The Cape to Cape Track (part 2)

Prevelly to Conto Camp (19.5km)

I had checked the weather on the internet at the backpackers and asked the locals; the concurrence was that the fronts approaching would all slip away to the south, just missing the southwest corner, leaving a fine, if overcast day. We decided to push on despite the grey sky - just as we reached the cycle path again the first drops of rain fell. They soon passed and we left the cycle path to climb up the ridge behind Prevelly via a series of tracks and firetrails.

Just past the communication tower, the first of several heavy showers drove us into the shelter of the peppermints lining the track. Slightly damp, we headed on, our moods improved by the display of kangaroo paws, daisies and other small flowering herbs that had colonised the broad firetrail.

Firebreak through the woodland behind Prevelly

Kangaroo paws

4m tall grass tree

As the sky gradually cleared we followed Blackboy Hollow Road through bushland scattered with tall grass trees, climbing slowly up to a ridgeline with views over to the farmlands and houses to the east of the National Park. From here the track turned west with more views back out to the sea, a bright blue line at the end of the Boodjidup Valley.

View inland over Boodjidup Valley farmlands

View out to sea down the Boodjidup Valley

Lush vegetation lining Boodjidup Brook

A set of log steps led us down the steep side into the lush vegetation of the valley floor. The guide book says that there are over 300 steps - we counted 352 before we reached the bridge across the Boodjidup Brook. Fortunately there were only 35 steps up the other side before a narrow sandy path led us westward alongside the stream, giving our jellified legs a chance to recover from the descent. Soon we reached the sandy dunes, where the track and the brook turned south, the latter flowing between the hill and the large foredune for several hundred metres before breaking out through a gap into the ocean.

Boodjidup Bridge

Boodjidup Brook flowing through the dunes

This brought us to a 2 km long stretch of soft sand beach. By now, not only had the sun returned, but the wind that blew the clouds away had strengthened to a very brisk sou-wester, whipping up whitecaps on the ocean.

Heading into it on soft sand with heavy packs was not a lot of fun! The secret of walking in soft sand, though, is to follow someone else's footprints (preferable someone with the same stride as yours); so Nello, why don't you just go on a bit and I'll take your photo walking along the beach!!!

Into the sou-wester at Boodjidup Beach

The Mongolian plover - here for its annual
summer vacation

Looking south cross the rocks at Redgate


Scrambling around a couple of sets of low rocks, we finally reached Redgate, where a small plaque commemorated the sinking of the "Georgette" on the rocks just to the south in the 19th century and the dramatic rescue of crew and passengers by two locals on horseback. From the colour of the rocks it was easy to see where Redgate got its name.


Sooty oystercatcher

Dropping down to cross Redgate Beach, a nesting place for the rare hooded plover, we crossed Calgardup Brook in one large step and climbed back up the low cliff on the far side and into the shelter of a grove of gnarly old tea-trees set in a hollow. With the strong winds, it was the perfect place for lunch.

Grass trees flowering after the fire

Continuing on up through the tea-trees, we reached a plateau which undulated behind the cliffs, gaps in the dense heath letting through glimpses of the sea and cold gusts of wind. Ahead of us, the landscape changed dramatically from textured greens to black and white; we were about to enter an area recently burnt by a bushfire (whose origin we later found out was a control burn gone wrong).

The bare bones of the heath revealed by the fire

Looking down through the tea-trees - shades of Halkidiki

As we passed into the fire zone, the blackened skeletons of heathland shrubs contrasted with the bleached white limestone rocks in a surreal scene. However, the grass trees were pushing up their flowering spikes following the burn, some shrubs were already reshooting from their bases and a multitude of small herbs were starting to push through the sandy soil. The bush would recover!

The track led us to the edge of the cliff, where a short steep rock scramble took us down to a broad unburnt ledge that looked down through the tea-trees to ocean. Rounding the ledge, we climbed back up again to a shallow cave set in the limestone cliffs. We had reached Bob's Hollow and it was a good place to sit in the shelter of the wide cave, contemplating the endlessness of the Indian Ocean.

The cave in Bob's Hollow

View north from the ledge near Bob's Hollow

Contemplating the world from Bob's Hollow Cave

A short steep climb up a set of wooden steps brought us out from Bob's Hollow to the start of the tallest cliffs of the walk, reaching 80m above the dunes and ocean below. It is also brought us back into the burnt out zone, which was a pity, as this section is described by the guidebook as "the most spectacular" of the track.

Limestone cliffs near Bob's Hollow

Looking north along the cliff line

Run Nello run! - rainsquall coming in from the sea

The cliffs were certainly impressive, but our attention was more focussed on the dark shapes out to sea. A set of rain squalls was moving rapidly toward the coast and we were in the middle of a completely burnt out area with no shelter at all. So began a race along the cliff edge as we headed south, while the squalls headed east (not happy, control burners!!). We outdistanced the first two and, with luck, reached the only unburnt patch of tea-trees for a long way around just as the third squall hit the coast.

Conto Beach and Cape Freycinet

Recovering the food stash

Rain over, we finally found ourselves heading inland again, leaving the coast and the fire zone for Conto Camp, a very pleasant spot set amongst the trees of the interior forest, complete with picnic tables, fireplaces and sheltered kitchen areas. Just before we arrived, a fourth squall sneaked up behind and dumped on us - oh well, 3 out of 4 ain't bad!

We set up our tent, recovered our food stash, and life was once again good. The storage fee for the food was quite cheap too; only one bag of nuts eaten by the bush rat who lived under the grass tree. That night we sat around a camp fire, exchanging stories with a pleasant couple from Tasmania, but not for long. It had been a tiring day, our longest so far, and the comfort of our sleeping bags was calling.

Nature smiles on the Gnoocardup forest

A day off at Conto

Conto Campground being in such a nice bush setting, and having spent four days overnighting on the coast, we thought it would be a pleasant break to spend an extra day here. Moreover, it offered the chance to visit Lake Cave, only 2km walk away. The limestone ridge between the two capes is dotted with over 200 known caves, so a visit to at least one of them is essential if you want to get a good feel for this region.


Campsite at Conto

Another eastern immigrant

It was good to have a chance to sleep in and to wake to the sounds of the forest birds, even though the air was cool and the sky was grey. Our feet greatly appreciated the rest. All that was asked of them was a 4km round trip through the bush to Lakes Cave, where they were rewarded with a hamburger and milkshake for lunch at the cave teahouse.

Along the way we encountered our first snake of the walk; the fair Nello almost trod on it, at which it shot into the bush at such speed we couldn't work out what species it was. The cave itself was at the bottom of a very large sinkhole (formed by the collapse of part of the cave roof) in the middle of the bush. Although not particularly large, comprising one long chamber, it had the attraction of a long pool in which the many formations were mirrored.

The bush near Conto Campsite

Looking down the sinkhole to the cave entrance

Hanging column and stalactites

A collection of limestone straws

Reflections in the underground lake

Ring-necked parrots

We wandered back again for a mid-afternoon siesta as a flock of ring-necked parrots and a pair of western rosellas chirrupped and whistled amongst themselves while feeding on grass seeds near the tent. Nearby wallabies and kangaroos grazed and, in the distance, we could hear the wails of the black cockatoos and the caws of ravens.

Western rosella

That night as we sat around a warm fire, sipping an equally warming glass of red, we agreed that it had indeed been a pleasant place to spend a day!

Conto Campground to Hamelin Bay (22.5 km)

It was a still damp morning, but, by the time we bade farewell to the parrots and the Tasmanians and left Conto, the sun was already emerging and we were looking forward to a day in the Boranup Forest. The route through this inland section of the Cape to Cape Track follows a series of dirt management roads, some quite overgrown, others well used. Descending through the low mallee-like scrub, we quickly reached Point Road Campground in its shady glade of peppermints. Very soon after we found ourselves amongst the tall smooth trunks of karri, as we entered the domain of these forest giants for the first time.


Nello and the giant karri


Forest road beneath through the karri forest

The road began a long and steady climb up and out of the karri grove; we passed a solo Cape to Cape walker, only our third such meeting in five days, perhaps not so surprising as most people do this walk from north to south. The flowers of the forest are more subdued then those of the heath, but in recompense the vegetation is multi-layered and there is always the hope of spotting a rare orchid.

Flattening out on top of the plateau, we found ourselves walking down a corridor lined with weeping peppermint and arching peas, their branches covered with white and orange/maroon flowers, respectively. The edges of the track were scattered with pink, and occasionally yellow, orchids.

Pea and peppermint lined road

Typical karri stand in Boranup

Re-entering the tall karri forest, acacias and karri hazel became the dominant understorey plants. Their branches, covered in tiny cream fluffballs, arching over the track to occasionally impede our passage along this abandoned vehicle route. The pink fairy orchids were very common along this stretch and we spotted our first and only donkey orchid, a bright yellow wasp-mimicking species - orchids are fascinating plants!

Cowslip orchids

Pink fairy orchids

Dunsborough donkey orchids

Looking back to the karri forest in the valley

Turning westward again and changing roads, we climbed steeply up and out of the cool shade of the karri forest into a low and more open eucalypt and peppermint woodland. The roadside here was lined with tiny paper daisies and other microflora as we crossed a grass tree hollow and headed up to a junction leading off to Boranup Trig, at 194m the highest point on our walk.

It seemed unreal that the highest point on our last big walk was 4940m! Leaving our packs at the junction, we made the short detour up to the viewing platform at the trig to look out over the vast sea of green that was Boranup Forest.

Passing the grass tree flats

View from the Trig over the vast green sea of the Boranup forest

Track through the coastal mallee
Returning, we resumed our undulating path westward and then south again. We descended slowly through the mallee-like woodland, surrounded by the low hum of a myriad of pollinating insects providing their services to the flowering plants that lined our path in the warm midday sun. Turning westward once again the descent became steeper as we followed the Boranup Beach Road once more to the sea. Halfway down, a spectacular view opened out over Hamelin Bay with its island of the same name and protecting reef. It was a good place for lunch.

Descending towards Boranup Beach

Looking over the dense heath towards Hamelin Island

The route down through the dunes to the beach was steep and spectacular, eventually breaking out onto the Boranup Beach through a narrow gap. Before us lay the superb sight of 6.5 km of white sand stretching all the way to Hamelin Bay.

On a sunny day with a cooling breeze this should have been a pleasant stroll, but much of Boranup Beach is steep and the sand is very soft - the trip down the beach became a hard calf-burning slog through deep sand, coupled with a few sections where we dodged the waves in a desperate attempt to walk on firmer intertidal sand.

The only real way to deal with such a stretch of beach is zen - focus on the target (the white cliff at the end of the bay), align your breathing with the ebb and flow of the waves, emancipate your mind of negative thoughts and before you know it, you are at the old ruins of Hamelin Bay Jetty, climbing up the wooden steps to the shady green comfort of the Caravan Park, the only development in this quiet part of the southwest corner.

Boranup Beach - six kilometres of soft deep sand

The ruins of the jetty at Hamelin Bay
(where even the stingrays are friendly)

I like coastal areas that have kept their charm of early days and not turned into trendy resorts with tightly packed modern "beach houses". It had been a rewarding day in the forest and even on the beach, but truth be known, if we had a choice of climbing a 1000m high spur in the Himalayas or carrying a heavy pack for several kilometres along a soft-sanded beach, we would choose the climb without hesitation.

Evening falls over Hamelin Island

Hamelin Bay to Deepdene Campsite (10 km)

We had a good sleep-in in our cabin this morning - it was going to be our shortest day's walking of the trip, as we were only planning on heading 10 km down the track to the beginning of Deepdene Beach. By chance or design we had not stayed in any of the specifically constructed Cape to Cape campsites to date and this would be our last opportunity to do so. Moreover the thought of a 27km slog, a sizeable part through soft sand, with full packs was not very appealing. So we set off in good spirits from Hamelin Bay at 10.30 am, stopping to chat to a couple of New Zealanders about the great walks (or should I say tramps) in their country, as we crossed the glary white limestone of White Cliff Point.


Quickly crossing the 800m of soft sand beach to its south, we climbed steeply up and over a frontal dune to pick up a fisherman's access track in the shady hollow behind. A sandy footpath soon left this track and took us over a series of short steep climbs and shallower descents as we slowly worked our way up the heath-covered back dunes, eventually reaching rockier ground and a steady climb up to Foul Bay Lighthouse.

Peppermint thickets behind the frontal dunes

Profile of White Cliff Point

Looking back over our path from White Cliff Point

Crossing the dunes

From the lighthouse (and several points before) there was a superb vista back over Hamelin Island and the path we had taken down the long sandy Boranup Beach. To the south, we overlooked a pretty little bay nestled in to Knobby Head. Across the headland, foaming white breakers crashed on to the rocks and reefs of Cosy Corner, a stark relief to the deep blue of the sea.

Foul Bay Lighthouse

View from the lighthouse over Knobby Head

Panorama of Hamelin Island, White Cliff Point and Hamelin Bay

We could have stayed longer, but, despite the sunshine, the southerly wind was getting a little chilly. We pushed on down the main lighthouse access track, briefly turned coastward down Cosy Corner Road, lined with blue-flowering heath and golden wattles, before once again heading bush along a sandy 4WD track. The track undulated southward through the tall heath, before turning to the sea and the beautiful rocky islets of Cosy Corner.

Heath speckled with the blue fanflowers of Scaevola

Descending towards the reefs of Cosy Corner

Another friendly stumpy-tail

Dropping steeply through the dunes, we emerged at the start of an impressive limestone platform. We followed the narrow platform, eroded into bizaare shapes by wind and water - sets of weirdly shaped towers and deep solution holes that sometimes penetrated several metres through the undercut rock, so that you could watch the surges and listen to the air being sucked in and pushed out by the ocean swell.

Limestone rock platform south of Cosy Corner

Crossing the rock platform

Curiously eroded limestone rocks

Deep fissures in the platform had led to several blocks collapsing at strange angles, adding to the curious landform. It was fascinating as we picked our way slowly across or around this platform, emerging at the northern end of Cape Hamelin. As we climbed up on to the cape, we passed an area littered with beer cans, bottle tops and assorted plastic; white man's midden! At least it was one of the few times that we have seen such a sight on this walk.

The beach at Cosy Corner

Natural rock art

The red rocks of Cape Hamelin

From here we crossed the red rocks of Cape Hamelin - there is something about the contrast of red rocks and deep oceanic blue that really strikes a chord! As we reached the southern end of the cape, we saw for the first time our target, the tiny white silhouette of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, beckoning 18km to the south. Several stumpy-tailed lizards were out sunning themselves on the track as we passed a small rockpool-like bay, crossed a short section of heath and emerged at the start of the long sandy stretch of Deepdene Beach.

Cape Leeuwin beckoning across the sea

No need to worry about soft sand today - we were only heading 600m down the beach before turning inland through a broad gap in the dunes and following a sandy track up and over several rows of dune until we reached the wind-sheltered hollow of Deepdene Campsite. It was a pretty spot, lushly-vegetated with campsites under the shade of gnarly old peppermints; a good place to spend a lazy afternoon, protected from the cold southerly that had sprung up, and enjoy our last night on the Cape to Cape Track.

Limestone cliffs above Turner Brook

Campsite at Deepdene

Sunset over the Indian Ocean

Deepdene to Cape Leeuwin (16.5 km)

It was a cool morning for the start of the last day of our walk. The night had been clear and the the stars above our sheltered hollow brilliant. Breaking camp, we headed back down through the dunes to rejoin Deepdene Beach and start the long haul down its sandy shore. The brisk cool wind was now blowing from the south-east; we were heading south-east! The many qualities of sand that we had come to appreciate on the Great South Coast Walk came back as we pushed on, changes in colour, changes in texture, changes in firmness, but essentially soft and tiring to walk along. We amused ourselves by checking out what flotsam the sea had thrown up along this isolated edge of Australia: bottles from Brazil and Japan, plastic containers from Dubai - it is indeed a big ocean out there; one perfect Reebok sneaker - why don't they ever float in pairs?; a bottle encrusted with barnacles and mussels - how long had it drifted the seas before coming to rest here?


Back through the dunes to Deepdene Beach

So what is a Pacific Gull doing on the Indian Ocean?

Who called the taxi?

Long trudge in the deep soft sand

Passing broad flat sections of beach and others where the sea had recently cut right into the dunes leaving only a narrow steeply sloping sand shelf to pass by, our reveries and musings took us quickly along and we found ourselves at the start of a long limestone platform, eroded and broken into jagged forms. The track crept between dune and rock for over a kilometre, before climbing around Granite Head, where the way in which the limestone had been laid down over the granite bedrock was very evident. Around the headland, the now not-so-distant lighthouse re-appeared to encourage us on.

Deepdene rock platform

Jagged limestone overlaying the smooth granite bedrock

The last stretch of isolated beach

Limestone chimneys exposed in the dunes


This led us back for one last shorter stretch of soft sand before climbing up and over the dunes to avoid a sharp cliff face - we had reached the start of the Augusta Cliffs.

The path took us through low heath along the lower cliff edge, before climbing up into taller heath as we worked our way above the higher cliff-line to the south. After a short detour to take in the splendid views up and down the coast, we pushed on following a new line of track, recently slashed into the 3m high heath.

The northern end of the Augusta Cliffs

Once more the lighthouse calls

For 4-5 km we followed this, as it snaked through the heath behind the cliffs. It was a bit like walking through an endless heath tunnel, with no pleasant spots to sit and rest and only the occasional glimpses of ocean beyond the plant canopy. Perhaps this was appropriate, as we had developed a tunnel vision ourselves, focussed primarily on the ever-nearer view of the lighthouse and the end of the walk. For the only time in our 8 days out, we found ourselves wishing that this part of the track would end.

Cape Leeuwin across Skipy Rocks and Quarry Bay

Eventually it did, breaking out onto another viewing point at the southern end of the Augusta cliffs; but it was not the view over the sea that caught our eyes, but the view behind us to the inland. Above the heath-covered hills a curious brown cloud, the colour of a smoker's lungs, was spreading towards us and the coast. As we ate our lunch, it fanned out above us and out to sea, sucking the blue colour out of the ocean and casting the world in a curious orange glow (later we found out that it was a band of smoke that had resulted from an aerial control burn in a National Park to the east).

Pink light over Cape Leeuwin

Smoke clouds drifting in from the east

The sun at 2 pm

The sun hung above us like a dull red globe as we descended through the dwarf marri to the shore, reaching a sheltered grove with the southern registration station of the walk. We signed out, but there was still a bit more walking to do yet. The lighthouse still beckoned - but with a dull pink glow!

Signing out at the southern registration station

Leaving the station, we briefly rock-hopped around the shoreline to Quarry Bay and its curious tufa cliffs, formed by limestone deposits as water dripped over the cliff face. Leaving the bay, we climbed up onto the flat granite rocks of Cape Leeuwin, following them around to the Leeuwin waterwheel, once a vital part of the lighthouse infrastructure, but now literally frozen in time, calcified by limestone leaching out of the water that once drove it.

Tufa cliffs formed by limestone deposited from water seeps

Calcified waterwheel originally used by the lighthouse keepers

The wind was now sweeping fiercely across the barren cape, but fortunately was also blowing away the smoke cloud that had stained the sky. Such weather is normal for Cape Leeuwin, jutting out at the meeting place of two great oceans, the Indian and the Southern (for those of you who believe in the Southern Ocean) and was a fitting welcome to this far corner of Australia.

End of the track! Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

The 39m tall lighthouse dominates the barren cape

Rock parrots thrive in this windy spot

From here it was but a short stroll up the road to the lighthouse and, suddenly we had nowhere else to go - our Cape to Cape experience was over.