It’s no secret that Australia has a huge number of amazing road trips. If you’ve got a week, the Great Ocean Road, Sydney to Byron, or even Adelaide to Alice are prime candidates for the quintessential Aussie road trip. But if you’ve got more time – say, a month or two – Western Australia is hard to beat.
Not many people venture over to the west coast. It’s easy to understand why: Melbourne, Sydney, and Queensland have pretty much everything you need. Flying the five hours from Sydney to Perth is no easy feat: it's literally quicker to fly over the whole European continent. I guess the lack of appeal surrounding the west coast is understandable... until you actually go there. In many ways, the state really encapsulates the stereotypical “Australia” that tourists come to see. Endless stretches of deserted, pristine coastline, roads hundreds of kilometres long that can only be accessed by 4WD, highways lined with red dirt and endless shrubbery, and an overwhelming amount of wildlife. The downside? It’s a HUGE state, so tackling it in a road trip is going to take way more than a week, especially if you want to really lose yourself (metaphorically of course).
If you’ve got a car and some spare time on your hands, then a journey up the west coast really is a rite of passage. It can generally be broken down into three different parts, and here are the things you must include on your itinerary.
You're probably aware that Western Australia can get pretty hot. Why not ease yourself into it by starting your trip travelling down south of Perth. You'll enter the cooler-climate wine country, river region, and southern-facing beaches. While you could take the inland route, we suggest driving along the coast to soak in as much of south-western Australia as possible.
The drive from Perth to Esperance takes eight hours as a straight shoot. But we suggest giving yourself at least a week to really experience all the magical sights, delicious foods, and unbelievable beaches the south has to offer. It really is the perfect trip for foodies and beach lovers, or for anyone who enjoys a bit of a chill getaway.
Stop 1 - Dunsborough
The first stretch of drive to Dunsborough is about three hours, so you're going to want to fuel up your car (and stomach) while you're still in Perth. Flora and Fauna is a good spot to eat, if you can find a free seat. The tiny vegetarian spot is tucked away in a laneway and serves food even meat-lovers will drool over. Otherwise anywhere else in that area of Northbridge is a safe bet for a chilled-out time.
To be honest, there's a whole lot of nothing on this first leg, until you get closer to Dunsborough. If you like adventure and the ocean, it'd be worth doing the underwater sea walk in Busselton which gives you a closer look at the marine life under the jetty, and is about half an hour from Dunsborough. Busselton is also a great area to grab lunch or dinner: try Hummingbird, a beautiful cafe with hands-down some of the best gnocchi in Australia.
Oh, and if you're a water baby, the Injudip natural spa is a must-visit. The walk to the rockpool is a little bit tricky, but is totally worth it. The water there is super still and refreshing, but the ocean waves that regularly crash through the rocks create a spa-like foam and bubble that's not to be missed.
Stop 2 - Margaret River
Surely you're thinking: wine, more wine, and just a little bit more wine. Which is true, but Margaret River has so much more to offer other than the amazing wineries. Between Dunsborough and Margaret River there are a few natural attractions to stop and snap a few photos of, like Sugarloaf Rock and Canal Rocks, but all the action is in the heart of the Margaret River region itself.
Wine tasting is a given, though if you're more of a fan of spirits, you can craft your own bottle of gin with the flavours of your choice in Margaret River. You basically become a scientist for a few hours while you blend, taste, measure, and craft your bespoke gin bottle. If you're not a fan of gin, or want more than just alcohol, you can't beat a quad bike ride through the Boranup Forest.
Stop 3 - Albany
If you want to speed up your journey to allow more time in any of the other places, you can probably skip actually stopping overnight in Albany unless you want to break up the trip. Though, you should know that the direct drive from Margaret River to Esperance is about eight hours long, and you miss a lot of pretty spectacular sights.
For example, Hamelin Bay is about 30 minutes from Margaret River, and is one of the coolest places you'll come across on this whole trip. It's a beach where wild stingrays swim right up to the shore and around your feet, looking for fisherman scraps. Amazingly, they let you pat them too! Just be careful because, while they're friendly, you have to remember they're still wild creatures.
If you prefer a little less stingray and a little more chill at your beaches, you might like to visit Greens Pool, Waterfall Beach, or Misery Beach... or all three if you've got the time. The treetop walk experience in Tingledale is also pretty spectacular if you're interested in nature but prefer to keep dry and sand-free for your drive.
Stop 4 - Esperance
Esperance really is a must-visit when you're in Western Australia. While the drive from Albany is pretty lengthy, at five hours, what you get in Esperance is reward enough. If you're not up for a long drive, Ravensthorpe is a good place to stop for the night to break it up.
If you're a fan of white beaches and clear turquoise waters (who isn't), stop for a quick dip at Two Peoples Bay or Little Beach, which are on the way to Esperance. If you'd prefer to drive through without stops, hold out for the plethora of pristine beaches along the Great Ocean Drive in Esperance – Twilight Bay is a must-see. Aim to give yourself a whole day to beach-hop along the Great Ocean Drive. Then finish your night with some of the best fish and chips in the country at FishFace. Trust me.
What Esperance is most known for is Lake Hillier, the natural, bubblegum pink lake, located on an island just off the coast. There are only two ways to see the wonder for yourself: via an hour-and-a-half round trip scenic flight, or a two-hour boat ride. Whichever option you chose, you should definitely try to see the pink lake with your own eyes while you're there.
And if none of that tickles your fancy, maybe visiting a beach with kangaroos hopping about is more to your liking? Well, at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park, you can easily snap a pic with the furry creatures, while sitting on a white sand beach. Not sold? What if we told you that you can even drive your 4WD along the beach if you can't be bothered walking.
Stop 5 - Hyden
The first part of your road trip has pretty much come to an end... or has it? You have a choice here: you can pre-organise with your rental company to leave your car in Esperance and catch the hour-and-a-half flight back to Perth, or you can take on the eight-hour drive back to Perth via the iconic Wave Rock near Hyden.
You'll be taking the inland route, so you'll be treated to totally different views to your southbound coastal trip. Plus, the sight of the 15-metre tall rock, naturally shaped like a wave, will break up the trip about halfway through.
Truthfully, there really isn't much else after Wave Rock, but you can expect to see a couple of real horses and a few made out of tin if you choose to drive along the Tin Horse Highway. Then after a few hours, that's it! You're back in Perth!
This is the part of the trip with a lot of driving – long stretches of road which are worth enduring for the incredible scenery waiting along the way. There isn't a lot on the way to see and do, and most people try to gun it up the coast in one or two days of driving. But there certainly are a few spots worth hitting up, so look to spend around a week traversing the 1250 kilometres between Perth and Exmouth.
Stop 1 - Jurien Bay
Spend your first day driving three hours north to Jurien Bay. If you're a fan of seafood, stop in at the Lobster Shack in Cervantes for lunch. You can take a tour of the factory, or just enjoy the freshest seafood of your life while sitting on the beach.
Jurien Bay itself is home to one of the best things to do up the entire western coastline: swimming with sea lions. These playful creatures are like the puppy dogs of the sea; as soon as you jump into the water they'll swim up to you and will play for ages. I can safely say it's the coolest experience I've ever had, and you'd be foolish to miss out.
Just a little north of Jurien, you'll find Sandy Cape, a beautiful area of huge sand dunes and calm blue water. If you're up for it, hire a sandboard and coast down the dunes, or go on a stand-up paddle-boarding tour of the area. Or just lay your towel out on the sand and enjoy the serenity.
Stop 2 - Kalbarri
If you're looking for a stopover to break the road trip monotony between Jurien and Kalbarri, check out Illegal Tender near Dongara. It's a rum distillery just off the highway, with some of the best rum I've ever tried... and I don't like rum. It's won a bunch of awards, and the owner gives tours and tastings if you book ahead.
Then head up to Kalbarri, a national park and town which is worth a night or two stopover. On your way into town, just south of Kalbarri, you'll find Hutt Lagoon, another lake which is naturally bright pink. There aren't really any signs or designated viewing areas, but there are places you can pull over along the road to get a closer look.
Once you're in Kalbarri, you'd be a fool not to visit the Natural Window, and do the three-hour hike known as "The Loop" to get amazing views of the gorges. There are other lookouts and hikes through the park to explore so you can really spend as much or as little time here as you like.
Stop 3 - Shark Bay
Shark Bay is almost better than Exmouth in terms of beautiful beaches and incredible marine life. If you're looking to stay in a town, then head to Denham as your home base, and head out each day to explore the bay. Alternatively there are a bunch of campsites you can park at.
You have to spend an afternoon at Shell Beach, especially if you're a fan of the white beach and clear blue water vibe. You can't miss a dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia, one of the main tourist drawcards of the bay. While you're there, head out on a catamaran to get more up-close to the marine life: Keep your eyes peeled for sharks, dolphins, fish, turtles, and rays.
If you have a 4WD, it's definitely worth heading out to Dirt Hartog Island, which is pretty much a wildlife oasis that gets hardly any visitors, thanks to their rule of no more than 20 vehicles on the island at any time.
Stop 4 - Coral Bay
If you're short on time, then you can give this one a miss, as it's pretty similar to Exmouth and Ningaloo. It's a small, coastal town with pretty epic beach access to the reef. Just metres from the shore, you'll find a magical underwater world with incredible coral, and heaps of schools of fish swimming around. If you're into adventure, go on a quad bike tour where you can ride over the sand dunes to a secluded beach for a sunset snorkel.
That being said, if you like a quieter and more slowed-down pace of life, I'd prioritise Coral Bay over Exmouth – it's chill as hell and has about one-tenth of the tourists.
Stop 5 - Exmouth
You made it! Exmouth is the destination for many a holiday-maker, and as soon as you'll get here, you'll see why. The town itself isn't much to write home about, but its location right on the Ningaloo Reef, at the gateway to the Cape Range National Park, is its selling point.
You can't spend time here without going out on a whale shark dive: These all-day boat trips take you to the edge of the reef where you can hop in the water with the creatures that put Ningaloo on the map. If you're lucky you'll get to swim with a few different whales over the course of the day, it just depends what mood they're in.
If you're into swimming and snorkelling, then you'll probably never want to leave Ningaloo. It's a fringing reef, meaning it hugs the coastline and you can explore it without having to take a boat out for hours, like you would on the east coast. Spend a day at Turquoise Bay, a stunning beach with a current that gently pulls you along the reef, so you can just float and look down at the marine life below you. If you're a strong swimmer, head out about 150 metres from the shoreline for the best action. But even if you just hang out right off the beach, you'll be treated to some awesome fish spotting, as well as reef sharks, turtles, and manta rays. We even saw some dolphins swimming around! Other awesome places for snorkelling are Oyster Stacks and Sandy Bay. If kayaking is more your thing, there are a bunch of tours you can join, or hire your own and head out to sea.
Once you've explored the reef, it's time to head ashore and spend some time in Cape Range National Park. You'll need a 4WD to check out the rocky gorges and canyons, otherwise stick to the main road and campsites. Hiking through the limestone ranges is pretty incredible, you'll be rewarded with ancient rivers flowing through the rock, and some epic views over the landscape.
Pro tip: Make sure you don't leave Exmouth without watching a sunset from up at the lighthouse. Take some wine and snacks up there to make it a real show.
There's really no place on earth quite like The Kimberley. The rocky gorges and flat plains of land look like they’ve been transplanted from another planet. Hiking is always an adventure, scrambling over boulders and up cliff faces, keeping an eye out for the lizards and snakes that call the rocky terrain home.
If you're visiting during the wet season, don't fret. What looks dry and dead during winter just comes alive – rivers, waterfalls, and streams cascade from what was just red dirt months before. Waterholes fill up and become refuges for hot hikers and wildlife alike.
The best part of The Kimberley? The sunsets. The wide, open skies of the Australian outback illuminate like they’ve been made just for this purpose - showing off the colours of the sunset, given texture by the sparse haze-like clouds that settle in after a humid day. Even with your back to the west, you’ll be able to track the progress of the sinking sun, as the shadows grow longer over valleys and low mountain ranges. The golden light takes over everything around you, to the point where you won’t believe what you’re seeing is real, it has such an ethereal quality to it.
Make sure not to rush your time there: you want as many slowed-down moments as possible to really embrace the Kimberley's spirit.
Stop 1- Karijini
Before heading up north, make tracks inland from Exmouth for a hot minute and check out Karijini National Park. It's the perfect warmup to the landscape of The Kimberley, with rocky gorges and bushland as far as the eye can see. After long, sweaty hikes you'll be rewarded with cool rockpools and cascading waterfalls, not to mention views that'll take your breath away.
The drive from Exmouth and Karijini up to Broome is a bit of a tough slog through the Pilbara. There's not much to see and do, and it's hot as sin in summer. Unless you have heaps of time, you'd be better off gunning it up to Broome in two days because that's where the action is.
Stop 2 - Broome
Broome is definitely worth a couple days of your time. You absolutely have to watch a sunset on Cable Beach, and follow it up with some brews at the Beach Club. If you're a fan of beer make sure to visit Matso's Brewery, and even just hanging out on the beach is a nice time. After you've had enough of the city, make your way north up to the Dampier Peninsula. This is where you'll find stunning beaches where pure white sand meets deep orange rocks on one side, and crystal-clear water on the other. Try to camp at Kooljaman, it's truly a perfect slice of heaven that's so off-the-grid you'll never want to leave.
Stop 3 - Onwards to Kununurra
It's hard to break this trip into "stops" – The entire Kimberley region is amazing, with must-see spots all over the place. The beauty of that is you can really design your own trip, and visit everywhere that really calls out to you. An ideal route would be from Broome to Kununurra, where you can then leave your car and fly back out to Darwin or Perth. You should probably allot yourself 10 -14 days to really explore the whole Kimberley region.
If you've got cash to splash, I'd suggest leaving your car in Broome and getting a local guide to take you through the region. We spent a week with Scott from Kimberley Spirit which I'd recommend 100000%. He knew all the cool spots to visit, the best activities to do, and even whipped out the cheese and wines at sunset.
Prefer to drive yourself? Let's go through the not-to-be-missed spots. Driving east from Broome you should definitely hit up the Fitzroy River crossing and head onto the iconic Gibb River Road. Along the way take pit stops at Windjana Gorge, Bell Gorge, and Manning Gorge. The landscape is basically made up of a bunch of rocky valleys and cliffs, with swimming holes and waterfalls waiting for you at the end of each hike.
As you continue toward Kununurra, you'll hit El Questro Station which is worth exploring – Emma Gorge is one of those amazing places you have to see to believe. Catch a sunrise from Branco's Lookout before a day of exploring, then end it with some wines at Lurhmann's Lookout as the sun sets over the vast country.
Be sure not to miss Zebedee Springs, a literal desert oasis of thermal pools surrounded by palm trees.
Finally head to Lake Argyle, a pit stop which is worth a couple of days if you have them spare. Explore the lake by swimming, paddleboarding, or boating... or just chill out by the amazing pool at the lake's caravan park.
Once you get to Kununurra, make sure to head out on the Ord River – try your hand at some fishing, or just see the sights while chilling out a boat. Also be sure to check out Elephant Rock, and start a day with a sunrise climb of Kelly's Knob.
And that's it! The end of your epic West Australian road trip. Whether you fly out or keep on driving into the Northern Territory, rest assured that WA will be in your heart forever.