Gracetown is a small settlement tucked away on a hillslope above Cowaramup Bay with sweeping ocean views. It’s located approximately half way down the Cape-to-Cape Coast, in the heart of the Margaret River Region.
Cowaramup Bay faces north-west and is one of the few (relatively) protected spots along the wild and rugged coastline. The deep rounded shape of the bay forms a natural harbour with a lower wave height further back into the bay in the lee of the rocks, reefs and headlands. The long headland on the south side provides shelter from the strong southerly winds that are so common especially during the summer months.
The houses of Gracetown are a mixture of old fibro beach shacks from the 60’s and contemporary designs built to take in the sweeping ocean views. Of the approximately 150 houses in Gracetown, ony one-third are permanent residences, the rest are all holiday homes, many of which are available to rent for a few days or weeks.
Down by the beach there’s a general store selling the essentials, a bottle shop, and a cafe that does really good smoothies, coffee and cakes.
Gracetown is famous for its world-class surf breaks and is one of the top surfing destinations in WA.
Each of the two headlands that frame Cowaramup bay deflect the waves rolling in from the open ocean, forming point breaks. Further into the middle of the bay off South Point there is a gentler reef break known as Huzzas, one of the best waves in the region for beginner surfers.
North Point and South Point both work in a heavier swell and North Point in particular is a challenging world-class surf break:
The top surfing conditions don’t end at Cowaramup Bay. Head south to Lefthanders Beach where there are a series of popular breaks including Big Rock, Cobblestones, Umbies, Lefthanders and The Womb. And a few kilometers up the coast from North Point and out to sea there’s the famous Cow Bombie, one of the biggest surfable waves in Australia. Guillotines and Gallows are also located north of Gracetown; both are reef breaks accessible by 4WD tracks.
Why Visit Gracetown?
Gracetown is famous most of all for its world-class surf breaks, and this is the reason most people go there. And even if you’re not a surfer, the surf is still a good reason to visit Gracetown because there are some spectacular lookouts and vantage points for watching the surfers and the huge crashing waves.
The other main reasons to visit Gracetown is to go for a swim in the calm water off the Cowaramup Bay beach (quite a popular swimming spot for families with little kids), or to set off on a hike along the coast following the Cape to Cape Track. From Gracetown you can follow the track north to Wilyabrup Cliffs, Moses Rock and beyond to Injidup, or south to Lefthanders, Ellensbrook, Kilcarnup and Prevelly.
Another reason that I think Gracetown is a nice spot to visit, is the fact that it’s a bit of a backwater at the end of the road. Property prices may have gone up and some of the houses being built these days are a bit bigger and more luxurious than the older ones from 30-50 years ago, but even still Gracetown is one of the few spots in Margaret River that has not been changed much by the tourism boom. It retains an old fashioned beach-shack simplicity that gives it a very different feel to other towns in the Margaret River Region.
Apart from the beach, the surf breaks and the stunning coastal views, there are no real tourist attractions in Gracetown. Nor will you find any resorts, shops (apart from a general store), wine bars or fine dining establishments… But if you’re staying in Gracetown and want any of those things, they’re only a 5 or 10 minute drive down the road.
Gracetown is a fairly new settlement. Prior to the 1960’s it was a camping holiday area, and in 1957 the government decided to create a designated camping ground and caravan park, before changing their minds and making it in a townsite instead. The town was gazetted in 1961, and the first houses were built in 1963.
The name “Gracetown” was chosen in honour of Grace Bussell, a local hero who in 1886 rode her horse into ferocious surf at Redgate and rescued the survivors of the SS Georgette shipwreck. Click here to read the full story of the ship wreck and the daring rescue.
Gracetown has seen more than its fair share of tragedy in its short history and I know a lot of people who think of it as a sad and haunting place.
Huzzas Cliff Collapse
First there was a cliff collapse during a surfing carnival in 1996, which killed nine spectactors (5 adults and 4 children). I remember it being in the news at the time and it was very shocking. The people were at Huzzas Beach on the south side of the bay sheltering from the rain beneath a large overhang in the limestone cliffs, when it collapsed without warning.
Photo: Duncan Rawlinson on Flickr
There is a beautiful memorial to the people who died in the Gracetown Cliff Collapse above where it happened, a peaceful spot overlooking the ocean and Huzzas surf break. It has a small field of 9 crosses in front of a surfboard-shaped stone bench where you can sit and look out over the bay from between the tea trees and coastal heath.
Shark Attacks at Gracetown
In addition to the cliff collapse tragedy, the lives of three surfers were claimed by great white sharks at Gracetown between 2004 and 2013.
29 year old Bradley Adrian Smith was attacked and killed by a 4 metre great white while surfing Lefthanders just south of Gracetown on the 11th July 2004. Only six years later on the 17th August, 2010 Nicholas Edwards aged 31 was taken by a shark about 300m off South Point while sitting on his surf board waiting for a wave. And on the 23rd November, 2013 at Umbies break not far from where Brad Smith lost his life, 35 year old surfer Chris Boyd was also killed in a shark attack.
A memorial to Brad Smith’s life can be seen in the shelter overlooking Lefthanders Beach.
Location and Getting There
Gracetown is located on the coast at the end of Cowaramup Bay Road. It is roughly in the middle of the Margaret River Capes Region – north of Margaret River town, west of Cowaramup and south of Yallingup.
To get there, turn west off Caves Road or Bussell Highway onto Cowaramup Bay Road and follow it all the way down to the coast and around the bend into town.
You can also get there by walking the scenic Cape to Cape Track which follows the coast and the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge and passes through Gracetown.
Staying at Gracetown
Gracetown feels quite separate from the rest of the Margaret River Region, however it is ideally situated as a base for exploring the wineries, beaches and other attractions:
- About half-way along the coast between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin
- 20 minutes drive north and west from Margaret River town
- 15 minutes drive west from Cowaramup
- 30 minutes drive south from Yallingup
- 25 minutes drive north from Prevelly, Gnarabup, Surfer’s Point and the river mouth.
- 50 minutes drive north from Augusta
Beyond Gracetown: Attractions and Things to Do
A few minute’s drive inland and you’ll be at Caves Road in the Wilyabrup subregion of wineries, and within 5 minutes you’ll be in the cluster of wineries, breweries and interesting food and farm produce shops between Cowaramup and Metricup Road.
And also close to Gracetown are a few other “must-visit” attractions of the historic and coastal views variety:
- Ellensbrook Homestead was the home of the first European settlers in the Margaret River Region, Alfred and Ellen Bussell (the parents of Grace Bussell, after whom Gracetown was named). You can wander through the old 1850’s house, have a picnic on the grass and go for a short walk to Meekadarabee Cave, a place of Wardandi legend in a shadowy green gully. Ellensbrook is about 5km south from Gracetown as the crow flies or via the Cape to Cape Track, or about a 15-20 minute drive.
- North of Gracetown the coastline is pretty rugged and spectacular, featuring long wild beaches and cliffs accessible by 4WD or the Cape to Cape Track only. The Wilyabrup Sea Cliffs about ~8km north from Gracetown are one of the main landmarks on this section of coast, and are a popular rock climbing spot with scenic views out to sea. You can drive to within a 1km walk from the cliffs in a 2-wheel-drive.
Staying in Gracetown with a dog:
Find a holiday rental in Gracetown that allows dog to stay, and you and your dogs will have a great time with plenty of places to go.
Obviously dogs are allowed around the streets of town on a lead, but you can also let them run free on a large section of Gracetown Beach (in front of town north-east as far as Cowaramup Brook at the edge of town), and in the Recreation Hall Reserve, the scrub on the western side of town next to Salter Street.
Note that dogs are prohibited on Gracetown Beach north of the edge of town and everywhere in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
Travelling Down South with a dog can be tricky; you might be interested in this article on the West Australian Explorer Blog which gives some helpful tips and a summary of places that are dog-friendly in the Margaret River Region.
Accommodation options in Gracetown are mainly private rentals, ranging from cosy fibro beach shacks right through to architectural masterpieces with spectacular views, and there is also the Gracetown Caravan Park located a few minutes drive out of town on Cowaramup Bay Road, inland from the beach.
Last Updated: 12th May, 2015.
First posted on 3rd February, 2015 by Bonny.
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