Route: The Best of the South West journey takes in the best of the South West corner in Western Australia – we began in Busselton, 2.5 hours south of Perth, and drove around the coast via Margaret River to Albany – around 460km in total.
Stunning and dramatic coastline, towering forests, tranquil beach towns and a bounty of food and wine producers; what more could you want?
There is nothing quite like a road trip that offers a little something of everything. Many drives take advantage of something in particular – whether it is a spectacular coastline, pristine wilderness or a rich wine growing region. The south west corner of WA, luckily for us, offers something of everything and is one of the more diverse road trips to take on.
We began the drive in the charming beachside resort town of Busselton. Easy to reach from Perth, Busselton is a laid-back town on picturesque Geographe Bay, that is perfect for holidaymakers.
With a collection of great cafes and restaurants, and a stunning waterfront with white sandy beaches, it is a lovely place to spend time – and one of the highlights is the Busselton Jetty. Be prepared to be seriously impressed for this is no ordinary jetty – it is in fact the second longest timber jetty in the world – at 1.8 kilometres long!
The jetty has a 152-year history – construction on the original structure began in 1865 and when tourism increased in the 1880’s and passenger ships began to stop here, Busselton began its life as a tourist town. Further extensions over the years brought it to its current 1.841km length. It was closed as a port in 1972 and fell into disrepair but thanks to funding in the later decades, the jetty has been restored and refurbished to make it the tourist attraction it is today.
You can walk the length of the jetty – it will take you around 25 minutes – or you could jump on board the fun electric train that takes passengers on regular journeys to the end and back! Our family hopped on board and loved the ride (kids especially enjoy this!) – the train taking us further and further out to sea with 360 degree views of the bay (try and spot a whale!).
But the fun doesn’t stop at the end of the pier – you can actually descend 8 metres below the jetty to a fascinating Underwater Observatory and check out the reef that has formed over the years under the pylons out at sea.
Guides will lead you through the observatory to discover the more than 300 marine species that now call this reef home via eleven viewing windows in an observation chamber. The diverse marine life here is attributed to the Leeuwin Current that brings a band of warm water down the WA coastline each year.
Back on the mainland, we were staying at BIG4 Beachlands Holiday Park in Busselton – and we discovered a few things here that made us want to settle in for the long haul. The park offers a Barista Coffee service – a freshly made latte or flat white can be delivered to your cabin or campsite daily!
The park is also dog-friendly and many guests were taking advantage, bringing their well-behaved four-legged friends on holiday and we loved seeing how happy this made both dog and owner!
Between enjoying the nearby beach and the splash park and pool at the Holiday Park, we soaked in the private Jacuzzi on the deck of our family cabin in the park – the kids loving all the time in the water. It was the perfect place to relax.
Busselton isn’t just about life on the water though, and we headed inland for a little adventure amongst the famous treetops.
A rare Tuart forest lies just 15 minutes drive inland from town and here you can find Forest Adventures South West – a network of fun-filled courses and flying foxes set among the treetops. Here, you can really test your inner adventurer and we tackled tarzan ropes, spider webs, suspension bridges and more. There is even a BMX tightrope and 13 metre base jump for the very brave! We spent an entire afternoon having the time of our lives in a spectacular environment – our Charli loved every second.
It was time to leave Busselton and after a spectacular drive south, taking in the beauty of the dramatic coastline and pretty towns like Yallingup, we made our next stop in Margaret River. One of our favourite beachside towns – Margaret River is famous for so many things, from its beach breaks, to its caves, passionate local producers and of course, world-class wine.
Trying to discover all the gourmet goodies of the Margaret River region can be quite overwhelming and we suggest going straight to the locals! A day tour with Margaret River Discovery Co. will take you to owner Sean’s favourite local producers for exclusive experiences such as lunch in the barrel room with a prominent local winemaker. And if you drop into ‘The Larder’ in the main street of Margaret River, and meet owner Siobhan Halse (a top 50 Masterchef finalist!), you can discover, taste and purchase from a huge range of locally produced artisan goodies, from cheeses, to pates, sausages, jams, chutneys and more.
A highlight of Margaret River are its ancient limestone caves, some of which are open to the public to explore. Some 150 caves exist along beneath the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge and are more than worthy of your time. We chose to visit Mammoth Cave one of the most easily accessible caves in the region and amongst the ancient stalactites and stalagmites crowning the chambers of the cave, we also discovered ancient fossils of long-extinct species and megafauna.
The drive between Margaret River and Albany can be tackled in a variety of ways… Drive south along the coast and visit Hamelin Bay – home to schools of sting rays that swim with people in the hopes of being fed!
Also worth your time is a stop at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse – located at the most south-westerly point of Australia. The tallest lighthouse on mainland Australia, the lighthouse is situated at the point where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. It is also the perfect place to try and spot migrating whales between May and September.
You can also head inland via the Southern Forests region and include a visit to Pemberton and Gloucester National Park. Marvel at the towering Karri Trees and even try climbing the imposing Gloucester Tree – one of the tallest fire lookout trees in the world!
Arriving in Albany, on the south coast, and the wide-open ocean will remind you that this is where our ANZAC troops last left the Australian mainland when sailing for Gallipoli in November 1914. It is also in Albany where the dawn service tradition began. You can visit Albany Heritage Park to discover more of the history surrounding Albany and our troops; a fascinating visit.
Albany is one of the best places to spot whales – in fact, the town has a long history attached to the marine mammals. It was one of the last places in Australia to shut down whaling operations and this somewhat controversial history can be explored at the Historic Whaling Station at Discovery Bay. Today, Albany focuses its efforts on conservation of these giants and one of the best things to do is jump on a local whale watching tour and see how passionate the locals are about protecting the magnificent Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales that visit each year.
We got on board with Albany Whale Tours where we discovered our skipper’s little trick for attracting the whales – playing his recorder. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before they responded and we were treated to several whales around us breaching and playing in the waters, only a hundred metres or so off the shoreline itself. In fact, from our base at beachfront BIG4 Middleton Beach Holiday Park, we could easily see them from the beach.
Albany is also all about enjoying a relaxed pace and the scrumptious local seafood that is brought in daily. We managed to snag a local trawler arriving into port and pick the best of the local catch to take back to the Holiday Park and cook on the bbq, accompanied by goodies we had bought at the local farmers market. It really was the best way to end our Best of the South West road trip in one of the prettiest corners of our country.
Have you driven the South West corner of WA? What were your highlights? Tell us in the comments!