Christmas holidays? What are they again? Yep, the festive season passed so quickly this year that their existence feels like a dream. Perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to write this blog.
Our original plan for Christmas this year was to head off to sunny Ireland for a castle wedding of the gorgeous Clare and Mairtin. Unfortunately, leave and languishing bank accounts forced us to abandon that idea so, instead, I took just the three days between Christmas and New Year and we headed down South for some hiking.
The Cape to Cape Track runs for 135 kilometres along the Leewin-Naturalist Ridge, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste (near Dunsborough) and Cape Leeuwin (near Augusta) in the far South West of Western Australia. You can do the track in stages, or in one big block.
If you had the funds, you can also do it in relative luxury, with tour operators and hotels arranging courtesy pick-ups and drop-offs along the way and overnight stays in a real bed. Because we relish a challenge (and don’t have the funds), we chose to spend 8 days doing the whole hike sans the frills.
Thanks to a tip-off from one of our friends, we decided to take the road less travelled and walk the track from South to North (rather than North to South). This helped us avoid any strong Southerly headwinds which, by the looks of hikers coming the other way, was a good decision.
Our other game plan was to start hiking in the early hours while it was still cool, reach a shady spot for lunch where we could eat and rest, and then knock off another couple of hours in the late afternoon as cooled down again.
Day 1 (23 December) – Cape Leeuwin to Deepdene (18km)
With that in mind, we headed off to Cape Leeuwin at 6am on 23 December, replete with enthusiasm. It only took about 15 minutes for the weight of the packs (mostly water) convinced us that stopping to smell the tea trees was over-rated. However, the repetitive sound of Manyoni’s drum hitting one of the backpack’s straps, served as a metronome to help us get into our stride.
As the lighthouse slowly disappeared from view, the track took us into shrub where we glimpsed our first wildlife – black cockatoos. Further along, the ocean came back into view, and with it a huge pod of dolphins playing around. The final stretch of the day was along Deepdene beach: first scrambling over shale, and then onto the beach proper for a good 4km until we reached the Deepdene campsite by midday. I was knackered. Already. We had our heat-of-the-day rest, then decided to just enjoy an early dinner and sleep rather than do anything stupid like walk some more.
Day 2 – Deepdene to North end of Boranup Beach (19 km)
Just to be clear – hiking tents are not designed for comfort, especially when there are two of you and one likes to spread out. Needless to say, I awoke rather sleep-deprived with the summer warmth already casting its hand at 6am.
We had a short beach walk, before heading back onto the cliff tops where we were greeted with superb views of a crystal clear ocean from Foul Bay Lighthouse. Our morning stop was Hamelin Bay, where we frolicked with the sting rays, and whiled away the hottest part of the day boiling drinking water, sneaking in an illegal shower, and rolling out the camping mat under a tree in the carpark. Classy.
As afternoon came, we pushed on further along the beach. It was then that I realized that people who say they like “long walks along the beach” have no idea what they’re talking about. Beach walking is hard. Stupidly hard. I dare say it’s even harder with 15kg of luggage on your back. And with each sinking step, the blisters under the toes, on top of the toes, and on the side of the feet just grew bigger and bigger.
By the end of this 6.5km this stretch on Boranup beach, I was utterly exhausted and couldn’t even walk enough to scout out a suitable camping spot. So, we pitched our tent on the top of the small dune where I had collapsed, and watched the sun set over the ocean as the wind swept sand into our hair and dinner.
Day 3 (Christmas Day) – North end of Boranup Beach to Bob’s Hollow (20 km)
We must have picked a good camping spot. After all, 5,428 mosquitos can’t be wrong, can they? Yep, when we woke our tent was covered in the little vampires. Fortunately, the net had managed to keep most but a few out, and I had a few moments of fun taunting them with the smell of my finger against the netting – just far enough to prevent their proboscis from getting a taste. They would get their own back, though, as we inevitably had to exit the tent and pack it up. Thank goodness for industrial-strength DEET.
Our hike started with a steep climb up the sand dune and, eventually, into towering karri forest. While we lacked the ocean breeze, the shadow cast by the great canopy was welcomed, not just by us, but by the 2m dugite (venomous snake) and large bangarra (goanna) we almost stepped on along the way.
Our midday rest spot was Conto’s campsite, where we replenished our water supplies and tried in vain to communicate with the outside world. We set off again in the late afternoon and hiked along the stunning clifftop, almost stepping on a giant rat thing (the technical name), and passing popular rockclimbing areas with caves that looked like great camping spots to me, and death traps to Manyoni.
We eventually headed back down to the coast where we agreed to pitch our tent on an awesome and protected flat spot of ground nestled among tea trees. We had made it in time to cook up a hearty Christmas dinner of miso and noodles, which we devoured while sitting on the rocks watching the sun go down into the sea.
Day 4 – Bob’s Hollow to Prevelly (16 km)
Our Boxing Day hike started by slogging it out in more sand along Redgate beach, before following Boodjidup Brook inland. I am usually relieved when we turn inland and off the beach, except this time the track continued with more sand, only dryer (read: more sinky) and steeper.
Still, I should have been grateful, as the next stage of the hike was a mere 355 steps straight up (not 300 as the book suggests!). Apparently, we can thank a dedicated crew of Green Corps for this, after they carried all the materials in by hand to assemble the steps in 1999.
Back on top of the hills, we continued along fire breaks, smiling at the fringed lilies along the way, before reaching civilization in the form of poached eggs and avocado on sourdough bread, washed down with iced coffee, at the White Elephant Café in Prevelly.
That afternoon we took a break and rested at a friend’s place in Prevelly. We had a real shower, restocked our food supplies, futilely attempted a jigsaw puzzle, checked out Margaret River’s surf spots, enjoyed some Christmas leftovers AND slept in a real bed. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
Day 5 – Prevelly to North of Gracetown (24 km)
We were up again at the crack of dawn and heading North across Margaret River mouth or, in the case of Manyoni, sinking suddenly into Margaret River mouth. Fortunately, he managed to clamour out before the pack got soaked, no thanks to me. We continued along Kilcarnup Beach, before heading into some thicket and a couple of kangaroos who were as equally startled to see us as we were to see them.
By lunchtime, we had made it to the Ellenbrook camp where we chilled under a tree, before leisurely wandering to the beautiful, but largely dry, Meekadarabee Cave and Waterfall. From there, it was along the paved path to the historic Ellenbrook House that was, unfortunately, closed for renovation.
With no reason to hang around, we continued on through the scrub, before reaching civilization again in the form of Gracetown by mid-afternoon. I relished the opportunity to break up my daily diet of noodles with a home-made meat pie and milkshake, also giving us a welcome rest. With light fading fast, we had to make camp so clamoured up the rocks at North Point and found another hidden camp among tea trees about 2km North of Gracetown. This time – after our biggest day of walking yet – we didn’t even make it to sunset before hitting the sack.
Day 6 – North of Gracetown to somewhere just South of Injidup (22 km)
We started out again walking through shrubbery but, this time, our hike involved spectacular views of perfect, yet deserted, surf breaks right along the coast, coupled with colourful boulders, a cool foot wash in Biljedup brook, and a lazy carpet python that really didn’t want to move off the track.
Despite being one of the prettiest days of hiking so far, it was also one of the mentally toughest for me. Thanks to all the scrambling over boulders, I had started to develop a muscle tear in my left quad and, by mid-morning, I had also begun to develop incredible pain around my right achilles. Fearing a premature end to my hike, I may have shed a wee tear as we walked into Moses Rock campsite for our lunchbreak.
The rest helped a bit, and in the early afternoon we decided to set off again, albeit very slowly. We managed to cover another 8km, which included coming into the vicinity of a huge mob of at least 50 kangaroos, and hiking past a waterfall-less Quinninup Brook.
Just north of Quininup, Manyoni found a fantastic campsite nestled, once again, among tea trees. However, stubborn Isabel felt it was still too early to camp so insisted we carry on. That was the last campsite we came across for miles and, as we worked our way back to the cliff top, our chances of finding a suitable site became slimmer and slimmer. Exhausted and in pain (me, not Manyoni), we eventually just set up the tent by the side of a 4WD track. With no desire to wait until nightfall, we had a quick dinner then retired to the tent where my beloved put his magic massaging hands to work on my ankle.
Day 7 – Somewhere just South of Injidup to Mt Duckworth campsite (19 km)
Wow! Did I mentioned Manyoni’s magic massaging hands? I woke up with barely any pain around my achilles, and a sense of hope that, perhaps, I could finish this thing.
Not really sure of where we were on the map, we were happy to discover that we were not far from Cape Clairault. It quickly became clear that we were also heading closer to civilization, with more people on the track, more surfers in the water, and more carparks and toilets along the way.
Buoyed by the prospect of what was to come, we crossed over Wyadup Brook, took in the sights at the Rotary Lookout, and scrambled over rocks. By 10am, we were feeling rather unwashed and out of place among the Smith Beach Resort’s residents, but still managed to enjoy brunch, coffee and a replenishing of water.
From there, it was less about the hiking and more about the food. After just another hour of beach walking we had made it Yallingup, and quickly settled into the Shaana Café where we enjoyed lunch and coffee, and even checked out a photography exhibition.
Then it was just another hour to the Mt Duckworth campsite. Arriving early and well-fed, we were able to relax completely and make our commemorative bracelets – the achilles disaster being a distant memory.
Day 8 – Mt Duckworth Campsite to Cape Naturaliste (11 km)
Our last, and shortest, day of hiking. The walk to Kabbijgup, and then to Sugarloaf passed by with the usual beautiful cliff-top views. Knowing we were close to the end, we even took slight detours along the way into nooks and crannies between giant boulders.
By 9am, we had reached Sugarloaf rock and, from there, the track was paved the whole 3km to the lighthouse. We were so close we could smell it. In fact, we even decided to change out of our sweaty 4-day old clothes into something fresher, so that we didn’t scare away any tourists at the lighthouse. However, it seems we had jumped the gun.
Paved or not, 3km is still 3km, and in the hot morning sun, with no breeze and a million flies, it seemed like it took forever. Needless to say, our “fresh” clothes were covered in sweat by the time we reached the lighthouse, but we felt triumphant and super deserving of our ice-cream and sugary drinks.
After catching a taxi back to a friend’s house in Busselton, we spent the rest of the afternoon massaging oversized blisters and walking as little as possible. We then spent the next three days, leisurely making our way back to Geraldton after checking out the Busso markets and jetty, bringing in the New Year by walking around Thrombolites at Lake Clifton and sharing cheese and drinks with friends in Mandurah while watching the sunset, and stopping at the Pinnacles near Cervantes.
I returned to work the following day exhausted, but in awe of this country’s beautiful South West.