“Andy”. I heard my name spoken beyond the dune, as clear as day, on a fiercely sunny morning. Apart from the British geologist standing next to me, no one else was about. Perhaps I was hearing things, although in the half a dozen times I’ve been to the Pinnacles, roughly 200 kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia’s Nambung National Park, there’s no doubt the place has a certain mystique about it. Vast, shifting, often eerie – here the sand and light constantly changes.
Of course I might have been daydreaming, or suffering from heat stroke, much like Billy Connolly when he danced around the Pinnacles naked for his TV series. Perhaps it’s just that kind of place – it changes you, as much as it constantly changes itself. Or perhaps it’s a message in the seashells that make up these protruding limestone formations, transported from a marine epoch of long ago.
These pinnacles spread across roughly 400 hectares in the Nambung National Park and number in the thousands. Some stand near five metres tall and are thought to have formed after calcium sediments hitched a ride with the wind, before being smothered by sand dunes and turned into limestone. Plants soon grew over these dunes, creating a layer of humus that combined with wind and rain to form an acid that ate away the limestone, fashioning pinnacles beneath the sand.
The vegetation died (theories as to how this happened vary), the sand moved on and the pinnacles remained. A freakish combination of elements created a beguiling place that’s well worth a visit. Interestingly, the Pinnacles remained largely unknown to all but the Aborigines until the 1960s. Today, the place receives around 250,000 visitors a year and has a visitor’s centre, which is made with materials such as limestone and burnt wood to honour the region’s history.
The best time to visit the Pinnacles is during late winter/early spring in Australia – August to October – when the state’s wildflowers rear their heads and the days are relatively mild. Entry fees into the park cost $12 per passenger vehicle, no pets are allowed, there’s no camping and no fires. Around two hours is recommended to circumvent the Pinnacle trail and pay the lookout a visit.
While much of the park’s fauna is nocturnal, emus, kangaroos and galahs are spotted during the daytime. Nearby attractions include the town of Cervantes, approximately 17 kilometres away, which was named indirectly after the author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. Here you’ll find stunning beaches, fringed by a lovely rimmed walk, high up on the dunes. Lake Thetis also lies nearby, which contains stromatolites – some of the oldest living organisms on earth.
The best time to visit these limestone obelisks is during dawn or dusk, when shadows accentuate their form and the vast Western Australian sky displays a subtle gradient of hues. I’ve also laid amongst the Pinnacles under the night sky, an experience I’ll never forget.
The stars here are wonderful.