Western Australia’s Cape Walk Is Full of Lighthouses, Wine Trails, and Cliff Vistas
Come for the ocean views, stay for the Aussie brews.
Western Australia is big. Compared to the US, it’s about three and a half times the size of Texas. Known as WA, it’s the largest of Australia’s six states, and it might also be the country’s most underappreciated. Home to 7,000 miles of craggy cliffs and sandy beaches, flowering eucalyptus forests, endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, and thousands of plants and animals you can’t find anywhere else, WA is the definition of a getaway—if you enjoy your solitude with a side of affable towns that love a good microbrew, wine, or gin.
If you were thinking, “That’s great, but WA is huge; it’s not like I can find all of these things in one place,” you’d be mistaken. For a sampler of everything that makes WA special, head to the southwestern coast and the Cape to Cape Track.
This 75-mile walking trail meanders along the Indian Ocean coastline between the lighthouses at Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, with a smattering of food and drink options along the way. You could dedicatedly stick to the path without straying, by camping overnight and hiking its entirety in about seven days. Or you can hop on at a variety of access points, and hop off to explore nearby state and national parks. The latter option allows you to stay at swishy, newly renovated hotels and sample farm-to-table cuisine, plus the region’s prodigious wine scene. Tuck in, mates. It’s your reward for a trek well done.
How wine inspired a good, long walk
The idea for a coastal hiking trail began in the 1970s, among a group of friends who regularly walked the beaches and scrubby trails along the WA coast. When wineries began opening in the Margaret River region, almost dead center between the two capes about 10 miles inland, they had a brainstorm: why not create a long-distance path where hikers could enjoy the area’s many food and beverage options, in addition to its abundant natural resources?
They charted a single coastal trail through existing walking paths, beaches, and old four-wheeler and fire roads. In the late 1990s, the nonprofit Friends of the Cape to Cape Track helped secure the grant (used to fund Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park) needed to construct new linkages between the paths. The track was completed in 2001.
The trail is mostly moderate in difficulty, although areas along the beaches are easy to walk, and several sections are challenging. There’s no fee to hike, unless you choose a guided tour with overnight camping. Reputable operators include Cape to Cape Explorer Tours, which boasts all-local guides, and Adventurous Women, a female-owned and -operated company.
The path is open year-round. For the most comfortable temperatures, go in the spring (September to November), when fields and forests are a riot of wildflowers, or fall (March to May), which is mild and sunny. Winter, when daytime temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s, is still plenty comfortable—and you’re more likely to have the track to yourself.
Venture to limestone caves and lighthouses
The southwest corner of WA comprises a broad peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean. Thanks to its isolation, the landscape—hushed forests, lofty granite and limestone cliffs, and coastal heathland—still feels ancient and wild.
The Cape to Cape Track runs through several remarkable green spaces. In the north, it winds through the entire length of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. With 47,000 acres of raw beauty, limestone caves, a circa-1900 lighthouse overlooking Geographe Bay, and never-ending ocean vistas, it’s no wonder the park’s Wardandi name, Kwirreejeenungup, translates to “the place with the beautiful view.”
A bit further south on the trail, Wooditjup National Park, in the Margaret River region, has excellent mountain biking trails, from beginner to advanced. If you take the river-hugging 10 Mile Brook Trail, along an old timber tramway, you could stop for a picnic lunch at the dam site.
At Cape Leeuwin, the most southwesterly point in mainland Australia, you’ll find another scenic lighthouse, constructed in 1896 to prevent shipwrecks—of which there are 22 in the area. This location is where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet, so the seas here are pretty torrential. Nearby, visit the remains of a wooden water wheel built to power a hydraulic ram that supplied the lighthouse and neighboring cottages. It’s now frozen in time, and covered in a coating of limestone.
See bearded dragons, kangaroos, and whales
The remoteness of WA has made it one of the planet’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, home to more than 2,000 endemic plant and animal species.
The region is home to plentiful species of parrot, including the purple-crowned lorikeet, whose DayGlo feathers and boisterous chatter make it easy to spot in trees and shrubs. Raptors like ospreys and falcons frequent the coastal side of the Cape to Cape Track, and sunny days bring out a range of monitor lizards, bearded dragons, and snakes. If you’ve come for the marsupials, keep an eye out for reclusive southern brown bandicoot or Western grey kangaroos resting in the shade.
On a clear winter or spring day, it’s common to see humpback and southern right whales feeding and “logging” (resting) offshore. Dolphins, which frolic in pods, are easy to spot in any season. Hamelin Bay, about 15 miles north of Cape Leeuwin, is known for its “friendly” stingrays. Wade ankle-deep in the water, and three species of ray will glide close as they hunt for snacks in the sand. They’re harmless if you stand quietly, but they’re called stingrays for a reason: When disturbed or threatened, they strike with their barbed, venomous tails.
Gaze up at towering eucalyptus trees or down at orchids and colorful flowers
Depending on the time of year, you’ll see dozens—if not hundreds—of plants and flowers. Along the trail’s western slopes, these include the bright blue fan flower, pompom-headed pink pimelea, and wattles, which are fluffy, sun-hued flowers whose seeds are a traditional food source for Aboriginal people and are used on many restaurant menus.
The eastern side of the ridge near the coast is dominated by banksia species, with colorful bottle-brush flowers. Their hardwood pods resemble large pinecones dotted with little clamshells or puckered lips.
The southern portion of the track traverses forests of karri, which are eucalyptus trees that can grow up to 300 feet tall. Every seven to ten years, hundreds of these trees bloom and the canopy erupts in tiny, firework-shaped white and yellow flowers. Additionally, look closely under shrubs, and you’ll spy a variety of native orchids.
Wander off-trail for snacks and beverages
You’ll need a car to appreciate the best of the food and beverage scene in Western Australia. Plan to spend a day exploring the wine trails of Margaret River, Australia’s premier grape-growing region, where you’ll find excellent Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. A few standouts include the rustic-meets-modern Vasse Felix, the founding winery of the Margaret River region; organic, sustainable Voyager Estate; and Leeuwin Estate, where you can browse the gallery of original label art, then sit down to a multicourse meal paired with the vineyard’s wines.
For an unforgettable sip-and-stay experience, book a room at Cape Lodge in Yallingup. Located in the Margaret River region, it has a secluded, mansion-in-the-woods feeling, and a restaurant that’s the stuff of legend. You can even reserve a private cooking demo with Chef Tony Howell, who specializes in local, sustainable ingredients, especially seafood.
Margaret River is also home to The West Winds Distillers, one of Australia’s top-rated distilleries. Gin is huge in WA, and that’s exactly what you should try, whether in a cocktail or on its own.
For brew fans, focus your hiking on the northern portion of the trail, then head about 23 miles east into Busselton. The new, industrial-chic Shelter Brewing Company crafts lagers, IPAs, and pale ales, plus standout summer sours.
Where to stay along the Cape to Cape Track
The Cape to Cape Track has four public campgrounds, at Mt. Duckworth, Moses Rock, Ellensbrook, and Deepdene. All are free and first come, first served, and they have basic amenities like toilets, water, and tent sites. Two additional campsites are available for a small fee along the trail segment that runs through the Boranup Forest, just south of Margaret River.
If you prefer a bed, a brew, and a hardy meal at the end of your hike, the recently renovated Smiths Beach Resort offers luxury beach houses and villas with gas fireplaces and open-concept living areas and kitchens. The on-premise Lamont’s Restaurant, run by star chef Kate Lamont, is well worth the stop, even if you don’t stay over.
About a mile off the track near Injidup Point, Injidup Surf Shack is a private, rustic delight, with eclectic décor, an outdoor shower, and a wide patio with ocean views.