Cape Arid National Park
Just east of Esperance in Western Australia is Cape Le Grand National Park. Further east again is Cape Arid National Park. The latter lies 120 kilometres east of Esperance on the far south-east coast of Western Australia. This is an isolated area with no townsites or settlements. The nearest centre for fuel and supplies is Condingup. The road from Esperance is sealed to within nine kilometres of the park boundary.
The French were the first to explore this area and the French navigator Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux named the area 'Cap Arride' in 1792. Later Matthew Flinders anglicised the name to Cape Arid. To the east lies Israelite Bay where the Park joins Nuytsland Nature Reserve. To the west lies Duke of Orleans Bay. The Park is 60 kms from east to west at its widest part and almost 70 kms from the coast to the northern boundary. Mt Ragged looms on the horizon towards the east like a brooding sentinel.
The Park is home to 160 bird species and covers roughly 300,000 hectares of widely diversified terrain. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular.
There is camping at Thomas River. Facilities at this point include barbecues, picnic facilities, toilets and water tanks.
The roads into and out of the Thomas River area are all weather gravel roads but most of the minor tracks within the park are rough and best suited to four wheel drive vehicles. It is best to check with the ranger or the Shire office about the state of the roads before travelling to the Park. Access is sometimes denied if weather conditions (and thus road surfaces) become too bad. Ensure you have sufficient fuel plus an emergency supply and take plenty of water. Let someone know your plans, how long you plan to stay and where you expect to be at a certain time. And don't forget to let them know when you return.
There are young dune systems within the Park and large areas of coastal heath. The main vegetation consists of mixed woodlands and shrublands of swamp yate, banksia, paperbark (melaleuca) and mallee. Native orchids and ferns are found near Mt Ragged. The views along the coast are breath-taking with rocky headlands alternating with sandy beaches. Northwards, low granite hills extend to the Russell Range. The highest point in the park (594 metres) is Tower Peak. There are a few isolated ruins, a few graves and swampy clay flats just to add interest to the area.
Western Australia has 18 species of honeyeater and 16 of them make Cape Arid National Park their home. The area is the eastern extent of about ten bird species including the ground parrot, western spinebill, scarlet robin and red-eared firetail (which is unique to Western Australia). In the northern driest area, it is possible to see the mulga parrot and pied butcherbird. The western ground parrot, the rare Australasian bittern, Carnaby's black cockatoo and the Cape Barren goose are other seldom seen species. Sea eagles, honey possums, brush-tailed wallabies, the southern bush rat, kangaroos and even the bustard may be spotted in this flora and fauna rich area.
The campsites in the area are mostly accessible only by 4WD. They have barbecues and toilets but there is no water and no boat ramps. Swimming at Thomas River is risky as rips develop very quickly. Yokinup Bay is popular for wind-surfing between November and February. Self-guided walks take between one and four hours depending on choice. The area is popular for beach-fishing. Rock-climbing is allowed only if prior permission has been obtained from the ranger.
Lonely graves of pioneer graziers from the 1870s can be seen near Pine Hill and Thomas Fishery. It is a bit unnerving to come across the remains of a dam and/or a ruined building in this out-of-the-way country.
Near Pine Hill and Thomas Fishery, lonely graves mark the last resting places of pioneer graziers who settled in the region in the 1870s.
The steep rocky slopes lining the shore should be treated with due caution. King waves are quite common in the area and the rocks become dangerously slippery. Fur seals, southern right and humpback whales can be seen from the shore. The whales are generally spotted between July and October.
Cape Arid National Park is huge and not well sign-posted. There is little natural water so always carry extra water. Spare tyres, extra fuel and basic retrieval equipment should be packed. Bushfires and/or bad weather can result in the closure of the park.
As well as water, fuel and a tow-rope, take your camera and be prepared to be reach out and touch the stars at night. Be blinded by the whiteness of the beach and the beauty of the land and enjoy a trip of a lifetime.