Caves in the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge reveal climate history

The Cape to Cape Track traverses through the incredible Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. The national park runs along a ridge with a bedrock of ancient granite gneiss, topped with Tamala Limestone, which is home to some of the most beautifully decorated caves on the planet. This limestone is some of the youngest rock in the world, having formed less than 2 million years from wind swept sand dunes cementing together. Being home to 100’s of the karst features that have formed through the porous rock, the ridge that runs between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin resembles something similar to swiss cheese.

Caves within the ridge have recently become of great interest to those studying climate science, as the beautiful formations growing inside these magical caverns are well preserved, being protect from the elements influencing the world above ground. The decorations found within caves are collectively given the name of ‘speleothems’, and they all begin as a result of heavy rainfall that can penetrate through the forest floor above. The rainwater picks up carbon from the rotting organic material, turning it slightly acidic, which allows it dissolve the limestone as it moves through the pores like water through a sponge. After several months the supersaturated limestone solution will reach the ceiling of the cave and seep through just one drop at a time. As a drop of water enters the cave atmosphere, it degasses which allows the water to redeposit the dissolved limestone as calcium carbonate or Calcite crystal. The most simplest form of speleothem is cave straws, which form as a thin ring of Calcite is deposited around the drop of water over and over again. When water travels around the outside of a straw a thicker stalactite is born, and when water drips to the floor of the cave, a stalagmite begins to grow.

Calcite crystal in Calgardup Cave

Calcite crystal in Calgardup Cave

Some of the caves in the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge have been open to public for tourism since the early parts of the 20th century, and in 1911 Moondyne Cave down near Augusta received enough foot traffic to warrant the installation of a boardwalk. More than 80 years later when the boardwalk was replaced in 1992, it was found that a stalagmite had grown upon the timber. A cave guide thought that he would keep this blob in hope that it might be of use to someone one day. This stalagmite has led the way to groundbreaking research, led by Dr Pauline Treble. Before now, dating speleothems relied on uranium dating which would give an approximate age to within 100 years. The stalagmite from Moondyne Cave had both a birth and death certificate, allowing Treble to match the recorded environmental conditions with the chemical composition in the layers of the stalagmite that had formed by the cave drip water.

Dr Pauline Treble with some cross sections of a speleothems. Photo credit: ANSTO

Dr Pauline Treble with some cross sections of a speleothems. Photo credit: ANSTO

From around 1970 onwards, the southwest region of Western Australia has experience a 15% decline in annual rainfall and by testing layers in the stalagmite sample from Moondyne Cave for different oxygen isotopes Treble was able to conclude that when more rain falls, the amount of oxygen-18 compared to oxygen-16 also falls. Treble also uncovered clear evidence of annual climatic cycles by analysing trace elements in the speleothem layers. This information has put Treble at the forefront of some of the longest cave monitoring programs around the world and one of the most important places for her research is merely kilometres from the Cape to Cape Track! It also opened up many doors for other scientists to further study not only climate, but also bushfire history, alongside other aspects of cave science.

Treble’s research is currently focussed around creating a paleoclimatological record for the southwest and to make predictions as to how the trend of declining rainfall may impact our lives and the environment in the future. The rain we receive in the southwest region is driven by westerly winds and it is evident that these westerly winds have shifted southward since the 1970’s taking the rain with them. There are many factors that are thought to influence the southerly migration of the westerlies, of which some are natural and some are theorised to be influenced by us, increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for example. Using large speleothems from nearby Golgotha Cave, Treble is now attempting to map out the rainfall history of the area to eventually deduce how big of an effect our climatic changes might have on the westerly winds.

Entrance to Golgotha Cave. Photo credit: The Australian National University

Entrance to Golgotha Cave. Photo credit: The Australian National University

Ultimately, the research conducted in the cave’s of the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park is bound to have an astounding impact on our understanding of where we live. With Treble’s incredible research being fed into climate models to forecast and map to world future potential climate, many climate change sceptics might be able to appreciate how things could change and what we can do work with those changes.

Salmon seek warm water for spawning

The migration of the Western Australian Salmon (Arripis truttaceus) draw crowds in their thousands to Australia’s south-west corner every year. Although not as delicious as the mouth-watering pink fleshed Atlantic salmon (Salmo solar), and not at all related, the Aussie salmon sure is good fun to fish! More closely related to herring or tommy ruff, anglers enjoy fishing for these fighters right from the beach where fish will often take to the air and run hard out to see once hooked. The fish are also sought out by commercial fisherman, with some licensee’s historically catching over 2,500 tonne of fish per year.

 

Salmon fisherman

A Salmon fisherman from the south coast (Photo: ABC Rural – Tyne logan)

The fish begin to arrive in mid-March and tend to stay around all through April after migrating along Australia’s south coast from as far as Victoria and even Tasmania. Adult fish form large schools along exposed beaches and rocky reefs. Western Australian Salmon can grow up to one meter in length and can reach a whopping 9kgs. Mostly, they feed on bait fish and they are eaten by sharks, seals, dolphins and of corse, people.

A school of Western Australian Salmon under water

An underwater shot of the Western Australian Salmon (Photo: WA Museum – Barry Hutchins)

They make their journey west to take advantage of the Leeuwin Current, which runs from north to south along the Australia’s west coast, around Cape Leeuwin and then eastward along the south coast. Teamed with the offshore winds, these conditions are perfect for the fish to spawn.

A school of Salmon in the clear waters of Contos Beach.

An uninterrupted school of Salmon in the clear waters of Contos Beach.

Eggs and newly hatched fish are carried in the Leeuwin Current and settle along the south coast between South Australia and Tasmania where they mature for three to four years before moving westward to live in schools around Hopetoun and Esperance. This is where most of the schools we see along the Cape to Cape Track head home to after their visit to the Ngari Cape Marine Park to spawn.

School of Australian salmon at Contos

An enormous ball of salmon spotted from Contos Cliffs

Feature Species: Slender Tree Frog (Litoria adelaidensis)

So far this summer has shaped up to be one of rather tropical characteristics. Warm days, high humidity and unseasonal summer rains in the southwest have created the perfect breeding ground for an array of insects.

With all the extra water around this summer, the insectivorous Slender Tree Frog, along with many other native frogs have been out and about making their presence known along the Track and in our gardens.

With their loud calls, these little beauties are often in great interest to our pets. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dogs and cats if you happen to suspect one of these little guys, or any other type of native animal may be living in your backyard.

Slender Tree Frog

A striking green Slender Tree Frog

They are a small frog, reaching a maximum length of 4.7cms with a narrow and tapering head. They have long slender un-webbed fingers, however their long legs end with webbed toes. These little Amphibians come in a range of colours, from green to all shades of brown.

Often making an appearance through winter and spring, it has been a real treat to spot a few of these guys enjoying all the water and feasting on a variety of tasty morsels so early in the year!

All the gear with great ideas; tips for happy hiking with Nyree

Heading out to explore a trail or take on a long distance hike for the first time is both an exciting and daunting experience. Around a quarter of our hikers are about to embark on their first ever multi-day long distance walk when we meet them for the first time and what I’ve gathered after two years of guiding on the Cape to Cape Track is that regardless of experience, tips for making your walk more enjoyable are always welcomed! Even with the incredible and awe-inspiring beauty of the Track, walking 20kms a day for 7 days straight is both a physical and mental challenge for even the most fit, experienced or determined. From gear to daily tips, here are some of the most important things to me while I’m out in the elements!

Nyree guiding at Cosy Corner

Out at one of my favourite sections of the Track, Cosy Corner

Do your research, then gear up!

Before you hit the shops or online stores, have a good read through your itinerary, planning, preparation and packing notes provided by us! This guide will allow you to go through the equipment you already have and figure out what else you will need to get the most out of your hike.

  • Footwear 
    • Your shoes is the most integral component of your hiking attire. If you haven’t worn your hiking boots/shoes for six months, make sure you get them out and take them for good stroll before packing them in your luggage and crossing your fingers. Shoe rot on the first day of your hike is the last thing you need when you’ve got six more days on the Track to follow. If you’re going to wear shoes you’ve worn on previous hikes, make sure you take them out and test them in soft sand. I would say that close to 30% of the Cape to Cape Track is variable sand, which is very different to walking on firm or rocky terrain. Your feet will move more in your shoes and they are likely to fill up with sand – two things that increase your chance of blisters.
    • If you are buying new shoes for the trip, I recommend either Salomon‘s (narrow / medium foot) or Keen‘s (medium / wide foot). Although our paperwork recommends boots, if you are an experienced walker with good ankle strength you can definitely comfortably walk the Track with lighter hiking shoes. Also, it’s not a bad idea to bring some hiking sandals! These can be great on warmer days with less soft sand beach walking.
    • When buying new shoes, make sure you purchase them at least one size too big. For example, I usually wear a 38 but my Salomon’s are a size 40. This will leave more room when sand walking and also extra space if you need to apply blister covers or wear extra socks.
    • On that note, make sure you get comfortable socks! I really like Bamboo socks as they are reasonably prices, antibacterial, super soft and durable! However, many hikers choose marino wool and toe socks to keep their tootsies comfortable and rave about them! Whichever you choose, make sure you wear them in with your hiking footwear.
  • Backpack
    • One of the many bonuses to walking with us is that you will only be hiking with a comfortable day pack! Choose a pack with enough space for your water (bladder pocket ideal), lunch, wet weather gear, swimmers, microfibre towel, personal medication, first aid including blister treatment (Compede & Fixomull) and a compression bandage, sun protection and Track notes. Somewhere between 25-40L will usually do the trick.
    • Although sometimes this feature is only available on a larger pack, it is great to find a bag with a hip belt as this will help distribute the weight evenly and reduce the load on your shoulders.
    • A metal frame with mesh across the back is also an added bonus, especially on hot days.
    • A lot of our hikers like Osprey or Deuter, I currently have a Companion and love it.
  • 3L Hydration Bladder
    • A lot of people opt against these because they can have a plastic kind of taste. However, they will ensure that you stay hydrated whilst on the Track with great ease. You can add a sachet of Hydralyte or any other powdered sports drink to remove the unpleasant taste.
  • Microfibre Towel
    • Great for dusting the sand off your feet after a beach walk or water crossing. These lightweight, compact towels can be aired out on the outside of your pack after use.
  • Adjustable hat
    • I prefer a broad brim adjustable hat so I can be confidently protected from the sun in strong wind
  • Light weight, quick dry pants
    • These are all I wear on the Track now. Not only do they add extra protection from snakes and sharp shrubs, they also keep you ready for any kind of weather. Remember if it’s a warm day and the ocean looks inviting, you can always jump in to cool down! Patagonia make some awesome pants for both men and women.
Nyree guiding at Moses Rock

The hike from Moses Rock to Gracetown is a great day to wear hiking sandals on the Track.

While you’re here and hiking!

It’s all well and good to be geared up and ready for the elements, but there are also a couple of simple things that might make the hiking days a little easier whilst you’re here with us.

  • Keep hydrated
    • Each morning before you get out on the Track it is a great idea to consume at least 500mL of water (that’s in excess of your dehydrating coffee). When I know it’s going to be a warm day, I’ll make sure that I have at least a whole litre of water before hitting the Track.
    • Hydralyte is a godsend after a long day in the sun. Bring some a long and take it whenever you are feeling tired or dehydrated during the week. You may also want to put some into your water bladder to spruce up your taste buds.
    • Another tip is to store the bladder in the fridge the night before your hike! The water will generally stay cool in your pack throughout the day and keep you feeling refreshed.
  • Good quality lip balm
  • Zinc
    • Everyday that I am out on the Track I make sure that I am protected from the sun with both SPF 50+ sunscreen (Cancer Council or Le Tan). I also apply a layer of Surf Mud to my face. This amazing natural products smells like honey and keeps me protected from those harmful rays.
  • Look after your muscles
  • Get enough sleep – aim for 8 hours every night
  • Stretch
    • Particularly the legs and hips. Check out these yoga poses to help release some of that muscle tension. Magnesium will also help with this.
    • Bring a tennis ball – roll it under your feet and up and down your hamstring
  • Blisters
    • Dress your blisters with Compede & Fixomull. Sometimes wool can also soften your toes in tight shoes.
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse from Skippy Rock

There is no feeling quite like the one of arriving at Cape Leeuwin after 135kms of hiking.

When you get home

It’s important to give yourself some time to recover after your hike. Make sure you take at least a day or two for downtime and to unpack before heading back to work.

  • Clean your gear
    • The one item that most people forget to clean is their hydration bladder! Without proper cleaning and storage the tube is a breeding ground for algae and bacteria.
      • Hot water & bicarb soda generally does the trick. Make sure you massage the tube to exfoliate off anything that may be growing inside! After you have finished, rinse all the grossness out and re-rinse with bicarb to store.
  • Keep stretching those legs
  • Stay active
  • Continue drinking lots of water

I hope these tips and tricks help you plan your next adventure on the Cape to Cape Track! They certainly help me get through lots of days on the Track during our peak seasons. My best advice would be to keep training in the shoes you plan to wear on the Track for long distances on variable terrain. If you are interested in hiking the Track this Autumn, check out our Guided or Self-Guided experience and make sure you book on soon to avoid disappointment!

A Whale of Time for our Humpbacks!

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen a Humpback breach, you still can’t help but to stop in awe of these enormous, majestic and mystical creatures! With adults measuring 12-16 meters in length and weighing in at a whopping 30,000kg there is still something so streamline and weightless about the way they move through the ocean.

Adult Humpback breaching

Amazing breaching humpback in Geographe Bay. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have a life expectancy of at least 48 years, with sexual maturity being reached between four and eight years (average five years). These whales have a gestation of 11-12 months and once their calves are born, they breast feed for a further 10-12 months. Calves become independent between one and five years after birth (sometimes even longer), with a two and a half year average calving interval. This just highlights the immense commitment from these mothers to raise their young.

Baby and mother Humpback whales

Mother and baby Humpback in Geographe Bay. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

At the moment hikers on the Cape to Cape Track are experiencing the peak period of migration for population 8 (Group D) of the 15 populations of Humpback’s from around the world. Although this populations was hunted to the brink of extinction throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, they are steadily recovering at a rate of approximately 11% per year with current estimates placing population 8 as the largest aggregation of Humpbacks in the world nearing 50,000 individuals.

Tail slapping Humpback

A big tail slap by an adult Humpback. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

Every year, these enchanting creatures take the incredible journey from their feeding grounds in the nutrient rich waters of Antarctica between (70° E and 130° E) all the way up to their breeding area in Australia’s north-west – as far as Camden Sound. The congregation leaves Antarctica around May in an orderly fashion dependent on sex and reproductive status. On their journey to their breeding grounds, lactating females with their yearlings head out first, followed by immature males and females with mature males, resting females and pregnant females making up the tail end charlie aggregation. On their journey south, mixed females, immature males and females leave first, followed by mature males and finally females with calves in early lactation follow.

Surfacing Humpback in Geographe Bay

Surfacing Humpback. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

The whales travel an incredible 9,000kms on their return journey and unbelievably they very rarely feed throughout the entire migration. They tend to stay within 20kms of the coast in waters of depths up to 200m. On their way back to their feeding ground in Antarctica, they hitch a ride in the Leeuwin Current – boosting their speed to approximately 10km/h which would be a massive help for a lactating mother on an empty stomach. The whales stop for a rest at four different locations on their journey, including Augusta, Geographe Bay, Shark Bay and the southern Kimberley region. We are very lucky to have the whales spending a little extra time on either side of the Cape and if you are in the area during the migration, we definitely recommend taking a charter to get up, close and personal with these gentle giants!

Migration of Humpbacks

Distribution of the 2 migrating populations of the Humpback Whale’s in Australia.

 

Enjoy the extras on one of our guided end-to-end experiences!

Our guided end-to-end hikes run back to back throughout Spring and so far this year our groups have been having an absolute blast! Not only are they loving the Track and learning about all the different environmental and social elements that make the Margaret River Region so special, they are indulging in wine tastings, massages, cave explorations and delicious meals after their days walk.

Enjoying the contrast of Boodjidup Creek & Beach!

Enjoying the contrast of Boodjidup Creek & Beach!

After your first day on the Track, we head back to Gnarabup for a fantastic BBQ of local line caught fish and fresh salad. This is the perfect opportunity for everyone to relax and get to know each other whilst chatting about the adventure that the week ahead holds!

Before setting off from Cape Naturaliste

Right before setting off on their 135km journey!

Day two on the Track is a little bit longer and more challenging than the first, but it’s all worth it to head to Cape Grace Wines and enjoy a wine tasting and a cheese platter with Karen. Heading home to unwind with a delicious Margaret River meal in your room will leave you feeling rested for your next day on the Cape to Cape. This night is one of the best to indulge in a massage.

Group of hikers tasting wine at Cape Grace winery

Hikers enjoying tasting at Cape Grace Wines

Your third day with Cape to Cape Explorer Tours is a shorter and easier walk finished with a sundowner at Margaret River’s founding estate, Vasse Felix. After trying wine produced from some of the regions oldest vines, head home to freshen up before hitting The Common for pizza night! Yum!

Enjoying a wine and platter at Vasse Felix

Vasse Felix sundowners are a lovely way to finish the day!

After crossing the half way point and the Margaret River, on day four you walk into your accommodation. Tonights meal is a degustation of Japanese tempura at Miki’s Open Kitchen, one of the regions most renowned restaurants. A two hour dining experience that will leave you feeling spoilt!

Mike's Open Kitchen

A sneak peak of some of the delicious Japanese food at Mikis Open Kitchen

After a variable, challenging and long day on the Track, you’ll head straight back to your accommodation to relax and enjoy a dinner in your accommodation from one of Margaret River’s best providers, The Larder. Another opportunity for a massage presents itself this evening.

Group of hikers at Contos Cliffs

Contos Cliffs is one of the most scenic sections of the Track.

After your second last day on the Cape to Cape, you will get the opportunity to visit one of Margaret River’s iconic caves. Venture underground with helmet and torch to explore the beauty of Calgardup Cave before emerging to a delicious hearty soup under the stars featuring freshly baked rolls from Margaret River Woodfired Bread.

Entering Calgardup Cave

About to enter the depth of Calgardup Cave

To celebrate your achievement of hiking the Cape to Cape Track, we spend the final evening sharing a meal at The Common. Certificates, slide shows and champagne make for an enjoyable evening of reminiscing with your new friends!

Celebration Dinner

Recapping on a life changing week at The Common!

With all of our Guided Join a Group experiences full to the brim this Spring and bookings for both Autumn and Spring next year already flowing in, we recommend booking now to avoid disappointment! With three different accommodation options including camping, staying in well appointed beach houses or staying at the 4-Star Margarets Beach Resort you can shape your Cape to Cape experience to suit your needs. Check out our dates on our home page now!

Not all snakes are dangerous!

The Elapognathus coronets (Western crowned snake) is commonly spotted by our walkers on the Cape to Cape Track. Growing up to 70cm’s in length, this small snake will usually freeze when approached but will timidly squirm away with any sudden movement. Active throughout most of the year they can often be found sun baking on flattened sedge or sand patches. Their diet typically consists of small frogs and lizards and thankfully, they are not known to be aggressive or venomous to people.

Elapognathus coronatus

The Western Crowned Snake captured alongside the Cape to Cape Track.

Science Proves There is Happiness in Hiking!

Recently a lot of evidence has surfaced explaining the science behind how walking in nature can actually change our brains for the better! A dynamic community of writers cooperatively known as Collective Evolution have recently published an article that went viral through social media outlet Facebook expanding on several functional reasons we should all be hiking more often!

Walking along the stunning Cape to Cape Track north of Smith's Beach

We’ve all had an inkling for quite some time that hiking is good for our body, mind and soul but science is now uncovering that while hiking we are actually altering brains for the better! Stopping negative and obsessive thoughts is only the start in the list of mental health benefits associated with walking in nature. We can also boost our creative abilities by disconnecting from technology while hiking. That’s write everyone, leave your smart phones at home!

Pure Joy out on the Track!

At Cape to Cape Explorer Tours we have endless options available for you to experience one of the most spectacular long distance coastal hikes in the world! We can’t think of a better way for you to boost your brain power than here in the southwest. Have a browse through our self-guided and guided options to see what you can pencil in for your next holiday!

Gucci team explores the Cape to Cape Track

The Gucci team taking a break amongst some granite boulders

Luxury Margaret River travel experts, ExperiencesmithSmiths Beach Resort and Cape to Cape Explorer Tours had the pleasure of hosting the executive team from Gucci Australia over the weekend.

Managing Director Gene Hardy snorkelling with the Gucci team at The Aquarium

The team took a walk on Sunday morning with Cape to Cape Explorer Tours Managing Director Gene Hardy to one of the most secluded and picturesque locations just south of the luxury Smiths Beach Resort. Highlights included a dip in the Aquarium, a four meter deep pool protected from the pounding ocean in the background.

The team enjoying the view from Bignose Rock, looking over the Aquarium.

Interested in exploring the options for your team? Click here to check out some of our recent Corporate Team Building project and get in contact us to organise an experience on the Cape to Cape Track for you and your colleagues today!