Pinnacles desert is just outside Cervantes, approximately 20 miles north of Perth in Western Australia. The desert is not particularly large, but it is not the size of the desert that attracts visitors to the national park. There is a geological mystery here. Out of the golden sand, thousands of limestone pillars stretch up towards the sky. The pillars are up to 4 meters high and vary in yellow, orange and creamy white. Like great termite mounds in a golden sea, where waves of sand reshape the desert every day. Some pillars disappear under the sand. Others appear.
The mysterious desert
The pillars in the Pinnacles are believed to have formed between 30.000 and 40.000 years ago. However, the researchers are not entirely agreed on how. There are an incredible number of theories, but none of the theories feel entirely credible. The most popular theory is that remnants of shells have blown here from the sea. Through many, many years of rain, the lime in the seashells has formed lime deposits under the sand. The plants' roots have caused the lime in the ground to crack and when the area's climate changed, the soil eroded and the sand surrounding the lime deposits disappeared. Left over the Pinnacles. The desert that feels like the roof of an upside-down limestone cave.
The Pinnacles is located in Numbung National Park. Numbung roughly means "crooked" and is an old word from Australia's indigenous people. "Crooked" is an appropriate word for the park's winter rivers, which throughout the ages have been important to the nomadic tribes that lived in the area. Strangely enough, you can't see traces of people for the last 6000 years in the Pinnacles. In fact, there is no real documentation of this unique desert until as late as the 1960s. How could you have missed this place for so many years? One theory is that the pillars were hidden under the sand for thousands of years.
The desert at sunrise and sunset
We stayed one night in Cervantes and therefore had the opportunity to go to the Pinnacles both to experience the sunset and to hike in the morning sun. The advantage of traveling in Western Australia during the winter months is that the temperature stays at a wonderfully warm level even during the day. It rarely gets either too hot or too cold to hike. Perfect for t-shirt and a hoodie. However, the sunset was an experience that I am extra happy to experience. As the winter sun cast its long shadows over the limestone columns and the sky turned pink, they almost felt like they were on another planet. One of the most beautiful experiences of the trip.
Attractions in the Pinnacles
The vast majority of people who come here to Pinnacles drive "the Pinnacles Drive" - a 4 kilometer long sand road through the desert. The road is fully drivable with a normal car in dry conditions, although most people (including ourselves) drove 4WD. The road is one-way and the edges are marked by limestone.
There is also an easy 1,2 kilometer long excellent hiking trail through the area, which takes you to some of the park's most beautiful spots. If you can plan your visit, be sure to schedule this short hike. It's a great way to get off the road and see the desert a little more secluded.
How do I get here?
The Pinnacles are 2 miles south of Cervantes in Western Australia and is easily accessed via the Indian Ocean drive off-ramp. Stop at the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Center before heading out into the park. Here you can learn about the area's history and wildlife through stylish exhibitions.
Map (opens in Google maps)
How much does it cost to visit the park?
Visiting Numbung National Park alone costs AUD 15 per car. However, we bought a very convenient Holiday Pass for 4 weeks for 60 AUD, which covers entry to most of the parks in Western Australia. You can buy the pass at most of the national parks' visitor centers, or you can buy it online and print it.
Do you want to read more about the Pinnacles and Western Australia?
- Check out the official site on Numbung National Park at the WA Parks and Wildlife Service
- Western Australia has a good page with tips on stops for road trips to the Pinnacles
- Read more about our trip on my about page Western Australia
- Read more from my blog colleague Maria about her adventure in the Pinnacles at Maria's Memoirs
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