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Western Australia. Create the mother of all dust trails as you rumble along the Gibb River Road
Western Australia. Create the mother of all dust trails as you rumble along the Gibb River Road
Take a camel ride on Cable Beach in Broome Western Australia.
Take a camel ride on Cable Beach in Broome Western Australia.

Australia, West Coast travel guide

Western Australia is massive – with great travel experiences. Sleep in the Outback, swim with whale sharks, trek the Bungle Bungles and savour top wines

For many Aussies, Western Australia is the elephant in the room. This huge state – over 2.5 million sq km – covers about a third of the entire country, but ask most East Coast Australians if they’ve been to Western Australia and the answer’s almost always “not yet…”

And they’re missing out on so much. Western Australia really has the lot. Perth, the capital, is a sunny, optimistic city of gleaming high-rise buildings that tower above the Swan River. Not that you're likely to see many swans: Perth has pelicans.

The city has some notable museums and galleries, but is better known for its hedonistic party atmosphere. Spreading white-sand beaches line the coast, each with its own character: Scarborough and Cottesloe are just two good beaches to visit. Nightlife hums at weekends and high-rollers congregate at the 24-hour casino as the city rides a mineral boom.

Head to Perth's port suburb of Fremantle for colonial gingerbread houses, a restored city centre and the chance to get out to sea. Whale-watching trips head off into the Indian Ocean and usually get a sighting within an hour or two, and ferries shuttle to Rottnest Island, with its cute hopping quokkas. 

Rent a car and a long day's drive will reach some thoroughly unusual attractions. Head south and there are the top wineries and surf beaches of arty, alternative Margaret River and the vast karri and tingle forests of the coast. Go north and before too long you'll find the geological curiosities of the Pinnacles Desert, the older-than-time stromalites of Shark Bay as well as superb diving and snorkelling with whale sharks and manta rays at Ningaloo Reef offshore.

You'll need more time (and money) to explore the red rock formations and wild Outback landscapes of Karijini National Park, Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles) and the Kimberley Range. Ask the residents of Perth if they've seen these highlights and the answer's almost always 'not yet..'

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Taste Freemantle's Cafe Culture. Perth's original Indian Ocean port has been beautifully restored and is now a centre for Australian arts and crafts. Tour the markets before grabbing a latte
  2. Hit the Beach. There are sand beaches aplenty in Western Australia: Eighty Mile Beach wasn't named for nothing. Perth's coastal suburbs each seem to have their own stretch of beach, but for the ultimate experience fly north to Broome. Once a centre for the pearl-fishing industry this is a hippyish, cultish hideaway
  3. Trek  the Bibbulmun Track. You'll want to lace up a sturdy pair of boots, as the track runs for nearly 1,000kms from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills to Albany on the coast, with huts and tent sites along the way. You can just hike a section
  4. Meet the Quokkas. These pint-sized marsupials crowd on Rottnest (from 'Rats Nest' in Dutch) Island. From Perth it's an easy ferry-ride; then hire a bike
  5. Dive with whale sharks. Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef is almost the size of the Barrier Reef but far less visited - and harder to reach. It's well worth the effort, with whale sharks and manta rays frequently seen
  6. Swim with Dolphins. At Monkey Mia, north of Perth, the local dolphins frequently come in to play with swimmers. Along the way, stop off and explore the Pinnacles National Park
  7. Hike the Bungle Bungles. Weird beehive-shaped domes, striped orange and grey, these are the characteristic highlight of Purnululu National Park. Fly 3,000km north to Kununnurra and you've only go to traverse 250km more of Outback
  8. Challenge the locals. The outback gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie, marooned in the desert 600km east of Perth, has a hard-living, hard-drinking reputation. The game of Two-Up is a game of chance that is simple enough to play even very late at night. Just make sure you know the rules

Wanderlust tips

If you're planning to rent a car, stock up your iphone or buy some audio books. Distances can be huge and the radio signal fades outside major towns. And keep alert: in the Outback kangaroos tend to gravitate to the tarmac at nightfall to warm their paws and their evasive hops are unpredictable and often misguided.

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