Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
'Rotto' has long been the family holiday playground of choice for Perth locals. Although it's only about 19km offshore from Fremantle, this car-free, off-the-grid slice of paradise, ringed by secluded beaches and bays, feels a million miles from the metropolis. Cycling around the 11km-long, 4.
The lush green Avon Valley – with its atmospheric homesteads with big verandahs, rickety wooden wagons and moss-covered rocks – was 'discovered' by European settlers in early 1830 after food shortages forced Governor Stirling to dispatch Ensign Dale to search the Darling Range for arable land.
Shrugging off its fusty retirement-haven image, Mandurah has made concerted efforts to reinvent itself as an upmarket beach resort, taking advantage of its new train link to Perth's public-transport network. And, although its linked set of redeveloped 'precincts' and 'quarters' may sound a little pretentious, the overall effect is actually pretty cool.
Just 46km south of Perth, Rockingham's main attractions are good beaches and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, where you can observe dolphins, sea lions and penguins in the wild. Rockingham was founded in 1872 as a port, although this function was taken over by Fremantle in the 1890s. There's still a substantial industrial complex to the north, at Kwinana.
The Wildflower Way
Away from the coast, there are four other common routes that head north, with three running to Geraldton and the fourth, the Great Northern Hwy, disappearing into the outback and re-emerging 1600km later at Port Hedland. The Brand Hwy (Rte 1) is the least interesting for travellers, and its wildflowers can be sampled in day trips from the Turquoise Coast.
Afternoon offshore winds and shallows, protected by an outlying reef, make Lancelin perfect for windsurfing and kitesurfing, attracting action-seekers from around the world. In January, wind-worshippers descend for the Lancelin Ocean Classic windsurfer race, starting at Ledge Point to the south.
This busy commercial centre is the major town of the Avon Valley. It's is a likeable place with some fine heritage buildings and pleasant cafes but little to justify a longer stay. The railway line from Perth once ended here and miners had to make the rest of the weary trek to the goldfields by road; it now continues all the way to Sydney.
Cervantes & Pinnacles Desert
Heading north from Lancelin on Indian Ocean Dr, you will pass the tiny fishing-shack villages of Wedge Island and Grey, where access was previously 4WD-only along the beach. Pressure from developers and government mean the future of these communities is uncertain, and although there are no facilities for tourists, you're welcome to wander.
Unrelentingly quaint, York is the most atmospheric spot in the Avon Valley and a wonderful place to while away a couple of hours on a Sunday, when it's at its liveliest. Avon Tce is lined with restored heritage buildings, and the entire town has been classified by the National Trust.
Green Head & Leeman
On the way to Green Head, stop at Grigson Lookout for a panoramic view of the coast and Kwongan. Tiny Green Head (population 280) has several beautiful bays; the horseshoe-shaped Dynamite Bay is the most spectacular and sheltered for swimmers. There's good fishing, snorkelling, surfing and windsurfing here and at nearby Leeman (population 400).
Tall gums, wide streets, a pub with a wide verandah, a couple of galleries, a few B&Bs and a railway line (wheat trains only) define this agricultural service centre, all of which make it a good base to explore the surrounding area. The excellent visitor centre can supply a map of the local wildflowers and other sites including Jingemia Cave in Watheroo National Park.