Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park
This long, narrow park hugs the south-west coast of Western Australia for 120 kilometres between two prominent capes, Cape Naturaliste in the north and Cape Leeuwin in the south. Known as the Limestone Coast, the area boasts a stunning array of natural attractions: wild and rugged coastal scenery, white-sand beaches, some of the state’s best surﬁng breaks, excellent ﬁshing, tall karri forest and magniﬁcent cave formations. Leeuwin–Naturaliste National Park forms the western boundary of the Margaret River region, renowned for its world-class wines and ﬁne craft galleries. Its close proximity to Perth also contributes to its popularity as a holiday destination for Western Australians. The park itself is the most visited national park in the state, with more than one million visitors every year.
From Perth via Perth–Bunbury Hwy, Bussell Hwy and Caves Rd
All seasons, but especially October to May
261 km south of Perth
DEC Busselton (08) 9752 5555
Permit required for abseiling and rock-climbing
19 700 ha
Augusta/Dunsborough/Margaret River/Yallingup (08) 9780 5911
Featured Activities in the National Park
Visit Ellensbrook homestead to discover what life was like for the early settlers
Learn about caves at CaveWorks then see the real thing at Lake Cave
Swim or surf at Yallingup Beach
Climb to the top of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse for magniﬁcent views
- Back to nature, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, Back to nature
- Limestone caves – Leeuwin–Naturaliste National Park, Natural Wonders, Natural Wonders
A look at the past
The ﬁrst European record of this coastline was made by Dutch mariners aboard the ship Leeuwin in 1622. French and English explorers followed in the 1790s and early 1800s, with the English navigator Matthew Flinders charting the coastline in 1801. It is an interesting legacy of these early years of exploration that so many of the placenames in this region are French – Geographe Bay, Cape Naturaliste, Cape Clairault, Cape Freycinet, Hamelin Bay – yet it was the English who eventually settled the area in 1830.
The ﬁrst European dwelling between the capes was built in 1857 by Alfred and Ellen Bussell. Their wattle-and-daub Ellensbrook homestead still stands today, and visitors are welcome to tour it. A trail leads from the homestead to the beautiful Meekadarribee Falls, a place steeped in Aboriginal legend. The walking trail and all facilities are accessible to the disabled.
Bones and teeth found in the park’s limestone caves, and implements found at other sites, date Aboriginal occupation of the Leeuwin–Naturaliste area as far back as 40 000 years ago. There are many placenames in the region that bear testament to the strong ties between the local Nyungar people and their land. Yallingup translates as ‘place of love’, Meekadarribee means ‘the moon’s bathing place’, Boranup means ‘place of the dingo’ and Cowaramup is ‘place of the parrot’. Injidup means ‘place of the red pea ﬂower’, and in springtime these distinctive plants ﬂourish on the region’s limestone cliffs.
The Leeuwin–Naturaliste ridge, which runs from north to south between the capes, is a 600-million-year-old geological formation of granitic rock capped by limestone. Over time, groundwater streams flowing in channels above the granite bedrock have eroded the soluble limestone, forming a system of caves throughout the ridge. The fossils of marsupials long extinct in Western Australia have been found in these caves, including a giant echidna, koala and Tasmanian devil.
Along the coast are rugged limestone cliffs and granite outcrops, interspersed with sheltered bays and beaches. At Canal Rocks, a natural canal is formed by a series of rocks that extends into the ocean from the headland. The ocean surging through the canal, viewed from a walkway and bridge, is an impressive sight.
From its sandy bays surrounded by rugged coastal heathland, the park extends into peppermint and banksia woodlands and dense forests of jarrah, marri and karri. Boranup Forest, which lies between Caves Road and the coast, is a regrowth karri forest. Encompassing 3200 hectares, it is significant as the largest known karri forest growing in limestone sands. The karri here also represent the western limit of the range of these tall trees; they are 100 kilometres away from the state’s main karri forest, where the species grows in red clay loams.
Within the forest are picnic spots and a campsite, and a short walk leads to Boranup Lookout, which provides sweeping views over the forest and the coast west to Hamelin Bay.
The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including western grey kangaroos, western ringtail possums, brushtail possums, honey possums, fat-tailed dunnarts and water-rats. Of the 200 or more bird species recorded in the park, the red-tailed tropicbird is one of the most fascinating. This oceanic migrant comes to Sugarloaf Rock (a few kilometres south of Cape Naturaliste) to nest, making the tall, pyramid-shaped rock the southernmost breeding site for the species. Look for its two streamer-like tail feathers and bright coral-red bill.
Around Cape Naturaliste itself, watch out for winter migratory birds such as the yellow-nosed albatross with its distinctive yellow streak along the bridge of its glossy black bill, and the Australasian gannet, which nosedives in spectacular fashion to pluck fish from the sea. Albatross also visit Cape Leeuwin, at the southern extremity of the park; sightings of the black-browed, yellow-nosed, and even the shy albatross have been recorded. Northern and southern giant-petrels, which breed in the Antarctic region, may also be seen here, between May and October.
In the karri forests, keen eyes will see a range of colourful species, including the tiny purple-crowned lorikeet, the white-breasted robin, which is found only in south-west Western Australia, and the crested shrike-tit – clearly recognisable by its stark black and white striped head colours. Also watch for the antics of the gregarious golden whistler as it rocks back and forth to attract a mate. Bridled and crested terns breed around Hamelin Bay and its rocky islands, while in summer the sanderling is a migratory visitor all the way from the Arctic.
This coastline has so much to offer visitors: bushwalking, sightseeing, abseiling, rock-climbing, caving, ﬁshing, whale-watching and a variety of watersports, including swimming, snorkelling, diving, surﬁng, sailing and windsurﬁng.
Beach and bushwalking
With breathtaking coastal scenery at every step, the park’s walking trails are many and varied. The Cape Naturaliste Track (3.2 km, 1 hour) leads through small limestone formations to a good vantage point for whale-watching. The ultimate bushwalking experience is the 140-kilometre Cape to Cape Walk Track, which stretches through the park from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. It provides plenty of contrasting terrain, from sandy beaches and cliff-top paths, to shady forests and rock-strewn headlands. The track can be broken into shorter sections; for details contact DEC ofﬁces or local visitor centres.
Cave tours and caving
Several caves in the region are open to the public with regular guided tours. Ngilgi Cave, near Yallingup in the north of the park, offers a stunning display of stalactite, stalagmite and shawl rock formations. Mammoth Cave is home to the fossil remains of prehistoric animals, and is one of the few caves in Australia with some degree of access for people with limited mobility.
Only a few kilometres away is the beautiful Lake Cave, with its delicate formations and famous reﬂective lake. The adjacent interpretive centre, CaveWorks, features a walk-through cave model, interactive displays and a boardwalk with spectacular views of a collapsed cavern. Further south is Jewel Cave, which is renowned for its abundant limestone formations, including the longest straw stalactite found in any cave open to the public. Nearby is Moondyne Cave, which offers guided adventure tours. In addition, there are two adventure caves, Calgardup Cave and Giants Cave. Torches and helmets are provided to help visitors explore their own way through these unlit caves. Experienced cavers can contact the ranger for access to other caves in the area.
Kilcarnup, near Margaret River, offers excellent diving but can only be reached by 4WD. Further south in Hamelin Bay are 11 wrecks, four of which form the state’s most unusual heritage trail, the Hamelin Bay Wreck Trail. Nearby Cosy Corner has a number of small islands surrounded by reefs, which provide good diving spots.
Beach and rock-ﬁshing are popular along the shoreline between the capes but a 4WD is needed to reach the more isolated ﬁshing spots. Between the months of May and June, huge schools of Australian salmon make their way north along the coast to Perth on their annual spawning run, providing a golden opportunity for anglers. Other species caught from the beach and rocks include herring, skippy, tailor, whiting, ﬂathead and mulloway. Offshore the catch includes dhuﬁsh, snapper and shark. Sheltered bays scattered along the coast, such as Kilcarnup, Cowaramup Bay and Prevelly, are suitable for launching small boats. However, anglers should note that the ocean waters here are unpredictable and dangerous. Before ﬁshing, check weather conditions and regulations. Contact Department of Fisheries Western Australia (08) 9482 7333.
At the northern end of the park is the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, built in 1903. At 20 metres high, it provides wonderful views over the Cape and Geographe Bay. From here walking trails into the surrounding park offer a variety of routes along the spectacular coastline. A 4WD track leads to good spots on the coast for fishing and surfing.
Just a short drive from Augusta at the southern end of the park is the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. One hundred and seventy-six steps lead to the top of the limestone lighthouse for a sensational view. Nearby is the Old Water Wheel which, although originally built in 1895 from timber, has since calcified, giving it the appearance of stone. The peninsula of Cape Leeuwin marks the most south-westerly point of Australia and the place where the Southern and Indian oceans meet.
Rock-climbing and abseiling
Two of the most popular places for abseiling and rock-climbing in the park are the awe-inspiring Brides Cave and the Wilyabrup sea cliffs. Permits and approved group leaders are required.
Snorkelling and surfing
In the right weather conditions there are some enjoyable and safe places to snorkel along the coast, such as at Prevelly and Gnarabup. Offshore from Leeuwin–Naturaliste National Park are world-renowned surf breaks, such as Yallingup Reef, Smiths Beach, Three Bears and Super Tubes. The area also boasts a remarkable diversity of breaks: the Huzzas in Cowaramup is perfect for beginners, while Surfers Point at the mouth of Margaret River – where waves up to 5 metres are not uncommon – attracts the world’s best surfers every April for the annual Margaret River Masters surfing competition. Tracks to the more isolated surfing spots on the coast are often suitable for 4WD only.
Between September and November, humpback and southern right whales can be sighted offshore along this coastline as they head to and from their northern feeding grounds. The best whale-watching vantage points are at Cape Naturaliste, Gracetown Lookout at Cowaramup Bay, Cape Leeuwin and around Sugarloaf Rock. During the season, regular whale-watching boat tours operate from Busselton, Dunsborough and Augusta.
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