Almost as big as India, but with a population of under two million people (most of whom live in Perth), Western Australia is the state to head to for a holiday full of epic wilderness, a spectacular reef, stunning beaches and sunsets, plus unique wildlife experiences, all away from the tourist hordes that travel Australiaís east coast. One of the best, easiest and most popular ways to cram a lot of the state into a holiday is to rent a vehicle and travel up the west coast on a Perth to Broome roadtrip.
Hiring a car or campervan is easy to do in Perth. You could then do the trip comfortably in a couple of weeks, but the more time you have, the better. Itís a long way! If youíre renting a campervan, itís very easy to camp for free at many sites along the way, although look out for signs forbidding free camping, generally near towns and in national parks.
Travelling north from Perth, your first stop will be The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, by Cervantes. Aim to get there at sunrise/sunset, when the endless sandstone pillars rising from the desert cast strange shadows and look their most alien. You can see the Pinnacles on a day tour from Perth if you donít have much time.
Some people choose to head inland first, to New Norcia, a stylish Spanish-style monastery town, popular for spiritual retreats from Perth but most famous for its gourmet breads and preserves.
The next major stop will be Kalbarri. Itís a good area for bushwalking along river canyons and there are plenty of spectacular lookouts, the best being Natureís Window. Kalbarri itself is a pleasant resort town, with a good beach, plenty of hotels and caravan parks, plus lots of watersports.
After Kalbarri, head to Shark Bay where youíll find Monkey Mia, confusingly one of Australiaís most famous destinations for seeing dolphins. Wild dolphins come to Monkey Mia every day to be fed while you stand knee-deep in the ocean a few metres away. Itís definitely one of the best opportunities in Australia youíll get to see dolphins up close but it is very touristy. The feedings generally take place early in the morning so aim to get there the night before.
The Ningaloo Reef
The final big stop on a west coast roadtrip is the Ningaloo Reef. Donít miss it. Along with the Kimberley, the Ningaloo is Western Australiaís greatest attraction. Itís really good for scuba diving, but most people come to swim with whale sharks (March Ė July).
Many tourists actually prefer the Ningaloo to its much bigger and more famous eastern brother the Great Barrier Reef. Thatís because the reef is much closer to the shore, there are far fewer tourists and the Indian Ocean waters are much warmer than the Pacific Ocean.
The Ningalooís main gateway is Exmouth, which is a town with clear aspirations of becoming the Cairns of the west, but thankfully is still relatively small. There youíll find plenty of accommodation, dive schools and tour operators. If youíve got more time, try to stay in Coral Bay, a tiny settlement to the south, which has one of Australiaís best beaches. There are a few hotels there and you can also book reef trips and whale shark boat tours from Coral Bay.
Even if you miss the whale shark season, thereís still plenty of marine life to see, including manta rays, turtles, reef sharks and several other types of whale.
Try to find a spare day or two to explore Cape Range National Park, which is full of impressive canyons and pristine beaches boasting brilliant snorkelling, in the area between Exmouth and Coral Bay.
The coast between Exmouth and Broome isnít the most exciting so itís best to travel inland at this point and go via Karijini National Park. If youíve already been on a tour of Western Australiaís northern tip, Karijini might seem a bit like the Kimberley light, but itís a vast area with breathtaking canyons and gorges nonetheless, and is rightly one of WAís highlights. Itís also a hub for adventure tourism, with plentiful canyoning tours on offer. The alternative coastal route takes you through Karratha, an uninspiring industrial hub that offers little more than some well-hidden Aboriginal rock art.
Pilbara to Broome
From Karijini, travel straight through the Pilbara, skirting the Great Sandy Desert, to Broome. Itís a seriously unforgiving area, with most of its towns being dependent on the mining which makes Western Australia such a rich state. However, it is quite interesting to take a mine tour and gawp at the ridiculously big vehicles used. Make sure your air-con is working Ė Marble Bar boasts Australiaís highest recorded temperatures.