10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Perth, Australia
On the banks of the sparkling Swan River in Western Australia, Perth, is one of the world's most isolated capital cities, but it wows travelers with a dazzling array of natural wonders on its doorstep. Hauntingly beautiful deserts, gleaming beaches, wildlife-rich islands, and the agricultural bounty of the Swan Valley and Margaret River reward those who venture out of the city on day trips. Distances between attractions can be vast, but the scenery is worth it. Striking rock formations rise from golden-sand deserts, and wildflowers erupt from the scorched earth in a breathtaking blaze of color from September through November. Closer to the city, sun lovers can bask on bone-white beaches with beautiful turquoise bays, while Perth's port city, Fremantle, provides a pleasing counterpoint to all the natural attractions with its rich convict and maritime history, art exhibitions, and heritage trails. Wildlife is also a highlight, both in the sea and on land. Not far from the city, you can swim with wild dolphins, spot humpback whales on their annual migration, kayak with sea lions, and commune with quokkas on ravishing Rottnest Island.
1 Rottnest Island
One of Perth's most popular weekend getaways, Rottnest Island is a slow-paced car-free splotch of sand with an appealing blend of sun-soaked beaches, historical attractions, and adorable Aussie wildlife. In 1696, the Dutch navigator Willem de Vlamingh landed on the island's dazzling shores and called it paradise. But he mistook the cute rock wallabies or quokkas for rats and named the island Rotte Nest ("rats' nest"). Today, these sweet marsupials are one of the island's top attractions, along with its beautiful reef-fringed bays and beaches lapped by turquoise seas. Besides swimming, other popular island activities include nature walks, exploring the Parker Point Marine Snorkel Trail, fishing, Segway tours, and admiring the sea views from Vlamingh Lookout and Wadjemup Lighthouse. For a fascinating dose of island history, stop by the Rottnest Museum, housed in an old mill and hay store, and visit the island's historic sites. Ferries to Rottnest take about 25 minutes from Fremantle, 45 minutes from Hillarys Boat Harbour, and 90 minutes from Barrack Street Jetty in Perth.
About a 30-minute drive from the CBD, at the mouth of the Swan River, Fremantle is Perth's port and a reservoir of maritime and convict history. It was the first site of settlement for the Swan River colonists in 1829, and today, it exudes a free-and-easy bohemian feel; many artists and creative types make their home here. A great way to become acquainted with "Freo," as it's called by the locals, is to take a guided tram tour of the city. Once you know the lay of the land, most of the top attractions are within easy walking distance in the center of town. Fine buildings with richly decorated façades, such as the Italian-style Town Hall, bear witness to the town's late 19th-century wealth when it was a trading hub and a gateway for gold miners traveling to inland towns. For more history, don't miss a tour of Fremantle Prison, the state's only World Heritage-listed building. Constructed by convicts, the Western Australian Maritime Museum proudly displays the winning America's Cup yacht, Australia II, while the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries exhibits the sobering remains of vessels that met their match along the coast. Other top attractions include heritage trails; exhibitions and concerts at Fremantle Arts Centre; and Fremantle Markets, where the stalls here have been selling arts and crafts, fresh produce, and ethnic street food since 1897. Popular whale watching cruises also depart from Fremantle. A fun way to access the city from Perth is on a Swan River Cruise.
3 Caversham Wildlife Park
Caversham Wildlife Park, about a 30-minute drive from the city, is a hit with animal lovers, both young and old alike. This is a great spot to bring the little ones to see all the quintessential Aussie animals, including kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, echidnas, and wombats. Those who want a more interactive experience can hand-feed the kangaroos and visit Molly's Farm with its friendly cast of farmyard animals. The park also offers a dose of Aussie culture with sheep shearing and whip-cracking demonstrations, and the zoo keeper talks give little ones a chance to learn about the resident critters and get up close and personal with them.
4 Yanchep National Park
About 50 kilometers north of Perth, Yanchep National Park promises a fun, family-friendly day out with walking trails, wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife. Scenic nature trails fan out through the coastal plain and circle the large lake, with the chance to spot wildlife. Kangaroos are common throughout the park, and koalas cling to the trees over a short boardwalk trail. The park's woodlands and wetlands are also home to many species of birds including black cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, and fairy wrens. Nearby, limestone caves shelter an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites. To learn about the park's Nyoongar aboriginal heritage, you can sign up for a guided cultural tour. Yanchep National Park is also the perfect setting for a picnic after a relaxing day soaking up all the natural sights.
5 The Swan Valley
About 14 kilometers from Perth's CBD, the Swan Valley is a haven for foodies. The journey to this picturesque pastoral region is as fun as the destination. From Perth, you can hop aboard a ferry and enjoy a relaxing cruise up the Swan River to the fertile farming country of Australia's oldest grape-growing region. You can also drive there in about 25 minutes. As you explore the region, be sure to sample some of the fresh local produce and artisan foods such as grapes, asparagus, melons, strawberries, nuts, honey, citrus fruits, nougat, chocolate, and cheese. The area is also home to several excellent art galleries and antique furniture stores. The main hub of Guildford is also a lovely spot to enjoy a Devonshire tea, and admire the elegant 19th-century architecture. After exploring the region, enjoy lunch at one of the highly acclaimed restaurants that spotlight the scrumptious farm-fresh produce. This is a relaxing day trip and an easy hop from the city center. Most of the ferries and river cruises leave from Barrack Square Jetty.
6 The Margaret River
Although three hours is a long drive for a day trip, the Margaret River is one of Perth's best loved city escapes. Sparkling beaches, fantastic surf breaks, scenic hiking trails, and superb restaurants and galleries are among the many attractions here. A great way to soak up the scenery is by hiking the seaside walking trail to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. Other attractions include dense karri forests and limestone caves such as Mammoth Cave, Lake Cave, and Jewel Cave, with impressive stalactites and ancient fossils. Besides swimming and surfing, top outdoor activities here include fishing, kayaking, whale watching tours, rock climbing, and mountain biking. After a fun day of sightseeing, be sure to savor some of the region's fresh produce and artisan foods such as fresh seafood, grass-fed meats, cheeses, and heirloom fruit and vegetables.
7 Pinnacles Desert
In Nambung National Park, about three hours' drive north of Perth, the Pinnacles Desert is a photographer's dream. Golden sands, wind-sculpted red spires, and deep blue skies make a striking canvas for capturing images, and you can explore this other-worldly landscape on walking trails or a scenic drive. Emus and kangaroos are among the wildlife inhabiting the park, and from August to October, colorful wildflowers carpet the parched earth. It's worth a visit to the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre while you're here to learn about the natural history and ecology of these starkly beautiful landscapes. The park is also rimmed by ravishing stretches of white-sand beach, where you can swim, snorkel, and surf. After exploring the desert, stop by the nearby lobster fishing town of Cervantes, about 23 kilometers north of the pinnacles, for a delicious lunch featuring these succulent crustaceans. The beaches here are also beautiful with many water sports on offer, including SCUBA diving, swimming, surfing, fishing, and sailing. Just south of Cervantes, Thetis Lake is home to a colony of rare marine stromatolites or living fossils, and about 26 kilometers north of Cervantes is the town of Jurien Bay with more pristine beaches, diving opportunities, sea lions, migrating whales from June through October, and wildlife-rich national parks.
8 Shoalwater Bay: Dolphins, Sea Lions, and Penguins
At beautiful Shoalwater Bay in Rockingham, about 50 kilometers south of Perth, Australian sea lions and friendly pods of dolphins swim in the clear waters of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, allowing close-up wildlife encounters. Over the course of decades, the crew of a customized dolphin-viewing boat habituated more than 200 wild bottlenose dolphins, who willingly swim and interact with visitors. The boat is fitted with a large rear platform so swimmers can easily don their snorkel gear and plunge into the water. Those who prefer to stay dry can opt for a wildlife cruise aboard a glass-bottom boat. The cruises circle the rocky shores of Seal, Penguin, and Bird Islands and offer the chance to see nesting ospreys and pelican rookeries. You can also visit these wildlife-rich islands on a guided kayak tour. As you paddle across crystal-clear waters, the sea lions and bottlenose dolphins often splash around you at close range. After paddling with the pinnipeds, some tours offer the opportunity to watch little penguins feeding. Diving and snorkeling is also excellent on the surrounding reefs.
9 Wave Rock
Driving east from Perth for almost four hours through the wheat belt, you will eventually reach one of Western Australia's most striking natural monuments, Wave Rock. Named for its distinctive shape, which looks like a wave frozen in motion, the 15-meter-high rock reveals the fascinating forces of Mother Nature. From here, a ten-minute stroll on well-marked trails takes you to Hippo's Yawn, another bizarrely-shaped rock formation with more great photo opportunities. After this, you can hop back in your car for a 15-kilometer drive to The Humps, Precambrian granite domes, and Mulka's Cave, an eroded granite boulder. Bring a flashlight to see the ancient aboriginal handprints on its surface. Other attractions near these rugged rock formations include a wildlife park, wildflower shop, and a somewhat incongruous antique lace collection. Though this is a long journey for a day trip, venturing into the state's arid outback gives you a sense of Perth's isolation and the vast desert wilderness that lies on its doorstep.
10 Whale Watching Cruise, Hillarys Boat Harbour
Hillarys Boat Harbour, on the Sunset Coast, about 20 kilometers northwest of Perth, is the departure point for popular two-hour whale watching cruises during migration season. Humpback whales swim these waters from mid-September to the end of November, and you can take a front-row seat to see these gentle giants as they make their way along the coast. After the cruise, spend some time exploring the restaurants, shops, and the tourist attractions of this large marina. A great family-friendly attraction here is the Aquarium of Western Australia, with a glass underwater tunnel and more than 200 species of marine creatures such as dolphins, sharks, and manta rays. Hillarys Boat Harbour is also a lovely spot for a stroll and a picnic with its calm beaches and walking paths. Ferries to Rottnest Island also depart from here.
Address: 86 Southside Drive, Hillarys Boat Harbour