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If you haven’t been to, or heard anything about the South West region of Western Australia, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s much like the rest of the state, covered in deserts. However that couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, the only sand you’ll find here are the beautiful remote beaches. Inland though, is covered in forests, farms, and best of all, vineyards galore. And only being 2.5 hours from Perth, South West WA is the perfect self-drive destination.
The South West region is roughly a triangle piece of land from Bunbury in the north, Margaret River in the west, and Albany in the south. After leaving Perth, perhaps after having had breakfast in Fremantle, the first major town you’ll come across is Bunbury, one of the fastest growing cities in Australia, and the third largest in the state with 70,000 people living here. However its most famous residents probably weren’t counted in those numbers… because they’re dolphins. Head down to Dolphin Discovery Centre on Koombana Bay, just a stone’s throw from the town centre. Here you can sign up for the usual dolphin cruise or swimming experience, or quite simply just don the boardies and stroll into the water where at knee-height the friendly dolphins will approach you. Ladies, you don’t even have to get your hair wet!
Continuing on around the bay, the next destination you’ll come across is the town of Busselton. Again, head for the waterfront just by the town centre for the big attraction, the Busselton Jetty. Originally built in 1853, the jetty has since had many extensions over the years, and now stretches a whopping 1.8 kilometres into the Indian Ocean, making it the second longest jetty in the world. Hopefully you’ve got your walking shoes on, because the main attraction on the jetty is located right at the far end, the Underwater Observatory. Plunging eight metres into the water below, the observatory is a 9.3 metre observation chamber with big glass windows allowing you amazing views of the fish and coral in the warm waters.
Your next journey will most probably depend on where your first night’s accommodation is, either west towards Cape Naturaliste and Yallingup, or south to Margaret River. Let’s say you’re going west to Cape Naturaliste. This is where you really start getting to the stunning coastal scenery. At the cape, park the car and walk out to the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, a great photo op and more beautiful views. Nearby is the amazing Pullman Bunker Bay Resort, a luxury five star resort, perfect for your first night stay. The resort has 150 bungalow style rooms overlooking a beautiful white sand beach, with direct beach access. Dinner and drinks to be had whilst enjoying the sun setting into the turquoise ocean, and the perfect end to your first day.
Just south of Cape Naturaliste is the small holiday town of Yallingup. Here you’ll find a couple more affordable accommodation options such as Seashells, which has apartment style rooms. Yallingup has easy access to some of the best surf breaks in the region including Three Bears, Yallingup, Smith's Beach and Injidup. Also in the town is a series of spectacular limestone caves that have been wowing tourists for over 100 years. You can do anything from a casual walk along the built paths, to a guided ‘cave squeeze’ tour which literally squeezes you into the deepest, darkest recesses of the caves.
Heading further south now and we’re finally getting to the Margaret River region, famed for its delicious food and wine scene as well as its famous surf breaks. Centred around the town called Margaret River, the wine region has roughly 200 vineyards and accounts for 3% of Australia’s wine production which might not sound like much, but the important figure is that that 3% includes 20% of Australia’s premium wine production. So this is the top shelf stuff! Read about some of the best wineries and restaurants here.
Of course with the 200 vineyards comes many cellar door restaurants and cafes serving up the highest quality food. You’re probably going to need a couple of nights in Margaret River at least. If you want to continue on your luxury five star holiday, then there’s only one place for it, Cape Lodge. Consistently voted amongst the best in Australia, Cape Lodge has a stunning setting on its own vineyard complete with manicured lawns, a lake, tennis courts, swimming pool, restaurant and a spa. Make sure you get in early though, there’s only eight rooms here. Or for something a bit more affordable, Margarets Beach Resort has apartment style rooms with kitchens (great if you’ve stocked up on wine and goodies) and is right on the beach.
After a couple of days wining and dining in Margaret River, it’s time to set off again. Travelling southeast, the vineyards and rolling hills give way to huge tracts of forest, this is ‘Karri Tree Country’. As you pass by the massive forests, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for a quick walk through the ancient growth forests. However to really experience it well, you have to get up into the canopy. In Pemberton you’ll find several lookout trees. Before the days of helicopters and modern firefighting technology, these lookout trees were an important line of defence for firefighters and the towns they protected. A series of massive spikes spiral up the tree making a sort of staircase which firefighters could climb and keep watch on any advancing bushfires. Pemberton’s Gloucester Tree is 72 metres high, the second tallest in the world. If you’re feeling a little crazy, you can have a go at climbing the tree, but few ever make it the whole way up!
For a much safer (and saner) alternative to the lookout tree, head on down the road to Walpole. Here you’ll find the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. And it is as impressive as it sounds. The 600 metre long walkway towers 40 metres above the ground, quite literally giving you a bird’s eye view of the trees and surrounding forests. Those wanting to stay grounded can walk beautiful forest tracks underneath which showcase amazing 400 year old growth forest found nowhere else on Earth.
As the road emerges from the forests you’ll find yourself on the coast again, just near the towns of Denmark and Albany. There is of course, many more beautiful white sand beaches luring you in for a quick dip in the sparkling blue waters. However there’s also another type of beach down here, arguably more beautiful. Some of the beaches have massive granite boulders on them which over millions of years have been smoothed over by the relentless Southern Ocean. Examples such as Elephant Rocks, Greens Pool and The Gap are a must see and will have your camera clicking away nonstop.
Finally, finish your South West WA self-drive in the southern town of Albany. Historic Albany was the first European settlement in Western Australia and has a wonderful collection of heritage buildings. It’s also famous for being the departure point for 41,000 Anzacs on the first ever convoys departing in 1914, the history of which can be visited at the National Anzac Centre. The town is surrounded by many coastal walking tracks offering beautiful views over Kings George Sound and countless beaches. Whales migrate through here annually and can sometimes even be seen from the beach too! From Albany, cut back across to Perth, or perhaps extend your drive to the outback towns of Esperance and Kalgoorlie.
A self-drive through South West WA ticks all the boxes - surfing great breaks, a couple of days discovering vineyards and eating fine food, nature and wildlife, city and country, and more beaches than you could possibly ever need. Perfect!
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