City life getting you down? Yearning for the great outdoors? Western Australia, a mere five-hour hop, skip and jump away from Singapore, holds travel possibilities as limitless as its seemingly infinite stretches of natural bush and cerulean skies. Here’s what VERNE MAREE found on a five-night odyssey from the WA capital, Perth, east to Wave Rock, south to Albany and back west along the southern coast to marvellous Margaret River.
Perth has a lot to offer. On your first visit, we’d suggest spending a few days in this friendly capital before making a beeline for the bush, the winelands or more far-flung coastal destinations. Enjoy the laidback vibe of the pedestrianised city centre, catch a wave off Cottesloe’s pristine beach, lunch alfresco in the nearby port town of Fremantle, or cruise up the river to the Swan Valley’s lovely wineries. There’s plenty to do.
Wheels and a Roof
Caravanning is big in Australia. You could hire a caravan (as our family in Perth does) for as little as under A$100 a day, along with a sturdy vehicle to pull it; or keep it all together with a campervan. Or, if you (like my husband Roy) detest anything that smacks of camping, you could book accommodation in advance and head off – as we did – in a cool little convertible with a boot big enough to hold a six-pack Esky, a packet of crisps and a change of knickers.
Here’s what our six-day road trip itinerary looked like:
- Head east for around 400km to spend a night at the tiny town of Hyden and its famous Wave Rock.
- Point the car south to coastal Albany and Denmark for two nights – “Oooh, aah, beautiful”, said everybody.
- Follow the coast up to Margaret River for another couple of nights, before driving back to Perth.
Perth to Hyden and Wave Rock
There are two options for this route, said the internet, taking 3.5 and 3.25 hours respectively. I fancied the first, which joins the Great Eastern Highway up into the Darling Range – the oldest plateau on earth – to historic York, across the grazing farmlands and lake chains to Quairading, Corrigin, Kondinin and to Hyden.
But I was outnumbered by Roy and the in-car GPS navigator, who jointly agreed to head southeast to join Brookton Highway instead, before traversing the beginning of the Wheatbelt via Brookton, Corrigin, Kondinin and on to Hyden. In fact, Brookton Highway turned out to be a pleasant drive.
Brookton – one of the towns effectively created by the building of the Great Southern Railway in the late 1800s, was a prototype of the Wheatbelt’s charming little towns. Expect to find scrupulously clean public toilets, a hotel, a petrol station and roadhouse, a memorial hall, a CWA (Country Women’s Association), a tyre centre and various purveyors of agricultural services. You won’t see a scrap of litter.
Of Hyden’s 400-strong population, 70 are said to be employed in this tiny settlement’s heroic tourism industry. There’s no tavern in the town, but you can get a drink from the Wave Rock Motel (waverock.com.au) – clean, comfortable and not a bad place to stop for the night, considering that the Wave Rock Caravan Park is its sole competition. Take the kids for a dip in the big community swimming pool, or visit the bakery that was closed for the entire six-week summer holiday over December and January.
Four kilometres on from Hyden is the famous Wave Rock, a 14-metre-high, 100-metre-long marvel of geology. Was it worth the trip? Oh yes, but it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes or so to admire it, strike a pose on it and then either Instagram or Facebook the moment.
I have no experience of mad dogs, but I do have some of Englishmen, being married to one – and it’s simply not true that they go out in the midday sun. Not often, anyway, and certainly not happily. So, while mine sat in the Wildflower Shoppe Café with a copy of The West Australian and a flat white, I headed off in 40 degrees and a hat to explore the 3km loop around the perimeter of the Rock to Hippo’s Yawn.
If your children are anxious to see a couple of rare white kangaroos, a moth-eaten emu, a chatty parrot named George and a remarkably buck-toothed alpaca, you could take them to the slightly dispiriting Wave Rock Wildlife Park ($12). But choose a cooler day than we did, if you can.
Hyden to Albany
Both the town of Albany and its neighbour Denmark offer picturesque bay after halcyon headland after idyllic, white-sand beach, with one sweeping vista after another – simply magnificent.
How completely different this was from the countryside we’d travelled through for four hours to get here, following the route through country towns Kulin, Lake Grace, Dumbleyung (watch out for the Dumbleyung Dunny) and Katanning to the Chester Pass Road.
Golden fields of wheat, dotted with bales of hay after a bumper harvest, stretched as far as the eye could see. Now and then we passed an eerie-looking dry, white-salt crusted inland lake that would be full of water in the wetter winter months.
For now, with the sun starting to sink and temperatures cooling, it was time to take down the roof of the Z4 and to follow the coast to the old port and what’s probably the most historic part of town; founded in 1826, Albany is WA’s oldest European settlement.
From the old port town, you head to Torndirrup National Park, passing Flinders Bay on your left. Here you’ll find two impressive geological formations, The Gap and The Bridge ($12 to park here, for those few who heed the signs). The powers that be have done a great job of making the site safely accessible via paths and viewing platforms, plus providing some good explanatory signage.
Albany isn’t only geologically gifted, it’s also historically significant: visiting Anzac Heritage Park is another must. The Anzac movement was born in Albany, and this park’s state-of-the-art National Anzac Centre, overlooking King George Sound, has been voted the country’s best museum. (One wonders how the average family can afford entry, though, at almost $25 per adult.)
A quick side trip to Denmark – 56km west from Albany via National Route 1 – was well worth doing. In places like Albany and Denmark, you can’t possibly see or do everything in just a couple of days. So, I was fairly resigned, this time, to not eating oysters from Albany’s Oyster Harbour (or, indeed, emu from Emu Point); but a longer, more leisurely stay in this natural wonderland is firmly on the cards. Coming direct from Perth, it would be an easy 420km drive.
Albany’s centrally located Dog Rock Motel (dogrockmotel.com.au) has comfortable, spacious accommodation and a treasure of a restaurant: Lime 303. Despite the restaurant’s unprepossessing entrance, tucked away behind the main building at 303 Middleton Road, it delighted us with its array of authentic dishes featuring fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.
Albany to Margaret River
After the three-and-a-half-hour drive west, turn left and southward to spectacular Cape Leeuwin, where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern Ocean. English explorer Matthew Flinders named Cape Leeuwin in 1801 after the Dutch ship Leeuwin (meaning lioness): it was the first vessel known to have visited these waters, in 1622.
Here you’ll find a lofty and photogenic lighthouse that dates from 1895. The $8 entry fee includes an audio-tour headset that’s crammed with all you could ever wish to know about the history and geography of this spot.
Our accommodation at the conveniently located Grange on Farrelly ($130 through booking.com) was ideal for strolling to any of Margaret River’s restaurants. Thanks to our hotel receptionist’s recommendations, we had two outstanding experiences:
- At top-rated Miki’s Open Kitchen (131 Bussell Highway), the “Trust Miki” omakase-style menu ($60 per head) uses only local ingredients – nothing is flown in expensively – and is jolly good value. Observing the food preparation was like watching poetry in motion, and each dish was divine.
- The very next night, the gifted barman at Morrie’s crafted cunning cocktails while the chef put the finishing touches to a sticky feast-for-two – a 72-hour-braised beef-rib ($69) with roast vegetables and all the trimmings.