Road trip: The best of the South West
Route: This journey takes in the best of the south-west corner of WA. It begins in Busselton, 2.5hr south of Perth, and takes in the coast via Margaret River to Albany.
Distance: About 460km.
By the Places We Go team
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.
Luckily for us, the South West WA region offers all of this. In fact, it is one of the more diverse road trips you could tackle.
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, which is perfect for holidaymakers.
With a collection of inviting cafés and restaurants, and a stunning waterfront with white sandy beaches, it is an alluring destination. One of the highlights is Busselton Jetty, and prepare to be seriously impressed. This is no ordinary jetty – it is the second-longest timber jetty in the world at 1.8km long!
"This is no ordinary jetty – it is the second-longest timber jetty in the world at 1.8km long!"
The jetty has a 152-year history – construction on the original structure began in 1865, and when tourism increased in the 1880s 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 its length – it will take about 25min – 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!) – 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 descend 8m below the jetty to the 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 300-plus marine species that 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. We loved seeing how happy this made both dog and owner!
Between enjoying the nearby beach and the splash park and pool at BIG4 Beachlands, 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 among the famous treetops.
A rare Tuart forest lies just a 15min drive inland from town, and here you can find Forest Adventures South West. This is a network of fun-filled courses and flying foxes set among the treetops where you can test your inner adventurer. We tackled Tarzan ropes, spider webs, suspension bridges, and more.
There is even a BMX tightrope and 13m 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: beach breaks, 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, so 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 an enormous range of locally produced artisan goodies, including cheeses, pates, sausages, jams, chutneys, and more.
A highlight of Margaret River is its ancient limestone caves, some of which are open to the public to explore. Some 150 caves exist beneath the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, and we chose to visit Mammoth Cave, one of the most easily accessible caves in the region. Among 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 stingrays 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 and Indian oceans meet. It is also the perfect place to try and spot migrating whales between May and September.
Or you could 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. 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, so jump on a 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 sand.
Albany is 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 park and cook on the barbecue, accompanied by goodies we had bought at the local farmers’ market. It really was the best way to end a road trip in one of the prettiest corners of our country.
For more travel information and inspiration visit Places We Go.
Have you visited this stretch of WA? If so, what do you like about the region? We’d love to read your thoughts, so please leave a comment.
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