Explore the spectacular Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park that fringes the Margaret River region and is home to the Cape to Cape Track. Read on to learn more!

The Leeuwin Naturaliste: the national park with it all

The spectacular Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park fringes the Margaret River Region, embodying rugged coastal outcrops, white sandy beaches, towering karri forests, abundant wetlands, and ancient limestone caves.

Running the length of the park is the longest coastal walk in Australia, the 123km Cape to Cape Track.

Traditional home to the Wadandi people for 60,000 years, this diverse region stretches from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. It’s recognised by Conservation International as one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots, with over 7,000 plant species and a variety of unique and sometimes endangered fauna.

With such impressive natural credentials, it is surprising that visitors – and even locals – are often unaware that they have entered the park. With 55 different entry points and a fragmented layout, national park signage can crop up unexpectedly as you make your way around the region.

The Margaret River. Photo: Ryan Murphy

We chatted with a passionate advocate for the region, Stuart Hicks AO, Chair of Margaret Rive Busselton Tourism Association and former director of Nature Conservation Margaret River Region (NCMRR) about the mystery of the park.

A Margaret River resident, Stuart is as local as they come. He says that while Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park is Western Australia’s most visited park, with over 4.6million visitors annually, it’s the one we know the least about. Luckily, Stuart shared some fascinating facts about the park with us.

Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park facts:

  • Native forests and private and crown land were combined and declared Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park only 50 years ago when bushland associated with the ridge was gazetted A-Class reserve.
  • The park is home to over 43 threatened fauna species, including the critically endangered western ring-tailed possum, Baudin’s and Carnaby’s black cockatoos, the Margaret River hairy marron, and South West masked owls.
  • The region has many creeks and rivers, including the Margaret River, where black swans, pelicans, egrets, red-necked stints and ducks can be found.
  • The Indian Ocean is home to pelagic seabirds, southern right and humpback whales, stingrays and various other fish and sea creatures.
  • Hundreds of limestone caves, culturally significant to the local Wadandi people, are located beneath the ridge. Devil’s Lair contains archaeological evidence of the earliest human habitation in Southwest Australia, and the Ngilgi, Lake, Mammoth and Jewel Caves are open to the public for visits.

The park is home to over 43 threatened fauna species. Photo: Joaquin Robredo

What about the Ridge?

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park runs parallel to the coast from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin along the 600 million-year-old Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge.

The Ridge is composed of two landform elements: a discontinuous strip of coastal dune limestone known as the Tamala Limestone Formation and basement rock known as the Leeuwin Complex, which forms the stunning granite outcrops in the region.

“The ridge has an immensely important geological role. In fact, the granite rocks of the Ridge are the twins of the granite rocks that are these days creating the Himalayas, formed when India pulled away from Australia, and it’s historically profoundly important to the Wadandi People”, says Stuart.

Yallingup Aerial View

Yallingup is splendidly nestled on the ridge, surrounded by the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Photo: Tim Campbell

Challenges

Like all our precious wilderness, Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park faces the obvious challenges of climate change and bushfires.

Bushfires destroyed more than 7,800 ha of native vegetation and much of the Boranup karri forest, a popular tourist icon within the National Park, in December 2021. The forest and wildlife continue to regenerate.

Another disputable challenge to the park is pressure from growing tourist and resident populations. Combined with the park’s fragmented layout and multiple entry points, it is difficult to manage the impacts of visitation, and to educate people on the park’s natural environment.

Boranup Forest, Margaret River Region

Boranup forest is a popular destination for visitors. Photo: Ryan Murphy

Hope for the future

“We are inheritors of 3,000 successive and successful generations managing this place. This coming generation and the next have a particular obligation to take care of it.” Says Stuart.

Encouragingly, many organisations and community groups across the region have joined forces to ensure better protection of the National Park. These efforts include:

  • A ‘Six-Point Plan’ signed by local leaders that addresses needs for resourcing, visitor facilities and rehabilitation.
  • ‘Listening to Mother Country’, a project delivered by Local Traditional Owners at the Undalup Association, which aims to protect key cultural sites from damage. State government funding has been released to support a coordinator and four rangers to work in consultation with Elders to map and report on up to six of the most under-pressure sites across the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National park.
  • Cape to Cape Track volunteers can sign up with Friends of Cape to Cape and DBCA to help maintain the track or even adopt a part of the track. The track is currently undergoing Sate-government-funded improvements.
  • The three-year ‘Arum Lily Blitz’, funded by the WA State Government to eliminate the weeds from Boranup forest.

Cape To Cape Track, Smiths Beach to Canal Rocks. Credit Husbands That Travel.

Cape To Cape Track, Smiths Beach to Canal Rocks. Photo: Husbands That Travel

Caring for Country

We are all modern custodians of Country, and together we can make a difference to the future of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Fortunately, many of ways of doing this are extremely enjoyable, such as going exploring with a professional local guide. Guided experiences available in the park include wildflower walks, cave tours, exco quad biking and hike of the Cape to Cape Track.

We can also practice leaving no trace by sticking to footpaths, leaving pets at home, using designated car parks and removing our rubbish.

Stuart says “Listen to country, walk softly upon country, and take only memories of country” and you too will be captivated by the mystery of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.

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* Book your self-guided adventure on the Cape to Cape Track or walk with our expert guides on our 8-Day Guided End-to-End adventure. And we’ll see you on the Track soon!

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