Article by RV Daily
In the far southwest corner of Western Australia, a broad peninsula with two horn-like capes is host to some of the roughest, most dramatic coastal scenery, magnificent tall timber forests and beautiful underground caves to be found anywhere in Australia. These features however, are only part of the magic that is drawing more and more people to this area every year and is ideally suited to a one to two week holiday trip out of Perth.
This unique, far flung corner of the Australian continent is around 300 km south of Perth. Stretching from Cape Leeuwin in the south to Cape Naturaliste some 120 km away to the north, is the area known as the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge. Often referred to as WA’s Limestone Coast, the area here is in fact, a 600-million-year old geological formation of granite, capped by limestone and sand dunes.
The earliest recorded European account of this area – some 150 years before James Cook’s discovery of Australia’s east coast – was made in 1622. The presence of “Leeuwin’s Land” was recorded in the log of the Dutch East India Company ship The Leeuwin, however was named Cape Leeuwin by Matthew Flinders in 1801.
Today, the area which spreads between the capes is home to one of WA’s premier parks, the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Covering an area of some 19,700ha, this long, thinly strung out park forms the nucleus of this splendid Cape to Cape adventure trail. Visitors to this appealing area often base themselves at one of the main towns, local caravan parks or National Park campgrounds in the region, making day trips out from there to explore the attractions that most interest them.
In the north, the township of Dunsborough is a busy centre with a wide range of shops and services. Its beaches face onto the protected waters of Geographe Bay; there is no surf here, just beautiful clear waters to enjoy swimming, fishing, sailing, wind surfing or just laze on the beach and read a book.
As you head towards Cape Naturaliste, 13km from Dunsborough, make sure to take the coastal route calling into such delightful coastal spots. Visit Castle Bay and see the site of an old whaling station which closed in 1872, Meelup, Eagle Bay and Bunker Bay which are all still in the protected waters of Geographe Bay.
On the other side of the cape the rough exposed rock shape of Sugarloaf Rock is also worth checking out and is also a nice spot to enjoy sunset.
At the tip of Cape Naturaliste a visit to the lighthouse and Maritime Museum in the old lighthouse keeper’s quarters, is highly recommended. On a walk trail leading from the lighthouse don’t miss the specially built whale watching platform from where humpback, sperm and southern right whales can be seen during their annual migration between July and November. Around the headland here is an area called ‘the other side of the moon’ – once you see it you’ll easily see why!
For those energetic folk with some time on their hands, a 135km Cape to Cape Heritage Walk Trail sets out meandering along the coast southwards from here. There are a number of overnight campsites along the way and approximately 6 or 7 days later, leads walkers to Cape Leeuwin. Shorter day and half day walks along sections of the trail are also an option if the full trek sounds just a little too much like hard work.
Travelling further south, the small township of Yallingup has a range of accommodation including cabins, caravan park and camping options. A lovely beach and a generally good surf break are the main attractions.
Smith’s Beach offers a more protected swimming beach making it ideal for families. Visit Canal Rocks to enjoy the short boardwalk stroll and watch the Indian Ocean surge into the natural rock canal – quite spectacular during heavy seas. Nearby Injidup and a little further south, Moses Rock and Cowaramup Bay, are all popular surfing and fishing spots with lovely scenic beaches and headlands.
Situated around half way between the Capes and 10km from the coast is the township of Margaret River. Affectionately known as ‘Margie’ to the locals, it is the busiest centre in the region with plenty of accommodation, restaurants and general services as well as local food and winery tour options available.
In fact, by this stage of your trip between the capes you will have noticed many vineyards and wineries scattered through the area which has become known as the Margaret River Wine Region. Many of the 200 odd wineries are quite small, producing high quality premium wines which have become well known throughout the world. Many offer cellar door sales and tastings. Increasingly, many of the wineries these days also incorporate a restaurant, cheese tasting, Devonshire teas, wood-fired pizzas and the like so that visitors can enjoy top quality wines and delicious food as well.
Beer drinkers by the way, have not been forgotten either. A number of small breweries are now in operation in this region with fascinating names like Bootleg Brewery, Wicked Ale Brewery, Bush Shack Brewery amongst others, all set up in appealing and sometimes quite rustic surrounds.
Throughout the area there are a number of other attractions including olive oil production, a large forest maze, a couple of cheese and yoghurt factories with tastings available. For those with a sweet tooth you can take your pick from fudge to jams and preserves, sauces and a chocolate factory where you can sample, for free, their mouth-watering produce.
Craft shops, galleries and studios dot the landscape providing anything from gumnut ornaments to jewellery, as well as pottery, dried flowers, glass blowing, even craftsmen making solid jarrah tables, chairs and lamp stands. At many of these centres it is possible to watch the artists at work in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
For those interested in wildflowers, the area here is home to more than 150 orchids and some 2,500 different wildflower species, best seen during spring.
Out on the coast at the mouth of the Margaret River, Prevelly Park is the location of the annual Margaret River Surfing Classic attracting competitors from around the world. The area here has some of the most perfect waves for surfing to be found anywhere.
This whole Cape to Cape Region is home to around 350 different caves ranging from small narrow tunnels through to enormous caverns measuring over 14km long. Three of the main caves – Ngilgi (Yallingup), Jewell and Lake Caves with lovely shawls, stalactites and stalagmites – are open to the public with regular guided tours. In addition, there are several self-guided adventure caves including Mammoth, Giants and Calgardup Caves which are a lot of fun to explore; remember to bring a torch.
Travelling southwards, Caves Road leads through a small section of the Boranup Forest. An optional unsealed Boranup Drive is however, a highly recommended alternative through the centre of this lovely tall timber forest country. Covering some 3,200 hectares, the pale-barked karri trees, up to 60 metres high, tower above the drive and walk trails that lead through the forest; a sheer delight.
Within the forest there are several great National Park campsites and picnic areas which bring you as close to nature as you can possibly get.
This delightful bay, the location of an old timber port, has a splendid caravan park and campground set amongst shady peppermint trees on the edge of the beach. For those interested in history and diving, there is an excellent dive trail in the bay which leads around a number of wrecked ships, some dating back to 1880, which are still visible on the ocean floor.
Augusta, at the mouth of the Blackwood River, is another popular tourist centre with a variety of shopping and services available. For those with a sweet tooth, the bakery here has a great reputation.
There is a beautiful swimming beach and sailing area in front of The Colourpatch Café, the river making for a good fishing spot for those keen to cast a line. Other worthwhile options in Augusta include a nice boardwalk along Hardy Inlet, whale watching boat trip or a boat cruise up the lovely Blackwood River, where plenty of birdlife and quite often dolphins are just part of the scenic enjoyment.
Nine kilometres southwest of Augusta at the end of your Cape to Cape Trail, is the old Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. Built in 1895, and at 39 metres, is the tallest lighthouse on mainland Australia. It is open to the public with tours available and is certainly worth a visit. Whilst visiting Cape Leeuwin, don’t miss having a look at the old solidified water wheel. The water wheel was originally built in 1895 to drive a pump providing local spring water for the lighthouse keepers.
This is, indeed, a region for all seasons. Whether it is an autumn stroll in a picturesque valley veiled in mist, a cosy winter night chatting around a roaring log fire, the wildflowers and a picnic in spring, or enjoying the beach and a swim in a quiet bay in summer. It is not hard to see why visitors keep coming back to this area again and again.
REGION: The southwest corner of Western Australia. Busselton to Augusta is around 3-4 hours’ drive from Perth.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: All year round. Some days in winter can be cold and wet with some lovely days in between. The area is busiest in summer.
- Scenic coastline, fishing and surfing
- Spectacular limestone caves
- Karri – tall timber forest
- Wineries and boutique breweries
- Art, craft and woodwork galleries
- Cheese, yoghurt, olive, chocolate outlets