The statistics tell us that we Aussies typically commute less than 20km to work, and don’t venture further afield than 50km on day trips. We’re happy to travel 400–700km and spend an average of five days in one location, while anything further or longer is 2–3 week journey. So, given that 90 per cent of us live within 100km of the east coast, it would be easy to dismiss Western Australia as simply too far to travel. But think again.
You can drive to Perth from Sydney in around 40 hours. That’s five days straight behind the wheel, assuming you stick to fatigue limits. But the rewards are well worth the effort — as we discovered on a recent overland adventure to WA’s south-west corner.
If it’s home grown produce that tickles your fancy, it’s hard to speak highly enough of this part of the world. The Margaret River wine region is renowned across the nation, boasting over 200 wineries and producing approximately 20 per cent of Australia’s premium wine. But the truth is, WA has more on offer than just fermented grapes.
In the south-west, there’s a dizzying array of farm doors and boutique producers selling food, beverages and other goods that will appeal to a wide range of tastes. Consider, for example, wrapping your laughing gear around fresh venison steaks and smallgoods from Margaret River Venison. Or tempt the little tackers’ taste buds at Simmo’s ice-creamery offering no less than 60 ‘udderly’ delicious flavours. At Margaret River Hemp Company you’ll find clothing, hemp flour, chocolate — a rich source of Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, protein, fibre and omega oils. Or how about sampling the local fromage? At Cambray Cheese, just north of Nannup, they offer sheep and cow’s milk cheeses that will melt in your mouth.
Remember too that sandalwood is native to WA. The Sandalwood Shop at Albany is full of this plant’s sensational scent in a range of beauty, health and lifestyle and food products. Then head to Lake Grace and you can visit Cambinata Yabby Farm for some crustaceans, dukka and olive oil. And Margaret River isn’t south-west WA’s only wine region. Ever heard of Porongurup? If you haven’t, perhaps it’s time you did.
Wherever you find local produce, the experience is bound to be a highlight of your day. After all, what better way to enjoy what south-west WA has to offer than to enjoy a gourmet platter of food that you’ve collected on your travels, or to take home some local specialities for the folks back home.
While there’s far more to enjoy in south-west WA than we could hope to cover in one article, here are some location highlights to help whet your appetite.
You’d be crazy to miss a ferry trip to Rottnest Island. The island has a rich Indigenous, maritime, colonial and military history that’s best explored by bicycle — and from under the water. Picture coral reefs, dive wrecks, salt lakes and massive 9.2in coastal defensive guns with underground tunnel systems that date from before World War II. The island was named by 1696 Dutch navigator William de Vlamingh as 'Rotte nest' (meaning 'rat's nest') after he mistook the quokkas for rats the size of cats! You’re unlikely to make the same mistake. Be prepared to spend the day cooing “Aww, how cute!”
Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is located at the most south-westerly point of Australia and is a must-see. Take a tour to the top of the lighthouse and imagine the maritime explorers and traders for whom this peninsula was the first sight of land after leaving port at Cape Town, some 8500km away. Visit on a windy day and you may even feel the lighthouse sway beneath your feet. The shear isolation of this spectacular site is brought to life at the excellent interpretive centre that highlights the austere lives led by early lighthouse keepers.
Albany is well known for its close proximity to the Valley of the Giants in Walpole and for its spectacular coastline and surrounding nature reserves. While these attractions are reason enough to put Albany on your itinerary, for those with a military background this town has added significance. That’s because Albany was the departure port for navy vessels bound for battlefields in Egypt, Turkey and Palestine during WWI. Visit the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial and the National ANZAC Centre and you’ll learn that it was here, not the Middle East, that the tradition of the ANZAC Dawn service originated. This is a truly special place. Looking down from the hilltop Memorial you’ll be standing where many families waved their sons goodbye for the last time, and you’ll be looking at the Bay that was, for our 61,513 war dead, their last sight of Australia — ever.
CAPE LE GRAND NATIONAL PARK
From Albany, Highway One leads you inexorably east to Esperance, a place that’s renowned as a beach fishing mecca. But there’s far more to this place than rods and tackle. It’s also the gateway to Cape Le Grand National Park which is one of the most spectacular beach locations you could hope to find, offering blindingly white sand and the unusual sight of numerous offshore islands peppering the bays. Having once been the location of both desperation and recuperation among a series of maritime and overland explorers, today Cape Le Grand is an oasis for beach bums and bushwalkers alike.
Here are some other great locations we fitted into our itinerary and we’re sure you’ll find more:
- Lake Clifton and Yalgorup National Park near Mandurah
- Mammoth Cave filled with mega-fauna fossils at Margaret River
- Cape Leewin and Cape Naturaliste Lighthouses
- Wave Rock at Hyden
- The Busselton Jetty, which is the longest timber piled jetty in the southern hemisphere (with the added bonus of an underwater observatory)
- Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury
- Tin Horse Highway
- ‘The Lily’ a windmill based on a 16th century design and making stone ground spelt flour
Plus many, many more.
WHERE AND WHEN
The best time to visit the South-west WA is autumn and spring. That said, the weather is enjoyable throughout the year, with Mediterranean-style mild, wet winters and hot summers.
Free camps are quickly filled in peak season, so, to avoid disappointment and wasting time, we relied predominantly on commercial camp sites that we could book well in advance. These all provided the amenity we needed at a reasonable price. In off season, however, and with a bit of luck, you’ll find there are some fantastic free-camps in south-west WA with views to die for.