A wildlife haven, a very noisy bird, a rare marsupial called Gilbert and all the untrammelled beaches you could want. Michael Willis turns his skillful photographic eye towards Two Peoples Bay in southwest WA.
Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve is a remarkable and hugely significant place. This stretch of Southern Ocean coastline in WA’s southwest is steeped in history, the surrounding bushland has great ecological value and both remain largely untouched and breathtakingly beautiful. The Reserve is in easy reach of nearby Albany and a 35km sealed road transports you to a haven for some of Australia’s rarest wildlife and a place long known for its natural importance.
In the 1840s the naturalist John Gilbert surveyed Two Peoples Bay, discovering the noisy scrub-bird and giving his name to a small marsupial called a potoroo. Within a century these creatures were long thought to be extinct, but remarkably both the noisy scrub-bird and Gilbert’s Potoroo were rediscovered within the reserve in the 1960s and 1994 respectively. The rediscovery of the noisy scrub-bird was a timely one as there had been plans to turn the bay into a holiday resort.
Perhaps just as remarkable as finding a long lost bird was Prince Philip – presumably taking time out from making gaffs at the local’s expense – having a moment of lucidity as rare as the birds he was trying to save and supporting the conservation groups against the resort development. Two People’s Bay was declared a Nature Reserve in 1967 and with the devoted help of park staff and volunteers, noisy scrub-bird numbers have risen from around 40 to 1900 since then.
No development, please
Even without its rarities, it’s a safe bet that the stunning Two Peoples Bay coastline would have been granted National Park status, but as a Nature Reserve the main focal point remains on the wildlife. This means that “only low-impact recreation” facilities are permitted, but I’d hazard a guess that the majority of the reserve’s 55,000-a-year visitors wouldn’t have it any other way.
In accordance with these rules, beyond the shady car park, picnic tables, barbeques and toilets, there’s nothing but unspoiled beach and calm sheltered waters. Camping isn’t permitted inside the park and the majority of visitors make the 35km trip east from Albany each day. For those who’d prefer to stay out of town and closer to nature, campsites lie further east at Cheynes Beach near the borders of Waychinnicup National Park, and beside the Kalgan River on the Nanarup Road.
The entry point into the Reserve is down Two People’s Bay Road, accessed off Nanarup Road. If you have the time it’s well worth driving the extra few kilometres north to the South Coast Highway before heading down Homestead Road to the coastline via the eponymous Betty’s Beach Road.
Although not part of the Reserve, as the road climbs up the granite hills that characterise this area you’re afforded wonderful views across the bay to the dazzling white sand, calm turquoise waters and thickly vegetated hills of the Nature Reserve itself. Betty’s Beach is nowhere near as pristine as that, but the old fisherman’s huts erected there have a certain rustic appeal with the sea breeze whistling through gaps in the rusting corrugated iron walls.
From Betty’s Beach it may only be five kilometres down the bay, but to get to the main car park it’s a 40km trek west back along the South Coast Highway before you can enter the reserve. As with any Nature Reserve or National Park, ensure that you drive carefully and keep an eye out for animals.
At the end of Two Peoples Bay Road it’s a short walk from the car park to the beach and the boat launching area. As impressive as it looks from high above, the far end of the long arc of beach is often strewn with dried seaweed which can make it smell somewhat unpleasant – luckily there’s usually a bracing sea breeze.
Unlike much of the local coastline, this isn’t accompanied by pounding surf as the headland beneath Mount Gardner protects the bay from the rolling waves of the Southern Ocean. In 1803 an American whaling ship used these calm waters to lay anchor at the same time as a French vessel had set out to explore the coastline east of Albany. Their chance meeting gave the Bay its name.
If you turn right and make your way through the mounds of seaweed, disturbing the odd seabird as you go, several huge granite boulders mark the end of the curve of beach. The water among these massive lichen-encrusted barriers is very shallow and calm, making it a great place for a paddle and to wash the dried seaweed from between the toes.
Nestled among the rocks is a tiny sheltered patch of sand just about affording enough room for a picnic blanket or two before it gives way to the dense tangle of trees and scrub.
It’s an ideal spot to laze around and wait to see if any of the local wildlife turns up. While it’s unlikely that the aforementioned Gilbert’s Potoroo will make an appearance (it’s estimated there are less than 40 left in the wild), it’s just possible to see southern brown bandicoots and an array of the reserve’s 70 resident land birds, and maybe even hear the noisy scrub-bird going about its very loud business in the thick bush.
Beyond the beach, steps rise up a hill that dwarfs even the largest boulders. Before long you’re looking down on them and across the calm bay beyond. With this stunning vista laid out before you and the dense bushes either side it isn’t hard to imagine that you could be retracing the exploratory footsteps of John Gilbert.
Little and Waterfall beaches
In contrast to the main beach, Little Beach is slightly less sheltered from the open sea and so has considerably more surf reaching its shore and the advantage of no seaweed covering the gloriously white sand.
This makes it one of the most popular places in the reserve and can get quite – but not uncomfortably – busy in the summer holidays; at these peak times the car park above the beach may be full. All is not lost, though, as you can take a one hour stroll from the main car park along The Two Peoples Bay Heritage Trail, and by the end the dip into Little Beach’s cool clear waters will be all the more rewarding.
At the northern end of the Beach a huge slab of red rock rises gently from the sea, forming a great platform for dropping a line into the swirling turquoise waters below. Further around the rock headland the gradually sloping sides also provide a natural grandstand from which to watch the setting sun.
Similar rocks sit at the other end of the beach and from a distance seem to form a substantial barrier, but after walking closer a steep sandy path appears; squeezing through a series of rocks eventually leads to the smaller, quieter Waterfall Beach. As the name suggests, small waterfalls trickle down the heavily vegetated lower slopes of Mount Gardener to seep onto the beaches’ white sands.
After a busy day in the Reserve, Waterfall Beach is a wonderfully peaceful place to while away the last few hours of light and listen as dozens of birds warm up for their evening performance, the waves lap at the shore and shadow slowly envelops the beach.
And for me, that’s what sums up Two Peoples Bay Nature reserve. It’s a place where you can launch a boat, have a barbeque, do a spot of walking, fishing and sunbathing . . . but the best bit seems to be just sitting back and letting the reserve’s natural wonders keep you entertained.
For more of Michael Willis’ work, check out www.michaelwillisphotography.com