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Western Australia

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Oceania : Australia : Western Australia
Revision as of 05:48, 11 June 2013 by 137.132.3.9 (Talk)

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Western Australia [1] is the largest state in Australia, occupying the western third of the continent. It is larger in size than western Europe.

Regions

Western Australia Regions Map
Perth
The state capital and its suburban and semi-rural surroundings are set along the Swan River and sandy Indian Ocean beaches.
Wheatbelt
Dominated by expansive golden fields of grain in the interior and empty beaches on the coast
Mid West
The Western coast has surfing beaches. The closer to Perth, the more temperate the weather and hospitable the landscape
Gascoyne
The central coast offers various wonders: the Ningaloo Reef is not as famous as the Great Barrier Reef, but equals or surpasses it in beauty, and Shark Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Pilbara
A hot mining region, very lightly populated, with various natural attractions.
Kimberley
In the far North. It is a huge chunk of wilderness including the resort town of Broome on Cable Beach. Vast areas of spectacular scenery, and equally vast eras of desolate nothingness.
Goldfields-Esperance
A barren and flat interior becomes greener toward the coast where chilly king waves sent from Antarctica pummel the rocky shore into wondrous shapes.
South West
Known for its wineries, surfing, forests and caves

Cities

  • Perth — state capital and one of the remotest large cities in the world
  • Albany — the largest town in the south of the state
  • Broome — gateway to the Kimberley and a fashionable tourist destination among Australians
  • Bunbury — pleasant city in the southwest
  • Esperance — on the south coast, next stop Antarctica, with a fine coastline and beaches
  • Geraldton — a world class surfing destination
  • Kalgoorlie-Boulder — a relatively large mining town in the east, as remote as remote gets
  • Kununurra — final stop before you enter the Northern Territory
  • Mandurah — a rapidly growing city nestled between estuary and ocean is popular for fishing and crabbing

Other destinations

Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia
  • Kalbarri National Park — explore vibrantly coloured gorges and cliffs sculpted by the Murchison River as it flows to the sea
  • Coral Bay and Exmouth — 1250km from Perth, are gateways to the magnificent Ningaloo Reef
  • Karijini National Park — a major destination in the Pilbara, featuring huge canyons and gorges, and nice hikes through majestic scenery
  • Margaret River — a fine winery and surfing region about 250 km south of Perth, a weekend playground for Perth.
  • Pinnacles Desert — an eerie landscape of limestone pillars rising from the sand about 100 km north of Perth
  • Shark Bay — on the westernmost point of Australia, the small town is known for stromatolites and the dolphins at Monkey Mia
  • Southern Forests — get among lush ancient forests around Denmark and Pemberton where towering karri and marri trees fringe the rugged coastline of D'Entrecasteaux National Park

Understand

The large majority of the the 2 million inhabitants live in the southwestern part of the state, in or close to Perth, the capital and the most isolated city of this size anywhere in the world. Outside of the Perth area there are less than 500,000 people, hence the demoynm Sandgropers. The largest towns outside Perth metro are Albany and Broome, only about 30,000 population each depending on seasonal fluctuations. Beyond the coast, Western Australia's vast interior is very sparsely populated, with only a handful of townships with over a few thousand residents. Mining settlements and cattle stations are thinly-spread so it is all to easy to find yourself alone in a 100 mile radius.

The state's main attraction resides precisely in its overall remoteness and huge expanses of untouched scenery.

Geography

Mount Augustus is widely claimed to be the world's largest monolith

Western Australia covers about third of the total land mass of Australia. It encompasses climatic zones from the monsoonal and tropical north, to the temperate and mediterranean south, and the desert and barren inland. Apart from the south-western coast, the majority of the land is extremely old, eroded, flat, arid and infertile.

The population centres are extremely isolated from one another, and from the other populated zones of Australia. This and the tough environment may account for a more independent spirit than in the eastern states.

The vastness of the state is certainly not to be underestimated when planning your trip. If it were a country, it would be in the top 10 by area, as large as Argentina, larger than any African or European country, and twice the size of Alaska. It is the largest statoid in the world (sub-national body) besides the Sakha Republic in Russia.

Perth and the south-west corner including the Margaret River and Albany are easily accessible, as is Broome. Visiting much of the rest of the state requires some planning, and will probably require some long drives. Never plan on doing a road trip, without clearly telling either the authorties or someone else, on you're planned route, as you could be buggered if you break down. Make sure you always have lots of water (and spare gas) with you.

History

Western Australia was discovered by the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog in 1616 while en-route to what is now known as Jakarta. In the following decade, other Dutch explorers would encounter the land here, but with no apparent natural resources to exploit, left as quickly as they came. During the late 18th century, the British and the French began to explore the more Southern regions of Western Australia and in 1826 the British decided that King George Sound would be a suitable location for a settlement. Three years later the Swan River Colony was established and this would later become the city of Perth. The state grew slowly until the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie in the 1890s, which led to a huge influx of pepole.

Western Australia is the only state to never have been part of New South Wales and is the only Australian state to have tried to leave the federation, voting to secede in 1933. A delegation was sent to Britain to petition parliament to pass the legislation needed to enable independence, but it was determined that the British parliament did not have the necessary powers to pass such legislation. The suggestion of secession still appears in the Western Australian media from time to time, and there are many Western Australians who support the idea.

Time Zone

Western Australia is in the Australian Western Standard Time zone, 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+8). It doesn't observe daylight savings time, and is two hours behind the east coast of Australia during winter, and falls three hours behind New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania when they move to daylight savings. Note that not all of W.A. is in the same time zone! Residents of towns east of Caiguna on the Eyre Highway (including Eucla, Madura, Mundrabilla and Border Village) in the south-east corner near the South Australian border do not follow official Western Australian time. Instead, they use what is unofficially known as Central Western Standard Time, which is halfway between Western and Central time--UTC+8:45.

Get in

By plane

Perth has the only airport in Western Australia with regular international flights.

The vast majority of interstate flights also land in Perth. However there are a small number of interstate flights to Kalgoorlie, Kununurra, Karratha and Broome. Skywest has a weekly flight from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne, however it may still be cheaper to fly Kalgoorlie - Perth - Melbourne depending on the travel dates desired.

The price of flights from other Australian capital cities to Perth fluctuates wildly. The red-eye overnight flights can often be obtained at a discount over the more civilised flight times.

By car

Considering the huge distances, driving into Western Australia from anywhere else is an experience by itself.

There are only two sealed roads into Western Australia: in the south, the Eyre Highway is the most direct route from Adelaide to Perth. In the north, the Victoria Highway connects the Kimberley region with the Northern Territory up to Darwin. Both involve extremely long drives. Perth-Adelaide is at least 3 days of driving with stops only to sleep, and much of the drive is across the extraordinarily barren Nullabor Plain. Darwin-Perth is at least a week.

It is often possible to organise one-way car hire without additional fees from Adelaide to Perth. Shop around, and check conditions carefully, as some cars hired in Adelaide cannot even be driven into Western Australia.

The unsealed Great Central Road, Tanami Track and Gunbarrel Highway run between the Northern Territory and remote Western Australian towns.

By rail

There is one railway connecting Western Australia with the eastern states. The Indian Pacific [2] train service runs between Sydney and Perth via Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill. Prices are generally more expensive than air travel, but you can put your car on the train. The train ride is a unique experience in itself, as it can take 3 nights to get to Sydney at the other end of the line and you see a lot of rugged beauty along the way.

Quarantine

There are quarantine rules [3] if you are coming from other states in Australia. You cannot bring fruits and vegetables (including seeds and cuttings) into Western Australia. Frozen fresh food is also not allowed but you will be OK with commercially packaged foods, except honey and bee products. There are quarantine checkpoints set up on the state borders and rules are strictly enforced.. Inspectors board trains into the state to check passengers, and there are checkpoints at all airports.

If you are arriving directly from overseas, additional quarantine rules apply. See the Australia article for details.

Get around

By car

If you want to travel across WA by road, be ready to drive a lot to get from point A to point B. There are only a limited number of sealed roads (any map of the state will probably show you all of them), if you plan to leave them to get to more remote areas you will need to consider renting a 4WD. Contact the company to which you rent the vehicle to check the policy concerning driving on unsealed tracks, as you might have to get their authorization. Driving a rented conventional (non-4WD) vehicle on an unsealed track may breach your rental contract and void your insurance. Check with the local depot before arriving.

Sealed highways and byways

Unsealed tracks

Track in Western Australia

These roads are not what most people would call a "highway" or even a "road". They are unsealed and should definitively not be taken lightly, especially if you have no experience in driving off sealed roads in the Australian desert. Be extremely cautious if you decide to attempt these tracks, as they are adventures on their own. Petrol supply is scarce, water is rare and accommodation is close to non-existent. These roads should only be used with thorough research beforehand, and a 4WD is very strongly recommended. On some more remote tracks, it could be weeks until anyone finds you or your body if you break down.

  • The legendary Canning Stock Route is 1800 km long cattle track from Willuna in the northern Goldfields to Halls Creek in the Kimberley, crossing the inner desert parts of the state. It is one of the most remote tracks on the planet, with absolutely no facilities, fuel or food supplies, and runs hundred kilometers from any civilization. Prior fuel dropping arrangements and thorough research about the dangers involved in the crossing are absolute prerequisites. Attempting the track in the summer is madness.
  • The 650 km long Gibb River Road crosses through the heart of Kimberley in the North through majestic scenery.
  • The Gunbarrel Highway crosses the heart of the continent from Wiluna to Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory.
  • The comparatively easier Tanami Track crosses the Tanami desert to the Red Centre in Northern Territory.
  • The Great Central Road, regularly graded, may be attempted by strong 2WD (with very cautious and prepared drivers). It crosses several aboriginal lands (for which you will need permits) right to Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory.

By plane

Given the distances involved, plane travel is a vital connection to many Western Australian communities. Many towns based on mining have private 'Fly-in Fly-out' (FIFO) services for their employees, which are difficult for travellers to access.

Most larger towns have some form of commercial scheduled air service. Charter services are commonly available to access more remote areas, and airstrips available for landing are available even in the very smallest towns. If you can get a group of 6 together, a charter flight need not cost significantly more than a scheduled commercial service, but don't expect to be able to each take your 23kg suitcase on board.

By train

Train services are limited outside of Perth and Mandurah. In addition to the Great Southern Railway's Indian Pacific, there are three regional train services all operating from Perth.

By coach

Coach Services comprehensively cover the towns in the South West of the state. Greyhound run a coastal service from Perth through to Broome and onto Darwin via Kununurra.

See

If WA does not quench your thirst of (harsh) wilderness, it is unlikely that anywhere else in the world will. That said, most visitors stay within the very civilised areas of the southwest corner and Broome, which have many attractions and well developed facilities.

  • Ancient forms of life. Thrombolites at Lake Clifton and stromatolites at Shark Bay are rock-like mounds built by micro-organisms that resemble some of the earliest forms of life on earth.

Do

Besides driving, which can be an experience for some (being on the only sealed road for hundreds of kilometers, without crossing anyone, might be either disturbing or enjoyable to most of Western Europe drivers), WA offers nice surfing on its beaches (around Geraldton for instance). There are many 4WD tracks in Western Australia. Four-wheel driving on them is an adventure in itself, but also enables you to experience more remote places in the woods, along the beaches or in the outback.


Dive

  • Ningaloo Reef near Coral Bay. probably the place to dive with abundant coral, marine life and a good chance of seeing a whale shark.
  • Rottnest Island. Not far off Perths coast its has many underwater caves that are worth exploring.


Four-wheel driving

  • The Captain Fawcett Commemorative, Dawn Creek Road/Nanga Road intersection (Obtain trip notes at the DEC office). is a 4WD track in the vicinity of Dwellingup, only a 1.5h drive from WA's capital Perth. It showcases some 90km of Western Australia's best Jarrah forests, magnificent views, historic farmhouses and original settlers' trestle bridges.

Hike

  • Bibbulmun Track, +61 8 9481 0551 (), [4]. A hike on the nearly 1000km trail from Perth to Albany, passing through many south west towns is arguably one of the best walks in WA. The signposted trail wanders through forest, wetland, coastal, and grassland environments to campsites equipped with a three-sided timber shelter, rainwater tank and toilets. Pocket sized map books can be bought from the Bibbulmun track Foundation. If taking on the entire length is too daunting, several sections make good 2-5 day jaunts.
  • Cape to Cape, +61 8 9752 5555 (), [5]. The 135km trail between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park meanders around precipitous coastal scenery, forests and along beaches. Periodic established campsites a offer a spot to pitch your tent, toilet and watertank. The northern trailhead is 15km south of Dunsborough and ends 6km shy of Augusta, passing through four towns along the way.
  • Munda Biddi Trail (Mountain bike only track), +61 8 9481 2483 (), [6]. If you prefer two wheels the 498km Munda Biddi Trail goes from Mundaring in the Perth hills to Nannup in the South West. The trail varies in terrain but is not extraordinarily challenging, making it a pleasant ride for all ability levels. Campsites with shelters are spaced a days ride apart and towns along the way give you chance to return to civilisation.
  • Railway Reserve Heritage Trail. An easy, but interesting, trail in the Perth Hills that follows a 40km loop along the route of the former Eastern Railway abandoned in the late 50's. The most popular stretch is in John Forrest National Park from Swan View to Hovea passing through the spooky Swan View tunnel, over a decaying wood framed bridge to the magnificent Hovea Falls. The areas relatively unspoilt bushland is a major wildlife corridor so it's not uncommon to see groups of kangaroos at dusk among other native animals.

Swim

  • Cable Beach in Broome. One of Western Australia's most well known beaches, with warm water and sand swept clean by the tides every day. You can't swim there from October until May because of Box Jellyfish (as with any beach north of Exmouth). Irukandji are also a risk at other times of year, and the beach can also be closed if a crocodile cruises past.
  • Lake Argyle in Kununurra. As one of the largest man made lakes in Australia Lake Argyle is a good place for a dip with the friendly crocodiles. Kununurra also has a number of secluded waterholes around that make a refreshing place to float about with a beer during the humid wet season.
  • Serpentine Falls in Serpentine. Located a 35 minute drive east of Mandurah, is an excellent place for a swim.
  • Perth Metropolitan Beaches, [7]. White sand beaches close to the city range from Family-Friendly calm, gently shelving beaches with grass picnic areas adjacent to reliable surfing stretches of the coast. Many of these beaches are accessible by public transport.

Eat

Perth and the larger towns have the usual range of restaurants. Australian influenced Thai, Chinese and cafes are common. Pubs can usually be relied upon for an evening meal in most towns and roadhouses have a range of sandwiches, burgers and sometime more substantial cooked meals. Trips away from the major towns will probably require some amount of self-catering.

  • Truffles – An item you wouldn't expect to come out of WA is the opulent black fungus that's favoured by trendy restaurants in the better part of town. While the local variety isn't considered to be equal to it's European counterparts, it exhibits the characteristic taste and smell that justifies the high prices it demands. Truffle growing in the state is still in its infancy but in recent years the industry has grown large enough to support two festivals. At the end of May the Truffle Affaire [8] in Manjimup is a day-long event with capacity limited to the 100 epicureans indulgent enough to pay $245 for trufflesque tours, hunting and eating. Somewhat more egalitarian is the Mundaring Truffle Festival [9] held at the end of July where you can wander between a multitude of truffle related stalls while you wait for the next free food talk or demonstration. The $10 entry fee lets you see and taste quite a bit.
  • Marron is a freshwater crayfish unique to WA.
  • The Carnarvon area grows fresh capsicum, chilli peppers (and paprika) with a long harvest season.

Drink

Beer

  • Fremantle has a number of micro-breweries. The most well known is Little Creatures, housed in an old boat shed where they serve a pale ale straight from the conditioning tank.
  • Kimberley residents love a drink, so it's no surprise that Matso's Brewery in Broome has a rightful reputation among hopheads for making some fine brews.
  • The Swan Valley in Perth's outskirts is known for its wine but also makes some decent drops of the amber variety. Duckstein Brewerey is one of the states first micro-brewers and produces a range of German style beers that are particularly popular around Oktoberfest time. You can take a look at their copper brewing kettle and then sample an ale in the garden.

Coffee

A debate about the quality of coffee in WA grumbles on endlessly, with many visitors claiming a decent cup near impossible to find in the west and locals countering that they are just not looking in the right place. Subjective bean preferences aside, it is agreed that coffee is generally more expensive than in Eastern capitals and a higher price (averaging $3.80, but up to $4.50) does not necessarily buy you a better cup.

  • Northbridge, Fremantle, Subicaco, Mount Lawley and the CBD in and around Perth have the highest concentration of cafes where you are more likely to get a decent espresso.
  • Outside of the metro area it can be hit and miss, but you might improve you chances around Albany and Margaret River where a couple of boutique roasters have operations and coffee sits in the same circles as the gourmet food and wine scene.
  • Non-aficionados who prefer a little coffee in their milk drink might be disappointed that there are no Starbucks stores here, but should be satisfied enough with the Dome coffee chain that has outlets state-wide.

Spirits

  • Kununurra in the Kimberley is home to the Hoochery Distillery, the oldest continuously operating rum producer in WA (est. 1995), where local cane sugar is used to make some pretty potent booze. Though it's aged in oak barrels it's still a harsh gulp but the high alcohol percentage, up to 70%, hits in the right way. Tours of the distilling operations run in the peak season.

Wine

Western Australian viticulture may not produce the large volumes of the wineries on the east of Australia, but the vineyards here are known for producing quality over quantity.

  • The Margaret River wine region was only established in the late 1960s but has since built a reputation as an eminent producer of premium wines, particularly Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties. Around 90 vineyards have their cellardoor open for tastings and sales, providing plenty of opportunities for serious libations.
  • Swan Valley in the outskirts of Perth was one of the first places in the old colony where grapes were grown for wine, however it really developed as a wine region in the 1920s when migrant Croatian and Italian families established many of the wineries that still exist today. The valley overflows with a myriad of wine related attractions along the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail and hosts no less than three festivals a year.

Stay safe

The vastness of Western Australia requires travellers to be particularly careful when going into remote areas (which constitute the majority of the state anyway).

  • When leaving sealed roads and entering remote unsealed tracks, advise someone of your movements (for example the local police) of your expected time/date of arrival, and your travel intentions. Check with local officials about the conditions of unsealed roads, especially during the wet season during which these roads are likely to be difficult to travel or impassible. Seek advice from locals when fording rivers, as many become swollen and deep/fast during the wet season.
  • Many remote rural and outback areas in Western Australia are home to kangaroos and other mammals, reptiles and birds that will cross the roads, especially at dawn and dusk. So try to avoid driving at these times (kangaroos are most active at these times) and always be alert.
  • There are several 'deadly animals' inhabiting the northern regions of Western Australia. Snakes are widespread throughout all Australia. Saltwater crocodiles ("salties") live in the water systems of northern Western Australia and are very potent killers, while fresh water crocodiles (called Johnson crocodiles or "freshies") are much less dangerous and are not aggressive despite their appearence. Don't swim in waterholes, riverbeds, etc in regions inhabited by crocs. Deadly jellyfish can be found in the sea (from Canarvon to Wyndham) in the North, particularly between October to April, so only swim in your hotel pool.
  • Although Western Australia is a relatively safe place, be aware that there is a problem with violent nightlife. Late at night, be on your guard in areas such as Northbridge and Fremantle, particularly if you are in a demographic which is considered to be a target, i.e young male or female. Avoid eye (or any) contact with suspicious characters and drunks.

Get out

  • Christmas Island - Closer to Indonesia than WA, but still part of Australia. Christmas Island is an emerging destination for divers and crab lovers looking for something not yet over run by other people.
  • Port Augusta in South Australia - The 1668km drive along Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bight along the Eyre Highway is one of the longest and lonely drives in Australia
  • Principality of Hutt River [10] - By some obscure legal technicality, this small farm near Geraldton successfully declared its independence from Western Australia in the 70s. You can even get a passport, buy rare stamps and coins and if you are lucky you can even meet the Royal Family.




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