By Tom from our Australia team
Part of my role at Audley involves curating the finest travel experiences from all over Australia, and it’s always a delight when I work on Western Australia. I’ve been there several times, and always have unfinished business. A balmy Mediterranean climate, and landscapes ranging from copper-red Outback to richly green karri forests and underwater reef kingdoms: there’s a lot to love about Western Australia.
In recent years I’ve been captivated by its wildlife. From the marine inhabitants of the thriving Ningaloo Marine Park to Rottnest Island’s quokkas, there’s so much to see in this state. Here, I’ve selected five of the best ways you could experience its natural and zoological highlights, and take in its scenery at the same time.
Kangaroos with sand between their toes
Where? Lucky Bay, in the south of Western Australia.
Why? For the rare sight of kangaroos on a beach — plus some of Australia’s most secluded national parks and photogenic coastal drives.
How to explore: You’ll need a car to reach Cape Le Grand National Park, where Lucky Bay and its population of beach-going kangaroos is located.
Getting there is an adventure in itself. You’ll spend a couple of days crossing what’s known as the ‘Golden Outback,’ a region of vast plains, rocky outcrops, huge salt lakes, and rural townships. Finally, you reach the quartz-white beaches of Western Australia’s southernmost coast.
Officially the whitest beach in Australia, Lucky Bay is frequented by western grey kangaroos that come to explore its squeaky sands (listen to the sound the sand makes under your feet) in the mornings and late afternoons. They’re nonchalant about sharing the beach with you, making for some great photographic opportunities. You could easily spend a long, lazy day there.
Cape Le Grand National Park’s coastline, spiked with granite and gneiss peaks, makes for a good road trip. Inland, you could take a scenic helicopter flight over the flamingo-shaded waters of Pink Lake.
Where to stay: Island View Apartments. Located in the town of Esperance (a 50-minute drive from Lucky Bay), these contemporary, fully equipped apartments have balconies and are within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants.
Birdwatching among giants
Why? There’s something special about the karri forests of Western Australia. For me, it’s the combination of the height of the trees themselves (they can grow to over 90 m or 295 ft), their ghostly pale and spindly trunks, and the array of birdlife they support.
How to explore: Bushwalks or 4x4 drives are the way to experience Boranup Karri Forest in the Margaret River region. Here the undercanopy is alive with orchids, wildflowers, or fungi depending on the season. The air is full of birdsong and the clean, fresh tang of eucalypts. You could spot splendid fairywrens and types of lorikeet and robins, among many others.
Further south, you can take on an 80 km (50 mile) driving route called the ‘Karri Forest Explorer’, which leads you through the many national parks near Pemberton, Denmark and Albany. Bushwalks, suspension bridges and trail-side information panels guide you through this huge swathe of thriving karri forest, with plenty of suggested places to stop for a coffee — or a wine tasting.
Where to stay: Smiths Beach Resort. This elegant property overlooks one of the best beaches in Western Australia and is also a short drive from many local wineries, karri forests, and the Cape to Cape walking track.
The free-roaming marsupials of Rottnest Island
Where? An island nature reserve only a short ferry trip from downtown Perth.
Why? Made up of pine woodland, pillowy sand dunes, salt lakes, and offshore shipwrecks, Rottnest is a car-free sanctuary. But, its scenery plays second fiddle to its population of inquisitive quokkas.
These marsupials, which are technically small wallabies but only as big as domestic cats, have acquired an endearing reputation. They’re naturally very tame and will approach humans. You’re not permitted to feed them or get too close, but this won’t stop the quokkas from coming and checking you out.
A rarity even within Australia, Rottnest Island is the only place in the world where you can see quokkas in the wild.
How to explore: You can take guided tours of the island, but the best way to see the quokkas is to hire a bike and simply cycle around, stopping whenever you see one in the scrub or loitering in a shady patch.
Where to stay: COMO The Treasury in Perth. For my money, it's one of Australia’s best city hotels. It’s set in a finely conserved heritage building and is home to three of Western Australia’s most acclaimed restaurants.
Dirk Hartog Island’s aquatic ‘Big Five’
Where? The marine sanctuaries and pristine terrain of Dirk Hartog Island, near Shark Bay.
Why? This rugged sliver of land — all sand dunes, scrubland, and rockpools — was once a sheep station. But, it’s been the focus of a major rewilding and eco-tourism project over the last few decades, with initiatives to reintroduce species such as western-barred bandicoots and boodies (a type of bettong, or rat-kangaroo).
Loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches, while just off its coastline manta rays, several species of shark, dugongs, and dolphins thrive.
How to explore: You can see turtles plus all of the above sea-dwelling creatures – nicknamed the island’s ‘Big Five’ — on marine safaris, i.e. expertly guided boat tours. Snorkeling, diving, and fishing are also possible, as well as 4x4 tours to experience the island’s roadless interior and to spot migrating birds, including white-breasted sea eagles.
Where to stay: Dirk Hartog Island Ecolodge. It provides a rustic but comfortable base from which to explore the island, and several activities and tours are included in your stay.
In the water with the largest fish in the sea
Where? The well-preserved fringing reef of Ningaloo Marine Park, off the coast of Exmouth.
Why? The chance to drift-snorkel with migrating whale sharks, in an ecologically responsible way.
How to explore: You can snorkel right off the beaches in Exmouth, and still see a range of marine species including loggerhead turtles. But whale sharks are, understandably, the main draw here — though at certain times of year, they share the spotlight with migrating humpbacks.
Filter-feeding giants, whale sharks can grow up to 10 m (33 ft) long and are naturally docile and uninterested in humans. However, our guides will make sure that you drift-snorkel just behind the whale shark’s head, so you don’t disturb them.
We only recommend small-boat tours that work with spotter planes, increasing your chances of being able to get swiftly into the water when a whale shark is seen in the vicinity.
Once you’re floating nearby, notice how the whale shark’s skin is stippled and textured rather than neoprene-smooth. Take in, too, the arrangement of white spots on their flanks: each creature has its own unique pattern, rather like a human fingerprint.
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Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.View All Tours in Australia
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