So, you’ve sorted out your car hire in Western Australia and you’ve got the whole of this fantastic state to explore. Should you head for one of WA’s superb beaches, lie back and chill for a while? Maybe you’d like to explore the vineyards and wineries where some of Australia’s finest wines are produced? How about hitting one of the state’s National Parks, stretching your legs and getting an eyeful of some of Australia’s breath-taking natural wonders and wildlife? Then there are the vibrant cities, historic towns, colourful coral reefs, botanic gardens, country pubs, whale-watching sites and so on and so on…
The point is that when you pick up a rental car in Western Australia you have the freedom to go wherever you please and to see and do the things that you enjoy the most. And here, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to memorable and pleasureable sights and activities. In fact, Western Australia’s diverse and scenic landscapes make driving itself an unforgettable experience.
With so much great stuff to get out and enjoy it’s more or less impossible to narrow down a list of the top 10 places to visit in Western Australia (we’d probably need to do a ‘top 1,000’!) but for starters here are ten destinations that can be filed under ‘unmissable’,
1. Nambung National Park
If you’re in search of a spectacular and ancient natural landscape to explore, look no further than the Nambung National Park, roughly a two-hundred-kilometre drive north along the coast from Perth. In this vast area of desert scrubland you’ll find the famous Pinnacles – a sea of limestone formations, approximately 30,000 years old, naturally sculpted by the elements. The park’s environment provides a natural habitat for grey kangaroos, a host of reptiles and around ninety species of birds.
2. The Margaret River Wine Region
Even a staunch teetotaller can’t fail to be impressed by the natural beauty of the Margaret River Wine Region. In this southern area of Western Australia you’ll find excellent surfing, wondrous ancient limestone caves, spectacular forests, a multitude of charming towns to explore, outstanding beaches and, of course, the rolling acres of vineyards that enable the region’s 150-plus wineries to create a host of award-winning Australian wines that are revered throughout the world.
3. Shark Bay
Approximately eight hundred kilometres north of Perth, Shark Bay was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991 for its biodiversity, natural history, outstanding beauty and ecological environment. Fields of sea grass top soaring cliffs beside pristine white beaches, lapped by the Indian Ocean. The highlight is Monkey Mia beach, a marine reserve where several times each day a pod of friendly and inquisitive Bottlenose dolphins are fed by rangers, giving visitors and unparalleled chance to get close to these playful animals.
Drive along the Great Eastern Highway for around six hundred kilometres and you’ll reach the historic gold-rush-era town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in the heart of Western Australia’s outback. Founded in 1893 when gold was discovered in the area, Kalgoorlie is fascinating to explore and is the site of the world’s largest open-cut goldmine, known as the ‘Super Pit’ which still produces up to 800,000 ounces of gold each year.
5. Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, Perth
It’s no great surprise that Western Australia’s most visited attraction should be in Perth, a colourful city with enough highlights to fill a lifetime’s-worth of visits. Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, a green oasis near the centre of the city, attracts around six million visitors a year. Perfect for a picnic or a stroll through gorgeously landscaped gardens, the park also has a spiral observation tower (the ‘DNA Tower’) adventure play areas for the kids and a host of nature trails. The Botanic Gardens feature around 3,000 species of Australia’s diverse and colourful plants and flowers, including a 750 year old Giant Boab tree.
6. Rottnest Island
OK, so you’ll need to leave the hire car on the mainland for this one, but Rottnest Island, situated nineteen kilometres into the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Perth is undoubtedly an unmissable destination. The island is a paradise for sun-seekers, snorkelers, divers and surfers with sixty-three pristine beaches and twenty bays to choose from. But ‘Rotto’ also has a nature reserve, water park, museums and galleries and even a nine-hole golf course. It’s also the best place to meet a Quokka; a cute marsupial that looks a bit like a cat-sized kangaroo.
An easy and pleasant drive south from Perth brings you to Western Australia’s most popular tourist city, Busselton, in just over two-and-a-half-hours. Coastal Busselton naturally has swathes of fabulous beaches, but it’s the city’s iconic and heritage-listed wooden Jetty which was built in 1865 and stretches almost two-kilometres out into the Indian Ocean, that makes this place special. From the Busselton Jetty you can glimpse the exotic marine life that inhabits the city’s remarkable man-made reef, although a better view can be obtained from the unique Underwater Observatory. It’s worth taking time to explore Busselton’s nineteenth-century historic buildings, boutique shopping streets and galleries of local artworks too.
8. The Bungle Bungles
If you intend taking your rental car this far northeast in Western Australia you may incur a ‘remote surcharge’, but you can’t put a price on seeing for yourself the magnificent Bungle Bungle range in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park. These vast orange and black striped natural rock formations create and unworldly and unique landscape which can be walked through or flown over. Either way, the Bungle Bungles easily rate as one of Australia’s most beautiful and unforgettable natural phenomena.
A little way south of Perth, the city of Fremantle strives to retain an independent identity and spirit, wary of being regarded as merely another Perth suburb. Its efforts are rewarded; Fremantle feels more like a Mediterranean European destination than a Western Australian city. The vibrant ‘Cappucino Strip’ is an unmissable mix of cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants and shops that attracts visitors from every corner of the world to create a lively and cosmopolitan feel. But Fremantle is steeped in history too: the city’s imposing prison dates from the 1850’s and is Western Australia’s only UNESCO-listed building. Other Fremantle highlights include its colourful weekly markets, a delightful harbour, Maritime and Army museums and, of course, great beaches.
10. Mount Augustus
If the sight of the world’s largest rock monolith (Mount Augustus is twice the size of Uluru) is not enough on its own to elicit jaw-dropping admiration, then try visiting the National Park which shares its name between July and November, when the vast plain that surrounds Mount Augustus is thickly-carpeted with a multitude of wildflowers of different colours. Western Australia is famed for its stunning wildflower displays and Mount Augustus National Park, just over a thousand kilometres’ drive north of Perth is one of the very best places in the state to see them.