The Grandeur of the Great South West
“Go to West Cape Howe National Park,’’ he told me.
“One day when we were there a body board surfer kicked a salmon and it landed on his board …. so he brought back a nice salmon to eat!’’
Graham had worked at Albany, 30 kilometres to the east of West Cape Howe, and being a keen hiker he had plenty of tips to pass on to us.
“Whatever you do, have fun.’’
With that, he handed me the keys of his car.
And that was why we were parked at the lookout above Shelley Beach one day in late February.
A real Australian summer’s day … 30-plus degrees but with a southerly breeze off the ocean.
A place of sea cliffs and sand beaches, of whales, dolphins, seals and carnivorous plants.
Here you witness the raw power and beauty of the Southern Ocean, as it crashes against dramatic cliff and rock formations.
Then turn a corner and find a beautiful cove with squeaky sand.
From the lookout car park you can see the clean, white stretch of Shelley Beach curving beneath the steep limestone hills that drop sharply into the sea.
Twenty metres away there is a ramp for hang gliders to launch themselves off a perfectly stable rock face into the air.
Away to the south west is Dunsky Beach and Torbay Head.
Beyond that, there’s nothing between you and Antarctica … only ocean.
Torbay Head is the southernmost point of Western Australia.
And Dunsky must rate as one of the more remote beaches in the world.
A small stretch of golden sand surrounded by cliffs and heathland.
That’s our destination. It’s a 15km round trek from Shelley Beach.
The only vehicle access to those areas is high clearance four-wheel drive. Even then it would need an experienced off-road driver as some of the tracks can be quite cut up.
We recognised the walk would be a challenge on such a warm day but the breeze was cool enough so decided to give it a go.
Shelley Beach is accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles and campers are permitted for overnight stays.
They can pitch a tent or stay in small camper vans without side awnings. And it’s directly opposite the sound of the waves ending their march on this beautiful stretch of sand.
There is a fee but no campfires or solid fuel appliances are permitted due to the risk of bushfires.
Fifty metres away from where we parked the car was the Tarbotton Track – part boardwalk, part sandy path.
The Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s great treks. A long-distance walking trail of 1000km from Albany to Perth.
The name comes from the Bibbulmun, or Noongar people, Indigenous Australians from the Perth area.
The marker, with its Waugul symbol of a black serpent on a yellow background, would be the start of this day’s trek.
We had water, hats, long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect us from the sun, the sharp native grasses and bushes.
What we hadn’t fully expected was the grandeur of the national park.
Make the time to fully explore the wild coastline, Graham had said. Get off the tracks most taken.
It’s rugged … but worth it.
If you can’t explore this region in the time you’ve allowed, then stay longer …. don’t come back until you’ve experienced it. Cancel flights and make sure you see what’s around you.
Only in Esperance, further to the east, can you find a better beach than those around Albany.
From the high points, look to the east to the peninsula of Torndirrup National Park with Albany and magnificent King George Sound beyond that.
“How could you go too far, Dad?” she asked, showing that no matter how well you know your child each generation has different ideas, concepts.
Not long into the walk you leave the Bibbulmun and head south through the undulating heathland, always with the lure of the cape in the distance.
Unlike the Bibbulmun, this trail is overgrown in parts so we chose to follow Dunsky Road.
It was more direct but the soft sand and rutted areas made it hard going at times.
As well as tyre tracks there are those of different native animals in the sand.
Yet there are dramatic views, especially from the ridges. You get to further comprehend the vastness of the land, the untamed coastline, the surge of the sea.
The surf break at Golden Gates Beach is off to the right.
But the southern coastline is a dangerous place.
It has a notorious record for accidents and deaths from people slipping or being washed into the ocean by unexpected waves.
The park’s scenic landscape includes dramatic cliffs of granite and black dolerite, rock islands, rugged limestone outcrops and complex patterns of vegetation.
Nearly 500 species of plants are found in the West Cape Howe park including banksias, trigger plants and more than 50 species of orchids.
Yet swampy areas form a habitat for the carnivorous Albany pitcher plant.
The leaves of the plant have the appearance of moccasins. The entrance of the trap has a spiked arrangement that allows the prey to enter, but hinders its escape.
Insects are trapped in the digestive fluid and then consumed by the plant.
A couple of hours into the walk we reached The Steps, the car park area favoured by fishermen and rock climbers.
Here, looking towards Old Man, we sat and enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches and fruit we had carried with us.
Old Man is one of the main attractions to West Cape Howe. The 50m high semi-detached sea stack of rocks is as daunting as it is spectacular.
Further out on the cape are such features as The Southern Ocean Wall, Throne of Gods, Black Wall and The Book Ends.
The colour of the ocean is remarkable. The brightest of light blue at the base of the cliffs and the deepest blue beyond the fringe of the coastline.
Seabirds soar on the wind.
A wind that lifts the spirit and refreshes the soul.
The Albany region has some amazing beaches and walking trails. Frenchmans Bay was named after Baudin’s visit in 1803. Then there’s Cosy Corner, East Bay, Little Beach, Nanarup, Two Peoples Bay, Goode Beach, Middleton’s, Waterfall Beach … just make sure you have the time.
For more about The Great Southern Region of Western Australia go to: www.amazingalbany.com.au
Tips for hiking in WA
Get a good hiking stick, wear long pants (in case of tiger snakes as well as prickly bushes) and lightweight long sleeve shirt, broad brim hat or cap with sun protector at back. Carry plenty of water.