Monday, 5 November 2012

Explore Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia

Cervantes is a small town on the coast of Western Australia, some 245 kilometres north of the state capital Perth.  Chances are that you may never have heard of Cervantes, but if you are looking to explore the natural beauty of Western Australia, it would be a mistake to miss out on staying in this small coastal town and exploring all that the region has to offer.  Along with Jurien Bay and Leeman, Cervantes is one of the main towns on Western Australia’s Turquoise Coast, which offers tourists pristine, silver sand beaches, abundant wildlife, a profusion of wildflowers in the spring, great fishing and cray fishing, ancient stromatolites, and of course the incredible Pinnacles Desert.  This is a town that was only founded in 1962, when the land was taken from Nambung National Park and still only has a population of around 500 people.

Cervantes, Western Australia - own image
Cervantes, Western Australia

Cervantes enjoys sunny, warm summers and mild winters, so can is good for a visit at any time of the year. The main industries are cray fishing, and the town’s population almost doubles during the cray fishing season, and to a lesser extent tourism.  The town got its name from an American whaling ship that was wrecked on its shores in 1844. As this region was very remote at that time, the survivors had to make a gruelling walk south to the port of Fremantle, at the mouth of the Swan River. Many of the streets are named after the famous book Don Quixote written by Miguel Cervantes.

So how do you get to there?   It is around a three hour drive from Perth along the Brand Highway, so is easily accessible by car or camper van.  If you do not wish to stay the night, there are day tours that leave from Perth that take in all the main sights and the Pinnacles Desert.  Cervantes and the Pinnacles are also one of the stops on many of the longer tours, and these tours range from luxury, accommodated tours through to basic, backpackers camping tours.  The town is also serviced by the Greyhound Australia service that runs between Perth and Darwin. Being a small place, there is not a huge range of accommodation available, but there is a 4 star motel close to the centre of town that offers a restaurant, swimming pool and a BBQ area.  There is also a caravan park and a backpacker’s hostel.

So what can you do in Cervantes?  If you are a beachcomber, you will find beautiful, clean beaches of silver sand, washed by crystal clear waters.  There are many safe spots to swim, as the beaches are protected by an inshore reef.   There are also BBQ facilities that you can use close to the sands.  Windsurfing has become an increasingly popular sport in Cervantes, and the town hosts the annual Slalom Windsurfing Carnival.  Fishing is a very popular activity, and you can fish from the jetties, the beaches or offshore. You can fish for tailor, mulloway, herring, or even sharks.  If you like walking there are some good trails in the Nambung National Park, and you can look out for the prolific wildlife.  Species that you may be lucky enough to see are western grey kangaroos, emus, carpet pythons, white-tailed black cockatoos and honey possums.  Down on the beach you may get to see the local seals playing in the water; the jetty is a good spot as the seals hang around while fish are being cleaned.  There is also a huge variety of plants and the area is carpeted with gorgeous wildflowers in the spring.

Lake Thetis Stromatolites, Cervantes, WA - own image
Lake Thetis Stromatolites, Cervantes, WA

One of the most unique walks that you can take in the area is the one around Lake Thetis.  Lake Thetis is one of the few places in the world where you can see stromatolites, which are the earth’s oldest life form. Stromatolites look like boulders, but they are really sedimentary structures formed by blue green algae together with other bacteria and algae. Some of the oldest living stromatolites are believed to be more than 3,000 years old.

But of course, no trip to Cervantes can ever be complete without a trip to the Pinnacles Desert.  The Pinnacles were virtually unknown to the outside world until the late 1960’s, but nowadays around 250,000 tourists visit the Pinnacles every year.  The best time to view these spectacular limestone rock structures is at dawn and sunset, when the shadows cast by the sun can create amazing ripples and markings in the sand.  The Pinnacles formed over thousands of years from a combination of limestone, sand, quartz and water. You probably need at least a couple of hours to wander around these fantastical rock formations, and it is estimated that there are around 150,000 Pinnacles some of which are up to five metres tall.  As you walk around, see what shapes you can see in the Pinnacles?  Do some of the Pinnacles look as though they are shaped like animals or even faces?

If you want to explore further afield, spend some time around the Jurien Bay Marine Park. Jurien Bay Marine Park covers a section of the coast between Wedge Island and Green Head and includes several of the offshore islands.  Jurien Bay Marine Park contains important Australian sea lion and seabird breeding colonies and abundant marine life.  It is recommended that if you want to view the Australian sea lions that you join a professional guided tour, so that the sea lions are not disturbed.  You can book onto one of these tours at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, where you can also book tours to the Pinnacles Desert if you do not have your own transport. You can also explore Lesueur National Park, which is exceptionally rich in plant species and wildlife.  Lesueur National Park comprises an area of sand plains, salt lakes and ridges, and there is a range of trail and a picnic area and interpretation centre.

Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA
Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA

So include Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert in your Western Australia holiday plans.  It is an area of amazing natural beauty, and it is a region where it is still possible to find yourself wandering along a deserted stretch of beach or walking the trails in the National Park drinking in the stunning scenery without another person in sight.

Sunset over the Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA - own image
Sunset over the Pinnacles Desert, Cervantes, WA


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