As Australia’s largest state, containing the world’s largest fringing reef and its most remote capital city, Western Australia seems made for superlatives. While tourists flock to the familiar sights of the east coast, a trip to Australia’s west opens up a whole other side of this vast country, with sights unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere. With long, open roads and few big cities, a Western Australia self-drive is all about personal freedom and “getting out there.”
Like many remote parts of the world, flights in Western Australia can be expensive. Fortunately, all the state’s major sights are well connected by highways and major roads. Whether it’s a circuit around Australia’s southwest corner, or an epic journey up the Indian Ocean coast, Western Australia is a self-driver’s dream trip.
Perth and Fremantle – Twin Cities on the Swan
With a population under 1.7 million, Perth is less than half the size of Sydney or Melbourne, making city driving a much less daunting task. You’ll probably want the freedom of a car anyway to reach Perth’s star attractions. Start with the neighbouring city of Fremantle, a major port and artistic hub with one of Australia’s most famous markets. Perth’s beaches, including Scarborough and Cottesloe Beaches, are also considered some of the best in Australia. Finally, there’s Kings Park. A green oasis in the middle of the city, this is a great spot to get an early taste of the scenery found on a Western Australia self-drive, and beyond.
Wine, Waves, and Winding Roads
Western Australia is a long way to go to see just one city! Along the coast, south of Perth, lies the Margaret River region. The Margaret River is synonymous with wine, and wine lovers can happily spend several days exploring the many flavours of the area. But like all great wine regions, Margaret River has plenty to tempt the palates of foodies, craft beer aficionados, and sweet-toothed travellers as well.
When you drive along the southern coast of Western Australia, you might start wondering why it hasn’t enjoyed the same fame as say, South Australia’s Limestone Coast. Still, if the area’s remoteness has kept it a relative secret from tourists, that’s all the better for you. Along your Western Australia self-drive, you can explore the historic town of Albany, Western Australia’s oldest permanent settlement, and Esperance, a small city surrounded by impressive national parks, white sand beaches, and offshore islands. Perhaps its most striking and surreal attraction is Pink Lake, a colourful body of water separated from the wild Southern Ocean by just a thin strip of dry land.
It’s not just Western Australia’s coast that’s unique. The Wildflower State (visit in Australia’s spring to see what the nickname is all about) has its own take on “The Outback” as well. It even has its own great “rock.” Wave Rock may be much smaller than its more famous Northern Territory cousin, but its incredible “flared slope,” formed over millions of years by groundwater weathering the bedrock, is a sight you won’t soon forget.
Wild Western Australia
While driving south of Perth will take you to the genteel country of the Margaret River, adventure seekers might prefer to head north, following the coast to Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef, and finally, the Kimberley region.
The Pinnacles Desert in the Cervantes region feels like you’ve already reached another world just a couple of hours from Perth. These limestone formations rise from the yellow sands like an eerie miniature city made of rock. Back on earth (albeit farther north), you’ll find the more lively colony of Monkey Mia. Dolphin colony, that is. A pod of wild bottlenose dolphins have been coming in to feed at the cove here since the 1960s. Hand-feeding is strictly supervised to ensure the dolphins never lose their ability to hunt in the wild. But feeding the dolphins in these astonishingly clear waters (another advantage of being far from the big cities of the east) is a wildlife experience you’ll never forget on your Western Australia self-drive.
Besides the dolphins, the Shark Bay Marine Park region, which encompasses Monkey Mia, harbours dugongs, turtles, and of course, native sharks. Western Australia’s most famous marine resident however (and indeed its state fish!), roams another of its great off-shore wildlife regions, just a bit further north.
Ningaloo Reef is the world’s largest fringing reef, meaning it tightly follows a path within easy reach of the shoreline. This has led to it being called Australia’s accessible reef, since the east coast’s Great Barrier Reef lies some way off shore and can only be reached via boat or air. Still, both modes of transport are used when it comes to following the Ningaloo Reef’s star attractions, its majestic whale sharks. Visitors flock for a chance to swim with these docile beasts, setting out on daily boat trips while a plane flies ahead to locate the sharks’ path that day.
Like the dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia, these tours are careful not to interfere with the animals’ natural habits, and so swimmers keep a minimum three metre distance from the sharks at all times – still close enough to see the beautiful markings that make whale sharks so distinctive. You’re well and truly in the land of gentle giants here. Besides the whale sharks, you might even see the odd manta ray glide by!
Australia’s little-travelled northwest coast is a treasure trove of history, leading from the marine parks to the awesome Kimberley region. This was the second Australian coastline to be discovered by the Dutch in 1616, ten years after Dutch settlers had abandoned the coast of North Queensland. But as they had with that land, the Dutch explorers prematurely dismissed this arid landscape as having little settlement value, allowing James Cook to claim the fertile east coast for England a century and a half later. The entire region has had a colourful history in the years since, which includes the town of Broome being the centre of Western Australia’s pearl industry. A Japanese cemetery serves as a reminder of the pre-war Japanese divers who were critical to West Australian pearling’s success.
Beyond Broome, travellers on their Western Australia self-drive at last reach the Kimberley, considered one of Australia’s great unspoiled wilderness areas. In part, that’s because few travellers ever make it out here. Consider it an opportunity to see your most awe-inspiring visions of the Australian Outback brought to life. Waterfalls plunge over orange cliffs into blue-green billabongs. Rock formations such as the Bungle Bungles rise from the landscape, silent and constant witnesses to an age long before any human, European or Aboriginal, explored this land. Of course, Aboriginal people have thrived here for centuries, and today make up about 40% of the local population.
Securing Your Self-Drive with Goway Travel
As the biggest state in a country famous for its wide open spaces, Western Australia takes a little more preparation than its eastern neighbours, especially if you’re travelling independently. Goway’s self-drive itineraries keep things to something of a schedule, ensuring you have a reliable vehicle and comfortable, often boutique accommodation pre-booked at every stop. If you’re travelling during the Australian school holidays, this can be invaluable, as many of the small towns in Western Australia have limited options, and spaces fill up fast. Prebooking with Goway also gives you Goway’s exclusive co-pilot kit, which includes maps, special discounts, guides, and other useful information to get you exploring like a pro. For that extra layer of security, Goway’s Sydney office is on hand to assist you at any time of day or night, should anything not go to plan. You can even take either of Goway’s two Western Australia self-drives in reverse.
All this means having all the benefits of independent, self-drive travel with an expert in your corner.