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Walpole wilderness by boat

The WOW Wilderness Ecocruise boat in the channel between the Walpole and Nornalup inlets, Western Australia
Cruise boat in the channel between
the Walpole and Nornalup inlets

Fancy an interpretive eco-cruise into the Walpole wilderness area and marine park? That's how the brochure describes this small boat trip in one of the most unspoiled inlets on the Australian coast, and it really is a beauty. The guide is pretty amazing too.

The boat trip I refer to is the WOW Wilderness EcoCruise at Walpole, a small town on the south coast of Western Australia. If you've never been to Walpole, just picture vast national parks and wilderness, forests of giant karri and tingle trees reaching right to the edge of secluded inlets, hills and rugged coastline. Walpole is a friendly town plonked neatly into the middle of all this natural goodness.

Wilderness boat tours have been running here since 1910, and the family who began showing off their wilderness by boat are still doing it now. They use a new boat these days, although the original has been restored and is floating nearby.

At the jetty for a mid-cruise walk, WOW Wilderness Ecocruise, Walpole, Western Australia
At the jetty for a mid-cruise walk

I did this trip in 1991 and remembered it as being worth doing again - so I did it again in 2011, and it is still great. The trip takes you from the town jetty across the Walpole inlet, between two forested knolls and out into the bigger Nornalup inlet. Past secluded beaches and the Deep River - one of Australia's most pristine - to where the inlet flows out into the wild breakers of the southern ocean.

A stop is made at a tiny jetty near the end of the inlet so that those who want to can hike ten minutes over a hill to a gorgeous beach on the ocean side - windswept, rugged and just as nature intended. Passing whales can sometimes be spotted from here, in season, and on the day I did the trip a few humpbacks were spouting offshore.

Walpole's geological history drawn in sand by Gary Muir, Western Australia
Walpole's geological history
drawn in sand by Gary Muir

Following the hike, morning tea is served before the return ride to Walpole. The entire route is through areas designated as national park, marine park, or wilderness, with all the diversity of plant life and bird life that you would hope for in such protected areas.

Shedding light on what you see is the amazing guide, Gary Muir. The Muir family have lived in the area since it was settled by Europeans, so Gary is a full bottle on the area's history. He previously worked as an environment and conservation officer, giving him a good background to the natural history of the area. Add in some good storytelling skills and an enthusiastic personality, and what you have is a very informative and entertaining tour guide.

On the trip I did, Gary identified numerous plants and birds (including a bird pair he knew personally), located a rare striped snail from tracks I could barely see, and used sand models to explain how plate tectonics brought about the Walpole environment. Amongst other things. It was no tour guide script; this was based on years of education and work experience, and his passion was obvious.

Nornalup Inlet from Sandy Beach, Western Australia
Nornalup Inlet from Sandy Beach

I'm not big on organised tours or activities you pay for, but the WOW Wilderness EcoCruise is one I was very glad I did, and would happily do again. The cost ($45 adults in 2015) for the two and a half hour trip seemed very reasonable, considering the scenic charm of the area and quality of the guide.

Tours generally run every day at 10am, but it is worth enquiring or booking ahead. Some trips can fill up, or some may not run if numbers are insufficient (possible in the winter low season). There is also a late winter period when trips don’t run at all - typically from after the July school holidays to around the end of August.

More information

WOW Wilderness Ecocruise - all about the boat cruises, the history, etc.
Walpole-Nornalup Visitor Centre - for bookings or trip availability

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