The Pemberton area in Western Australia is best known for its spectacular forests of karri and other native trees. But rising suddenly out of this forest - and slowly creeping inland - is an expanse of big sand dunes on the move. These are the Yeagarup Dunes, the largest land-locked mobile dune system in the southern hemisphere.
The sand dunes are about 20km southwest of Pemberton, and are an odd sight when you first come upon them, rising up to 40m above otherwise normal forest. They form a ten kilometre long body of sand being blown inland, swallowing the forest at a rate of about 4 metres each year. Slow, but unstoppable.
Having a look around the dunes, or at least their edges, provides a refreshingly different angle on what is mostly a forested and farmed region. Here are three ways of getting a taste of it.
Pemberton Discovery Tours operate trips in 4WD vehicles with experienced drivers. Although the Yeagarup dunes are "land-locked", they aren't far from the coast, and the tour takes you right to a wild deserted beach where the Warren River gently enters the sea. The tour also passes through old growth karri forest, with good descriptions of everything you see.
I've done this tour, and learned from the commentary despite being already well acquainted with the region. It's a great way for non-4WD vehicle owners to see an interesting area few get to see, with someone skilled and experienced to worry about driving safely through some very hair-raising terrain.
Anybody with their own four wheel drive vehicle can drive through the Yeagarup dunes to the coast. The catch is that you would need to be confident with driving through deep sand with some very steep slopes, and possibly no-one else around to call on for help if stuck.
This option is available to anyone who has a regular two wheel drive car and the willingness to go walking. It's also the cheapskates option, which may be why it was how I first explored the Yeagarup dunes!
From Pemberton, head towards Nannup on the Vasse Highway. About 12km from Pemberton, turn left down Ritter Road. This turnoff is near where Old Vasse Rd (through the Warren National Park) joins the highway. Continue down the gravel Ritter Road, and after a further 11km you'll reach Yeagarup Lake with its picnic area and toilet. Beyond this point is strictly for four wheel drive vehicles, so if you're in a regular car, park here.
After taking in the small lake, proceed on foot down the sandy track which is a continuation of Ritter Rd. Not far down this track a wall of sand is encountered, appearing very out of place in the thick forest. The exact spot where you leave the track to climb the dunes will vary from year to year, but should be clear enough when you come to it. Remember to keep an ear open for approaching vehicles, and be ready to quickly move aside off the sometimes narrow track.
Once up on the sand, you're in another world. To one side spreads a view over low forest, dense and green, while on the other stretches just sand - and lots of it. Part beach-like, part desert-like, it forms a stark contrast to the surroundings.
Away from any vegetation, you can pretend to be in part of the Sahara desert, and take suitable photos. Sand-boarding could be an option if you've got something to slide down large dunes on. Otherwise, just going for a wander to explore the dunes - wherever takes your fancy - can pass the time pleasantly. The coast is too far for a return day walk, but there's plenty of sand to explore.
I should point out that walking in the soft sand can be sweaty work, even in winter, so a drink bottle might be appreciated. Also, if you plan on walking far, look back and take a mental picture of where you entered the dunes ... to help you find the exit point later! Some days finding your way out may be easy. On cloudy days, with fresh tracks scarce and footprints wind-covered, it may not be so obvious.
When you've had your fill of mobile forest-eating sand dunes, simply return the way you came.
D'Entrecasteaux National Park (Department of Parks and Wildlife)
Pemberton Discovery Tours (look for the Beach & Forest Eco Adventure)