks, there are those of dif­fer­ent na­tive an­i­mals in the sand.

With the dramatic views, es­pe­cially from the ridges, you get to fur­ther com­pre­hend the vast­ness of the land, the un­tamed coast­line, the surge of the sea.

The four-wheel-drive tracks have rub­ber mat­ting in some sec­tions to pre­vent ero­sion but it is sur­pris­ingly slip­pery when scat­tered with sand.

The surf break at Golden Gates Beach is off to the right. But be care­ful: the south­ern coast­line is a dan­ger­ous place. It has a no­to­ri­ous record for ac­ci­dents and deaths from peo­ple slip­ping or be­ing washed into the ocean by un­ex­pected waves.

The park’s scenic land­scape in­cludes dramatic cliffs of gran­ite and black do­lerite, rock is­lands, rugged lime­stone out­crops and com­plex pat­terns of veg­e­ta­tion.

Nearly 500 species of plants are found in the West Cape Howe park in­clud­ing banksias, trig­ger plants and more than 50 species of orchids.

Yet swampy ar­eas form a habi­tat for the car­niv­o­rous Al­bany pitcher plant.

A cou­ple of hours into the walk, we reached The Steps: the car park area favoured by fish­er­men and rock clim­bers.

Here, look­ing to­wards Old Man, we sat and en­joyed a lunch of sand­wiches and fruit we had car­ried with us. Old Man is one of the main at­trac­tions of West Cape Howe.

The 50m high semi-de­tached sea stack of rocks is as daunt­ing as it is spec­tac­u­lar.

Fur­ther out on the cape are such fea­tures as The South­ern Ocean Wall, Throne of Gods, Black Wall and The Book Ends.

The colour of the ocean is re­mark­able: the bright­est of light blue at the base of the cliffs and the deep­est blue be­yond the fringe of the coast­line.

Seabirds soar on the wind – a wind that lifts the spirit and re­freshes the soul.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Beau­ti­ful West Cape Howe, near Al­bany; look­ing to­wards Old Man, a 50m high semi-de­tached sea stack of rocks; waves crash against the coast at West Cape Howe dur­ing a storm.

PHO­TOS: ERLE LEVEY AND AN­DREW HALSALL

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