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A trip to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is mainland Australia’s tallest.
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is mainland Australia’s tallest. Shirley Sinclair

THE beacon that repels ships from the treacherous coastline is drawing us closer like a magnet.

On foot, we head up the road from the car park, past the three pyramid-roofed cottages, to the old ground-floor door ... and look up, as thousands upon thousands before us have done.

As we take in the surrounds of this quaint lighthouse precinct, Africa is 8000km away to the west on one side and Antarctica is 4000km to our south.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse – mainland Australia’s tallest – stands steadfast on the extreme south-west tip of Western Australia.

Part of the Augusta-Margaret River region, the Cape is notorious among the sea-going fraternity as one of the most dangerous coastlines in the world, with treacherous granite reefs and rocks, unpredictable weather and massive swell as the point where the Indian and Southern oceans meet.

But the area is also one of the most important and busiest shipping lanes in the world.

In the days when most Australian-bound ships travelled via the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin was usually the first Australian landfall sailors saw.

A total of 22 shipwrecks had been recorded before the lighthouse construction began in 1895.

But like a lone, white sentinel, the lighthouse has stood tall and proud, performing its duty faithfully since 1896 by shining a light from its original lens that is the equivalent of a million candles.

The 1000-watt, 120-volt tungsten lamp flashes every 7.5 seconds with a signature warning light visible 25 nautical miles or 47km away at sea. And each year, visitors pay a small fee to climb the 176 steps with a guide to take in the view and soak up the history of the landmark.

Although proposed in 1881, the 15-year delay was the result of having to excavate to 7m to find solid bedrock for foundations, plus a rejection by the eastern states that the project should be a joint undertaking because of the benefit to all sea traffic.

The lighthouse was designed by British consultant engineer William Tregarthen Douglass.Each block was numbered with instructions on how it should be placed to form the perfect smooth cylinder inside.

The light apparatus, a 12-foot (3.6m) lantern and 920mm focal radius rotating lens, was designed and manufactured by Chance Brothers and Co, lighthouse engineers from Birmingham, England. The beacon originally was a mineral oil-wick lamp.

Three lighthouse keepers and their families lived on-site in the cottages with their unusual pitched roofs designed to withstand the high winds.

The men were rostered in shifts of four hours on, eight off, and also were responsible for putting together three-hourly weather reports from this important meteorological station, which has the longest history of weather reports in WA.

In 1982, the lighthouse switched to electricity, and it became fully automated in 1992.

The last lighthouse keeper left in 1998, and battery power is now used as a back-up if blackouts occur in the supply.

In 2004, the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association signed a 21-year lease to manage the heritage-listed
lighthouse precinct, alongside its existing management contract of three easily accessible show caves nearby:

Mammoth Cave, Lake Cave and Jewel Cave.

The limestone Leeuwin-Nauturaliste Ridge that runs like a spine through the region, hugging the coastline, is home to more than 100 known caves.These caves are part of a series of fragile karst systems formed by the flow of water underground.

Jewel Cave is WA’s largest show cave and was opened to the public on Boxing Day, 1959.

Some of the longest straw stalactites in any tourist cave in the world can be found here, plus a surprising amount of unique ceiling decorations.

Here you’ll also see mysterious helictites that seem to defy gravity, stalactites and stalagmites, plus spectacular formations that look like caramel shawls, bacon rashers, coral, jewellery boxes, kari forests, organ pipes, elephant trunks, even a camel. The 700m of walkways and stairs meander through several large caverns, leaving visitors in awe of the colossal formations and natural phenomena at work for hundreds of thousands of years.

On the 50-minute tours, you’ll also hear the sad story of the possum skeleton estimated to be 500 years old. The newly developed interpretive centre will help visitors fill in the gaps in their knowledge about this diverse region’s natural attractions and history.

The writer was a guest of Augusta-Margaret River
Tourism.


CAPE LEEUWIN ATTRACTIONS

CAPE Leeuwin Lighthouse is south of Augusta on Leeuwin Rd in the Augusta-Margaret River region of south-west Western Australia. The grounds are open daily from 8.45am to 5pm and a site fee applies. Lighthouse tours are conducted every 40 minutes from 9am, with more tours available during school and public holidays (children must be four or over to climb).

Mammoth Cave self-guided tours are from 9am-5pm daily.

Lake Cave and Jewel cave tours are every hour from 9.30am-3.30pm daily. The caves are spread along Caves Rd, the main tourist drive.

For lighthouse and cave bookings, call CaveWorks on (08) 9757 7411 or email caveworks@margaretriver.com.

Visit www.margaretriver.com.

CAPE LEEUWIN

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is south of Augusta on Leeuwin Road in the Augusta-Margaret River region of south-west Western Australia.

The grounds are open daily from 8.45am to 5pm (except Christmas Day) and a site fee applies.

Lighthouse tours are conducted every 40 minutes from 9am, with more tours available during school and public holidays (children must be four and over to climb).

Mammoth Cave self-guided tours are from 9am to 5pm daily.

Lake Cave and Jewel cave tours are every hour from 9.30am to 3.30pm daily.

The caves are spread along Caves Road, the main tourist drive in the region.

For lighthouse and cave bookings, call CaveWorks on (08) 9757 7411 or email caveworks@margaretriver.com.

Visit www.margaretriver.com for accommodation, tours and events.

Topics:  holiday travel western australia


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