First things first… From the sunset camel rides in Broome in the north to Margaret River’s surf region to the south, diving with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef or spotting southern right whales off the Eyre Highway, Western Australia has plenty to offer the nature enthusiast.
Meanwhile the capital, Perth, is a laidback city, where the locals enjoy a strong music scene, a great beach life and cruisy café culture.
Situated on the banks of the Swan River, Perth is a modern, lively, youthful city, much like a smallerscale Sydney.
Over 80 per cent of WA’s population lives here and you don’t need a fat IQ to see why.
Boasting an impeccable year-round climate – with more sunshine than any other Australian capital city – Perth’s fabulous Indian Ocean beaches and chilledout atmosphere make it a relaxing place to stop.
Although it’s one of the most isolated cities in the world, visitors can enjoy an active nightlife, a fresh club scene, plenty of attractions and museums, a buzzing café culture and a renowned live music scene.
Arriving in Perth
Perth’s main airport is 12km north-east of the city centre.
If your budget won’t stretch to the cab ride, an airport shuttle operates between the international and domestic terminals and the city and hostels.
Cheaper still is the public transport option with a standard bus service. See transperth.wa.gov.au for more info.
Getting around Perth
Like most Australian cities, Perth’s suburbs are rambling, but its centre is relatively compact.
TransPerth (Ph: 13 62 13, transperth.wa.gov.au) runs frequent train, bus and ferry services, radiating from the train and bus stations in Wellington St.
Worth noting is the Free Transit Zone in the city’s centre, which allows passengers to travel fare-free around the area.
Particularly useful is the free Blue CAT bus service, which runs in a loop from Barrack St Jetty to Aberdeen Street in the city’s top backpackerspot, Northbridge.
Finding a hostel in Perth is no problem. If you want to find a room to rent, the best way is to check out hostel notice boards.
Accommodation sections in local newspapers and the city’s free press. Northbridge is the suburb that attracts most independent travellers.
As a consequence, excellent room and dorm deals are found here and in neighbouring Leederville.
Things to do in Perth
Art Gallery of WA: The state’s premier gallery, exhibiting national and international works of art. James St. Free.
Beaches: Scarborough Beach is the most popular and is only 15 mins from the city. There’s great nightlife here as well.
Don’t miss the other beaches close to the city centre, like Triggs, Cottesloe and City.
Diving: You may well spot seals or dolphins as you dive around WA’s reefs and wrecks.
Or try your luck at catching a lobster or netting prawns at night along the Swan River.
Kings Park: Over 400ha of beautiful parkland overlooking the city. Catch the CAT or exert yourself and take a 25-minute walk from the city centre.
Northbridge: Five minutes from the city, Northbridge is known as the liveliest and most cosmopolitan suburb in Perth, home to outdoor cafés, buskers, pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Perth Zoo: Home to native and African wildlife. WA Museum: Good collection of natural and human history, including a 25m whale skeleton. Francis St. Entry is free.
Out on the town
Northbridge alone could keep you busy for days, but try to venture into other suburbs to see some great local pub bands, especially near the beaches for legendary “Sunday Sessions”.
Subiaco and Leederville are other suburbs worth spending a night out in for a different fl avour.
For info on local pubs and gigs, check out Thursday’s West Australian newspaper Revue section or X-press – a free weekly music magazine.
Some of the finest music in Australia is coming out of WA, so make time to tune in.
It’s been said Perth has more restaurants per head than any place in the world.
True or not, there’s certainly plenty of eateries to choose from and a bewildering choice of cuisines: from Thai and Vietnamese to Spanish and Mexican, all tastes (and budgets) are catered for.
Superbly restored, the cosmopolitan port of Fremantle is a 30-minute train or bus ride from Perth and is an unmissable spot. “Freo” comes alive on the weekends and at night, when people meet at the many outdoor cafés, pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Worth a visit are the Fremantle Museum, Fremantle Prison Museum and the Western Australia Maritime Museum. Saturdays also boast a bustling market on South Terrace.
Only a short ferry trip from Perth or Fremantle, Rottnest Island is a popular holiday destination for locals, surfers, divers and beach lovers. Cars are banned on Rotto, so everyone gets around by bike (cycle hire is available on the island).
As well ascycling, you can enjoy the unspoilt beaches, go diving or snorkelling, sample tasty goods from the excellent bakery, and relax at the pub. At night, the island’s famous residents, quokkas (like small wallabies), wander around looking for food. Greedy swines.
Rotto has cheap accommodation and camping.
A couple of hour’s drive north of Perth, Nambung National Park is home to the legendary Pinnacles.
These ancient limestone pillars rise out of the earth in stunning contrast to the yellow sand dunes, explaining why these geographical oddities are such popular destinations.
North-east of Perth are the goldfield towns of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Coolgardie, an interesting stop-off on the gruelling drive across the outback to Alice Springs, a trip that should only be undertaken by the most prepared adventurers.
Despite its remote location, Esperance is one to mark on your route. It’s a lively, fast-growing resort town, set amid rolling green hills and farmland, offering great fishing, white sandy beaches and stunning coastal scenery.
If you have your own wheels, make The Great Ocean Drive.
The Nullarbor Plain links the west coast with the return of civilisation in Adelaide with a roadtrip that at 3,900km is just 80km shy of London to Moscow and boasts the longest completely straight stretch of road in the world at 178km long.
It is also the world’s largest single piece of rock.
Like a honeycomb underneath, it is also the longest underwater cave system, which attracts divers from across the globe.
You’ll see soaring cliffs, remote beaches, caves, seal colonies and from June to October, southern right whales and their calves (for more information contact Nullarbor Traveller, Ph: +61 8 8687 0455, the-traveller.com.au).
About 550km north-east of Perth are the Kalgoorlie, Boulder and Coolgardie goldfi elds.
Imposing public buildings in “Kal” – on the broad tree-lined streets – are a testament to the short-lived goldrush of the 1890s.
Today, mining is limited but the area has a busy tourist trade.
Some 150km south of the Perth-Kalgoorlie Hwy is the spectacular vision of Wave Rock in Hyden.
This 15m high rock formation, striped with coloured bands, is in the shape of the surfer’s ultimate wave.
Nearby are other curious natural formations such as Hippo’s Yawn, some ancient Aboriginal rock paintings and a wildlife sanctuary.
WA’s south-west is dotted with giant trees, lush hills, world-famous vineyards and gorgeous surf beaches.
It’s said this is some of the oldest land in the world.
From the second largest town in WA, Bunbury, to Margaret River, renowned for both its surfing and wine (not recommended together however) to the chilled-out Denmark and all the national parks, the south coast is definitely worth the venture.
Bunbury is a coastal city easily accessible from Perth.
Set in a rich, green farming region, the town’s main attraction is the Dolphin Discovery Centre at Koombana Beach. The friendly mammals swim right up to the beach.
An equally beautiful south-western destination is Margaret River – an alternative lifestyle town, and favourite with surfers, sailboarders and wine buffs.
It’s an excellent location, with easy access to picturesque forests. Ensure you taste the produce of this acclaimed wine-producing region.
Margaret River is bang in the middle of Capes Naturaliste and Leeuwin, the latter being the place where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet.
Pop into one of the show caves that dot the cape region – you’ll never look at a stalactite the same way again.
Over 200km south-east from Margaret River is WA’s fi rst European settlement, Albany, overlooking some of Australia’s most spectacular coastal scenery, where it’s possible to snorkel with seals.
Nearby Torndirrup National Park, the Stirling Ranges and Porongurups (said to be the oldest hills in the world) offer excellent bushwalking, mountain scenery and also camping areas if you want to stay overnight.
Close to Albany is happy, hippie-infl uenced Denmark, a back-to-the-land, arts-and-craft town, with a flourishing reputation for good wine. William Bay National Park has some brilliant coastal views.
About 60km east of Denmark is the town of Walpole, famous for the Tree Top Walk in The Valley of the Giants – an eco-friendly, 40m high walk through the canopy of a Karri forest.
Also take a cruise or walk through the breathtaking Walpole Nornalup National Parks and Wilderness Area. Another settlement worth seeing is Pemberton, a pretty timber town, and Kingdom of the giant Karri Tree Forest.
Climb Gloucester Tree, at 60m the highest fire lookout tree in the world, via a winding metal ladder.
A wild and adventurous roadtrip, heading north from Perth will give you an insight into just how it’s one of the most isolated cities in the world. The red, hot land of the north is as ancient as it is vast.
On your way to Broome and beyond you’ll come face to face with not only dolphins but whale sharks, gaze in awe at the world’s largest single rock, or stand on a beach more than 100 miles long.
The Central Coast is about long drives and a good radio, with unspoilt landscape and photo opportunities around every corner.
One of the major stops northward is Shark Bay.
This is actually a couple of bays encompassed by two narrow peninsulas.
The area’s main attraction is the small settlement with the big reputation: Monkey Mia, a worldrenowned spot for getting friendly with the local dolphin population, who come into knee deep water to be fed every morning.
Denham – 25km towards the other side of the peninsula – is really the area’s main town, and is much cheaper than Monkey Mia for picking up supplies.
The tropical fruit-growing area of Carnarvon, 904km north of Perth, sits at the mouth of the Gascoyne River.
The area is known to attract travellers looking for work, particularly in the farming and fi shing industries with jobs from fruit picking to net fi shing.
The rugged coastline nearby is famous for seasonal whale sightings during fishfeeding frenzies, when sharks herd anchovies against the cliffs.
Try a camel trek, safari or visit Mt Augustus, the world’s biggest rock (twice the size of Uluru).
Whatever else you do in WA, don’t bypass Exmouth, famous for the breathtaking Ningaloo Reef, the closest fringing coral reef in Australia.
It runs 260km on the western side of West Cape. The reef is smaller than the Great Barrier Reef but is more accessible and a diver’s, erm… wet dream.
Walk out from the beach and see over 250 corals, 500 species of fish, manta rays, turtles, dugongs and the placid, toothless, whale shark (April-July is the season) – at about the size of a bus, it’s the world’s largest fish.
Just south of Exmouth is picture-perfect Coral Bay, resting on a marine park, which also provides great access to the Ningaloo Reef.
Broome & The Kimberley
The northern tip of Western Australia is wild, often wet and for the most part devoid of all humans thanks to the Kimberley and its various national parks on the top side of the Great Northern Highway and the Great Sandy Desert on the southern side.
Historically an old pearling town, Broome is brimming with Asian and Aboriginal culture, fantastic eateries, impressive sunsets and pristine beaches.
Cable Beach – on which you can book camel trips for the sunset ride of your life – is known as one of the world’s most beautiful coastal stretches.
As the biggest stop on the long trip between Perth and Darwin, Broome is a popular hangout for travellers.
About 250km inland is Fitzroy Crossing, a small town which acts as a convenient base for exploring the area.
About 20km north-east of town is the stunning Geikie Gorge. Also worth a look are the nearby remains of an ancient ocean reef.
Other breathtaking features in the region include Bell and Windjana Gorges and Tunnel Creek – a 1km water-filled tunnel with an idyllic billabong at the other end.
The next service town inland is Halls Creek, about 350km from Kununarra.
Check out the old deserted goldrush township, 15km from town.
Australia’s largest meteorite crater, Wolfe Creek Crater (yes, from the fi lm), is 146km south of Halls Creek.
Take care on the Tanami Track to reach this 853m-wide and 50m-deep spectacle.
One of WA’s key attractions is the World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungle (Purnululu) National Park. Reachable only by 4WD vehicle. In the wet season (November-March) the area is inaccessible.
These ancient, rounded, orange and black-striped sandstone formations of the Bungle Bungle are truly one of Australia’s most spectacular sights and well worth the effort.
This is one of the best areas to take a scenic fl ight to appreciate the enormity of the landscape.
Near the border of the Northern Territory is one of the last settlements of WA on the map, Kununurra.
Established in the 1960s, it’s a fairly modern town, renowned as an adventure destination.
Much of Baz Luhrmann’s film Australia, featuring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, was fillmed in and around the town.
It’s also a popular spot for backpackers heading to Darwin, with fruit-picking work available around May.
Photos: Getty, TNT, Jupiter images