An online visitor's guide to Western Australia's parks, reserves and other recreation areas.
Nambung National Park (Pinnacles)
Nambung National Park features beautiful beaches, coastal dune systems, shady groves of tuart trees and low heathland rich in flowering plants. The vegetation bursts into flower from August to October, creating a memorable spectacle for visitors.
In the midst of this diversity is one of Australia's most fascinating areas - the Pinnacles Desert, one of Australia's best known landscapes. Here, thousands of huge limestone pillars rise from the shifting yellow sands, resembling a landscape from a science fiction movie. The park is a comfortable day trip from Perth.
The first known European recording of the Nambung area dates back to 1658, when the North and South Hummocks first appeared on Dutch maps. The Hummocks were also mentioned in navigator Philip Parker King's journal in about 1820. Nambung is an Aboriginal word that means crooked or winding and it was from this river that the park was named.
The Pinnacles Desert remained relatively unknown until the late 1960s, when the Department of Lands and Surveys agreed to add the area to the already existing national park, which had been established in 1956. Today the park is visited by approximately 150,000 visitors, from all over the world, each year.
In the Pinnacles Desert, right in the heart of Nambung National Park, thousands of huge limestone pillars rise out of a stark landscape of yellow sand. In places they reach up to three and a half metres tall. Some are jagged, sharp-edged columns, rising to a point; while others resemble tombstones.
The raw material for the limestone of the pinnacles came from sea shells in an earlier epoch rich in marine life. These shells were broken down into lime-rich sands which were brought ashore by waves and then carried inland by the wind to form high, mobile dunes. Three old systems of sand dunes run parallel to the WA coast, marking ancient shorelines.
The oldest of these, known as the Spearwood dune system, is characterised by yellow or brownish sands. In winter, rain, which is slightly acidic, dissolves small amounts of calcium carbonate as it percolates down through the sand. As the dune dries out during summer, this is precipitated as a cement around grains of sand in the lower levels of the dunes, binding them together and eventually producing a hard limestone rock, known as Tamala Limestone.
At the same time, vegetation that became established on the surface, aided this process. Plant roots stabilised the surface, and encouraged a more acidic layer of soil and humus (containing decayed plant and animal matter) to develop over the remaining quartz sand.
The acidic soil accelerated the leaching process, and a hard layer of calcrete formed over the softer limestone below. Cracks which formed in the calcrete layer were exploited by plant roots. When water seeped down along these channels, the softer limestone beneath was slowly leached away and the channels gradually filled with quartz sand. This subsurface erosion continued until only the most resilient columns remained. The Pinnacles, then, are the eroded remnants of the formerly thick bed of limestone.
As bush fires denuded the higher areas, south-westerly winds carried away the loose quartz sands and left these limestone pillars standing up to three and a half metres high.
Although the formation of the Pinnacles would have taken many thousands of years, they were probably only exposed in quite recent times. Aboriginal artefacts at least 6,000 years old have been found in the Pinnacles Desert despite no recent evidence of Aboriginal occupation. This tends to suggest that the Pinnacles were exposed about 6,000 years ago and then covered up by shifting sands, before being exposed again in the last few hundred years. This process can be seen in action today - with the predominantly southerly winds uncovering pinnacles in the northern part of the Pinnacles Desert but covering those in the south. Over time, the limestone spires will no doubt be covered again by other sand drifts and the cycle repeated, creating weird and wonderful shapes over and over again.
Pinnacles Desert Discovery
The Pinnacles Desert Discovery opened in October 2008 and offers visitors a new interpretive encounter of the Pinnacles.
The new visitor facility houses interpretative displays providing insights into the natural processes that formed these amazing structures.
Visitors also have access to information on the biodiversity of the park, general information about other national parks and nature reserves and a retail gallery.
The site has been designed and built in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner utilising solar power, environmentally friendly waste water treatment system, rainwater tanks and passive solar designed buildings.
The development has also incorporated other improvements to the site, including:
- A sealed pathway to the Pinnacles View lookout.
- A 1.2 km. loop walk starting from the facility to a lookout over the Pinnacles desert area.
- Increased car and bus parking bays.
- New ablution facilities.
The Pinnacles Desert Discovery is open everyday of the year except Christmas Day, 9.30am - 4.30pm. National Park entry fees apply.
The turn-off to Kangaroo Point is 7.5 km from the park entrance. A picnic shelter, gas barbecue and toilets are provided at this attractive site near the beach. To the north-west you can see Cervantes at Thirsty Point. Out to sea are the Cervantes Islands. Here, the vegetation has been heavily pruned by the salty winds.
The access road to Hangover Bay is 11.6 km from the park entrance. Hangover Bay is a delightful spot with picnic tables, gas barbecues, and a boat launch (four-wheel-drive access only). The stunning bay has a white sandy beach. It offers good snorkeling, swimming, windsurfing, surfing and beachcombing. Bottlenose dolphins are common and sea lions can also be occasionally seen.
Plants and animals
You can often see western grey kangaroos grazing on the vegetation. The earlier in the morning it is, the more likely you are to see some. They are quite tame and may let you approach quite closely if you are quiet and keep your movements to a minimum. Emus and white-tailed black-cockatoos are also frequently seen. Bobtails and other reptiles such as Gould's monitors and carpet pythons (which are completely harmless) may also be seen. You may also be lucky enough to see a bird of prey such as a black-shouldered kite, hovering above the ground in search of a meal.
Panjang (a low wattle), coastal banjine, Acacia truncata, quandong (Santalum acuminatum), yellow tailflower (Anthocercis), thick-leaved fanflower (Scaevola crassifolia) and white clematis and cockies tongues are some of Nambung's common plant species. Parrotbush (Dryandra sessilis) becomes more common as you get closer to the Pinnacles and candle banksia(Banksia attenuata), firewood banksia (Banksia menziesii)and sawtooth banksia (Banksia prionotes) are also common in the park.
*Disclaimer: all Google map locations are approximate, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) is not responsible for the content and/or accuracy of Google maps. Not all roads shown on this map are maintained, and are subject to closures.
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Located on the Swan Coastal Plain, 245 kilometres north of Perth, 260 kilometres south of Geraldton.
The park is about three hours from the centre of Perth.
Visitors travelling from Perth can take the new Indian Ocean Drive from Lancelin to Cervantes, adjacent to the national park. Alternatively, the turn off to the park is off Cervantes Road, which runs off the Brand Highway.
The best season is during September and October, when the wildflowers are blooming and vistas of wattles stretch from horizon to horizon, but in fine weather Nambung is interesting year-round.
Huge limestone pillars exposed in a stark landscape of yellow sand, white sandy beaches, marine life, Pinnacles exploration, wildflower watching, picnicking, swimming, fishing, snorkelling.
Barbecues, information panels, tables and toilets. There are no camping areas in the national park but a full range of accommodation and other services are available in Cervantes. Pinnacles Desert Discovery centre is open every day of the year from 9.30am - 4.30pm, except Christmas Day.
Guide available: http://www.everytrail.com/guide/nambung-national-park-and-the-pinnacles