Friends of the Cape to Cape Volunteers DBCA

To coincide with Landcare Week 7-13 August 2023, writer and keen hiker Pete Geall talks with The Friends of the Cape To Cape Volunteers and shares some of his own experiences of the famous track.

As an avid walker, I’ve been walking sections of the Cape to Cape (C2C) Track ever since I started visiting Margaret River a decade ago. The track not only passes through some of the region’s most iconic sites but immerses visitors in the unique flora, fauna, wildlife and human history throughout its 135km extent.

It’s no wonder that the C2C sparks so much passion in locals, visitors and hikers alike. In many ways the C2C is a masterful distillation of the Margaret River Region, an unbroken line that connects the unbridled wilds of the Great Cape Leeuwin in the south with the Cape Naturaliste in the north.

Every year, Landcare Week offers an opportunity to pause, acknowledge and champion the tireless work of volunteer groups like the Friends of the Cape to Cape Track who are committed to actively restoring, enhancing and protecting the natural environment in their communities.

Friends of the Cape to Cape Volunteers DBCA
Landcare Week celebrates and acknowledges the Australians who actively restore, enhance and protect the natural environment in their community. Photo: Tim Campbell

In that spirit, I reached out to Chairman of the Friends of the Cape to Cape Track, Kevin Lange for his thoughts on what makes the track unique and his own personal connection with it.

“The Cape to Cape Track traverses a World Biodiversity Hot Spot. It provides a controlled, maintained window into this unique environment. It moves from beach to forest to coastal cliff tops, from limestone cave country to rugged granite outcrops, from dense heath lands to sweeping coastal views. Personally, I draw mental health and wellbeing from time spent walking the track, connecting with Country.”

The recent announcement of $2.7 million of State funding will help ensure the track remains both fit for purpose and a continued drawcard for the region. Planned improvements include updated signage, facilities and track realignments to further protect culturally sensitive and erosion prone sections. These changes will help make the track safer, more accessible to all and ensure that it continues to serve the land and local community well into the future.

Friends of the Cape to Cape Volunteers DBCA
Friends of The Cape to Cape Track volunteers. Photo: Tim Campell

I continue to be fascinated with the connection to place that the track instils in people. In the summer of 2021, I worked as a beach lifeguard at Margaret River Mouth situated in the township of Prevelly. The passing of crew hiking the track, which passed right by our lifeguard station, became a metronome to the day like the changing position of the sun or the flux of the tide. During those many conversations, I was struck by the amount of people walking with purpose and conviction.

For many that includes a desire to experience first-hand the region’s diverse wildlife, the natural beauty of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and the sheer physical challenge of a multi-day hike that includes lengthy sections on empty beaches. However, more often than not, I would get chatting to folks who were walking for deeper, intrinsic reasons: Bereavement. Separation. Engagement. Retirement. Love. Loss.

People who were going through the most powerful of human experiences, had sought out the wilderness and physical challenge of the C2C track to be the medium in which to find their own path through life. I was always surprised by the emotional honesty and unguarded openness in those conversations, coupled with the unbridled joy in their faces when we explained that there was a water fountain and a toilet in the car park behind the lifeguard unit. It made me deeply aware of the transformative affect that the C2C track was having on so many peoples’ lives.

Cape to Cape Track
Scenic views from the C2C. Photo: Cape to Cape Explorer Tours

It’s been eight years since I last hiked the Cape to Cape Track in its entirety.

Every time I see one of the many trail markers on the coast, I feel a nostalgia for the spirit that swept me along the path. The physical challenges of heat, wind and a heavily laden pack overcome by the possession of a purposeful goal. I’ve also realised that sometime between then and now I had crossed the line that inevitably separates us all from the innocence of our youthful adventures. It feels self-indulgent to reflect on when that moment was crossed or whether it is a line at all. Perhaps the perspective we gain along the way is the consolation prize that comes with age?

With so many activities available on the region’s coastline, it is almost impossible to not cross the C2C on a near daily basis. Crossing the liminal zone that separates land and Indian Ocean touches more people than just walkers. Surfers accessing breaks on the west coast probably represent the largest cohort of users; with the stretches of the track around the popular surf break of Left Handers in Gracetown one of the most frequented sections. Barefooted surfers tiptoeing across the patches of scoldingly hot track on their way to get some aquatic joy a quintessential summer vignette of the region.

The C2C overlooks Contos Beach, also known as local surf spot. Photo: Tim Campell

Professional big wave surfer and WA local Zac Haynes offered this anecdote about the track when I asked him about his favourite section:

“I love the stretch between Ellensbrook and a wave called ‘‘The Womb’’. The wave doesn’t break very often so every time I run down that track in the pre-dawn light, I feel a mix of anticipation and stoke rise up in me. I have to consciously remind myself to slow down so I don’t stub my toe on the shards of limestone that pepper the track.”

I see the C2C as a thread that not only physically joins the Cape’s, but connects us to the unbroken lineage of Wadandi Boodja and our own personal experiences like those of surfers like Zac Haynes. Profound memories fused forever into place. It’s a guiding path that intersects with much of the daily life in the region. As you don’t have to walk the entire length to engage with it, in my eyes it represents one of the most accessible of long-distance hikes in Australia.

The tireless work of community groups such as the Friends of the Cape to Cape Track Volunteers and advocacy of hikers and the community alike, will help preserve coastal access, promote respect for Country and protect what’s special about the Margaret River Region. A sentiment well worth celebrating during Landcare Week. 

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