12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Western Australia
Western Australia is a land of superlatives and extremes. Occupying a third of the continent's total area, it's the largest of the Australian states with less than 10 percent of the country's total population. Endless stretches of white-sand beach, vast deserts, sweeping fields of wildflowers, rugged gorges, and bizarre rock formations are just some of the state's stunning natural assets. Western Australia is also famous for its distinctive flora and fauna - the result of its isolation from the rest of the continent by an enormous belt of desert.
The state's capital, Perth, exudes a vibrant sophisticated feel. Thanks to a mining boom, the city struts its new-found wealth in its sprouting skyscrapers, glitzy shops, galleries, and gourmet restaurants. Away from the city, outback adventures abound. Visitors can four-wheel-drive along the old droving route of the Kimberley's Gibb River Road, surf big-wave breaks at the Margaret River, bask on the beach with a kangaroo, swim with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, commune with dolphins, and marvel at the stark beauty of some of the world's most awe-inspiring wilderness areas.
Perhaps no Australian capital has changed as much in recent decades as Perth, capital of Western Australia. Thanks to the state's mining boom, Perth is now the fourth largest city in Australia. Bounded on the west by the Indian Ocean and on the east by the foothills of the Darling Range, Perth sits aside the winding Swan River. Not surprisingly, water sports such as surfing, swimming, and sailing are part of everyday life. Top beaches include Cottesloe, Scarborough, Peppermint Grove, Rockingham, and the surf breaks of Trigg Point. In the city center, Perth flaunts its new wealth in a profusion of high-rise office blocks, gourmet restaurants, glitzy boutiques, and galleries. Top attractions include Kings Park and Botanic Garden, home to the Kings' Park War Memorial, where visitors can admire more than 1,200 species of native plants and a spectacular display of wildflowers in the spring. The Perth Cultural Center encompasses excellent museums and galleries, and the popular Tudor-style shopping arcade, London Court, between St. George's Terrace and Hay Street Mall, sports a clock tower modeled on Big Ben in London.
About 20 km northwest of the city center, Hillary's Boat Harbor, home to the Aquarium of Western Australia, is a large and well-equipped marina packed with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Ferries to beautiful Rottnest Island depart from here. At the mouth of the Swan River, Fremantle is Perth's port city and a great place to learn about the area's rich maritime history.
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2 Margaret River
Home to galleries and gourmet restaurants, Margaret River is a much-loved holiday resort and a hotspot for surfers. This pretty town lies about a 3.5-hour drive south of Perth, making it a popular weekend escape from the city. Surfers flock here for the consistent big-wave breaks as well as more than 40 surf spots sprinkled along the coast. Tourists love the region's beautiful scenery with tall timber forests and sparkling white-sand beaches. The area is also noted for its impressive limestone caves, such as Lake Cave, Jewel Cave, and Mammoth Cave, with glittering stalactites and prehistoric fossils. Other popular activities include rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, and whale watching tours.
3 Broome and the Kimberley
Australia's pearling capital, multicultural Broome is now a thriving tourist town in the south of the magnificent Kimberley region. One of the town's main attractions is Cable Beach. Backed by striking red cliffs, this impressive strand stretches for 22 km with sweeping white sands and turquoise waters. Visitors can ride camels along the shore at sunset.
The Broome Historical Museum tells the story of pearl fishing and the many Japanese, Filipino, and Malay divers who settled here seeking their fortune. Other attractions include the Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park; Sun Pictures; an outdoor cinema; tours of local pearl farms; and the Staircase to the Moon, a seasonal phenomenon where moonlight creates an optical illusion of steps leading to the moon. Broome is also a popular base for Kimberley adventures such as the Horizontal Waterfall, Cape Leveque, Gibb River Road, Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park, and Mitchell Falls.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Broome
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4 Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park
One of the planet's best-kept secrets for many years, the remote and spectacular rock formations of Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park, in the Kimberley, lay hidden from the outside world until 1983. Today, the park graces both the National and UNESCO World Heritage lists. Despite its relatively recent discovery, the Bungle Bungle hills and surrounding area were home to Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years, and hold remains of their culture - ceremonial sites, rock paintings, and a burial ground, are strictly protected. Violent summer monsoon rains carved the park's deep gorges and chasms, and the bee-hived shaped rock domes of the Bungle Bungle are made of soft sandstone. Since the sandstone is liable to break away when touched, access to the rock formations is restricted to the dry riverbeds.
Visitors can explore the main sites on walking trails of varying difficulty. Cathedral Gorge, Piccaninny Gorge, and Echidna Chasm are some of the most popular sites. Sightseeing flights are a great way to appreciate the massive scope of these magnificent structures. Departing from Halls Creek and Kununurra, the flights usually include a visit to the Argyle diamond mine. Longer tours in all-terrain vehicles are also available.
Location: Duncan Highway, Kununurra, Western
5 Ningaloo Reef Marine Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ningaloo Reef is the world's largest fringing reef and one of the few places in the world where visitors can swim with whale sharks. The Ningaloo Reef Marine Park extends for about 260 km from Amherst Point in the south to Bundegi on Exmouth Gulf in the north, and also takes in the coastal area of Cape Range National Park. Easily accessible from shore, the marine park shelters an incredible diversity of marine creatures, including manta rays, dugongs, whale sharks, humpback whales, turtles, and more than 500 species of fish and 300 species of coral.
Exmouth is a popular launching point for reef trips. The little fishing port of Coral Bay is also a great base with its long white beaches and ideal conditions for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and boating. Off the coast are ample opportunities for scuba divers, with numerous wrecks round Point Cloates. Along the coast, travelers can also explore the rugged limestone cliffs, dunes, and canyons of Cape Range National Park.
6 Rottnest Island
A ferry ride from Perth or Fremantle, Rottnest Island is a car-free nature reserve and a popular spot for a city escape. The Dutch navigator Willem de Vlamingh landed on the island in 1696 and pronounced it an earthly paradise. Mistaking the small marsupials, called quokkas, for rats, he named the island Rottnest ('rats' nest'). Today quokkas still inhabit the island and are only found in Western Australia. Sparkling bays, white-sand beaches, and coral reefs fringe the island's shores providing excellent opportunities for snorkeling and swimming. Top attractions on the island include the Rottnest Museum, housed in an 1857-era barn and threshing mill, with collections of historical material and relics of shipwrecks; the Parker Point Marine Trail; and Vlamingh Lookout. Most of the little limestone houses round the harbor were built by convict labor and are among the oldest buildings in Western Australia. Other activities include walking trails, tennis, golf, bowling, bicycle, and boat hire.
Location: View Hill, off Digby Road, Rottnest Island
7 Karijini National Park
Karijini National Park is one of the largest and most beautiful national parks in Western Australia. Over many millions of years, erosion has created deep gorges, up to 100 m deep, with waterfalls and rock pools bordered by lush foliage. A track running through the Yampire Gorge leads to most of the scenic highlights of the park. The Fortescue Falls, fed by a groundwater river, do not dry up even in the heat of summer. Visitors can explore the Kalamina Gorge and its deep waterholes on foot, while it's possible to drive through the Wittenoom Gorge for about 30 km, with shady picnic spots beside natural swimming pools. The park is home to the second highest peak in Western Australia, Mount Bruce, but the best views are from Oxer Lookout perched over four red-walled gorges. Four-wheel-drives are recommended.
Location: Great Northern Highway, Karijini
8 Shark Bay and Monkey Mia
Shark Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, shelters some of the world's largest and richest sea grass beds. It's also known for its population of dugongs and stromatolites, mats of algae, which are among the oldest life forms on earth. Rimmed by beautiful beaches (Shell Beach is a favorite), Denham is the most important town in Shark Bay and the most westerly town on the Australian continent. But the most famous tourist attractions in Shark Bay are the dolphins of Monkey Mia, about 25 km from Denham. Every morning, rangers select a few visitors to hand-feed these friendly dolphins in their natural habitat. The dolphins became accustomed to human beings in the 1960s when fishermen began throwing the remains of their catch into the sea. Apart from dolphin watching, visitors can enjoy swimming in the beautiful bays, fishing, kayaking, four-wheel-drive adventures, Aboriginal cultural tours, and camel rides.
9 Esperance Bay and Cape Le Grand National Park
Ravishing beaches, turquoise seas, islands, lagoons, wildflowers, wildlife, and easy accessibility to spectacular national parks make Esperance Bay a haven for nature lovers. One of the region's top attractions is Lucky Bay in spectacular Cape le Grand National Park. Set against the islands of the Recherche Archipelago, this dazzling stretch of sand enjoys a reputation as Australia's whitest beach. Kangaroos are frequently spotted lounging on its shores. Snorkeling, surfing, fishing, and beach safaris are all popular activities along this unspoiled coastline.
Hikers and bikers love the Great Ocean Drive, which runs from Esperance to beautiful Twilight Beach. Strangely, the region even offers its own mini replica of Stonehenge. Also in the area, Cape Arid, Fitzgerald River, and Stokes National Parks are popular excursions, famed for their stunning coastal scenery, diverse flora and fauna, and fantastic hiking trails.
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10 The Pinnacles
In Nambung National Park, about a 2-hour drive from Perth, the Pinnacles are thousands of limestone pillars rising from a lunar-like landscape of yellow sand. These bizarre rock formations range in height from between a few centimeters to 4 m. Controversy persists over their origin, but it seems that a process of chemical change caused by wind and water erosion led to the softer sandstones being washed away, leaving the harder limestone exposed. Visitors can explore these strange-looking rock spires via a scenic drive or walking trail. The Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre displays exhibits on the park.
Location: Pinnacles Drive, via Nambung National Park, Cervantes
11 Gibb River Road, The Kimberley
Slicing through the heart of the Kimberley, Gibb River Road is legendary among outback adventures. "The Gibb", as it's called, is an old cattle-droving route running northeast for 600 km from Derby to just short of Wyndham. Recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles, the road threads past rugged red-rock gorges, outback cattle stations, aboriginal communities, croc-filled rivers, savannah, and magnificent mountain ranges. Travelers along this route can camp or stay at one of the remote stations in the region. El Questro is one of the most famous. During the rainy season, from November through March, the road is usually closed due to flooding.
12 Wave Rock
The famous Wave Rock is an extraordinary rock formation of banded granite, 15 m high, in the form of a wave about to break. Rainwater reacting with different chemical substances in the rock has created a series of vertical stripes in shades of gray, red, and ochre. Other curious granite outcrops lie in the surrounding area. An 80-km circuit from Hyden takes in three interesting examples: the Humps, the King Rocks, and the Gnamma Hole. Bates Cave, to the north of Hyden, has Aboriginal rock paintings and handprints.