national park in Australia
Oceania > Australia > Western Australia > Wheatbelt > Nambung National Park

Nambung National Park is a national park in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, best known for the Pinnacles Desert limestone formations.

Cervantes is the service village for the park, a beach resort with a population of 480 in 2021. It's named for a whaling brig wrecked nearby in 1844, which was named for Miguel de Cervantes the author of Don Quixote.

Understand

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The park contains a range of coastal habitats, but the strangest, and the big draw for visitors, is the area of desert studded with limestone pinnacles up to 3.5 m tall, like monuments or tombstones. Ancient seashells became scrunched up and blown inland to form dunes, which compacted and concreted, but there are several theories about what happened next. The theory favoured by the park is that an acid topsoil formed, then vegetable roots bored into the dunes and let in acidified rainwater. This eroded channels down through the dunes that filled with inert quartz sand. Eventually the sand blew away and the pillars between emerged as pinnacles. Some of them have caps of harder limestone representing the original dune surface - like miniature hoodoos though those are entirely wind-sculpted.

The climate is arid and hot, damned hot December to March until the afternoon sea breeze picks up: 40°C is normal, and the park will close if it heads towards 50°C. Wildlife rests up during the heat of the day. The limited rainfall is May to September, with the wild flowers in bloom from September.

Common animals include Western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus), emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae), Baudin's black cockatoo (Zanda baudinii), bobtail skinks (Tiliqua rugosa), sand goannas (Varanus gouldii), carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) and thousands of pesky flies.

Plants include panjang wattle, coastal wattle, scented banjine, quandong, yellow tailflower, thick-leaved fanflower and cockies tongues.

Get in

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Map of Nambung National Park

From Perth follow Indian Ocean Drive / State Route 60 and reckon two hours. The turnoff to the Discovery Centre and Pinnacles is by Hangover Bay.

Brand Highway (Hwy 1) passes east of the park and roads lead in, but you can't reach the main sights from this side.

Integrity Coaches run three evenings a week from Perth, taking 2 hours via Joondalup and Lancelin.

1 Cervantes Post Office is the village request stop. The buses continue north to Jurien Bay, where they have a 30 min rest stop then head off into the night to Green Head, Leman, Dongara, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Exmouth, Port Hedland and Broome.

Transwa buses run further inland on Brand Hwy. Change at Geraldton to take these, for instance to Kalbarri.

Cervantes airstrip north of the village (ICAO code YCVS) has a 900 m runway. No facilities here.

Fees and permits

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In 2024 you pay $17 per vehicle up to 12 occupants, no dogs allowed in the park. Motorbikes are $10 and bicycles and hikers free. These are the standard single-entry fees for most WA state parks, check Western Australia#See for the 5 day, 14 day, one month and one year park passes.

Jurien Bay Marine Park is a separate park from the shoreline to 5.5 km out to sea, from Green Head down to Wedge Island. There's no separate fee for this. Line fishing from boats is permitted.

Get around

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The access road from the coast to the Pinnacles is a sealed highway, and the 4.3 km sightseeing loop is a firm dirt track suitable for 2WD and on-road bikes. There's also a 1 km hiking loop reaching the best views.

Most visitors stick to this small area. Check the local rules before hiking elsewhere, especially in very hot or tinder-dry conditions when all or part of the park may be closed. In any case do not leave the marked trails: apart from risk of damage to the environment, you might spread plant infection between patches. Phytophthora - mold - is the concern.

  • 1 Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre, Pinnacles Drive, +61 8 9652 7913. Daily 9:30AM–4:30PM. Start here for the gallery and exhibition with displays explaining the formations of the Pinnacles Desert. There are accessible toilets, a gift shop and snacks and soft drinks.    
  • Lookout trail is a 4.3 km anti-clockwise loop from the Discovery Centre, with North Spur a 1 km dead-end extension. There are multiple laybys for photo stops, the best is the lookout next to the spur junction. Here a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk looks onto a vista of hundreds of pinnacles, many over 3.5 m tall. Evening is the best time for photos, when a warm light bathes the formations.
 
Pinnacles Desert
  • 2 Grey is not yet within the park boundary, though the authorities fume and fulminate. It's an off-grid boho community of some 120 squatter shacks, inhabited from the 1930s and since 1989 fighting a rearguard action against eviction.
  • Buller, Whittell & Green Islands are an archipelago 2 km off Grey, low scrubby islets protected as a nature reserve. You may not land on Buller or Whittell, check before accessing North or South Green Islands but avoid the spring seabird breeding season.
  • 3 Hangover Bay is a white sandy beach excellent for snorkelling and swimming - it got its name as a New Year's Day picnic spot for city-dwellers. You can launch a boat here. Watch for bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.
  • 4 Kangaroo Point is 10 km south of Cervantes. It's a popular beach for shore fishing and boating, usually strewn with seaweed, and you might see kangaroos and emus. Take it slow on the rough access road.
  • 5 Lake Thetis   is a hypersaline lake, reached by Hansen Bay Road from Cervantes. It has living marine stromatolites, nowadays rare; these concretions of micro-organisms were common until a billion years ago. Then more complex creatures evolved that grazed on them, so now they persist only in harsh environments such as hypersalinity that repel their successors - Shark Bay is another example. Lake Thetis has no connection to the sea and the salinity arises through evaporation. There's a wheelchair and pram-accessible trail around the lake, open 24 hours. No toilets here.
  • Cervantes Islands are 2 km off Cervantes town. Boat trips visit but don't land, as they're a haul-out for sea lions.
  • Southern Beekeepers Nature Reserve is a large tract northeast of Cervantes stretching up to Jurien Bay, bounded from the park by a public highway, but you may not enter this tract. In bygone times beehives were placed here and moved around with the seasons.
 
Stromatolites in Lake Thetis
  • Beaches: lots and lots and lots, suitable for swimming, wind-surfing and shore-fishing, with nearby parking.
  • Boat trips sail most days from the Lobster Shack to visit the sea lions of the Cervantes Islands.
  • Golf: Cervantes GC is northeast side of the village, with the country club house at 14 Aragon St opposite Pinnacles Resort.
  • Cervantes General Store is at 2 Cadiz St by the post office and bus stop, open daily 8AM-6PM.
  • Fuel: Liberty Petrol is at 1 Aragon St at the entrance to the village, open W-M 8AM-8PM, Tu 8AM-6PM. Filling stations along this coast highway are set back in the villages, with limited hours and higher prices than those on Highway 1, which are 24-hour roadhouses right on the route.
  • Cervantes Bar & Bistro is at 1 Cadiz St opposite the general store, open daily 11AM-10PM.
  • Pinnacles Resort restaurant is open to non-residents.
  • Lobster Shack is at 37 Catalonia St north of the holiday park, serving meals daily 11AM-3PM. They have a production facility for lobster: their website extols the pristine seawater, state-of-the-art freeze drying and slick shipping, but is coy about what happens in between, presumably in response to lots of "unlikes" by the lobsters.

Drink

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Sand dunes near Cervantes
  • Water, plenty of water. You don't notice how much you're sweating away as it evaporates so fast.
  • There are no stand-alone bars in Cervantes, but the restaurants serve alcohol.

Sleep

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  • Pinnacles Edge Resort, 7 Aragon St, Cervantes, +61 8 9652 7145. Decent enough motel, but many facilities are tatty. Double (room only) $200.
  • RAC Cervantes Holiday Park, 35 Aragon St, Cervantes, +61 8 9652 7060. Well-run camping and caravan park on the north beach. Hook-up $50, villa $300.
  • Cervantes Lodge (formerly Lobster Lodge), 91 Seville St, Cervantes, +61 8 9652 7377. Clean and comfy lodgings west side of village towards Thirsty Point. Double (room only) $120.

Stay safe

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Heat, traffic and rough seas are the main hazards. Pay heed to park signs, especially in wildfire season.

Connect

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As of Feb 2024 there is a patchy 4G signal from Optus and Telstra in Cervantes and along the road to the Pinnacles. Nothing further north or south on the highway, and no signal from Vodafone. 5G has not yet reached north of Perth.

Go next

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  • Jurien Bay is a larger resort to the north. Lesueur National Park is a riot of wildflowers in spring.
  • Dongara / Port Denison is a crayfish port. Highway 1 continues north towards Geraldton.
  • Head south to Perth for big city attractions.



This park travel guide to Nambung National Park is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.