Saturday, 23 September 2017

Cape to Cape Track (WA) - Cape Naturaliste to Yallingup


Day one of a seven day thru-hike of the Cape to Cape Track, this walk takes hikers from the northern trailhead at Cape Naturaliste to the coastal settlement of Yallingup. Initially following a wheelchair accessible section to the stunning Sugarloaf Rock, the walk then follows beautiful coastal cliffs and a short beach walk to Yallingup. A short but excellent first day, this a great introduction to the wonders of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park


Distance: 13.75 km (one way)
Gradient: A few moderate descents and ascents with mostly gentle terrain
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with the the Cape to Cape Track markers allowing walkers to remain on track (albeit lacking in directional information)
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4 Hours
Steps: Some minor steps 
Best Time to Visit: Late Autumn/Early Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Cape Naturaliste can be reached via Cape Naturaliste Rd from Dunsborough. Yallingup can be reached on Yallingup Beach Rd via Caves Rd. 



Having completed our sectional End to End of the Bibbulmun Track the previous week, Alissa and I headed south for the school holidays to begin our next big adventure - a southbound thru-hike of the Cape to Cape Track from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. Driving down on the Friday night, Alissa and I stayed with friends in Margaret River before being dropped off on Saturday morning in Dunsborough and catching a taxi to the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse.

Considering the trail is marketed as being from one lighthouse to other, Alissa and I were surprised to find the trail does not seem to actually start at the lighthouse itself but at the nearby car park. After initially starting down the trail for a few metres, Alissa and I decided to double back to visit Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse first and then start our relatively short first day of walking.



A few hundred metres into the walk, Alissa and I reached the registration station where hikers can sign in and out for their hike. Unlike the Bibbulmun and Overland Tracks where registers are located at every campsite/hut, the Cape to Cape Track only features registers a short distance from the beginning and end of the tracks.



The first few kilometres of the Cape to Cape Track between Cape Naturaliste and Sugarloaf Rock is called the Access For More Trail and features sealed paths and boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs. While I'm not a fan of paving hiking trails due to the hard surfaces being fatiguing to walk on in hiking boots, I see the value of providing access to more for this first leg of the walk as the coastal heath and rocky scenery are quite spectacular, and really need to be seen. While very different in appearance to the mountain scenery of the Overland Track, the effect of the Access For More Trail is similar to the first day from Ronny Creek to Cradle Mountain - the more structured boardwalks and harden surfaces are great for day visitors to enjoy the coastal scenery of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.



Having been a bit down about Western Australian scenery after some relatively dull final days of burnt Jarrah forest walking on the Bibbulmun Track, the wildflower-filled heathlands and the beauty of the rugged coastal scenery just a few kilometres into the Cape to Cape Track filled me with an excitement that was closer to how I felt when we started the Overland Track than the boredom and frustration that has dominated our recent Jarrah forest walking.



Upon reaching Sugarloaf Rock car park, the sealed section of the Cape to Cape Track finishes and branches off to continue further south. With our first day to Yallingup set to be an easy 13.75 kilometres, it was an easy decision for Alissa and I to head off the track briefly to check out Sugarloaf Rock.


Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Sugarloaf Rock is arguably one of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park's most famous and impressive features - a large granitic gneiss rock formation that is so named due to its apparent similarity in shape to a sugarloaf. I've visited Sugarloaf Rock many times over the years, and it so impressed my uncle when we first took him to see it that he declared 'I want to build my house RIGHT HERE!' While his statement was clearly fanciful hyperbole, I can definitely relate to his enthusiasm for Sugarloaf Rock's awe-inspiring beauty.



Returning to the track, Alissa and continued southwards towards Yallingup. Beyond Sugarloaf Rock, the Cape to Cape runs along unsealed single file walking trail along the coastal cliffs. We were lucky to have arrived at Sugarloaf Rock when we did as a brief shower hit us along this stretch of the track. 



Although considerably less red than Kalbarri, the coastal cliffs and flowering heath reminded Alissa and I of the Bigurda Trail in Kalbarri National Park, right down to the small limestone caves along the top of the cliffs. 



The sunny weather returned as we reached Kabbijgup Beach. 



Just off the coast is the Three Bears surf break, so named due to its renown for producing conditions that are 'just right' for surfing.





After descending a series of wooden stairs, Alissa and I began our first beach walk of the Cape to Cape. This was a short and sweet section of beach, with the trail rising up of the beach to walk along the coastal cliffs once again. 



The coastal cliffs again had strong similarities to the Bigurda Trail, with some interesting limestone rock features evoking some of the spirit of D'Entrecasteaux National Park or even the Pinnacles of Nambung National Park



Some might consider the long stretches of coastal cliffs to be a bit samey, however Alissa and I love this kind of coastal cliff walking and found it to be very enjoyable. 



For most of this first day, the Cape to Cape Track utilises purpose built single file walking trail, however the last few kilometres leading to Mt Duckworth campsite and Yallingup utilise vehicles tracks. With the exception of the Karri forest, I'm not a big fan of broad vehicles tracks for walking, however these tracks were at least fairly narrow and continued to provide good views of the coast for most of their length. 



A mere 10.5 kilometres into the Cape to Cape is Mt Duckworth - the first official campsite of the track. Compared to the almost luxury campsites of the Bibbulmun Track, the Cape to Cape Track campsites are pretty simple and spartan, featuring little more than a toilet, water tank and a few picnic tables, and are often at weirdly inconsistent distances apart from each other. The 10.5 kilometre distance from Cape Naturaliste to Mt Duckworth does allow walkers to start at the Meelup Trail in Dunsborough and walk the additional 14.3 kilometres, however it made it an unattractively short day for Alissa and I. Given that Yallingup was only 3.25 kilometres further south makes it a better place to end the first day, especially given that it provides access to a much better amenities. This is another good thing about the Cape to Cape Track - the many towns and alternative campgrounds mean you can really tailor the walk to suit your own custom itinerary. 



Given that Mt Duckworth is in a sheltered part of the coastal ridge, the first kilometre or so from the campsite does not feature a lot of views, and it is quite a nice surprise to emerge from the tall Tea Trees and see the settlement of Yallingup only a short distance away. 



Just north of Yallingup, the Cape to Cape runs concurrently with a few short local trails before descending to Yallingup Beach. 



Relatively calm, Yallingup Beach seems to be fairly popular with families, and we ran into quite a few family groups during this home stretch of the walk. 



Just before reaching the beach exit, Alissa and I stumbled upon a fairly large sand sculpture of a whale that had been made earlier in the day. Although I like well marked trails due to the repeatability of the experience, ephemeral sights like this are alway a treat; it is highly unlikely that this same sand whale will be on the beach were we to do this track again, and as such it becomes a feature that will be unique to our experience of the track at the time we did it. 



Arriving in Yallingup in the mid afternoon, Alissa and I popped into the Shaana Cafe for a late lunch (Salmon and Avocado panini for Alissa, and a Squid Rings for myself) and some takeaway Lasagne for our dinner. Alissa and I had managed to secure one of the Seaview Cabins in the nearby Yallingup Beach Holiday Park, and while the public holiday weekend rates were close to extortionist, access to a microwave, television, private showers and a comfortable bed were definitely worth the price of admission. 



The views from the balcony were definitely as described, and while I would warn people to avoid public holiday long weekends due to the higher rates, our stay was very comfortable and enjoyable and I would recommend the Holiday Park's cabins as a great way to end their first day on the Cape to Cape. 



Having had quite a short first day, Alissa and I decided that we had plenty of energy left to take a short stroll from the Holiday Park to Caves House - a grand old hotel and restaurant that was opened in 1903 to provide accommodation for visitors to the nearby Ngilgi (née Yallingup) Cave. The walk down Valley Road passes through some lovely parklands and limestone cliffs with Yallingup Brook running alongside the footpath. The scenery made the 1.5 kilometre return walk worthwhile in itself, however it also helps that the bottle shop is located near Caves House, which allowed us to partake in a bottle of the excellent wine the Margaret River region is renowned for.

Although a relatively short day of walking, this first day of the Cape to Cape Track was a fantastic start to our week of walking. I knew that we had Sugarloaf Rock to look forward to as the day's highlight but I was glad to find that the wildflower-filled coastal heathlands and the clifftop walking remained engaging and enjoyable from start to finish. Given the popularity of the surf breaks and Yallingup as a holiday destination, its quite impressive how wild and pristine the coastline has been kept. Conversely, the easy access to the amenities of Yallingup made this a bit of a luxury day of walking compared to our usual overnight hikes. All in all, this was a great first day that had us excited about what the rest of the week had in store. 

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