Photo: Matt Brand on Flickr
Hidden away amongst the lonely dunes and windswept heathland of Western Australia’s Turquoise Coast there is a barren, otherworldly desert of stone pillars rising up out of the golden sand.
Ranging in size from less than a foot to about 3m high, these mysterious rocks form ghostly shapes and shadows.
This small desert is known as “The Pinnacles” of Western Australia. It is one of Western Australia’s iconic tourist attractions and a main stop for travellers on road trips up and down the coast.
I Remember my first visit to The Pinnacles of Western Australia almost like it was yesterday…
My first visit to the Pinnacles desert was on a family road trip when I was only three or four years old. While the grown-ups stood around admiring the curious geological spectacle, my young cousin and I ran around, overjoyed to be out of the cramped confines of the car in the biggest, vastest natural playground we’d ever seen.
We had so much fun climbing on those rocks. Some were small and easy to climb, while others were taller and more challenging.
I remember being fascinated by this strange landscape, by the weird and wonderful rocks that with a bit of imagination assumed the shape of camels, monsters, gravestones and castles.
We were there at sunset, the most atmospheric time of day to visit the Pinnacles. As the sun went down, the colours softened and the golden tones glowed pinkish in the fading light. The shadows were long and the air was cool and still. We made wishes on the Evening Star and didn’t leave until well after dark.
My Recent Visits to the Pinnacles, Western Australia
The Pinnacles are close enough to Perth to visit on a longish daytrip or one-night getaway over a weekend, so I’ve been back a number of times over the years since that memorable first-ever visit when I was a young child.
I find that when I visit the Pinnacles as an adult the ghostly rocks don’t hold quite the same magic and mystique to me as they did 20 years ago. The rocks now seem more fascinating and unique as opposed to magical and awe-inspiring.
No matter how many times I see it, I always find the Pinnacles landscape interesting and beautiful to look at. I really enjoy wandering around looking at all the different shaped rocks and thinking about how they came to be there.
Where are the Pinnacles in Western Australia, and How Do You Go About Visiting Them?
To get to The Pinnacles your options are to either drive there yourself or join a bus tour. As with most of WA’s natural wonders, there are no public transport stops near by!
1. Driving from Perth to The Pinnacles Drive Following the Indian Ocean Drive:
The Pinnacles desert is part of the Nambung National Park, not far south of the fishing towns Cervantes and Jurien Bay. There’s been a sealed road from Cervantes to The Pinnacles for quite some time, but now that the Indian Ocean Highway has been completed, they’re easier to get to than ever by car, only 2.5 hours from Perth.
The Pinnacles are within day tripping distance by car, however if you have time I highly recommend visiting them on a 2 or more day trip if you’re driving yourself. This way you will feel less rushed and probably enjoy yourself a lot more (provided you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind hot sun, sand and strong wind!), and you will have the chance to make detours down to the coast and experience some beautiful lonely windswept beaches and typical WA fishing towns.
This coastline (known as the Turquoise Coast) is fantastic for fishing, wind surfing and four wheel driving, so if you’re into any of those activities you could easily spend a week exploring and hanging out along the coast between Perth and The Pinnacles!
2. Bus Tours to The Pinnacles
The other option for getting to The Pinnacles is to visit them on an organised tour. Pretty much every tour of the west coast north of Perth will stop off at The Pinnacles along the way, or you can do a day tour from Perth. If you only have one day to see The Pinnacles, then definitely consider doing a day tour rather than driving yourself, even if you’re not usually the sort of person who enjoys tours.
For a fun, small group day tour to The Pinnacles from Perth suitable for backpackers and solo travellers on a budget, I can personally recommend Tours With A Twist. Read about my experience on their tour, or see below for their website link.
How much does it cost to visit The Pinnacles?
The national park entrance fee for Nambung National Park is $12/vehicle (the standard for WA’s national parks with fees).*Last checked: December 2013
Exploring the Pinnacles Desert
The first thing you notice when you get there is the big carpark and Discovery Centre. The Pinnacles of Western Australia are no longer the travel secret they were only a few decades ago, when you could only get to them with a 4WD and they didn’t even appear on the maps.
I don’t mean to be a downer but this kind of spoils it for me a little bit as far as first impressions go. I prefer natural wonders like The Pinnacles to remain in their rugged and natural state as much as possible – so I’m not the biggest fan of bitumized roads and boardwalks and “discovery centres” taking over the landscape.
But the first impression is deceptive. Luckily the carpark and buildings are built fairly low to the ground behind a ridge, so once you are you in the midst of The Pinnacles the views in all directions are completely natural and it doesn’t feel too much like a big over-developed tourist attraction.
If you’re there during opening hours, make a quick stop at the visitor centre before setting out to explore the desert. It is here that you pay the national park entrance fee, and it’s worth having a look at the displays to learn about the natural history and wild life of the Pinnacles and the Nambung National Park.
The Pinnacles Desert Scenic Loop Drive
A 4km-long roughly circular track amongst The Pinnacles is marked out in the sand by small rocks on either side. It’s hard and compact enough to drive any car on.
So you don’t need a 4WD to explore The Pinnacles Desert?
This has been a frequently asked question in the comments, so in case you’re also wondering…
A 4-wheel-drive is not necessary for the Pinnacles loop track (despite the desert-like terrain) – ordinary cars can handle it just fine.
But, you may have some difficulty towing a trailer or caravan, or driving one of those massive caravan-sized motorhome vans. And if you will be driving a hire car, check the small print so you know where you stand about rules regarding driving on unsealed roads.
Driving along the Pinnacles Loop Track gives you some good views of the landscape and the ever-changing shapes and scenes. You can stop the car whenever you want to along the way and get out to take some photos or go for a walk.
Photo: Ian Sanderson on Flickr
A Virtual Drive Around the Pinnacles, Western Australia:
There’s no better way to tell you about the scenic drive other than to say watch the video below. You’ll feel like you’re right there driving the scenic loop! It starts in the big carpark at the visitor centre, but quickly the landscape changes into the strange yellow desert of the Pinnacles…
The Pinnacles Walk Trail and the Lookout
Better yet is to get out of your car and explore. You can wander around wherever you so choose, but if you want to find the Pinnacles Lookout – or just don’t want to get lost and would prefer to follow a marked trail – there’s a route to follow that will guide you up to the lookout and back. Just follow the arrows from one arrow to the next.
A Note on Climbing The Pinnacles:
I’ve mentioned how I used to like climbing the Pinnacles when I was a kid, but this is now against the rules stated on the “rules and regulations” signs.
I guess with so many hoards of tourists passing through the Nambung National Park each year, the natural processes of weathering and erosion could be accelerated if everyone who visits wanted to clamber all over the rocks. We don’t want The Pinnacles to weather away before their time!
So, Are The Pinnacles Western Australia Worth Visiting?
Yes, it is definitely, 100% worth it to visit The Pinnacles! Western Australia travel is all about these many small but unusual natural curiosities (eg The Pinnacles or the Stromatolites) – just as much as it is about the spectacular, awe-inspiring scenery of places like the Bungle Bungles or the Esperance coastline.
Just dont be disappointed if the Pinnacles aren’t quite as amazing as the tourist brochures lead you to believe ;-).
The Pinnacles Desert is pretty small to be called a “desert”, as you can see from the picture above, taken from The Pinnacles Lookout. It’s actually more like a large, barren clearing.
That being said, when you’re in the middle of the Pinnacles, they seem to go on and on as far as the eye can see! It really is quite a spectacle, that makes you wonder, “Just how many Pinnacles are there?”
The Pinnacles of Western Australia is a uniquely beautiful and fascinating place and is a famous tourist attraction for good reason.
- I would say The Pinnacles are one of the “must-visit” places to stop and have a look for anyone doing a road trip up Australia’s west coast.
- If you don’t have time for an overnight stay or extended trip up the coast, The Pinnacles are within daytripping distance of Perth. It is well worth the long drive if you’re interested in natural history and unique landscapes.
- The best time to visit is very early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is soft and casting long shadows – especially in summer when the midday sun is hot and bright and the flies are out in force.
Last Updated: 4th February, 2015.
First posted on 3rd December, 2013 by Bonny.
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