If you’re from the eastern states of Australia (or further afield), the south-west corner of Western Australia is a long way away; Perth is known as one of the most isolated cities in the world. So a trip here really feels like you’re getting away from it all, and not just because of the distances involved. This is home to some of Australia’s best beaches, most with sparkling white sand and impossibly blue water. Inland are some of the country’s great forests with giant trees found nowhere else on earth. The wildlife is abundant – a trip to the beach regularly includes whale and dolphin spotting while kangaroos hang out on the sand at Lucky Bay and Rottnest Island is home to thousands of ridiculously cute and friendly quokkas. And in between all the amazing natural attractions are dozens of world-class wineries and fresh local produce. It is an outstanding place to get lost. There are hundreds of walking possibilities in this very large area, here is a small sample.
Meelup Reserve Trail
Time: 5-6 hours
Start/Finish: Hurford St, Dunsborough
The walk can be done one-way if someone can pick you up at the other end, or in shorter sections. Starting from 2km outside the Dunsborough township it follows the coast north traversing coastal scrub and a number of delightful beaches including Castle Beach, Bunker Bay and Meelup. From the renowned Meelup beach there is a climb rewarded with outstanding coastal views before descending to Eagle Yay and its cafe. After a snack turn around to retrace your steps unless you’ve arranged a lift.
Cape Naturaliste Track
Time: 1-3 hours
Start/Finish: Cape Naturaliste lighthouse
Explore the buildings around the lighthouse then turn left on the Whale Lookout Trail and left again on to the Cape Naturaliste Track to descend to the ocean. Drink in the view from the lookout then follow the track north-east, passing bare limestone formations then coastal scrub to visit Whale Lookout. Turn right to walk back up the hill to the lighthouse.
Bunker Bay Loop
Time: 1-3 hours
Start/Finish: Cape Naturaliste lighthouse
This track heads in the other direction (south-east) from the lighthouse to explore the rugged Bunker Bay before returning to the lighthouse. Extend the walk by visiting Shelley Cove.
Time: 45 minutes
Start/Finish: Busselton jetty
The jetty is the longest wooden pier in the southern hemisphere and you can walk the full length of it in under an hour. There is a small fee of $3 to get through the gate on shore then follow the boardwalk all the way to the end. Keep an eye out for fish which can be seen in the clear water along the way. At the end of the jetty is an underwater observatory when you can get a lot closer to the fish by descending a spiral staircase to the sea floor. Tours depart on the hour and take about 1 hour and 45 minutes – a ticket is $32.
Canal Rocks to Wyadup
Time: 1-2 hours
Start/Finish: Canal Rocks car park
From the end of Canal Rocks road near Yallingup explore the unusual rocks on the wooden walkway then walk south along the coast to the spectacular Wyadup Rocks and the outstanding beach beyond before retracing your steps.
Hamelin Bay to Cosy Corner
Time: 4 hours
Start/Finish: Hamelin Bay boat ramp
Another must-see destination in the south-west, this is not only another beautiful beach but one of the few places you can see stingrays and manta rays up close – they swim in the shallows around the boat ramp. You can attract them by splashing in the water but don’t touch these beautiful wild creatures. Extend the experience by walking to Cosy Corner, a full day walk that includes some short steep sections.
Valley of the Giants
Time: 30 minutes
Start/Finish: Valley of the Giants visitor centre
This is a commercial operation 18km west of Walpole and there is an entry fee ($19 for adults) but it is well worth it. A 600 metre metal walkway climbs to 40 metres above the forest, a wonderful viewpoint to appreciate the majesty of the 400-year-old tingle trees. Don’t miss the boardwalk through the Ancient Empire which passes between and in some cases through the massive trunks.
Distance: 1km return
Time: 30 minutes
Start/Finish: Conspicuous Cliff car park
Turn off the highway 15km west of Walpole just past the Valley of the Giants and follow the bitumen road to the coast. A wooden boardwalk leads to a fantastic wild beach – allow plenty of time to explore it in both directions. There are also steps to two viewpoints high above the beach. This is a great place to watch the sunset.
Cape Le Grand Coastal Trail
Time: 8-9 hours
Start/Finish: Le Grand Beach/Rossiter Bay
Cape Le Grande is one of Australia’s most special parks and this walk samples the best of it in one long day. The track, which is marked by rock cairns, wooden pegs and pruned vegetation, is broken into four sections which can be done as walks on their own: Le Grand Beach to Hellfire Bay (3 hours), Hellfire Bay to Thistle Cove (2-3 hours), Thistle Cove to Lucky Bay (1 hour), Lucky Bay to Rossiter Bay (2-3 hours). The first, second and fourth walk all involve difficult sections.
Cape to Cape Track
Time: 5-7 days
Start/Finish: Cape Naturaliste/Cape Leeuwin
An outstanding long-distance walk from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin that takes in a string of stunning beaches, rocky headlands and more coastal scenery. Tracks range from well-formed paths to four-wheel drive tracks and sandy beaches. There is access at a number of points along the way allowing the trek to be broken into smaller sections. Walk between June and December to see migrating whales and dolphins.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
This is a huge area and the natural attractions range from hiring a bike to ride around Rottnest Island (highly recommended – bikes can be hired on the island and it takes about 4 hours to complete the circuit) to pretty much every water-based activity you can think of from surfing and snorkelling to whale-watching tours. The area is also famous for its wines, book in a cellar door tasting at one of the 95 local vineyards. You can also visit lighthouses at the northern (Cape Naturaliste) and southern (Cape Leeuwin) tips of the south-west, and see some of Australia’s most spectacular cave formations near Augusta. Try abseiling, mountain biking, boating, horse riding, sailing or scuba diving. And there is an interesting slice of Australian history at Albany where excellent memorials mark the spot the Anzacs departed for Gallipoli in 1914. And allow plenty of time to just relax on any of the amazing beaches.
Remote bush camping, caravan parks, resorts and everything in between. The main population centres (heading south) are Busselton, Dunsborough, Margaret River and Augusta, then (heading west) Albany and Esperance. There are plenty of options in all those places and a lot more in between, although things get a lot sparcer once you head west from Albany.
The region has a Mediterranean climate which makes travel enjoyable all year round. Summer days can be hot with highs usually around 30C and warm, balmy evenings. In winter the temperature usually ranges from 16C-18C with some days in the low 20s and plenty of sunshine.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The south-west evolved in geographic isolation and many of the plants and animals here are found nowhere else on earth, including the majestic jarrah, karri and tingle trees that can be visited near Pemberton and Walpole and most of the state’s colourful wildflowers. Kangaroos visit the beach at Lucky Bay to drink from the freshwater creek and you can’t miss the adorable quokkas on Rottnest Island. This is also one of the best places in the world to see whales in the wild – visit Flinders Bay at Augusta between May and September to see humpbacks at rest and play. A tour from Bremer Bay (a detour on the road to Esperance) visits a canyon that is home to the largest pod of killer whales in the Southern Hemisphere. And get up close to stingrays and manta rays at Hamelin Bay.
The Margaret River region is an easy three-hour drive from Perth – you will need your own car to explore most of the region. There are good quality roads linking all the major attractions and it’s worth trying some of the rougher ones as well that lead to hidden beaches and beauty spots.
Plan your holiday at australiassouthwest.com. The Margaret River Tourism website also has a wide range of information.