Explore the beautiful forests of the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park and you’ll be rewarded richly says Sarina Lewis.
As a self-confessed outdoors guy, Ben Tannock likely has, if not one of the best jobs in the world, then at least one of the most envy-inducing occupations in Western Australia.
As Parks and Visitors Services Coordinator for the Blackwood District, Ben spends the greater part of his day managing various aspects of the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, WA’s most visited national park and one of the world’s most untouched.
It’s a huge job, not least because of the national park’s size – extending from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, it stretches more than 120km in length, showcasing incredible beaches, more than 300 limestone caves, forest walks, camp grounds carved in bush and stunning ocean views from white limestone cliffs. Not forgetting the 140km attraction that is the Cape to Cape walking track (pictured above).
“Part of what makes the park really unique is that multiple entrance and exit points allow for a really high degree of visitation,” Ben explains. “Obviously surfing is huge down this way, but then really what it’s about are the very special environments that are unique to the Leeuwin Naturaliste ridge.”
Visually stunning, the mix of closely positioned microclimates – cave, forest, sea, marine heathlands – allows park users to spread themselves across dramatically different environments within the space of kilometres: from WA’s signature mix of white limestone cliff and turquoise water at Contos Beach it’s only 10 minutes by car into the thick of Boranup forest (pictured above) with its towering karri trees and lush undergrowth.
“Also incredibly popular are the two lighthouse sites,” Ben chips in, “the experiences offered at those lighthouses are second to none.” After the taxing stair climb at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse (pictured below) the quaint little lighthouse café certainly serves up a mean coffee and cake.
Ben also highlights the region’s spectacular caves as a highlight. Your Margaret River Region is home to over 100 caves, which are nestled in the spine of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge. These caves have been formed over the last 1 million years by the constant movement of water through limestone. (image below: Jewel Cave)
As for Ben’s favourite private spot, the experienced outdoorsman and devoted Western Australian won’t be drawn. “I’m endeared toward the coast and the bushland so I certainly wax and wane between the two,” he prevaricates. “As long as I’m in the outdoors, then I’m a happy man.”
BEN’S TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE LEEUWIN NATURALISTE PARK ON YOUR TIMELINE
ONE DAY – Take a drive the length of Caves Road. Keep eyes peeled for signs that allow day-trippers to break off to remote beaches, pull in to take a gander at some of the area’s magnificent caves, or stretch the legs with a short walk through the Boranup forest, accessible on the other side of the road from the lookout point.
ONE NIGHT – station yourself at one of the five towns embraced by the park – either Yallingup, Gracetown, Prevelly, Augusta or Margaret River. From here spend a day in the surf at Contos or Redgate. Rest up then take a turn inland for a second day of caving, abseiling or rock climbing with one of the region’s reputable outdoor companies.
THREE OR FOUR NIGHTS – Strap up your backpack and tackle a section of the famed Cape to Cape track. Four days allows enough time for an end-to-end attempt. If you have time leftover, take a three-hour drive to Walpole and test your mettle with the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk.
Head to Hamelin Bay to interact with the area’s friendly population of sting rays.
For fishing and diving, take the 4WD track to Cosy Corner
Get a feel for the local pioneering history with a visit to Ellensbrook House, built from crushed shell and limestone in 1857 by local pioneer Alfred Bussell.
Most of the park’s remote beaches are not patrolled by surf lifesavers, so take care.