PLACES TO GO
This fishing village of 500 people is about two hours north of Perth and an easy weekend escape. Ronsard Bay is dotted with reefs so the swimming beaches along Cervantes’ beachfront are protected, making it great for small kids. You won’t find five-star-hotels – there are a couple of lodges, self-contained units, and a campground – and there are only a handful of places to eat, but that’s part of its low-key charm. Fishing, windsurfing and the beach are the main activities. If Town Beach (next to the caravan park) is a little weedy, head to Hangover Bay (the first right after the Pinnacles turn off when travelling from the north); it’s a lovely sandy beach popular for fishing – you can cook up any catch on the free barbecues. Thirsty Point, at the end of Seville Street, is another stunner, and there’s a lookout with panoramic views. Cervantes is a good base for exploring some of the nearby weird and wacky attractions – the moonscape-like Pinnacles Desert is 20km to the south, and Lake Thetis and its cow-pat-like stromatalites (ancient living fossils) is just near town. Don’t miss a tour of the Lobster Shack – you can help pull the craypots and choose a critter that takes your fancy, which the team will then cook up for your lunch. Or you can just pop in to pick up fresh or frozen seafood from the shop (9am-5pm daily), or cooked meals from the cafe (11am-3pm daily).
Jurien Bay (20 minutes north of Cervantes, population 1500) is the largest town along this stretch of coast and, since it was named in WA’s nine ‘SuperTowns’ development, has ramped up (there’s a brand new jetty, an upgraded foreshore with a big playground and walkaway, and plans for a fancy civic centre). The hero here is the coastline, with its clear water, white sand, and a marine park that’s a major sea-lion breeding area (lots of tours will take you to see them). Jurien Bay is the adventure park of the Coral Coast: skydiving, windsurfing, sandboarding, deep-sea fishing, surfing, water-skiing and jet-boating are all popular pursuits. Accommodation tends to be in B&Bs, private house rentals or motels, and there is a campground next to the beach on Roberts Street. There’s also a snorkel trail off the main beach, thanks to the local Men’s Shed – in late 2013 they dropped large concrete balls into the shallows to create an artificial reef. Look for the old posts sticking out of the water opposite Dobbyn Park (park at the new jetty and walk along the beach).
The dunes in Nambung National Park.
Dongara & Port Denison
These twin towns are separated by the Irwin River. Dongara (where you’ll also find most of the shops, hotels, motels and B&Bs) is to the north, while the majority of the caravan parks are south in Port Denison, along with the foreshore and the marina. There are some lovely old buildings around town that you can explore on the 1.6km heritage trail (pick up a map for $2 from the visitor centre or the museum) and there’s also a coastal walk from the marina that will take you past plaques explaining some of the local shipwrecks. If you’d rather drive around take a cruise to South Beach. The sand is so hard you can drive it in a 2WD. It’s also home of the quaint Starfish Cafe, a tiny brick building decorated by fishing buoys, which services simple but tasty meals. For Five Senses coffee, head to the Season Tree cafe on Moreton Terrace. From October to April, Port Denison is also home to one of the state’s last drive-in cinemas, run by the local surf club. Films screen on Saturday nights (check their Facebook page for details).
Nambung National Park
While it’s a tourist stomping ground, even those familiar with this stretch of coast have to admit the limestone landscape of the Pinnacles Desert is pretty special, more so when viewed at dawn or dusk. The Indian Ocean Road cuts through the Nambung National Park, and The Pinnacles Desert is close to its heart – look for the turn 12km south of Cervantes. There is an entry fee of $12 per car, payable at the visitor centre. A little bit further down the track is the 4km loop drive through the Pinnacles. There’s a 4-5km walk to a lookout, just pack plenty of water and notify the ranger before heading off, (08) 9652 7043. Not far from the Pinnacles and still within Nambung National Park is beautiful Hangover Bay, with free barbecues, picnic tables and toilets, (there are also facilities at Kangaroo Point).
Aerial view of Jurien Bay Marine Park (photography Australia’s Coral Coast).
THINGS TO DO
Sand-boarding at Sandy Cape
10km north of Jurien Bay, Sandy Cape is great for sand-boarding, with the dunes running the length of the beach and opening at the southwest end for the best runs (boards can be hired from Tige’s Surf Shop in Jurien Bay, 08 9652 1527). Camping is also allowed in sites just a stone’s throw from the beach ($15 a night), which is also good for swimming and fishing. There is vehicle access to the beach to the north and south of the camping area. The site has toilets but no drinking water, and dogs are allowed as long as they’re kept on a lead.
If you’re in search of wildflowers in spring, make your way to Lesueur National Park ($12 entry fee per vehicle). More than 900 different species bloom throughout the park, including striking grevillea, leschenaultia, black kangaroo paw, scarlet feather flower, Scholtzia, orchids and pearl flowers. You can explore the natural delights of the park via the 18.5km scenic drive, or stretch your legs along the well-marked trails, beginning at the Lesueur Entry Station or Drummond recreational area (halfway along the scenic drive).
Slightly east of the town of Leeman, Stockyard Gully National Park is home to two caves currently open to the public. The main cave stretches for 300m and is easy to walk through (take a torch and look out for bats), but the second (800m) requires more care, because the uneven ground can be slippery with mud and slime. Also watch out for bees – there are hives in the caves! The park is rugged, so you’ll need a 4WD, and while there are plenty of great picnics spots and camping is allowed, there are no public facilities (there are toilets, water and hot showers at Lake Indoon). Contact the Pinnacles visitor centre, (08) 9652 7700, for detailed directions on how to get there, or jump onto a 4WD tour with Beach, Sand and Land Tours, 0408 932 454, running all year round.
Jurien Bay sea lions (photography Australia’s Coral Coast).
Visit the sea lions
Join the playful sea lions for a dip and photo opportunities at Fisherman’s Island, 20 minutes from Green Head, with Sea Lion Charters, (08) 9953 1012, running mid-September to May. Boat owners can launch from the top-notch boat ramp in town; four nautical miles south of Jurien Bay is Essex Rocks where the sea lions go to rest from their foraging expeditions. Check with the Pinnacles Visitor Centre for confirmed coordinates, (08) 9652 7700.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
FOR HIRE | Bikes, surfboards, snorkelling gear, crab nets, kayaks, golf clubs, golf buggy from Breeze Inn in Dongara.
WILDFLOWERS | The Western Flora Park is located within the Shire of Irwin, south of Dongara-Port Denison on the Brand Highway, just past the turn off to the Indian Ocean Drive. There you’ll find Allan, who is highly knowledgeable and can teach people about all the different species. The park has 2000 different flowering species with 27 different species in one square metre. Walking tours leave every afternoon (4pm for wildflowers) plus 4WD tagalong tours are available during the day.
GETTING THERE | Cervantes is your first stop heading north, around 200km from Perth via Indian Ocean Drive. It’s a pleasant 140-minute trip, well suited to small family and weekend getaways. The Cervantes to Dongara stretch is approximately 160km along the same road, with Jurien Bay, Green Head and other small towns and national parks dotted between. Bus services run from Perth to Cervantes.
Jurien Bay Jetty (photography Australia’s Coral Coast).
In Dongara, off the north and south walls of the marina, you can net blue manna crabs and catch tailor, mulloway and squid (crab nets can be hired from the Rockpool Beach House, opposite the boat ramp). In Cervantes, angling hotspots include Hangover Bay and Kangaroo Point, or the lit-up jetty after dark (where you’re sure to bag lots of herring). In Jurien Bay, hit up one of the two jetties to catch skippy, dart, whiting, flathead and flounder (tailor makes the odd afternoon appearance – locals recommend the use of berley here because tailor tend to feed high in the water). South Beach, on the north side of Green Head, is excellent for landing yellowfish, whiting and tailor from the shore, while boat owners may bag larger snapper and dhufish a short distance out from the main boat ramp.
Four-wheel driving enthusiasts will find no shortage of tracks to explore in this region, with plenty between North Head and Sandy Cape. Turn west off Sandy Cape Road and follow the road to the Information Bay where there is detailed information on the best tracks to check out the Bartle monument, blow holes and the cliffs of North Head. Further north, at Hill River (between Cervantes and Jurien Bay), there are soft sand tracks that lead from the river mouth back into Cervantes, with great fishing spots along the way, taking you over the sand dunes onto the beach and crossing the river. Stockyard Gully Track offers easy four-wheel driving, but the track (soft sand in places) can get quite boggy. If you follow the gully track to the end, you’ll arrive at Lake Indoon which is perfect for canoeing or kayaking, or a refreshing swim after a day on the tracks (and camping is free).
Taking the 4WD out at South Beach (photography Pam Townsend).
Snorkel the underwater trail at Jurien Bay
See the world’s oldest living organisms at Lake Thetis
Take the coastal walk in Port Denison to learn about the shipwrecks
Spot the wildflowers in late winter and spring
Take a postcard-like shot of the Pinnacles
Hire a sandboard and head to Sandy Cape
Fish for blue manna crabs in Dongara
All these and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo