Our Ultimate Guide to the Western Australia road trip
Australia's east coast is a backpacker favourite for good reason - Matt traversed the route between Cairns and Sydney in 2011 and had a blast. But on our first visit to the country as a couple, we wanted to experience something new together.
So, in July and August 2016, we travelled over 5500 kilometres across Western Australia and are happy to tell you that it was the best decision we could have made.
From the rusty red sand and arid landscape in the north, to the tall forests and multiple vineyards in the southwest, Western Australia deserves far more visitors than it currently sees. The scenery was, as we expected, beautiful, yet the range of activities and food on offer was outstanding. If you want to experience Australia at its best, this is the place.
This guide is designed to give you answers to some of the questions we found ourselves asking and drum up some excitement for your own road trip across Western Australia. Don't forget to take a look at our post on five things to know before you set off too!
WHy visit western australia?
Australia is incredibly diverse and receives far fewer visitors than the eastern side of the country. From water-based activities such as fishing, whale-watching, surfing and snorkelling, action-packed hiking and climbing in gorges, to visiting vineyards and dining on exquisite food, you are sure to find something to love.
WHY take a rOAD TRIP?
The distances between attractions can be vast, especially north of Perth, so having your own wheels allows you to see the state at your own pace. You can fly between most major tourist spots in Western Australia (if you have plenty of $$$) to save on time, but the journey is part of the fun!
Public transport is not as popular; the routes are limited, journeys are longer, and the fares are expensive. Many of the bus stops are in inconvenient locations meaning you need to catch extra transport to the exact spot you need to be.
WHAT VEHICLE DO I NEED AND WHAT COMPANY SHOULD I GO WITH?
We would have preferred a 4WD as it makes travelling on unsealed roads faster and less bumpy and you can visit more places (such as the Francois Peron National Park, certain gorges in Karjini National Park and various beachside campsites). Unfortunately our budget didn’t stretch that far, and we still saw almost everything we wanted to in our trusty 2WD!
Although the choice of hire companies can be daunting, we saw plenty of caravans from Apollo, Britz, Jucy and Maui to name a few, so just go with the one that suits your own preferences and price range.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Just over a month will allow you to see the main sights, spend a few days on tours and travel at a moderate-to-fast pace. We could have easily spent two months in WA, instead of one, given that we missed out Broome, the Kimberlery and the drive from Albany to Esperance.
The Western Australia Tourism websites gives you heaps of itinerary ideas based on where and what you are interested in seeing.
As distances between attractions are greater north of Perth, factor this in to your planning, especially if you plan to visit the south too.
HOW EXPENSIVE IS IT?
Once you’re on the road, the general pattern is that things get more expensive as you travel further north from Perth. If you happen to find a big Coles or Woolworths in a town you visit (such as Carnarvon, 900km north of Perth) food and drink is generally fairly priced.
Restaurants in small towns such as Denham or in Karjini National Park can set you back $80 for two main courses, however many offer BYOB with no corkage fee which often softens the blow.
Tours and activities in Australia are generally expensive, and WA is no different.
How do I find accommodation/camping spots?
We used the app Wikicamps on the road, however many people swear by the Camps books, which detail all camping areas across Australia, including free sites. You can buy a copy from information centres or online. We made a rough itinerary before we left and picked out all the places we were likely to stay, and then Google searched as well as scoured WA's national parks site for options.
Do I NEED TO BOOK THINGS IN ADVANCE?
Peak season in the north is July-September, when the ‘grey nomads’ and families with children descend to fish, search for wildflowers and escape the gloomy weather further south. The southwest tends to be busier over the December-March period, when sun and surf reign and Margaret River’s vineyards are packed full.
In peak season, prices escalate, accommodation and tours may be full or limited and crowds are more likely. Saying that, we only booked our Whale Shark tour in Exmouth and one caravan park two weeks in advance. For all other accommodation, we found places on arrival with little difficulty. Being off-peak in the south, prices were cheaper and we had no problems getting into the campsites, restaurants (and wine tastings…) that we wanted.
How much planning should I do?
If you want to spend your time experiencing WA to the full, we would advise mapping out at a minimum where you want to visit and calculating driving times before setting off. Not only will this mean you spend less time researching on your journey, but it will allow you to work out if you may need to book anything in advance, where you are likely to be staying overnight and where is worth a lunch stop along the way.