Situated just 17kms south of the townsite, the Pinnacles desert is the major tourist attraction of the region. Attracting around 250,000 visitors every year, the Pinnacles desert covers an area of approximately 190 hectares, is around 60 meters above sea level, and contains thousands of limestone Pinnacles, some up to 5 meters high. The variation in colours (due mainly to the variation in soil types), and the stark relief of the Pinnacles against a backdrop of constantly shifting sand dunes creates an eerie landscape of ever changing moods often viewed at it’s best at dawn or sunset when the shadows create remarkable patterns and shapes that ripple over the sands,
Accessible by car or tour via a fully sealed road, the sightseer is advised to allow at least 2 hours to circumvent the viewing trail and access the lookout. Entry fees to the park are $11.00 per passenger vehicle (pensioner discounts apply), payable at the gate. Caravans and trailers can be left in the car park, as the 4km loop is not suitable. Pets, open fires, and camping are all prohibited within the park boundaries. Hats, sunscreen and water are essential pre-requisites for a visit to the Pinnacles, especially during the summer months.
So how did these strange pinnacles form?
The coast of Western Australia, from Shark Bay nearly to Albany, has a near continuous belt of Tamala Limestone (probably more accurately called) aerolian calcarenite - ie. wind blown calcium carbonate - which has been produced by the combination of wind, rain and the cementing agent of calcium.
A set of unique circumstances produced the pinnacles. Firstly the huge sand dunes stabilised. The rains which fell on the dunes leached down through the sand carrying the calcium. This resulted in the lower levels of the dune solidifying into a soft limestone. As this stabilisation occurred a layer of soil formed on top of the dune which allowed plants to grow and further cemented the limestone below. Gradually the lowest layer of soil, which lay between the surface and the limestone, formed into a hard cap which resulted in the old dunes having three levels - a soil and plant level near the surface, a hard cap below the surface, and a thick layer of soft limestone at the bottom of the dune.
Inevitably the roots from the plants on the top level found cracks and broke up the hard cap and the layer of soft limestone. The result was that under a surface covered with plants and soil the pinnacles developed. No one knows for sure how long ago this process occurred. It may have started as long ago as 500 000 years but equally it may only be a few thousand years old and it may still be continuing today. The Western Australian Museum has opted for some time in the last 80 000 years.
Anyway the advent of drier weather in the region resulted in the top layer of plants and soil being removed and gradually the pinnacles were exposed so that today they stand like strange sentinels on a plain of wind blown sand.
Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre
Take a trip into the world of nature at the newly completed Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre.
Set near one of Australia's most fascinating areas - the Pinnacles Desert where thousands of huge limestone pillars rise from the shifting yellow sands - the discovery centre takes visitors on a new dimension on their journey through Nambung National Park which runs beside the Turquoise Coast.
The park has beautiful beaches, coastal dune systems, shady groves of tuart trees and low heathlands of plants that produce vibrantly coloured flowers between August and October.
The centre is a stepping stone into the park with a track for walkers and an interpretive centre that encourages you to use all your senses to identify the hidden wonders and signs of life in the desert. Often it is not the features of the landscape that grip us, but the contrast of the spaces, it certainly takes time to tune in to this new environment and to view the Pinnacles landscape in a different light.
Designed by John Nichlos, project architect for Woodhead International, who also designed the award winning Karijini Visitors Centre, the Pinnacles Desert Discovery has been designed in response to the landscape and has a strong relationship with the site that facilitates a sense of place to those who visit it.
Construction materisls are reflective of the area: free standing limestone walls were inspired be the Pinnacles, the vertical timger beams are tuart, mimicking the northern woodland being engulfed by the shifting sand. Lower portions of these tuart beams were deliberately set on fire to reveal the significance of fire in the forming of this landscape. Engraved into the burnt wood are Nyoongar words provided by the Yued people, echoing the strong links they have to their country and the use they made of fire to manage and live in harmony with it.
The grey roof that spills over the front and rear walls of the centre echoes the spreading dodder laurel creeper that engulfs coastal heath, producing a dark sheltered and mysterious world beneath. The Pinnacles Desert Discovery is a must see on your journey through the Turquoise Coast.