Cape Naturaliste to Yallingup
Start - Cape Naturaliste
Finish - Yallingup
Campsite - Track Town
Distance - 14.1km (One Way)
Vertical Climb - 210m
Time - 4-6 hours
Date Hiked - 16th September 2020
Directions - N-S hikers on the Cape to Cape begin their journey at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, located north of Dunsborough. From town, follow the signs towards the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and the C2C trail head is located on the western side of the car park.
The Hike - Here we are. Six years after first attempting the Cape to Cape and I'm back to finish a full end to end (old post is archived here if you want to see how far the website has come since the early days). A lot has changed since my last visit and with many years of hiking experience under my belt I was more than confident that this trip would not result in me pulling out halfway. Looking back at it now, I'm not surprised I only lasted three days out there but lessons learned and now I could enjoy the full experience with all that I've gained over the years. So that brings us to Spring 2020 and what would be the first leg of a four week road trip around the south coast. I'd always planned to return in the spring so I could experience the excellent wildflower display that the Cape to Cape is famous for and with all the changed plans in 2020, I decided to tack on some extra leave and tick a few more trails off my to-hike list.
With the parental units now living in Funbury, I asked politely if Dad wouldn't mind dropping me off at the start and he kindly obliged. No weeklong trip would be complete without a generous helping of Dad's world famous pancakes so I arrived at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse with a full belly raring to go. Like the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse requires you to pay for entry but I wasn't too fussed about doing the exact lighthouse to lighthouse route so I said my goodbyes to Dad, out on my hat and started from the trail head at the car park. There are a few trails in the area including the Cape Naturaliste Track and the Access For More Trail but the signage is pretty clear and you follow the Access For More Trail as it snakes down towards the coast. One of the longest wheelchair friendly trails in the South West, it's fantastic that it can be enjoyed by all while still feeling like a regular trail you'd expect in a popular tourist area. At almost 4km long, it runs all the way from Cape Naturaliste to Sugarloaf Rock, taking in some spectacular scenery and wonderful lookouts. For me though, this was the beginning of a six day, 130km adventure that I was particularly excited to do given the gap between visits.
Immediately I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by wildflowers ranging from Teatree to Fan Flowers to Cape Tulip (non-native) to my favourite of the whole track, the Native Rose. The bees were loving the quantity and variety of wildflowers as much as me and it really wasn't hard to get a photo with a bee going about his daily pollen collecting business. Unfortunately for me, photographing the wildflowers was slightly tricky given the 30-40kmph winds that I was experiencing on the day. This would be a theme for my trip and required a lot of patience, waiting for a good moment where a flower was still and I could get off a shot. While it was windy, I was fortunate enough to get some lovely sunny skies mixed in with waves of fluffy white clouds. Reaching the Cape to Cape registration station, I dropped my pack and signed the visitor book, noting that the previous week had been a particularly busy one. Starting on a Wednesday I didn't expect to have to share campsites with 20-30 others as can be the case if you start on the weekend or during school holidays. With the registration done, it felt more like I was starting a long hike and continued along the pavement as it descended down towards the Wilanup Lookout.
Reaching the lookout, it was nice to be confronted with the coastline instead of just seeing it from a distance. The dominant feature of the coast along here is Sugarloaf Rock and the lookout provides a great vantage point of one of the more popular tourist locations near Dunsborough. You will eventually reach it but for now you wind your way through the coastal scrub and continue to admire the epic wildflower display. Spotting more variety in the form of Rose Banjine and a bright yellow acacia, this was just the beginning. Further along and right on the edge of the track was my first Spider Orchid of the hike and once I'd spotted the first one, it became apparent that there were many hidden around that particular spot. I believe the ones I saw that are in the gallery are Exotic Spider Orchids and they looked very pretty in the sunshine. This was the start of a really cool section with the first of the orange lichen covered granite outcrops that you'll experience along the track. Along with providing some nice views of Sugarloaf Rock, I was happy exploring the nooks and cranny's where the Donkey Orchids grow quite happily.
Leaving this little outcrop, the track continues descending along the boardwalk until you reach the road leading to Sugarloaf Rock. Cross here and keep going because the track takes you a lot closer to the car park as the Access For More Trail finishes near the toilet block. Officially the Cape to Cape just continues into the coastal scrub but it's a short side trip to Sugarloaf Rock that you'd be crazy to skip. Crazy I am but I do enjoy a side trip so I ventured out towards the tourists and up the photogenic staircase that provides the best views of the rock. A haven for birds, the impressive, jagged structure juts out from the ocean very close to shore. While it was windy today, the swell wasn't very large near the rock so I didn't quite get the lashings of sea spray I was expecting. Annoyingly, as soon as I arrived at the lookout, the sun disappeared behind some large clouds so my photos of the rock look a little muted. Deciding that the clouds would take a while to pass given their size and the wind direction, I kept moving and retraced my steps back to where the Cape to Cape continues southwards.
Immediately as I stepped onto the now much sandier and less wheelchair friendly track, the sun decided to mock me and made an appearance. With Sugarloaf Rock now bathed in sunshine, I decided against doubling back and instead chalked it up to fate. With the chances of seeing humans a lot less now I wasn't on a popular day hiking section, it was a nice surprise to come across some wildlife in the form of some Blue Tailed Wrens and a pretty chill Bobtail Lizard. The wrens wouldn't stay still for a photo so all I got were blurry snaps but the Bobtail was more than willing to pose for a few before deciding that the undergrowth was probably a safer option. This was what I'd hoped was the first of many reptile sightings along my Cape to Cape experience given the weather was warming up and the exposed scrub is where they thrive. Moving on, the track takes you along the coastline with shin to waist high scrub flanking the edges so it was fairly easy to see what was up ahead. This first day is a bit of an outlier in that you can see the end of the day pretty early on given the straight line the coast forms towards Yallingup. This does mean that unfortunately the view doesn't change much as you look further into the distance so I instead focussed on what was down below the limestone cliffs, the wildflowers along the track and the views looking up the hills to the east.
It's amazing that pretty much the entire coastline is one long national park given WA's love of coastal living and land clearing. The result is that for the most part it is easy to imagine that you are in the wild as to your left is nothing but scrub leading up the hill and to your right are limestone cliffs and open ocean. This pretty much lasts all the way through to the end apart from passing through towns and the occasional glimpse of a holiday home up in the hills. I was enjoying the stretches where the track was right up against the cliffs and you get to see the amazing textures, patterns and colours that are formed where the surf meets the shore. I couldn't stop taking photos along here (total count for the day was well over 800) and even though the views looking south were the same, I still snapped away. While the smaller birds and wrens were busy flitting about in the scrub and never in range for a photo, I had a raven join me. In what would become a daily occurrence over the next few days, seeing a solitary raven would become a good omen for me on the track.
Continuing along the edge of the cliff, the views ahead opened up and the buildings of Yallingup started to look a lot closer. Still being about 8km away, this is a good indication of how little the view changes over the day with no prominent headlands jutting their way out of the coastline past Sugarloaf Rock. The rock formations below the cliffs continued to be amazing with the type of jagged forms stretching out in all directions that kind of look like a mini version of Canal Rocks. With the wind persisting, I had fun just watching the waves crash over the rocks and sending spray flying up into the air in all sorts of weird patterns. Just beyond this point lies the first milestone of the Cape to Cape, your first beach walking. A wooden set of stairs takes you down to Kabbijgup Beach or as the local surfers call it, Three Bears. So named for the three waves in the area, Papa (average wave), Mamma (good on small to mid swells) and Baby (good on a small swell). Having not packed my ultralight surfboard on this trip and the waves not looking particularly clean given the wind, I instead looked on from a distance.
While the beach walking on the Cape to Cape is infamous on the southern sections with a couple of 7km stretches, this one is a short and sharp affair to ease you into it. The stairs provide easy access to the sand and I spotted some Coastal Pigface thriving in the areas between the rocks close to the water. At beach level it felt very much like the Hakea Trail with the dark rocks angled skyward out of the sand where the water laps up on the shore. One thing I love to do on the beach sections is do a bit of combing of all the washed up artefacts. Caris my partner is an avid sea glass collector and having a look at what washes up on various beaches we travel to is a shared interest. Three Bears being a smaller and somewhat protected beach had some good finds including a few intact shells and dried up sea urchins. Leaving the beach via an easy to spot dune exit, it was back to travelling along the limestone cliffs. The formations higher up on the cliffs were very impressive with a twisted, eaten away look to them as a result of the forces of the wind and sea spray over time.
This is the start of a slow but gentle uphill climb as you start the section leading towards the first official campsite of the track, Mount Duckworth. An interesting pyramid shaped limestone rock caught my eye and served as a good foreground object that I had some fun with trying to shoot properly. With low lying heath, the expanse of the hills seem to be amplified as they extend off towards the horizon. The track also cuts a more defined path through the landscape and it's a nice contrast as your eyes are drawn off into the distance. With no wildflowers along this section I could just appreciate the coastline and also divert my gaze off to the open ocean in search of whales. Having not seen any on my finish into Albany on the Bibbulmun Track last year, I was hopeful of spotting some frolicking off the shore on this trip given reports I'd seen on Facebook. While it's not super easy to spot whales while moving as your eyes need time to adjust, it was even more difficult given the amount of white caps out to sea thanks to the windy conditions. In the distance I spotted a nice looking bench seat that is perched up on a little rise. Perfect I thought, I would take a break here and just sit and watch for whales.
In principal this was a great idea and it certainly felt good to have the pack off my back but I can't say it was a relaxing little break. As I sat there and ate my dehydrated strawberries, the wind just constantly buffeted me. While I am used to living in Fremantle and experiencing the afternoon sea breeze almost everyday, this was something else. With no whales that I could see, I decided to keep this stay brief and moved on. It was a pretty spot but wasn't for me that day. From the exposed cliff edge you climb a bit further and start to enter the thickets of Peppermint and Honeymyrtle. Happy to be somewhat sheltered from the wind, this also meant that the wildflowers returned. Common along the Cape to Cape are the Native Rose and Pink Boronia but this didn't stop me taking a photo of almost every good looking example. Very prevalent along here are Pink Fairy Orchids that seem to grow around every little bend. I think more than half of the photos I took were of the various wildflowers as there were just so many all throughout the trip. Winding through the grey trunks of the undergrowth, I eventually reached Mount Duckworth Campsite.
As far as campsites go, Mount Duckworth is pretty basic but has the essential items covered like a water tank and toilet. The Cape to Cape campsites are a step down from the Bibbulmun campsites as they lack the three sided shelter so all hikers must bring a tent with them. Another positive of Mount Duckworth, apart from picturing Emilio Estevez in the first Mighty Ducks movie repeating "quack, quack, quack Mr Ducksworth", is the ample relief from the howling winds as it's set within the relative safety of the gnarly Peppermints and Honeymyrtles. It's a nice little spot but given Yallingup is only 4km up the track and has the allure of hot meals, a pub and different accommodation types, I chose not to stay here. Not stopping for very long, I was keen to finish the day and get setup in Yallingup to explore a little bit. Past the campsite you continue along the winding track as it stays within the protected heath with the wildflowers putting on a great show. The limestone cliffs to your left are a great feature too and the bird life through here was fantastic, even if they flitter away before you can get a good look at them. The exception to this was a lone New Holland Honeyeater perched on a dead tree that was quite happy posing for a photo. We get these in my backyard at home so it was nice to see them out in the wild causing mischief like they do.
Rising up one last hill, there is an impressive tree that is a striking feature worth stopping for. The trees near the coast don't often grow that tall thanks to the extreme conditions they have to survive in but this particular example seems to have done alright for itself. From the top of the hill you can see Yallingup Beach below and the end of the day is in sight. It wasn't long before I was descending the wooden steps and was on the beach for the final stretch into town. Being the main tourist beach there were signs of activity everywhere and I felt very much out of place with my big backpack and hiking gear on. With a short walk to the car park, I enjoyed the last on track bit of walking for the day and admired the sheltered lagoon just offshore and the pounding waves much further out. It really is an iconic "down south" location and with the winds blowing mainly from the south, I was afforded a bit of a break here to enjoy the tranquillity. After reaching the stairs leading towards the car park, I instead chose to continue along the beach to investigate the jagged limestone formations that peaked my curiosity. With shells clinging to the surface along with greenery along the base of the rocks, it was a fun place to check out but eventually I decided it would be best to go find my accommodation.
The track doesn't actually go up into town, officially it just scoots along Yallingup Beach Rd to the west before heading south out of town so I ended my Runkeeper at the bus stop and called it a day. Originally I had planned to treat myself to more luxury accommodation than my tent where I could but both holiday parks in Yallingup required you to book a minimum of two nights, a policy that does not serve Cape to Cape hikers at all. After baulking at the $40 campsite fee, I eventually booked in to the Caves Caravan Park opposite the Caves House Hotel. This meant walking just under a kilometre up the hill to get there but as I had planned to eat dinner at the hotel anyway, I figured it would be easier doing that walk in the afternoon rather than after dinner. I arrived at the caravan park and as it turned out, I was the only one tenting it tonight so setup my brand new Nemo Hornet 2P (review coming soon) and set about having a shower before dinner. The $40 also covers access to a new bathroom/shower block as well as a decent camp kitchen and games/TV room so you do get some value for your money. After a refreshing shower I had a quick bite to eat and a tea at the General Store before wandering down to the beach to watch the sunset. Despite the 2km return journey, this turned out to be a great decision as the wind was almost non-existent along the beach and the warm afternoon sun felt comforting on my skin.
Turns out it was great conditions to go for a surf and there was a constant flow of surfers heading out towards the breaks ready to catch a wave or two. With my new camera and lens, I sat near the limestone formations and snapped away as the surfers had varying success at riding the barrels way offshore. I think I missed my calling in life as a surf photographer but perhaps it had more to do with the excellent lighting conditions I had that afternoon. This spot was amazing for capturing the surfers walking out pretty much to the reef as the water was shallow enough and it made for some cool photos as they stared down the waves crashing in front of them. While waiting for the sets to roll through I had a bit of an explore of the area and found a cool six and half legged starfish that must have been in the wars. It was on the beach instead of in the water but it slowly made it's way back to the shallows over the course of the evening. I sat on that beach for over an hour and was lucky enough to capture the famous green flash phenomenon that occurs as the sun dips below the horizon (see last photo of the below gallery). With a fantastic day on the Cape to Cape over, I headed back up the hill and enjoyed fish and chips for dinner along with a couple of cheeky glasses of wine before retiring to my tent.
Final Thoughts - This had been a long time coming and it felt great to finally be out here on the Cape to Cape.
This is a day that in my opinion is the perfect introductory day. It's short enough that you can organise whatever travel arrangements you need to and not feel pressured to bust out the kilometres to make Yallingup by sunset.
Add in that the scenery while still spectacular, doesn't really hold a candle to what you'll see over the next five days in terms of variety and wow moments. It's lovely coastline and Sugarloaf Rock is impressive but there are long stretches where the view is the same.
That being said, the wildflowers on this first day were stunning and more than make up for any same-same-ness of the views past Sugarloaf Rock. With a hearty collection of flowering scrubs and different orchids, you'll be hard pressed to say bad things about this section from winter through to late spring.
All in all, a great start and a nice teaser for some epic walking ahead.
Get out there and experience it!!!
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