First-timer’s guide to Western Australia – Lonely Planet

If you’re heading to Western Australia To get away from it all, camp under the stars, frolic on empty beaches, explore mind-blowing geology, and learn from the millennia of indigenous cultures, you’re in the right place. If you want top-notch restaurants dishing out cuisine from around the globe with hospitality staff that are as passionate about food as they are friendly, you’ll find that too. You’ll also find five-star accommodation, epic street art and local designer stores on par with any big city.

But because WA is such a vast destination with huge distances between places you won’t want to miss, it pays to do your trip planning before you arrive. You may choose to fly between some spots, take a bus to minimize time behind the wheel, or hire a 4WD when you’re up in the northern parts of the state. Read on for what you need to know before you go.

Female hiker on a coastal trail near Cape Naturaliste
Head to the Margaret River region for a blend of incredible vineyards and beautiful surfing beaches © John Crux Photography / Getty Images

Places in Western Australia you don’t want to miss

Western Australia is one of those destinations that genuinely turns expectations on their head; it’s a state within Australia, yet it’s 10 times the size of the UK. Three-quarters of its population live in its biggest city, Perth.

For a shorter trip, if you prefer the high life, stick to the southwest corner to take in the Margaret River wine, yoga and surf region, Pemberton’s lush old-growth forests, Bunbury’s dolphins and family beach-holiday vibes, plus Denmark and Albania for fresh seafood and a friendly yesteryear experience.

Heading north up the Coral Coast (by bus, plane or car) is an adventure, but be warned – you’re more likely to be camping under the stars than bedding down in five-star accommodation unless you pre-plan and pre-book.

Plan a stop at Monkey Mia (9 hours north of Perth) to get up close with dolphins. At Ningaloo Reef (6 hours further north), you can paddle out to snorkel among vibrant corals, swim with whale sharks, and spot humpback whales in winter.

For epic landscapes, add a visit to the limestone pillars of the Pinnacles National Park (2 hours from Perth) on your way. Looking like the set of an intergalactic TV show, the Pinnacles change color throughout the day. The water-worn gorges of Karijini National Park (4 hours from the Pinnacles) make for great hiking, especially when the landscape transforms during the spring wildflower season.

Up north, there’s the famous beach resort of Broome (gateway to the Kimberley) and the Gibb River Road, a 660km road trip from Derby (a 24-hour drive from Perth, or 2.5 hours from Broome) to Kununurra in the Kimberley. You’ll need a 4WD for this one. Although some do it during the dry season in a 2WD, it’s risky, and you’re probably not insured.

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When’s the best time to go to Western Australia?

As Western Australia is huge, it’s always a good time to go – and I’m not just saying that. In the south, ie, Perth and around, it’s sunshiny and busy over the Australian spring (September to December) and summer (January to March).

But if you’re heading to WA in the “shoulder” or “low” season, ie, autumn and winter (that’s between April and August in the Southern Hemisphere), almost everything you can see and do in the southwest is open (it just might not be ideal beach weather). But this is the best time to head north up the Coral Coast and into the tropics, as it’s hot and dry, not wet and humid.

Is it easy to get in – and around – Western Australia?

It’s not exactly easy to get to WA (although 17-hour direct flights from London have made it a little more accessible) – but it is worth it. Unless you’re coming from another part of Australia, you will most likely land at Perth’s International Airport. International carriers also fly into Port Hedland and Broome.

After checking out Perth and Fremantle, if you want to get to another part of WA quickly, domestic flights will hop you to Carnarvon airport for Ningaloo Reef, Busselton to access Margaret River, and Broome to access the Dampier Peninsula and the Kimberley, as well as a bunch of other towns in the Outback.

Driving off-road in Western Australia at sunset, aerial view in Francois Peron National Park
Be prepared for extremely lengthy drives between popular destinations in Western Australia © Francesco Ricca Iacomino / Getty Images

Should I travel by car, train or bus?

A few train lines operate in WA. The most famous is the Indian-Pacific, which runs weekly between Sydney and Perth weekly. Buses will take you to many places, including the Coral Coast and Outback, but for most people visiting Western Australia, it’s all about the road trip.

If you’re traveling on unmade roads, you’ll need a 4WD – and a quick education in driving on sand, through rivers and into the setting sun with kangaroos jumping along the route. But if you want to stick to major roads, it’s possible to see most of West Australia’s highlights by 2WD or campervan.

However, you really need to comprehend the massive distances between destinations in Western Australia. You’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in your vehicle. This means you want one that’s safe and comfortable, of course, but it also means having a game plan for enjoying all those hours on the road. Download plenty of music, podcasts and audiobooks as there will be plenty of time when there’s no radio or data coverage out there on the highway. On that note, it’s also good to have at least one 5L bottle of water in the case of an emergency breakdown, and try to fill up on fuel at any opportunity.

My favorite thing to do in Western Australia

Western Australia is so varied that choosing a favorite place is impossible. I love its ancient forests, dramatic coastline, red deserts, wildlife, starry nights and incredible taste sensations from plump seafood to Noongar bush tucker.

If I were a drinker, I’d mention the lush wines and craft beers, but since I’ve given those up, I’ve played the highly sought-after “designated driver” role while touring Margaret River and the Swan Valley with friends .

My favorite thing to do? Mixing a day of driving (despite previous warnings about long drives, I actually love being behind the wheel on the open road) with a decent leg-stretch on a long walk away from the car, ideally followed by either swim in a secluded waterhole or in the ocean. Spotting migrating humpback whales (they pass from May to December) is an added bonus.

How much money do I need in Western Australia?

Australia is not a cheap place to travel. Food, accommodation, car hire and fuel all add up pretty quickly. You can save on costs by self-catering and catching public transport.

If you are hiring a car but are also planning on camping, look at all-in-one 4WDs with camp set-ups as well as campervans – even better if a one-way hire is available. But also factor in the cost of camps unless you plan to wild camp.

If you’re going for more than a short trip, it can be more cost-effective to buy a secondhand vehicle and re-sell it later.

  • Hostel room AU$45
  • Campsite at a holiday park AU$40-60
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb) AU$220 per night
  • Public transport ticket AU$4-5
  • Coffee AU$4.50
  • Takeaway meal AU$10-15
  • Three-course dinner for two AU$60-100
  • Beer/pint at a pub AU$8
Mother and baby quokka eating green twigs.  Close up image.
While selfies are fun, it’s best to give the adorable quokkas on Rottnest Island some distance © Damian Lugowski / Getty Images

FAQs

It’s Australia, do I need to pack any warm clothes?

This will depend on when you’re traveling, but even in summer, it can get cool in the evenings – even in the desert. Pack a warm jumper, just in case.

Are there many dangerous animals in Western Australia?

Yes, there are dangerous spiders, sharks and snakes in Australia, but your chance of encountering one of these is pretty slim. Seek local advice on where to swim and surf. If you come across a snake on a bush walk, don’t panic; just move away as quickly and calmly as you can. Check inside your shoes before you put them on if you’ve left them outside. And if you do run into an emergency, stay calm, call “000” and ask for an ambulance.

Is there WiFi everywhere in WA?

Data coverage and even decent hotel WiFi are not guaranteed in Western Australia, so it pays to come prepared like in the olden days. Bring a printed copy of your itinerary so that you have details like booking references when checking into accommodation. Download maps, tickets and playlists onto your devices in case you can’t catch any data.

Where do I go to get a quokka selfie?

Quokkas live on Rottnest Island, but it’s not as cool to get a quokka selfie these days. Most wildlife just want to be left alone. There are plenty of other super-cute animals to see in Western Australia, including black-footed wallabies.

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