Cockburn – Norseman – Twilight Cove – Baxter Cliffs – Bilbunya Dunes – Israelite Bay – Cockburn
Five people in three vehicles from the Cockburn 4WD Club travelled from Perth to Cocklebiddy and through to Israelite Bay returning to Cockburn in early October 2019.
We drove through the Great Western Woodlands, past Norseman and headed east on the Old Coach Road to Cocklebiddy on the Eyre Highway. Then south to Twilight Cove and across to Toolina Cove, the only break in the Baxter Cliffs – the world’s most spectacular! Nuytsland Nature Reserve is as remote as it gets in WA. We followed the historic East-West Telegraph Line to the Wylie Scarp and dropped down to the amazing Bilbunya Dunes. The wide, white beach fronting the wild Southern Ocean leads to a series of claypans that provided some great four-wheel driving through to Israelite Bay.
Wednesday – Day One
We met at Karagullen service station at 3:00 p.m. Brad, Craig and Matt had worked earlier that day and I had spent the day preparing the vehicle for the trip.
We wanted to travel as far as we could today to make it easier for the rest of the trip. We headed east to Hyden, had a short break and kept moving eastward.
With a few more stretch breaks we stopped around 9:00 p.m. on reaching Lake Johnston. We set up camp, had dinner, a few beers and not long after went to bed.
Thursday – Day Two
Waking up to the sunrise overlooking Lake Johnston was a nice treat for the first morning.
After we had breakfast we backtracked a few kilometres to McDermid Rock.
On the way to Norseman we stopped at Lake Cowan lookout. We refuelled and resupplied at Norseman and headed for the 90 Mile Straight.
Capstan Cave is marked on the map as being just off Eyre Highway. Stepping below ground level it felt like an air conditioner. The cool air from the cave had been travelling through tens of kilometres of caves in the area.
After a little bit of exploring we continued on to Cocklebiddy on the last bit of bitumen we’d be driving on for the next four days. Cocklebiddy is the last fuel and supply store for the next ~600 kilometres.
We reduced tyre pressures from highway pressure to make it more comfortable for the tracks to come.
From Cocklebiddy we headed south to the Baxter Cliffs – a good few hours. Access to the beach was rough and required low range 4wd. A few rocky and rutted sections made for some great video footage.
Once on the beach we could see Twilight Cove at the base of the Baxter Cliffs – an invitation for some iconic photos of the vehicles under the edge of the cliff.
Craig and Tania spotted a seal sunbaking behind the rocks. Craig was lucky enough to get a few photos of it.
It was getting late so we decided to find a camping spot. The wind was intense – quite usual in this part of the world – and we searched the dunes for somewhere protected to camp. It was not long before we found a decent, protected campsite. The surrounding area with a high tide would well be underwater. If a high tide had come we would be stuck on the small rise we were on. The tide wasn’t due to turn for a while so we were safe.
Friday – Day Three
Waking up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach is always a comforting feeling. We packed up our campsite and took the same track we came down yesterday and then headed toward Toolina Cove.
The tracks were quite clear and hard from recent use – the long weekend was only the previous weekend.
We followed the Telegraph Track along the top of Baxter Cliffs. Every now and then relics of the original Telegraph Line were noticeable, including the telegraph line itself, much thicker than fencing wire. This follows the entire length of the coast and not long ago kept Western Australia in contact with the rest of the country, and the world.
This day we visited Baxter Cliffs and Baxters Memorial. We found the hidden cache and inspected the pile of business cards left behind. We left a note from Cockburn 4WD Club. It was nearing midday, so we stopped to have lunch at Baxters Memorial
Afterwards, we continued west through the tracks towards Toolina Cove. The day was overcast and we managed to get some great photos, but they didn’t do justice to the scene.
It was blowing a gale. About five kilometres further on we found a nice protected area to camp for the night.
A big lightning storm was off in the distance. Luckily we received only a light drizzle. It felt like we were surrounded by storms that night, however, nothing touched us.
Saturday – Day Four
On Saturday morning the sky had cleared so we went back to Toolina Cove to see if we could get some better photos, and we certainly did! The sun and the clear sky really set the stage. We got some magnificent shots. The sun was gleaming off the sea and the cliff edges allowing us to clearly see the ropes and ladders once used to supply the area for the crew.
Matt noticed some fish that looked to be about 1.5 metres long, resting in the calm waters below.
EDGE OF AUSTRALIA
We drove along the cliff edge for half the day. It was a rough drive along a rough, rocky track. We couldn’t get above five kilometres per hour in most sections but the magnificent view made it well worth the drive. There are not many places in Australia where you can drive a vehicle along the edge of a cliff.
In some sections the edge was only five metres away from the track, with a 50+ metre drop to the ocean. This truly is a once in a lifetime drive and experience.
Pieces of old telegraph poles are still visible and I noticed a few while driving. The original ceramic insulators are scattered along the length of the track.
Slowly the landscape changed from harsh cliff rocks to red dusty tracks to limestone. Once on the limestone, patches of white sand appeared – a sign we were nearing the beach and getting closer to the dunes. Once we reached the peak of the descent we stopped to set up the cameras to record the vehicles going down to the beach. Conveyer belt has been laid out to make it easier for travellers heading back up this steep hill. This descent was great with some challenging sections.
Once on the beach, we headed to the scarp on the eastern side, the western side of the Baxter Cliffs. W took a few photos under the cliff edge to mark that we have travelled from one side to the other.
Matt noticed a pod of whales cruising west in the water,. Unfortunately, we did not get the cameras out in time.
We all reduced our tyre pressures again for the 50 kilometre beach run. I reduced mine to 10psi. This is the lowest I’m comfortable with while travelling at speed. It’s easier on the vehicle and helps with the fuel economy. Also, I feel it’s highly unlikely I’d get stuck at 10psi.
We continued along the beach to the start of the Bilbunya Dunes and pulled in to have a look around. We had some fun driving around some of the smaller dunes. Around the backside of the start of the dunes we found some open salt pans. Of course we drove around and got the vehicles a bit dirty.
While out having fun I heard Brad on the radio calling for help as he managed to get bogged. Albeit he was in 2WD at the time. Matt and I arrived and determined we could do a snatch recovery. While we set up, Craig got the cameras out to record the recovery. I purposely went slow on the first pull to show that aggressive recoveries are not always required but it didn’t work and he was still stuck. The second attempt was a small nudge and the shunt was big enough to pop it straight out.
We travelled further west along the beach following the dunes when we noticed possibly the largest dune in the area so we decided to stop and investigate. Brad and Craig climbed the dune to get a few photos with the vehicles in the background.
We planned to camp at Wattle Camp that night. We exited the beach and headed through the mud plains and salt lakes to get there. This sign assured us we were on the right track.
As we got closer to the campsite we noticed the bush was changing from being thick, green and lush to burnt-out desolation. Recent lightning strikes in the area had burnt it out. As we drove through the entrance to Wattle Camp it was clear this was not going to be a suitable campsite for the night. The burnt-out shrubs and trees were not enough to block the wind and protect us from the elements.
We drove on till we found a nice culvert with enough cover to protect us from the wind. This ended up being a very good campsite with a nice sized area for the campfire. The camp shower was set up and we all enjoyed a refreshing wash after a few days of solid driving.
Sunday – Day Five
With breakfast done we packed up and continued to head west, en route to Israelite Bay.
We pulled up to the old jetty and took in a few of the sights around the Bay – the Jetty, the Shack, the Telegraph Station, and a few of the grave sites.
While exploring we met with Doug from the Shack and had a great chat with him, too. His family own the 100 year lease of the Shack and the five acres surrounding it. He and his family were there for the week enjoying some fishing. The original outpost is still there and is in rough condition. With Doug’s permission, we walked through their camp to inspect Cooks Cottage.
It was disappointing to see the amount of graffiti and purposeful destruction throughout the Telegraph Station. Someone has spray-painted a message to these people on an old, corrugated water storage bin. “Are you a vandal or just a fool who defaces old buildings“.
While in this area, we ran into Ronny Dahl from 4Wheeling Australia. He was running a ‘tag-along tour’ with ten other vehicles. We had a quick chat with him, updating him on the tracks and conditions ahead and advised of the weather we had experienced. His ‘tag-along tour’ was doing the same trip as us but in reverse.
From Israelite Bay to the exit of Cape Arid National Park there are mudflats, mud holes and many fun obstacles along the way. This was a wet drive with a few deep holes. Brad went through a mud hole again in 2WD and got stuck. This time we used a winch for the recovery. Craig set up the camera to record it. Within minutes we had Brad out and continued on.
The fresh overnight rains in the area made the drive through the clay pans interesting, Slipping and sliding our way through these areas was great fun.
We exited the National Park and took some photos while inflating our tyres. From here we travelled to Condingup, the first service station since we turned off the road at Cocklebiddy. We refuelled, resupplied and ventured towards Cape Le Grande National Park to seek out some overnight fishing spots. The beaches here are magnificent.
Little was caught – Craig caught a small Snook – however the scenery was great. A successful fishing trip!
We finished our overnight fishing and continued on to Esperance. From here I separated from the crew and continued to Albany to pick up our Labrador puppy. The rest of the crew stayed cruising the beach of Esperance for the day. They began their return back to Perth the next day.
And so ended the Cockburn 4WD Club’s 2019 trip to the Bilbunya Dunes.
© Cockburn 4WD Club 2019 and Paul Marriner
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129 photographs © Craig Dixon