The remarkable journey of a solo surfer hiking the Cape to Cape Track in the Margaret River Region, famous for waves and walking trails. Pete Gaell brings us – and his surfboard – on a 124km adventure!

Completing the Cape to Cape Track – with a surfboard

‘Skate shoes and a guitar?’ I asked incredulously.
‘A surfboard?’ he counters.
Yet, united we sit.

 

A pair of worn-out, dusty young men; taking refuge from the midday sun in the narrow shade of a craggy peppermint tree. A long way from our respective homes and further still from the differing motivation for our trips, yet oddly connected, a similar thread of vision and/or stupidity had weaved us into this path. He is travelling south, and I to the North.I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter what adventure you undertake, you will invariably meet someone taking a wackier path than you. In this instance, I’ve been usurped by a man who thinks carrying a guitar along the longest coastal trail in Australia, in the middle of a summer heatwave, whilst wearing skate shoes, is an idea worth implementing. My unnamed friend equally baffled as to why anyone would lug along an object as unwieldy as a surfboard.

 

Pete Geall with his surfboard on the Cape to Cape Track.

 

So we sit. Me and my surfboard, he and his guitar, awkwardly sharing a three pack of Oreos whilst discussing the factors at play in the cosmos that had bought us to this juncture. Almost precisely equidistant from both the start and the finish of the Cape to Cape Track in the far south-west extremity of Australia, some 250km from the nearest city of Perth.The Cape to Cape Track is a challenging trail that traverses the coastline though long, lonely beaches, stunning national park scenery and occasional forays into majestic Karri forests, bookended by the Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste lighthouses. The few evenly spaced, low-key camp sites mean it’s possible to hike the entire track self-sufficiently in five to seven days.

 

Cape to Cape track aerial Photo Tim Campbell

The track predominately runs along the coast, occasionally bearing inland to Jarrah and Karri forests.

 

The track’s defining feature is the ongoing narrative; played out by the ancient and tumultuous relationship between the Indian Ocean and the Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge, a backbone of limestone resting upon a bed of gneiss granite. The reassuring presence of land on one side washed by the flux of the ocean on the other provides the hiker with a sense of location without the need for an array of navigational aids. Passing by the townships of Margaret River, Gracetown and Yallingup. The trail also passes dozens of world-class surf spots including Margies Mainbreak, The Box,Womb, North Point and more. It was these hallowed pieces of surfing real-estate that had originally drawn me to the area a number of summers ago.

Since first catching sight of the numerous, bright yellow ‘Cape to Cape’ trail-marks, stamped upon wooden posts at surf spots along this stretch of coast, I’ve wondered what it would be like to join up these dots by completing the hike with a surfboard.

 

 

I’d become used to accessing the breaks by a small number of roads and four-wheel drive tracks that offer a horizontal run to the ocean. Lacking a parallel coastal road, it’s hard to get a holistic view of the coastline beyond that of the small townships or dirt carparks that define the main surfing entry points. The end result is similar to riding subterranean train lines in a foreign city, emerging only at a destination of interest to quickly duck beneath the surface on your return, blinkers on. This form of travelling can leave the protagonist feeling like a rabbit trapped in the warren. So, my plan was lit. I would hike the Cape to Cape with a surfboard, hopefully gaining an expression of the whole, rather than a sum of its parts.

It’s been a while since I’ve started taking on these ‘Surfing/Walking things’. They’re typically spaced a year or so apart. I’ve found it takes me this long to forget about the harsh realities of combining surfing with the arduous act of hauling your gear by biped power alone. The romantic, idealistic voice in my head likes to invoke the spirit of John Severson’s epoch defining call-to-arms in Surfer magazine in the 60s:

 

 

‘In this crowded world the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts’.

 

 

Seeking my own version of this vision involves more than its fair share of graft – the heavily laden pack tends to weigh down one’s grand aspirations. The surfboard if you wondered, is the least of your worries. Shelter and provisions form the bulk of the weight. To make the pack weight manageable I stashed water (5 litres a day) and non-perishable food in well-hidden caches along the way.

 

Cape to cape

The track offers dramatic coastal scenery of cliffs, caves and rock formations.

 

Walking in the West Australian summer, where temps can reach the high 30s, requires serious preparation and hikers should not underestimate the challenges. The formed track is often soft and sandy, coupled by long, remote stretches of beach walking (over 20kms in total) which can challenge the will and calves of even the most seasoned walker.Surfbreaks, sublime vistas and occasional guitar-playing minstrel aren’t the only things you can happen upon. A riot of wildflowers tear through the heath in Spring, whilst nestled behind the shelter of the ridge, jarrah and karri forests offer cool refuge. The raised position of the ridge offers the perfect vantage spot to see migrating whales, fur seals near the capes and dolphins smashing schools of fish.

Not all the nature is quite as delightful, though. In abundance along this track waits an evil, pestilent beast intent on extracting the blood of its prey. The March Fly. My frequent trials (Kangaroo courts I admit) and subsequent executions along the five-day hike do not serve to deter their comrades. An unwinnable war, with no shortage of martyrs.

One morning, mid-hike, I find myself seeking corners in an empty lineup of two-foot closeouts. My kingdom for a corner! My appeals were of little use though, this remote stretch of sand cares little for the idle wants of man. So I give up. There is something cathartic about giving up on a surf, like taking your shirt off at the end of a night out. I resign myself to either paddling in or taking a token straight-hander to the beach. As I lie across my board, resting my legs and blistered feet in the cold water, I started to play with a small part of wax I’ve pried off the deck of my board, smiling as I enjoy the simple, familiar, tactile sensation.

 

Surfing wave

 

Remarkably a strange thing happens, a small bulge of ocean appeared behind the crest of a meagre set. My surfing mind switches on. I make a few subtle strokes to my right before starting to claw at the makings of a glorious little bend. I power through the small ledgy lip. Leaving my trailing arm buried to my elbow, I pivot off this brake, keeping my momentum subdued in the throat of the peak. Stillness, yet around me a small cauldron of frothed and condensed anger stirs. I hold myself there, aware of and controlling the subtle drift of the fins on the aerated foam. Caught in the pot. The rare wave that allows you the brief illusion that you are in control. A second or two, a brief exhalation – only a cheek full and I’m skittering over the wave’s feathering end into waist depth water. Back to my disorganised pile of gear alone on the beach.My pile of gear: ‘indispensable’ surf items are set aside when shaving weight for a trip of this nature. A block of surf wax, replaced with a nugget; a steamer, replaced with a wetsuit top. The surfing element of my trip comprises all but a small percentage of the total time and effort expended; yet in a way it was a masterful reduction of the individual elements that define what it means to surf. A distillation which rids all that is unnecessary. After spending hours hauling my gear through the bush, the physical liberation of shedding my pack, the simple joy of feeling the water move through my fingers, the lightness and sensation of speed from pumping down the line – these are the things that become elevated on the path.

On my fifth day and seven surfs later I round a small hip in the coast and catch first sight of my final destination, the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. I take a pew on a nearby weather-beaten bench, finishing the last of my now unneeded supplies. Closing my eyes, I find myself sat back under that craggy peppermint tree with my unnamed companion, halfway through our respective adventures. It strikes me that I never heard him play his guitar and he didn’t see me ride a wave. But I did ride waves, and he did play the guitar. This much I know. It was just, in this crowded world sometimes it’s nice enough to do these things alone with nature and one’s thoughts.

 

Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse Accessible Tourism

The final destination (if walking south to north) – the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, 13km from the town of Dunsborough.

 

Cape to Cape Track Travel Tips

 

Hiking conditions on the Cape to Cape Track vary from moderate to difficult, depending on the section of the track. Bushwalking experience is recommended, and hikers should be well-prepared to take on the walk. Learn more here.For the best Cape to Cape Track experience, travel with a local expert. A range of professional local tour companies offer various levels of guided and semi-guided experiences, with options for transfers, accommodation and dining. Learn more invaluable Cape to Cape Insider Tips or contact our local experts.