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Western Australia is vast open land with many wonders to explore. With the majority of the population of the state living in and around Perth there is much to explore. If you are planning to explore Western Australia – which I highly recommend – below are 25 places along the way that we loved. Everything on this list can be accessed with 2WD. We did it all from our Coaster named Lil’ Beaut.
Traversing overland through Western Australia is an adventure not only because of the beauty but its sheer size and remote feeling. Always carry extra food and water in case of a breakdown. It can be a long way between stations. On major roads, there is enough traffic that you won’t be totally destitute if you break down. Australians have proven over and over to us that they are always willing to help. But on more remote roads, always inform someone where you will be going. There were parks that we visited and never saw another soul or passed another vehicle the entire time there. If you get stuck, you could be stuck a while so go prepared.
How Big is Western Australia?
Western Australia covers 975,685 sq miles (2,527,013 km2).
Compared to the USA Western Australia is larger than California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona combined. These states combined are 971,252 sq miles (2,515,532 km2).
Compared to Europe Western Australia is larger than sixteen European countries including Germany, Spain, France, and Italy. These countries 974,583 square miles (2,524,160 km2).
Western Australia has a population of 2.7 Million, 1.7 Million of that population lives in Perth.
The same area of land in the USA has a population of 68 Million.
In Europe, the same area of land has a population of 414.7 Million.
If you were to just drive around the coastal edge of Western Australia without stopping it would take at least 60 hours. Now add in a few stops and sights you want to see. We spent four months touring this stunning state to see these 25 sites. We could have taken much longer and still not have seen it all.
Six months in Western Australia
We spent six months in Western Australia and were astounded at the beauty and diversity of both the shoreline and the interior. Two of the six months were spent in lock-down because of the 2020 pandemic. Roelands, WA became our home for two months thankfully to the generosity of kind Australians. Something we have found all across the big island down here, people willing to lend a hand.
Our favorite spots to visit are listed below, some we describe and some we have already dedicated an entire post to so I will just link to them. We hope you explore this wonderful region someday.
Twenty-Five Key Attractions for your Western Australian Road Trip
These are just a few – there is so much more!
Western Australia's South
There is but one paved road from South Australia to Western Australia if you are road-tripping. The long desolate road across the Nullarbor is filled with beauty and mystery and it is an entrance to the wild and open land of Western Australia.
We camped at Newmans Rocks on our first night in Western Australia. It is located on the western side of the Nullarbor. From there we watched as a new fire near Balladonia grew. We had waited a week in South Australia for the massive fire that had been blocking the road and stopping all traffic. The fire had closed down the Nullarbor. We saw the results of that along the way.
On our second night in Western Australia we parked in Grass Patch. Everything around our campsite had been burned. Be sure to keep an eye on the fire maps and warnings. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere on the Nullarbor if a fire has closed the road ahead. There is really no way around it.
2) Cape La Grand and The Great Ocean Drive: Esperance Area
After the long drive across the Nullarbor, we wanted a nice long dip in the ocean. Up next were beaches around Esperance in the southeast corner of Western Australia.
Just east of Esperance is Le Grand National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the world that we’ve visited. The white sand glimmering through the cerulean blue waters creates one of the most pristine beaches we have ever seen. To the west of Esperance is the Great Ocean Drive. It is an extension of the beauty that begins in Cape Le Grand.
3) Wave Rock
A massive ocean wave high above Trin threatened to break down over him and the sandy soil on which he stood. But it is all an illusion. We were standing in the desert and the wave is frozen in granite. The granite wave is a two-hour drive north of Ravensthorpe, across a flat desert landscape to the town of Hyden.
A walking trail from Wave Rock stretches across a sandy flat that is often flooded during the rainy season to Lake Magic, a salty waterhole around which a small resort was built. The resort looked a bit like a ghost town and there was little magic that made us want to swim in the bluish-green waterhole.
Nearby is Hippo’s Yawn, appropriately named as the large rock looks like the wide-open mouth of a Hippo.
Mulkas’s Cave, part of the Humps, about 16 km from Wave rock is a significant site for Aboriginal art. The Humps are another unique outcrop of giant granite. The trail leading over the humps goes through Mulkas’s cave where 450 separate handprints are painted within the main chamber of the cave.
4) The Sterling Range
Driving south on Chester Pass Road the bitumen stretched out in a line before us straight all the way to the horizon. Every direction we looked the horizon lay flat. Soon we noticed a change in front of us, small ripples appeared. As we drove they grew larger in our view. It was the Sterling Mountain range. The entire range fit within our camera lens.
We had hoped to hike through the mountains here but a recent fire had destroyed everything and the trails were closed for safety. Trees trunks stood blackened and stripped of all life, soot-covered the earth, and the road signs tilted to the side melted from the heat of the fires.
Then we saw a glimpse of green. It was my favorite grass tree coming back to life. Fresh bright green sprouts like that of springtime after a rain reached skyward from the top of blackened little trunks. It was a beautiful display of life continuing on. Someday we hope to go back and hike this range once it has had time to recover.
Note: We visited the Sterling Range in 2020 just one month after the fire of Dec 2019 raged through the park. Rangers reopened the hiking trails in May of 2020, but it is always good to check the National Park websites first for alerts.
5) Castle Rock - Porongurup Range
6) The Gap - Torndirrup National Park
The rocky plateau abruptly ends but the walkway continues past the cliff edge. I gripped the railing as I looked at the ocean far below me. The echo of its crashing waves roared up through The Gap. The skywalk was all we hoped it would be.
Almost all of the brochures for Torndirrup NP have pictures of the sky-walk over The Gap to entice visitors. It is a beautiful site to see, but don’t miss all the other sites this park has to offer along the far edge of the Great Australian Bight.
Cable beach had beautiful rock formations along the water. As each wave coming is captured on top of the rocks and then flows down as little waterfalls onto the beach.
The hike to Stony Hill provides spectacular views of the Southern Ocean. The wind on the top of the massive stony hill can be quite strong. I crawled near the top to keep from being blown off the trail completely.
The out and back walk to Limestone head follows along the ridge that extends out creating the edge of Frenchman’s Bay. The bay can be seen on one side and the Southern ocean on the other for much of the trail.
7) Nature's Window - D'Entrecasteaux National Park
Just 30 minutes from Northcliffe is D’Entrecasteaux National Park. Our favorite feature of this park was the cliff walk past Nature’s Window. It is a limestone formation or window down to the ocean from atop the cliff. Looking out this window is like looking out of the mouth of a dragons it’s long teeth made of limestone frame the sea below.
Nearby we climbed to the top of Mt Chudalup. From the top of the granite rock, there is a 360-degree view of the D’Entrecasteaux National Park.
8) Giant Hardwoods - Karri Trees
In the south west corner of Western Australia grows the only Karri forest in the world. The smooth trunks of the Eucalyptus diversicolor (karri) rise straight and high into the air. Eucalyptus trees are one of the tallest hardwoods in the world. Walking through an entire forest of these giants, feeling the smooth multi-colored trunks, is part of the experience of Western Australia.
Eucalypti trees shed their bark each year. The Karri tree reveals her multi-colored trunk in the spring while producing wispy white flowers.
The Boorara tree, located 17 km south east of Northcliffe is a massive tree with metal pegs drilled around it in a spiral. The pegs are used as a ladder. Between 1952 to 1972 a hut was in the top of the tree and used as a fire lookout.
A replica of the cabin that once perched atop the Boorara tree sits on the ground nearby. As I stood inside the tiny replica, I tried to imagine spending the day in that little hut 51 meters (167 feet) above the ground while it swayed 3 meters (almost 10 feet) back and forth in the wind.
Glouchester & Bicentennial Tree
9) Rock Pools - Margaret River
The Margaret River area has so much to offer between its eucalyptus forest, caves, and vineyards. It is seemingly the perfect place to be during an Australian summer, not too hot, but warm enough to enjoy the beautiful beaches and our favorite rock pool.
In Injidup at the end of Wyadup Road, rocks form a perfect little pool of crystal clear water away from the dangers of rip tides or sharks. But more than just a calm little pool it is also like a playground when the tide is high. Waves crash over the rock wall separating it from the ocean showering down onto swimmers and flowing like a short-lived waterfall over the rocks.
Perth to Pilbarra
Boorloo was first owned and occupied by the Noongar people. In 1829, recently arrived Europeans named the settlement Perth. Due to a shortage of labor, the colony accepted penal ships. They requested non-violent criminals that after they served their time could join the workforce for the colony. The gold rush in the late 19th century also created a population boom. Today it is the fourth largest city in Australia.
Many claim that Perth is the most isolated city in the world. It’s not quite the most isolated, but given the ocean on one side and the vast desert separating it from the rest of Australia it is quite isolated. The nearest city of at least 100,000 people is Adelaide on the other side of the Nullarbor 1,300 miles away.
Perth is a beautiful city with a bicycle trail that extends the entire coastline. One of our favorite places to hang out was King’s Park. We walked through the cultivated gardens and spent afternoons relaxing in the shade on the grass. From there we had an unobstructed view of the Swan River and the city of Perth.
The tours of Frematle Prison were an interesting step back in time when Perth was a prison colony. It’s definitely worth a visit.
11) The Pinnacles
Pinnacles jut through the sand reaching to the sky in their strange structures. Like a desert scattered with soldiers standing at attention. Only instead of standing in formation, they are scattered, some alone, some standing in groups, but all silent as they stand at attention.
Some say that the Pinnacles are the calcified remains of ancient trees, others say it is a petrified forest. Whatever they are there is an otherworldly feel when you walk off the trail and out alone into the desert among the Pinnacles.
12) Hutt Lagoon
Australia has many pink lakes and seeing one was high on my list of things to experience.
While we were still in South Australia we pursued “pink lakes” only to find dried-up salt pans. Many of them are only pink during certain times of the year. Even Esperance has a lake called Pink Lake, but it has not been pink since 2011.
Hutt Lagoon in Western Australia is pink year-round so it’s a great stop to add to a road trip. A sunny day will increase the intensity of the pink. It was an odd sight but the pink is natural.
13) Window to the world - Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri National Park’s recent claim to fame is a new sky-walk that extends out above the canyon. We were unimpressed with the skywalk but loved the nearby Loop Walk Trail. It meanders past nature’s window along the mountain ridge, down to the river below, and then back to nature’s window.
The walk provides stunning views of the valley and also brings hikers up close to black swans along the river as the magnificent birds glide and trumpet their calls like a chorus of wooden wind instruments. Their sounds echo off the valley walls. It was an earthy sound that gave the area mystique.
We stopped for lunch in a little cave off the side of the trail and quietly soaked in the nature around us as we ate. Two other hikers walked right past us on the path just below us never knowing that we were there.
Shark Bay is the home of a microscopic ancient jungle, dugongs, the largest seagrass beds in the world, and a beach made of shells.
Thrombolites & Stromatolites live in only a few places in the world. Thrombolites look like uniformly created mounds of cottage cheese hardened to rock but they are a microscopic jungle of bacteria. Stromatolites are similar but grow in layers and are taller. The healthiest structures can be found in Lake Clifton (south of Perth) and Hamlin Bay (North of Perth in Shark Bay). Fossilized Thrombolites & Stromatolites can be found in the interior of Western Australia as well.
The Dugong is a species of manatee that thrives on the massive seagrass beds of Shark Bay. It is a stronghold for the vulnerable population of the Dugong.
Shark Bay has a 37-mile long beach made entirely of shells. It is one of only two in the world composed entirely of shells. The tiny white cockle clams on shell beach in Shark Bay are 23 feet deep.
15) Whale sharks - Coral Bay to Exmouth
16) Karijini National Park
Narrow canyon walks that lead to small hidden swim holes, having to scramble over rocks and swim through crevices are all part of the adventure awaiting you in Karijini National Park.
17) Marble Bar
For us visiting a truly outback town was high on our list of “experiencing Australia.” We chose Marble Bar and loved every moment of it. Camping there in the outback the grass seemed more golden the sunsets more brilliant. Then there was that vein of Jasper that lines the bed of the creek in Marble Bar. It is a creek that only flows during the wet season. During the dry, the beautiful rocks are exposed and we quite literally laid on a bed of Jasper.
18) Eighty-mile beach
In Port Hedland, we joined a walk with a local lay scientist through the tide pools. The shallow waters were teeming with life. Soft corals gently swayed in the shallow waters as eels slithered by and nudie branches wiggled around. One octopus shot water at us when we tried to take its picture. It was a pretty good shot too.
There is only one paved road east or west out of Port Hedland and to the north is just the ocean. Broome, the next town to the east, is 350 miles away on the Great Northern Highway. One side of this two-lane highway has dirt tracks that lead to Eighty Mile Beach. The other side is the Great Sandy Desert. It is a vast plane that stretches further than a sparrow could fly in a day.
Most of the dirt tracks to the coast are sandy or heavily corrugated and suited only for 4WD. Wallal Downs however was in good enough condition for us to take our Toyota Coaster Bus through giving us the chance to walk on Eighty Mile Beach.
At the time 80-mile beach was named Australia was still using the imperial measuring system. Between 1970 and 1988 the imperial measuring system was replaced with the metric system. Proper names of places remained the same. There are numerous beaches in Australia named for their length in miles.
19) Broome - Dampier Penninsula
Broome’s claim to fame is its beach camel ride. Most people who visit Broome either ride the camels or at least take a picture of them in the sunset. It does make for a nice picture. We skipped the ride. I’ve ridden a camel before, this ride was a bit lame (in our opinion). They did a circle on the beach around the line of vehicles parked for the sunset.
As we traveled around Australia we usually stop in at the visitor center for local information. The Broome visitor center offered no local knowledge, they had no idea what road conditions were north of town nor did they offer any information on how we could find out. Our suggestion is to skip the visitor center and maybe even Broome altogether. The beauty is outside of town.
Broome is the only town in Australia where we left a negative review on the visitor center. The beauty of the area is outside of Broome, my suggestion is to skip the town and drive north on the Dampier Peninsula if you have a 4WD.
Derby is a great place to stock up on supplies before heading down Gibb River Road. The streets were originally designed to accommodate teams of mules and camels. Now they are open with a line of Boab trees down the center of Main Street. The visitor center is a wealth of information about the area and road conditions. One of the main attractions in Derby is the Boab Prison Tree, believed to be about 1,500 years old.
The Boab tree is protected in the Derby shire so you may even find the odd one in the middle of the road. Take a drive around and explore.
21) Tunnels with Crocodiles
The Gibb River Road is an adventure route for those with 4WD but the first section of the road is mostly paved and Tunnel Creek & Windjana Gorge can be reached with a 2WD vehicle.
22) Fitzroy Crossing
The Big Lap, route 1, around Australia crosses the Fitzroy River river at the town aptly named Fitzroy Crossing. The Fitzroy River is one of the longest rivers in Australia and can rise 26 meters above sea level during a heavy wet season.
We hiked along a sandy path through the Geikie Gorge. During the wet season, our path would be the middle of the river. During the dry season, the river shrinks to the lowest-lying area but leaves evidence of its seasonal power in the watermarks on the wall of the gorge. The Geikie Gorge was once part of the Devonian Reef System when this continent was under the sea. The Fitzroy River has cut through the reef leaving a gorge with spectacular cliffs on one side and unique rock formations on the other.
From the sandy trail, we looked down in the river and saw crocodiles lazily swimming out from the bank.
23) The Grotto
Traveling east to Kununurra take a short detour heading to Wyndham to hike in The Grotto. The Grotto is a natural amphitheater carved into a riverbed that flows fast during the wet season but dries up to small swim-holes during the dry season. The stunning local swim-hole can be accessed by the 140 steps carved into the canyon wall.
The town of Kununurra lies in the flood zone and at times can be surrounded by water and cut off from travel out of town except by boat. Climbing Kelly’s Knob Lookout we watched the sunset over the plains. From that vantage point, the path of the water during the wet could be imagined surrounding the town.
Just outside of Kununurra is Mirima National Park also known as the mini Bungle Bungle. It is a small park but filled with unique rock formations.
It is wise to keep an eye out for kangaroos when driving in Australia, but at Ivanhoe Crossing keep your eyes open for crocodiles swimming across the road. Ivanhoe Crossing is a concrete causeway over which the river flows. Water levels can vary so driving across the causeway should be taken with caution.
25) Lake Argyle
Just before leaving Western Australia on the only paved highway connecting Western Australia to the Northern Territory is a peaceful man-made lake called Lake Argyle. A dam built in 1973 on the Ord River created a massive expanse of freshwater. From the reservoir lookout, it made me think of Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona. Both are filled with inlets and bays to explore by boat.
The lake is also home to over 25,000 freshwater crocodiles. The temperature of the water is warm to mild year-round and perfect for swimming for crocks and humans alike.
So much more to explore!
This list is just the start, a list of things to help you plan your own adventure. There is so much more to see. As you research don’t forget to find out more about the Gibb River Road and El Questro in the Kimberleys, Bungle Bungle, the Canning Road, and much more.
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