Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cape to Cape Track

Stretching 135 kilometres from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, the Cape to Cape Track follows the coast between the two lighthouses that mark the start and finishing posts. Wild isolated surf beaches, limestone cliffs and karri forest, all contained within the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.

The Cape to Cape Track, Leeuwin-Naturliste National Park: 150km over 6 days

Leaving my car in Augusta, the closest town to Cape Leeuwin in the south, I caught a bus north to Dunsborough, near Cape Naturaliste. From here I could have hired a taxi for the 13 kilometre ride out to the lighthouse, but instead opted to walk the distance, in part because of a trail that went most of the distance, the Meelup Trail, and also because I saw a few stunning photos taken along this stretch. Setting out from Dunsborough early Tuesday morning, I walked along the coastal pathway through the lush green lawns, past the nice beachfront homes and people walking their dogs and those doing their early morning run.

Upon entering the Meelup Reserve, the trail commenced and the people all dissappeared, from here on it was only the occasional person fishing. The 13 kilometres turned out to be 16.5, but I was at the lighthouse for an icecream and an early lunch by 12.

At the Three Bears beach I sat at the lookout by the carpark, overlooking the surf and the many surfers. Clearly to be a surfer here, one needed a 4WD ute, and preferably a dog to keep you company, to access the sandy tracks to the remote beaches. The waves were huge, so it was with some awe that I watched the guys riding them in. Chatting with a local surfie, he didn't seem to think the waves were that special today and he probably wouldn't bother going out there.

My six day walk could easily be mistaken for a tour of the best surf beaches, so abundant were the beaches with enormous waves. It wasn't at all uncommon for me to be walking along an isolated beach and to see a car approach, the driver carefully selecting an area with good waves and heading out into the surf with his board.
Many beaches had names obviously influenced by the surfing conditions: Guillotine, Gallows, Left Handers, Suicides, and of course the Three Bears - Papa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear.

At one beach I was gobsmacked to see the size of the waves. It was difficult to see if the surfers were out there for recreational surfing or were being pumpelled to death. Someone had scratced into the handrail on the beach staircase the words "This is Heaven." I think for a surfer without a high skillset though, it would probably be hell.

The limestone and granite rocks along the Cape to Cape Track made for some stunning scenery, from the potholes of Cape Hamelin, the cliff of Joeys Nose, the grottoes of Redgate Beach and the many submerged reefs or rocks that created large waves both close and far from the shore.

The long, isolated walks were punctuated, almost daily, by small coastal towns set by idyllic beaches. Some were calm swimming bays, others rough surf beaches. At Yalingup, the submerged reef invites tropical fish to their southernmost location.

The hike could also be a walk through history. There is the discovery history, the geographical French names by Baudin and the English names by Flinders in 1802-3. Due to the many headlands and submerged rocks the coast has laid claim to many shipwrecks. In one ten year period there were 80 ships wrecked. The larger ships coming from across the world dropped anchor in Albany, and the many smaller ships carried the loads north to Perth, around the two capes. Names like Gracetown comemorate the efforts of a small girl and her brother who saved so many people from the surf after they had been shipwrecked. In Hamelin Bay just a few pylons remain of the jetty that once loaded much local felled karri timber, the jetty a victim of rough storms. In a single storm four ships had been wrecked in this harbour, many lives being lost. The telegraph line to the north to Bunbury was out, with no less than 351 trees having fallen across it. Shipwrecks aside, there was not one, but two rusty, calcified waterwheels to be seen along the way - one at Ellensbrook Homestead and another at the very end of the walk at Cape Leeuwin.

A small section of the trail heads inland to pass through karri forest. Heralded as the western most karri forest in the world, I think this is one of those absurd statements people make to draw attention to something's uniqueness. Statements like "the tallest main-made free-standing structure in the southern hemisphere" - there are a lot of sub-clauses there. So too with this western most karri forest. Endimic to the south west of Australia, of course the karri forest has an extreme at each corner of the compass. The forest could hardly have been growing any further west since it had run out of continent on which to grow itself upon.

That said though, it was still a very special day to walk through the forest. The deeper I went in, the narrower and more overgrown the track became, but also, the louder and broader the number of bird calls.

The weather, so much a part of the traveller's life, was for the most part superb. The first three days were in stunning sunshine - hot days marked by a cool breeze and refreshing ocean swims. My choice to walk from north to south was in large part incidental, but I came to realise my good fortune as the sun was always behind me. The fourth day things began to turn, locals warned me of storms coming. Nothing much but grey cloud showed, and it wasn't until dusk that the first rain fell and thunder could be heard in the distant west. It was a slow moving thunderstorm, it wasn't until three am that the thunder reached me. The following day, the fifth day, was downright miserable. The surfers were gone, and the fishermen packed up their gear at the first sign of rain. The towns and beaches were empty, but I battled on, anticipating finer weather for the last day. Finer it wasn't, overnight the wind picked up, which left me walking into a headwind along an eight kilometre beach.

The campsites weren't outstanding, compared to those on the Bibblumun Track or Victoria's Great Ocean Walk they were downright miserable. I think the settlers and surfers got in first to choose all the best sites, most of the campsites seemed to me to be poorly sited. They had difficult or no beach access, and were often viewless. The facilities were minimal: flat ground - well mostly, a park bench, a toilet and some rainwater. These are all good, indeed very much needed, but what was glaringly lacking was a shelter of some sort, somewhere to retreat to in the rain and meet other walkers. Well, okay, there wasn't much in the way of other walkers, but in the rain it certainly would have been nice to have that focus point of a good campsite. The campsites were good in that they were hiker dedicated, you could only walk in, there was no vehicle access, so rubbish and nuisance campers are kept to a minimum.

It is possible to avoid the campsites altogether, instead opting to stay in caravan parks along the way. Literature suggests most people do this hike between five and eight days, and the many accommodation options along the way allow for lots of possibilities. I hiked some long days, usually between 24 and 29 kilometres a day. Faced with a short 20 kilometre day, followed later by a 30 kilometre day - in an effort to avoid paying caravan park fees - I decided to even out three days, converting from 20-27-30 kilometres to 26-26-28 kilometres. I did this by camping in a nice spot near Kilcarnup Beach, a distinctive place called Joeys Nose. Surfies had made vehicle tracks every which way here, and many campsites too.

The days may be long in kilometres, but not so long in duration. There is never much gain in elevation or climbing, so long kilometres are easily possible. I usually walked 16-18 kilometres before lunch, and finished hiking around 3.30pm. Sunset was just after five, the winter solstice being just weeks away.

The track is marked, good topo strip maps are available from the Cape to Cape website and Lonely Planet's Walking in Australia guide. The Lonely Planet guide was immensely helpful, not for the maps but for the track notes. The trail markers have no arrows, so often they will guide you into a carpark or town, but you are left there scratching your head. It isn't until you have walked a few metres down the correct track, that you see another trail marker confirming your choice. Often there was no confirmation, which is where instinct and the Lonely Planet guide was so helpful. The guide would mention things like "take the second - not the first - staircase off the beach," or, "at the Y-junction take the right fork" and so forth. The towns weren't such a problem, or matterred that much if you take a wrong turn, as you can figure out how where to exit the town from the detailed town maps inset on the topo strip map. Beach exits were particularly troublesome, often there would be a large sign reading "Cape to Cape Track", but sometimes not. Following the footprints in the sand seemed to be the key, except in cases of tracks between carparks and beaches where the footprints could lead you astray.

In towns I kept detouring the local general store in a bid to find some duct tape, my Thermarest Neoair, or should I just say neo, air mattress wasn't lasting the night. Generous use of some duct tape should remedy the problem until I can fix it at the end of the trip. No-one seemed to sell it, after a 1.2 kilometre walk to a store and back on the third day, I gave up.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in purchasing a state-of-the art piece of plastic, drop me an email. Upon reaching camp you consume all remaining energy blowing into it to inflate it, topping it up just before bed time as your warmed air has now cooled and condensed, and you have a very comfortable bed for at least two hours, and some air in it for at least six. Extra light and compact, thin bits of plastic to sleep on were never so comfortable. Upon finishing my six day hike, I spent twenty minutes searching everywhere for the source of the leak. This aint no finding-a-puncture-in-a-bike-tyre experience let me tell you, the holes seem to perform only under a wriggling body, I could find no sign whatsoever of a leak.
My Exped Vela I Extreme tent went very well. I have only used it briefly in New Zealand, and on two nights of the Bibblumun Track last week. I was able to test both packing up and setting up in the rain, as well as cooking in the vestibule - it excelled at each task and I was most comfortable in the spacious tent and vestibule - and importantly - me and my gear remained dry.

I had planned to walk from Cape Leeuwin into Augusta to my car, but decided, in part due to some hip pain (oh goodness here's a new one), to call a cab. Having done so, it allowed me to get to the supermarket to restock with food before it closed for the day at 1pm (it was a Sunday), if I walked into town I would be buying some foodstuffs at a servo and/or eating out for dinner. My car seems to be mouse free, the mousetraps untouched in the last seven days. The car does smell rather though, as I read somewhere that mice hate mothballs, so I had bought some and placed them in the cabin and engine bay before catching the bus north, having removed them now smell still lingers somewhat...

My photos, for the first time, I have geotagged them using some fancy software that matches my GPS unit's track times with when the photo was taken, so in Picasa each photo includes a map which shows exactly where it was taken.

Download Google Earth KML file of Western Australia's Cape to Cape Track
Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit. The file has been modified from the one displayed in the map above, I removed my various detours and getting lost moments, so it should be quite an accurate record of the track (the path through some towns isnt quite right).


Cape to Cape Track, WA
Tue Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
18/5/10 18/5/10 19/5/10 20/5/10 21/5/10 22/5/10 23/5/10
Dunsborough to Cape Naturaliste Cape Naturaliste to Mt Duckworth campsite Mt Duckworth campsite to Moses Rock Campsite Moses Rock Campsite to Joeys Nose Joeys Nose to Point Road Campsite Point Road Campsite to Deepdene Campsite Deepdene Campsite to Cape Leeuwin
Distance 16.6km 10.2km 24.2km 26.6km 26.7km 29.1km 16.0km
Start Time 8.10am 12pm 8.10am 8.00am 7.45am 7.45am 7.45am
End Time 12pm 3.30pm 3.30pm 3.10pm 3.15pm 4.05pm 11.30am
Moving Duration 3h13m 2h7m 5h13m 5h25m 5h19m 6h13m 3h15m
Stationary Duration 56m 52m 2h8m 1h47m 2h8m 2h10m 30m
Moving Average 5.2km/h 5.2km/h 4.6km/h 4.9km/h 5.0km/h 4.7km/h 4.9km/h
Overall Average 4.0km/h 3.7km/h 3.3km/h 3.7km/h 3.6km/h 3.5km/h 4.2km/h
Oodometer 16.6km 27.8km 52.0km 78.6km 105.3km 134.4km 150.0km


Warren Hennessy said...

Hi mate. I'm planning to do the Cape to Cape in a few weeks. I'm interested to know what kind of GPS gear you took as I'd like to track my route.

Warren Hennessy said...

I just came across your GPS article which was very informative. I would definitely fit into the first category who is only looking for a trip metre. Do you have any idea which device will survive a 6 day hike for the Cape to Cape? I currently own the Garmin 500 which I use for cycling but the battery life is only 8 hours. All I'd like to do is track my route so I can upload it later.

Jez said...

Hi Warren, on this walk I had a Garmin eTrex Legend. I was travelling for 4 months and it ran away. I now have a Garmin Oregon 450t which is tremendously better, but so it should be for the cost difference ($600 vs $120).

Any GPS device should have no trouble tracking the route. There are no narrow gorges on the Cape-to-Caoe so there are always lots of satellites in view. The karri forest is not as dense as Tasmanian forests.

I'm not familiar with a Garmin 500. As with any hiking, a device which is water resistant would be ideal. Eight hour battery life would only be a problem if you weren't doing day hikes. I guess otherwise you would need lots of batteries, that's quite a lot for a 7-10 day hike.

Apparently if you turn off all other functions on an iphone it will work for 5-8 hours - turn off wi-fi, bluetooth, cellular network (phone connection), screen, that kinda thing. How you carried it might pose a problem, it could rain, there is beach walking, many people report dodging crashing waves. There are no particular water crossings to do though.

Warren Hennessy said...

Hi Jez. Thanks for your detailed response.

Unfortunately I'll have to rule out my Garmin Edge 500 as it is a cycle-sized computer which does not take batteries. Without a way to recharge it'd be useless. :(

Do you know of any GPS devices which will take batteries but do not contain maps? I won't need the maps because I'll only need the device to record the route and act as an odometer. If not, I might look into picking up a cheap eTrex Legend as you suggested.

Loving your website.

Jez said...

Hey Warren, an etrex would be suitable for that. The original yellow one has no map, but you can download the route you took, and of course it shows the trip computer aka odometer stuff. I don't the think the original one is very good, but at around $100 it's good value. I've still seen it in shops like Dick Smiths (its sometimes called the etrex H). The new yellow etrex would certainly be worth a good look-in (it's called the etrex 10), prob only $15-$30 extra but well worth that extra.

The blue etrex Legend I had wasn't great, much better than the original yellow etrex (it recorded more points, allowed road/track maps to be updated), but it was still a little clumsy to use (joystick, short waypoint names). I don't think it is sold anymore.

If you are a buy online kinda person I would recommend checking out Johnny Appleseed GPS which is an Aussie company as they seem good, or ebay.

Let me know how your hike goes!

Warren Hennessy said...

Hi Jez. Thank you so much for your help. After your recommendations I went and did some research on the models you suggested. I'd really like to pick up one of the new Etrex 10's, but after emailing Johnny Appleseed GPS they said they were not available in Australia yet (which is strange because the 20s and 30s are available at the moment). I'm leaving for the track tomorrow have decided to wait until that model is released. It will be a good motivator to plan some new tracks.

Thanks again for your help.

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