An easy escape by car from Perth into southwest WA’s wild and rugged landscapes, windswept coasts and national parks, where adventures await.
For a long while out of Perth, you drive in two dimensions. Flat scrub, a strip of tarmac and heavy skies. Halfway towards Albany though, as you head southeast, the landscape rumples. Farmland undulates, giant trees erupt, and the purple crags of the Stirling Ranges loom. As you near the coast of the southwest, the landscape is satisfyingly three-dimensional, like a giant pop-up book of coastal geography come to life. The sky is cloud-tossed and you can smell salt on the breeze.
Walking might take a while
This region is a giant adventure park made by Mother Nature. If you really want a challenge, forget driving and simply walk. The Bibbulmun Track from Perth to Albany is one of the world’s top long-distance walking trails. It takes eight weeks to complete the nearly 1,000 kilometres of wiggling, indirect pathways.
Granite climbs and skywalks
There’s a lot to like about WA’s southwest: its bracing air, heaped sand dunes and peculiar rock formations. In a state where much of the coastline is hot and flat, it provides drama. Blowholes thunder in Torndirrup National Park. Rock climbers come for West Cape Howe National Park, where granite outcrops, sheer ocean cliffs and rugged peaks provide challenges. If you don’t have those skills, head inland to Porongurup National Park and inch your way around the Granite Skywalk, pinned to an outcrop of rock in defiance of common sense. Views sweep across forest all the way to the sea.
Pick a fine day for the Skywalk: who’d want to be slip-sliding on this mad metal spider’s web when it rains? Truth be told, the southwest gets more rainfall than most of the state. Even on a damp day, however, it can be dramatic. Head to Torndirrup National Park on a rainy afternoon, and admire waves bloated with Antarctic energy. It’s a bit frightening as wind threatens to buffet you into the Great Southern Ocean, but exhilarating too.
Pristine conditions = Perfect Day
When the sun shines and only breezes blow this corner of Australia is hard to beat. At Little Bay near Albany, the water can be turquoise and shimmery as a peacock’s feathers. Rust-coloured boulders sit on white sand as if in a giant Zen garden. In Waychinicup National Park banksias blossom, and drooping Quaalup bells reveal pretty red-rimmed cream flowers. Just about everywhere, the beaches are perfection. You could spend a week walking the sands, invigorated by southern winds and cliff-top vistas.
The ‘humpback highway’ passes just offshore. If you’re in the southwest between June and December, you’re in for a particular treat. The sight of humpback and southern right whales migrating past. You can spot whales from the cliffs, or take a whale-watching boat from Albany out into the sound and see these magnificent creatures up close. Fabulous as sea monsters from a children’s story, all knobbly skin and vast pink grins.
Southwest Australia’s Edge
Albany’s most visited building is Whale World. The town was Western Australia’s first European settlement and thrived on the whaling trade. The old processing plant out on the peninsula outlines its history, which continued until 1978. Compare the size of whaling boats with a whale’s skeleton and doff a respectful cap to the old-time whalers, even if whaling now seems barbaric.
Right over in the west, in the Margaret River region, there are wild landscapes too. Cape Leeuwin is as far southwest as you can go without falling off Australia’s edge. Puff up the stairs of the country’s tallest lighthouse for fine views of the rugged coastline, where sweeping beaches and blue waters meet. The nearest town is Augusta, a laidback country escape where you can fish and kayak the Blackwood River or hit the golf course.
Caves of Cape Naturaliste
To the north of Margaret River and closer to Perth, caves and underground rivers riddle the limestone of Cape Naturaliste, nowhere more spectacularly than at Ngilgi Cave, where stalactites and stalagmites provide amazing displays. Take an informative tour, which also relates the Aboriginal legends associated with the cave. The brave can try torchlight tours or even a spot of adventure caving.
Nearby, off Dunsborough, you can scuba-diving at the wreck of HMAS Swan, one of Australia’s best and most accessible wrecks. The naval destroyer was scuttled in 1997 in 35 metres of water, and is now home to dozens of varieties of fish, sponges and other marine animals. Families who want to see under the ocean without getting wet should drive into Busselton and walk along the heritage jetty, which extends its wooden finger 1.8 kilometres into Geographe Bay. At its Underwater Observatory, you can descend eight metres beneath the waves and spot the marine wildlife that lurks around the artificial reef.
It isn’t only the coast that provides marvels in the southwest. Turn inland to find stunning eucalyptus trees that grow up to 90 metres high. Much original forest has been logged or cleared for farming, but you’ll find magnificent jarrah trees around Nannup and karri trees – among the world’s tallest hardwoods – between Manjimup and Denmark. As for Walpole-Nornalup National Park, it’s the only place in the world you’ll find red tingle trees, many 400 years old. Don’t miss the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, which takes you 40 metres into the tree canopy for a different perspective on tingle-tree forest. What better escape from the urban jungle than into a primeval forest?
Want more WA adventures? Check out the entire collection here.