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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cape to Cape - exploring south-west WA

Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste

Visiting the southwest corner of Western Australia is like having, as Forrest Gump would say, a veritable box of chocolates. So many choices, all delicious, all beautiful, all enchanting.

From the famous wineries (with over one hundred cellar doors to visit for free tastings), to chocolate factories, boutique breweries, small family owned cheese makers, olive farms, berry farms and jam, relish and sauce makers, to the sumptuous feast of the magnificent scenery.

White sandy beaches with rolling surf, unspoilt ocean foreshores without buildings and only the windswept bushes and grasses as decoration, to haunting stands of giant karri trees reaching majestically up into the sky. From the underground labyrinth of dozens of caves displaying real gems of amethyst, of limestone stalactites and stalagmites that rival any cave system in the world for beauty and awe, to the inspiring twin lighthouses on each cape, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste.

Phew, that all sounds over the top, but believe me, this small area of this massive continent has it all, plus some. And the funny thing is, it is all do-able in just a few days, or even a weekend if you pushed it.

We started our self-drive journey at the seaside town of Busselton, famous for its two kilometre long wooden piled jetty, the longest of its type in the world. Its quaint little buildings, pretty little beach, and 1950s feel, makes Busselton a very pleasant stop for an ice cream or lunch, and a walk or miniature train ride out to the end of the jetty.

Weather permitting, there is also an underwater observatory under the jetty which apparently allows visitors to view sharks, fish and anything else that might be lurking in the waters of the Indian Ocean at Busselton. Unfortunately although a fine day when we visited, the observatory was closed because of the choppy swell and high wind.

Back on the road south and we soon found ourselves smack in the wine area, with dozens of wineries and cellars tempting us to stop and sample, but we chose to keep going. We passed through the little hamlets of Carbunup River and Cowaramup and after about forty-five minutes, we entered the township of Margaret River, the central hub of this region that produces only 4% of Australia’s wines, yet supplies over 20% of the award winning wines.

We could see straight away that the town was quaint, cute, pretty, and had no traffic lights or McDonalds. We decided that this would be a great place to stay for a week and chill out from the hustle and bustle of city life, and write or paint. Or taste wines.

Further south from Margaret River township is the little village of Witchcliffe, which is surrounded by more wineries. The lush greenness of the surrounding bushland was most enjoyable and we were driving through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park so it was comforting to know that this lovely area will remain unspoilt for many generations to come.

Karridale was a tiny little village which once was the most important town in the area and the first area settled. As the logging of the giant Karri trees was phased out to allow the area to remain a National Park, most residents moved and formed the other towns in the area where more sustainable work could be found.

We were now heading to the southern-most town of Augusta, a fishing port which marks the spot where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet, providing a little cove of protection in a blustery and windswept landscape. Augusta has always had a seafaring life, with little beach shacks, nets laid out to dry, boats pulled up from the water’s edge, and little shopfronts offering the freshest seafood one could ever hope to buy.

Augusta overlooks isolated Flinders Bay, a totally unspoilt crescent of white beach with some little rocky headlands jutting out and being pelted by the big green waves which rolled in and smashed themselves on the rock in a plume of white froth and spray. The sea smelt oh so salty here, much more salty that I had ever encountered anywhere else. But the best chocolate in the box was called Flinders Bay, because just out in front of us we were gob smacked to see a pod of big whales breaching, their big, dark, cumbersome torsos rolling and ducking up out of the water, then diving back down again. Up again, a squirt of water as they exhaled through their nose holes, then a glimpse of a giant tail flying up into the air, then smacking down into the water with a big splash.

We had pulled over at Flinders Bay to admire the view. We stood on that bitterly cold, windswept beach for ages just watching in awe as nature provided us with a very precious gift. This moment surpassed even the best chardonnay and viognier we had tried at all the wineries! Seriously, it was a wonderful sight and we knew that we were truly blessed to have witnessed this.

Reluctantly we climbed back into the car to continue the short drive up to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the saviour of many a ship which has come too close to the treacherous coastline on this, the most south-westerly point of Australia. Built in 1895, this lighthouse protects one of Australia’s busiest seaways, is Australia’s tallest lighthouse, and its beam can be seen up to 47 kilometres away.

We retraced the road back into Augusta, then took the Cave Road tourist route which hugs the beautiful coastline as we headed north, although with the dunes and the lovely bush, we could not see the coast. There are, however, numerous signposts signalling the turn off to beaches such as Hamelin Bay, Prevelly Park and Gracetown.

At one point, we stopped the car to breath in the majesty of a giant karri forest which was obviously hundreds of years old. So quiet, so peaceful here. A great photo opportunity of the handsome eucalypts which are unique to this part of Australia, and whose trunks grow straight and tall up to 90 metres in height. The wood of the karri is very sought after for building, particularly for roofs, as the long, straight, knot-free timber is ideal.

The Caves Road wound its way north through lovely pockets of bushland, dairy, goat and sheep farms, wine estates, and meadows. A lovely drive indeed and a good road too. Just after we passed through the town of Yallingup, we turned into another seaside town called Dunsborough which marks the end of the Caves Road and brought us to the top part of the south-west corner, near another famous lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste.

We drove the fifteen minutes or so out to the lighthouse and enjoyed some of the many walking tracks that are wheelchair friendly and which wind their way up the cape to the lighthouse itself. The view from the top is magnificent as it looks southwards along the beaches and down to Cape Leeuwin in the far distance.

There is a walking track called the Cape to Cape Walking Track and it takes five days to traverse the often rugged coastline from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. It is one of the most popular walking tracks in the world and devotees undertake this hike with great relish.

We finished our Cape to Cape drive of this lovely area by heading back to Busselton. We felt extremely satisfied that we had enjoyed one of the country’s most beautiful areas, almost a microcosm of natural and man-made jewels, just like luscious chocolates in a satin box. The trouble was, what to stop at and what to bypass. This area could well do with a longer holiday so that all its wonders can be explored properly.

Map courtesy www.margaretriver.com
Whale pic courtesy www.westernaustralia.com

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