Places to visit in Western Australia
Western Australia is the real thing – the Australia of isolated mining towns, cattle stations, burnt orange skies, wildflowers and canyons, coral reefs and 12,500km of deserted beaches. Huge and sparsely populated (most inhabitants are squeezed into the south-west in and around the state-capital Perth), it mostly offers nothing but the Earth in her glorious birthday suit.
Which isn’t to say it’s boring – far from it. Bring your kids to Western Australia for unpretentious family holidays of whale-watching, BBQs, spearfishing, snorkelling and seaside camping – and lashings of fresh air and awesome landscapes.
Things to do with kids in Western Australia
Explore Perth, the world’s most isolated city yet Australia’s fourth-largest.
Discover Broome and the Kimberly Region. Broome, founded as a pearling town, is now a popular tourist destination where you can sit back on faded pastel deckchairs beneath a blazing sunset and catch a film at the world’s oldest surviving outdoor theatre, Sun Pictures. Take the kids to stunning Cable Beach, voted one of the world’s top five for its gentle clean blue waters and white sand. It’s also 22km long, so if you find the main area too crowded, just keep trekking (or driving – yes, they drive on the beaches up here!) and soon enough you’ll find a deserted spot. If you’re still here as the sun goes down, take one of the daily sunset camel rides. Just be aware that box jellyfish make the waters unsafe Nov–March.
But Broome is really a gateway to the Kimberly, a nature-lovers’ mecca where the journey is part of the destination – many places are hard to access, with rugged roads and aeons between landmarks. Its natural wonders are too many too mention individually; among highlights are the 350-million-year-old bungle bungle rocks in Purnululu National Park, the phenomenal Mitchell Falls, and the eastern shores of Roebuck Bay, where a full moon reflected on the exposed mudflats from the outgoing tide creates the ‘Staircase to Heaven’ – a stunning and life-affirming place to spend an evening with the family, with a craft and food market set up to make the most of the phenomenon.
Take the Golden Quest Discovery Trail – a self-drive adventure through the Goldfields, spanning around 965km and tracing the gold-producing history of Western Australia. Guided by a book, map and audio CDs, you visit the gold-rush towns with their balconied pubs and 1800s architecture, feel the eerie still of real ghost-towns and pass through desert studded with tiny bright wildflowers like exclamations of hope in an arid world. The tour also includes Lake Ballard – a million-year-old salt lake and the site of Antony Gormley’s Inside Australia sculptures: casts of the bodies of 51 local residents set over 10km2 of the salt plains. The bodies appear and disappear as you travel – a strangely intimate yet otherworldly experience.
Explore the Coral Coast, where you can expect quiet nights of fish-and-chip suppers and stars as the only lights that stay on past 10pm. Starting in the north, Ningaloo Reef is 250km of coral reef containing more than 200 different types of coral, plus marine life including sea turtles, the usual rainbow tribes of fish, and between March and June mighty whale sharks weighing 15 tons and measuring 18m in length (don’t fear – Australia may be home to many terrifying animals but whale sharks are gentle giants lethal only to plankton). Ningaloo Reef is especially suited to children as sometimes the reef is so close to the shore it can be explored by snorkelling straight off the beach. Camp or find a room at the sleepy retro town of Coral Bay just south of Exmouth.
Still on the Coral Coast, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is home to the famous friendly bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia, who’ve been making daily visits to the shallow shores of the bay since the 1960s – you pay an entry fee to visit and can feed the dolphins fish provided by rangers. Stay a night or two either locally or in the nearby fishing town of Denham.
Still heading south along the Coral Coast, The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park – a mere 250km from Perth (culture! coffee! fashion!) – are the limestone deposits from a sea that receded around 30,000 years ago.
Perth and the Margaret River naturally lay claim to the state’s best restaurants, plus cosmopolitan cafés, artisan food stores and breweries, and to some of the greatest wineries in the Australia, leaving the rest of the state to rely on its natural beauty to attract visitors.
If you’re travelling by campervan, your best bet is to have BBQs at local campsites and catch a pub meal on your nights off. RSL clubs – The Returned and Services League – are often a great place to get a home-style meal such as a daily roast or pasta dish, with cheap booze, large portions and a big welcome to children. There is usually one in every big-ish town, and cities will have one in nearly every suburb.
Broome has a few more options – a wood-fired pizza restaurant and Asian-fusion style joints. Mangoes are a local crop that the whole family will love to feast on.
When to go to Western Australia
Western Australia (WA) has three climate zones – the coastal north, coastal south, and central WA – each with its own seasonal considerations. North contains the Kimberly Region, including the pearling town Broome, the Coral Coast and its laconic one-pub towns, some of them 1200km north of Perth. It has two seasons, wet and dry: the dry season (Apr–Sept) is best for travel as it’s cooler and drier, free from the cloying humidity of the wet season.
South WA, home of the famous Margaret River region with its top surfing, wineries and gourmet food, is more temperate. The climate is Mediterranean – hot, dry summers and mild rainy winters. Expect temperatures as high as 32°C in January and as low as 10°C in winter.
Central WA is arid and semi-arid – very hot and with little rain (but there’s not much out there anyway…).
If you’re keen on whale-watching, the creatures can be found somewhere along the coast at any time of the year – they migrate from the South to North and back again.
Flight costs aside, Western Australia can be the place for very budget-conscious family holidays, with lots of great-value, unpretentious accommodation. Luxury options are few and far between.
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Flying time18hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
Carbon footprint CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.
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