Bicycle helmets are compulsory in WA, as are white front lights and red rear lights for riding at night.
If you're coming specifically to cycle, bring your own bike. Within WA you can load your bike onto a bus to skip the boring bits of the country. Book ahead so that you and your bike can travel on the same vehicle.
Suffering dehydration is a very real risk in WA and can be life-threatening. It can get very hot in summer, so take things slowly until you're used to the heat. A prudent plan is to start riding every day at sunrise, relax in the shade – bring your own shelter – during the heat of the day and then ride a few more hours in the afternoon. Always wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen, and drink lots of water.
Outback travel needs to be planned thoroughly, with the availability of drinking water the main concern. Those isolated water sources (bores, tanks, creeks) shown on your map may be dry or undrinkable, so you can't always depend on them. Also, don't count on getting water from private mine sites as many are closed to the public. Bring necessary spare parts and bike-repair knowledge. Check with locals (start at the visitor centres) if you're heading into remote areas, and always let someone know where you're headed before setting off.
A useful contacts for information on touring around WA, including suggested routes, road conditions and cycling maps, is the Cycle Touring Association of WA (www.ctawa.asn.au).
WA's bus network could hardly be called comprehensive, but it offers access to substantially more destinations than the railways. All long-distance buses are modern and well-equipped, with air-con and toilets. Bus companies offering services within WA include:
Greyhound To Broome from Darwin via Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.
Integrity Coach Lines North of Perth to Broome.
South West Coach Lines From Perth to all the major towns in the southwest – your best choice for Margaret River.
Transwa Services extending from Perth as far as Kalbarri, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperence and the southwest.
Car & Motorcycle
Providing the freedom to explore, travelling with your own vehicle is the best transport option in WA. With several people travelling together, costs can be contained, and if you don't have major mechanical problems, there are many benefits.
The climate is good for motorcycles for much of the year, and many small trails into the bush lead to perfect camping spots. Bringing your own motorcycle into Australia requires valid registration in the country of origin and a Carnet de Passages en Douanes (CPD), allowing the holder to import their vehicle without paying customs duty or taxes. Apply to the motoring organisation/association in your home country. You'll also need a rider's licence and a helmet. A fuel range of 350km will get you between most fuel stops around the state. The long, open roads are really made for large-capacity machines above 750cc.
The Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia has useful advice on state-wide motoring, including road safety, local regulations and buying/selling a car. It also offers car insurance to members, and membership can secure discounts on car rentals and motel accommodation.
Also popular are car-share sites, especially for securing a lift to Broome, Perth, Denmark and Darwin:
4WD Driving Tips
Around WA you'll see plenty of 4WDs on tow trucks; the victims of a dirt-road roll over, a poorly judged river crossing, or coming to grief when meeting the native fauna on the road. Here are some preventative tips:
- Before heading off-road, check the road conditions at www.mainroads.wa.gov.au.
- Recheck road conditions at each visitor centre you come across – they can change quickly.
- Let people know where you're going, what route you're taking and how long you'll be gone.
- Don't drive at night: it's safer to stop in the mid-afternoon to avoid wildlife.
- Avoid sudden changes in direction – 4WDs have a much higher centre of gravity than cars.
- On sand tracks, reduce tyre pressure to 140kpa (20psi) and don't forget to re-inflate your tyres once you're back on the tarmac.
- When driving on corrugated tracks, note that while there is a 'sweet spot' speed where you feel the corrugations less, it's often too fast to negotiate a corner – and roll overs often happen because of this.
- When crossing rivers and creeks, always walk across first to check the depth – unless you're in saltwater crocodile territory, of course!
You can use your home country's driving licence in WA for up to three months, as long as it carries your photo for identification and is in English. Alternatively (or in addition to this) arrange an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country's automobile association and carry it along with your licence.
To travel through Aboriginal land in WA you need a permit. Applications can be lodged on the internet or in person via the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.
Fuel (predominantly unleaded and diesel) is available from service stations. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is not always stocked at more remote roadhouses – if your car runs on gas, it's safer to have dual fuel capacity.
Prices vary wildly in WA, even between stations in Perth. For up-to-date fuel prices, visit the government fuel-watch website (www.fuelwatch.wa.gov.au).
Distances between fill-ups can be vast in the outback, but there are only a handful of tracks where you'll require a long-range fuel tank or need to use jerry cans. However, if you are doing some back-road explorations, always calculate your fuel consumption, plan accordingly and carry a spare jerry can or two. Keep in mind that most small-town service stations are only open from 6am to 7pm and roadhouses aren't always open 24 hours. On main roads there'll be a small town or roadhouse roughly every 150km to 200km.
Always carry two spare tyres and at least 20L of water.
Competition between car-rental companies in Australia is fierce, so rates vary and special deals come and go. The main thing to remember when assessing your options is distance – if you want to travel widely, you need to weigh up the price difference between an unlimited-kilometres deal and one that offers a set number of kilometres free with a fee per kilometre over that set number.
Local firms are always cheaper than the big operators – sometimes half the price – but cheap car hire often comes with restrictions on how far you can take the vehicle away from the rental centre.
Some, but not all, car-rental companies offer one-way hires, so research this option before you arrive. It's worth investigating and combining with an internal flight if you're travelling to somewhere like Exmouth, Broome or Esperance. A significant premium is usually charged. There are sometimes good deals for taking a car or campervan from, say, Broome back to Perth, but you'll need to contact local rental companies closer to the time of rental.
You must be at least 21 years old to hire from most firms – if you're under 25, you may only be able to hire a small car or have to pay a surcharge. A credit card will be essential.
Renting a 4WD enables you to safely tackle routes off the beaten track and get out to more remote natural wonders. Note that many standard rental cars aren't allowed off main roads, so always check insurance conditions carefully, especially the excess, as they can be onerous. Even for a 4WD, the insurance offered by most companies does not cover damage caused when travelling 'off-road', which basically means anything that is not a maintained bitumen or dirt road.
In Australia, third-party personal-injury insurance is always included in the vehicle registration cost. This ensures that every registered vehicle carries at least minimum insurance. You'd be wise to extend that minimum to at least third-party property insurance as well – minor collisions with other vehicles can be surprisingly expensive.
If you're bringing your own car from within Australia, take out the most comprehensive roadside assistance plan you can. Think of it not as a matter of if your car will break down, but when. Having the top cover will offset your recovery costs considerably.
For hire cars, establish exactly what your liability is in the event of an accident. Rather than risk paying out thousands of dollars if you do have an accident, you can take out your own comprehensive insurance on the car, or (the usual option) pay an additional daily amount to the rental company for an 'insurance excess reduction' policy. This brings the amount of excess you must pay in the event of an accident down from between $2000 and $5000 to a few hundred dollars. However, check your travel insurance policy as well as any insurance you have through your credit card before forking out the cash to reduce your excess, as excess reduction may already be covered by a policy you already have. Alternatively, companies such as Tripcover and RAC offer excess-reduction policies that often cost much less than those offered by car-hire companies.
Be aware that if you're travelling on dirt roads, you may not be covered by insurance. Because of potential accidents with wildlife, some insurance policies may preclude driving after dusk. Also, most companies won't cover the cost of damage to glass (including the windscreen) or tyres. Always read the small print.
If you're planning a stay of several months that involves lots of driving, buying a second-hand car will be much cheaper than renting. But remember that reliability is all-important. Breaking down in the outback is very inconvenient (and potentially dangerous) – the nearest mechanic can be a very expensive tow-truck ride away!
You'll probably get any car cheaper by buying privately online – via www.carsales.com.au, www.gumtree.com.au or www.drive.com.au – rather than through a car dealer. Buying through a dealer can include a guarantee, but this is not much use if you're buying a car in Perth for a trip to Broome.
There are local regulations to comply with when buying or selling a car in WA. Vehicles don't need a road-worthiness certificate to be bought or sold: it's up to the buyer to avoid buying a lemon. You might consider forking out some extra money for a vehicle appraisal before purchase. The RAC offers this kind of check in Perth and other large WA centres, and also offers extensive advice on buying and selling cars on its website.
It’s also the buyer's responsibility to ensure that the car isn’t stolen and that there’s no money owing on it: check the car’s details with the Australian government's Personal Property Securities Register (www.ppsr.gov.au).
See www.transport.wa.gov.au/licensing/my-vehicle.asp for info on transferring vehicle ownership post-purchase, which can be done online.
The beginning of winter (June) is a good time to start looking for a used motorbike. Local newspapers and the bike-related press have classified advertisement sections.
Fremantle has a number of secondhand car yards, including a cluster in North Fremantle on the Stirling Hwy.
WA is not criss-crossed by multi-lane highways; there's not enough traffic and the distances are too great to justify them. All the main routes are well surfaced and have two lanes, but not far off the beaten track you'll find yourself on unsealed roads. Anybody seeing the state in reasonable detail can expect some dirt-road travelling. A 2WD car can cope with the major ones, but for serious exploration, plan on a 4WD.
Driving on unsealed roads requires special care – a car will perform differently when braking and turning on dirt. Under no circumstances exceed 80km/h on dirt roads; if you go faster, you won't have enough time to respond to a sharp turn, stock on the road, or an unmarked gate or cattle grid. Take it easy and take time to see the sights.
It's important to note that when it rains, some roads flood – a real problem up north during the wet season. Exercise extreme caution when it rains, especially at the frequent yellow 'Floodway' signs. If you come to a stretch of water and you're not sure of the depth or what could lie beneath it, pull up at the side of the road and walk through it (excluding known saltwater-crocodile areas, such as the Pentecost River crossing on the Gibb River Rd!). Even on major highways, if it has been raining, you can sometimes be driving through water 30cm or more deep for hundreds of metres at a time.
Mainroads provides statewide road-condition reports, updated daily (and more frequently if necessary).
Travelling by car within WA means sometimes having to pass road trains. These articulated trucks and their loads (consisting of two or more trailers) can be up to 53.5m long, 2.5m wide and travel at around 100km/h. Overtaking them is tricky – once you commit to passing there's no going back. Exercise caution and pick your time, but don't get timid mid-manoeuvre. Also, remember that it is much harder for the truck driver to control their giant-sized vehicle than it is for you to control your car.
WA's enormous distances can lead to dangerous levels of driver fatigue. Stop and rest every two hours or so – do some exercise, change drivers and/or have a coffee. The major routes have rest areas and many roadhouses offer free coffee for drivers; ask the RAC for maps that indicate rest stops.
Cattle, emus and kangaroos are common hazards on country roads, and a collision is likely to kill the animal and cause serious damage to your vehicle. Kangaroos are most active around dawn and dusk, and they travel in groups. If possible, plan your travel to avoid these times of the day. If you see a roo hopping across the road in front of you, slow right down – its friends are probably just behind it.
It's important to keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front, in case it hits an animal or has to slow down suddenly. If an animal runs out in front of you, brake if you can, but don't swerve unless it is safe to do so. You're likely to come out of a collision with an emu better than a collision with a tree or another vehicle.
Driving in WA holds few surprises, other than those that hop out in front of your vehicle. Cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road (as in the rest of Australia). An important road rule is 'give way to the right' – if an intersection is unmarked, you must give way to vehicles entering the intersection from your right.
The speed limit in urban areas is generally 60km/h, unless signposted otherwise. The state speed limit is 110km/h, applicable to all roads in non-built-up areas, unless otherwise indicated. The police have radar speed traps and speed cameras, often in carefully concealed locations.
Oncoming drivers who flash their lights at you may be giving you a warning of a speed camera ahead – or they may be telling you that your headlights are not on. It's polite to wave back if someone does this. Don't get caught flashing your lights yourself, as it's illegal.
Seat belts are compulsory, and not using them incurs a fine. Children must be strapped into an approved safety seat. Talking on a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal.
Drink-driving is a serious problem in WA, especially in country areas, and random breath tests are used to reduce the road toll. If you're caught driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.05%, expect a hefty fine, a court appearance and the loss of your licence.
Perth has an efficient, fully integrated public transport system called Transperth covering public buses, trains and ferries in a large area that reaches south to include Fremantle, Rockingham and Mandurah. Larger regional centres, including Bunbury, Busselton and Albany, have limited local bus services.
Taxis are available in most of the larger towns.
- Australind (twice daily) Perth Station to Pinjarra ($18.05, 1¼ hours) and Bunbury ($33.50, 2½ hours).
- MerredinLink (daily) East Perth Station to Toodyay ($18.05, 1¼ hours), Northam ($21.15, 1½ hours) and Merredin ($48.60, 3¼ hours).
- Prospector (daily) East Perth to Kalgoorlie–Boulder ($891.80, 5¾ hours).