Chasing iconic “must-sees” and adventures? Then get ready to pack your bags.
If you’re going to take one road trip this summer, journey up the Coral Coast to the Pinnacles – Western Australia’s most fascinating natural attraction. It truly is a bucket-list moment.
Just south of the beautiful fishing town of Cervantes, and 2-hours north of Perth, the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung’s National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and an ideal road trip for couples, friends, families or solo travellers. Whether you’re after excitement or a scenic getaway – the Pinnacles have something special for everyone. And it all starts with a beautiful drive along the turquoise coast, alongside views of crystal waters, white sand dunes, and (if you keep your eyes peeled) even some wildlife.
Nambung National Park
Nambung National Park gets its name from an Indigenous Australian word meaning “winding” that refers to the river which flows into the park but then disappears underground into a cave within the limestone. The Nyoongar people, who are the original custodians of the land were dependent on the freshwater from the cave’s waterholes for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until 1994 that Nambung was even established as a park, combining three separate nature reserves: the base area which includes shoreline beaches at Kangaroo Point and Hangover Bay, coastal dunes and flowering plants in the low heathland areas, and the Pinnacle ridge. The park covers a total area of over 17,000 hectares (over 170 km²) with plenty of walking trails, viewpoints, caves and gorges.
What You Can Expect to See
Nambung Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including native Australian birds, mammals, reptiles and fish. Most commonly sighted are kangaroos, emus, dingos, black cockatoos, bobtails, sand goannas, and yellow-faced whip snakes, but there are hundreds of different species. Humpback whales also visit the Indian Ocean waters adjacent to the park during their northern and southern migration seasons, while sea lions and dolphins can be spotted year-round. Even flower enthusiasts have much to enjoy with a large display of wildflowers like coastal wattle, acorn banksia, cowslip orchid, and sea nymph to name a few.
The most popular of the three areas that Nambung National Park is made up of are the Pinnacles. They span 190 hectares and host over 250,000 global visitors yearly, who come to experience their striking atmosphere and history. The Pinnacles are made up of thousands of weathered limestone pillars that stand out amongst the otherwise flat desert, ranging in dimension and height, with some as high as 4 m. These jagged, unique rock formations – which have been referred to as “ancient guardians of the desert” – are truly otherworldly, making the Pinnacles one of WA’s most picturesque and perplexing locations.
The Mystery of the Pinnacles
The formations are thought to be over 30,000 years old and made up of natural limestone that formed after the sea receded and left deposits of broken seashells and coral behind. Over time, coastal winds eroded surrounding sand dunes and left these structures exposed to the elements which formed their spectacular weather-beaten shapes. Of course, this is the most widely accepted theory surrounding the formation of the pinnacles, but how and when they were actually formed remains quite a mystery. Another theory states that they were originally tree casts or roots, solidified by calcium present in the sand and covered in limestone. While others attribute the formations to rising sea levels left behind a network of caves that eventually collapsed leaving behind these unique formations.
Regardless of how these unusual shapes came into being, the pinnacles are an unforgettable sight, unlike any other, and one you should add to your holiday travel itinerary.
Exploring the Pinnacles During the Day
Whether by foot or by car, embarking on a journey to experience Western Australia’s otherworldly pinnacles is a surreal adventure. Both are great options – it just depends on what you prefer. If you’re staying nearby and want to explore the region at various times of the day, we’d recommend trying both.
Walking and Driving Trails
The walking trail through the Pinnacles Desert is about 2 km long, beginning and ending at the Discovery Centre, and ideally would take about half an hour – but most people take 1-2 hours to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. Whereas, the drive-through track is a 4.5 km loop and is suitable for most cars (keep in mind the path is narrow and rough with limestone gravel). If you’re worried about missing out on the experience, know that there are plenty of marked parking bays where you can pull over and get out of the car to enjoy the sights and sounds at your own pace. In the middle of the loop, there is even a lookout platform perfect for taking in views of the blue Indian Ocean and white sand dunes along the coast.
If you’re planning on visiting the pinnacles during the day, it’s best to get an early start to try and beat the busier crowds, group tours, and afternoon sun. The Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and is a great place to learn about the history behind these unique rock formations with displays, videos, and soundscapes to help demonstrate. You can also book tours here, including guided walks through different parts of Nambung National Park. It’s the perfect activity whether you’re travelling with family and want to keep the little ones occupied with educational adventure, or solo if taking some time out for yourself in the quiet of nature is more your thing. Just don’t forget to take lots of pictures; the pinnacles look different from every angle and wildlife spotting is especially common.
Other Things to Do in Nambung National Park
If you’re looking to venture out, Lake Thetis is home to spectacular thrombolites and Hangover Bay’s clear waters are great for swimming and snorkelling.
Eat Lunch at Lobster Shack
Once in Cervantes, it’d be a shame not to stop at the local favourite, Lobster Shack. It’s a great place to stop off for lunch to enjoy some of the freshest seafood and handcrafted cocktails al fresco, on the patio. There’s an excellent range of locally-caught fish on offer, from the infamous Western Rock Lobster to freshly shucked oysters, and everything in between. Even the pickier eaters can enjoy more traditional menu items like the Angus burgers, fish and chips, or nuggets from the kids’ special. Lobster Shack is kid and dog-friendly too so you can enjoy your meal oceanside alongside your furry loved ones while keeping the little ones entertained in the play area.
If you have the time, Lobster Shack offers an incredibly insightful and fun factory tour. Get up close and personal with 2 tonnes of Western Rock Lobster as you watch their lifespan from cooking pot to table. This multimillion-dollar industry is essential to WA’s economy and a must-see for anyone visiting. Discover the secrets of lobster fishing, from initial catch to transport and how these lobsters are packaged up live to be exported around the world. Factory tours are entirely self-guided with multilingual audio-visual guides for guests in no fewer than 8 different languages and can be completed at your own pace. After the tour, we’d encourage you to visit the gift shop where you can purchase some of that freshly steamed Western Rock Lobster for the road.
Discover the Pinnacles at Night
Planning an overnighter? While the Pinnacles Desert is renowned for its unique daytime beauty, the best time to visit is actually at sunset. If you’ve ever dreamt of seeing the Milky Way in person, the pinnacles offer the perfect stargazing spot for your viewing pleasure in Cervantes.
It’s quiet, slightly cooler, and an ideal time and destination to take some pretty epic photos. Bring your telescope, and a blanket and find solace in your remote surroundings. Of course, stargazing can go pretty late so it’s a good idea to book accommodation for the night nearby. Fortunately, Cervantes Lodge is just minutes away.
Stay Overnight at Cervantes Lodge
The best way to end your Western Australian road trip in Cervantes? The Cervantes Lodge, of course. After a day of exploring, there’s no better feeling than laying your head to rest in a place that feels like a home away from home. Cervantes Lodge is right next to the Pinnacles – only a 20-minute drive away – and home to some beautiful beaches where you can spend your sunrise before heading back on the road.
The Cervantes Lodge (formerly known as Lobster Lodge) has recently been renovated with a boho chic theme in mind, lots of natural light and a clean, welcoming interior that suits every kind of traveller. It’s specially designed and constructed with every budget in mind from the solo backpacker to the family vacationers, offers private balconies with ocean views, and is surrounded by a wonderfully tranquil forest tucked within the beach dunes.
Whether you’re travelling to WA from afar, or a local looking for a new adventure, a visit to the pinnacles should be added to your bucket list of wonders to see. Be sure to bring your camera and your sense of adventure – even at first glance, the pinnacles are an otherworldly sight you won’t soon forget.