13 Top Highlights of West Coast Australia
The West Coast of Australia has been sadly overlooked by visitors heading to this vast continent of a country for many years. But with an incredible array of natural spectacles – spanning white sand beaches, desert, a world-renowned wine region and rugged rock formations – and with increasing numbers of direct flights making it ever easier to reach the region, there’s been no better time to explore Australia’s Indian Ocean coastline.
Here’s what’s not to be missed!
1 – Perth
West Coast Australia’s primary gateway, and the state capital of Western Australia (which takes up a third of the country’s entire area), Perth is a modern vibrant city with an impressive range of boutique shops, galleries, and high-end restaurants.
For a sense of the region’s native wildlife head to Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, overlooking the skyscrapers of the central business district. Here you’ll find 1200 endemic plant species, and amazing wildflower displays in the spring (September – November).
Art lovers will want to include a visit to the museums and galleries of the Perth Cultural Centre, while the city’s location beside the Indian Ocean and on the Swan River means there’s also ample opportunity to swim, surf, and sail.
2 – Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo Reef extends for approximately 250 km around Western Australia’s northwesternmost point, taking in the coastal part of Cape Range National Park.
Rightly enshrined by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the reef is one of the only places in the world where it is possible to swim with Whale Sharks.
The world’s largest fish, they can grow to up to 13 metres in length and weigh up to 20 tons, though they feed on nothing but plankton.
Easily reached by boat from Exmouth, the reef’s marine park is also home to humpback whales, various species of sea turtle, manta rays, and even dugong, making it an incredible site to snorkel and scuba dive.
3 – Karijini National Park
One of the largest national parks in Western Australia, it would be difficult to argue that Karijini is not also one of the most beautiful.
Wind and water erosion over millions of years has left a landscape of deep orange-red gorges, remarkable waterfalls, and shimmering rock pools edged with verdant plant life.
Hikers will adore following the track through Yampire Gorge to Fortescue Falls, a cascade which tumbles down the rocks even during the height of the summer heat.
Should you prefer, rough roads lead through Wittenoom Gorge for more than 30 km, while some of the best views can be had from Oxer Lookout.
4 – Margaret River
Much more than just a river, this oceanside town lying around 3.5 hours drive south of Perth first attracted a local crowd looking for a weekend resort within reach of the state capital.
A major magnet for surfers too, because of its consistently large breakers spread out over more than 40 areas of nearby coast, other visitors are blown away by the spectacular white sand beaches, coastal forest, and mesmerising series of limestone caves complete with prehistoric fossils and stalactites.
But Margaret River is also renowned for its vineyards, which produce a fifth of all Australia’s premium wines, including rich Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties.
5 – Broome
The thriving town of Broome, located south of the isolated coastline of the Kimberley Region, is popular precisely because of its relative isolation and resulting untouched natural beauty.
One of its main attractions is the 22 km-long Cable Beach, which combines the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, a pristine stretch of pale sand, and the striking shapes of the red cliffs that abut the beach.
To discover the best it, join a camel ride in the shallows at sunset, keeping an eye out for the seasonal Staircase to the Moon phenomenon, which creates an illusion of a ladder leading to the satellite.
6 – Rottnest Island
Somehow mistaking the cute little marsupial called the quokka for rats, the Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh named the island Rottnest – or rat’s nest – in 1696.
A vehicle-free nature reserve a simple ferry journey away from Perth and Fremantle, the island’s selfie-eager quokka residents have made it famous around the world.
But there’s plenty of history to consider too. Many of the limestone cottages around the harbour were built by convicts, and are some of the oldest structures in Western Australia, while the island museum is housed in a barn and threshing mill dating back to the 1850s, just 80 years after the arrival of Captain Cook.
7 – The Pinnacles
Situated within Nambung National Park, around two hours by road from Perth, the Pinnacles comprise thousands of naturally-occurring standing stones set within a landscape of otherworldly yellow sand.
They rise from just a few centimetres to over four metres in height and can be explored on foot or on a scenic drive.
The Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre lies at the edge of the desert sands in Namburg and includes the Pinnacles View Lookout as well as displays explaining how the park’s unique rock formations came into being.
8 – Esperance Bay
South-east of Perth, Esperance Bay takes its name from the first French vessel to reach this area of coast in 1792.
With the look of paradise about it, the bay is said to have Australia’s whitest beach. Lined by low bush-covered cliffs that provide spectacular views towards the islands of the Recherche Archipelago, the bay’s beaches provide a tranquil getaway in which to enjoy the warm, clear waters.
Kangaroos are regular visitors to the sands, while snorkelling, surfing, and fishing are all popular past times with the human visitors.
If you head to one place alone in Esperance Bay, make sure its Lucky Bay, in Cape Le Grand National Park.
9 – Fremantle
Known for its Victorian-era maritime history, Fremantle is a port city within Perth’s metropolitan area.
Named after the man who claimed the West Coast of Australia for Britain, there are various structures dating from the period, including Fremantle Prison, which only closed to prisoners in 1991, and the Round House, which leads to the nearby Arts Precinct.
The city’s High Street contains plenty to keep you busy too, with a range of independent boutiques and gift stores, galleries, and coffee shops, making Fremantle a great place to spend a relaxed day while in West Australia.
10 – Gibb River Road
Think of the Australian outback, and images like those of the Gibb River Road probably come to mind.
Traversing the semi-arid Kimberley Region, the ‘Gibb’ as its often simply known, is an old unpaved cattle droving road that runs for 600 km between the towns of Derby and Wyndham.
A favourite of off-road drivers (a four-wheel drive is recommended), the road crosses crocodile-infested rivers, wild gorges, isolated cattle ranches, ancient aboriginal communities, and wondrous mountains, with camps and rest stations dotting its route.
Definitely one for the dry season, floods close the road between November and March.
11 – Purnululu National Park
The bizarre rock formations of Purnululu (or Bungle Bungle) National Park also lie in the remote Kimberley Region, and were unknown to the wider world until just a generation ago.
Home to the region’s aboriginal communities for millennia, the weatherworn sandstone rocks include a number of important rock paintings and ceremonial sites, which can be explored on foot by following walking trails of various degrees of difficulty.
To get a more expansive view of the whole, take to the air on a sightseeing flight, which depart from Halls Creek and Kununurra, and often include visits to the Argyle diamond mine.
12 – Shark Bay
Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site protects one of the world’s largest beds of seagrass.
To get there head to Denham, which stakes its claim as being the most westerly town anywhere in Australia, and is edged by a series of stunning beaches.
Though home to grass-munching dugongs and pillar-like stromatolites – one of the oldest lifeforms on earth – Shark Bay’s most popular residents are the dolphins of Monkey Mia, around 25 km from Denham. A small number of visitors are able to hand-feed these wild dolphins each morning, an event which stems from fishermen throwing the animals scraps in the 1960s.
13 – The Great Ocean Drive
Not to be confused with the Great Ocean Road that winds between Torquay and Allansford in the state of Victoria, this road runs from the town of Esperance on a 40 km circular route that takes in both the coast and farmland slightly inland.
With so many sublime views and points of interest you could easily spend a day travelling along the route, though should you be short of time make sure to stop at Twilight Beach, and the Pink Lake.
Its waters occasionally turn this colour due to the alga and bacteria that naturally live in the high salt environment of the lake.
Though a new destination for many, the west of Australia is finally stealing back some of the limelight of the more popular east coast, with attractions as diverse as vineyards, cosmopolitan cities, and internationally important nature reserves.
Uncover the best of the region with our top highlights of west coast Australia!