If the vast expanse of Western Australia (WA) was a separate nation, it would be the world's 10th-largest (bigger than Algeria, smaller than Kazakhstan). Most of WA's population clings to the coast, yet you can wander along a beach here without seeing another footprint, or be one of a few scattered campers stargazing in a national park.
There's something unfettered and alive about this place – a frontier spirit that's free from the baggage of east-coast concerns. This is also an ancient land and its Aboriginal cultures are more visibly present than in much of the rest of Australia.
The state's fertile southwest is a playground of white-sand coves, rampant wildflowers and lush forests abuzz with wildlife. Up north in the big-sky, red-dirt Pilbara and Kimberley you'll encounter gorgeous gorges and mesmerising waterfalls – and no one else for miles and miles. In between is 12,500km of truly spectacular coastline.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Western Australia.
The multicolored cresting swell of Wave Rock, 209 miles (336km) east of Perth, formed some 60 million years ago by weathering and water erosion. Streaked with colors created by run-off from local mineral springs, it's actually one edge of a larger granite outcrop called Hyden Rock. It's not gargantuan – just 49ft (15m) high and 360ft (110m) long – but it's nonetheless impressive. And when the wind is whispering in the sheoaks, it's a quietly moving place – as it has always been for the Nyaki-Nyaki people. Best trails at Wave Rock To get the most out of Wave Rock, pick up the Walk Trails at Wave Rock and The Humps brochure from the visitor centre. A steep walk leads up around the summit of Hyden Rock, passing a dazzlingly insensitive concrete-block wall built along the crest of Wave Rock to stop stone-surfers from plunging to their deaths (you can't see the wall from the base of the rock). There's another good trail to Hippo's Yawn along a shady half-mile-long track from the base of Wave Rock. Tickets and information Parking at Wave Rock is $12 per car (pay at the parking meter); or you can save a few bucks by parking out on Wave Rock Rd or the visitor centre and walking in a few hundred metres – pay pedestrian fees at the caravan-park kiosk.
The most arresting sight in the Horrocks/Port Gregory area is Hutt Lagoon, which is more commonly referred to as 'Pink Lake'. Yes, the saltwater here is pink, due to the presence of the algae Dunaliella salina. The algae is a source of beta-carotene, which is harvested here and used in food coloring and make-up. How can I visit? You can access the Pink Lake for free by car from George Grey Dr (the road south of Kalbarri), but it pays to take the turn-off to Port Gregory for the best viewpoints. The Coral Coast is renowned for its incredible scenic beauty, but this photo opportunity is a tough view to beat. You can also take popular sightseeing flights over the lake from Kalbarri and Geraldton. Can I swim in the Pink Lake? Though it is safe to go into the water, caution is advisable. The salt crystals on the bottom of the lake can be very sharp and could easily cut your bare feet. It is also imperative to take any rubbish or belongings with you when you leave to preserve the beauty of the area. The water levels in the lake drop during summer; it's advisable to visit outside of this time if you want to photograph Hutt Lagoon in all its glory.
Looking like a packet of half-melted Jaffas, World Heritage Purnululu is home to the incredible ochre and black striped 'beehive' domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. The distinctive rounded rock towers are made of sandstone and conglomerates moulded by rainfall over millions of years. Their stripes are the result of oxidised iron compounds and algae. To the local Kidja people, purnululu means sandstone, with Bungle Bungle possibly a corruption of 'bundle bundle', a common grass.
WA's most famous landmark offers turquoise waters and beautiful white sand curving away to the sunset. Clothing is optional north of the rocks, while south, walking trails lead through the red dunes of Minyirr Park, a spiritual place for the Yawuru people. Cable Beach is synonymous with camels and an evening ride along the sand is a highlight for many visitors. Locals in their 4WDs swarm north of the rocks for sunset drinks. Stingers are common in the Wet.
Opened for Albany's Anzac centenary commemorations in late 2014, this superb museum remembers the men and women who left by convoy from Albany to fight in WWI. Excellent multimedia installations provide realism and depth to the exhibitions, and there is a profound melancholy in the museum's location overlooking the same expansive body of water the troop ships left from.
Good fishing, swimming and camping can be found at Lucky Bay – arguably Australia's top beach, complete with beach-going kangaroos – and Le Grand Beach, and day-use facilities at gorgeous Hellfire Bay. Make the effort to climb Frenchman Peak (a steep 3km return, allow two hours), as the views from the top and through the rocky 'eye', especially during the late afternoon, are superb.
One of the most intriguing features of the Kimberley coastline is the phenomenon known as 'horizontal waterfalls'. Despite the name, the falls are simply tides gushing through narrow coastal gorges in the Buccaneer Archipelago, north of Derby. What creates such a spectacle are the huge tides, often varying up to 11m. The water flow reaches an astonishing 30 knots as it's forced through two narrow gaps 20m and 10m wide – resulting in a 'waterfall' reaching 4m in height.
One of Australia's top beaches, Lucky Bay has sand so white and so fine that is squeaks underfoot like rubber. Good for kite- and windsurfing. Tame kangaroos come and hang out by the sea, but they mustn't be fed.
Murujuga is home to the world's largest concentration of rock art (dating back more than 30,000 years), stretched out along the rocky hills of the heavily industrialised Burrup Peninsula. The most accessible are at Deep Gorge, near Hearson's Cove. The engravings depict fish, goannas (lizards), turtles, ospreys, kangaroos and even a Tasmanian tiger. The best way to see and appreciate the importance of this art is through a half-day tour out of Karratha with Ngurrangga Tours.