Western Australia Trip 2012 – Part 14 : Hopetoun to Cape Arid.

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012 at 16:34


Light rain was falling as we left Hopetoun in late September. We followed the coast road east, happy to be on bitumen for a while, although eventually we found ourselves back on a good gravel road. The coast seemed to consist of high sandhills covered with thick vegetation. Here and there little tracks led off to sheltered parking areas, but given the doubtful weather we did not stop to explore.

We continued on to Mason Bay following a gravel track in reasonable condition. There we found a very extensive, sheltered camping area run by the Ravensthorpe Council. The only facilities were a couple of toilets that hadn’t been cleaned for ages and garbage bins that had been emptied quite recently. There was no sign of a caretaker, and only one other camper was in residence.

After some exploration we found a campsite with some shelter and set up camp, once again preparing for damp conditions. That done we went for a walk on the beach, descending down the face of the high dunes via unmade paths. There seemed to be offshore reefs where waves were breaking, leaving the beach quite calm and sheltered. This must be a popular summer holiday spot for families with young children, offering safe, shallow water for swimming and fishing.

However, recent heavy weather had left its mark; sandhills had been eroded away by the sea and piles of seagrass littered the shore. Back near our camp, out of the ceaseless wind we found patches of heath in colourful flower. Mallees with big yellow flowers were especially attractive.

Next morning we were glad to see some sun. The wind was still brisk, driving big waves crashing onto the reefs. We continued east to Starvation Harbour where we found another big camping area hosting a few caravans. Around the headland, beyond the campground the track ended at a small rocky bay where we spent a while watching the wind-driven waves as they broke over big rock platforms.

Leaving Starvation Harbour, the road ran inland through a large area of burnt heath. Many grass-trees were flowering, prompting a photo stop. What a surprise then to find ourselves among dozens of purple enamel orchids – tiny iridescent jewels in a sooty landscape. Once again we were reminded of the need to get out of our vehicle and have a careful look to find the real bush treasures. It would have been so easy to drive right past this superficially unappealing burnt patch.

Further east and looking for somewhere to have a cuppa we turned south towards Munglinup Beach where we found a very orderly community-run campground tucked in behind huge dunes. There were newish, clean toilets, cold showers, reticulated salt water to most sites and picnic shelters. The narrow sandy beach sloped quite steeply, framed by picturesque rocks at either end, and a lovely colour to the water. Unfortunately it was still very windy, so we did not stay long.

On we went, through rolling farmland adorned with many patches of flowers beside the road. Native iris (Pattersonia) were abundant along drainage lines and in a couple of places we found big clumps of scarlet kangaroo paws in full flower. What an unexpected treat!

Continuing east we found a flash new picnic shelter at Stokes Inlet in Stokes NP. Showers were threatening so it was a good place to have lunch while enjoying the tranquil outlook beyond the fringing paperbarks and out across the lake. These new looking NP facilities have big gas BBQs, sinks with running (hot?) water, stainless steel benches and fittings and big polished wooden tables and benches. However we wondered how well they would last when closer inspection revealed galvanic action already corroding the sheeting at points where dissimilar metals were in contact.

Nearby was another new NP campground, this one complete with camp host - but no campers. Again the sites were very small so that caravans and larger camper trailers would probably not fit.

Approaching Esperance and with rain approaching we found a caravan park on the edge of town. Although it didn’t offer as much shelter as we had hoped, it had big grassy sites for a modest fee. The hot showers were bliss, and the washing machines and driers effective. After a day when wind and threatening rain had been a bit of a trial we were happy for once to be in a caravan park. It’s not often that we would say that!

Next morning we spent a while in town, stocking up and refuelling. Near the Tanker Wharf the wind was blowing a gale ahead of yet another front coming through. Leaving town we found a sheltered spot to have lunch at the Woody Lake Nature Reserve. Then it was time to head out to Cape le Grand, hoping that we could find a place to stay in one of the camping areas there.

At the first campground the sea was covered with whitecaps and wind driven waves were running right up the beach. There were a number of vacant and fairly sheltered campsites so our plan was to find the best spot we could, and leave the trailer there while we went across to Lucky Bay to see what conditions were like there. We went via Hellfire Bay and Thistle Cove, and with the sun now out the colours of the water and sand were superb. Lucky Bay was very busy, full of caravans. Folk we spoke to said that the winds there had been very strong. That convinced us to camp back at the beach where we had left the trailer.

We had a walk out to the lookout at Lucky Bay, and saw the plaque to Matthew Flinders that explains how the bay got its name. Lucky Bay is breathtakingly beautiful, enclosed by a long sweep of white beach, backed by smooth domes of granite, and with water of the most exquisite colour. More bold colour contrasts shone out in the brilliant scarlet Melaleucas along the pathways.

From there we drove on the good gravel road around to Rossiter Bay for a walk on the beach. There were 2m thick piles of seagrass all along the shore, requiring care when walking. We didn’t walk far though, as heavy clouds were building rapidly. We only just got back to Troopy before a grey wall of water blotted out the world.

Back at camp we set up for yet another wild night, taking care to get the tent and tarps well pegged down. We used the camp kitchen to cook a meal by torchlight and while we were eating another deluge hit us turning the campground and roads into whitewater rapids. In cold, wet and windy conditions it was time for another lengthy read in bed while listening to the rain drumming on the roof and the tent and tarps straining in the wind.

The forecast in the morning was for the wind and rain to abate by evening – then the weather would turn hot. We can only hope. At least the sun was shining, drying the tent quite quickly with the help of the still strong wind.

We continued to move east, going via Merivale Road, which after we left the bitumen became a source of red mud that sprayed all over Troopy and the trailer.

We drove down to Duke of Orleans Bay at the eastern end of Cape le Grand NP. Despite the still strong wind we spent a while exploring this very picturesque part of the coast. The sun brought out marvellous colours in the water and the heavy seas sent spray high over the rocky headlands. In places more great drifts of seagrass were piled up on the white sandy beaches. Back from the beach the beautiful greenish Banksia speciosa was flowering. With its big serrated leaves and intricately arranged flowering spikes it makes a dramatic subject for photography.

We had a quick look at the caravan park at Wharton; it seemed rather basic and as it was early in the day we decided to keep moving along.

We found more wildflowers north of Wharton in small patches of heath left behind amid the extensive land clearing that had been done in order to establish large areas of hardwood plantations. Unfortunately most of those plantations had failed to prosper and looked unlikely to yield even woodchips, so spindly and stunted were many of the trees. Val, who has had a bit of experience growing trees, cast a critical eye over the closely spaced plantings that had not been thinned or pruned. It was disappointing to see so much effort and investment give so little result.

A little further east a track marked 4WD – but in reality just a wet sloshy gravel track, took us down to Mungliginup Creek. There we found a big informal fishing-camp area tucked in among the paperbark trees behind the seagrass-littered beach. A rough sandy track extended well inland following the creek, and gave access to many secluded campsites. There was no one else there so we had a choice of several very sheltered sites.

Once set up we continued on foot further along the track, following the creek until we were some distance inland and at a point where the track was so overgrown it would have been impassable to vehicles. We were surprised to find many more red kangaroo paws, along with redbeak and enamel orchids and a few plants of Banksia pulchella, a teasel banksia with small cones only 4cm long. By the time we got back to camp we were quite footsore, but we felt very satisfied with this day’s travels that had taken us into some beautiful places. Best of all the sky was clearing and the wind was easing off.

We might have been tempted to stay on at this excellent snug camp, but by now we were getting into that “time to head for home” state that usually marks the last stages of a trip. And we were determined to spend a bit of time exploring the Cape Arid area so we moved on. The next track east took us down to a similar but more organised and quite busy campground at Alexander Bay.

From there it was only a short run to the Cape Arid turn-off, and soon we were at the new NP campground overlooking the magnificent sweep of beach that runs out to Cape Arid. We met Mary our campground host who pointed out that the campsite with the best views was vacant. It was rather exposed, but for such views, what was a bit more wind? We dropped the trailer there and paid for two nights.

We will spend the next couple of days exploring this beautiful area before setting off for the long drive home.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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