From a distance Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse (at Augusta) and Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse (Dunsborough) guard their respective outposts like tall white warriors with flashing eyes, and there’s something just a little mysterious about them. Perhaps it’s because they hold life or death in their hands, and their histories are full of shipwrecks and survival, of hard times and pioneering endeavour.
They’re also just fascinating in general.
I mean, hands up, who’s ever wondered what it would be like to live in a lighthouse? I have, but then maybe I’ve just watched too many Grand Design programmes on TV.
Having said that I’ve never actually walked up inside one – a real live working lighthouse, and last weekend I was lucky to visit not one but both of the lighthouses in our fair Cape.
Family friendly attractions
Of course they’re great family attractions too.
Because they offer intrigue and adventure, a dose of science, plenty of physical activity, an interesting history lesson, and the promise of an ice cream or something delicious to eat at one of the lighthouse cafes afterwards.
At their core the lighthouses are still fully functioning and exist for lifesaving purposes with the light flashing incessantly from dusk to dawn to warn seafarers of the perils of this treacherous coastline. If you go on a lighthouse tour (your should) you’ll hear stories of tragedy, tales of hardship, and if you’re lucky who knows, you may spot a ghost (we didn’t).
A remote spot where two oceans meet
Our first stop was at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Australia’s tallest mainland lighthouse that sits on the most south westerly tip of Australia where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.
In the old days it was a lonely and remote spot, accessed by 10kms of bone jangling road from Augusta.
The stories we heard about the lighthouse keepers were fascinating. Finding out about their hard and unrelenting lives was humbling. These men were dedicated to keep the lamp burning 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to safeguard ships navigating the treacherous Cape Leeuwin waters, and in days gone by it wasn’t easy.
The Tour Guides
Our guides were fantastic. They really turned our experience into something enchanting, something we’ll remember for a long time. They were knowledgeable and also great with children too.
How Kerrie managed to keep us oldies happy and answer the incessant questions from three rowdy little boys who would have liked to launch themselves off the top railing in flight, was impressive. She was patient and kind, imparted lots of interesting information, and showed enthusiasm and excitement as she took us up the 176 steps of the winding staircase to the top look out. With great aplomb Kerrie juggled the demands of grown-ups and children.
At Cape Naturaliste the lovely Bree took us on an information filled tour and gave us a fascinating insight into the workings of the lighthouse, and the families who operated the lamp and lived there. Bree knew so much about the maritime history of the area that it really brought the place alive for us.
Bree said that Cape Naturaliste tours can be personalized to individuals within the group. “We can make them either kidcentric or adultcentric,” she told me.
- For the wonderful views from the top balconies.
- To learn an interesting element about the history of this area.
- For the fact that the Lighthouses connect you to the elements; wind, sea, earth, sky, light.
- Because somehow these places have a magical quality that just keeps you in the moment.
- To feel respect for the old craftsmanship and the attention to detail in the buildings themselves: Cape Leeuwin, for instance, was built in 1895 and completed in a year – the staircase was manufactured in England. It’s fascinating to think this is the same old wood we’re looking at in the exact same building, while at Cape Naturaliste there are still the original 59 Sumatran teak wood stairs.
- For The Cape to Cape Walk – The 2 lighthouses stand like sentinels at the extreme points of the Cape to Cape, a 136km walk that’s considered to be one of Australia’s premier walking tracks.
What I loved about the Lighthouses
1. The views – being able to look down on almost the exact spot in the sea where the 2 oceans meet, and looking back down at the landscape to the lowly lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Cape Leeuwin. Being surrounded by such beautiful scenery, and being able to get such a great perspective of the surrounding countryside at both lighthouses.
2. I loved being outside at the top of the Lighthouses where you could feel the wind gushing through your hair, and feel really connected to the elements.
3. It was great to go on a tour and to find out about the Lighthouse history first hand rather than from books or the internet. I also enjoyed the audio tape stories at Cape Leeuwin and felt in awe of how tough life once was for lighthouse keepers and their families living in such remote locations.
What else is great about the lighthouses?
It’s a striking colonial landmark and the tallest lighthouse on mainland Australia with 176 steps (children under 4 years old are not allowed to climb to the top.)
There’s stunning coastal scenery all around.
The self-guided audio tour of the precinct is captivating. You’ll hear in-depth commentary on everything from tragic shipwrecks to the flora of the cape.
The vast seascape that lies like a carpet beneath you when you climb to the top is a fabulous sight – the feeling of being so remote, and the exciting possibility of sighting dolphins or whales are bonuses.
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is situated in a scenic spot, 13kms from Dunsborough and stands on a 100 metre bluff overlooking Geographe Bay. If you climb to the top balcony during a tour you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the coastline, the Indian Ocean, Cape Naturaliste, and Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. It’s spectacular.
The history is really interesting …
Bree told us that Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, which is 19 metres tall and at its highest point 123 metres above sea level, was built in 1903 and that the build came about because of the 1890s Gold Rush, when more shipping traffic was arriving from England and China. It was built in 10 months using limestone quarried from nearby Bunker Bay.
The Lighthouses today
The lights at both lighthouses have now been converted to automatic operation and although all the lighthouse keepers have left, you’ll be greeted by very friendly Margaret River tourism staff who welcome both adults and children alike.
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