Australia’s West Coast is home to dusty, red sand deserts that contrast with vast, turquoise seas – a beautiful setting which sees its fair share of backpackers travel down its seemingly endless roads each year. This post is based on a memorable 2 week road trip spent in our Britz camper van, affectionately named ‘Les’ and the places you really must add to your itinerary! (A map has been provided at the bottom of the post.)
Due to limited time, we began by flying from Darwin to Broome. However, there are many areas to visit in-between these two locations and travellers can choose to head across the Kimberley region via the Great Northern Highway. An area of interest could be Katherine, here there are thermal springs to bathe in and the opportunity to take a canoe out on the local river. Further down the coast is Timber Creek, this is known as ‘Australia’s wildest river’ and crocodile spotting cruises can be taken here, for those who didn’t get the chance to visit Darwin! See: https://getcrackingstartpacking.travel.blog/2020/07/30/things-to-do-in-darwin-australia/ for my post on Darwin’s attractions.
Passing over the Northern Territory border and into Western Australia, travellers can head to the Kununurra area where Australia’s largest body of fresh water; Lake Argyle is situated. Also in this area is Purnululu National Park. This is famed for its distinctively peculiar shaped ‘Bungle Bungle’ landform and the Fitzroy River, known as ‘Australia’s largest volume of water’, only to be beaten to the world title by the Amazon.
Once arriving into Broome, you will notice that the beachfront town is best known for its camels. After stopping for a coffee or a bite to eat at one of the local cafes, travellers can then pay to take a ride on these animals. Revealing nostalgic similarities to a donkey ride at the seaside, these camels don’t seem as happy, as they struggle to carry overweight women with muffin tops along the beach and the attraction doesn’t seem as enticing after all. Broome is surprisingly one of the larger towns on this coastal stretch and they only get more isolated from here on…
A very important piece of advice to remember on the West Coast, is that you need to fill up your vehicle at every fuel station. We learnt the hard way as we travelled along on our way to 80 Mile Beach, ran out of petrol, had to pull in by the side of the road, then hitchhike to the nearest petrol station. By ‘we’ I meant my partner who, after four hours of disappearance, came trundling back on a local bus with a face like thunder whilst my friend and I lazed by the side of the road, soaking up the sun. Even more embarrassing, the drive was only 4 hours from Broome. 80 Mile Beach is similar to most Australian seasides and can be a serene place to unwind for a day or two but the West Coast is famously known for its stunning national parks and scenic hikes.
Another 6 hours inland, Karijini National Park is truly the epitome of every Australian postcard (Only slightly beaten by Ayer’s Rock). Its endless red sand, dotted with kangaroos and emus, encompasses everything you could imagine about the nature within these Aboriginal lands. Since the majority of the West Coast’s national parks are enormous, you have plenty of different activities to choose from. We decided to put ourselves through the pain of a 10km hike, up Mount Bruce, in the skin sizzling 38 degree heat. The path can be rather challenging but offers fantastic views at any stopping point – I say this as the final leg of the journey to the summit becomes more of a risky rock climb and for a 5’3 person, this wasn’t my idea of fun and I subsequently decided to call it quits there.
The ‘Spider walk’ is a popular hike within Karijini, with a bit of a twist. Travellers can make their way down into Hancock Gorge where they will need to grip onto the unusually formed rock walls (in spider like fashion) and make their way to the end, where the chilly ‘Kermit’s pool’ awaits. The hike is certainly for those who feel comfortable on their feet or, for something slightly less daunting, the ‘Handrail pool’ down in the nearby Weano Gorge offers another trail. This involves wading through water but with the assistance of a provided railing. Taking a break from all the leg work, Fern Pool and Fortescue Falls are amongst the more relaxing parts of Karijini and offer a serene swim surrounded by the beauty of the national park, so make sure these are on your list of parts to visit also! As a tip, don’t forget to keep cash with you at all times, as you will need to pay entry for each of the environmentally protected national parks.
A further 8 hour drive away, the next stop I’d suggest is Exmouth. Here, being famous for its whale shark, manta ray and humpback whale diving tours – a definite must do and once in a lifetime experience! Since there are numerous companies to choose from, the prices are competitive but they have noticeably increased since we visited in 2018. Costs are now looking around the $425 AUD mark but since the majority of the trip involves hiking and sight seeing, this activity could quite easily be budgeted into your road trip. Unfortunately for us, we missed out on the last day of the whale diving season in late October, due to bad weather! So make sure to keep an eye on your dates for this seasonal activity. Before leaving Exmouth, why not pay a visit to the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse? It is a mere 15 minute drive away and the hill where it is situated allows a glorious bird’s eye view of the sea waves crashing along the shore.
Below Exmouth, is the Cape Range National Park. We stuck to the coastline and after taking a morning hike (there’s a few in this area to choose from), it’s worth purchasing a snorkel and taking a swim along the reef to try and scout some of the local sea life. It only took about 15 minutes before my own fearful encounter with a sting ray occurred and after some spluttering and panicking, back to the shore I trundled for the more placid activity of sunbathing.
Just over an hour down south is the sleepy, seaside town of Coral Bay, a perfect stop to take some time to relax after your strenuous few days in Karijini. Coral Bay is also home to a nursery of Blacktip reef sharks, if you’re lucky enough to spot them. Since this species give birth between the months of September to January, aim to visit between these times to try and spot their babies. As they tend to linger away from the commotion of tourists on shore, take a walk further around the bay for the highest chance of an encounter. Also bear in mind, there are a few small towns to visit along the West Coast, convenient for restocking supplies. One of these is Carnarvon; it’s frankly quite desolate but has all the amenities you need if you want to fill up your car or grab a chippy.
A 5.5 hour drive away and part of the Shark Bay World Heritage site, is Eagle Bluff lookout. This viewpoint overlooks the shallow waters below and is the perfect location for admiring the sunset with a beer. Due to the crisp, clear sea, onlookers can spot sting rays, reef sharks and even dugongs; chubby sea mammals that are similar to the manatee family.
Only a 30 minute drive from the lookout and on the edge of a peninsula, the Francois Peron National Park is home to ‘Monkey Mia’. Despite the misleading name, this is where travellers can arrive and stay the night in the campground, before waking up to the sight of the local dolphins getting their morning feed. These friendly locals have been swimming up to the beach to be fed by humans, for over 50 years. The modernised visitor centre also offers a cracking buffet style breakfast, in which no judgement will be made if you decide to swindle some extra mini muffins, post feed.
Making your way back down from Monkey Mia, Shell Beach is another worthy stopping point. As is obvious with its name, it is one of the only beaches in the world comprised of just shells. Set alongside the glittering sea, it’s certainly a good picnic spot but you’ll be picking bits of shell off your bum cheeks for days to come.
Kalbarri is another of Australia’s renowned national parks and a 3.5 hour journey south of Shell Beach. Kalbarri is home to Natures Window, this is a natural rock formation which creates a frame of the picturesque setting down below in the parks gorge. It is the ultimate photo opportunity for excited Asian tourists and backpackers alike. Kalbarri is also unfortunately home to an absolute tonne of flies and if you decide to do the nearby 9km hike, (which has the most beautiful views and definitely worth the profuse sweating and hand wafting) then be prepared to be ravaged by blue bottles. Never judge the people in their fly net hats, they’re damn prepared.
In keeping with the rest of the West Coast, Kalbarri National Park is full of different hiking opportunities. They have also recently developed the new ‘Kalbarri Skywalk’ which provides a seemingly, limitless view over the Murchison Gorge. Only half an hour from here, you can then pay a visit to the Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake in Gregory. Its pink, salted granule shoreline and magenta waters are caused by the algae from the bottom of the lake – sounds grim but looks delightful. You can then make your way to the next town before Perth – Geraldton.
Geraldton is home to wind surfing, pretty beaches and a few boutique shops but in all honesty, this can mostly be saved for the city of Perth which is celebrated for its laidback beach vibes and city amenities. The last recommended stop on the West Coast and a 2 hour drive before Perth is ‘The Pinnacles’. This formation of tall, limestone rocks in the middle of the Australian desert has been boasted about for its quirky appearance and yes, it’s got an interesting origin story, but it depends how fascinated you get by a bunch of rocks in an open plain.
Perth is Western Australia’s largest city and was definitely a welcome sight after 2 weeks out in the bush and being afraid to piddle at night, for fear of spiders crawling in our knickers. The West Coast is home to pure, natural beauty that cannot be compared, but can be exhausting when living in a camper van and slurping down packet noodles, day after day. Your experience will be unforgettable but remember, holidays like this are a far cry from Pina Coladas on a Filipino beach. For something unique, choose the West Coast.