BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO THE WEST COAST
From top to bottom, Western Australia – Australia’s largest state – caters to people who want adventure and fun while keeping to a travel-friendly budget.
Much of Western Australia’s most stunning, eye-popping wilderness can be explored on a budget. From a vertigo-inducing cliff overhang platform to a huge outback moonscape, epic turtle-flecked snorkelling and a stunning infinity pool in the remote outback, there’s plenty to do without blowing your budget. Here are just a few great ideas.
SURREAL PINNACLES FORMATIONS
If ever you’ve wondered what it would be like to walk on the moon, a stroll through the dandelion yellow, limestone spires known as the Pinnacles is as close as you’ll get on Earth. The biggest columns are five metres (16 feet) tall, and about one metre (three feet) wide. About 200,000 years old, they’re hidden within Nambung National Park just outside the coastal town of Cervantes, a 2.5-hour drive north of Perth. There’s a driving route through the karst formations, plus a boardwalk. Visit the Pinnacles Dessert Discovery Centre to get an in-depth understanding of this extraordinary moonscape. National park entry fees apply and are charged per vehicle.
WALK PERTH’S ART-SPLASHED ALLEYS
Perth’s laneway walls and nondescript buildings have been decorated by some of the world’s most respected street artists, and with the help of Perth’s interactive street art map you can see them. The art, by big names such as Belgium’s Roa, Milo Manara from Italy and American Maya Hayuk, has changed Perth in the eyes of both residents and visitors. And the best part? The cleverly curated urban gallery is free to see. There’s also a good map for the street art of Fremantle, 30 minutes south of Perth’s city centre, here. If you’re taking a road trip outside of Perth, follow the PUBLIC Silo Trail through beautiful regional towns to discover massive murals done on grain silos, transformer boxes and iconic infrastructure.
ROTTNEST ISLAND’S BEACHES BY BIKE
Rotto, as it’s dearly known to West Australians, is a car-free island only 19 kilometres (12 miles) over water from Perth. Discounted ferry rides can be found here. Once you arrive, hire a bike and get pedalling to those white sands. Explore historic buildings, where yellow-shirted volunteers give free walking tours – the island was once an army base and penal colony – and keep an eye out for furry, friendly marsupials called quokkas. Puff up hills to reach the west end boardwalk, which is made from 200,000 two litre milk bottles and 2.25 million plastic bags.
NIGHT IN PRISON IN FREMANTLE
World Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison is also backpacker accommodation run by Youth Hostels Australia. You can stay in a cell, if you like, and dream about the convicts that stayed there from the 1850s onwards. The accommodation section is in the division that housed women as recently as 1991. Unlike the prisoners, you’ll have free Wi-Fi on hand. During your stay, do a tour of the main prison – there are nighttime torchlight tours, an underground tunnel tour or the regular day tour available, where you’ll learn about a significant escape by an Irish prisoner. This is one of Western Australia’s top overall experiences on TripAdvisor.
UNDERWATER WITH MANTA RAYS
In the crystalline ocean off Coral Bay, harmless manta rays more than two metres (six feet) wide glide and flap like underwater birds, zooming in slow loop-the-loops as gracefully as ballet dancers. A full day boat cruise out past the colourful, fish-filled coral to swim with the mantas is a memorable experience that’s much cheaper than the popular ‘swimming with whale sharks’ tour, which is what attracts most visitors to Coral Bay. There’s also excellent backpacker accommodation available in the town.
SIP YOUR WAY in MARGARET RIVER
Margaret River is one of the fastest growing microbrewery regions in Australia, and offers dedicated tours showing visitors the best of its beer and cider houses. Margaret River Brewery Tours and Margaret River Cider Tours share the same bus and set you up with beer tasting paddles or cider samples at every stop. They also take you behind the scenes, teaching you the importance of hops, malt, terroir and water purity, as well as apples and pears. A highlight is the converted dairy farm brewery, where you enter via the creamery and milking parlour.
KIMBERLEY’S FAMOUS INFINITY POOL
You wouldn’t normally expect to find an infinity pool in a campground, particularly one in a remote part of the outback. But Lake Argyle Resort in the Kimberley is a camping ground with benefits, most notably the extraordinary elevated views. It overlooks Australia’s largest man-made lake, which is studded with islands that were once mountain peaks. The lake is so big it’s regarded as an inland sea, and it’s full of freshwater crocodiles. There are powered and unpowered camping sites as well as safari tents, cabins and villas, making this the perfect stop-off on your Kimberley adventure.
PEER OVER GIANT BOULDERS IN ALBANY
Like cliff jumping without the splash, a new see-through skywalk hanging over boulders in Albany’s Torndirrup National Park delivers a thrill. The steel platform extends 10 metres (33 feet) past the edge of the granite cliff at The Gap, and 40 metres (131 feet) above sea level. About 420 kilometres (260 miles) south-east of Perth, it lures visitors to this epic coastline of raging Southern Ocean, wildflower-dotted scrub and footprint-free beaches. After gazing at the frothing white water below your feet, look out to the horizon to search for migrating whales that pass by from June to October. National park entry costs apply
GET VERTIGO UP IN THE TREE TOPS
Imagine being 40 metres (131 feet) above ground level, swaying in the canopy of some of the tallest trees in the world. That’s the sensation you get when you’re on the Tree Top Walk, a bouncy steel construction suspended between immense karri and tingle trees in Walpole-Nornalup National Park’s Valley of the Giants. It’s a five-hour south from Perth. The tingles are believed to live for about 400 years and measure up to 20 metres (66 feet) in circumference. The karri, meanwhile, grow up to 90 metres (295 feet) high, making the species one of the world’s tallest hardwoods. The 600-metre (656-yard) circuit is made with steel grating, so you can see through to the forest floor – not advised if you suffer from vertig
CAMP, SURF AND SNORKEL AT GNARALOO STATION
The ocean opposite a remote, century-old working pastoral property called Gnaraloo provides some of the most adrenaline-pumping windsurfing, kitesurfing and surfing in Western Australia. Camp here and you’ve found yourself one of the cheapest ways to access magical Ningaloo Reef. The snorkelling is excellent, and if you visit from late November to early March you may be able to spot the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles that make an annual pilgrimage up these ivory beaches.
Perth, Ningaloo Reef, the Pinnacles & more… This is your West Coast of Australia Guide.
Travelling Western Australia will give you a taste of the ‘REAL’ Aussie Outback! The coastline between Perth and Exmouth is beautifully diverse, the South West is home to Surf, Rainforest & Wine, whilst the rugged Kimberleys is most definitely off the beaten track. Here’s where to go!
Perth is booming. The once tiny city is now home to loads of funky bars, good shopping, good coffee and yummy food. Spend a day exploring the city and make sure you take a walk up to King’s Park for city views. A day exploring one of Perth’s beaches is also a must – be sure to take a bus to Scarborough or City Beach, alternatively, take a 15 minute train ride to Cottesloe Beach.
Fremantle is a beach side town just a short train ride south of Perth which is rich in history. It was once home to convicts, escaped prisoners from the city’s goal and hippie communities. Cottesloe Beach and Fremantle are on the same train ride so you can knock those two off in a day! We also recommend taking a ferry to Rottnest Island. Hire a bike, a snorkel and explore the island’s beaches and Quokkas – Aussie animals that exist, in the wild, solely on the island.
SOUTHWEST of Perth
The South West of Perth is home to stunning beaches, rainforests, surf & wine! Take a 3 Day or a 5 Day Tour south (5 days if you would like to visit the famous Esperance Beach – you may have seen photos of Kangaroos relaxing on the beach – this is the beach to see it)! Alternatively, hire a campervan!
As you head south make sure you pay a visit to the southern hemisphere’s longest jetty, Margaret River which is famous for Surf Beaches & Wineries, a Tree Top Walk in the Valley of the Giants, Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the township of Albany, Boranup Forest & the quaint little town of Pemberton.
PERTH to EXMOUTH
Allow yourself at least 5 – 7 Days to explore the coastline between Perth and Exmouth – 7 Days if you are returning to Perth. There are a number of tour companies that offer both one way and return tours from Perth. Alternatively if you are driving onwards through to Broome or Darwin, we would suggest hiring a Campervan.
PINNACLES and LANCELIN
The landscape between Perth and Exmouth is diverse! As you head north pay a visit to Nambung National Park – home of the Pinnacles. These weird, limestone formations exist in the yellow sand of the desert. Further north a visit to Lancelin is a must – home of sand boarding! As you arrive into Lancelin you will be blown away by the white sand mounds… this place looks somewhat like the moon.
Continue north to Shell Beach (no sand, just shells) & the Stromatolites (the oldest living organism in the world) in Shark Bay. Follow the coastline to Monkey Mia – this is a beautiful, relaxed beach side town that allows you to feed the dolphins.
KALBARRI and CORAL BAY
Soon you will reach the red sands of Kalbarri National Park – an adult’s adventure playground! There are loads of short or longer walks available as well as the option to Kayak, Canoe, Rock Climb or Abseil through the gorges and natural lakes.
Coral Bay… the beach is stunning and it’s usually a good night out (for the West Coast). A little drive north of Coral Bay you will find yourself in Exmouth – the gateway to Ningaloo Reef!
Many visitors claim that Ningaloo Reef is better than the Great Barrier Reef! Ningaloo Reef is shallow – hence the light from the sun hits more fish and coral. The beaches are absolute paradise and like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
From May to June each year Ningaloo Reef welcomes the Whale Shark! You have the opportunity to snorkel with these majestic creatures – an absolute unique Australian experience.
Karijini is located a few hours inland from Exmouth. Some Perth to Exmouth Tours offer the option to stop by Karijini on the way back to Perth. This national park is unique and one of a kind – it is absolutely magical! You will find waterfalls, natural rock pools of different colours, crevices, chasms & hidden white sandy beaches within the high red walls of the park.
Broome is absolutely stunning and has fast become a popular getaway for Aussies… endless stretches of white sandy beach, good nightlife & camels. Heading through to Darwin you must pass through the Kimberleys! This is possibly the most rugged, remote and beautiful part of Australia! You will need roughly 9 days to get from Broome to Darwin due to the 4WD tracks. Visit Purnululu National Park, the Bungle Bungles, Echidna Chasm & Lake Argyle.
The West Coast is absolutely stunning, diverse & untouched – the REAL Australia.
There are tour options that suit anywhere you would like to go – South West, Perth to Exmouth, Perth to Karinjini return & Broome <> Darwin including the Kimberleys. Alternatively there are a number of campervan companies that operate on the West Coast.
PERTH TO DARWIN ITINERARY
Quieter and wilder than the East, the West Coast is the paradise for nature lovers. You will find amazing landscapes, infinite deserts and stunning beaches. The Australian West Coast is one of the most popular road trip routes, with more than 4000 kilometres of landscapes as wild as different. You will need at least 3 weeks to go up to the West Coast (depending on your travelling speed and your itinerary). From Margaret River in the south to Darwin in the north, discover all the stages and spots not to be missed for an unforgettable trip. Here is your West Coast road trip itinerary.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Prepare your road trip
How to travel along the West Coast?
Perth to Darwin Road trip Itinerary
West coast tours and activities
Tips & Tricks
Download the complete West Coast Guide
Prepare your road trip
To travel the West Coast in a campervan or motorhome, allow at least 4 weeks (to be adjusted according to your itinerary and your cruising speed). If you want to make the most of it and take your time, you can easily add two weeks.
You will cover a total of around 4500 km. The West Coast is less populated and cities can be separated by great distances. So always plan for water, fuel and food.
The West Coast of Australia is huge, stretching for thousands of kilometers. The climate can, therefore, vary between the North and the South of the coast. Perth has a Mediterranean climate with average summer temperatures of 29°C but it can rise to 40 or 45 °C in February. Between June and August, temperatures hover around 12 ° C. The Coral Coast (between Broome and Perth) enjoys a warm climate all year round. Finally, Broome and the North-West benefit from sunny days during the “dry season” (April to September), with temperatures around 29 ° C. However, from October to March, there are tropical rainstorms, high humidity and temperatures around 30°C.
The best times to visit the West coast is the mid-season, between April and June, or between September and November.
Budget for a road trip on the West Coast
To take full advantage, plan a number of expenses. Make sure you have the necessary budget and take enough money with you to avoid awkward situations. Here is our estimate for a road trip from Perth to Darwin by campervan (rental) for 4 weeks and 2 people already in Australia:
Rental of a 2-seater campervan with insurance: $2,100
Camping nights: $150
Tours and activities: $1,000
Restaurants and going out: $300
Total: around $4,550 for two people or $2,275 per person
Road Trip Budget Calculator
Calculate your road trip budget according to your needs. Easy and for free!
Where to sleep on the West Coast?
Unlike the famous and crowed East Coast, the West Coast is very wild, which means you will able to camp most of the time. Of course, there will be plenty of choice in Perth or Darwin for accomodation. Outside those cities, you will find motels or roadhouses offering accommodation along the coast. The distances between point of interests, cities, can be long, so plan in advance where you will sleep if you do not want to camp.
For those who wish to camp, you will easily find places to sleep on the coast. Some of them are not for free (caravan parks and rest areas) and others are free (camp spots). Wild camping is not allowed and you may be fined. However, you will see once there that there is plenty of space and that ranger checks are quite rare in some areas. However, avoid camping anywhere, especially in tourist areas.
We advise you to buy Camp Australia Wide, a book gathering the rest areas, campsites, free or not to sleep all around Australia. You can also download the WikiCamps application ($7.99) which will tell you where you can sleep, according to your criteria (toilets/showers, free, campfire available, river close by, points of interest etc.). There is also a free version of this application, Campermate but much less complete.
Guide for a West Coast Road Trip
Prepare your trip (seasons, budget)
All the best spots to do on the Coast
Tours & activities recommendations
Spots to park and sleep in a campervan
How to travel along the West Coast?
Pick your vehicle
First, define the type of vehicle according to your expectations:
a motorhome with all the comforts and amenities
a smaller but more economical campervan
a 4WD, you will be sleeping in the vehicle, in a tent or in a rooftop tent
a station wagon, allowing to travel at a lower cost.
To take a road trip on the West Coast of Australia, a 4WD will allow you to reach all the national parks and remote places. You will have the opportunity to drive on the beaches, cross rivers and drive in the bush or on gravel roads. We recommend that you opt for a 4WD vehicle if you can.
Note: Some sites are only accessible by 4WD, such as the “Gibb River Road” in the Kimberleys or some parts of National Parks. However, if you want to stay on the sealed roads and discover the main tourist places, a conventional vehicle is sufficient.
You have the option of renting a campervan or motorhome in Perth or Darwin (NT). It is possible to pick up or drop off a vehicle in Broome, although there are fewer possibilities in that city.
Another very popular option is car rental. Many agencies are present in Australia like Travellers Autobarn (station wagon), Apex, Britz, Budget, Jucy etc. Book in advance to pick and find your ideal vehicle. Rentals are booked out quickly, especially during the high season. There are many car rental agencies around Perth Airport or Darwin.
To compare car rentals
There are no trains or buses running along the entire west coast. However, you can join a group of travellers by bus. This alternative can be considered if you do not have a license, or if you do not wish to travel alone. You will have less freedom, but it also means less things to worry about: driving, refuelling, mechanical issues, etc.
Integrity Coach Lines: “hop on/ hop off” system between Perth and Broome.
Greyhound: only between Broome and Darwin.
Why Not Bus: group trip with tours to the emblematic places between Perth and Broome (Pinnacles, Karijini National Park, Exmouth, etc.).
The Magic bus: a group of 25 backpackers (from Perth to Broome, from March to November only).
Carpool or lift
You can also find other travellers that are looking for people to join them to share the costs. A good option if you want to travel at a lower cost. There are many posts on Facebook pages or on Gumtree. Make sure to meet your travel mates before leaving to confirm you have the same expectations.
Perth to Darwin Road trip Itinerary
Perth and its Surroundings (5 to 6 days)
The capital of WA, Perth
Located on the banks of the Swan River, Perth is the capital of Western Australia. Cosmopolitan and modern, Perth is the most isolated city on the planet. Don’t miss Kings Park and its botanical garden with views on the city. Spreading on more than 400 hectares enjoy the space, the bbq areas and beautiful plants and wild flowers in the park. Elizabeth Quay is also very pleasant for strolls on the seafront.
The Perth Cultural Center, in Northbridge, houses the Art Gallery of WA (free – open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and the WA Museum (free – open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm) where you can discover Aboriginal art, a 25 m long whale skeleton, meteorites, as well as the “old jail” built in 1856 and which is now part of the museum.
Open daily, the Perth Zoo is dedicated to wildlife conservation and is home to no less than 160 different species.
Fremantle is a small town of 25,000 people located 19 kilometres southwest of Perth. “Freo” stands out for its history, closely linked to that of 18th-century convicts. Today, Fremantle’s main tourist activity is its numerous street markets. Taste its many dishes on more than 150 stands, fruits, vegetables, confectionery, international food, crafts, etc …
Rottnest Island sits just offshore from the city of Perth and is a must do! This protected nature reserve, can be explored on foot or by bike. It’s home to the quokka, arguably the cutest marsupial in Australia! With white-sand beaches and secluded coves you will definitely enjoy this little paradise!
Located 3 hours South of Perth, spreads the region of Margaret River. There is a variety of landscapes with beautiful beaches, wineries, pine tree forests, caves… This area of the West Coast is renowned to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon of the country. A tour in a winery will give you the opportunity to discover Australian wines that you can enjoy with fresh local products (seafood, cheese, jam, etc.).
Surfers will definitely find their happiness there and will be able to surf on one of the best spots in the world.
Perth to Geraldton (2 days)
Located roughly 200km, or 2 hours’ drive north of Perth, discover Nambung National Park ($15 entry fee). This Park covers an area of 17,487 hectares and is renowned for its Pinnacles. The Pinnacles are amazing natural limestone structures, formed approximately 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. After the Pinnacles, check out the town of Cervantes, famous for fishing and its beaches. On your way to Geraldton, stop at the popular beaches of Jurien Bay.
Geraldton to Carnarvon (4 days)
A hundred kilometers away you can check out a rare phenomenon in the world, a pink lake, Hutt Lagoon. The colour of the water is due to the large presence of the carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella Salina in the lake. There are 2 pink lakes in Australia, the other one is located south (Lake Hillier). The access to the Hutt Lagoon is through the small town of Port Gregory.
Keep driving towards Kalbarri National Park. Driving along the Indian Ocean, enjoy the numerous lookouts where you can observe the red cliffs (Red Bluff, Mushroom Rock Walk Trail, etc.). Once at the National Park, the Nature’s Window is a must do. The rocks, sculpted by years have become a natural window, giving a stunning view on Kalbarri’s gorges.
Further north, Shark Bay National Park on the West Coast is one of the biggest marine sanctuaries in the world. Famous for Monkey Mia, you will be able to get close to dolphins. Shark bay is also home of a diversified marine fauna such as whales, manta rays, dolphins, sharks, dugongs, etc.
Renowned for its incredible ecosystem, you will be fascinated by Francois Peron National Park. A high-clearance, 4WD is essential to travel beyond the Peron Heritage Precinct.
Perth to Darwin
Carnarvon to Exmouth (3 to 4 days)
Carnarvon is a coastal town. With a subtropical climate, temperatures are nice all year long. The city is famous among backpackers looking for a farm job. There are many fruits and veggies farms in this area.
On your way up north, stop at Lake Macleod. A lake totally dried out where you can look at local birds. Going North West via the Minilya-Exmouth road you will get to the Ningaloo National Park. Coral bay will be your starting point. The main activity is the discovery of the reef and its fauna (whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles, etc.)
Keep driving to Exmouth, until you reach the famous Cape Range National Park. There are numerous tracks to go bushwalking in the National Park. You will need at least a day to enjoy the park. You can go to Oyster Stack and Turquoise Bay to keep exploring Ningaloo Reef.
Exmouth to Karratha (1 to 2 days)
Cross the 550 kilometres desert from Exmouth to Karratha. Stop at each roadhouse to fill up your car and have a break. There is not really any interest in this part of the coast.
Exmouth to Karratha
Karratha to Broome (2 to 3 days)
Karratha is a small coastal town located North West of Australia. It is the biggest town in the area before Port Hedland.
A few kilometres away, further inland, discover the jewel of the Pilbara, Karijini National Park. With its 6274 km², it is the second biggest park of Australia. Located a thousand kilometres north from Perth on the Hamersley Mountains, it is renowned for its stunning gorges and waterfalls. There is a large fauna, kangaroos, echidnas, geckos, goannas, snakes … There are many bushwalks, definitely check out Fortescue falls or Fern Pool.
Karijini National Park
Tom Price, the closest town, is situated 80 kilometres away from the park, in the heart of the huge Marandoo mine. The road between Karratha and Broome is mostly deserted.
Port Hedland is a harbor town on the Northern Australian coast. It is the second largest town in the Pilbara region. It is also the world’s largest bulk export port, with exports including iron ore, lithium and salt. Climate is extreme, with high temperature and low rainfall. There is only one beach (Pretty Pool)… be aware of the crocodiles.
Broome (1 to 2 days)
Broome is considered as the entry door of the Kimberley area. The charismatic town of Broome deserves a few days stopover. It is the meeting point of the red dirt desert and the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean. Enjoy the sunset riding a camel on Cable Beach. Discover the history of the pearl industry and admire the most beautiful pearls in the world in the city centre shops. You can also discover dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point.
Each year from March to October, Staircase to the moon takes place. It is a natural phenomenon which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. Broome is also offering great markets; you can go to the Broome Courthouse Market on Saturday and Sunday mornings or during full moon nights (April to October).
You reached the last part of your Perth to Darwin road trip. From Broome, the road then continues to Darwin in the Northern Territory. On the way, some points of interest are worth seeing. Plan, for example, a short stop in Derby to see the giant baobabs, some of which were once used as a prison for Aboriginal people.
For those with a 4WD, you will have many more places to discover! Especially the Gibb River Road, a long track of 659 km. You will cross rivers, desert landscapes to reach beautiful gorges. Among them Windjana Gorge & Tunnel Creek or Bell Gorge.
You can also discover El Questro, cattle station with its famous falls (accessible with a conventional vehicle).
Next comes Kununurra, a small town in the heart of the Kimberleys, perfect for excursions to explore the region.
You then cross the border to enter the Northern Territory and reach Katherine for a short cruise among the crocodiles. Then it’s time to head to the capital of the Northern Territory, Darwin. On the way, you can stop for a few days at Litchfield National Park, a must in the Northern Territory.
West coast tours and activities
With its wild and varied landscapes, its magnificent beaches, its immense national parks, the West Coast is full of activities for your road trip from Perth to Darwin. Skydive, snorkelling, diving, panoramic flight, 4WD tours, etc. There is something for everyone!
Generally, the main spots where travellers book a paid activity are:
Margaret River: vineyard discovery, hot air ballooning or swimming with wild dolphins in Bunbury
Ningaloo Reef, the Little Barrier Reef: diving with whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales…
Discover the Kimberleys, an area as arid as it is splendid!
Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle) with its impressive domes.
Tips & Tricks
Protect your skin as much as possible. The sun is very strong in Australia, which is the country with the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.
The mosquito repellent will also be very useful during this trip, especially after dark.
Get up early is the key to a successful road trip. In Australia, it gets very hot in the afternoon and it quickly becomes unbearable.
Never drive at night. The lack of light makes roads dangerous and wild animals can come out of nowhere at any time. Car rental companies even ban night driving for these reasons.
On the road, remember to refuel regularly or have tanks because distances are long. Also fill up with water regularly.