Most people travelling to Australia will only see the East coast. They will visit Sydney, dive on the Great Barrier Reef, explore the Whitsundays or Fraser Island, but only a few would also travel to Western Australia. The names of Broome, Ningaloo Reef or Kalbarri National Park will remain unknown for them. It’s a shame: the West coast is very different to the East, but there are plenty of natural wonders along the 2,300 kilometers between Broome and Perth that are definitely worth going to. If you decide to start a West coast road trip, here are 5 tips to help you having a great time, and 5 things you shouldn’t do if you don’t want to ruin your holidays. Follow me into the less known side of Australia!
(Note: for many travellers, the West coast road trip will start or finish in Darwin, but there’s already so much to do between Broome and Perth that I chose to focus only on this part in this article).
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X Don’t be underprepared
Australia nowadays doesn’t have much in common with the dangerous and inhospitable land where aboriginal people used to live during thousands of years and that Europeans started to colonise after Captain James Cook landed on Botany Bay in 1770. Today getting from one side of the country to the other isn’t a question of life or death anymore, and travelling on the East coast is easy. There are plenty of backpackers and tourists all year long, coach lines stop everywhere if you don’t have your own vehicle and you can find hostels in every city. The West coast is very different.
First the distances are much longer: from Broome to Port Hedland in the north there are 600 kilometers of complete nothingness. There are no big cities, which means also not many cheap traveller’s accommodation; the easiest way to visit the national parks is camping. Water is precious, fuel very expensive and most of the time you can forget Coles and Woolworths for your groceries shopping. Nature can also be very dangerous: heavy rain, extreme heat, bushfire or even tornadoes. But don’t be scared by reading this! If you’re well prepared, none of this should be a problem: always carry a lot of water with you, remember to fill your fuel tank in roadhouses on the way, put sunscreen on, don’t swim where you’re not allowed to… Basic advices but in Western Australia not following them might end up tragically.
V Prefer travelling with a 4×4
If you own a van or a car, don’t worry: you can still visit the West Coast and go to most of the touristic places. But having a 4×4 would definitely be a big plus. Only main roads are sealed in Western Australia and most of the side roads are graveled, often corrugated and sometimes sandy. Without a 4×4 it takes much longer to drive on these unsealed roads and some of them are completely inaccessible; you really don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere… One example: without a 4×4 you wouldn’t be able to drive to Cape Leveque, north of Broome. It would be a shame to miss its beautiful beaches and incredible red cliffs. Camping in Kooljaman, waking up on the beach and swimming early in the morning in the warm Indian Ocean was one of the best moments of my road trip!
One last thing: driving a 4×4 and being able to go everywhere doesn’t mean you HAVE to go everywhere, even if it’s allowed. In my opinion beaches for example are not for vehicles. So please use your 4wd wisely and consider other people and the environment first!
X Don’t get fooled by the picture of the camels on the beach at sunset
It’s one of the most famous images of Western Australia: a beautiful picture isn’t it? (It was shot by Cannelle and Thibaut from the website unmondeenpatrimoine.com, thanks for sharing guys!). But the reality behind it isn’t that nice. This popular camel ride tour happens on Cable Beach in Broome, and what you don’t see here are the dozens of 4×4 parked on the beach, with many other people taking the exact same picture. The camels almost have to slalom between the cars! Not so nice anymore right? Also the one hour camel ride itself is very expensive (90$!): a typical tourist trap. There are a lot of better ways to spend your money on the West coast!
V Swim in the natural pools of Karijini National Park and climb to the top of Mt Bruce
If you’re coming from Broome, it will be a long uninteresting drive in an arid desert until you reach the Karijini National Park. Swimming in the natural pools down in the stunning gorges of the park will be such a relief by then!
There are two main sections in Karijini, linked by a 4×4 track (see the previous advice!) or by a sealed road but with a big detour. Both are amazing: on the East side, you’ll be able to hike in Meano Gorge and swim down the Fortescue Falls while on the West, Hancock Gorge might be the most beautiful part of the park, not mentioning the breathtaking view from Oxer lookout.
Finally South of the park you’ll find Mt Bruce, the second highest mountain of Western Australia. It’s a modest 1,234m high, but without any shade so if you decide to hike to the top it’s better to start early in the morning before it gets too hot. The stunning view is worth the effort!
X Avoid travelling during the summer
Even if you have a 4×4, even if you’re well prepared, travelling on the West coast between December and March (Australian summer) isn’t a very good idea… and it’s somebody who travelled during December who’s warning you! There are many reasons:
-it will be the rain season in the North (sometimes very heavy rain with fast flood danger in places like Karijini);
-it will be extremely hot everywhere. More than 40 degrees is common during summer;
-flies will be your worst nightmare: from early in the morning until sunset, they will constantly buzz around you;
-it would be off season for whale watching on the coast (best between September and November);
-from Exmouth until Perth, strong wind will never stop (especially in December and January), even far away from the coast. This wind is called the Fremantle Doctor and if it’s a nice feeling on the warmest afternoons, it will freeze you in the evening and ruin your beach days.
Only advantage to travel during summer: it’s nesting time for turtles and you might be lucky to see them crawling on the beach to lay their eggs or even better spot babies making their first trip to the ocean (between January and March). Apart from that, travelling between April and October will really be much nicer!
V Dive with turtles and shark whales on the Ningaloo Reef
Did you know that Australia has a second barrier reef? It’s smaller than the Great Barrier Reef on the East (1,200kms compared to 2,600) but it comes with a huge advantage: it’s so close to the beach that you can snorkel from the shore. No need to book an expensive tour like on the East coast!
The best places to enjoy the Ningaloo Reef are the Cape Range National Park, next to Exmouth, and Coral Bay a bit further South. In both of them you’ll find crystal clear and incredibly blue water, and you’ll be able to snorkel around stunning corals, with a lot of fishes and many turtles. During 3 days of snorkeling, I saw 5 of them myself!
(All the underwater pictures above have been taken by Thibaut from unmondeenpatrimoine.com – his Go Pro is way better than mine so thanks again for sharing your pictures!)
In Coral Bay a bit further from the main beach there’s also a shark nursery where you can see a lot of reef sharks just next to the shore. Even if they are supposed to be harmless for humans, swimming there is forbidden and it’s still a bit scary to see them from so close!
Icing on the cake, between March and September you can also dive with whale sharks (another argument to not travel during summer…). It requires to book expensive tours but swimming next to the biggest fish on Earth (up to 15 meters) must be an unforgettable experience!
X Don’t expect too much from Monkey Mia
Monkey Mia is located on Shark Bay, south of Carnarvon. Not the most accurate names ever: this place isn’t famous for monkeys nor for sharks, but for dolphins. Here everyday tourists can feed them on the beach. I’ll leave it to your own judgment to decide if feeding wild animals is ethically acceptable, but if you’re interested in doing it, be aware that Monkey Mia is a real tourist trap. You need to pay 12$ to get there (even if you don’t see any dolphins, which happened to some people I met on the way) and you’ll be standing next to dozens of other tourists, with only one person chosen from the crowd to feed the dolphins. The kind of things I personally wouldn’t enjoy at all, especially considering that it’s quite easy to see wild dolphins in many other places along the coast.
V Enjoy the extraordinary scenery of Kalbarri National Park
Karijini has the gorges; Cape Range has the coast: Kalbarri has both. In the same day you can hike down beautiful gorges and face the ocean on top of huge cliffs! There are numerous points of interest in the park but the most famous spot is Nature’s Window, a stunning rock formation overlooking a deep gorge. Just be prepared to see a lot of tourists at this spot, taking the exact same picture as below. The hike down the gorge is much more quiet but not less beautiful!
Because of the strong wind I mentioned before, the waves on the coastal part of the park are also very impressive. I could have stayed for hours at Chinaman Point in the village of Kalbarri to watch them!
The white and red cliffs are also perfect for whale watching in the appropriate season, and dolphin watching all year long.
X Don’t drive in the Pinnacles desert
When I arrived at the Pinnacles desert shortly before sunset (the best moment to enjoy the beauty of this place), I first was amazed by these countless rocks pointing to the sky everywhere around me. A beautiful sight quickly ruined when I realised that there were cars driving right through them!
The park authority created a track accessible to all vehicles, allowing everybody to drive in the middle of a protected area; what a shame! Even worse, some people seemed to consider this track as an appropriate place to race and drive like idiots with their 4×4, with no consideration at all to the pedestrians. So please, if you visit the Pinnacles, park your car at the entrance and walk; it’s a short trail and it’s so much nicer and safer for everybody (and for the environment!).
V Take a selfie with a quokka on Rottnest Island
Arriving in Perth after a road trip on the West coast is a weird feeling; you’ve been away from tall buildings and highways for so long that entering the 4th biggest city in Australia is a huge contrast after the emptiness of the road! But the amazement is not over yet; take some time to visit Perth, its huge botanical garden in Kings Park and the lovely city of Fremantle, but more important: go to Rottnest Island.
The day I spent on this little island was one of the best I had since I started travelling in Australia. It’s around 45 minutes of ferry with a special deal and reduced prices on Tuesdays with Rottnest Express. The best way to explore the island is to rent a bike; no cars are allowed here. It’s extremely pleasant (also a bit exhausting to be honest!) to cycle from one paradisiac beach to another, with gorgeous colours everywhere. If you have enough time, I would advise you to do a loop all around the island, beginning with the North side; West Point on the other end is stunning and the beaches on the South side are empty and not less beautiful than the crowded ones close to The Settlement, the only village on the island.
But a visit of Rottnest Island wouldn’t be complete without a quokka selfie! You’ll see these little animals everywhere around the island and you won’t resist their cute smiling faces. They’re not afraid of humans at all and seem to be very curious; some will even let you cuddle them! It’s hard to remember that they’re wild animals and that you’re not allowed to bring one back home as a pet! At least you can easily take a selfie with them, like everybody else, even the most famous people; the very same day I was visiting Rottnest Island, Roger Federer himself uploaded a quokka selfie on his instagram account! When will you do yours?
I hope this article made you want to discover Western Australia! Trust me, you won’t regret your trip!