Western Australia is Australia's largest state by land area, making up the western third of the continent. It is the world's second largest sub-national entity, after the Sakha Republic in Russia. Most of the 2.6 million citizens live in or around Perth, leaving most of the inland areas with widespread small communities.
The state capital on the Swan River sandy coastal plain, the beaches to the west, the hills to the east.
A complex patchwork of agriculture and reserves in the interior and empty beaches on the coast
|Mid West |
The Western coast has surfing beaches. The closer to Perth, the more temperate the weather and hospitable the landscape
The central coast offers a variety of features -the Ningaloo Reef is not as famous as the Great Barrier Reef, but equals or surpasses it. Shark Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site.
A hot mining region, sparsely populated, with various natural attractions.
In the far North. It is a large wilderness area, including the resort town of Broome on Cable Beach. Vast areas of spectacular scenery.
A barren and flat interior becomes greener toward the coast where chilly king waves sent from Antarctica pummel the rocky shore.
|South West |
Known for its wineries, surfing, forests and caves
- 1 Perth — The state capital of Western Australia and one of the most remote large cities in the world
- 2 Albany — the largest town on the south coast of the state
- 3 Broome — gateway to the Kimberley and a fashionable tourist destination among Australians
- 4 Esperance — on the south coast with a fine coastline and beaches
- 5 Kalgoorlie-Boulder — a historic mining town in the east
- 6 Kununurra — final stop before you enter the Northern Territory
- 7 Mandurah — a rapidly growing city nestled between estuary and ocean is popular for fishing and crabbing
- Kalbarri National Park — explore vibrantly coloured gorges and cliffs sculpted by the Murchison River as it flows to the sea
- 1 Coral Bay and Exmouth — 1250km from Perth, are gateways to the magnificent Ningaloo Reef
- Karijini National Park — a major destination in the Pilbara, featuring huge canyons and gorges, and nice hikes through majestic scenery
- 2 Margaret River — a fine winery and surfing region about 250 km south of Perth, a weekend playground for Perth.
- Mount Augustus — rivalling the better-known Uluru in Northern Territory for size, it's often claimed to be the largest monolith on Earth
- Pinnacles Desert — an eerie landscape of limestone pillars rising from the sand about 100 km north of Perth
- 3 Purnululu National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site features the enigmatic Bungle Bungle dome formations
- 4 Shark Bay — on the westernmost point of Australia, the small town is known for stromatolites and the dolphins at Monkey Mia
- Southern Forests — get among lush ancient forests around Denmark and Pemberton where towering karri and marri trees fringe the rugged coastline of D'Entrecasteaux National Park
The large majority of the 2 million inhabitants live in the southwestern part of the state, in or close to Perth, the capital and the most isolated city of this size anywhere in the world. Outside of the Perth area there are fewer than 500,000 people, hence the demoynm Sandgropers. The largest towns outside Perth metro include Albany and Broome, less than 30,000 population each depending on seasonal fluctuations. Beyond the coast, Western Australia's vast interior is very sparsely populated, with only a handful of townships with over a few thousand residents. Mining settlements and cattle stations are thinly-spread so it is all too easy to find yourself alone in a 100 mile radius.
One of this state's main attraction is its overall huge expanses and distance between places.
Western Australia covers about third of the total land mass of Australia. It encompasses climatic zones from the monsoonal and tropical north, to the temperate and Mediterranean south, and the desert and barren inland. Apart from the south-western coast, the majority of the land is extremely old, eroded, flat, arid and infertile.
Many of the population centres are isolated from one another, and from the other populated zones of Australia. This and the tough environment may account for a more independent spirit than in the eastern states.
The vastness of the state is certainly not to be underestimated when planning your trip. If it were a country, it would be in the top 10 by area, as large as Argentina, larger than any African or European country, and one and a half times the size of Alaska. It is the largest sub-national administrative division in the world besides the Sakha Republic in Russia.
Perth and the south-west corner including Margaret River and Albany are easily accessible. Visiting much of the rest of the state requires some planning, and will probably require some long drives. Never plan on doing a road trip, without clearly telling either the authorities or someone else, on your planned route, as you could have considerable delays if you break down. Make sure you always have lots of water (and spare fuel) with you.
Western Australia was discovered by the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog in 1616 while en route to what is now known as Jakarta. In the following decade, other Dutch explorers would encounter the land here, but with no apparent natural resources to exploit, left as quickly as they came. During the late 18th century, the British and the French began to explore the more Southern regions of Western Australia and in 1826 the British decided that King George Sound would be a suitable location for a settlement. Three years later the Swan River Colony was established and this would later become the city of Perth. The state grew slowly until the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie in the 1890s, which led to a huge influx of people.
Western Australia is the only state to never have been part of New South Wales and is the only Australian state to have tried to leave the federation, voting to secede in 1933. A delegation was sent to Britain to petition parliament to pass the legislation needed to enable independence, but it was determined that the British parliament did not have the necessary powers to pass such legislation. The suggestion of secession still appears in the Western Australian media from time to time and generally gains most attention during mining booms. A minority of Western Australians support the idea.
Western Australia is in the Australian Western Standard Time zone, 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+8). It doesn't observe daylight savings time, and is two hours behind the east coast of Australia during winter, and falls three hours behind New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania when they move to daylight savings. Note that not all of W.A. is in the same time zone! Residents of towns east of Caiguna on the Eyre Highway (including Eucla, Madura, Mundrabilla and Border Village) in the south-east corner near the South Australian border do not follow official Western Australian time. Instead, they use what is unofficially known as Central Western Standard Time, which is halfway between Western and Central time--UTC+8:45.
The vast majority of interstate flights also land in Perth. However there are a small number of interstate flights to Kalgoorlie, Kununurra, Karratha and Broome. Skywest has a weekly flight from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne, however it may still be cheaper to fly Kalgoorlie - Perth - Melbourne depending on the travel dates desired.
The price of flights from other Australian capital cities to Perth fluctuates wildly. The red-eye overnight flights can often be obtained at a discount over the more civilised flight times.
Considering the huge distances, driving into Western Australia from anywhere else is an experience by itself.
There are only two sealed roads into Western Australia: in the south, the Eyre Highway is the most direct route from Adelaide to Perth. In the north, the Victoria Highway connects the Kimberley region with the Northern Territory up to Darwin. Both involve extremely long drives. Perth-Adelaide is at least 3 days of driving with stops only to sleep, and much of the drive is across the extraordinarily barren Nullabor Plain. Darwin-Perth is at least a week.
It is often possible to organise one-way car hire without additional fees from Adelaide to Perth. Shop around, and check conditions carefully, as some cars hired in Adelaide cannot even be driven into Western Australia.
There is one railway connecting Western Australia with the eastern states. The Indian Pacific train service runs between Sydney and Perth via Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill. More expensive than air travel, but you can put your car on the train. The train ride is a unique experience in itself, as it can take 3 nights to get to Sydney at the other end of the line and you see a lot of rugged beauty along the way.
There are quarantine rules if you are coming from other states in Australia. You cannot bring fruits and vegetables (including seeds and cuttings) into Western Australia. Frozen fresh food is also not allowed but you will be OK with commercially packaged foods, except honey and bee products. There are quarantine checkpoints set up on the state borders and rules are strictly enforced. Inspectors board trains into the state to check passengers, and there are checkpoints at all airports.
If you are arriving directly from overseas, additional quarantine rules apply. See the Australia article for details.
If you want to travel across WA by road, be ready to drive a lot to get from point A to point B. There are only a limited number of sealed roads (any map of the state will probably show you all of them), if you plan to leave them to get to more remote areas you will need to consider renting a 4WD. Contact the company to which you rent the vehicle to check the policy concerning driving on unsealed tracks, as you might have to get their authorization. Driving a rented conventional (non-4WD) vehicle on an unsealed track may breach your rental contract and void your insurance. Check with the local depot before arriving.
Never under-estimate the distance involved in travelling around Western Australia. Fatigue from long drives annually kills drivers from overseas, falling asleep at the wheel is a genuine issue.
- Perth to Albany is 409 km
- Perth to Broome is 2,237 km
- Perth to Port Hedland is 1,646 km
- Perth to Exmouth is 1,260 km
- Perth to Kalgoorlie is 596 km
Always make allowance for fuel stops, rest stops, toilet stops, and refreshment stops. There is a speed limit on all roads, never catchup with speed.
Sealed highways and byways
- Albany Highway. A sealed, main through route Perth to Albany, with few stops or attractions. Scenic alternative via the coastal route.
- Eyre Highway, from Norseman to South Australia, a very long drive crossing the Nullarbor plain.
- Great Eastern Highway, from Perth to Kalgoorlie, the main route for travellers.
- Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, links the Great Eastern Highway with the Eyre Highway & continues south to Esperance.
- South Coast Highway, from Esperance to just past Walpole.
- South Western Highway, from near Walpole to Perth via Bunbury.
- Great Southern Highway, from The Lakes to Cranbrook.
- Brand Highway, from Perth to Geraldton.
- North West Coastal Highway a mainly coastal route from Geraldton to the Great Northern Highway near Port Hedland.
- Great Northern Highway, up to the Northern extremity of the state.
- Victoria Highway, connecting the Great Northern highway to the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory.
Unsealed (dirt) roads and tracks
Unsealed roads require preparation and research. They should not be taken lightly, and you would be unwise to just set off down a dirt road without having done your homework. Be cautious. On some more remote tracks, it could be weeks until anyone finds you or your body if you break down. Road conditions, weather, availability of fuel and spares, contact (phone/radio), and survival supplies should be on your checklist.
The Gunbarrel Highway may not be what you would think of as a highway. It may not even be what you would think of as a road.
That said, some of the best scenery and adventures that Western Australia has to offer lies on its dirt roads. Some can be traversed, slowly, and with care, by an average driver. Study your route, and be prepared for conditions.
- The legendary Canning Stock Route is an 1800 km long cattle track from Willuna in the northern Goldfields to Halls Creek in the Kimberley, crossing the inner desert parts of the state. It is one of the most remote tracks on the planet, with absolutely no facilities, fuel or food supplies, and runs hundred kilometres from any civilization. Prior fuel dropping arrangements and thorough research about the dangers involved in the crossing are absolute prerequisites. Attempting the track in the summer is madness.
- The 650 km long Gibb River Road crosses through the heart of the Kimberley in the North through majestic scenery, with some facilities along the route. Open only during the dry.
- The Gunbarrel Highway crosses the heart of the continent from Wiluna to Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory.
- The comparatively easier Tanami Track crosses the Tanami desert to the Red Centre in Northern Territory.
- The Great Central Road, regularly graded, may be attempted by strong 2WD (with very cautious and prepared drivers). It crosses several aboriginal lands (for which you will need permits) right to Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory.
Given the distances involved, plane travel is a vital connection to many Western Australian communities. Many towns based on mining have private 'Fly-in Fly-out' (FIFO) services for their employees, which are difficult for travellers to access.
Most larger towns have some form of commercial scheduled air service. Charter services are commonly available to access more remote areas, and airstrips available for landing are available even in the very smallest towns. If you can get a group of 6 together, a charter flight need not cost significantly more than a scheduled commercial service, but don't expect to be able to each take your 23kg suitcase on board.
Train services are limited outside of Perth and Mandurah. In addition to the Great Southern Railway's Indian Pacific, there are three regional train services, all operated by TransWA, that depart from Perth to various country towns in the south and south-east of the state:
- The Australind, runs from Perth to Bunbury and back, every morning and evening.
- The Prospector, runs from East Perth to Kalgoorlie, with coach connections onto Esperance.
- The Avonlink, runs from East Perth to Merredin, in the Wheatbelt.
These regional rail services are not "walk on" services like inner-city rail; tickets to board these services must be purchased in advance, either online at the TransWA website, or from various TransWA booking offices located around the state, usually in areas serviced by the TransWA regional rail and coach network.
Coach Services comprehensively cover the southern regions of the state, publicly operated by TransWA. These coach services connect Perth to various regional towns, as far north as Geraldton and Meekatharra, as far south as Albany, and as far east as Kalgoorlie and Esperance.
These regional coach services are not "walk on" services like inner-city bus services; tickets to board these services must be purchased in advance, either online at the TransWA website, or from various TransWA booking offices located around the state, usually in areas serviced by the TransWA regional rail and coach network. Greyhound runs a service from Darwin through to Broome, and via Kununurra.
By other means
Bicycling, camel riding, horse riding, and walking have been part of the state's history - early explorations were done this way.
Roadhouses,and facilities along the main routes in the state do support long distance travel when measured with adequate supplies.
Inland, there are no supports like the main highway route, and very thorough preparations are required.
Many solitary cyclists have been sighted over the years on the Nullarbor crossing, and fewer on the road in from Darwin in the north.
If WA does not quench your thirst of (harsh) wilderness, it is unlikely that anywhere else in the world will. That said, most visitors stay within the very civilised areas of the southwest corner and Broome, which have many attractions and well developed facilities.
- Ancient forms of life. Thrombolites at Lake Clifton and stromatolites at Shark Bay are rock-like mounds built by micro-organisms that resemble some of the earliest forms of life on earth.
Besides driving, which can be an experience for some (being on the only sealed road for hundreds of kilometres, without crossing anyone, might be either disturbing or enjoyable to most of Western Europe drivers). The regions for surfing on its beaches include, the south west corner in the Margaret River region.
- Ningaloo Reef near Coral Bay. probably the place to dive with abundant coral, marine life and a good chance of seeing a whale shark (in season).
- Rottnest Island. Not far off Perths coast its has many underwater caves that are worth exploring.
- Bibbulmun Track, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A hike on the nearly 1000km trail from Perth to Albany, passing through many south west towns is arguably one of the best walks in WA. The signposted trail wanders through forest, wetland, coastal, and grassland environments to campsites equipped with a three-sided timber shelter, rainwater tank and toilets. Pocket sized map books can be bought from the Bibbulmun track Foundation. If taking on the entire length is too daunting, several sections make good 2-5 day jaunts.
- Cape to Cape (Cape to Cape Track), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The 135km trail between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park meanders around precipitous coastal scenery, forests and along beaches. Periodic established campsites a offer a spot to pitch your tent, toilet and watertank. The northern trailhead is 15km south of Dunsborough and ends 6km shy of Augusta, passing through four towns along the way.
- Munda Biddi Trail (Mountain or cyclocross style bike only track), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. If you prefer two wheels, the 1,000km Munda Biddi Trail goes from Mundaring in the Perth hills to Albany in the South West. The trail varies in terrain but is not extraordinarily challenging, making it a pleasant ride for all ability levels. Campsites with shelters are spaced a days ride apart and towns along the way give you chance to return to civilisation.
- Railway Reserve Heritage Trail. An easy, but interesting, trail in the Perth Hills that follows a 40 km loop along the route of the former Eastern Railway abandoned in the late 50s. The most popular stretch is in John Forrest National Park from Swan View to Hovea passing through the spooky Swan View tunnel, over a decaying wood framed bridge to the magnificent Hovea Falls. The areas relatively unspoilt bushland is a major wildlife corridor so it's not uncommon to see groups of kangaroos at dusk among other native animals.
- Kep Track (Mountain bike, walking & horse riding track), ☎ . The well marked track follows the Northam - Mundaring Weir railway reserve and part of the water pipeline. It is a 90KM 1-2 day cycling trip or a 3-4 day walking trip. Food, water and accommodation is somewhat limited along the route. Campsites are non existent but there are refreshment and food options at Northam, Clackline, Bakers Hill, Chidlow, Mundaring.
- Cable Beach in Broome. One of Western Australia's most well known beaches, with warm water and sand swept clean by the tides every day. You can't swim there from October until May because of Box Jellyfish (as with any beach north of Exmouth). Irukandji are also a risk at other times of year, and the beach can also be closed if a crocodile cruises past.
- Lake Argyle in Kununurra. As one of the largest man made lakes in Australia Lake Argyle is a good place for a dip with the friendly crocodiles. Kununurra also has a number of secluded waterholes around that make a refreshing place to float about with a beer during the humid wet season.
- Serpentine Falls in Serpentine. Located a 35 minute drive east of Mandurah, is an excellent place for a swim.
- Twilight Beach in Esperance. Some claim this is the best beach in Australia. Others say it is only Western Australia's best. Regardless, the white sand, clear water and rounded headland make an impression on all visitors.
Perth and the larger towns have the usual range of restaurants. Australian influenced Thai, Chinese and cafes are common. Pubs can usually be relied upon for an evening meal in most towns and roadhouses have a range of sandwiches, burgers and sometimes more substantial cooked meals. Trips away from the major towns will probably require some amount of self-catering.
- Truffles – An item you wouldn't expect to come out of WA is the opulent black fungus that's favoured by trendy restaurants in the better part of town. While the local variety isn't considered to be equal to its European counterparts, it exhibits the characteristic taste and smell that justifies the high prices it demands. Truffle growing in the state is still in its infancy but in recent years the industry has grown large enough to support two festivals. At the end of May the Truffle Hunts in Manjimup are held with capacity limited to the 100 epicureans indulgent enough to pay $245 for trufflesque tours, hunting and eating. Somewhat more egalitarian is the Mundaring Truffle Festival  held at the end of July where you can wander between a multitude of truffle related stalls while you wait for the next free food talk or demonstration. The $10 entry fee lets you see and taste quite a bit.
- Marron – is a freshwater crustacean with delicate meat quite different to its salt water relatives. Trendy restaurants might have it on the menu during the right season but the best way to enjoy it is by casting a trap into a dam or water way and boiling it up on a campfire. You will need a fishing licence to catch them legally or there are many marron farms in the south west where you can buy a few of them frozen or still kicking.
- Fremantle has a number of micro-breweries. The most well known is Little Creatures, housed in an old boat shed where they serve a pale ale straight from the conditioning tank.
- Kimberley residents love a drink, so it's no surprise that Matso's Brewery in Broome has a rightful reputation among hopheads for making some fine brews.
- The South West has a handful of brewers. Albany AleWorks in Albany and Blackwood Valley Brewery in Bridgetown are old style brewers. Margaret River and Busselton have a half-dozen independent micro-brewers to visit.
- The Swan Valley in Perth's outskirts is known for its wine but also makes some decent drops of the amber variety. Duckstein Brewerey is one of the states first micro-brewers and produces a range of German style beers that are particularly popular around Oktoberfest time. You can take a look at their copper brewing kettle and then sample an ale in the garden.
A debate about the quality of coffee in WA grumbles on endlessly, with many visitors claiming a decent cup near impossible to find in the west and locals countering that they are just not looking in the right place. Subjective bean preferences aside, it is agreed that coffee is generally more expensive than in Eastern capitals and a higher price (averaging $3.80, but up to $5) does not necessarily buy you a better cup.
- Northbridge, Fremantle, Subiaco, Mount Lawley and the CBD in and around Perth have the highest concentration of cafes where you are more likely to get a decent espresso.
- Outside of the metro area it can be hit and miss, but you might improve your chances around Albany and Margaret River where a couple of boutique roasters have operations and coffee sits in the same circles as the gourmet food and wine scene.
- Non-aficionados who prefer a little coffee in their milk drink might be disappointed that they are well over three thousand kilometres from the nearest Starbucks. However, they should be satisfied enough with the Dome and Gloria Jeans chains that have outlets state-wide.
- Kununurra in the Kimberley is home to the Hoochery Distillery, the oldest continuously operating rum producer in WA (est. 1995), where local cane sugar is used to make some pretty potent booze. Though it's aged in oak barrels it's still a harsh gulp but the high alcohol percentage, up to 70%, hits in the right way. Tours of the distilling operations run in the peak season.
- Albany - Great Southern Distillery a boutique distillery located on the harbour in Albany, Western Australia. They produce small batch whiskies and a variety of spirits. Open daily for tastings, lunch, coffees and tours. International Award Winning
Western Australian viticulture may not produce the large volumes of the wineries on the east of Australia, but the vineyards here are known for producing quality over quantity.
- The Margaret River wine region. was only established in the late 1960s but has since built a reputation as an eminent producer of premium wines, particularly Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties. Around 90 vineyards have their cellardoor open for tastings and sales, providing plenty of opportunities for serious libations.
- Swan Valley. in the outskirts of Perth was one of the first places in the old colony where grapes were grown for wine, however it really developed as a wine region in the 1920s when migrant Croatian and Italian families established many of the wineries that still exist today. The valley overflows with a myriad of wine related attractions along the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail and hosts no less than three festivals a year.
Western Australia has an abundance of places to pitch a tent or roll out a swag. Many campsites in National Parks have managed sites with facilities toilet and cooking facilities. Most charge a fee of $7-9 per person, per night. Campsites can fill up quickly during long weekends and school holiday periods, especially in the South-West.
- The vastness of Western Australia requires travellers to be careful when going into remote areas, that is off the main sealed (asphalt) highways. When leaving sealed roads and entering remote unsealed tracks, advise someone you trust of your movements of your expected time/date of arrival, and your travel intentions. Ensure they will contact authorities if you do not arrive on time. Make sure you check back with them to avoid needless searches. Check with local officials about the conditions of unsealed roads, especially during the wet season during which these roads are likely to be difficult to travel or impassible. Seek advice from locals when fording rivers, as many become swollen and deep/fast during the wet season.
- Always swim between the flags at patrolled beaches. Strong currents can be dangerous to novice swimmers. Box Jellyfish are at beaches and estuaries as far south as Exmouth in season, and can be deadly. Check with lifeguards. Saltwater crocodiles are found as far south as Broome year round in freshwater and saltwater (rivers, streams, waterholes, and beaches).
- Many remote rural and outback areas in Western Australia are home to kangaroos and other mammals, reptiles and birds that will cross the roads, especially at dawn and dusk. So try to avoid driving at these times (kangaroos are most active at these times) and always be alert.
- Ross River virus is endemic in the south-west of Western Australia. The mosquitoes that carry the virus are particularly active around dusk in coastal areas from Perth to Albany.
- Snakes are widespread throughout all Australia - know the precautions and first aid before going into the bush. Redback spiders are also very common in sheds/garages, and underneath chairs. Bites are fairly common and sometimes need anti-venom. Seek medical advice if bitten by a spider.
- See local guides for any area specific issues.
- Go East
- Alice Springs in the Northern Territory - The hard way to the red centre is from Halls Creek via the rough-as-guts Tanami Track. The easy way is along a series of sealed roads from Kalgoorlie, passing through Leonora and Uluru and a lot of pretty flat and arid land.
- Go North
- Darwin in the Northern Territory - Leaving from the northern corner, Kununurra is the last town on Highway 1 as it heads heading into the NT's top end via Katherine.
- In the Indian Ocean
- Christmas Island - Closer to Indonesia than WA, but still part of Australia. Christmas Island is an emerging destination for divers and crab lovers looking for something not yet over run by other people.
- Cocos Island
- Go East across the Nullarbor
- By Train on the Indian Pacific service
- Port Augusta in South Australia - The 1668 km drive across the Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bight along the Eyre Highway.