With incredible landscapes and seascapes, intriguing native wildlife and all that brilliant sunshine, Western Australia (WA) is the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with tracks to hike, waves to surf and reefs to explore.
National Park Passes
Thirty of WA's 60-plus national parks charge vehicle entry fees (per car/motorcycle $13/7), which are valid for any park visited that day. If you're camping within the park, the entry fee is only payable on the first day (camping fees are additional). If you plan to visit more than three WA parks with entry fees – quite likely if you're travelling outside Perth – get the four-week Holiday Pass ($44). All Department of Parks & Wildlife offices (https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au) sell them, and if you've already paid a day-entry fee in the last week (and have the voucher to prove it), you can subtract it from the cost of the pass.
WA's excellent bushwalking terrain includes the southwest's cool forests, the blister-inducing 1000km Bibbulmun Track and the north's rugged national parks.
See www.trailswa.com.au and www.bushwalkingwa.org.au for walk and bushwalking club details. To contact potential walking buddies, or to buy and sell gear, see the forums on www.bushwalk.com.
For tips on responsible bushwalking, see the camping and bushwalking guidelines online at https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au.
Serious walkers gravitate to the ruggedly beautiful Stirling Range National Park. Top walks here include the Bluff Knoll climb (6km, three to four hours). Visit from September to November for the park's flowering glory (1500 species) and be prepared for wind chill and rain (and sometimes snow!) in winter.
North of Albany is the smaller Porongurup National Park, with spectacular granite rocks and dense karri forest. Trails here include the 10-minute Tree in the Rock stroll, the medium-grade Hayward and Nancy Peaks hike (three hours), and the challenging three-hour Marmabup Rock hike. Wildflowers and bird buzz make springtime the peak season for Porongurup, but it can be visited year-round.
For some amazing coastal highlights, walk through Walpole-Nornalup, Fitzgerald River and Cape Le Grand National Parks. The Cape to Cape Track follows the coastline 135km from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, taking five to seven days, and features wild camp sites en-route.
Albany, also down south, is the terminus of the Bibbulmum Track.
Perth & Surrounds
With hiking and camping facilities, John Forrest National Park in the Perth Hills has an easy 15km walk to waterfalls and the must-do 340m walk through the brick-lined Swan View Tunnel. The rugged Walyunga National Park, also in the Perth Hills, features a medium-to-hard 18km walk that fords the Avon River and has excellent wildlife viewing. Yanchep National Park north of the city has short strolls and challenging full-day walks. The 28km Yaberoo Budjara Heritage Trail here follows an Aboriginal walking trail.
The Bibbulmun Track
Taking around eight weeks, the 1000km Bibbulmun Track goes from Kalamunda, 20km east of Perth in the Perth Hills, through mainly natural environment to Walpole and Albany.
Terrain includes jarrah and marri forests, wildflowers, granite outcrops, coastal heath country and eye-popping coastlines.
Comfortable camp sites are spaced regularly along the track. The best time to tackle it is from August to October, before things get too hot.
Summer's no picnic in the sweltering, remote national parks of WA's north, so high season for many bushwalkers here is from April to October. The arid terrain can be treacherous, so research carefully, be prepared with water and supplies, and check-in with local rangers just after you lace up your boots.
Kalbarri National Park showcases scenic gorges, thick bushland and rugged coastal cliffs. A popular six-hour loop features dramatic seascapes, including spectacular Nature's Window.
Rugged, sometimes hazardous treks can be taken into the dramatic gorges of Karijini National Park. The walk to the Mt Bruce (Punurrunha) summit (9km, five hours) is popular with experienced bushwalkers.
Visitors to the Kimberley's Purnululu National Park come to see the striped beehive-shaped domes of the World Heritage–listed Bungle Bungles. Walks include the easy Cathedral Gorge walk, and the more difficult overnight trek to Piccaninny Gorge. The park is only open from April to November.
Consider the following tips when bushwalking. Also see the camping and bushwalking guidelines online at https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au.
- Don't feed wildlife or leave food scraps behind, and place gear out of reach.
- To prevent the spread of dieback fungal disease, observe signage and clean boots thoroughly between hikes.
- Stick to tracks and avoid short cuts.
- Avoid increasing the size of mud patches: walk through existing mud patches on tracks instead of walking around the sludge.
- Avoid removing plant life retaining topsoils.
Fires & Low-Impact Cooking
- Avoid deforestation: don't depend on open fires for cooking. Use a light-weight kerosene, alcohol or Shellite (white gas) stove instead.
- Use an existing fireplace and burn dead, fallen wood. In huts, leave wood for the next person.
- Check with the local Parks & Wildlife office regarding fire bans during summer.
- Flood embers with water after extinguishing.
Human Waste Disposal
- To avoid contamination of water sources, use a toilet when there is one, or bury your waste 15cm deep at least 100m from any watercourse.
- Carry out all rubbish in a dedicated rubbish bag, including rubbish left by others.
- Never bury your rubbish: digging encourages erosion, animals may be injured or poisoned by rubbish and it decomposes very slowly.
- Use minimal and reusable packaging, and take no more food than you'll need.
- Sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms and toilet paper should be carried out, as they burn and decompose slowly.
- Don't use detergents or toothpaste in or near watercourses.
- Use biodegradable soap and a water container at least 50m away from watercourses. Disperse the waste water widely after washing.
- Wash cooking utensils 50m from watercourses using a scourer or sand.
It's very easy to 'get away from it all' in WA (with just one resident per square kilometre, most of the state qualifies) – and in the state's national parks, sleeping in a swag under the stars is almost obligatory. The weather is a factor, though: it can be uncomfortable in the north during summer due to heat and humidity, and cold down south during winter. School holidays can be very busy times: it's a good idea to pre-book Parks & Wildlife camp sites (www.parkstay.dpaw.wa.gov.au), especially in the Cape Range National Park from April to October.
WA's southwest offers good cycle touring, and while there are thousands of kilometres of flat, virtually traffic-free roads elsewhere in the state, the distances between towns makes it difficult to plan (not to mention actually cycle).
Perth is a relatively bike-friendly city, with plenty of recreational bike paths, including routes that run along the Swan River to Fremantle and along the coast between Cottesloe and Scarborough, and paths overlooking the city through Kings Park. Spinway WA is Perth's bike-hire kiosk system, at 14 handy locations around the city.
The most exciting route for mountain bikers is the Munda Biddi Trail, meaning 'path through the forest' in the Noongar Aboriginal language. The 1000km mountain-biking equivalent of the Bibbulmun Track runs all the way from Mundaring in the Perth Hills to Albany on the south coast. Camp sites are situated a day's easy ride apart, and maps are available online and at visitor centres.
Diving & Snorkelling
WA's fascinating diving and snorkelling locations include amazing marine parks and shipwrecks.
Close to Perth, divers can explore wrecks and marine life off the beaches of Rottnest Island, or explore the submerged reefs and historic shipwrecks of the West Coast Dive Park within Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, near Rockingham. You can take a dive course in Geographe Bay with companies based in Dunsborough or Busselton; the bay offers excellent dives under Busselton Jetty, on Four Mile Reef (a 40km limestone ledge about 6.5km off the coast) and around the scuttled HMAS Swan.
Other wrecks include the HMAS Perth (at 36m), deliberately sunk in 2001 in King George Sound near Albany; and the Sanko Harvest, near Esperance. Both teem with marine life on the wrecks' artificial reefs.
Divers seeking warmer waters should head north. Staggering marine life can be found just 100m offshore within the Ningaloo Marine Park, fantastic for both diving and snorkelling. In Turquoise Bay, underwater action is equally accessible, and one of the planet's most amazing underwater experiences is diving or snorkelling alongside the incredible whale shark, the world's largest fish. Tours leave from Exmouth and Coral Bay. Book ahead.
There's also excellent diving and snorkelling around the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
From sailfish in the north to trout in the south, all types of fishing are on offer along WA's immense coastline. Fishing is the state's largest recreational activity, with many locals catching dinner nearly every time.
Close to Perth, Rottnest Island has plentiful schools of wrasse and Western Australian dhufish (previously called jewfish).
South of Perth, popular fishing hot spots include Mandurah, with options for deep-sea fishing, catching tailor from the beach or nabbing Mandurah's famed blue manna crabs and king prawns in the estuaries. In Augusta you can chase salmon in the Blackwood River or whiting in the bay; or drop a line from Busselton Jetty.
Popular spots at sunny Geraldton include Sunset Beach and Drummond Cove, and fishing charters go to the nearby Houtman Abrolhos Islands. There's great fishing all along the coast, and lots of charters in the hotter, steamier northwest. There's a good chance to hook a monster fish at Exmouth, the Dampier Archipelago and the game-fishing nirvana of Broome. The northern Kimberley is good for barramundi.
Buy a Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL; $50) if you intend to catch marron (freshwater crayfish) or rock lobsters; if you use a fishing net; or if you're freshwater angling in the southwest. If you're fishing from a motorised boat, someone on the boat will need to have a Recreational Fishing from Boat Licence (RFBL; $40). Licences can be obtained online (www.fish.wa.gov.au) or from Australia Post offices. Note that there are strict licence, bag and size limits – see the Fisheries website for specific details.
Indigenous Art & Culture
Experiencing the indigenous art of Western Australia creates an indelible link for travellers to this land of red dirt and desert expanses. Ancient rock art travels across the centuries, traditional designs and motifs inspire modern artists, and Indigenous tour operators inform with stories of spirituality, bush tucker and 'country'.
Art of the Kimberley
The art of the Kimberley is perhaps best known for its images of the Wandjina, a group of ancestral beings who came from the sky and sea and were associated with fertility. They controlled the elements and were responsible for the formation of the country’s natural features.
Wandjina images are found painted on rock as well as on more recent contemporary media; some of the rock images are more than 7m long. They generally appear in human form, with large black eyes, a nose but no mouth, a halo around the head (representative of both hair and clouds) and a black oval shape on the chest.
Each Wandjina traditionally has its own custodian family, and to ensure good relations between the Wandjina and the people, the images have to be retouched annually.
Another significant painting style found in the Kimberley is that of the Gwion Gwion figures. The Gwion Gwion figures are generally small and seem to depict ethereal beings engaged in ceremony or dance. It is believed that they pre-date the Wandjina paintings, though little is known of their significance or meaning.
All early Indigenous art was based on the various clans’ and nations’ ancestral Dreaming – the Creation – when the earth’s physical features were formed by the struggles between powerful supernatural ancestors such as the Rainbow Serpent, the Lightning Men and the Wandjina.
Indigenous Cultural Experiences
- Darngku Heritage Tours Indigenous Bunuba culture and storytelling on cruises through Geikie Gorge in the Kimberley.
- Wula Guda Nyinda Eco Adventures Tours near Monkey Mia aboard 4WDs, including twilight wildlife and overnight options.
- Narlijia Cultural Tours Indigenous tours around Broome's mangroves, historical buildings and Chinatown.
- Poornarti Aboriginal Tours Noongar history of Kwoorabup (Denmark) and Stirling Range National Park.
- Djurandi Dreaming Walking tours around Elizabeth Quay in Perth: the country beneath the city.
Some Aboriginal rock paintings are believed to date back between 18,000 and 60,000 years and provide a record of changing environments and lifestyles over the millennia. For the local Indigenous people, rock-art sites are a major source of traditional knowledge – they are historical archives in place of a written form.
The earliest hand or grass prints were followed by a naturalistic style, with large outlines of people or animals filled in with colour. Then came the dynamic style, in which motion was often depicted (a dotted line, for example, to show a spear’s path through the air). In this era the first mythological beings appeared, with human bodies and animal heads. Following this were simple human silhouettes, and then the more recent X-ray style, displaying the internal organs and bones of animals.
Where to see Rock Art
- Mulka's Cave, near Wave Rock and Hyden.
- Burrup Peninsula, Pilbara with Ngurrangga Tours.
- Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley, especially Mitchell Falls and Munurru Campground.
- Mt Elizabeth Station on the Gibb River Road.
- Some of the Wandjina and Gwion Gwion images hidden across the Kimberley are accessible from some stations on the Gibb River Road.
Western Desert Painting
Western Desert painting, also known as dot painting, is probably the most well known of Australia's Indigenous painting styles. The style partly evolved from ‘ground paintings’, which formed the centrepiece of dances and songs. These were made from pulped plant material, with designs made on the ground. While dot paintings may look random and abstract, they depict Dreaming stories and can be read in many ways, including as aerial landscape maps. Many paintings feature the tracks of birds, animals and humans, often identifying the land’s ancestral beings. Subjects may be depicted by the imprint they leave in the sand – a simple arc depicts a person (as that is the print left by someone sitting cross-legged), a coolamon (wooden carrying dish) is shown by an oval shape, a digging stick by a single line, and a campfire by a circle. Men or women are identified by the objects associated with them: digging sticks and coolamons for women, spears and boomerangs for men. Concentric circles usually depict Dreaming sites, or places where ancestors paused in their journeys.
While these symbols are widely used, their meaning in each painting is known only by the artist and the people closely associated with them – either by clan or by the Dreaming – since different clans apply different interpretations to each painting. In this way sacred stories can be publicly portrayed, as the deeper meaning is not revealed to uninitiated viewers.
Western Desert Mob
The Western Desert Mob is a coalition of artist cooperatives of the Ngaanyatjarra lands of Western Australia. Mediums include punu, the traditional art of woodcarving. Online, see www.westerndesertmob.com.au.
Best Northern Galleries
Best City Galleries
Surfing & Windsurfing
Beginners, intermediates, wannabe pros and hard-core renegade surfers will all find excellent conditions to suit their skill levels. WA gets huge swells (often over 3m), so it's critical to align the surf and the location with your ability. Look out for strong currents, sharks and territorial local surfers (they bite too). For surf cams and reports, check out www.coastalwatch.com/surf-cams-surf-reports/wa.
Around Perth the surf is smaller, but there are often good conditions at bodyboard-infested Trigg and Scarborough. If the waves are small, head to Rottnest Island for (usually) bigger and better waves. Check out Strickland Bay.
Heading north, there are countless reef breaks waiting to be discovered (hint: take a 4WD). Best known are the left-hand point breaks of Jakes Bay near Kalbarri; Gnaraloo Station, 150km north of Carnarvon; and Surfers Beach at Exmouth. Buy the locals a beer and they might share a few secret world-class locations.
Windsurfers and kitesurfers have plenty of choice with excellent flat-water and wave sailing. Kitesurfers appreciate the long, empty beaches and offshore reefs.
After Perth's city beaches, head to Lancelin, home to a large summer population of surfers. Flat-water and wave sailing are excellent here. Further north, Geraldton has the renowned Coronation Beach. The Shark Bay area has excellent flat-water sailing and Gnaraloo Station is also a world-renowned wave-sailing spot.
Top Western Australia Wildflower Spots
- Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Perth.
- Fitzgerald River National Park, between Albany and Esperance.
- Porongurup National Park, north of Albany.
- Stirling Range National Park, north of Albany.
- Kalbarri National Park, on the Batavia Coast.
- Wildflower Way, between Wongan Hills and Geraldton.
- Lesueur National Park, on the Turquoise Coast.
The Broome Bird Observatory attracts a staggering 800,000 birds each year, and the Yalgorup National Park near Mandurah is another important waterbird habitat. The Lesueur National Park on the Turquoise Coast is home to the endangered Carnaby's cockatoo, while migratory shorebirds flock to Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve in the Kimberley. At the Mornington Wilderness Camp on the Gibb River Rd, purple-crowned fairywrens and the endangered Gouldian finch are regular visitors.
Dolphins can be seen up close at the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury, around Rockingham at Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, and at Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia also has 10% of the world's dugong population. Be aware that research suggests that human interaction with sea mammals potentially alters their behavioural and breeding patterns.
So many southern right and humpback whales (upwards of 30,000) cruise along the WA coast every year, that it's become known as the Humpback Hwy. From June onwards their annual pilgrimage begins from Antarctica to the warm tropical waters of the northwest coast; mothers with calves seek out the shallower bays and coves of King George Sound in Albany from July to October. In whale-watching season, whales can be spotted from coastal clifftops, and often from the beach as well. Tour operators at Ningaloo are trialling interactive tours with humpback whales – but be aware that research suggests that human interaction with sea mammals potentially alters their behavioural and breeding patterns.
Whale-watching boats leave from Perth, Fremantle, Bremer Bay, Dunsborough, Augusta, Albany, Coral Bay, Exmouth, Kalbarri, Broome and the Dampier Peninsula. Keep your distance: research suggests that human interaction with sea mammals potentially alters their behavioural and breeding patterns.
Best Wildlife-Watching on Water
Spy whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales in Ningaloo Marine Park. For dolphins head to Rockingham, Bunbury or Monkey Mia. Sea lions are best seen at Rockingham and Green Head, while seals can be spotted off Rottnest Island. Look out for dugongs at Monkey Mia. Keep your distance: research suggests that human interaction with sea mammals potentially alters their behavioural and breeding patterns.
Best Wildlife-Watching on Land
Seek out little marsupials on Rottnest Island or in the Dryandra Woodland, and huge lizards anywhere in the Kimberley. Emus are often spotted around Exmouth and Shark Bay, while kangaroos and parrots are everywhere! As always, look, but don't touch...and when all else fails, visit the excellent Perth Zoo.
Best for Daredevils
Scramble, abseil, slide and dive through the gorges of the Karijini National Park, or ride the surge in a speedboat on the Horizontal Waterfalls near Derby. Kite- and wind-surfing at Lancelin is also heart-pumping, especially when the breeze gets its game on. You can also try abseiling at the Perth Observatory in the Perth Hills.