The southwestern tip of our continent is so good, for anyone who hasn’t been there, and even for those who have, this is serious competition for anywhere overseas. And we’re only looking at the coast; there are amazing things to see and do inland, as well.
It might be tempting to begin this ride at Dunsborough, but take the extra time to ride up to Cape Naturaliste with its lighthouse – and lighthouse museum. From here it’s south all the way, first back to Dunsborough and then on the Caves Road. This is one of two roads that run north to south down this axe shaped peninsula, but the other one – the Bussell Highway – is straighter and less interesting. Mind you, it’s fun to ride as well and you could always come back that way.
The Caves Road is named after the many caves in the limestone of the Naturaliste-Leeuwin Ridge. Lake Cave, one of the most interesting, is well worth a stop. But that’s further down the road. One peculiarity of the Caves Road is that, despite running parallel to the coast it isn’t actually on the coast. Narrow strips of national park take the prize locations. If you want to see the mighty waves of the Indian Ocean, you need to leave the road and take one of the spur roads to the west.
The first place where you might like to do this is Just south of Yallingup, where the same turn to the right will take you to either the famous Smiths Beach or the impressive Canal Rocks – or both. The vineyards start a bit further south, and almost all of them seem to have cellar doors. The spurs down to the coats are mainly dirt from here to Cowaramup Bay Road, but that’s a bit misleading.
They are actually a combination of sand – usually not very deep, thank the gods – with limestone. Watch this stuff; it sometimes forms ridges that can chop up your tyres in short order.
Cowaramup Bay Road is tarred and will take you to Gracetown, a pretty little place on the coast. The next turnoff, Ellensbrook Road, goes to – guess where? Right, that man back there behind the T-shirt rack, Ellensbrook Homestead. This is one of the pioneering buildings in the area and is worth a stop. Check with the tourist office in Margaret River, www.westernaustralia.com/Margaret.River or 08 9780 5911, for opening hours.
The turn to Margaret River township is actually next, but to the left. It’s a seriously touristy place, but it’s not hard to find some good coffee or a meal. When you’re heading back to the Caves Road, keep going down to Prevelly, which has a small Greek-style church on the ridge overlooking a spectacular bay just made for windsurfing.
Back on the Caves Road you continue south through agricultural land – some more wineries, too, as well as craft shops – and then you’re in the National Park. Lake Cave is just down a little way on the right, and you are now riding through a substantial forest. Don’t be fooled, though; all of this area was clearfelled and these trees are secondary growth. I think most of them are tuart, but I’m a cave bear not a tree bear so I’m not sure. These days of course the trees are protected by the park.
The next major road junction is the T-intersection where a road leads off to the left to Karridale and the beginning of the Brockman Highway. If you’re in a hurry to get to the other forests further east then this is the road to take. If you’re not, keep straight on but then take the road to the west to Hamelin Bay. The remains of one of the old wharves used to ship out timber remains on the beautiful beach. Double back to Caves Road now and continue south past Jewel Cave to the junction with the Bussell Highway and the end of the Caves Road. From here it’s only a few kilometres to Augusta and on to Cape Leeuwin, where you can climb the lighthouse and see the meeting of the Indian and Southern oceans.
The Caves Road might be a bit rough in places – it sees a bit of truck traffic - and it’s a shame that there aren’t ocean views all along, but it’s still a wonderful road for a bike.