135 kilometers. Stunning coastal landscapes, wonderful beaches, secret forests, dolphins, kangaroos, birds, new people... Haaa! But here is a challenge that we want to do! This path sounds like a dream! Since our unsuccessful attempt at the Skye Trail in Scotland, we didn't have yet the opportunity to do a trek and complete it. There, we wanted it, we got it ... (Warning, massive article, but well written! Yes, promised!)
The Cape to Cape Track: quésaco?
The characteristics of the path:
The trek extends on 135km along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste geological ridge, between Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in the North and Cape Leeuwin in the South, West of Western Australia. The fastest walkers can do it in 4 to 5 days, but at a more sustainable pace, it takes up to 8 days to complete the Cape to Cape Track.
The hike is free, the camping sites on the way too (unless you want comfort), and given their irregularity, you can camp wherever you want (be careful not to leave anything behind you and do not settle too much in sight anyway ...)!
You must know that it is a level 4 hike that is walked mostly on the sand, hence its difficulty. Only one section is wheelchair accessible, the walk from the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse to the famous Sugarloaf Rock. The rest is on sandy paths, stony paths, beaches...
Water is not that easy to find, especially in summer, and even if you have something to filter or purify the water, you simply will not always have liquid to treat! So, unless you drink or filter your own urine, we recommend leaving with a lot of water on you and filling every time you find a faucet (a real treasure hunt!).
And for lovers of orienteering, your passion will be undermined because the trail is extremely well marked! Every 100-200 meters, a post indicates the direction to follow so that even the hopeless people in orientation like us (me ...) go towards the arrival.
You should also know that the sun is burning, even if temperatures never reach more than 30°C... Notice to lobsters!
Some history :
The Wardandi, the Aboriginal tribe who inhabited the area, have always traveled this coast, both for migration and for fishing or hunting. The first Europeans began to walk the path between Cape Naturaliste and Augusta and to trace it in 1831 (thanks to John Dewar and Andrew Smith). Since then, the area has been growing in popularity and the Australian government has created a national park. In 1980, Jane Scott traced the current path between the two lighthouses and the trek was officially opened in 2001!
Two websites to prepare your trip:
All this is is really good, but what about how it was for us?
The day before
We are at Lake Clifton, admiring the stromatolites (the oldest forms of life on Earth, found only in some places on the planet... Scientific minute!), walking 7 small kilometers to admire some birds (who were well hidden...) when we decide to take up the challenge on March 16th in the afternoon. Why? The meanders of the spirit are impenetrable...
Still, we are excited!
We prepare our bags: tent, sleeping bag, mattress, stove, rain jacket, shorts, a T-shirt, two panties and especially food (let's still keep reason, it was only porridge, Chinese noodles and nuts, which also weighed in the balance later...).
The hardest to find on the way being the water, and despite our filters, we decide to carry 4 liters per day and per person. And our bag is well weighed down. One last cold shower in Busselton (the best showers of our entire trip!), one night on the front seats of Choco in Dunsborough to avoid getting fined and the day arrives!
Day 1 : a start with a flourish
The alarm goes off at 5:30. We take a hearty last breakfast in front of the rising sun (and under the incredulous looks of locals and a Ranger) and then we head for the lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste where the trail begins. We decide to leave the car closest to the lighthouse entrance, thinking that at least the Rangers will take a look at it from time to time.
We put the left shoe on, then the right, then the bag and we are starting to w... No. We go back to the car, Matt forgot his hat...
Then we are starting to w...Ha? Still not, we go back to the car, I forgot my sunglasses... When one has a featherbrain, one cannot change!
After playing weathervanes for several minutes, we finally get on the road!! A brief stop to write our names on the guestbook (which serves just as much for tourists thinking they are Shakespeare as for the Rangers looking for tourists thinking they are Shakespeare lost on the track...) and here we are, starting our trek at 09:45.
The first kilometers have a salty taste and a windy touch. The landscapes leave us speechless and the sweet smell of infinite freedom that emerges from these immensities give us the desire to run butt naked, hair in the wind while flailing our arms and shouting "Freedoooom"... Not knowing if the kangaroos would have appreciated, we slowed down our momentum and we settle to trudge while being ecstatic before each beach, each cove, each reptile...
Then we cross our first beach. In all its length. Then a second. A stream. Another beach. The splendor of the landscapes and the sun accompany us throughout our first day of walking. We do not meet a living soul. No one. Nada. Even animals avoid us. Kangaroos, dolphins, seagulls... Nothing. Yet we do not stink (yet...).
A hike without a living being is quickly monotonous, and we are happy to finally stop after 19km of walking. The sand on the trail and the entire beaches to cross with our 8 to 10 kg bags did not make it easy.
We are looking for a place to pitch the tent since 16:00 and the first official camping we had was way too early in the day to consider stopping there.
But when the night begins to fall, no choice, we have to settle down! The problem of the track is that as soon as we leave it, it's the bush, and when I say bush I mean bushes that hurt, very tight trees and slopes... After 8 hours of walking, we set up the camp at 17:45 just before Rotary Lookout at Canal Rocks Road. And we find nothing better than to settle on the trail! Ha yes, ballsy! We are in pain everywhere, and our noodles do not fill our stomachs. But the tea is hot, the tent is up, and we're still full on! And thankfully because tomorrow is a big day waiting for us!!
Day 2 : a sweet and sour stage
At 5 am, on waking, a real surprise awaits us: we have no pain anywhere! Our 10 hours of sleep repaired us! After the (small) breakfast, we start walking at 7:45 am...
This day was ... not quite what we wanted.
We continue our slow progress towards Cape Leeuwin, through the bush, on the beaches, in the dunes, on soft and fleeing ground, soft ground that stands and wet soft ground.
The waters are turquoise, the beaches of white sand alternate with rocky stretches of red granite with monumental boulders carved by the wind and the waves, the sun plays with its rays on the cliffs and the waves... We see our first kangaroos, surprised in their nap and not very shy. We see from afar some dolphins. A splendid show... which however quickly becomes monotonous.
The kilometers pass by, the landscapes do not change anymore. Of course would you say, it is a coastal path... Certainly, but the wind is very constant, non-stop, and the virtual absence of life (animal or human) makes the road long. But hell! We will not be fooled by this! The arrival of this second day was however applauded (yes, I applauded when we saw the village from the top of the cliff!).
And so, after 29 km and 10 hours of walking over more than 800 meters of altitude difference, (it can be worse, but we have many days to go!), we arrived in Gracetown, completely dead, exhausted, full of pain. The problem with this stage is that there is no camp near the trail. Given our state of exhaustion and the fact that we can not set up our tent at the risk of being fined, we have fun with ONE beer and ONE fish and chips... Yes. ONE and ONE! Given the completely exorbitant price of the thing, we prefer to share all this. A pretty keen action that we will regret enough, our muscles and our stomach demanding much more to recover from the effort.
This stop is also an opportunity to fill our water, but we have to cry to the waitress at the restaurant where we ate to let us get some. Why? Because the village lives from rainwater. Drinking water is delivered and becomes a precious and very expensive commodity...
The night having fallen and the sandman becoming rather insistent, we return towards the entrance of the village and its park. There, near the toilets, half in the bushes, hidden from the road and the lights, we set up our tent. We are not unhappy to be able to do our ablutions in the toilets, and finally to wash our legs black of dust and sand (I think we have never been more disgusted than yesterday when we had to slip into our sleeping bags with a film of several millimeters thick on each foot and each leg... and the wet wipes were a bit useless!).
Our ankles and feet are extremely painful and suffer a lot from walking on the sand which is more than 90% of the trail. A real physical and mental torture with this feeling of never moving forward. But stop complaining, we still have 87 km to go!
Day 3 : the defeat
Waking up was harder than expected at 5 o'clock. We stretch, we unroll our sore body. It is still dark, and we must quickly dismantle the tent before the first light of day. Little rascals that we are!
We take our breakfast a little further, admiring the prowess of hundreds of surfers on the waves of one of the most famous spots. The ankle pains are still there and our stomach is demanding more food. Despite everything, the desire is still there too, in spite of everything, we are not so far anyways. Despite everything, we persevere. And we set off as best we can.
The first kilometers and the first hours pass. The beaches are all as beautiful as each other, but we start to be brassed off. From butt naked, we now dream of us coiled in a comfortable sofa, with a big mug of tea in hand, three children playing with our two dogs. Ok. Not all the way to this point, but not far!
The landscape is still monotonous. The 5 meter swell, the breaking waves and the omnipresent wind make it all very noisy and we literally feel drunk. The sun has decided to be shy today, hypocrite. And then suddenly, a hiatus. Not in the sky, but on our way. We leave the seaside to sink for a few kilometers inland.
The path goes through Ellensbrook, a house built in 1857 by the Bussell family and members of the Nyungar tribe. Now owned by the National Trust, this place has been home to Aboriginal settlements for a long time. The tribes came to seek shelter against the winter storms and the intense summer sun.
The surroundings are beautiful and a sight for sore eyes. The wind here is almost imperceptible, and a weight is removed from our head. The silence. Barely interspersed with birds singing in Agonis flexuosa with a sweet peppermint scent.
We're in heaven! We still have ankle pain, especially me, but this change of scenery gently operates its magic on us...
We enter the forest on a portion of the gravel path. A relief for our feet! As we huddle along a little further, we come across the Meekadarribee waterfall, named by the Nyungar. "The moon's bathing place". With a small cave, on the other side. Cling to your socks, here's the legend of the place:
"A young girl, Mitanne, came for a walk near the cave at night to look at herself in the water, but she was reprimanded by the Elders. Staring at the reflection of the moon was indeed supposed to bring death and desolation. Mitanne was in love with a boy, Nobel, but she was already promised to one of the Elders of the tribe. Nobel and Mitanne fled together one evening, and came to live at the foot of the waterfall. The elder sent warriors in search of Nobel and had him killed. Mitanne was captured and taken to the camp, but she let herself die of grief and exhaustion. After her death, her spirit joined Nobel's in the cave behind the waterfall, and if you listen well, you can hear them sigh."
And we closed our eyes, breathed long and slowly, opening our ears wide. We immersed ourselves in the surrounding calm and heard the spirits of Mitanne and Nobel. The wind in a cave makes the imagination work!
After this welcome interlude, we resume our journey. We cross the path of three humans (yes, they still exist on this trail!), three Elders who, seeing us all sweaty, offer us a pear and an apple taken from their picnic... Ha, the virtues of the hiking !
We are not very far from the end of our stage. We still have a river mouth to cross (hoping that a sandbank closes and the swell is not too high to avoid having to make a detour of 5 km ...).
And here was the drama. The tragedy. The disaster.
After some 5 hours and 15km of walking, my calf decided to give up the ghost. In due form. My feet screamed help, yes, too, but the throbbing pain and ordeal of my calf had begun already 3 hours earlier. And there, suddenly, my body said stop.
While pausing, trying to recover, to swear at my calf, to spit on my feet, to insult my body, I am thinking. Why am I so in pain? I have done treks before. Hikes. In the sand, in the mountains, with steep drops. What's different this time to feel so bad? And then, the light was made... (If I had thought about it at the beginning of the trek, none of this would have happened, and we would have finished...)
I'm not a beginner in hiking, but I made a mistake. I had never walked so long and with so much weight with my Altra Lone Peak 3.0. These are great shoes for the toes and the fact that they are flat shoes is better for the tendons. But as we have always been used to shoes that have a light heel, even of a few millimeters, it takes some training to adapt to flat shoes by wearing them every day... and flip flops does not matter! I made a mistake as a novice and I forced my luck...
From there, several options are available to us. We settle directly for the night very early and rest. Ingesting drugs, waiting for their effect and pushing to the finish, knowing that there is a greater risk of injury. Or go home.
Matt is also starting to get tired of sand, even though his feet have been used to shoes for a long time. Or does he say that to make me feel better? Still, we make the decision to return.
4.5 km from the crossing of the mouth of Margaret River (on the beach!) we declare forfeit and abandon our challenge, with a heavy heart.
But we are not out of the woods yet. We have to get back to the car by hitchhiking, and to hitchhike we have to get back to the road. By a sandy road. 2km long. I'm in agony but I bite my teeth. I refuse that Matt takes my bag. I am a warrior or I am not (if you replace many letters in warrior, it also gives you stupid...).
Luckily, a 4x4 arrives behind us and drops us at the road! And we were going to have a hard time going back to where we started, we were pleasantly surprised.
In the space of 3 cars out of 20 in 1h30, we return to our Chocolatine. I also lost my excellent flip flops in all of that... Oh well!
And there ended our epic adventure...
We walked a total of 63km out of 135km, in 23 hours of walking, almost half of it which is already good in Matt's opinion, not enough from my point of view!
Our thoughts about it
The trek is splendid. There is no need to say. The turquoise waters are of a color that marvels, the red rocks contrast beautifully with the white sands. The kangaroos are nice, the dolphins are far away and we are expecting at every turn to encounter a group of hippie naturists dancing under the sunlight (a little strange image, certainly, but at least you get the idea!).
The most annoying has definitely been the ubiquitous sand and the fact that in the long run, between the wind, the landscapes that change little and the lack of life, it becomes monotonous. We love the coast, the ocean, the beaches, but there were only a few places to really enjoy it (the bush's fault!).
If we had to do it again, we would take more food that nourishes, even if it is heavier. These are big days of effort that need to be done, and the body needs fuel. We were definitely missing it. Speaking of day, we would force a little less on the second day, just to gain acclimatization.
And above all, I would not put new flat shoes for such a long trek...
In the end, it is a trek that we recommend. If you're not athletic, take your time. Nothing is really hard or insurmountable. Have enough water and food and be well equipped. And if you have to do it in 7 days instead of 5, do it!
---> What about you? Have you ever tried to complete a challenge and had to give up? <---