The Cape to Cape Track (part 1)

Cape Naturaliste to Yallingup (14 km)

Yesterday we had driven slowly down to Augusta calling in at various points to arrange accommodation, leaving supplies where we intended to stay in cabins and hiding food and/or water stashes near the places where we would be camping. The preparation was good, but the gale force winds and strong rains that greeted us that day were a bit disconcerting! It was a reminder that this corner of Western Australia protrudes into the westerly circumpolar airstream, which can sweep cold fronts through with regular succession. The plus-side is that, to the west, the nearest land is the southern tip of Africa, 8000 km away; the air that you breathe here has got to be some of the purest on the planet! Moreover, the fronts pass as quickly as they arrive - by the time we had caught the bus back to Dunsborough and the taxi out to Cape Naturaliste lighthouse (the start of the track) the weather was looking much more promising.

We sipped a coffee in the lighthouse cafe as a light shower squall whipped by and, with the return of the sun, set off down the track on our way to Cape Leeuwin.

Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse

Registering for the Track

Ancient eroded cliff line

Heading off through the dense coastal heath, we reached the registration box next to a weeping peppermint tree, signed on and, with the invigorating aroma of freshly crushed peppermint leaves on our hands, we pushed on into the negative-ion laden westerly wind. The first few kilometres were a marvellous introduction to the colours of the of dense coastal heath; creams and yellows of acacias, hakeas and hibbertias, white crosses of clematis, crimson and gold of coastal daisies, pink and rose tufts of pimelea, the pale blue fans of thick-leafed fanflowers and pink stars of boronias, oranges of pea-flowers, and the purples and blues of the lilies and many nameless plants hiding near the track edges.

The track dropped down through a grove of peppermints, their branches dusted with tiny white flowers, and brought us out near Sugarloaf Rock, an impressive offshore islet. From Sugarloaf, we pushed on across a lower more exposed heathland, undulating along a long section of low limestone cliffs. This ancient limestone ridge, undercut, fragile and eroded into jagged forms was once part of the land connection between Australia and the Indian subcontinent, before the latter headed off to butt into Asia and build the Himalayas.

Weeping peppermint by the path

Looking across the heath to Sugarloaf Islet

Sugarloaf Islet

Eroded limestone

Kabbijgup Beach

Reaching Kabbijgup, we descended a set of wooden steps onto the beach, famed for its Three Bears surfbreak, and found a place to eat lunch in the shelter of a jumble of orange-coloured boulders as another brief squall passed quickly overhead. The sun soon returned.

Beach boulders at Kabbijgup

Big surf at Three Bears

Crossing the beach, we climbed up through the dunes on the far side to once again follow the spectacularly jagged limestone cliffs, the wind-sheered heath barely reaching knee-high on these exposed edges. In the distance the small resort of Yallingup drew slowly closer.

The jagged eroded cliff edge

Ancient limestone cliffs south of Kabbijgup

View south toward Yallingup

After a while the track headed further inland, the heath becoming taller and denser as we followed a brown sandy trail southward. Eventually it led us into an area of denser tea-tree thickets below a higher limestone ridge on the inland side. It was a good place to be as the sun vanished and the wind whipped up, announcing the arrival of another brief squall from the west.


Reaching the edge of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Park, we dropped down onto Yallingup Beach, another of this regions famous surfing spots, for a short calf-burning walk across its soft sand, before climbing back up to the Yallingup Caravan Park, our first nights accommodation. It had been a great introduction to this unique part of Australia.

Yallingup village and its famous surf beach

- -------

Yallingup to Quininup Brook (16 km)

Several rainy squalls had passed during the night and we awoke to strong winds and grey skies. However, by 10am the sun was beginning to shine through and the wind had dropped to a strong breeze. We set off from Yallingup, climbing up and over the heathy headland to Smith's Beach. As we trudged down the soft sand, we left much deeper footprints than we had the previous day - at Yallingup we had been reunited with our second pack, full of camping gear and extra food and water. It had been 11 months since we last carried a full pack on a walk and we had forgotten how heavy 20 plus kilos can feel.

Contemplating the route ahead - only 120 km to go!

Heading down to Smith's Beach

Smith's Beach - our first taste of soft WA sand

View through a gap in the rocks

A quick rest stop after crossing Gunyulgup Brook at the southern end of the beach and we were soon winding our way up steeply through the superb orange-coloured boulders of the headland.

Climbing up the red rock headland at the southern end of Smith's Beach

Big seas breaking over the off-shore rocks

Out to sea the big surf rolled in, crashing in an explosion of foam on the rocks below. At the top we flattened out, passing through more heath, before descending through tea-tree thickets to a viewpoint overlooking the semi-protected bay sweeping around to Canal Rocks. You could see the big swells crashing on to the seaward side of the rocks and, from the cabin cruiser lying on its side on a rocky beach next to the boat ramp, this is not a place to be taken lightly.

Looking out over Canal Rocks

Aftermath of the storm
Energy recharged from a scroggin stop at the viewpoint, we climbed slowly up to another lookout, before crossing over a rocky limestone ridge, covered in dense heath. Coastal heath is a deceptive environment. It looks like a lumpy carpet of different shades and textures of green, but pass through it in spring and you are greeted by flowers of every hue; not compelling tapestries of colour like the inland daisy-fields, but splashes of cream, yellow, blue and pink, sprinklings of white and orange, and the rare gems of crimson and purple hiding on the path edges. Such has been the heath we have passed through.

Bonsai pimelea

At the bottom of the ridge, we reached the cliff edge, in time for lunch on a viewing seat overlooking the rugged cliffs to the north and a grassy headland with the distant sand dunes of Cape Clairault to the south.

Limestone cliffs south of Canal Rocks

Crossing Wyadup Brook

Views over Wyadup farmlands to the dunes of Cape Clairault

Injidup Beach

We descended via a set of steps cut into the cliff, passing by an area of green grassy farmland, before once again entering low heath to wander past a series of granite outcrops. From here the track led us down for another hard trudge up the soft sands of Injidup Beach, accompanied by the roar of the surf. At the southern end, we stopped to watch a group of local surfers riding the big waves generated by the recent weather. Further out, a pod of porpoises looped lazily up and down the shoreline.

Riding the big waves at Injidup Break

From Injidup, we climbed up and over Cape Clairault, keeping to the tea-tree thickets on the landward side of the dunes; the sound of the surf was replaced by the soft twittering of small brown birds. Crossing the cape, the path joined a sandy 4WD track which led us southward for 5 km through the heath above low cliffs. Sandy tracks are great to see what wildlife is out there; the footprints of various birds, the odd small mammal, the alternating crescents of the goanna, the fat straight trail of a stumpy-tail lizard, the S-shaped track of a snake - oops, time to move on!

Descending the dunes to
Quininup Beach

Track through the heath south of Cape Clairault

Campsite in the dunes at Quininup Brook
Eventually we descended back on to the shore, rounded a large dune and found ourselves at Quininup Brook, its cold fresh water flowing out across the beach and into the surf. Upstream lay a series of undulating, shrub-covered sandy hollows. We found the perfect spot to pitch a tent in a small depression, sheltered from the wind.

Quininup Falls

Red sand patch at Quininup - sacred to local aboriginal people

The sun sets over the mouth of Quininup Brook


It was a great place to camp; after setting up, we wandered up to the Quininup Falls, and sat near the small splash pool of the 6m high lower fall, listening to the music of the water tumbling over. Above us, the melancolic wail of a flock of black cockatoos reminded us that evening was approaching. We returned along the edge of a patch of crusted red sand sacred to the local aboriginal people (so please don't walk on it if you come here) in time to watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, eat a dinner and climb into bed to fall asleep to the sound of the distant surf.


Quininup Brook to Gracetown (16.5 km)

There was just a slight breath of air when we arose at 6am and light cloud covered most of the sky. It promised to be a good walking day. After a short steep trudge up the dune on the southern side of Quininup Brook, we followed the track around a cliff indented with small inlets, meeting a pair of kangaroos and our first Cape to Cape hikers in 3 days. A pair of hawks soared overhead, harried by a local raven, as we climbed up through ever-thickening heath to the lookout at Moses Rock, our first rest stop for the day. For the first time the sea was free of white-tops, but unfortunately no whales were to be seen - perhaps they were all already ploughing south across the Southern Ocean.


South of Quininup Brook

Kangaroo in the pimeleas

Patrolling hawk

From the lookout, we climbed up and over a broad hill, alternating with dense heath and shady tea-tree thickets - the thicker the bush, the more small heath birds we saw or heard. Passing the Moses Rock campsite, we once again found ourselves dropping down, crossing a boggy valley and meeting the first of 6 goannas for the day, before finally descending the sandy dune to reach Wilyabrup Brook.

Grass tree in flower

Colours of the heath

Sand goanna

Path through a tea-tree thicket

For the first time, it was boots off to cross the cold stream of fresh water flowing down from its steep sandy gully. After a brief rest on a rock to dry our feet, we climbed back up the dune on the far side. In the distance, the sheer red profile of the granite-gneiss Wilyabrup Cliffs beckoned.

Heading south from Moses Rock

At Wilyabrup Brook crossing

Big seas at the Wilyabrup Cliffs

Natural rock garden

We reached the cliffs by passing through an area of abandoned farmland, where open paddocks were slowly being reclaimed by the native vegetation and rock gardens of pimelea and wattle lined the path.

The impressive profile of Wilyabrup Cliffs

Contented cows on coastal farmland

Descending into Biljedup Brook

A steep descent into Biljedup Brook and rocky climb back out, and we were back on top of the cliffs, looking down on a group of abseilers at the cliff edge. The sun was getting quite hot now and, with little wind, it was time to switch to shorts. A narrow footpath through the heath eventually brought us to Cullen's Beach, where we descended to trudge for a short distance behind the frontal dunes, before climbing back up again to follow the heath-covered cliff tops.

A friendly stumpy-tailed lizard (aka bob-tailed skink)

Crimson daisies in bloom

After a while the sandy 4WD track led us down to a shelly beach, set amongst the large coastal rocks. It was a good place for lunch while watching the 20-30m high plumes of water, as the big waves exploded against one of the offshore rocks, and an osprey slowly patrolled the shoreline. We were joined for lunch by a pair of beach magpies looking for handouts. The osprey returned carrying a large fish in its talons - at least someone is prepared to hunt for its own food!

Waves exploding on Whaleback Rock

Coastline south of Veryiuca Brook

Beach magpie waiting for
a handout

Osprey bringing home the catch
of the day

A boulder-strewn beach south of Veryiuca Brook

Granite outcrops near North Head

This began one of the nicest parts of the trek to date, as we quickly crossed the rocky bed of Veryiuca Brook. We wandered around orange lichen-covered rocky outcrops as offshore, the seas crashed against the rocks in explosions of foam. Traversing a boulder strewn beach, we wound up through the granite landscape amidst orange and pink flowering heath, underlaid by a carpet of small blue and white daisies and, amongst many other flowering herbs, pink fairy orchids and the occasional larger greenish-yellow orchid.

View northward from North Head

Our first spider orchid

Tiny pink trigger flowers

One of many pea-flowers in the heath

Watching the surfers from North Head

Crossing a small stream flowing through the red rock, we climbed up to the edge of the orange cliffs around North Point, before dropping back down to a high rock shelf. Ahead, a group of surfers sat out on their boards waiting for the next big wave at the North Point Break.

The calm of Cowaramup Bay

Finally, we rounded the point to see a couple of boats sheltering in the calmer waters of Cowaramup Bay and, across the bay, the village of Gracetown. It was a short walk to the shop, where we picked up the keys to a coastal chalet - on the side of the hill, with views across the bay. Tonight we were going to treat ourselves to a little bit of luxury. A bottle of chilled Margaret River chardonnay was waiting.


Gracetown to Prevelly (19 km)

It was a still morning and the boats sheltering in Cowaramup Bay had headed out to sea. The early morning surfers at Huzzawuiee Break had already been out for an hour or more as we wound our way quickly out of Gracetown, stopping only to reflect for a few moments at the memorial to the nine young victims of the 1996 Gracetown cliff collapse - life can be so fragile.

Heading on, we crossed a couple of sandblows before following the cliff-line through the low heath to a spot overlooking Lefthander's Break. We sat in the shade of a new shelter built in memory of young surfer taken by a shark at this spot in 2004 - out to sea, his fellow surfers were taking advantage of the big waves and windless conditions, ever in search of that one great ride. At all the breaks along this coastline the scene was the same with surfers bobbing up and down on their boards waiting for "the wave".


In memory of the nine young lives lost in the 1996 Gracetown cliff collapse

Lefthanders' Beach

Riding the break at Lefthanders

It would have been easy to stay there all day, but we had a long walk ahead and pushed on along a narrow winding footpath through the coastal heath. These long stretches of heath-walking were starting to become a unifying feature of this walk, linking the "places of interest". Our next such place soon appeared. After dropping down to the beach to pass a set of large dunes, we turned inland. The sound of the surf quickly receded and we found ourselves crossing a grassy paddock towards Ellensbrook Homestead, the 1850s home of some of the district's pioneering families. It was a pleasant change, with taller trees replacing the coastal heath and ring-necked parrots replacing the seabirds.

Boardwalk to Meekadarabee Waterfall

Ellensbrook Homestead - built in the 1850s

At Meekadarabee the stream falls into
one mouth of a cave .....

..... and flows out the other nearby
New species of wildflower started to appear as we pushed further inland up a paved and boardwalked path alongside the cool and shady Ellen Brook, babbling beneath a canopy of gnarly old peppermints. A little way on, we stopped to admire first, a small stream flowing out of the exit of a cave in the rockface and then, the Meekadarabee waterfall, trickling into the cave entrance in a cool and luxuriant grotto.

The first big trees as we head inland

In the Gnoocardup Forest

We pushed on to the Ellensbrook campsite, planning to top up our water before the long inland section - alas, the tank was dry, but a quick packless sprint back to Meekadarabee saw our water bottles full of cool fresh spring water (the moral of this story is that a water tank does not always mean water!)

Butterfly orchid

Cowslip orchid

Blue enamel orchid

We were now walking amongst the tall trees and greatly enjoying this change of habitat, but more rewards lay ahead. Turning to head up a sandy track leading into the Gnoocardup forest, we spotted our first cowslip orchids, followed by spider orchids and red and green kangaroo paws amidst blue and white daisies. For an easterner, these are exciting discoveries.

Passing under the peppermints

Red and green kangaroo paws

The curious cow kick

The track through Gnoocardup coastal mallee

The track undulated up past tall grass-trees, cycads, peppermints and eucalypts, rich with the songs of forest birds, but as we reached the top of the plateau, the taller timber gave way once again to tall heath plants. From the high points, you could see right across this green inland sea to the ocean and distant Cape Mentelle. Lunch under the shade of a tea-tree grove and we undulated downward once again, past an alley lined with kangaroo paws, before a westerly bend in the track took us once more toward the sea.

Flowering eucalypt

Whale watching near Gnoocardup Beach

What a welcome the ocean gave us; far out to sea a large splash caught our eye, followed by smaller sprays as a pod of humpback whales blew and breached as they pushed steadily south on their journey to Antarctic waters, their minds focussed on the feast of krill awaiting them. I was glad that I had put a pair of binoculars into the pack at the last minute. Farewell, cetacean friends, your journey makes our present trip seem pretty ordinary!

Nello passing beneath Joey's Nose

"Sea-urchin golf" on Kilcarnup Beach

Reluctantly heading on, we followed the beach around Joey's Nose, a curiously shaped limestone outcrop. From here, for the first time we had the pleasure of walking on firm sand and, with a bit of rock-hopping thrown in, quickly crossed Kilcarnup Beach. This was not a bad thing to do, as the waters here are protected by Cape Mentelle and its reef, creating a calm backwater where piles of rotting seaweed had accumulated. Needless to say, this left us with a "rich marine aroma".

The white limestone cliffs of Cape Mentelle

Crossing the Margaret River at its mouth

Climbing up we followed the jagged edge of the beautiful white limestone cliffs of Cape Mentelle, before crossing its heath-covered rolling dunes to descend to the Margaret River. After a short trudge across the very soft sands of its bar, we had but a short knee-deep wade in the fast-flowing cool river to reach its southern bank. A short rest for feet to dry was followed by an equally short climb up the slope high above the southern bank of the river, where we intersected with a cycle path that led us back down to Prevelly and civilisation.

Margaret River mouth

It had been a hard day, our longest so far, but as a sign of all good walks, just when we thought we had seen all that there was, it threw up something completely different. Even after four days, we were left looking forward to the morrow.

Margaret River lagoon

On the -up lands of Western Australia

By now readers may have noticed a pattern in place names emerging as we pass through Kabbijgup, Yallingup, Gunyulgup, Wyadup, Wilyabrup, Biljedup, Cowaramup, Gnoocardup and Kilcarnup. For non-Western Australians whose curiosity has been aroused, "-up" means "place of" in the local indigenous language and the south-west is liberally dotted with names bearing this suffix.

Francophone readers may also have noticed a few familiar sounding names - Naturaliste, Geographe, Clairault, Mentelle - all of which were named by Baudin as he sailed past this coastline on his 1801 scientific voyage.