How to Road Trip Your Way Around Western Australia

Without a doubt, Western Australia is a road trip state. See the landscape transform from the red sand of the Pilbara and deserts in the far north, to the rolling hills and wine regions in the southwest.

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Photo © Getty Images/georgeclerk

Don’t miss the rolling sand dunes, breathtaking sunsets and crystal-clear turquoise waters of the west coast, or the rugged capes, cliffs and sweeping bays in the south. Go further to explore the Outback, complete with hidden waterholes, canyons, forests and Indigenous sacred sites.

Road Trip North from Perth to Broome

Perth is a great place to start, but where to from the city? Perth to Albany, Cape Arid, or out east to the remote Outback? Perth to Broome is no small undertaking, but the rewards include isolated beaches, pristine coral reefs and crystal-clear, turquoise waterAstounding wildlife such as whale sharks, manta rays, dugongs and dolphins thrive along the Ningaloo coast, while countless hiking trails ranging from short and simple boardwalks and lookouts, to longer and more difficult treks can be found, often incorporating Indigenous sites that will transport you back to the Dreamtime.

Start via the Indian Ocean Drive, 167mi (270km) of scenic road meandering north, stopping at Breton Bay, Lancelin, Wedge, Cervantes and Jurien Bay. Nambung National Park and The Pinnacles are within reach, with some of the finest sunsets in the world.

Sandboarding on Lancelin Sand Dunes, north of Perth. Photo credit: Getty Images/John Crux Photography

Taking the coastal Brand Highway further north, Geraldton, Kalbarri National Park, Shark Bay, Monkey Mia and Carnarvon shouldn’t be missed. Kalbarri, 355mi (571km) north of Perth is home to stunning stretches of coastline, from rugged cliffs to secluded coves and beaches. The Murchison River flows through the park, and there are a number of hostels in Kalbarri, along with several campsites nearby.

There are plenty of campsites scattered throughout Shark Bay, but for those with a 4WD (and experience driving one, including preparation and supplies to tackle sand tracks), seek out the site known as Gregories on the tip of Cape Peron to be rewarded with a beach site with incredible views.

Stop at Coral Bay, south of Exmouth, to see the clearest water you might ever see. There are numerous sites to snorkel off the beach, but, for those more confident, head just offshore to the spot known as Ayers Rock for better visibility and often, greater numbers of reef fish. There are also numerous tour companies in Coral Bay, ranging from eco-friendly reef and wildlife tours, to dune buggies and quad biking. The UNESCO World Heritage Ningaloo Reef is runs close to the coast, and there are opportunities to swim alongside whale sharks, whales and manta rays.

Look out for the huge termite mounds either side of the road to Exmouth. Drive through Cape Range National Park to find excellent hiking trails, both secluded and well-known campsites such as Yardie Homestead, North Osprey Bay or Yardie Creek. Along the coast of the national park, sand dunes roll beside beaches where you can swim straight off onto the Ningaloo Reef. Inland be sure to make it to Shothole Canyon with its walking trails and lookouts. Stop and walk to the lookout at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, where you might be lucky enough to see migrating humpback whales between June and November.

A 10-hour drive east of Exmouth, the landscape changes drastically as you head into the Pilbara, known for its red earth, rich mineral deposits and fierce heat. Be prepared to drive through long stretches of desert, where road trains will be your only company. Port Hedland and Karratha offer refuge from the Outback along the route for those needing to stock up on supplies, coffee or a night back in civilization.

North of the Pilbara, the Burrup Peninsula is home to the largest collection of carved rock art and standing stones, known as petroglyphs, in the world. The Indigenous rock art throughout the Dampier Archipelago, which encompasses the Burrup Peninsula, form just one of many Indigenous sites scattered along this section of coastline. Immerse yourself in the history of the Juburara people by looking at the Deep Gorge petroglyphs, which depict how their ancestors lived, respected and revered their ancestral lands. The rock art remains a crucial cultural record of the Yaburarra tribe, who once inhabited this northern region. Look out for art depicting the now extinct Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger.

Drive nine hours northeast of Dampier along the coast to the historic town of Broome, once a thriving pearl diving town, but now a popular travel destination. Catch a movie at Sun Picture Garden, the oldest open-air cinema in the world, see the stunning sunset from Cable Beach, hunt for dinosaur footprints off Gantheaume Point, and time your visit right to catch the unique natural phenomenon, the Staircase to the Moon.

From Broome, take a 10-hour drive east into the Kimberley region, where you’ll find some of the wildest and most untamed landscapes in Western Australia, including Purnululu National Park. Inside this national park, see the spectacular Bungle Bungle Range. The beehive-striped maze of orange and black karst sandstone domes. Some of the spectacular rock formations rise 820ft (250m) above the savanna grasslands and are a unique sight to see. Located 527mi (848km) east of Broome and 190mi (305km) south of Kununurra, Purnululu is an often missed, but is a truly spectacular stop on a trip across the Kimberley.

Making the famous Pentecost River Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Photo credit: Getty Images/georgeclerk

The town of Derby, 138mi (222km) east of Broome, is a great place to stock up on fuel, supplies, or find accommodation to base yourself while exploring the Kimberley region. Just outside of town, there are a large number of Boab trees, including one used historically as a prison. The tree, along with a tourist oddity (the longest cattle water trough in Australia), can be found off the Derby Highway, north of the airport.

In the far north of the Kimberley, the world-famous Horizontal Falls can be viewed either by boat (tours run as overnight trips from Derby) or by air from Derby Airport. The falls, which formed as seawater rises creating waterfalls on each tide, are renowned for the whirlpools on either side. They’re often off travel itineraries due to their secluded location (The falls are actually closer to Darwin and Alice Springs than to Perth).

The King Leopold Ranges offer outstanding views such as those at Bell Gorge, where you can also cool off in the creek. The nearby campsite at Silent Grove is a good starting point for trails into the gorge.

Take the Great Northern Highway south, along the way you’ll see spectacular desert landscapes including Karijini National Park. Famous for its rock layers and deep meandering canyons, Karijini is a hikers’ paradise with short and long trails leading to waterfalls, pools and swimming holes scattered throughout the second largest national park in Western Australia. Visit the Dales Gorge, keeping an eye out for colorful swarms of butterflies and dragonflies. The pools of Hamersley Gorge are a popular spot to escape the midday heat, where the water is always refreshingly cold.

Further south, Mount Magnet is just beneath the salt plains of Lake Austin. Its unique name comes from the rich iron deposits found in the area and the surrounding area is home to remnants of its gold rush past. If you time your visit right, there are spectacular displays of wildflowers throughout August and early September either side of the road between Mount Magnet and Wubin, and also along the Geraldton to Mount Magnet road.

Road Trip South from Perth to Esperance

Venture south from Perth through the towns of Bunbury, Busselton to Margaret River, with its famous wineries and surf beaches, and countless national parks along the South Western Highway. South of Margaret River, stop to see Albany and Denmark. Climb Monkey Rock, an exposed rock escarpment south of Denmark, for a short hike and rewarding views over the surrounding coastline. The elephant rocks of William Bay National Park are also close by, and are so called because of their resemblance to a herd of elephants. Within walking distance is Greens Pool, where you can take a dip.

In Albany, stock up at the farmers’ market if passing through on a Saturday and head down to the often quiet and strangely named Misery Beach, which lies south, close to Frenchman Bay, where you can take the challenging but beautiful 6.2mi (10km) return hike to Isthmus Hill. If you’re short on time, the Peak Head Walk is equally as rewarding, and both offer views out onto the Southern Ocean.

The scenic Twilight Beach Road which starts just south of Esperance, runs in a loop to Eleven Mile Beach Road along the coast. There are dozens of roadside lookouts and scenic spots, including Blue Haven Beach and Observatory Point. Along the way, stop by Lucky Bay Brewery to try some local craft beer.

When you reach Cape Le Grand National Park (one-hour drive from Esperance) and Cape Arid National Park (three-hour drive from Esperance), you can camp and explore the hidden beaches, coves and bays. On a windy day, head to the Whistling Rock which mimics the sound of crashing waves, or head to Lucky Bay to share a beach with kangaroos. Lucky Bay campsite is close to the beach, great for a morning swim. If you have a 4WD, you can drive on many stretches of beach. One spot you can’t afford to miss is Hellfire Bay, widely considered one of the stand out spots in the national park, which, along with Lucky Bay claims to have Australia’s whitest sand.

4WD at Lucky Bay in Cape le Grand National Park Western Australia. Photo credit: Getty Images/John Crux Photography

From Esperance, drive north 243mi (392km) to the old gold rush town of Kalgoorlie, the home of heritage buildings and historic sites. On the road to Kalgoorlie, there are several salt lakes between Esperance and Norseman and just south of the town of Norseman is a mining heritage trail which follows the Old Coach Road.

As you head west back to Perth, from either Kalgoorlie or Esperance, don’t miss Wave Rock, a 49ft (15m) high, 328ft (100m) long natural rock formation shaped like a breaking ocean wave. The rock is an important site for the local Ballardong people. You can learn about their Dreamtime stories recounting the creation of Wave Rock, in which the Rainbow Serpent dragged herself along the ground after drinking all the water in the surrounding land. You can see Indigenous artwork and handprints in Mulka’s Cave, north of Hyden.

From Wave Rock, head 154mi (247km) west to the heritage town of York to find out more about Australia’s colonial history. Western Australia’s first major inland town, York’s Victorian buildings and facades are well preserved. All that’s missing are horse-drawn carriages, a resurgent gold rush and steam trains running daily to Perth.

Planning Your Trip Around Western Australia

While traveling throughout Western Australia, be prepared for vast distances between fuel stops, communities, and towns with accommodation. Perth to Broome is almost 1,500mi (2,414km), while Perth to Esperance clocks in at 470mi (756km).

Make a strategic plan and plot out the location of roadhouses if you’re venturing into known desolate locations. Most roadhouses offer fuel 24/7, as well as accommodation and bathroom facilities. With names such as Overlander, Pardoo and Sandfire Flats, the unique stops will leave you with unique memories.

Western Australia is generally more expensive than the other states. Expect costs to increase the further from major towns and cities you travel. In the far north and extreme south, fuel will cost a little more.

If you plan on venturing into Western Australia’s Outback, know your route, know your fuel consumption, and be prepared in case of an emergency. Research the conditions of the roads you’re taking further east, such as the Wolfe Creek Crater, the Kimberley, or the Gun-barrel highway.

If you’re short on time, search for flights from Perth to the main towns across the state, including Broome, Albany, and Geraldton.

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