There's never been a better time to explore the South-West region of WA - so if you enjoy a range of outdoor activites, stunning scenery and gourmet food and wine options (and who doesn't!), this is the destination for you.
Few regions in Australia are better suited to outdoor holidays than South-West WA. If you’re into activities such as fishing, hiking, cycling, bird-watching, 4WDing, sailing, kayaking, surfing, rock climbing or even caving, the options here seem endless.
If however, you prefer to take it easy with relaxed caravanning among stunning scenery, while enjoying the wildflowers and tasting some of the best wines in the country, you’ve come to the right place for that as well. And if you combine any or all of the above, you’ll understand why Perth residents don’t mind living in the most isolated capital city on earth.
For information on the region’s offbeat destinations, some well-known attractions and everything you need to know in terms of getting there, when to visit and where to stay, read on…
When to visit
South-West WA experiences hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, though temperature extremes are more pronounced in the inland areas than along the coast. Albany in the south is usually a few degrees cooler than Perth.
Any time can be the right time to visit, depending on your agenda. If, for instance, you plan to visit Perth and go wine-tasting and dining in the Margaret River region while staying at some of the many excellent B&Bs there, it probably doesn’t matter when you do this. If, however, camping and outdoor activities are high on your list, you might want to aim for the spring or autumn, when the weather can be pleasantly mild.
Spring – September through November – is the main wildflower period, though many of the region’s unique plants also flower at other times. Autumn – say, March to early May – brings generally stable weather and fewer crowds.
Popular caravan parks and campsites fill up fast during the WA school holidays, especially from late December to late January, and around Easter.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in South-West WA, it’s a long way from anywhere and you’ll pay a fair whack in fuel when towing a van – roadhouses know that you don’t have much choice though they spend a lot on transport themselves, as well as on staff and generators. You might be able to save a bit by taking advantage of the prevailing winds.
To/from the north of the state, Highway 1 along the coast is perhaps a bit more interesting than the slightly shorter Great Northern Highway inland over Meekatharra and Newman. To/from the east, Highway 1 across the Nullabor is a classic Aussie road trip. “Nullabor” is a contradiction of “no tree” in Latin, but the actual treeless section is short and the route rather heavily vegetated, with interesting scenery along the way.
The remote Great Central Road through the deserts to/from Ayers Rock and Alice Springs is another option, and an interesting experience. It consists of reasonably well-maintained gravel most of the way and is quite do-able for well set-up rigs that can handle the rough stuff.
Where to stay
Most small towns have a hotel/motel/caravan park of some description, and it’s usually not hard to find a place to stay on a daily basis if you check in well before the end of the day. Local visitor centres are good sources of information, as are the annual accommodation directories published by the WA automobile club.
National parks, state forests and some shires have campgrounds that are often located in the best spots to enjoy the great outdoors. Camping fees vary, although some of the basic shire grounds may even be free.
On top of that, national parks charge an entry fee of $12 per adult for a day pass, or $44 for a four-week Holiday Pass that provides unlimited entry to all parks.
At the risk of offending some readers by ignoring their favourites (or perhaps by including them), we’ll nominate the following:
A place where worldly-wise Poms spend their retirement, and why not? The climate is perfect most of the year, the setting on the Swan River is superb and its beaches are world class. Throw in some beautiful parks and urban wetlands, and exciting destinations on the doorstep such as Rottnest Island, the Perth Hills and the Swan Valley wineries, and you might find it hard to tear yourself away.
South-West WA has the most spectacular coastline in Australia, with the possible exception of the Kimberley in the far north of the state where the coast is virtually inaccessible for the average tourer. You’ll hardly go wrong in the South-West’s coastal national parks, from Nambung NP and the Pinnacles north of Perth, via Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP along the edge of the Margaret River region in the south-west, to the tall trees at Walpole-Nornalup NP in the south, and the spectacular scenery at the Cape Le Grand NP east of Esperance in the far south-east.
WA in general and the South-West in particular are well known for their 7000 species of flowering plants, three-quarters of which are found nowhere else on earth. These include the area’s famous tall trees such as the karri, jarrah, red tingle, marri and tuart. In summer, the bright golden blossoms of the parasitic Christmas tree dominate large swathes of open forests and heaths.
To visitors from the east coast, WA can feel like a different country. Strange plants aside, the vast scale of a landscape that just goes and goes can be a bit confronting, such as the endlessly undulating Wheat Belt in the centre of the South-West. And every now and then, something pops up that you never expected. Examples include the excellent microbreweries in the Margaret River wine region; the Pinnacles at Cervantes north of Perth that are almost alien, like the statues in Lake Ballard north of Kalgoorlie; the Super Pit at Kalgoorlie itself, which redefines the term “gigantic”; and the Wave Rock at Hyden, a place that’s far more enjoyable that most travellers imagine before they go there.