If you are planning a visit to Perth then allow yourself plenty of time to explore South West Australia.
Many people are under the illusion that Western Australia is a desert-like area with nothing but Perth to visit. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Southwest destinations in West Australia include ancient forests and cave systems, glorious coastline and small towns brimming with history.
It’s no secret that I adore Australia west coast scenery, having driven a Perth to Broome road trip and explored places such as Karijini National Park, Exmouth and Broome. I was keen to check out more that the west coast had to offer and leave the red dirt and high temperatures behind to explore the fresher, lusher climates of the south west of Western Australia.
If you’re seeking a Perth road trip, then I encourage you to head down south! I took to the road for a self-drive itinerary and here is my pick of the best things to see and do in this region of Australia.
Best Of My 8 Day South West Australia Road Trip
There are many possible places to stop at from Perth to Albany. I spent eight days exploring the south west of Australia and the following are my highlights from the trip.
Day One: Perth to Dunsborough
On the morning of day one my friend and I picked up our hire car from the centre of Perth. We opted for a company called Bayswater (also known as No Birds), who offer a car for $25 a day. This was probably one of the cheapest rates I had ever seen for car hire across Australia so I snapped it up.
More about Perth:
We navigated out of Perth and headed south down Highway 1. We stopped for coffee in Mandurah, which is only about an hour south of the city, and to pick up some supplies for the supermarket there rather than battle to park at an inner city store. There are a few cafes and restaurants to choose from down by the waterfront in Mandurah and we plumped for coffee and cake at Dome.
We arrived ext in Bunbury, intent to spot some dolphins at Koombana beach. Sadly, I don’t think we were there at the right time of day and we didn’t see any swimming in the shallows, but there is a dolphin information centre here where you can learn more about them and book yourself on to a cruise if you have more time.
Bunbury has undergone some regeneration and it has a smart little waterfront area with cafes, bars and restaurants around a small boardwalk so it could be a nice place to relax with an evening drink if you chose to stay there.
My route took me further along – where I deviated through the Tuart forest to enjoy the thick, glossy vegetation (and spotted my first kangaroo of the trip bouncing across me path in the distance) – towards Dunsborough.
My stopping point for the first night was the Beach House YHA in Dunsborough that sits right on the shore front. After checking into our room, my friend and I strolled along the sand at sunset and followed up with our first bottle of Margaret River region wine over a dinner cooked in the communal kitchen.
Day Two: Busselton and Cape Naturaliste
Our first stop this morning was actually a slight backtrack. Because of where we wanted to stay last night, we had to drive a short distance back the way we came to call in at Busselton. If you have more time on the day before, you may want to call into Busselton first and check out the famous Busselton jetty, which is where we were headed this morning.
Busselton is home to the longest wooden jetty in southern hemisphere. It saw 5000 ships docking there in its working life. It measures a whopping 1.8 km each way, which is perfect for stretching the legs and taking in the sea breeze and the turquoise blue water. There is also a small train that runs up and down the length of the jetty if you’re not keen on the 3.6 kilometre walk up and down. There is an interesting little museum and gift shop at the entrance to the jetty that gives you the history of the place.
After our walk up and down the jetty we drove around Busselton and found a spot to enjoy lunch. We picked a place called Canteen Kitchen, a light, airy café that served me up a delicious dhal.
Feeling fortified, our next stop was Cape Naturaliste in D’Entrecasteaux National Park. There is a lighthouse on the Cape with several walking tracks around the headland. At the time of year we were there – October – we were treated to lots of dainty little wildflowers along the paths. The best part of this walk was the chance to see humpback whales breaching offshore. We stood on a viewing platform and gazed out into the ocean and there were the unmistakable tips of their fins breaking through the surface of the water.
We pottered around the tiny coastal settlements in the area and sat down for an afternoon snack overlooking the beach at Yallingup Bay. There are a lot of holiday homes in this area and you get the impression that in the height of summer this area is packed, and that Perth locals use the place as their bolt-hole away from city life.
The day ended in the town of Margaret River. Given that the region is famed for its wine making, there are a lot of accommodation options here. We chose a place just outside of the town called Wharncliffe Mill Eco Camp. This was a mill that has been converted into basic dorm room accommodation for backpackers, plus the site features eco-lodges and tent pitches.
Day Three: Margaret River wines
The Margaret River region is famed for its world-class wineries. There are over 200 in the vicinity to choose from, plus a whole host of local producers of olive oil, chocolate, coffee and tea, cheese and beer, amongst other things. It’s safe to say that if you are driving a road trip from Perth to the Margaret River area then wine tasting may be your ultimate goal.
To avoid the hassle of getting between wineries, I joined on a locally run wine tasting day tour with McLeod Tour.
- Read: My experience of Margaret River wine and the best of Margaret River attractions.
Day Four: Margaret River to Pemberton
The morning started with a coffee from Yahava roastery’s drive through (yes, drive through coffee is a thing!) before heading out to Cowaramup to have a look around. This small town has put itself on the map by erecting many statues of cows through the streets, including one high up on a pillar that’s known colloquially as ‘rump on a stump.’ The cow statues draw a lot of passers-by to the otherwise sleepy town and there are quite a few little art and craft shops to poke around in as you wander past the cows.
We took the Caves Road route out of Margaret River, which, as the name suggests, is home to a huge network of fantastic caves. Pick up a map from any tourist information centre to pinpoint where the caves are. Plus, they are well signposted from the road. You can choose to purchase a multi-pass ticket if you want to visit more than one cave in the area, however my friend and I choose to stop at Lake Cave as it is renown to be one of the more spectacular.
Lake Cave was discovered in the 1800s by the Bussell family. A huge sink hole appeared in the ground that revealed the cave system underneath. Nowadays the cave is accessed by a lot of steps descending into the ground. Exciting going down, but allow yourself regular rest stops going up again! You join a small tour to access the cave, led by an informative guide who explains the history and points out the particularly fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. It was a beautiful experience and had I more time I would have certainly visited more caves in the area.
We followed up our cave exploration by driving to Cape Leeuwin, the most south-westerly point of WA, close to Augusta. Here there is a lighthouse you can look around and plenty of places to pull over the car and go for a stroll on some of the paths and sheltered little coves.
We turned the corner and drove eastwards along the Vasse highway to Pemberton. The scenery along this stretch of the trip could have been rural England; lush green rolling hills with sheep grazing as far as the eye could see.
Pemberton is a tiny, historic town with an old railroad bisecting the main street left over from its logging heydays. We stayed in the Pemberton YHA, a tiny cottage with a roaring log fire.
Day Five: Gloucester National Park to Denmark
The Gloucester tree in Gloucester National Park is a local landmark that is worth a visit. The tree was a fire lookout point, was used from 1947 onwards as one of a network of fire lookouts in the karri forest between 1937 and 1952. It sits at 60 metres high.
Brave adventurers can choose to climb the tree to gain the experience of what the fire warden would have gone through on a daily basis. To climb it one had to scale metal rungs gouged into the trunk, protected by a wire mesh that enclosed the ladder.
I started to climb and could almost ignore the height increasing as I focused on hauling myself up the rather big gaps in-between each rung. At the top it was a slightly unremarkable view of the tips of the smaller trees in the forest around us. It was a gloomy grey day so our overall long distance vision was obscured.
Coming back down was intensely horrendous as you had to constantly look down at your feet for the rung below. I would advise this activity is not for the faint hearted!
To calm the nerves, my friend and I followed our climb with a walk along one of the tracks through the karri forest. On the floor, we could appreciate the beauty of these giant trees a lot more with much of the forest coated in a thick, vibrant green moss.
If heights are not your thing, you can check out Big Brook damn – a place best suited for summer months and relaxing with a BBQ and water sports. There is also a pretty karri forest walk in Gloucester National Park at a stretch of the Lefroy Brook called the Cascades.
A short drive away from Pemberton is Walpole, a pretty little town built on the edge of a series of inlets. Here you will find a rustic old jetty poked out into the water. There were a series of lovely little beaches that would be perfect for whiling away a sunny afternoon.
We finished our day in Denmark at the Blue Wren Travellers Rest YHA. This gorgeous little hostel was set in a converted house with a beautiful large wooden table in the dining room, the heart of the house. It was a good place to sit and talk to your fellow travellers over your meal.
Day Six: Denmark to Albany
This morning we deviated once more with a slight backtrack to The Valley Of The Giants – a suspended walkway in 40 metre high red tingle trees. Following yesterday’s gung-ho approach to climbing trees, I was content to experience the beauty of this 400 year old forest canopy from a series of safely constructed, sturdy walkways.
The forest in the south western corner of Western Australia is truly worth a visit. The rich colours of the foliage and the impressively wide buttress bases of these giant trees are nothing like you’ll see elsewhere.
After all of the fresh air we had worked up a hunger and called in at a cosy café called Mrs Jones in Denmark for a delicious brunch and coffee. I had heard good things about the coffee here and I wasn’t disappointed.
Next up was the city of Albany, which is the largest place you’ll encounter on this road trip. Albany is the oldest recorded settlement in Western Australia, preceding Perth by about 200 years. It’s a port town that retains a lot of its history. The best Albany attractions include whale spotting (May to October) and exploring the maritime history by visiting the Discovery Bay old whaling station.
Day Seven: Albany to Kojonup
If there is only one thing you do in Albany then it has to be a visit to the ANZAC Museum ($24AU). This modern building houses a really superbly laid out collection of artefacts that document the Australian and New Zealand involvement in the First World War and the beach landing at Gallipoli. When you arrive at the museum, you are given a card with the details of a person who served in the war. At several points throughout the exhibition you can follow the story of the person on your card by listening to audio recordings or reading information. It was a brilliant way to feel connected to a real-life account of someone who went through the war.
It was a very breezy and somewhat showery morning in Albany, but that didn’t stop me from attempting to explore Emu Point and Middleton Beach where I was hoping to see more whales breeching, but didn’t get lucky.
Albany to Perth is a distance of 417 kilometres. It is possible to drive this in one (long) day up the Albany Highway and the Kwinana Highway, but I chose to split the journey.
I drove north out of Albany through Porongolup National Park, an area of really intriguing rock formations and stunning views. If you have the time, there are several walks in this area that are well worth pulling over the car for.
We stayed the night at Kojonup Caravan Park where we paid for $70 our own little cabin. There were basic facilities and it was a rather rustic experience. Good for budget backpackers!
Day Eight: Arrival Back To Perth
Kojonup is a tiny, rural town out in the wheat belt of Western Australia. There isn’t really a great deal to do here, but if you do find yourself calling through, it’s worth checking out the beautiful rose garden that is planted to celebrate WA women through history. The garden is laid out in a maze and you walk around following the story of three historical Western Australian women. You can follow this up with a coffee in the café by the garden called Black Cockatoo before hitting the road.
We drove back to Perth pretty much in one hit. We stopped for lunch in a small town called Boddington, a few kilometres off the highway. Here we strolled up the tiny main street and ate our picnic in the park by the river.
We had to drop our hire car back in Perth by 5pm.
Hints and Tips For A Western Australia Road Trip
- YHA is a prevalent hostel in this part of Australia so it would be worth you asking for their membership card. Each time you stay in a YHA get the reception to stamp your card and on your 10th stay you become a YHA member and entitled to membership discounts
- We saved a lot of money by making our own lunches and only treating ourselves to meals out when the place had been recommended to us
- I drove a total of 1,500 kilometres on my south-west Western Australia road trip over the course of eight days.
Distances In South West Australia
- Perth to Albany: 417 km
- Albany to Denmark: 54 km
- Perth to Bunbury 172: km
- Perth to Margaret River: 270 km
- Bunbury to Busselton: 52 km
When To Go On Your Margaret River Region Road Trip
- I visited this area in October and the weather was still on the cool and windy side. Make sure you have layers with you and wet weather clothes if you’re planning a trip at the same time of year.
- Temperatures in the summer can hit 40 degrees centigrade on occasions. If you’re planning a road trip in the summer months of November to March, be sure to bring hats, sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
Have you visited this part of Western Australia? Are you looking for things to do outside of Perth and have any recommendations you can add to this list? Let me know if you have any questions about planning your road trip itinerary.
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