Ride the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia
Western Australia is big. Compared to the United States, it’s about three and a half times the size of Texas. Known as WA, it is the largest of australia six states, and he might also be the most underrated in the country. Home to 7,000 miles of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, blooming eucalyptus forests, endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, and thousands of plants and animals you won’t find anywhere else, WA is the definition of one go away— if you enjoy your solitude with a side of affable townspeople who love a good microbrew, wine, or gin.
If you were thinking, “That’s great, but WA is huge; it’s not like I can find all these things in one place,” you would be wrong. For a sample of all that makes WA special, head to the South West Coast and the Cape to Cape Track.
This 75-mile walking trail winds along the Indian Ocean coast between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, with a handful of food and drink options along the way. You could stick to the path with dedication without straying, camp overnight and hike in its entirety in about seven days. Or you can hop on a variety of access points and hop off to explore nearby state and national parks. The latter option allows you to stay in chic, newly renovated hotels and sample farm-to-table cuisine, as well as the region’s prodigious wine scene. Come back, friends. This is your reward for a trek well done.
How wine inspired a good, long walk
The idea for a coastal hiking trail began in the 1970s, among a group of friends who regularly hiked the beaches and scrubby trails along the WA coast. When wineries started to open in the Margaret River area, almost centrally between the two headlands about 10 miles inland, they had an idea: why not create a long-distance trail where hikers could take advantage of the region’s many food and drink options, in addition to its abundant natural resources?
They traced a single coastal path through existing footpaths, beaches and old four-wheeler and fire roads. In the late 1990s, the non-profit association Cape Town Friends at Cape Track helped secure the grant (used to fund Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park) needed to build new trail connections. The track was completed in 2001.
The trail is generally moderate in difficulty, although areas along the beaches are easy to navigate and several sections are challenging. The hike is free unless you choose a guided tour with overnight camping. Reputable operators include Cape to Cape Explorer Tourswhich offers entirely local guides, and adventurous womena business owned and operated by women.
The trail is open year round. For the most comfortable temperatures, go in the spring (September to November), when the fields and forests are teeming with wildflowers, or in the fall (March to May), which is mild and sunny. Winter, when daytime temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s, is still very comfortable and you’re more likely to have the trail to yourself.
Venture into limestone caves and lighthouses
The southwest corner of WA features a broad peninsula that juts out into the Indian Ocean. Thanks to its isolation, the landscape – hushed forests, towering granite and limestone cliffs and coastal moorland – still seems ancient and wild.
The Cape to Cape Track passes through several remarkable green spaces. To the north it meanders the full length of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. With 47,000 acres of raw beauty, limestone caves, a c.1900 lighthouse overlooking Geographe Bay, and endless ocean views, it’s no wonder the park’s Wardandi name, Kwirreejeenungup, translates by “the place with the beautiful view”.
A little further south on the trail, Wooditjup National Park, in the Margaret River area, has excellent mountain biking trails, from beginner to advanced. If you take the 10 Mile Brook trail along the river, along an old wooden tram, you can stop for a picnic at the dam site.
At Cape Leeuwin, the most southwestern point of the continent Australiayou will find another panoramic lighthouse, built in 1896 to prevent shipwrecks, including 22 in the region. This place is where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet, so the seas here are quite torrential. Nearby, visit the remains of a wooden water wheel built to power a hydraulic ram that powered the lighthouse and nearby cabins. It is now frozen in time and covered with a layer of limestone.
See bearded dragons, kangaroos and whales
WA’s remoteness has made it one of 36 biodiversity hotspots on the planet, home to more than 2,000 endemic plant and animal species.
The area is home to many species of parrot, including the purple-crowned lorikeet, whose DayGlo feathers and loud chatter make it easy to spot in trees and shrubbery. Raptors like ospreys and hawks frequent the coastal side of Cape to Cape Track, and sunny days bring up a range of monitor lizards, bearded dragons and snakes. If you came for marsupials, keep an eye out for reclusive southern brown bandicoot or western gray kangaroos resting in the shade.
On a nice winter or spring day, it is common to see humpback whales and southern right whales feeding and “resting” offshore. The dolphins, which frolic in the pods, are easy to spot in any season. Hamelin Bay, about 15 miles north of Cape Leeuwin, is known for its “friendly” rays. Dive ankle-deep in the water and three species of stingrays will come close as they search for snacks in the sand. They are harmless if you stand quietly, but they are called stingrays for a reason: when disturbed or threatened, they strike with their barbed, venomous tails.
Gaze at towering eucalyptus trees or marvel at orchids and colorful flowers
Depending on the time of year, you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of plants and flowers. Along the western slopes of the trail, these include the bright blue fanflower, pink pompom-headed pimelea, and wattles, which are fluffy, sun-colored flowers whose seeds are a source of traditional food for indigenous peoples and are used on many restaurant menus.
The east side of the ridge near the coast is dominated by species of banksia, with colorful bottlebrush flowers. Their hardwood pods look like large pine cones dotted with small shells or puckered lips.
The southern part of the trail passes through forests of karri, which are eucalyptus trees that can grow up to 300 feet tall. Every seven to ten years, hundreds of these trees bloom and the canopy bursts into tiny white and yellow firework-like flowers. Also, look carefully under the shrubs and you will spot a variety of native orchids.
Take a walk off the beaten path for snacks and drinks
You’ll need a car to enjoy the best of Western Australia’s food and drink scene. Plan to spend a day exploring the margaret river wine trails, Australia’s premier wine region, where you’ll find excellent Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A few standouts include rustic-meets-modern Vase Felix, the founding winery of WA; organic, sustainable Travel Domain; and Domaine Leeuwinwhere you can peruse the original label’s art gallery, then sit down to a multi-course meal paired with wines from the vineyard.
For an unforgettable experience, book a room at Cape Lodge at Yallingup. Located in the Margaret River area, it has a secluded manor-in-the-woods atmosphere and a legendary restaurant. You can even book a private cooking demonstration with chef Tony Howell, who specializes in local and sustainable ingredients, especially seafood.
Margaret River is also home to The Distillers of the West Winds, one of Australia’s highest rated distilleries. Gin is huge in WA, and it’s exactly what you should try, whether in a cocktail or on its own.
For beer lovers, focus your hike on the northern part of the trail, then head about 23 miles east to Busselton. The new, industrial-chic Shelter Brewing Company craft lagers, IPAs and lagers, as well as notable summer sours.
Where to stay along the Cape to Cape Track
The Cape to Cape Track has four public campgrounds, at Mt. Duckworth, Moses Rock, Ellensbrook and Deepdene. All are free and first-come, first-served, and they have basic amenities like toilets, water, and tent sites. Two additional campsites are available for a nominal fee along the segment of trail that runs through Boranup Forest just south of Margaret River.
If you prefer a rustic bed, beer, and meal at the end of your hike, the newly renovated Smith’s Beach Resort offers beach houses and luxury villas with gas fireplaces and open concept living areas and kitchens. The on-site Lamont’s restaurant, run by Michelin-starred chef Kate Lamont, is well worth the stop, even if you don’t stay.
About a mile from the track near Injidup Point, Injidup Surf Hut is a private, rustic delight, with eclectic decor, an outdoor shower, and a large patio with ocean views.