The Only Way is WA | Campervanning Australia's West Coast
Countless stretches of pristine, deserted beaches, unrivalled wildlife and endless baron roads dotted with Kangaroos...this is the real Australia.
For 16 days over Christmas and New Years, a friend, my girlfriend and I flew out to Perth and rented a 3-berth camper to hit the roads of the West Coast. We headed north for 8 days from Perth, after an express trip to Rottnest Island, before returning to the city having made it as far as Turquoise Bay. After New Years in Fremantle, we travelled south to get a taste of the Margaret River region for our remaining days.
The whole trip was an absolutely incredible, with idyllic beaches and breath-taking wildlife fast become the norm. Our stops included Kalbarri National Park, Coral Bay and The Pinnacles - all of which are included in this post. We went in to the trip with a loose plan and a couple of bookings, but if you're planning something similar, this illustrated itinerary will hopefully prove useful!
Day 1 | Rottnest Island
Beaches, snorkelling and QUOKKAS!
An absolute must when in Perth, this island paradise can be reached by ferry throughout the day, which only takes about an hour and a half. We went for a day trip, leaving Perth at 8am and returning at around 5pm - a day was enough time to soak in some of the dramatic scenery, but if you want to cover the entire island, you'll want to stay the night!
We had arranged bike hire with our ferry ticket and, on arrival, headed around the north coast and around the eastern coast to the south. That stretch alone will keep you occupied for most the day but we ventured slightly west after lunch, just enough to check out a couple of the northern beaches.
We stopped at Kingston Beach straight away - the white sands, turquoise waters and craggy rocks were all but deserted, despite the proximity to the ferry port. Well worth a stop!
From there, we made our way around to Little Salmon Bay, which is on the bus stop unfortunately and consequently a much more crowded affair. Snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, however, was a stunning experience.
On the way back north from Little Salmon Bay, we parked our bikes up and clambered over a dune to an entirely empty stretch of beach that rivalled anything I've ever experienced. If the way isn't too hectic to navigate, I highly recommend this approach - the beach we ended up on was about mid-way between Little Salmon Bay and Kingston Beach on the east coast.
Riding back through the port, the famous quokkas were out in force, seemingly preferring the afternoon for a hop. You can't miss them and they're extraordinarily friendly, always up for a photo.
The Basin was our afternoon stop, which provided a sheltered little bay within the reef and some interesting snorkelling over the rocks.
The wildlife, pristine waters and deserted beaches make Rottnest Island an unmissable stop on your adventure!
Day 2 | Perth to Geraldton
| The Pinnacles
Our first stop was only a short drive north of Perth (relatively speaking), where we came to a sprawling desert, dotted with unusual rocks and backed by vast sand dunes.
The Pinnacles are a protected attraction just outside Cervantes in the Nambung National Park. An hour was ample time to drive the marked road through the rocks, stopping occasionally to amble around them and get some snaps. Hot and dusty as it was, we drove 10 minutes to Hangover Bay when we were done to freshen up on the, once more, deserted stretch of beach. The sand dunes of Hangover Bay are also great to explore if you have a little time after the Pinnacles.
| Jurien Bay & Leeman
Suitably refreshed by the waters of Hangover Bay, we jumped back in the van and made for Jurien Bay, where we enjoyed fish 'n' chips on the pier as the afternoon wore on. The food was good and the beach pretty enough, without being breath-taking, we scooted on up to Leeman for sunset, which was a very random but a pretty little town.
With a bit of light left to drive by, we carried on up to Cliff Head Rest Stop, which was an awesome coastal spot that offered free camping just off the main road, just watch out for the bugs!
Day 3 | Geraldton to Carnarvon
Our first town en route, Geraldton is an industrial town set on a beautiful coast and whilst we didn't hang around too long going either way, we did find two pretty special brunch spots! If you're passing through at the right time, be sure to check out Quiet Life Cafe or Piper Lane for some tasty treats and make the most of the supermarkets! Stocked up and full of petrol, we made for what is officially Australia's second best beach (2017)!
| Horrocks Beach
About an hour north of Geraldton, you'll come to the town of Northampton, where you'll need to take a turning to head for Horrocks Beach, the runner-up in Traveller Magazine's 'Australia Best Beaches 2017'. Horrocks Beach is quiet, cute and friendly - you can drive up and along the sandy track to your own stretch of sand, or stick to the main beach near the pier. Whilst not a stunning beach, it is certainly charming and the waters are typically lucid; a local told us they occasionally even get dugongs in the bay. Once we'd enjoyed a swim we were back on the road, cruising up the dusty red road back to the highway.
We had plenty of kms to cover, rattling passed 37.5m long 'land-trains' and an increasing number of goats as we finally neared Carnarvon (4 1/2 hours later!). It was getting dark as we approached the town of Carnarvon, we only just made sunrise over the inlet and started the search for some grub.
We found a restaurant that did the trick and enjoyed some great local sea-food. The plan had been to carry on up after food, but were strongly advised that without bull-bars and appropriate lights that would be extremely foolish; the number of goats, kangaroos, emus and cows on the roads making it far more dangerous by night.
With that settled and nowhere booked, we found a sneaky place to park up and sleep in the town and prepared for an early start to Quobba Station and the blowholes.
Day 4 | Carnarvon to Coral Bay
| The Blowholes
Up just before the crack of dawn, we enjoyed an hours drive as the sun rose beautifully over the dusty desert, pulling up to a deserted Quobba Station. Quobba boasts a remarkably rugged coastline, complete with these other-worldly blowholes that have been forged by nature to propel the sea high into the sky via various nooks-and-crannies in the rocks. The blowholes were great definitely worth a visit if you find yourself near Carnarvon.
The blowholes aren't manned and it seemed as though it was far too early for anyone else to be up and about, so we got to enjoy them alone for an hour or so before we headed back up the dusty road to the highway, dodging emus as we went.
| Coral Bay (Part I)
A relatively short drive north (2.5 hours) we came to one of the most hotly anticipated destinations of the entire trip, Coral Bay. We came off the highway and into the town to be greeted by a number of caravan parks, lining the road, set back from what was an absolutely extraordinary beach scene.
Backed by dunes and dotted with coral reef, the bay plunges into a surreal blue from crystal clear shallows as it drops to the sandy coral shelf just a few meters from the flawless white sands. We were hoping to get some free camping somewhere, but it's not realistic at Coral Bay, so we checked the van into the nearest campervan park instead (People's Park). The place was simple, well maintained and proved to be a useful spot to recharge before continuing up to the wilderness of Exmouth and beyond.
Before all that though, we wiled away the afternoon snorkelling in the shallows of the main bay and exploring the dunes. The reef life just out from the beach is pretty cool without being mind-blowing and we dried off before enjoying a bbq at the campsite and the sunset from the beach. With plans to walk around the beach headland the following morning we got an early night in the comfort of our powered campervan!
Day 5 | Coral Bay to Cape Range National Park (Osprey Bay)
Up with the sun, we grabbed our snorkels and the trusty drone and walked around the pristine shores, heading north from the main beach of Coral Bay. We'd been told that you can occasionally see Mantas from the headland to the north and skirting shallows on the way up we kept our eyes peeled as we waded across Skeleton Bay.
Despite the beautiful morning, we didn't see any Manta Rays around the headland, but thoroughly enjoyed the near baron beaches and wild dunes. On the way back, however, I was twice stalked in the shallows, once by a Spotted Ray and once by a little Black-Tipped Reef Shark - I couldn't believe my luck, but soon realised that there were dozens more Reef Sharks circling the shallows of Skeleton Bay! I would've stayed for hours, but we had to make it back to Coral Bay to set off on the drive north.
Stocked up with drinking water (very important!) we hit the baking road, aiming for Osprey Bay, in Cape Range National Park, via the town of Exmouth. The drive to Exmouth took about 2 hours and whilst Coral Bay had been hot, the town of Exmouth was a temperature that I've rarely experienced - it was utterly roasting!
Being Christmas Eve, we made sure to stock up on grub for the next few days, although you'd need to regardless, as Cape Range National Park doesn't have shops, drinking water or electricity. With our little fridge sticked with turkey and cranberry sauce, we made for Osprey Bay, which is another hour's drive from the middle of Exmouth.
Arriving a couple of hours before dusk, we set up on our dusty patch at Osprey Bay campsite, making a home of our van in time for Christmas. We watched a gorgeous sunset down on the beach and played with a couple of supremely inquisitive turtles for hours, who followed us as much as we did them!
Day 6 | Turquoise Bay
Up bright and early with the hot, hot sun in Osprey Bay we chugged around to Turquoise Bay to spend Christmas Day in utter paradise. Bleach white sands, sandy shallows and coral teeming with life; Turquoise Bay is a beachgoers heaven. Despite the soaring temperatures, the sea was always on hand to cool us off and we spent the day sun worshipping, swimming and drift-snorkelling up to the spit. The snorkelling is fantastic but be wary of the current, which could deposit you out to sea in a gap between the reef - be sure to pay attention to the signs if unsure!
Christmas lunch was served as we cooled off and made a return to our campsite via some typically cute kangaroos and adventurous emus!
Day 7 | Turquoise Bay to Coral Bay (Part II)
Sad to be leaving one beach and marine paradise, we packed up and made for another, back to Coral Bay! Driving back on the same route, taking just shy of 3 hours, we arrived back at People's Park in the early afternoon and grabbed some lunch at the local supermarket (which is very useful, friendly and was open throughout almost the entirety of the Christmas period).
We spent some more time exploring the shallows, seeing the sharks and rays of Skeleton Bay once more, as well as a Spanish dancer as we looked forward to our pre-booked, highly-recommended marine tour the following day by enjoying the sunset from the dunes of Coral Bay.
Day 8 | Coral Bay
The day I'd been waiting for since booking the trip was here, a visit to the reef with the promise of turtles, Manta Rays and maybe, just maybe, Tiger Sharks!!! I'd been following various Instagram accounts from the region and been in touch with a locally based photographer who was working with Ningaloo Marine Interactions, Alex. Alex had advised that heading out with Ningaloo Marine Interactions would give me the best chance of swimming with a Tiger Shark, a life-long ambition of mine. It's worth noting that we were visiting the reef outside of peak months; in 'winter' you can see whales and whale sharks too!
An environmentally friendly operation with an exceptionally friendly crew, Ningaloo Marine Interactions were great from the start. The day comprised multiple stops; from the turtle sleeping station (which is as good as it sounds!) to the sand flats (pretty much a Manta highway) and back to the coral for a final dip amongst the fascinating, thriving coral. So meeting the turtles and mantas were somewhat expected and simply sensational, I'll never tire of interacting with either, BUT, whilst manta hunting, we also came across a Tawny Nurse Shark, a Leopard Shark and...a Tiger Shark!
I had my gear on in an instant and, once the experienced photography lead had checked out her temperament, was dropped into the sea just metres ahead of her as she gracefully passed us by. We followed on at a respectful distance as the 4m long beauty went about her day and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life, if you've got it in you, DO IT!
Day 9 | Coral Bay to Middle of Nowhere
Another comfy night in a powered site and we left the excitement of Coral Bay (after another snorkel of course) to really embark on our trip back to Perth. We were aiming for a free rest stop along the way and planned an afternoon meal in Carnarvon and a visit to One Mile Jetty on our way through. The jetty was sadly closed due to high winds (which plagued us throughout the trip) but we were able to grab some munch in a local pub.
From there we drove another hour or so as the sun set and found ourselves a dusty patch in the glorified lay-by (see above) to settle down for the night. The rest stops are a handy way to make ground and get a free sleep if you're travelling long distances, they seemed perfectly safe to me, but their remoteness and simplicity did spook the girls slightly!
Day 10 | Middle of Nowhere to Kalbarri National Park
Without much to see in the middle of the desert, bar a couple of Wedge-Tailed Eagles and some emus, we set off early doors on the road South. Our first stop of interest for the day was the Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. Fascinating though the Stromatolites are, being the oldest living organism on our fine planet, they weren't the most dramatic sight to behold. Granted we'd been spoilt over the past 8 days, so I may be being unkind, they're probably worth a visit on the way through, but they don't compare to some of our other experiences.
We were aiming for Kalbarri National Park (another 3 hours towards Perth) and had made a last minute booking at a campsite in the town given the area is a National Park and we anticipated free camp spot to be an impossible dream. After a pleasant drive down, we checked in and wasted no time in checking out some of the absolutely stunning views Kalbarri has to offer:
- Pot Alley Beach (pictured above)
- Red Bluff (dramatic coastal views)
- Mushroom Rock (more dramatic coastal views!)
- Natures window (pictured above)
- Z Bend viewpoint (breathtaking canyon views)
Whilst the coastal views are just outside of the town and free to access, you'll need to make sure to have cash with you for the National Park, which holds Natures Window and the Z Bend. Both the Window and the Bend are well worth a view and, if you have the time and can bare the heat, a walk around the canyon would be a wonderful experience. We had a delightful tapas meal at Upstairs Restaurant and then went back to our less than inspiring campsite (Tudor Holiday Park) for the evening.
Day 11 | Kalbarri National Park to Jurien Bay
Off again after another visit to the wild and windy coast, we drove about 45 minutes south along the shore of the Pink Lake of Port Gregory and wrapped back around to find a good viewpoint. The bright pink, salt crystal ridden lake made for an amazing contrast with the blue skies make a great stop for budding photographers and set us up nicely for the drive on to Geraldton, which is another hour or so south. An incredible lunch at Piper Lane (well worth a visit) in Geraldton and we were on the road again, this time with an 'off-the-beaten-track' campsite in sight.
Sandy Cape is a great looking spot and we followed a perilous route down to the park, the van rattling around like a pinball over the bumpy desert track. If you are planning to stay down at Sandy Cape, BRING CASH! We didn't have the foresight and were unable to pay the park and camping fees to be able to stay down there, so had to do with a quick adventure over the dunes and a nose around the campsite, which is quite extraordinary.
The campsite is run by one chief tent, the inhabitants of which sit around like a scene from King of the Hill and point you in the direction of a spot. Right by the beach and in the middle of nowhere, the campsite was rammed full of weird and wonderful vehicles and tents. A funny little outback community taking us, the alien newcomers, and our foreign appearance in was a little daunting to be honest.
Juddering back up to the normality of the main road, we carried on to Jurien Bay for sunset. After a swim and in the face of fully-booked campsites, we were pointed towards an overflow field - the local cricket oval. 5 minutes from the beach, the cricket oval made for the perfect spot and was reasonably busy with campers. We pulled up late and left early, unintentionally (but happily enough) missing the opportunity to pay the ranger for the privilege!
Day 12 | Jurien Bay to Fremantle
Breezing back down to Perth and on to Fremantle in just under 3 hours and without drama, we picked up a fourth camper for the remainder of the trip. Fremantle is a cool little suburb, coffee shops, live music and quirky shops - we enjoyed a tasty bit of grub and chilled before bringing in 2018 in a local bar. Breaking the norm, we spent the night in a hostel given the lack of opportunity to camp in the city.
Day 13 | Fremantle to Yallingup
The second leg of our trip, south of Perth, was at a more leisurely pace, with relatively little driving. We spent three nights at the same campsite near Yallingup and spent our days exploring the local region's beaches, beaches, swimming holes and beaches.
We camped at Yallingup Spring, now overflowing into a tent as our crew had expanded to four. Yallingup Spring is the most beautiful space, run by Barbara and Kurt and in the grounds of their property, the spring has a picturesque pond, is full of wildlife and acres of rolling green land set a few kms inland. BBQs are available and the facilities (which are an extension of the main and out-house) are great, the perfect base for exploring the region.
| Indijup Natural Spring & Indijup Beach
Our first day of adventures took us to Injidup Spring, an incredible natural 'spring' forged by crashing waves erupting through nooks and crannies in the pool's walls. The spring had received a bit of Instagram fame at the time we were there and was a bit crowded initially, but it cleared up and is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
We then drove 5 minutes on to Injidup Beach, which is yet another flawless white sandy beach with a decent swell for surfers and endless turquoise waters. Having enjoyed the waters and soaked up enough sun for one morning, we headed for Shaana's Cafe in Yallingup itself to refuel. Shaana's became a go-to for us and serves a great brunch, baked goodies and drinks.
Eagle Bay was our stop for the afternoon. More sheltered than Injidup with minimal wind and no surf in sight, Eagle Bay is great for families and a relaxed swim (although a big black shadow did swim past to my great excitement at one point!). Having reached maximum chill, we returned to the campsite for a barbie and an early night.
Day 14 & 15 | Yallingup & around
| Sugarloaf Rock
Our days in Yallingup Spring generally followed a similar pattern to the first, but we were up early this morning to catch the sunrise at Sugarloaf Rock. Much colder than we'd been up the coast, we waited patiently for the sun to peek over the hillside and light up the rock, we were treated to a beautiful scene as the impressive rock lit up. A great morning trip if you're a morning person!
| Smiths Beach, Eagle Bay & Bunker Bay
As well as Injidup and Eagle Bay, we made it to Smith's Beach, Yallingup Beach and Bunker's Bay whilst down in Yallingup. With their share of surfing, shark alarms and flawless waters, you really can't go wrong when it comes to beaches in the area! Bunker's Bay is pretty and calm (very similar to Eagle Bay); Smith's is great for surfing and playing in the waves; and Yallingup Beach is a hive of surfing, cafe and beach-goer activity. Even the dolphins of Yallingup Beach couldn't help but get involved, coming right up to the water's edge to say hi!
Day 16 | Yallingup & Margaret River
Our final stop was Margaret River itself, which we drove down to via a wine tour at Leeuwin Estate (has to be done when in the Margaret River region) - the girls loved the tour and would certainly recommend it (I was at the beach).
After the tour, we visited a few of the more southern beaches: Surfer's Point, which is a great place to watch the pros do their thing; Prevelly, another surfer hangout with great sands and typically perfect waters; and Gnarabup, a family friendly beach with a great cafe called the White Elephant to fuel you with coffee/ milkshakes. All great beaches and an awesome way to end our trip before we drove back up to Perth, dropped the camper back and boarded our flight back to Sydney!
Hope you've enjoyed this blog, please check out my others, let me know your thoughts and comment with your WA highlights - I'm sure there are many more!