Cape Range National Park
Directions - Located about 35km from Exmouth, head south out of town on Minilya-Exmouth Road and take a right on Charles Knife Road. Follow the signs for Cape Range National Park and keeping driving up into the range until you see the right turn for the Thomas Carter Lookout. Continue along this road until you reach another right turn that leads to the car park. The information board and start of the trail are on the eastern side of the car park.
The Hike - With three marked trails within Cape Range National Park providing some nice activities to enjoy when holidaying in Exmouth, I only had one left on my to-do list. Saving the longest trail until last, only Hal was keen on joining me on this one so we made plans to have an early start before the heat of the day kicked in. Having completed the Yardie Gorge Trail and Mandu Mandu Gorge, this hike would be starting on the opposite side of Cape Range and I was looking forward to seeing it from a different perspective.
After a quick breakfast and coffee, Hal and I loaded up in the CH-R and headed south out of town towards the Charles Knife Canyon turnoff. The eastern side of the cape provides access to the deeper gorges and canyons with some stunning lookouts and vehicle tracks to explore. Climbing up into the range along Charles Knife Road, both Hal and I were impressed with the sheer drop-offs on either side of the unsealed road and made a point of saying we would stop on the way back. Keen to get out to the start of the trail and take advantage of the cooler conditions, we negotiated the maze of tracks to reach the Thomas Carter Lookout where the Badjirrajirra Trail begins. There were already a few cars here, something I love to see as it means people are out enjoying the trail, so we got our packs on with minimal faffing before climbing the small hill to the official lookout. Being the longest official trail within Cape Range National Park, the Badjirrajirra Trail offers more of a challenge than Yardie and Mandu Mandu and one I was excited to experience.
The good thing about starting at the highest point you'll reach on the 8km loop is that you can trace where you will be going from the lookout. With an open landscape ahead of us stretching all the way to the waters of the Exmouth Gulf, you could be excused for thinking the trail won't be very interesting based on the broader vistas being somewhat flat. I knew what was coming a bit later and was keen to see what the flatter parts looked like, so we headed down the hill and off on our final hiking adventure for the trip. Hal stormed off into the distance as he likes to do while I hung back and photographed everything that caught my eye, as I like to do. I was happy to see some light clouds hanging around the horizon as they always make the wide shots look much prettier. Descending down towards the spinifex plains that dominate this area, I found a few wildflowers to photograph and there was a lot more here than what it looks like from the Thomas Carter Lookout. Passing over a few dry creek beds, Hal went to follow the rocky valley instead of the trail and I had to call out to him to make a course correction.
With beautiful weather and cool temperatures for now, this was turning out to be a lovely hike as we reached the decision point for the loop. After a bit of a short uphill we reached the wooden sign pointing you either the direct route to Shothole Canyon (have to be careful when typing that one) or the longer way heading anti-clockwise on the loop trail. Wanting to get the great views overlooking the canyon while the sun was still in a decent position for photography, I suggested to Hal we keep going straight and he agreed. While Hal shot off into the distance, I continued my slower approach and this stretch was really enjoyable with the undulating terrain hiding some excellent wildflowers. While it looked quite flat and exposed from the Thomas Carter Lookout, the reality down here was that there was enough shade in parts and lots of up and down walking to enjoy. While scanning the flora lining the trail, I noticed a clumping of dead eucalyptus leaves that didn't look like they formed that way naturally.
We had seen something similar while hiking Mandu Mandu Gorge and our assumption then was this was some kind of formation built by insects to protect their nests/young. Taking a photo and moving on, I would come across more insect life as I found a stunning looking Cape Range Grevillea that was playing home to an army of ants, the unheralded pollinators of the insect world. Enjoying seeing plenty of Cassia varieties and some beautiful Eremophilias, I looked back at one point and saw a few fully formed spider webs that luckily contained a couple of spiders. Although the sun was shining directly on them and thus the photos were horribly overexposed, it was cool to see them in the morning just hanging out and waiting for a meal to fly by. A wildflower I was very taken by on this trip that I came to call the Cape Range Orchid (not its real name) was a pink, red and orange star-shaped flower called Leptosema macrocarpum (unable to find a common name for it online).