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..'
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.
The vastness of the state means the weather varies enormously at any given time. Summer (December-February) is warm in the south-west, but scorching hot in the central Outback; the tropical north has a wet season (November-April), and is warm and drier in winter (June to August). Spring (September-November) and autumn (March-May) are pleasantly warm for most of the west and south coast.
Perth International Airport (PER) is about 13km east of the city.
Several airlines serve towns around the state, including Albany, Broome, Esperance, Exmouth and Kalgoorlie. Charter flights are a way of life but are expensive.
Comfortable air-conditioned coaches serve most settlements; Transwa covers much of the south and west of the state, while Greyhound Australia runs along the coast north from Perth via the main hotspots to Broome and on to Darwin in the Northern Territory. Bear in mind the long journeys involved: the bus from Perth to Broome takes 34 hours.
Several operators offer hop-on-hop-off tours around the south-west and up the coast towards Broome, which can be economical (and fun) options.
Transwa also operates a limited train service from Perth south to Bunbury, locally to Northam and into the Outback at Kalgoorlie.
Car hire allows freedom – but you should be well prepared for Outback driving, and aware of the long distances involved.
Western Australia has the lot – campsites and caravan parks (great for campervanners), hostels, motels, B&Bs and pubs, stylish guesthouses and boutique hotels.
Perth and the south-west are the foodie epicentre; Margaret River especially is known for its gourmet cuisine and wines. Elsewhere, there’s great seafood along the coast, plus barramundi from northern rivers and crayfish (marron) in the south.
Emu is the statewide beer, though boutique brews are becoming more common.
Western Australia is a pretty safe region, with few opportunities for getting sick; no specific vaccinations are mandated unless you’ve arrived from a yellow fever-infected destination. Venomous snakes and spiders are present but shy; bites are rare. Treat the sun with respect and watch out for heatstroke.
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