This article first appeared in the April 2012 issue of 4x4 Australia.
Family holiday destinations don’t get much better than the south-west coast of Western Australia where old-growth forests meet the sea; providing the ultimate sea-change, tree-change adventure.
Walpole-Nornalup National Park (NP) is part of the Walpole Wilderness Area, incorporating a number of national parks and conservation reserves. To learn more about the massive trees that populate these parts, head to the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, a 600m walkway rising to around 40m from the forest floor. It’s similar to a modern day suspension bridge that moves underfoot, limiting foot traffic per span. Beyond the treetop walk, a paved walkway known as the Ancient Empire weaves through the forest, identifying old-growth tingle and karri trees up to 300 years old.
As far as Botany 101 goes, both karri and tingles are eucalypt species, with the red tingle only found in the Walpole-Nornalup NP. The rough barked red tingles can live for more than 400 years and boast the largest girth of all eucalypts, growing to 26m with their height peaking at 75m. While tingle trees are often hollowed out by fire and fungal attack, their robust structure allows them to continue growing. In comparison, the smooth-barked karri tree grows up to 90 metres, making it the tallest tree in Western Australia and one of the world’s tallest hardwood trees.
The coastline in these parts is equally spectacular, from the ocean beach of Conspicuous Cliff to the inlets of Walpole or Nornalup – ideal for swimming, boating and fishing.
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There are a number of sandy four-wheel drive tracks that snake down to the beach worthy of exploration; most have traction aids such as rubber matting or sleepers where required. East of Walpole at Peaceful Bay, take the Soft Beach Track off Peaceful Bay Road. Soft sandy tracks follow the coastline to Point Irwin, and then across the headland to The Gap.
Soft Beach and Groper Bay are good places to swim or fish; Cape Howe and Castle Rock are better for views of the ocean or a picnic lunch; The Gap facing the ocean is best for fishing only. To complete the circuit follow the Gap Track back to Peaceful Bay. Alternatively, Rame Head Track leads down to Salmon Camp Beach and Rame Head. Both are good fishing spots, but getting off the beach can be difficult.
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If hot showers and flushing toilets are among the family essentials, the Coalmine Beach Caravan Park within the Walpole-Nornalup NP is easily the pick. With beach frontage and plenty of shade, the bush setting offers the best of both worlds.
As far as bush camps are concerned, Banksia Camp on the edge of the D´NP is hard to beat. Take the South Western Highway out of Walpole for 12km and turn left at the unsealed Mandalay Beach Road. Within a few minutes you’ll reach Crystal Springs, which is worth a look. Keep going along Mandalay Beach Road for around 7km to the turn-off for Banksia Camp (right). Drop tyre pressures here for the onward journey, rising initially over a soft dune, and then weaving through coastal vegetation to the camp (2km).
The campground is geared for swags and tents, with sites surrounded by bollards. One site is provided for camper trailers but could fit two at a push. An attractive corrugated iron hut known as Banksia Lodge offers communal living space for 12 people, with four bedrooms and a large undercover living area. A cold shower looks after bathing duties and a central long-drop caters for all campers. The campground is protected from the Southern Ocean, making it a great spot for fishing, surfing or simply relaxing around the camp.
There are plenty more four-wheel drive tracks around these parts to explore. Tracks lead to Bottleneck Bay, Cliffy Head and Fishermens Track to Broke Inlet (closed from June to December); a great place to drop in a tinnie.
With so much to see and do, from the towering old-growth forests to the coastal fringes, you may find a weekend trip barely scratches the surface with a couple of extra days needed to fully absorb the beauty of this wonderfully unique seaside environment.
Walpole-Nornalup National Park is 121km west of Albany and 355km south of Perth on the south-west coast of Western Australia.
PERMITS AND ACCESS:
Walpole-Nornalup NP, no park entry fee. D´Entrecasteaux NP (Banksia Camp) $11 per vehicle, day use or camping.
Crystal Springs (long-drop toilet, wood barbecue and cold water); Banksia Camp (long-drop toilet, water, cold shower, hut); $7 adult, $2 child per night. (dec.wa.gov.au).
Coalmine Beach Holiday Park, unpowered sites from $27/night, 08 9840 1026. (coalminebeach.com.au.)
WHAT TO TAKE:
Insect repellent, drinking water, fishing gear, binoculars, recovery gear, compressor and tyre gauge.
Walpole has most facilities including fuel, supermarket, bakery, information centre, vehicle and tyre repairs. Pemberton or Denmark have more services.
Easy to medium. The beaches and coastal tracks can be very soft. If travelling alone, reduce tyre pressures and travel above the high water line.