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Let’s Go – Road Trip Australia – LoVe Drives – The South West
Cruising between the two capes of the south west region of Australia on a sunny summer’s day, I think, is about as close to nirvana as you can get. Windows down, music blaring (today it’s Lana del Rey) and we’re off on an adventure.
Yay! We’re going on a road trip Australia!
The Cape to Cape drive covers around 143kms (including a couple of detours) and starts at Cape Naturaliste then heads south through the Margaret River Region which has been named one of the Top 10 places in the world to visit by Lonely Planet.
The south west corner of Australia is an ancient land, which for millions of years was cut off from the rest of Australia by desert. It consists of tall Jarrah, Karri and Marri forests, natural bushland, wonderful beaches, a fascinating cave system, and flora, much of which is found nowhere else in the world. In fact, it’s known as a biodiversity hotspot.
It’s pretty simple really. From the northern cape at Cape Naturaliste (Three top Places to Visit around Cape Naturaliste) to the southern cape at Cape Leeuwin – taking Cape Naturaliste Road, Eagle Bay Road, Meelup Beach Road, Caves Road, Wallcliffe Road, Hamelin Bay Road, Bussel Highway and Leeuwin Road. Total Distance +- 143 km.
And we’re off!
1. Starting at Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse (13 kilometres from Dunsborough) we wound our way along Cape Naturaliste Road (in the direction of Dunsborough). You could turn off right for a short detour to Sugar Loaf Rock, a rugged part of the coastline, with some fabulous photo opportunities.
However as we’d been there before, we continued in a south easterly direction until we came to the intersection with Eagle Bay Road.
Turning left along Eagle Bay Road we passed Wise Wines and Eagle Bay Brewing Company, (Beaches and Breweries ) then drove down the hill to beautiful Eagle Bay with its million dollar houses set high on the hillside overlooking the ocean.
Glimpses of various little bays from parking areas along Meelup Beach Road afford fantastic views of coastal scenery.
Top Spots along this section
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse – 20 metres high, landmark, interesting maritime history.
There are fabulous views of the Indian Ocean, Cape Naturaliste, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and Geographe Bay coastline from the top balcony of the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. At its highest point the lighthouse is 123 metres above sea level. A platform and shelter provides whale watching opportunities during the annual migratory periods, from September to December.
Drinks, snacks and souvenirs are available for purchase in the first cottage.
Opening Hours: Open Daily: 9.00am-4.30pm. First tour begins at 9.30am daily Last entry to Lighthouse at 4.30pm
Cape to Cape Walking Trail- At the Cape Naturaliste car park you’ll find the start (or end) point of the trail, a coastal hike that spans 135kms between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge.
It will take you about 5 – 7 days walking through coastal heath, across sandy beaches and through tall forests, not to mention the fascinating geological features (that my husband loves!)
It’s well worth doing. For a short walk, you can just take a stroll along the boardwalks at Cape Naturaliste, and take in some fresh sea air and views.
Meelup Beach itself is a picturesque spot with shady trees, green grassy areas, barbecues, a pretty coastal walk and family swimming. I’m told that on full moons, many people take picnics to the beach to watch the moon rising over the water.
2. Continuing along Meelup Beach Road, there’s a road turning down left to Castle Rock, which would take you to another pretty beach, also with a path linking up to a coastal walk which you could take all the way into Dunsborough. We’ve done this walk previously, ending up in Dunsborough for a cup of coffee and cake.
3. We drove along Meelup Beach Road to the T Junction, and turned left, taking us back onto Cape Naturaliste Road heading to the holiday town of Dunsborough which has some good restaurants and interesting boutiques, along with a beautiful beach. Dunsborough is clean, and bright with an air of sophistication about it.
4. Turning right onto Caves Road we continued meandering, past 5 Star Empire Retreat (Beaches and Breweries Part 2) and Windmills Break (10 Great things to do around Yallingup), both fantastic places to stay if you fancy letting the monkey loose, or for a special occasion perhaps.
The road here is slightly wooded as you cross the ‘witches hat’ part of the Cape (it looks like that on the map!) turning away from Geographe Bay and driving westwards towards the Indian Ocean. You’ll pass the fantastic Ngilgi Caves on your right, well worth a visit, and as you reach the other side of the ‘hat’ you have the choice to head straight on to Yallingup or take a left turn and keep on Caves Road heading south.
Top Spots in this section
Ngilgi Cave – Situated beneath the limestone ridge, which forms Cape Naturaliste, liesNgilgi Cave near Yallingup. Discovered in 1899 andassociated with a rich Aboriginal legend, the cave boastsstunning stalactites, stalagmites, helicitites and shawl formations. There’s a cafe, playground, barbecue facilities and walk trails too. Opening Hours: 9.00am to 5.00pm (First tour at 9.30am Last entry to Ngilgi Cave at 4.00pm.) For more information check out:Geographe Bay
Yallingup – what’s not to love about this coastal enclave with its beautiful houses tumbling down a wooded hillside? There’s a cafe and a children’s playground and a family beach with a protected lagoon good for snorkelling. Great views across to Smiths Beach from two look-outs. Be at a Yallingup look-out for a sunset and you won’t be disappointed. Around Yallingup, you’ll also find some fantastic art and jewellery galleries. 10 Great Things to do around Yallingup.
As you head south you’re actually travelling over an underground wonderland because in this area there’s a hidden labyrinth of limestone cave systems formed over one million years ago. Around 100 caves have been uncovered, but only a few are open to the public: Jewel, Moondyne, Calgardup, Lake and Mammoth Caves are accessible (some are self guiding) and each one is unique in its own way.
Interesting Fact – Marsupial lion, giant wombat, the infamous Tasmanian tiger and also giant kangaroo remains have all been discovered in the caves. Tiny creatures called stygofauna that date back to around 65 million years ago can also be spotted with a keen eye.
5. From Caves Road you could also take a slight detour from the route south, and instead take a right turn onto Canal Rocks Road which will take you to the lovely Smiths Beach (where there’s a great restaurant called Lamonts) and then drive on to Canal Rocks itself which is a picturesque spot with fabulous views.
Top Spots in this section
Wineries and restaurants – there are over 150 wine producers in this area. It’s known as the Margaret River region, and the network of criss-crossing roads that lead off Caves Road at various places, are home to many of them - these roads and the wineries are well worth exploring if you have time. You’ll also find attractions like a chocolate factory and an olive oil factory producing face and body products too.
You’ll find world class winery restaurants for lunches, interesting architecture, art galleries and gift shops. You might like to read: 11 Margaret River Wineries with a difference.
You’ll find more information about Margaret River’s foodie appeal here :You had me at food wine and beer
Inside Laurance cellar door
Breweries – if you’re more of a beer person, never fear because there are several local micro breweries that are peppered amongst the vineyards. They are relaxed, often have music and generally have great play areas for children too. Try Eagle Bay Brewing Company, Bootleg, Duckstein (Saracen), Cheeky Monkey or Colonial for starters. You might like to read: Episode 1: Beaches and Breweries
6. You could take detours from Caves Road to the quaint town of Cowaramup and further south veer off along Carter’s Road to Margaret River itself, but we stayed on Caves Road until we came to Wallfliffe Road where we turned off right to Prevelly, a small settlement with a picturesque Greek Orthodox Church that has an interesting history.
Almost next to this, at the general store adjacent to the camping site you can find an interesting book that will tell you all about its history and why Prevelly was built. Next to the store is a laid back, family restaurant called Sea Gardens with great views.
Bike track – if you like getting out on two wheels, there’s a bike track from Prevelly which will take you all the way to Margaret River. (There are good kangaroo viewing spots along Wallcliffe Road. For more information about bike rides try: Two Easy Bike Trails around Margaret River)
Where are the waves in this region?
The region between the two capes is a surfer’s paradise – these are some of the top surfing points for surf enthusiasts:-
Windmills, Three Bears, Yallingup, Injidup, North Point, South Point, Surfer’s Point, Lefhanders, Grunters, Gas Bay, Redgate and Boranup.
For more information about the Margaret River Region, maps, books and where to stay advice, contact the Margaret River Visitor Centre.
Best Beaches in the Cape To Cape Region
- Dunsborough – for families
- Boodjidup and Gnarabup – adjoin each other. Great for stand up paddle boarding and swimming. There’s a boat jetty. The beachside White Elephant restaurant is open during the day and has truly fantastic views.
- Conto’s – has a fantastic high ridge behind it. Great for swimming and surfing.
- Gracetown – In a bay, has two surf breaks. Cafe close by.
- Redgate – a stunning stretch of beach, surf and swimming areas.
- Meelup – mentioned above.
- Hamelin Bay – snorkelling, swimming, and stingrays. Small general store.
- Smiths – a wide sweep of beach sheltered from the southerlies. Lamonts Restaurant close by.
- Yallingup – has a protected lagoon – great cafe and play areas.
- Flinders Bay, Augusta – a family beach
7. Time to drive back along Wallcliffe Road and right onto Caves Road, heading south again, not veering off to the lovely Redgate Beach this time (well worth a visit). We continue past more wineries and drive on past Calgardup Cave, Mammoth Cave and Lake Cave – ” Margaret River Caves” - at Lake Cave there are some tearooms with a gift shop right in the forest.
Tip: If you’re booking cave tours ask at the Augusta and Margaret River Visitor’s centre about packages – sometimes you can buy a package for two or three caves and a lighthouse tour.
A little further on, and on the left is the Boranup Gallery, a great place for large and small gifts – and a small café, which also juts into the forest. Watch out for Splendid Blue Wrens.
Top Spots in this section
Boranup Forest – a dense and beautiful forest of Karri trees which can grow to 90 metres high.
Early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is shafting through the trees, is a great time to stop at the picnic spot (on a most beautiful bend in the road) for photos or a picnic. For the more adventurous you can head off into the forest on gravel roads on a fairly long, dense, loop which will take you back onto Caves Road.
8. On Caves Road and heading south, we veer off to the right along Hamelin Bay Road to the beautiful beach of Hamelin Bay with its holiday park, sunken wrecks, and fishing opportunities. Hamelin Bay was once famous as a bustling port in the days of timber logging when logs were shipped to England. You can see remnants of the jetty on the beach.
Here you’ll likely find stingrays swimming in the shallow waters because they come in to feed off the fishermen’s scraps. You can often get really close to them, but beware of their barbed tails – which can be deadly, so don’t get too close.
Video Clip of Stingrays: I’ve posted a video of the Stingrays on my LoVe Drives “Cape To Cape Drive” on the LoVe Drives site so click on the link and pop on over if you’d like to check it out along with a MAP of the Cape to Cape route. Want to create a drive? LoVe Drives is an online community for anyone who loves to drive, powered by Shell V-Power. It’s a place to share your favourite drives, filled with information and imagery … or to discover other people’s most loved drives around Australia.
9. Back on Caves Road, and you could detour to visit beautiful Cosy Corner with its lovely beach and headland, or drive on as we did past the lovely Jewel Cave and on to the T Junction with the Bussell Highway. Here we turned right and drove south again to the coastal town of Augusta.
Augusta is a small town at the mouth of the Blackwood River. It dates back to 1622 and since then it’s become a popular family holiday hotspot. There are some lovely walks along the waterfront.You can also book to go dolphin spotting, or catch boats to take you into the Hardy Inlet and along the Blackwood River. The beach at Flinders Bay offers a good swimming beach and it’s very picturesque.
But it’s the lighthouse which gets the Oscar.
Top Spots in this section
The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse began operation in 1896. It sits at the point where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet right on the most south westerly tip of Australia. It’s the tallest lighthouse on the Australian mainland. Guided tours and interesting maritime history await you.
The Augusta Hotel – Above … the views from the restaurant are just wonderful. Stop for pub lunch type meals and enjoy the vistas. If you’d like a snack then head along the main street to The Augusta Bakery – a great little cafe with views, and fresh baking.
When to go
The region between the Capes enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate. Summer temperatures rarely rise above 32 – 34 degrees centigrade. Winter is wet and can be chilly (bring warm clothes), and springtime you can expect mild temperatures and sunny days of around 16 to 18 degrees. The spring flowers at this time of year are often wonderful in the forests and coastal walks (2,500 wildflowers and around 150 orchid species can be found in the area). Autumn is mild and days are generally sunny.
What drive on LoVe Drives will you go on next?