Western Australia coastal hotspots

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If want a long and winding roadtrip with a view, the coast of Western Australia could be just what you're looking for. Lonely Planet author Virginia Jealous is your expert in the passenger seat.

South Coast - wild

After the big drive across the Nullarbor from the east, get to know Western Australia by paddling in the Great Australian Bight at the old telegraph station near Cocklebiddy (now home to Eyre Bird Observatory). Sturdy 15-inch walls keep the summer heat and winter chill at bay against a backdrop of sand dunes and wide, wild ocean.

Heading west, the Recherche Archipelago off the coast of Esperance is a reminder of how far south this is, with New Zealand fur seals and kooky Cape Barren geese the sole inhabitants of many of its windswept islands; a boat trip to Woody Island gives a taste of these. Fitzgerald River National Park is a winter whale-watcher's paradise; bush camp or walk the headland at Point Ann, birthing bay for Southern Rights and playground for Humpbacks heading along the coast.

Southwest - tamer wild

In the old days (until 1978, that is) Albany, one of WA's grandest historic townships, also eagerly waited for the annual whale migration. Now Whale World, the former whaling station, is a strangely fascinating attraction. Albany's harbour and coastal walking trails are spectacular, and there are plenty of pursuits for the less active too - galleries, museums, good coffee and farmers' markets.

Fifty kms west, decidedly lower-key Denmark welcomed its first wave of sea and tree lifestyle-changers in the 1970s, and the town remains home to an eclectic mix of early settlers' families, artists and craftspeople, specialty farmers and salt-bleached surfers. Drive the Scotsdale Rd loop for views (almost) as far as Antarctica, and for the more immediate satisfaction of cellar doors, and cheese- and chocolate-makers.

Greens Pool, 20km out of town, is a naturally sheltered ocean pool - perfect for lovers of calm water on this often turbulent coast. In the state's southwest corner, at Augusta's Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, there’s a point just offshore where you can see – actually see – where the great Indian and Southern oceans meet; if it’s calm, watch for the undercurrent that shivers and roils and makes a visible border between the two. Serious walkers can don their boots here and walk the 135km Cape to Cape track; the less energetic can meander the surf beaches and back roads between, taking in Margaret River and Dunsborough - magnets for weekending Perth folk - with their associated wineries, fine restaurants and terrific local produce.

West Coast - wildlife

There are possibilities for wildlife encounters aplenty along this stretch of coastline, from dolphins at Monkey Mia to encounters with seriously large marine animals such as whalesharks at Exmouth, where brilliant camping sites dot Cape Range National Park on the edge of the Indian Ocean. In Broome, long-distance drivers may be both thrilled and bewildered by the town's multiple attractions and its many visitors; but Roebuck Bay with its gazillion seasonal migratory birds and Cable Beach with its camel silhouettes at sunset remain gorgeous.

Every coastal lover's wish-list should include the truly wild and exquisite archipelagos of the northwest Kimberley. Hardy four-wheel drivers can visit bits of these, but most visitors think 'once in a lifetime - what the hell' and opt for live-aboard boat trips that hug the coast between Wyndham and Broome. Think inlets and crocodiles, sandstone gorges and waterfalls, fishing from the deck, cocktails at sunset. Read Tim Winton's Dirt Music and drop out in style for a few days.