At Torndirrup National Park, the Southern Ocean has sculpted a Natural Bridge in the coastal granites and formed The Gap, where the waves rush in and out with tremendous ferocity. The Blowholes, a crackline in the granite, 'blows' air and occasionally spray. The noise is quite impressive. Windswept coastal heaths give way to massive granite outcrops, sheer cliffs and steep sandy slopes and dunes.
The area was one of the first in the State to be gazetted as a national park, in 1918, though it was not named until 1969 and acquired its first resident ranger in 1973. Torndirrup was the name of the Aboriginal clan that lived on the peninsula and to the west of what is now Albany.
The Torndirrup peninsula is composed of three major rock types. The oldest of these, which took its current form amid high pressures and temperatures between 1300 and 1600 million years ago, pre-dates almost all life on Earth. Despite their staggering age, these gneisses (rhymes with 'ices'), were formed in the second half of our planet's geological history, which began 4500 million years ago.
One of the best places to see these rocks is at the Gap. Gneisses can be recognised by the 'stripey' pattern within them, caused by layers of different coloured minerals. In many cases, the stripes display bends or folds caused by pressures so high that they make the rocks behave like plasticine. High temperatures and pressures are found at great depths within the Earth's crust.
When the gneisses were formed, Australia was separated from Antarctica. However, over many millions of years, the two continents moved together and began to collide, finally finishing their collision around 1160 million years ago. This process of continental drift is more correctly known as 'plate tectonics' and is still occurring today. Australia is currently moving north by as much as 10 centimetres every year.
At the time of the momentous collision, rocks at the base of the Earth's crust, between the two continents, began to melt and rise slowly. This material then cooled, forming a 'glue' between the continents. The 'glue' can still be seen today - it is the granite of Torndirrup National Park. One of the best places to see the granite is at Stony Hill. It is easily recognised by its large crystals and by the characteristic rounded shape of the boulders, which are known as 'tors'. Granites can also be seen at the Gap, where they are mixed with the much older gneisses, in a complex association formed when the rising magma, which hardened into the granite, squeezed into the older rock. This occurred at a depth of around 20 kilometres (a fact deduced from the particular minerals in the granite). The combined continents gradually rose, and the surface eroded until, finally, rocks which had been at a depth of 20 kilometres were exposed at the surface.
Plants and animals
Peppermints grow on the sand hills, and south of Vancouver Peninsula, there is a karri forest of medium height with swamp yate. Banksias are on the northern side of the Peninsula's ridge, and the rare Albany woollybush has been found in the park. Other common coastal plants include coastal banjine, thick-leaved fanflower and native rosemary.
The varied vegetation forms habitats for native animals such as pygmy possums, kangaroos, short-nosed bandicoots and bush rats, as well as many reptiles such as the children's python, bardick, tiger snake and dugite. In 1978 the rare dibbler was found in the park. Whales are frequently seen from the cliffs, particularly during winter, and seals sometimes visit the coast.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Where is it?
10 km south of Albany across Princess Royal Harbour. There is well signposted road access via Frenchman Bay Road. Sealed roads lead to all major features.
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15 minutes from Albany.
What to do:
Walking, sightseeing, photography, fishing, rock climbing. Whales are frequently seen from the cliffs, particularly during winter. A nearby whaling museum at the old whaling station makes a fascinating visit.
* THE GAP/NATURAL BRIDGE -- Easy 300 m return, 15 minute stroll to spectacular lookouts.
* THE BLOWHOLES -- Medium 1.5 km, 40 minute walk to a crackline in the granite which 'blows' air and occasionally spray.
* JIMMY NEWHILLS -- Easy 100 m, 6 minute return walk to a lookout over this 'secret' haven.
* STONY HILL HERITAGE TRAIL -- Medium 500 m, 15 minute circuit to lookouts over the highest point in the park with magnificent 360º views.
* SALMON HOLES -- Easy 300 metre, 20 minute walk to lookout or steep steps down to the beach.
* BALD HEAD -- Hard 10 km return, 6-8 hour bushwalk over Isthmus Hill and Limestone Head, finishing at Bald Head, the eastern extremity of the park.
TAKE CARE ON THE COAST
Torndirrup coastline has a notorious record for accidents and deaths due to people slipping or being washed into the ocean by unexpected freak waves or extra large swells. Please exercise extreme caution and don't risk being the next victim.
None within the park. However, there are barbecues, tables, a shop, toilets and caravan parks nearby. A recreation camp at Quaranup is run by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Contact them for more information and bookings.