Coastal Survivors Walk
Start - End of D'Entrecasteaux Drive, Windy Harbour
Length - 5.5km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Vehicle Track
Vertical Climb - 109m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - Follow the Information Boards
Date Hiked - 10th October 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Bibbulman People
Directions - Located near the remote hamlet of Windy Harbour on the south coast, from Northcliffe take Windy Harbour Road all the way towards town and then turn right onto D'Entrecasteaux Drive. Follow the signs for Point D'Entrecasteaux and keep going all the way to the end where you'll find a car park. The trail head is on the southern side of the car park with markers on limestone blocks by the path.
The Hike - The last part of my 2020 Spring Road Trip involved a trip down to Pemberton for the Pemby Trail Fest. This fun event put on by Perth Trail Series saw hundreds of trail runners and mountain bikers descend on Pemberton for a weekend of events and good natured frivolity. On the Friday night I had survived my first trail run with a night run through Gloucester National Park but today I would be helping out Melina by being parking coordinator for the event village and then a trail marshal out on the course. If you were at the event then I was cheering you on right before the larger than expected creek crossing in the middle of the forest.
With my marshalling duties over, I figured I had enough time to check out a trail before sunset but the question would be, which one? I'd already done all the marked trails around Pemberton and while they are fantastic, I was after something new. Casting my net a little further afield, I figured I could get out to Windy Harbour and back for a trail that has been on my to-hike list for quite a while. Given the remote location for what is a relatively short walk, it never made sense to add it to previous trips or in the case of my 2017 road trip, the car wouldn't have made it out there. With the destination decided I really had to rush so I could drive the 45 minutes out there, get the trail in and then make it close enough to Pemberton before dark as driving through the open plains either side of Windy Harbour Road would be sketchy at dusk due to the wildlife. The drive was really enjoyable with a much different landscape to what makes up the majority of the South West and I got to pass an old favourite in Mount Chudalup. Arriving at the car park at Point D'Entrecasteaux, the air was unseasonably calm and it was a magical spring evening for a coastal hike.
The first thing that struck me was the golden carpet of flowering bushes leading all the way down to the ocean. Talk about a great start to a hike, this was turning out to be one of those great spare of the moment decisions. Going ultralight on this hike with just my camera, I found the right path for the Coastal Survivors Walk and headed off to immerse myself in the yellows of the Acacias. When I first heard about this hike I was expecting something along the lines of a trail telling the tail of shipwreck survivors, much like the information boards at Mandalay Beach tell you about the fate of the Mandalay. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the first of many information boards telling you about the wildlife, geology and plant life that are the real survivors of this wild and windswept part of Western Australia. The nature of this trail means you head downhill for the first half before turning back and heading back uphill to the starting point. This is no bad thing with the opportunity to enjoy things from a different perspective and I wasn't going to say no to seeing the flowering Acacia again. While I only had a limited time to get this trail in, I was stopping quite frequently to photograph the contrast between the Acacias and the blue of the ocean.
It really was a treat walking along the limestone path and taking it all in. Still adjusting back to using my old Nikon D5300 that doesn't autofocus anymore, I tried my best to capture the beauty of the area. Along with the Acacia flowers, there were a number of other coastal plants in the thick scrub that provided a splash of colour including Flame Peas, Snakebush, Fan Flowers, some kind of Melaleuca, Golden Buttercups, Hakea and Coastal Banjine. Mixed in with the flowering shrubs were a healthy dose of Balgas and Banksias, both in flower and providing some interesting features to photograph. The meander down the hill was very relaxing and I figured I could take my time given I wouldn't be taking too many photos on the way back. With views looking over the open ocean and towards the sheltered bay where Windy Harbour lies, the scenery never seems same same thanks to the snaking nature of the path. One moment it might be showing you the ocean then it loops around and gives you views of the vast plains of D'Entrecasteaux National Park.
A small dot on the horizon was the peak of Mount Chudalup and it provided a nice feature for the endless stretches of green to the north. This part of Western Australia is mostly untouched and I don't think people realise just how expansive it is until they look at a map. I'm a big fan of having this much relative wilderness just left to it's own device and while it would be nice to have more trails in the area, the low lying nature of the landscape means it gets flooded for the middle part of the year. Heading down the hill, it was a nice mix of closed in coastal heath, wildflowers and then the different views overlooking the oceans and inland swamps. Reaching the first of a couple of beaches access points along the trail, this one getting close to the towering spire of Cathedral Rock jutting out into the ocean. An impressive geological feature, I was a little too late to capture it in the right light so was forced to make do with the shadows. From Cathedral Rock you head inland a little bit and behind the dunes to experience the seasonal swamps that are home to plenty of wildlife. Spotting a few kangaroos, they bounced off before I could get a good photo but it wouldn't be my last sighting.
Reaching the second beach access point, this one is dog friendly now the artificial border of the national park has ended as you approach town. A set of stairs leads up from behind the dunes and takes you to a small wooden lookout that I enjoyed for a few moments, taking in the gentle lapping of the waves and admiring the various coastal formations. Heading back down the stairs, it wasn't far until the outskirts of town where the trail ends but on this short stretch I was treated to a few Blue Fairy Wrens flittering about and several kangaroos feeding on the plentiful spring grasses. Most of them were a bit curious as to what I was doing and stood there staring back at me, providing some nice photos. I reached the edge of town with a grass lane housing several dwellings, a cool old tractor and a couple of young Dragon Trees (I have two 40yo trees in my backyard that I quite like). Figuring this was a good point to turn around and not wanting to intrude on the locals, I made my way back the way I came, stopping to photograph more kangaroos that had shown up. The return leg was just as enjoyable with the sun getting lower in the sky and the light getting that beautiful afternoon glow to it. On theme for the weekend, I was joined by a trail runner for a brief period as I made my way back up the hill.
Almost running myself, I arrived at the start point with only one side trip that I'd saved until the end in order to get better lighting. The Windows Lookout is a very short excursion from the car park and takes you to a very pretty part of the area that really amplifies this walk from being a pleasant coastal trail to something more special. A stainless steel lookout at the end of the wooden boardwalk gives you some amazing views of a window carved into the limestone over the aeons. Looking straight down to the water, it's nice to spend some time here watching the waves crash into the cliffs. Even in a very gentle day it produced a nice effect but I imagine on a wild day it would be pretty spectacular. Taking many photos of the various crevices, blowholes and gnarly rock faces, this was a great way to finish the hike. Along with the Windows Lookout you get some great views of Point D'Entrecasteaux and the very low lying Quagering Island just offshore. While I would have loved to have stayed here for sunset, I had just under an hour of driving to get back to Pemberton so headed back to the car and dodged the kangaroos all over the road as I left. I couldn't help but take the short detour to check out the lookout over Salmon Beach and was treated to some dramatic coastal cliffs bathed in the golden light of dusk. What a finish and what a great area to visit.
Final Thoughts - D'Entrecasteaux National Park is one of the biggest in the state but despite this, trails of a decent length are a bit scarce. As I said earlier, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it leaves the wilderness to just exist on its own but this hike showcases just how nice trails could be in this area.
Getting to experience this trail in near perfect conditions at the right time of year for the wildflowers has elevated it over if I'd visited say in autumn but even without the carpets of Acacia, this is still a nice trail. Seeing the dramatic limestone cliffs and linking up Windy Harbour to Point D'Entrecasteaux provides an activity for holiday makers along with making the drive out worthwhile.
Having been on the to-hike list for a while, I am happy to have finally ticked this one off and will return in the future for a further exploration of the area.
Get out there and experience it!
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