When foreigners think of Australia the first thing to come to mind often is Sydney. While I can’t begrudge the famous opera house’s place in the international community’s travel dreams, what I will never understand is why so few travellers ever make it to Western Australia.
Yes, the east coast has most of Australia’s population, but that doesn’t mean it has everything. The lovely west coast has wildlife galore, pristine beaches with not a soul in sight, and the rugged outback to explore.
So, if you are feeling like trading in your city slicker coat for a stockman’s hat and SPF 50+ sunscreen, read on to find out more about the wonderfully wild west of Australia.
The Ningaloo Reef
The Ningaloo Coast is home to 260 kilometres of the fringing reef, the largest of its kind in Australia. This 7,050-square kilometre World Heritage Area that stretches from Coral Bay to Exmouth is home to 500 distinct species of fish, 300 species of corals, and 600 species of molluscs, easily rivalling the Great Barrier Reef for sheer abundance of life and biodiversity. The true brilliance of the Ningaloo Reef lies in its accessibility, it is the largest reef in the world positioned this close to a landmass. Due to this, snorkeling the Ningaloo Reef is as easy as putting on a mask, wading out, and diving into the blue. There is no need for an expensive boat trip out to deep reef here on the Ningaloo Coast.
My favourite spot on the Ningaloo Coast is the Cape Range National Park, located just outside of Exmouth town. Here you can find the stunning white sand beaches and crystalline water of Turquoise Bay and the truly awe-inspiring snorkeling of Oyster Stacks. Just make sure if you choose to snorkel Oyster Stacks, which I highly recommend you do, that you check the tide tables at the visitor’s centre before entering the water; this section of reef is very close to shore, making entry as easy as sliding off the rocks, but this does mean that it is only safe to snorkel at high tide.
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The phenomenal snorkelling is only one of the many activities that can be done on the Ningaloo Coast and, for all you fisherwomen out there, the fishing here is some of the best in the world. This comes from the sheer remoteness of this reef; at 1,200 kilometres from the nearest city (Perth) it is simply too far away from civilization to be over-fished or ruined by humanity. Ditch the crowds of east coast beaches and come to the Ningaloo.
Karijini National Park
For those who prefer land-based activities there is Karijini National Park. Dive into the beating heart of the Pilbara by hiking into gorges that were carved over 2000 million years ago by the force of prehistoric rivers rushing out to sea. In this ancient, red rock land you can embrace the simpler pleasures of life: the burn of your muscles after a rewarding hike, the crisp feel of a beer in your hand as you relax at camp, or the first splash of a refreshing dip in one of the many gorge pools.
Stay at Dales Campground for the best access to the park and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to fully explore the park. Make sure not to miss Hancock and Weano Gorges. These gorge hikes are more challenging than some of the others, but the rewards of Handrail Pool and Kermit’s Pool at the ends of each are well worth a sweat.
Please remember that this park is very remote and that the only services are 90 kilometres away in the town of Tom Price, so bring all the water, food, and fuel that you will need for your stay. In the outback, it pays to plan ahead.
The Gibb River Road
There are few places left on this planet where a cell phone will not work; the Gibb River Road is one of them. This 660-kilometer-long unsealed road from Derby to Kununurra is the perfect place to have your own outback adventure, all you must do is trade your Instagram updates for diving into waterfalls and sleeping under skies so crowded with stars you’ll never want to leave.
Along the Gibb River Road, you will find oasis after oasis. Take a break from dusty driving to embrace your inner child and fly off the rope swing in Galvan’s Gorge or dive off the rocks into the picture-perfect Manning Gorge. Maybe freshly baked scones at Ellenbrae Station are more your style. Whatever you prefer, if you are willing to give up some creature comforts, such as cell phone service and air conditioning, you will find the beauty of the remote, the wild, and the natural on the Gibb River Road.
80 Mile Beach
Imagine a white sand beach that stretches far past the horizon, so far in fact, that you probably couldn’t even see the end of it if you were in an airplane. That place exists at 80 Mile Beach. A slight misnomer, as the beach is in fact 140 miles or 220 kilometres long, 80 Mile Beach is the perfect place for remote beach relaxation, bountiful fishing, and working on your winter tan. Located approximately halfway between Port Hedland and Broome, this beach gets beautifully warm weather all year long, so instead of suffering through another rainstorm in Melbourne, why not journey north?
Only 35 kilometres off the coast of Perth is Rottnest Island, an island home to white-sand beaches (can you see a pattern here?) and some social media famous locals, the always smiling quokkas. The quokka selfie has taken the internet by storm, probably owing to their stunningly adorable good looks, and now travellers everywhere are booking their tickets to the island to get their own snap with one of these small marsupials.
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There are between 8,000 and 12,000 quokkas on Rottnest Island, so don’t worry about having trouble spotting one, you’ll probably see five in the time it takes you to walk from the ferry to town. The friendly quokkas of Rottnest are more than willing to take a picture with you, they may even climb on your stomach if you lie down long enough. Just remember, these are still wild animals (even if they are the friendliest creatures I’ve ever meet) and they are protected on the island, so do not feed or harass them. Quokka bellies don’t like human food, even if their minds think they do, so help our furry friends by refraining from sharing your lunch.
West Coast Love
Western Australia is a huge and diverse state that just begs a visit. If exploring the remote and beautiful places of this world is your idea of a roaring good time, then make sure you head out west the next time you’re in the land down under.