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Western Australia

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Revision as of 00:17, 15 March 2008

Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia

Western Australia [1] is the largest Australian state, occupying the western third of the continent. The large majority of the the 2 million inhabitants live on the Southwestern area in or close to Perth, its capital and the most isolated city of this size on Earth. Beyond that, Western Australia's vast wilderness is very sparsely populated, with only a handful of townships over a few thousands residents. The state's main attraction resides precisely in its overall remoteness and huge expanses of untouched scenery.


Map of Western Australia

In the far North, the remote Kimberley is a huge chunk of wilderness with astounding scenery. The Pilbara is a (hot) mining region, very lightly populated, with however various natural attractions worth the stop. The coast of the Gascoyne in the middle of the State offers various wonders: the Ningaloo Reef is far to be as famous as the Great Barrier Reef, but it easily equals or surpasses it in beauty, and Shark Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Western coast (Mid West) has various surfing beaches. The closer to Perth, the more temperate the weather and hospitable the landscape. Regions around Perth (Great Southern, Heartlands, Peel, Perth (region) and South West) are laid-back agricultural, with some fine wineries in the South and large forests.

Towards South Australia, the Goldfields-Esperance region is an extremely infertile dry and flat land, with the population concentrated in the town of Kalgoorlie.

A few hundred kilometers inland, the inner area of the state (technically divided between the Kimberley, Pilbara, Mid-West and Goldfields regions) is a huge remote barren desert with little to no population. This area encompasses fully several of the Australian deserts: the Great Sandy Desert, the Little Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert, as well as parts of the Great Victoria Desert and the Tanami Desert. It is extremely challenging to access, and requires a lot of preparation.


These are some of the major towns and cities in Western Australia.

  • Albany, the largest town in the South of the State.
  • Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley and a fashionable tourist destination among Australians
  • Esperance in the South, with fine coastline and beaches
  • Exmouth is the gateway to the magnificient Ningaloo Reef
  • Fremantle, a lively suburb of Perth
  • Geraldton, the Surfer's Paradise of the West
  • Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a relatively large but full of energy mining town in the East
  • Kununurra, the final stop before you enter the Northern Territory
  • Perth (state capital)
  • Port Hedland, the largest town in the Pilbara

Other destinations

  • The Pinnacles desert, a little over 100km North of Perth, is an eerie landscape of limestone pillars rising from the sand.
  • Kalbarri National Park, 500km North of Perth, is a comparatively easy to access park featuring nice gorges and clifs.
  • Shark Bay, 850km from Perth. Located on the Indian Ocean coast, the Westernmost area of the continent is a UNESCO world heritage site. The visitors can observe stromatolites, some of the oldest living organisms on the planet, as well as marine mammals (including a population of dolphins regularly paying a visit at the shores of Monkey Mia)
  • Mount Augustus, 900 km from Perth, a "rival" of the better-known Uluru in Northern Territory, is often claimed to be the largest monolith on Earth.
  • Coral Bay and Exmouth, 1250km from Perth, are the gateways to the magnificient Ningaloo Reef
  • Karijini National Park, roughly 1500km from Perth, is a major destination in the Pilbara, featuring huge canyons and gorges, and nice hikes through majestic scenery.
  • Roughly halfway between Broome and Port Hedland, the Eighty Mile Beach, facing the Indian Ocean is renown for its shelling at low tides. It is (as its name states clearly) a very long beach, its remoteness accounts for its tranquility. The caravan park (there is only one...) makes for a relaxing stop on the long drive between the Kimberley and the Pilbara, and it is a nice place to enjoy the sunset.
  • Purnululu National Park, approx. 2500 km from Perth, is a recently added UNESCO world heritage site. It is rather tough to access park through a rough 4WD road, but the remoteness of the park is precisely what makes it more attractive. It features the enigmatic Bungle Bungles dome formations.
  • Rottnest Island, directly out to sea in front of Perth, is a popular retreat for locals.
  • Margaret River, 270 km South of Perth, is at heart of a fine winery region.
  • The Wave Rock (a surprising wave-like rock formation) is 370 km due East of Perth and close to the town of Hyden.
  • 400 km South of Perth, close to Albany is the Tree top walk of the Valley of the Giants. An artificial walkway allows for a nice (and safe) walk 40m above the ground in the canopy of the forest.


Western Australia is a huge monster sized state encompassing various climatic zones (from the moonsonal and tropical north, to the temperate and mediterranean South, and the desert and barren inland). Apart of the Southwestern coast, the majority of the land is extremely old, eroded, flat, arid and infertile. The population centers are extremely isolated from one another, and from the other populated zones of Australia. This and the tough environment may account for a more independant spirit than the Eastern counterparts of the state, and there have been several referendums in the past where it was close to actually become a separate country (in 1933, the population voted in majority for secession, though no action was taken).

The vastitude of the state is certainly not to be underestimated when planning your trip: the state is actually larger than any of the European or African countries (even larger than Denmark with Greenland), and twice the size of Alaska. Visiting anything else than Perth will probably require some long driving.


English is the only language you will need, in case you meet someone in the more remote parts of the state...

Get in

Whatever the way you decide to get into WA, remember that there are very strict quarantine rules if you are coming from abroad, or from other states. You can not bring fresh food (including fruits), and even several kinds of processed or frozen products might be forbidden. Check beforehand on the Western Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service site to avoid bad surprises. Rules are enforced, including for rail or road travellers. The best option is to buy your food once in WA.

When the daylight saving time is not in place (October-March), there is a 1.5h time difference with South Australia and the Northern Territory. From October to March, there is a 30 min with the NT and 1.5h with SA.

By air

Perth International Airport (PER) is 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 and Broome.

By road

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 imply extremely long drives. Perth-Adelaide is at least 3 days of driving with stops only to sleep. Darwin-Perth is at least a week.

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 train service runs between Sydney and Perth via Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill.

Get around

Unless you have a private plane, 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. Usually driving a rented conventional (non-4WD) vehicle on an unsealed track is forbidden.

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 northen 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.


If WA does not quench your thirst of (harsh) wilderness, it is unlikely that anywhere else in the world will.


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 wonderful diving spots in WA. The Ningaloo Reef is probably THE place to dive, but there are other areas scattered along the Indian Ocean coast (even around Perth and Rottnest Island).


Although you can expect the usual outback delicacies in roadhouses (sandwiches, steaks...), as well as some reasonnable options in Perth and the larger towns, including nice seafood, WA is probably not the top destination for a gourmet. A trip in WA will probably require some amount of self-catering, would you decide to get away from Perth a bit.


The fairly recent Western Australian wine business may not produce the large quantities of the wineries of the Southeast regions of Australia, but there are a few bustling vineyards that may attract the visitor, especially around Margaret River. All the major vineyards are located in the South of Perth.

In the outback, bring a lot of water with you.

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.
  • 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 disk. 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. Saltwater crocodiles live in the water systems of northern Western Australia and these are potential killers, while fresh water crocodiles (called Johnson crocodiles) are much less dangerous, but can still bite your arm!. Be extremely cautious near waterholes, riverbeds, etc. Deadly jellyfishes are found in the sea (from Carnavon to Wyndham) in the North, particularly in "the Wet" (the wet season – October to April), so only swim in your hotel pool! Common sense will keep you safe from almost all bad encounters with these creatures. If you don't disturb them, good chances are they won't disturb you.
  • Western Australia is so big that there is a good variety climates there.
  • In Western Australia, ALWAYS carry a lot of water!

Get out

Leaving Western Australia will probably be as hard (or as simple) as getting in, unless you decide to pay a visit to the Principality of Hutt River[2]. 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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