I am a paradox. I like the idea of hiking through the wilderness, with the wind in my hair, staring thoughtfully out to sea from a rocky headland. Yet, at the end of the day, I don’t want to huddle in a tiny tent, eating cold beans.
Luckily, I found the perfect way to hike the 135km Cape to Cape track in south western Australia: the Ultimate Experience with Cape to Cape Explorer Tours. Here’s how it works: you do all the hiking, CCET do everything else. They accommodate you in a four star resort, stock the pantry with all the food you need for your breakfasts and snacks, give you lunch, transport you to and from each day’s hiking section, provide a passionate and entertaining guide, and take you to wine tastings, gourmet degustations, and caving expeditions. It’s the perfect mix of hardcore hiking and luxury. And believe me, as you snuggle up in your bed, with the electric blanket on, listening to howling wind and torrential rain, you’re VERY grateful that you’re not camping.
Let’s start with the track. It stretches from Cape Naturaliste near Dunsborough to Cape Leeuwin near Augusta, following the coastline for 135km. The terrain varies from established four wheel drive tracks through coastal heath, to narrow paths along rocky cliffs, to trails through shady karri forests. And beaches. There is a LOT of beach walking (roughly 35km of it) including substantial stretches on the last two days (if you’re heading north to south). It’s soft, and extremely exhausting.
CCET rotate their guides, so your group doesn’t have the same guide throughout the whole experience, which I thought was weird at first, but was actually quite refreshing. All the guides are enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgable. They seem to have a knack for stopping to explain something at exactly the point when you’d quite like a rest. Uncanny. Each day is themed, starting with geology, then flora, fauna, marine, indigenous history and European history. This means you’re learning stuff while you’re hiking, although it’s more points of interest than a 135km lecture. It was wildflower season during our trip, which meant a plethora of orchids – we learnt to spot a donkey orchid at thirty paces. We also spotted plenty of whales, dolphins frolicking in the waves, kangaroos, sea eagles and even a few early snakes (I wasn’t so happy with that).
The hiking gets progressively more difficult – one of the reasons that CCET run their tours from north to south. The first day is a leisurely 16km. By the end of the week, there are days of 22km with heaps of beach walking. Facilities become rarer too – by the last day, there are no toilets available until you reach Cape Leeuwin.
The extra-curricular activities are plentiful, starting with a fish BBQ on the first night. There is also a couple of wine tasting forays, to a small winery named Cape Grace and to one of the fanciest in the district, Vasse Felix. On the Tuesday night, we were treated to dinner at Miki’s Kitchen in Margaret River, a five course Japanese degustation that was absolutely sensational. On another night, we tucked into pizza and a glass of wine at the restaurant at the hotel. There was also a stop off at a cave on the second last night to experience the subterranean attractions of the region, although after a long day’s walking, we were a little less enthusiastic about it. Dinner that night was soup served at the cave, but it was so freezing, most of us would have rather had a hot shower and dinner in our rooms. In fact, there were a couple of nights where dinner in our room was provided, and the food was plentiful and tasty. We just had to reheat it, which was easily done because the accommodation was extremely well appointed.
In fact, the accommodation was perfect for the occasion. We had a two bedroom town house apartment, with each of us having our own bathroom facilities, including a spa bath (EACH!). The only problem was that after a day’s hiking, walking up and down the stairs was a bit of a challenge the next morning.
Why on earth would you want to go on a holiday like this?
The idea of lying by a pool for a week with a cocktail in hand does NOTHING for me. I’m wired differently. Luckily, so is my mate Tanya. We wound up on the Cape to Cape because she holds aspirations to one day do the Camino di Santiago. Why don’t you try something a little shorter, first? I asked, considering she had never hiked anywhere before. And so we discovered that a hiking holiday is the most exhilarating, exhausting, invigorating and painful thing that you could do. There is lots of laughter, pain, wine and conversation about blister dressings and hiking footwear. The people who do these sorts of things are all a tiny bit mad (myself included), so you know you’re going to have a fun time.
So, how much training do you have to do?
I am not a hardcore hiker. This was my first multi-day hike. Ever. In the lead up, I did a number of day walks in the national parks around Perth, hiking up to 16km a day. Having said that, I’m not a super fit athlete, and you certainly don’t need to be. More than anything, it’s important that you’re active and you’ve worn in your boots.
Does it hurt?
In short, yes. I developed blisters on my little toe on the third day, and they were excruciating. My knees and ankles hurt from all the steep uphills and downhills and the soft beach sand. My back ached from lugging my backpack around and I got sunburnt (even with sunscreen on). But none of these things stopped me from going on. I had a ready supply of Compeed blister dressings, and every morning, I would spend a good ten minutes protecting the sensitive spots on my feet. Anti-inflammatories and panadeine also helped, and let’s face it, all that pain made the joy of finishing even more worthwhile.
What do you need?
Good, well worn in hiking boots are a must. Mine were five years old and I STILL got blisters. And quality socks are a essential too. I used merino hiking socks from Kathmandu that retail at nearly $50 a pair. Outrageous, I know, but I experimented with a few others during my training, and they were nowhere near as good. Hiking poles were also popular. I used one, but a lot of others used two. They were handy as an extra point of contact when clambering over granite boulders, for measuring depth when trudging through piles of seaweed, for helping to haul you up steep hills and for taking the pressure off your knees when you’re descending perilous steps. A backpack with both a chest strap and a waist strap that fits all your stuff. Wet weather gear – a quality jacket that cuts wind and rain is essential, and many people had pants as well. I made do with quick drying hiking pants, which still got wet when it rained, but dried quite rapidly. A towel. Yep, you need a towel. I didn’t have one and I regretted it. There are several creek crossings on this trek, which, depending on the recent rainfall, can be of varying depths. You basically have to roll up your pants (or take them off!), remove your shoes and socks and wade across – bearing in mind that the water can be fast flowing, and the creek beds very uneven. THEN you dry off your feet and get rid of every irritating grain of sand before you put your boots and socks back on again. And that’s why you need a towel. My other favourite piece of gear was a polar fleece headband that protected my ears from howling gales. So simple, but so effective. Also, an array of blister dressings, vaseline, pain killers and sunscreen.
What are the highlights?
Every day, you will be blown away by the simply breathtaking scenery. Whether it’s a pod of dolphins flipping over perfectly formed waves, or the view of Conto’s beach from a clifftop high above it, water tumbling down the rock face at Quinninup Falls or the towering Karri trees in Boranup forest, every day shows you something different. The coastline is surprising at every turn. Some days, you’re hiking through thick heath, some days through shady forest, some days on rocky cliffs with blowholes spitting at you.
What are the lowlights?
The weather! We thought mid-September would be a fairly safe time to hike, with mild but clear days. We were wrong. Whilst we had a bit of sunshine, we also had some wilder weather blowing through. The last day was an incredibly difficult slog down a soft beach with a howling gale hitting us from the side and some sideways rain. It even threw a bit of hail at us at one point. When the weather is foul, the walk goes from being a pleasant stroll to a far more technical adventure. Wet granite rocks are much more difficult to clamber over, creeks are swollen and therefore more challenging to cross, and belting rain is not nearly as much fun as sunshine. Still, there’s not much you can do about it, so you kind of just get on with it!
Would you do it again?
Walking the Cape to Cape gives you an amazing sense of achievement – and a certificate! – and it has certainly whetted my appetite for more multi-day hiking adventures, especially if I can find ones that offer the more luxurious options like CCET do. I don’t feel the need to do Cape to Cape again, simply because I’ve done it, but I would heartily recommend it to everyone else.