Wow, just Wow!! You are going to find yourself repeating this time after time when you explore West Cape Howe in Western Australia’s Amazing South Coast. The beaches are simply divine with perfect squeaky (literally squeaky) white sand and the clearest of blue waters. And between these beaches are black cliff faces so abrupt and vertical that they leave your heart in your mouth.
Exploring this national park is not for the faint hearted! The sand tracks here are among the most chopped up and steeply inclined that we have come across. To put this in perspective we have 5 recovery tracks and used all of them simultaneously on more than one occasion. But don’t let that put you off. If you have the right gear, and that means high clearance and decent offload tyres, then West Cape Howe is a 4WD wonderland. A lot of the sites also require some scrambling over rocks and pushing through overgrown bushy paths – but that just means you have more chance of having the place to yourself 😉
Plus this scenic headland happens to be the southernmost point in mainland Western Australia! So you can tick that one off your bucket list too.
Let’s start with the 2WD accessible sites.
We recognise and acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of West Cape Howe National Park
Distance to West Cape Howe
- From Perth: 430km – 5hrs
- From Denmark: 40km – 36mins
- From Albany: 37km – 35mins
I think I will forever remember the first time I saw Shelley Beach for the first time. Approaching the lookout you round a corner and are suddenly presented with the most perfect isolated beach. This looks like the famous scene from the movie The Beach with the pristine sand sheltered by imposing headlands on either side. Even the track down to the beach is picturesque as it winds gracefully down the contours of the topography.
The unsealed road arrives at a small grassy clearing just as a small stream meets the sand and here is the only official camping in West Cape Howe National Park. This may also be one of my favourite small camps in WA. What more could you wish for in a remote little camp. Come out of season and you can almost guarantee to have the place to yourself. Perfect!
Shelley Beach is so gorgeous in fact that I made it one of my Best Family Beaches: Walpole and Denmark Edition!
Upwelling sea air pushed up by the towering peaks creates the perfect conditions for hang gliding and paragliding. There is a launch pad at the lookout – can you imagine a better way to enjoy views over Shelley Beach?
Shelley Beach, West Cape Howe National Park
Can you spot that tiny little beach peeking out from behind a headland in the distance? That’s where I want to take you next – you’ll need to lower your tyre pressure for the rest of this journey though!
It is a bumpy ride but it is worth it. This small secluded bay is bounded by round granite boulders and shaded from the often-strong Southern Ocean winds. Whereas the ocean is rough and wild on the cape, this beach is calm and inviting. Fallen granite and exposed boulders have created a wonderful maze of reef and underwater life to explore.
If you climb up and just over to the south there is a gorgeous little freshwater stream meeting the ocean. The area immediately behind the shore is protected and creates a lovely safe place for smaller children to play in the shallow water. Watch as the waves pour into a natural rock pool and stream back out. Now that’s a natural spa!
The northern most point in WA is Cape Londonderry, westerly most extremity is Steep Point near Denham, and the southerly most point is right here at Torbay Head in West Cape Howe.
You can drive close to the point but the actual tip is about a 15min walk further. There is no formal track but you can follow the rock stacks to guide you. It is best to be wearing proper shoes and either jeans or gaters because you do need to push through some pretty scratchy bushes! I did it in thongs and shorts – clearly not taking my own advice about how to avoid getting bitten by a snake while walking in the bush.
When you reach the tip though you can take in the scenery knowing there is no one on mainland WA further south than you at that moment. I don’t know about you but I always kind of like these places and knowing you are the person at one extreme of something.
The Right Side and the Southern Ocean Wall
The climbing website The Crag says of West Cape Howe “Probably the most extensive area of climbing in Western Australia. There is a multitude of climbs on offer, with styles ranging from cracks, to aretes, to delicate faces and slabs. There is plenty of potential for new climbs too!”
The area with the most extensive climbing is the Right Side and the Southern Ocean Wall. You will need to be a far braver person than me to attempt these climbs, through they are spectacular! These sub-vertical black dolerite cliffs lean perilously over the rough ocean below, enough to get your heart pounding even just watching from a safe distance.
If you are brave enough to have peak over the edge most lay on the rock and poke their head over the edge. I would not recommend taking young children out of the car here.
The Old Man
The famous landmark in West Cape Howe other than Shelley Beach is The Old Man. This giant rock stack can be best seen from the small carpark “Old Man View” on my map. It is easy here to climb down the rocks to get a better view. Just don’t go near the ocean or on wet rocks!
The Old Man is another spot for rock climbing and is best seen in the evening light when the sunlight sparkles of the large crystals in the dolerite.
‘The Other Elephant Rocks’
Elephant Rocks near Denmark is no doubt gorgeous and that’s why I made it one of my favourite beaches for families, but if you want a similar scene all to yourself then check out this place. You can drive down the sand track to a small cleaning on the exposed granite ledge. Although the view over west to The Old Man and east to Golden Gates Beach is pretty special, the real gem here is a little hidden. If you walk to the westerly edge of of the granite platform and peak over you will find a small aquarium of calm ocean surrounded by smooth pinkish boulders. Just like a mini Elephant Rocks this gorgeous hidden gem is a nice and calm pool to enjoy a swim.
To get down to the beach look for a small track to the left of the cleaning. Again, you will need to push through the bushes of the narrow track to reach the beach. Watch for the water calmly rising and falling with the swell but no real waves break here.
Golden Gates Beach
Strewn with enormous granite boulders this beach is so much fun to explore. Again it requires a little agility to get down to the sand but it’s a worthwhile climb. Some of the boulders have cracked in half creating little pathways to more hidden beaches.
The obvious tide line on the rocks makes it really easy to see the difference between weathering by rain water and by the ocean. Notice how the orange lichen and moss that is so typical of the southern beaches of WA only grows on surfaces exposed to rain.
Here also you will find a fantastic surf break. Looking for the best beach to watch the sunset? This is definetly the one 🙂
Camping in West Cape Howe
There is only the one official camp in West Cape Howe and that is the tent camping at Shelley Beach. However, there are so many amazing free and low cost camps close by.
Cosy Corner East
Cosy Corner camp is tucked in the sand dunes just behind the beach with plenty of shelter from the wind. There is space for caravans in well-defined sites as well as more freeform tent camping closer down to the beach.
- Facilities: toilets, Telstra reception, bins, dump point.
- Cost: FREE
Torbay Inlet (Floodgates)
A small camping are with 5 small caravan sites and 16 tent bays but not suitable for larger caravans.
- Facilities: toilets, Telstra reception, bins
- Cost: FREE
Gorgeous protected campsite among the peppermint trees. This campsite has showers and is along the Bibbulmun Track. There are limited sites for caravans.
- Facilities: toilets, showers, BBQ, Telstra reception
- Cost: $17 for two adults per night, $3 for children over 3