Hugely popular as a Perth getaway, but less so for time-poor vacationers eager to travel north, WA’s south-west is one of Australia’s most under-rated travel destinations. Indeed, Lonely Planet named it one of the world’s top 10 regions to visit in 2010. Full of great wine tours, top surfing spots, lush scenery and giant trees, it’s easily explored with a hire car.
About 200km south of Perth is Bunbury, WA’s second-biggest town, and the Margaret River, one of Australia’s best wine regions (perhaps only second to South Australia’s Barossa Valley) which also boasts excellent surfing.
Bunbury itself is busy transforming itself into a seaside holiday destination, with the main attraction being taking a boat trip to swim with dolphins or watch whales.
Margaret River is the most popular weekend break option from Perth, meaning there’s a huge range of hotel options, from budget backpacker to luxury. Make sure you book well ahead if travelling there in the Australian holidays (Easter and Christmas). While there, the Margaret River is as good a place as any to try learning to surf, but the main reason to visit is its gastronomic reputation. From wine tours to chocolate factories and excellent restaurants, your taste buds are unlikely to leave disappointed.
Continuing south you hit Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. After admiring the crashing seas, there are coastal caves to explore, plus more wineries and surf beaches.
Tall Timber Country
Just inland is another of Western Australia’s highlights – tall timber country. The area is home to giant karri forests where absolutely huge gum trees rise to the skies on all sides. It’s easy to arrange tours and hotels in a number of the area’s historic logging towns, like Bridgetown, Nannup and Walpole, although Pemberton has the most going on. Definitely test your nerve by taking one of the dramatic tree-top walks (best at Walpole’s Valley of the Giants) or by climbing Pemberton’s 60m-high Gloucester Tree.
The remote and windswept south coast is home to several holiday towns, like Albany and Esperance, which many people argue boast some of Australia’s best white sand beaches. They’re generally quite quiet, English-style towns big on arts and crafts. The numerous French town names are due to the discoveries of early explorers, whose interest in the area inspired Britain to hastily venture west. The coast as a whole is a good place to spot southern right whales migrating in spring (September – November). However, it’s a long way to travel and, unless you’re desperate to explore the surrounding national parks or the Nullarbor Plain to the north, it’s probably worth concentrating your holiday time elsewhere.
Most tourists will probably only glimpse Western Australia’s huge expanse of Outback if they arrive in Perth onboard the Indian Pacific train from Sydney or Adelaide, but if you’re a fan of stark, endless landscapes, it is an interesting place to explore.
The main town (and also an Indian Pacific stop) is Kalgoorlie-Boulder, directly north from Esperance. It’s a very, very long way from anywhere but is an intriguing town of hard drinkers and grand public buildings, thanks to its heritage as a mining town. It’s supposedly the one place in Australia that you can take a tour of a brothel.
The region’s main pin-up is Wave Rock, near Hyden, about halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie. The rock, unsurprisingly shaped like a perfect wave, is an impressive sight, but it’s a long way to travel for a photo.