PLACES TO GO
Dunsborough is well-loved by families and really gets cranking during the holidays
and on long weekends. Over the past few years, several new estates have popped up and many of the pads are owned by Perthians, so there’s an ample supply of family-friendly holiday houses available for rent, plus plenty of beachside villas, cottages, apartments and resorts which are great for couples, too. In town there are supermarkets, great restaurants, cafes, and a trendy shopping district, while the closest wineries are only a ten-minute drive out of town. The beaches along this stretch of the northeast-facing coast are some of the prettiest in the region, and only get more picturesque the further you head past Geographe Bay. Meelup Beach on the northern edge of town is a winner with families, and has plenty of grassed areas, barbecues, and trees for shade; the protected waters are popular with paddleboarders, too. Walkers can take the scenic Meelup Track (see overleaf) north to Cape Naturaliste, where the Cape to Cape Track starts (it’s also a great place for spotting wildflowers in spring).
Laid-back Yallingup is ideal for those looking for surf, wine and food, without the hustle and bustle of a built-up town. The main settlement is low-key, with a caravan park, picnic area and cafe. Houses burrowed into the bush-covered hills, with ocean views to boot, are the norm around here, and there are plenty available for rent, which is great if you’re holidaying with a big group. Aside from being big on surf, the town is also home to topnotch spa retreats... after all, ‘Yallingup’ is the native Indigenous word for ‘place of love’. A short drive away are Ngilgi Cave, Canal Rocks, loads of wineries and breweries, and a northern coastline that’s lined with too many surf breaks to count. You’ll need bit of experience to handle most of the breaks around Yallingup, but in summer the swell isn’t as heavy, so Smiths and Yallingup beaches are okay for surfers who aren’t quite ready to tackle the thick, powerful barrels at Supertubes and Bombie. If you’re not a board rider, there are spots that are equally good for swimming, and to the southern end of Yallingup Beach is a shallow lagoon, which offers sheltered snorkelling.
There are more than a few ways to test the water along this iconic stretch of coastline. Fish, surf, swim, snorkel, paddle... You can even hike the Cape to Cape track and you'll be walking along the beaches for most of the time. To go snorkelling, the best place to head is Yallingup Lagoon, at the far end of Yallingup Beach. It's protected, making it a great place for youngsters to try out a snorkel and mask for the first time. Smiths Beach is always a favourite – an expanse of a beach that runs for kilometres. It's popular with surfers but the wind whips around the coast so it can get a bit chilly. Eagle Bay is a good choice during the holidays when Smiths and Yallingup beaches are crowded, as is Meelup Beach (the water is usually calm and sheltered, and the grassy surrounds make it great for a picnic). Other options include Injidup and Dunsborough beaches, or Bunker Bay. For a comprehensive list, look over the page at Top Beaches.
Ngilgi Cave (photography Geographe Bay Tourism).
THINGS TO DO
It’s one of the most photographed vistas in the southwest, and once you see it with your own eyes there’s no denying it’s a special place. The giant granite structure, separated from the land by a narrow channel of water, has its own car park and viewing platform with wheelchair and pram access. Eager beavers can take the trails that weave through the surrounds and down to the water, where there are loads of boulders and rock pools aplenty – good for a paddle when there’s little swell. You’re most likely to see dolphins at 10am (according to the locals), which is also the best time for photos because the rock is too shaded in the afternoon. If you don’t mind the coming and going of tourists, try fishing down near the water (only when it’s dry) for salmon and good-sized herring.
HMAS Swan wreck
The decommissioned naval destroyer escort HMAS Swan was scuttled in 1997 in Geographe Bay, 1.3 nautical miles off the coast. It now rests with a slight list in 35m of water and is one of the most popular dive sites in the country. Since the sinking of the ship, a vibrant mix of corals, sponges, multi-coloured fish and sea creatures has colonised its skeleton. Look out for footballer sweep, old wives, stripeys and moonlighters. For a laugh, get an underwater snap on the ship’s captain’s chair (or better still, on the toilet)! The best way to get to the wreck is with a local dive company, or you can visit with a private boat (permits are available from the Dunsborough visitor centre first).
Ngilgi Cave is located halfway between Dunsborough and Yallingup and it’s probably the best cave in the region if you’re keen to book a tour (there are plenty of options). There are more than 300 stairs (a decent level of fitness is helpful) and boardwalks that weave their way through the caverns and chambers, with lighting effects illuminating the stalactite, stalagmite, helictite and shawl formations. The tour guides are full of stories, including the tale of the battle between a good and evil spirit, and the ancient riverbed. It’s weirdly humid in the cave, given it’s far underground, so if you’re planning on joining one of the adventure tours you’re likely to work up a sweat. These tours involve a fair bit of crawling and slithering – it’s not a great idea to show up in your Sunday best (opt for old clothes instead).
Eagle Bay (photography Ollie Morgan).
There’s plenty of fishing to be had in these waters, and for bait you can try pippies dug from the sand, along with burley at dawn and dusk. If you’re in a dinghy, try between Bunker Bay and Dunsborough for whiting and flathead; salmon can be caught from April when they come in close to the bays. North of Dunsborough, Eagle Bay has good-sized herring and salmon, if you’re lucky (use a bit of burley and squid). Quindalup Beach (south of Dunsborough) is good for fishing in winter because it’s quite protected from the wind. Go rock fishing at Yallingup Beach for herring, whiting, skippy and salmon, while Sugarloaf Rock is known for big salmon (fish only when it’s dry, though). Bunker Bay is good for kids, with sand whiting to be caught directly in front of the resort. For a bit more variety, turn right from the beach and fish off the rocks (known as Rocky Point) for skippy, herring and tailor.
The most popular place for keen snorkellers, or even those donning a snorkel and mask for the first time, is Yallingup Beach. At this protected spot you can see schools of old wives, seagrass beds, coralfish and trevally, to name a few. There are granite boulders to the south, known as Yallingup Lagoon, and limestone rock platforms to the northern end. Remember to look under the ledges in just one metre of water – a popular hiding spot for marine life. It’s a bit of a steep decline from the carpark to the beach, so youngsters might need help with their gear. Eagle Bay is also a great spot for snorkelling, and has a combination of shallow water (2-3m deep) and sheltering granite outcrops. It’s ideally sheltered from the afternoon breeze so the water is usually pretty flat. This spot is known to attract stingers in summer (when the water is warm), so a long rashie is a must.
Cycling and biking
Whether you’re a mountain biker or a road cyclist, there’s plenty of terrain to suit. Road cyclists should try the road out to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in the morning (the lighthouse doesn’t open until 9am, so there’s little traffic). It’s about a 24km round trip but if you detour along the various beach paths along the way back it will make for a longer and more challenging trip. Around Meelup (3km out of Dunsborough) there are some little-known off-road trails that can be found off Cape Naturaliste Road. Head past the school, and opposite Endicott Loop (on the right-hand side) is a fire trail which is the entrance to the tracks. There’s the main track (Brown Streak) and other tracks that aren’t quite as comprehensive. The trails are pretty wide, making it okay for those who want to take it easy, but there are plenty of technical features (rocks and so on) for those who want to be tested.
Dolphins at Three Bears in Yallingup (photography Martine Perret).
Margaret River is renowned for its tall forests and beaches but Cape Naturaliste, at its very tip, is equally striking, with its low vegetation, granite shelves jutting out from the coastline, and huge swells that wallop the surrounding cliffs. It’s just a 15-minute drive to the cape from Dunsborough; there you can climb the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and spot whales from the lookout (there’s a shelter for wet and windy days). September to December is the best time for whale spotting, but the personality-packed New Zealand fur seals can be seen directly below the lookout throughout the year – it’s best to bring your binoculars to catch a good look at them. The west-facing side of the cape is surfer central, with waves that are fun in summer but can be bone-breaking in winter. On the eastern side, there’s Bunker Bay with a protected beach, but Shelley Cove further north is more private. The cove, surrounded by granite rocks, is located at the end of Bunker Bay Road and offers a grainy beach that’s barely ever touched by swell, and shaded picnic tables. There are plenty of walk trails to be explored – you can begin most near the lighthouse. The best time to walk is in spring, when the wildflowers are out in full force, but on warm days the area is buzzing with flies, so a net or bug spray is a must.
Try to spot dolphins at Sugarloaf Rock
Snorkel in the shallow water at Yallingup Lagoon
See a full moon rise over the sea at Meelup Beach
Spot a red-tailed tropicbird at Cape Naturaliste
Watch whales from the costal cliffs (September to December)
Escape the crowds at Shelley Cove
Slither and crawl through Ngilgi Cave
Watch the surfers at Yallingup Beach
Check out the vintage cars at Aravina Estate
Watch the sunset at Canal Rocks
Share a bottle of wine above Rabbits surf break
Ride the Meelup mountain-bike trails
All these and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo
Three Bears Beach, Yallingup (photography Insight Photography).
A five-minute drive south of Yallingup, beautiful Smiths Beach has some of the world’s finest, most consistent surfing waves. If you're a non-surfer, the beach is also great for families with kids wanting to muck around in the clear waters and explore the rock pools.
Famous for the Main Break surf, this sheltered lagoon also offers superb
snorkelling along the reefs at the southern end of the beach. The best swimming spots for families are in front of the town where the playground and picnic benches are, and the shallow lagoon off the Yallingup Reef Beach is a safe place
to swim in the shallow waters.
This curving sandy beach is popular with surfers looking for beach breaks, and perfect for snorkelling and fishing, with some spectacular marine life on show. Bunkers Beach Cafe, nestled in the dunes, produces fabulous homemade bread,
and a brilliant assortment of meals and snacks is on offer.
This long pocket of white sand is a favourite for family holidays, and a popular place for boats and yachts to drop anchor. With shady open grass areas and good facilities (tables, barbecues and toilets) lining the white sandy beach and its clear water, this protected bay is perfect for a day of swimming. Those in the know head to Meelup Beach on summer evenings when, for a few nights each month, the full moon rises over the Indian Ocean horizon.
Dunsborough Beach is perfect for families with young kids or anyone who likes swimming at calm, tranquil beaches without big waves. The seagrass meadows that occupy the majority of the water provide swimmers and snorkellers with a unique way to enjoy the marine life of the southwest, and offer fishermen the opportunity to catch many species of fish, squid and shark.
Walking at Smiths Beach.
THe Access For More Track
This track – a section of the Cape to Cape – is levelled and bituminised and provides an exceptional experience to walkers of all abilities. Incorporating more than a kilometre of timber boardwalk, visitors can access the track at either end by vehicle. Suitable for wheelchairs, the trail boasts stunning vistas of Sugarloaf Rock and coastal scenery.
Cape to Cape
The Dunsborough to Meelup Beach section of the Cape to Cape is a short, 3.5km walk that begins in Forrest Street, Dunsborough and ends on Meelup Beach Road. It’s an easy stroll, but beware of the rains because the 1km track between Curtis Bay and Castle Bay (approximately halfway through the walk) can become waterlogged. A 14km stretch of track begins at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and slopes down to Sugarloaf Rock, where the red-tailed tropicbird nests. There are wildflowers throughout this section in spring, and coastal views year-round from the clifftops where you’d be hard pressed not to see humpback whales during the migratory season. The track tackles sand dunes and dense heathland, and runs along limestone cliffs from Three Bears before heading inland along 4WD tracks and returning to the coast at Yallingup Beach.
Meelup Reserve Trail
The track is 7.4km one way or 14.8km return, with beautiful views of the coastline and surrounding bushland, wildlife and swimming beaches. You can spot seals, dolphins and seaside flora; inland, there’s kangaroos, snakes and birds. You can book accomodation in Dunsborough, and pre-book a taxi to drop you off at the trail in the morning and pick you up in the evening, to save you from leaving your car. If you don’t want to walk the entire distance there’s a number of access points, so you can personalise your hike.
Local favourite – The Wardanup Trail
There’s a trail that will take you from Caves House to Yallingup Beach car park. From the car park, head up the coast towards Rabbit Hill, which is at the northern end of Yallingup just past the entrance to the national park, off Dawson Drive. Once you see the steps just follow the walk track until you see the well-positioned seat for two above the Rabbits surf break . Don’t forget a bottle of wine and some glasses!
Pea Break at Injidup (photography Insight Photography).
A 10-minute drive south of Yallingup is Smiths Beach, one of the most popular beaches in the area, where you’ll find both consistent beach breaks for beginners and several reef breaks for the more experienced. North of Geographe Bay, situated around the corner from Rocky Point towards the cape, is Boneyard. A short walk down from the Bunker Bay car park, this sand-bar break starts working at 2m and has been known to hold up to 5m with waves suitable for all surfers. Yallingup Surf School, (08) 9755 2755, provides group and private lessons for all skill levels, or if you’re looking to head out on your own you can hire your gear through Dunsborough Beach Lodge, (08) 9756 7144, or Yahoo Surfboards in Yallingup, (08) 9756 8336.
Injidup has several breaks to choose from, and all are accessible from the Injidup car park. Carpark (Inji) is a relatively easy wave to surf while also being highly enjoyable and rewarding, a popular reef break that peels right across a sandy bottom and produces good surf in larger swells (3m plus). Further along the beach is the underrated – and not often crowded – Pea Break. It's a chunky wave that breaks on reef then sand, at times offering up an excellent long tube section, with good movement left and right. When the swells are too much along the coast, Castle Rock provides protection and holds good swell in late autumn and winter, in strong northerly winds. Soft lefts peel down a rocky point (sand bottom) – a favourite of some locals, it can be a great spot for long rides. Yallingup Reef is renowned for the reef break and world-class waves on offer. For the more experienced, get on the fat left (perfect for mals) or epic long, tubing on the right swell direction back towards the car park.
Three Bears (southwest of the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse) is three waves, aptly named Mama, Papa and Babies, going in both directions with swells that can produce one of the best lefts on the entire coast. Bears is only accessible via 4WD so if you are starting from the north, head out on Cape Naturaliste Road and turn left onto Sugarloaf Road. The track starts on your left about 500m down. There is a power pole and a sign that reads Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park marking the entrance. Follow the track south and stick to the coastline. South of Yallingup, Supertubes boasts one of the best right barrels in the southwest. This exposed reef break throws out fairly consistent surf, best around mid-tide. It doesn’t hold a massive size but it’s got power, speed and barrels! Note: try not to head butt the shallow reef. North of Eagle Bay, strong westerlies and big swells signal a day at Rocky Point, with waves peeling left across a rocky bay. Offering peaceful surrounds that many a local has enjoyed on a good day, this point break is tucked away, requiring a 15-minute walk from the Rocky Point car park to access, but it's well worth it. Watch out for snakes! Injidup Point is 15-minute walk south along the beach from the Injidup car park to the west point but the walk is worth the effort. Works best at low to mid-tide off a long, hollow point break.
Humpbacks playing alongside a boat at Geographe Bay.
WHALE WATCHING IN DUNSBOROUGH
With newborn calves to consider, travel down the 'humpback highway' slows, and by early September the first of the humpbacks begin to arrive in Geographe Bay. Throughout October, their numbers swell as they make the most of its calm turquoise waters before tackling the arduous journey around the Capes and back to Antarctica. In late November, they are joined by the rare and endangered blue whales, which feed in the Perth Canyon off Rottnest.
What you will see
• Hundreds of humpbacks frolicking in the bay
• Mothers keeping a close watch on their calves
• The largest animal in the world, the elusive blue whale
With its expansive views across Geographe Bay, the best viewing spot is Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse balcony, which is about 13km from Dunsborough. There
is also a whale-watching lookout, which is a 1.3km walk from the lighthouse car
park. Or, bring a chair and join local whale monitors at Point Picquet, which is on Meelup Road, 800m past Meelup Beach. Look out for the small sign, and don’t forget to bring your binoculars.
Over one thousand humpbacks pass through the Geographe Bay each season,
so it is not surprising that tour operators boasted a 100 per cent success rate
with their cruises. Be aware that the tour leaving from Quindalup Beach entails
a transfer by tender, while others leave from Port Geographe Marina.
The best way to spot a whale from a distance is to watch for the cloud of spray or mist that appears as the whale exhales through its blowhole.
Swings and Roundabouts Winery (photography www.angewallphoto.com.au).
You’ll find a mix of local foods, crafts and entertainment. The markets are held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 7.30am to 11.30am.
Cape to Cape MTB
This four-day mountain bike race – from Hamelin Bay to Dunsborough – is set against an iconic backdrop of world-famous surf beaches, private farmland, rocky outcrops and national forests. The event is fun and challenging for riders of all levels, from recreational to competitive. Oct.
Happs Second Sunday Art Market
Once a month, the Second Sunday Art Market at Happs features eight art and crafts stalls run by a changing group of artisans. Jewellery, clothing, paintings, prints, accessories, sewn items and a host of other hand-crafted products are presented by the artists. Be sure to wander through both the cellar door and the gallery, and chat to the makers. Dunsborough.
Taj’s Small Fries
The best grommets from around Australia make the trip to Yallingup to battle it out for the title of Top Fry in this junior surfing competition hosted by Taj Burrows. Jan.
Bunuru Culture and Corroboree Festival Bunuru is one of six seasons of the Wardandi calendar. The festival in Yallingup will celebrate Wardandi Aboriginal culture with corroberee, music, spear- and boomerang-throwing, tool making and a bush-story trail tour. Mar.
Dunsborough Arts Festival
The weekend of free art activities includes interacting with musical instruments, such as drumming and percussion, circus performances, Dunsborough X Factor, and various other amusements. Highlights are the Sculpture by the Bay competition and evening concerts. Mar.
Jazz by the Bay Festival
Sit back and relax, or dance your socks off in Dunsborough as you soak up the sounds of live jazz at a variety of venues. Jazz fans will not be disappointed with free and ticketed performances throughout the region – there is an excellent selection of artists to check out, from traditional to gypsy and fusion to syncopated rhythm. Jun.
The drive from Perth is about two hours and forty minutes via Forrest Highway to Busselton, then Bussell Highway to Dunsborough. Caves Road will take you to Yallingup. South West Coach Lines and TransWA also operate daily bus trips from Perth.