Tagon Coastal Trail
Start - Thomas River Campground, Cape Arid NP
Length - 13.7km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Path, Granite, Beach
Vertical Climb - 205m
Time - 3-5 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Green Boot
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 4th October 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wudjari People
Directions - Cape Arid National Park is located about an hour and a half east of Esperance. Take Fisheries Rd north out of town and keep following this east for 100km until you reach the turnoff for Tagon Road. Take a right here and follow it all the way into the park towards Thomas River Campground. The trail head is located on the road leading towards the beach and you can park on the edge of the road.
The Hike - The Tagon Coastal Trail is one that has been on my list ever since my podcast partner visited in 2019 and raved about how fantastic the scenery was. With my Spring 2020 Road Trip taking me to the Esperance area to explore some of the remaining trails in the area, I decided that this would be the day that I would drive out to Cape Arid NP and tackle this coastal trail. Unfortunately the weather was still forecast to be cold, wet and windy but I was here so rain, hail or shine, I would be doing this walk.
Staying at Lucky Bay Campground in Cape Le Grand, I had great memories of this place from a trip here in 2018 with Caris. This time I was not blessed with great weather but I made the effort to wake up for the sunrise and managed to get onto the beach for a few minutes before it started to bucket down. I found refuge in a gazebo near the beach waited out the shower in the freezing cold but at least I got some moody morning light from this iconic WA location. With the shower over, I retreated to my tent and had a bit of a lie down and some breakfast before packing up my gear (I would return later that day but wasn't leaving my Nemo Hornet there all day). With this trail being the only thing I had to do today, I enjoyed a leisurely drive out to Cape Arid NP after making myself a nice cup of Earl Grey for the journey. I've only just realised this as I started writing this post but I ended up taking the worst route possible along Merivale Road, which is all gravel and was a bit muddy and corrugated. Instead I should have taken a left turn at Jim Ovens Road and then right onto Fisheries Road that is all tarmac to the Cape Arid turnoff and runs parallel to Merivale Road, just further north.
Mistake made but I still managed a good pace and the car would have ended up filthy thanks to the entry road into the Thomas River Campground being a light coloured mud/loam combination that stuck everywhere to the underside of my car (as per the gallery above). After driving around the campground like an idiot trying to find the trail head, I eventually found it on the road leading to the beach (that was closed during my visit thanks to the Thomas River being a bit full). While I was driving into the park there was a shower passing through so by the time I had my gear together, the sunny skies had returned and I was free to walk in beautiful conditions. The first challenge was getting onto the beach at Yokinup Bay because the Thomas River was blocking the way and I didn't really want to wade through the waist deep water 30m into the hike. There was a goat track to the right where people had ventured to go around the stagnant water but it wasn't easy to find a way through the scrub. Eventually I dropped down onto the beach and was presented with a pretty special scene thanks to oodles of white sand, wild surf washing in and the distant peak of Mount Arid. It felt very much like the view you get at Point Ann at Fitzgerald River with the Mid Barrens providing some hilly features in the distance and a wide bay of perfect white sand giving off an idyllic holiday vibe.
Admiring the views as I made my way along the edge of the beach towards the headland on the right, this was actually turning out to be a pretty fine day apart from the cooler temperatures. They don't show up in the photos so it could have been a balmy spring day and given the luminous azure colour of the water, it certainly looks that way. One thing that this part of Western Australia is not short of is stunning coastline complete with perfect beaches, granite headlands and photogenic water. Reaching the first headland, this is one of the larger sections of granite that takes you up and over towards Dolphin Cove. After climbing up the bare rock for a brief stretch, you join a single track path as it provides a more sheltered and less dangerous route along the edge of the water. Already there were some lovely wildflowers on the side of the trail but soon the single track ends and you start following wooden posts and green boot markers as you head out onto the granite. This type of walking was what I was looking forward to and the path takes you pretty close to where the granite slides off into the water. It's a very pretty scene as the combination of orange, blacks, turquoise and deep blues all mix together for a dramatic palette.
I had my eyes fixed on the ocean as this sheltered bay would be the perfect place for a passing whale to seek a bit of refuge. Having done a fair bit of coastal hiking over the past few weeks, I was a little disappointed not to see a whale frolicking just offshore but that's hardly a big complaint given what I'd experienced. From the waters edge you start to climb up the headland towards the highest point of the trail at a giddy 50m ASL. Providing a bit of variety, it was nice to head into the coastal heath as there were plenty of flowering Acacia that caught my eye. While the whales were hiding away, I managed to spot a couple of kangaroos on the edge of a granite opening and slowly made my way closer to get a better shot. I got a few of them carefully watching me before they decided that was it and bolted off into the undergrowth. Reaching the top of the little climb, the views from up here were magnificent. There was plenty to occupy your eyesight with views overlooking Dolphin Cove, Little Tagon Bay and Tagon Point in the distance. Blessed to have sunny conditions here and no one about, it really felt like this little slice of paradise was all mine to explore.
Rising up and over the small dune that blocks the way between the granite headland and Dolphin Cove Beach, it was a nice feeling to do some beach walking. I started out this trip doing the Cape to Cape Track and while some may think there is too much beach walking on that trail, I love the opportunity to get right up to the water and breath in the freshness of the ocean. The first of three beaches on this trail, it's a very short 500m stroll along the perfect white sands and with the excellent weather continuing, I was having a blast. The sand wasn't super compact but it wasn't shin deep soft either so I could enjoy watching the waves crash and admire the lovely views across the bay to Mount Arid. Reaching the end of the beach, the trail takes a direct route up the granite face where the water, sand and rock all meet at the same place. I enjoy that this trail doesn't have a lot of infrastructure as they could have easily put a set of stairs leading into the dunes but it was decided that a jaunt up bare granite would be more enjoyable (and it is). Following the simple wooden posts up the rock face, I soon arrived at one of the rock fishing spots along the coast here.
A little cove where the granite plunges right into the water, there is a safety ring attached to a post that along with being there for the fisher people, is a good feature to photograph. There are warning signs as you start the trail about rock fishing and given the remote location, I wouldn't want to be doing it alone just in case a king wave comes and washes you off. I was more interested in watching the waves wash over the granite and the interesting colours that ensued afterwards so took a few photos and then moved on. Walking up the slight hill, the cool colours continued as the patterns in the orange granite were fascinating, mixed in with areas where the sea water had evaporated and left just a white salt crust. Leaving the granite, the trail heads into the scrub again where I found a few new wildflowers and enjoyed a short break from the coastal views. This very small headland doesn't last too long and soon you are heading back down towards the second of the three beaches. As you descend you are treated to some excellent views of Little Tagon Bay and the granite dome at the end of the beach. This was one of my favourite views of the whole trail with the combination off Banksias, wildflowers, turquoise waters and green headland providing a postcard perfect scene.
The entry to the beach is via a little set of winding stairs and the first thing you notice is how rocky it is to your left. Over the aeons the granite has slowly eroded away and left these boulders strewn along the beach, providing a nice feature to explore. Little Tagon Beach is only a couple of hundred metres long so feels like it's over in an instant but is still a nice stretch of walking. I think the short length makes for better photos as the headland appears bigger compared to the beach and I was fortunate enough to still have sunny skies here. Savouring the pleasantness, I reached the end of the beach and climbed up onto another granite patch that had a bit more vegetation on it. Following the single path as it winds up the hill, I rounded a corner and was confronted with a bit of a shock thanks to a local. A big male emu was standing tall on the trail with his chest all puffed out and thanks to some quick reflexes, I was able to get some shots in before he turned and ran away. Emus are funny creatures when you see them on the trail as usually they panic in an amusing fashion as they run off in every direction all at the same time. This one had good reason to flee as I soon found out, it had a small chick to look after so was desperate to find it before the potentially bad human could do anything.
I slowly crept around the corner and found the big emu standing still and making the iconic drum noise to let it's chick know where it was. I spotted a flash run across the trail and got a blurry photo of the chick as it headed off away from me, followed closely by the big male. That was the last I saw of them but as I continued up the bare granite opening, I could hear the occasional drum noise. With a kangaroo and an emu sighting already, I was feeling good but secretly hoping for a whale heading past off the coast. Crossing the lower slopes of the granite dome that forms the headland here, it was nice to see some rocks in the shape of an arrow pointing in the right direction. As I reached the views overlooking Tagon Beach, my luck with the weather appeared to be coming to an end. Grey clouds were forming in the distance and the sea was starting to look angry my friends. Between the granite and the beach is a lovely dune section that I made a note to really enjoy as I would soon be on a 2km stretch of beach exposed to the incoming elements. Throughout this little stretch I was happy to discover a small mushroom, some nice lichen growing on a burnt out branch and some flowering Showy Banksias.
Feeling the first spots of rain as I entered the beach, I was actually excited for the incoming weather as the moody scene it had created was pretty cool. I wish I had more time to explore the dark rocky shelf and little boulder field to the left of the beach before the rains came but I did manage to get a little look around before the heavens opened up. I walked along the dark granite for as long as I could because it was much easier than the soft sand and stopped every now and then to get some shots of the dark skies contrasted against the still bright rocks. What a difference less than ten minutes makes and soon I was scrambling to put on my rain jacket as the rains got heavier. Having a bit of experience in the past few weeks with walking in the rain and wind along a beach (thank you Hamelin Bay), it was just a case of waiting for the shower to pass and accepting the conditions. I stopped occasionally to take a photo of the pounding surf and at one point looked behind me to get a pretty nice view of the waves breaking in the foreground and Mount Arid in the background. Almost as soon as the rain had started, the shower had passed and with half of the beach completed, I was treated to sunny skies again. You can probably tell by the photos but it really was instant with the change from bleak conditions to nice sunny skies because that's WA for you.
Taking off my rain jacket, I was free to enjoy the walk again until the next shower rolled through. As I approached the end of the beach I noticed a couple of Pied Oystercatchers in the distance. These normally pretty chill birds are really photogenic and I love seeing them on coastal walks but these two seemed pretty annoyed at my presence. They kept circling above me and making a racket so I figured they had a nest nearby that they were protecting. I took the opportunity to photograph them against the blue skies and let them know in pretty plain English that I wasn't after their nests but I don't think they understood me. At the end of the beach I found a little trickle of tannin stained water that required a couple of big jumps to get over with Tagon Creek having enough water in it to flow into the ocean. As I went to ascend the granite at the end of the beach, one of the Pied Oystercatchers landed in the scrub not far off the trail ahead so I'm assuming that any walker doing this section would be getting a good telling off thanks to the location of the nest. I moved up the granite quickly to not anger the birds anymore than I needed to and started the final section towards the finish at Kennedy Beach. Reaching the top of the little dome, there was a pretty nice scene looking back at Tagon Beach and the shower that had just passed through retreating to the east.
Following the trail as it rounds the northern edge of the granite dome of Tagon Point, the wildflowers through here were very enjoyable. Knowing I was close to the end, I slowed up to appreciate the views and admire all the little details that show up on these granite domes. Rounding a corner, the final treat of this trail came into view with a large rounded boulder making a nice feature to photograph against the start of Kennedy Beach. The trail takes you pretty close to the base of the boulder so I ended up with plenty of shots of it from all different angles. Descending down the dunes towards the beach, I found the information board for those starting at this end (also is handy to know where the turnaround point is so you don't accidentally keep walking). Unfortunately the trail here had some evidence of idiots in their 4x4s trying to drive up into the dunes before being thwarted by the terrain. You can drive onto Kennedy Beach but I'll never understand those that try and bush bash their way through this type of terrain. Walking out onto Kennedy Beach, I was enjoying this section with the granite dome extending out into the water reminding me of Misery Beach in Albany. The tall dunes here also provided a nice feature to photograph and the much wider stretch of beach was looking stunning in the bright sun. Out to sea were the Twin Peak Islands, part of the Archipelago of the Recherche that is a pretty feature of this corner of Western Australia. Exploring the beach a little bit, I eventually headed back to do the return leg knowing that I'd probably cop another shower in the process.
Sure enough, at the same point as the previous shower along Tagon Beach it started to rain again. With the trail fully photographed I decided to put my camera back in my bag to not risk getting it damaged and this should have been the end of the story. Stupidly, once the shower got a bit lighter I decided to bring it back out to photograph the dark skies. As I reached the end of Tagon Beach it started to rain a bit more and I thought it wouldn't last very long. I tried to hide in the undergrowth of the dune system but this didn't work very well and the rain kept getting heavier. By the time it stopped I was drenched and despite my best efforts to shield my camera by hiding it under my pack cover, it was a little bit wet. Error messages flashed up that kept changing as the camera dried out but at this point I wasn't too worried. Thinking I would get to the car, give it a dry off with a towel and sit it in the sun as I drove back to Lucky Bay, it would eventually come back to life. Long story short, it didn't dry out enough and the repair bill came out to the cost of a replacement camera so my investment in a fancy new camera lasted a grand total of three months. In the end it was my own fault and I accepted that pretty quickly but it also meant the end of my road trip. I only had two more trails planned but that just means I have an excuse to return in better weather to tackle them. The Tagon Coastal Trail will forever be etched in my mind as the trail I ruined an expensive camera but despite the slightly bitter experience, I really enjoyed the experience thanks to the stunning landscapes and rugged terrain.
Final Thoughts - Cape Arid has an "ends of the earth" type feel to it for me and to a certain extent this is true. An isolated part of Western Australia with one way in and out, it's also the last stretch of vegetated coastline before the towering cliffs of the Great Australian Bight.
I really got a sense of that when I was here and that's part of the appeal. While Kennedy Beach is 4x4 accessible and you do come across a couple of access points along the trail, I never felt like it was intruding on my experience like the coastline between Peaceful Bay and Boat Harbour did on the Bibbulmun Track.
The isolated nature of the park combined with the distance from Perth means this will never feel too crowded. That means you're likely to get the whole trail to yourself, something that I really enjoyed.
The distance is pretty manageable if you're a regular day hiker and I love that it is a decent hike considering the time it takes to get out here. Exploring empty beaches and granite headlands of this quality is a luxury and we should consider ourselves very lucky to have access to something this special.
It may be the location where I lost a camera but I'll forever be fond of this place for the excellent scenery and wonderful hike that is the Tagon Coastal Trail.
Get out there and experience it!
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