'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 away. Cycling around the 11km-long, 4.5km-wide island is a real pleasure, and it's easy to discover your own sandy beach.
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.
The Wildflower Way
Inland east from Geraldton, Rte 123 leads to wheat silos, wildflowers and little one-pub towns that are a hive of activity between August and September as minibuses full of senior travellers zoom around hunting blossoms. Accommodation includes caravan parks, pubs and motels, and there are regular transport links with Transwa.
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.
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.
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 windsurfing race, starting at Ledge Point to the south.
Cervantes & Pinnacles Desert
Heading north from Lancelin on Indian Ocean Dr, you will pass the tiny fishing-shack villages of Wedge Island (http://wedgewa.com.au) 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.
Green Head & Leeman
On the way to Green Head from Jurien Bay, 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 is sheltered for swimmers. There's good fishing, snorkelling, surfing and windsurfing here and at nearby Leeman (population 400).
Unrelentingly quaint, York is the most atmospheric spot in the Avon Valley and is 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.