Saturday, 4 April 2015

Australia: Cape to Cape Track - Cape Leeuwin to Hamelin Bay

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Cape to Cape Track, near Cape Leeuwin
When Andrew forwarded his proposed itinerary for the Cape to Cape I must admit alarm bells were raised. What I had envisaged to be a steady eight day walk of one hundred and thirty-five kilometres from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste had turned into a six day beast with days of over twenty kilometres, the first being twenty - seven!

The issues were Andrew needed to fit in a few days in between, in Margaret River, to spend his 68th birthday with family, and I doubted I was fit enough to complete it in six days. But that was the hand and how it would have to be played, although I suspected that this first section, from Cape Leeuwin to Hamelin Bay, would be the make or break of the whole walk.

We had caught the Transwa bus from Perth down to Augusta, not an unpleasant five and a half hours once you have escaped the clutches of the Perth suburbs. Arriving at about half past two in the afternoon, we checked into the YHA and had the rest of the day to see the town, or should I say, the pub!

After a substantial meal, we retired to our accommodation and dozed in front of the tv before bed. An early start tomorrow, we were tucked up by 9pm. Almost immediately, Andrew was off, snoring away. I persevered until 10:30pm before retreating to the lounge to curl up on the sofa, with a feeling that the trip was already beginning to unravel.

Deprived of sleep, I awoke irritable. The logistics of the schedule meant I was carrying six days equipment for a three day leg, and that grated. I decided to offload some food and other equipment in order to ease the burden, and return to pick it up during the break in Margaret River. We were picked up by our taxi at six forty - five, and on the trail by seven in the morning.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
It was too early to start from the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, and had to settle for the locked gates two hundred metres away. That was a shame, because the lighthouse is well worth a visit, as is the point where the Great Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. It's the Aussie version of Land's End!

The cape was named by English explorer, Matthew Flinders, in 1801, after the first vessel known to sail in the area, a Dutch ship name Leeuwin, way back in 1622. A lighthouse was built here in 1895.

Starting the Cape to Cape
Too early to get to the cape, where Southern meets Indian Ocean
We picked up the track proper at the turn off to the water wheel, and made our way down to its petrified remains. Built to pump fresh water up from a spring to the lighthouse cottages, it has become fossilised in the minerals within the water.

Petrified Waterwheel
Petrified Waterwheel
It was an overcast start in the east, the sun battled to make an influence, winning through to turn the rocks, along this section of the Indian Ocean, a warm terracotta. We picked our way over the granite bouldered beach of Quarry Bay, stepping warily on to the slick sheen that coated the rock surface, careful not to place too much downward pressure on seaweed that could potentially hide a pool beneath.

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Quarry Bay
In time, we were rising up through short scrub, where the sand was replaced by firmer footing of compacted mud. Freshly sprinkled by an overnight shower, the overhanging foliage saturated my clothing and cooled my temperature as the sun took a hold. We crossed Skippy Rock Road and further still, I stopped at a bench, removed the lower legs of my trousers and donned my gaiters to fend off snakes, before continuing the climb. The day was hotting up!

Welcome respite from the beach
Welcome shade
The walking on this section was a joy, cool amongst the narrow shady avenues of trees and bushes. Vistas of Augusta Cliffs, below, were few, but going was good and we made fine time once we reached a lengthy section that contoured for a fair distance.

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Coastal views
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Looking back to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
We chanced upon a couple breaking camp, having began their trek the afternoon before; we exchanged pleasantries, discussed the day's destination, wished them well, and would no doubt meet along the track again. 

Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and we began to descend towards the shoreline. We expected to reach a seven kilometre section of beach bashing but the track tortured us over some dunes first before we staggered to a small stretch where we took a rest in the fast retreating shade.

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Above Augusta Cliffs
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Beginning to descend
Hitting the beach
Hitting the beach
As we rested, we were passed by the young couple, clearly fitter than us. We turned from watching them make their way along the beach, momentarily, and they were gone. What was clear was that they had left the beach before the headland at the other end. 

When we upped and continued, we saw a track and also concluded it must be the way, because the waves looked to be lapping the headland beyond. Kicking steps in as you would in snow, we climbed, but soon realised the error. And this is where our suspicions were confirmed that the Cape to Cape Track was designed to aid those travelling south more than those going north. The guidebook is written that way, with vague snippets to help us north-bounders and no signs at locations that really need it!

We returned to the beach and decided to try the end of it. A granite platform allowed us around the headland and we traversed it for a hundred metres, before beginning the slog along Deepdene Beach. At the end of the platform, the couple caught back up with us, having made the error of climbing up the hill.

With different paces on the sand, Andrew and I split; at one stage a good half a kilometre between us. A brief front blew in which had us donning waterproof jackets. It was a pretty miserable experience.

By the time I had reached Deepdene campsite turn off, I was ready for an extended break. It was about midday, so lunch would be great. I waited for Andrew to get within sight to see I was starting up the track to the camp, where a park bench, toilet, water and shade were awaiting us. It took a few more sand dunes before I was amongst the peppermint trees. The couple were there also, and I replenished my water supply and sat down to chat while I waited for Andrew to arrive.

Deepdene Campsite turnoff
Deepdene Campsite turn off
Had it with the beach now.
Had it with the beach now!
And I waited, but still no Andrew. Eventually, I figured he had no intention of expending more energy over the dunes, and I realised my idea of a much needed break wasn't going to happen. I said goodbye to the couple, fully expecting to see them overtake us later, and returned to the beach, where I could see Andrew nearing its northern end at Cape Hamelin.

Seeing Cape Hamelin, and knowing you would be overnighting at Hamelin Bay, would suggest the toil of the day was nearing an end, but you'd be a fool to believe it; We were only about two thirds through the day.

I caught up with Andrew and we promptly lost the track again. Another large track appeared to go up over the cape, and once again, a sign for north-bounders would really be appreciated! We went up, saw it turned back south-east, and promptly returned to the beach. We went for the granite and found there was a path through it, and even found numerous sign posts through it; obviously it must be a tricky section for those going south!

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Up and over granite near Elephant Rocks
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Over eight kilometres of beach behind us
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The occasional drop down to the beach now
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Rock hopping near Elephant Rock
We reached the northern side of Cape Hamelin and saw a long rocky limestone platform. At the end of it, an ominous looking sand dune beckoned, and my heart sank. Although the platform was an interesting traverse, hugging the rock around and across limestone crevasses, and through a battered coast potted with blowholes, no amount of beauty could pique my interest; I was spent. 

We rested before the climb up away from Cosy Corner Beach, and we had both, independently, come to the same decision, that enough was enough on this multi day hike.

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Limestone sculptures and blowholes
But the track had not finished with us. Thankfully, the steep sand dune had steps, but we still had a good six kilometres still to go. Climbing up the sand tracks to Cosy Corner Road and further to the Foul Bay Lighthouse, proved tiring. We eventually saw White Cliff Point, where Hamelin Bay Camping Park sat on the other side, but it still looked an awfully long way away. Before our luxury cabin and refreshing shower, we were taken on a merry dance down dunes and up dunes, to reach a last kick in the teeth; a one and a half kilometre sloping soft sand beach to the base of the point. 

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The final beach
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The end in sight
The end to the ordeal was lengthy. I stopped some half a dozen times, desperate to summon up the last drops of motivation to reach the track that took us away from this uninspiring slog.
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Looking back from the Headland at Hamelin Bay
Up on the point, I took a look back at our route, and was sorely disappointed. It had failed to live up to my expectations; Sure, our own fitness was partly to blame, but, personally, I didn't find it particularly outstanding, anyway. The Bibbulmun Track coastal section along the Great Southern Ocean, had much more of the wow factor, so perhaps I was naive to expect a comparable experience. I'm sure the rest of the track has plenty to please the senses, but this twenty-seven kilometre section had done its damage; we wouldn't be continuing the next day.

We staggered into the camping park at gone five, a good ten hours after we had started. By the time I had showered and laid back on my bed, it was seven, and I fell into exhausted slumber, not enough energy to even eat.

The route:


The next morning, we felt a little better, but the thought of the first five kilometres of the day being on the sands of Hamelin Bay did little to change our resolve to pack it in. Before check out, we went back up to White Cliff Point; the only area with a mobile signal, to ring for a taxi back to Augusta. Unsuccessful, we would get reception to do it for us.

As we returned to the cabin, we saw the dark shadow of a stingray in the shallow waters below, and we couldn't resist getting close.


We checked out, and made our way to reception. A quick call to the one taxi in Augusta, found us stranded due to a day off for a hospital appointment! We could either stay another expensive day here, or try to hitch along the eight kilometre road to the bus stop at Karridale

An 8km walk out of Hamelin Bay ahead of us, lucky we hitched a ride.
An eight kilometre walk out to the bus
We got as far as Caves Road when our efforts were rewarded, and we secured a lift to the Bussell Highway and a two and a half hour wait for the bus to Augusta. No problem, the pub was open!

With all my excess gear eventually retrieved from the Youth Hostel, we jumped back on the bus, to go to the wonderful Margaret River, and contemplate another game plan for the trip...