Travel

Western Australia’s Cape Walk Is Full of Lighthouses, Wine Trails, and Cliff Vistas

Come for the ocean views, stay for the Aussie brews.

Posnov/Moment/Getty Images
Posnov/Moment/Getty Images
Posnov/Moment/Getty Images

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.

Cape to Cape Explorer Tours
Cape to Cape Explorer Tours
Cape to Cape Explorer Tours

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 centre 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.

Abstract Aerial Art/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Abstract Aerial Art/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Abstract Aerial Art/DigitalVision/Getty Images

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 neighbouring cottages. It’s now frozen in time, and covered in a coating of limestone.

Katherine Nielsen/EyeEm/Getty Images
Katherine Nielsen/EyeEm/Getty Images
Katherine Nielsen/EyeEm/Getty Images

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.

The Margaret River Discovery Co - Wine & Adventure Tours
The Margaret River Discovery Co – Wine & Adventure Tours
The Margaret River Discovery Co – Wine & Adventure Tours

Gaze up at towering eucalyptus trees or down at orchids and colourful 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 colourful 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.

Voyager Estate
Voyager Estate
Voyager Estate

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, WA’s founding winery; 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.

Smiths Beach Resort
Smiths Beach Resort
Smiths Beach Resort

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.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Robin Catalano is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.