Yardie Gorge Trail
Start - End of Yardie Creek Road
Length - 3.1km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Ground
Vertical Climb - 93m
Time - 1 Hour
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 4th August 2021
Best Time - Dry Season (April to September)
Traditional Custodians - Thalanyji People
Directions - Located about 90km from Exmouth, head north out of town on Murat Road and take a left on Yardie Creek Road. Follow the signs for Cape Range National Park and drive all the way to the end of Yardie Creek Road where you will find a large car park. The trail starts on the south side of the car park with an information board for the two walks in the area.
The Hike - With the depths of winter descending on Perth and one of the wettest Julys on record, it was a blessed relief that another family holiday had been planned with the in-laws for early August at the sunny location of Exmouth. This is starting to become a bit of an annual tradition with Grannam wanting to escape the cold of Perth and the north of the state providing warm relief. Given my visits to "Australia's Coral Coast" have been limited to a few visits to Lancelin and Jurien Bay, I was keen to explore one of the last big areas not covered on the website, plus snorkel some of the best coral reef in the world along Ningaloo.
With a week long trip on the cards, I had roughly planned out what I wanted to do but would adjust plans to suit the weather and what everyone was keen to do. First up on the agenda, the day after we arrived, was a bucket list item for many travellers to this part of the world and one thing I was looking forward to the most, a swim with the Whale Sharks. The full day excursion with Ningaloo Blue was really enjoyable but just as luck would have it, it was only the second day of the season where they didn't have a Whale Shark come through. While it was slightly disappointing that we didn't get to swim with the gentle giants of the ocean, we had a great day out spotting an Orca pack as they successfully hunted a baby Humpback (was an exciting but sad experience to witness) and I got to swim with some Manta Rays. Given there were no Whale Sharks, we have a coupon for a return visit and this is a good excuse to plan a road trip next year for more Coral Coast adventures.
With that adventure in the books, the following day was set aside to explore Cape Range National Park and some of the area that is part of Caris' family history. Back in the '60s, her family had the pastoral lease for a significant part of this region, including parts of what is now the township of Exmouth. Her mother and aunt, who were both on this trip, grew up on the Yardie Homestead (now a caravan park) with Grannam as the matriarch of the family. They sold the lease a while after the Americans arrived to build their military bases and the radio towers that dominate the northern part of the cape. As part of today's expedition we would be visiting Yardie Creek to do the boat tour but I also had my sights set on the walk trail that takes you along the edge of the creek. Caris, Candy and Hal were all keen to join me so we set off a little earlier than everyone else so we could get in the hike well before the boat tour and while it was still relatively cool.
The drive up and around the cape into the national park is a really enjoyable one with the range to one side and Ningaloo Reef to the other. While I was excited to get in the crystal clear waters and explore the reef, this wasn't a bad day to be out hiking thanks to the cooler temperatures and the wind being a bit blowy. Arriving at the car park, we all faffed around getting our gear ready before departing along the Yardie Nature Walk, a short trail that leads to the longer Yardie Gorge Trail and takes you to a nice lookout. This an easier option for those not comfortable with rocky terrain as the path is wide and relatively flat. From the get-go I was happy to see a number of wildflowers lining the trail and immediately began snapping away while the others ventured up ahead. This gave me time to enjoy the start of the trail and get some shots of everyone walking towards the dramatic looking cliffs in the distance that line Yardie Creek. In such a dry area of the state, Yardie Creek is a bit of an oasis when the summer rains have been generous and with a recent downpour, the creek was looking pretty full (although as the tour guide said later, the creek has cycles that change conditions for all the wildlife that live here).
Meandering along and enjoying the many different views along the way, I caught up to the other at the end of the Yardie Nature Walk where there is a lookout right next to the water. Starting the Yardie Gorge Trail requires a slight backtrack to an information board and from here it is a bit less manicured as you follow white poles up and over the rocky valleys. At the top of the first little hill I was looking back towards the ocean and noticed something perched on one of the smaller bushes. Using my camera to zoom in, I saw that it was an Osprey just chilling on a branch so quickly snapped a few photos and alerted the others so they could admire the bird of prey. This whole area is a haven for wildlife with the water providing a life source that so many creatures depend on. As we made our way into the first of a couple of valleys where seasonal creeks flow, we could see some others looking towards the cliffs near the water and sure enough, there were some Black-flanked Rock Wallabies lounging around in the morning sunshine. There are signs letting you know not to venture past a certain point so as not to disturb their habitat so it was a case of squinting hard to make out where they were.
As it turns out, the person at the bottom of the valley was a dashing European man that had been our our Whale Shark trip the day before and so when we recognised each other there was a jovial hello. He had his young son with him so settled the mystery about why he was alone on the tour, not that there was anything wrong with that at all. Climbing out of the valley, we moved onto the last climb of this short walk as the trail follows a safe distance from the edge of the cliffs. Now a little higher above the creek that earlier parts of the trail, the scenery becomes pretty spectacular as you start getting views of the upper gorge snaking through Cape Range. With such a deep canyon compared to the current water levels, it's hard to imagine the creek ever getting so high as to break over but over the millennia it must have done so a few times (or perhaps worn away when sea levels were higher). Reaching the bend in the creek, this is one of the best spots for the views as you can stare right down into the gorge and also to the east where you can see how deep the gorge runs.
It was a pretty cool moment to stand there and appreciate this ancient landscape where the forces of wind and water have created such a rugged beauty. Snapping away at everything that caught my eye, down below a two person kayak came into view and was a nice focal point against the dark waters and bright boulders that litter the edge of the creek. We would be down there soon on the boat tour so it was nice to get this perspective. Caris and Candy had stopped at where the trail naturally ends but Hal had ignored the signs and kept wandering up the hill (he isn't great with following rules). While Caris and Candy headed back, I went after Hal to give him a good talking to, along with snap some more photos from higher up. There is an over the top "summit" cairn at the top of the cliff (please adhere to the Leave No Trace principles and don't add to it) where I found Hal and we turned around to join the others. As we were doing this something caught my eye and I believe it was the same Osprey as before, searching for something to eat in the bottom of the gorge. The walk back was very pleasant with stunning views of the ocean and a couple more wallaby sightings. Not a bad start to the Cape Range selection of hikes.
Yardie Creek Boat Tour - A trip out here wouldn't be complete without experiencing the boat tour that runs periodically during the dry season (see the website for times and dates to book). Running for about an hour, the small boat takes you up and down Yardie Creek, as far as the water levels at the time will allow. Included is a running commentary from either the owner Peter or Ash, a local wildlife guide. With the hike up the gorge completed, we made our way back to the car park and picnic area to meet up with Caris' mother, partner and grandmother, who were not keen on the hike and had driven down separately. After slight amounts of faffing, we all headed down to the beach and inlet crossing for a look before hopping on the boat at the jetty. Today we would have Ash as our guide and his jovial nature was on full display as we gently cruised up the creek. He has a wealth of knowledge of the area and the wildlife that call this place home so was always scanning the cliffs for Rock Wallabies, birds and the various nests that have been built over the years.
It didn't take long before we spotted our first Rock Wallaby and this would begin the counting game to see how many we would see over the course of the tour (end total was about 30). These endangered marsupials love it here but numbers were as low as half a dozen when Ash started doing tours here so it was nice to hear the population has rebounded. Meandering along the way and skipping from one side to the other, there were plenty of stops to admire the Wallabies or the Osprey nests built high up on the cliff faces. After seeing it from above, this perspective was quite cool and certainly made you appreciate how high the cliffs get in places and what a great spot it makes for the Rock Wallabies to shelter. It seemed their favourite activity was to sit in the sun and soak in the warmth of the winter rays. The tour passed very quickly and before long we had reached the end of where the boat could journey and were headed back to the jetty. I can highly recommend this tour and it's worth it just for the knowledge passed on about the history of the creek and all that lives here.