The following article will take you on a 1250km+ journey from Perth City, all the way to Exmouth (Gnulli Country), located in the North-West of the State. This journey you are about to embark on, covers just a fraction of the WA State, but is a great starting point for now.
We start our road-trip in Perth (Whadjuk). I recommend hiring a van, campervan, four-wheel drive or any other vehicle with space to sleep. Towns, accommodation and petrol stations are few and far between. You want the option to pull over somewhere to safely recharge. If you wish to share this epic experience with like-minded travellers, I highly recommend booking with Why Not Bus. Owned and operated by a couple of local Perth legends, this bus-trip is a tour for people who don’t do tours.
The ideal time for this road trip, is throughout the cooler months (between July – October). Avoid school holidays if possible. I suggest taking an absolute minimum of two weeks to travel. If you have more time, great! You may even consider working a season in Exmouth. Several travellers, locals and grey-nomads head north and settle on the Ningaloo Reef for Winter’s entirety.
Perth (Whadjuk Noongar Country)
Perth, Western Australia (WA). Welcome to the most isolated capital city in the world. Throughout your stay in Perth, you may not necessarily experience the feeling of remoteness. However, drive just one hour north of the city and inevitably, you will notice the sheer vastness of Western Australia.
My good Dutch friend once told me: You can fit sixty of the Netherlands into one Western Australia. How’s that for putting things into perspective!
On departure from Perth, you have two route options:
1. The Brand Highway
2. The Indian Ocean Road
I recommend taking the Indian Ocean Road, as it’s more scenic, with fewer road-trains.
Lancelin or ‘Lano’ (Yuat Country)
You are now 120km North of Perth and have arrived in ‘Lano’. I love this little beachy town. West Australian author, Tim Winton, also loves this town and has written several books from this location. You are now on the Wild West Coast and will become accustomed to the ferocious winds, which rip and roar through the coastline. The WA coastline is a long stretch of raw land, which endures the force of all elements. But don’t let a bit of wind scare you off.
What does one do in Lano? Surf! If you’re a beginner or intermediate surfer, head to Back Beach. If you’re advanced, seek out a different break. The more advanced waves require a hefty paddle out, or a boat-trip with a local. Not keen to surf? Alternatively, you can sandboard down the iconic sand dunes, 4WD, windsurf, kiteboard, hang out at the beach, or grab a bite from the Lobster Trap.
Where to sleep:
Lancelin Caravan Park is fully equipped with showers, toilets etc. Alternatively, Lano has public toilets and showers. So free-camping is an option. Just watch out for rangers.
Wedge Island (Yuat Country)
40km north of Lano, is Wedge. You will need a 4WD (or something similar) to access Wedge. Between 1950-1980, 350 beach shacks were built on the Settlements of Wedge and Grey. Many still stand today, but are protected by local fishermen, surfers and the wider community. Wedge is great for a day trip of surfing, fishing, 4WD-ing and getting lost through the Settlement of old-school, tin beach shacks. I guarantee you will never see anything else like this place.
Where to sleep:
Sleep in Lancelin and drive to Wedge early in the morning. One day in Wedge will satisfy your soul.
Geraldton ‘Gero’ (Yamatji Country)
Gero is more than a ‘drive-through town’, despite what many West Oz folk say. There are copious amounts of surf breaks for all levels and a fast-emerging café culture. Some of the most colour-explosive and breath-taking sunsets I’ve ever witnessed, have taken place right here.
Gero has a long history of cray fishing. Now is your opportunity to launch your cray loop and try your luck for some tucker. (Ps. You need a Rock Lobster License to do so. The cost is $50 annually).
If you have time (and money), take a boat or jet plane joyride across to the Abrolhos Islands. The Islands are not fully-equipped for tourism (yet). Although, you can visit for a day trip regardless, and enjoy this raw, historical archipelago. Tip** Read up on the story of the ‘Batavia’, before traveling to the Abrolhos. You will have a far deeper appreciation for the Islands, once you grasp the shocking events that took place in 1629, among the Dutch Mutineers.
Upon departure from Gero, jump on the Great North-western Highway. Follow the winding road through Northampton and onwards to your next stop.
Where to sleep:
Free camping available. Check out the App, ‘WikiCamps Australia’, which can be purchased for $8. Otherwise, if you’re ready for a hot shower head to the Sunset Beach Holiday Park.
Kalbarri (Nanda Country)
Once you hit Kalbarri, you’re en-route to some of North WA’s greatest surf breaks. Set up camp for a few nights, as endless adventures await you. Aside from surfing, Kalbarri hosts a stunning National Park. You can find the famous ‘Nature’s Window’ and a bunch of other rocks. Rocks may not seem so appealing to you now, but once you reach Kalbarri, the infamous red dirt, rocky Country begins. Once you have a taste of the red dirt Country, it will forever run through your veins (and stain all of your clothes and car seats).
Where to sleep:
Kalbarri Tudor Holiday Park. Affordable and simple, but a good stay.
Shark Bay (Nanda Country)
A Kayaker’s paradise! You are now 800km North of Perth. Rent a kayak or SUP and explore the stunning caves and waterways of this World Heritage Listed site. Don’t let the name put you off. Shark Bay is known for their friendly and interactive Dolphins. There may be the odd shark here or there, but they’re well fed. Well that’s what we tell ourselves anyway.
Where to sleep: Shark Bay Caravan Park
The Stations (Gnulli Country)
Once you have passed Carnarvon, you’ll hit ‘The Stations’. Red Bluff, Gnarloo, Quobba and Warroora Station. You have officially landed on the Ningaloo (Nyinggulu) Reef. By now, you will truly feel the remoteness and vastness of West Oz. Once you reach The Stations, you will surely ask… “Where am I? What ocean? All I see is red dirt, cows, roadkill, eagles, wild goats and kangaroos in rigor mortis on the side of the road”. Don’t turn back. You’re on the right track.
Turn into any of these little stations and at the end of the road, you will find the bluest, clearest water and whitest sand your eyes have ever laid upon. But don’t blink, because it’s easy to miss the turn off. The contrast of the rugged red dirt, against the turquoise water, will leave you speechless and in pure awe of this dreamland. If you don’t mind roughing it and giving up the luxuries of plumbing, electricity, and phone reception, then check out The Stations. Surf, dive, fish, snorkel, kayak or just sit with stillness and take in the magic of the land. Remember to bring plenty of water, food and a spare jerry-can of fuel.
Where to sleep:
Warroora Station is a bargain $10 per night. Quobba Station has unpowered sites for $15 per night. Most of the toilets are Indian-style drop-toilets. Red Bluff has unpowered campsites for $18 per night. Each of the stations offer bungalows or chalets, but they’re not cheap. A few nights at either Station is enough time. But, if you’re a hardcore surfer – the rest of your trip may be postponed for another time, as you may have just discovered wave paradise.
Coral Bay (Gnulli Country)
If you decide to skip The Stations because drop-toilets aren’t really your thing, that’s cool. Coral Bay will be your first taste of the Ningaloo Reef. Take a day or two to explore Coral Bay. The community is unbelievably warm and welcoming and encourage a sustainable lifestyle. What is the greatest part about Coral Bay? You don’t need a boat to explore the beautiful reef. You can access and dive the reef from shore. Save your pennies for a boat-trip in Exmouth.
Where to sleep:
If you’re ready to take a break from camping, check out the Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers. Affordable, clean, social and fun!
Exmouth (Gnulli Country)
You have arrived. Welcome to the warmth! Take your time in Exmouth. There is so much to see and do. The salty, adventurous and creative community will capture your heart and inspire you to live an alternative lifestyle. (E.g. quit your job and become an entrepreneur).
Most people head to Exmouth to swim with the Whale Sharks, Rays and Humpbacks. If you have a spare $400, you can head out for a day-trip on the water with one of the whale shark companies. I’ve never done this myself, but apparently, it’s worth it. Where ever you go and where ever you look, Exmouth is whales-galore! Often, I’ll be surfing my favourite break and 50m ahead, a massive humpback will breach and time completely stops for that moment. I prefer to interact with the marine life in this manner and appreciate when they approach me first. However, everyone has their unique preference for connecting with marine life. Whichever way you choose to engage, I guarantee it will be an extraordinary experience for you.
Here are my top tips for Exmouth:
- Scan the coast for a spot to fish, dive, spearfish, snorkel or surf. Familiarise yourself with fishing zones and sanctuary zones. Huge fines apply if you’re caught doing the wrong thing.
- Want to dive deeper? Take a tinny out to explore the outer-reefs and beyond.
- Scuba dive the Navy Pier.
- If the winds in, take a hike through Yardie Creek Gorge, Mand Mandu or Charles Knife Canyon.
- Whalebone Brewery for delicious pizza and live music.
- Wednesday night burgers and live music at Yardie Creek Homestead Café
- Surf your heart out. I won’t say where but you will suss it out.
- Dunes Beach for sunset and community gatherings. The carpark at Dunes feels like you’ve stepped back in time, to re-live the 70s hippie era.
- Park at the Lighthouse for sunset, cheese and wine.
- Need a shower? Town Beach is where all the travellers gather to use the public showers
- Froth Brewery for live music and the spot where all the salty, cool cats hang out
- Inhala Yoga Studio is a must! If you’ve driven this far, you’re probably due for a good stretch. The lovely ladies who run Inhala have created a beautiful space in their home to practice. They offer a delicious menu of yoga, including yoga for surfers, pranayama and breathwork for freediving, vinyasa, yin and much, much more.
Where to sleep:
The Ningaloo Lighthouse has been my Winter home for the past two years. But sadly, the site will close in 2020. Your next best bet is Yardie Homestead Caravan Park. It’s about half an hour out of town, but worth the drive. There are other camping options in town, but the vibe isn’t the same.
Four days to explore Exmouth is a minimum. You can possibly get away with free-camping, but I encourage you to support local, small towns and economies and dish out a few bucks to pay for a good night’s sleep.
One more thing….
We can’t discuss the Ningaloo area, without mentioning the ‘Protect the Ningaloo’ campaign. I won’t dive deep into the environmental issues now. However, if you’d like to know more, my good friend Anthony James has a podcast worth checking out. Head to the RegenNarration website and listen to episode #18, ‘Protecting the Ningaloo’. It’s inspiring to see community come together to protect this sacred land.
Ps. Karajini National Park (Banjima Country)
Surprise! I was saving the best for last. Only 580km inland from Exmouth, exists the fairyland world of Karajini.I say ‘only’, because once you’ve arrived at the tail-end of your great WA road trip, 580km is a stroll in the park.If you’re salt-watered out and thirsty for some freshness, take a de-tour past this wonderland. Here you’ll find gorges, waterholes, caves, history, waterfalls and tall, blue Avatars… (not quite, but you may think you’ve stumbled across an enchanting world, similar to that of the film Avatar).
Photos by @gottago.buffalo
Where to sleep: As Karajini is a National Park, you can’t free-camp, but reasonably priced campsites are available. Dale’s National Park camping ground is $11 per person/per night. No showers and the toilets aren’t great. Dale’s campsite is next to Fern Pool, Circular Pool and Fortescue all. Alternatively, you can stay at the Eco Retreat, which is $20 per night/per person. Toilets and showers on site. Otherwise, there is a nice (FREE) rest area you can stay at called Hamersley Gorge. No toilets or showers but rubbish bins provided.
And voila! You’ve reached your final destination.
Now it’s time to head back to the big smoke, which is Perth. For a change of scene, you have the option to take the in-land road and pass through some old mining towns, such as Mount Magnet, Newman and Tom Price.
Or, maybe your road trip continues. You may love the Wild West so much, that you forget about all your responsibilities and end up in the Pilbara or the Kimberly Region. Some people go north for a holiday and return some seven years later.
Where will your journey take you?
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I would like to acknowledge the following Aboriginal Regions, which you may pass on your journey to North-Western Australia:
Wadjuk Noongar Boodja, Yuat Country, Yamatji Country, Nanda Country, Nyinggulu Reef & Country, Gnulli Country, Banjima Country
The Aboriginal people of these regions are the true custodians of the land. I acknowledge all past, present and future Aboriginal people and thank them for allowing us to walk safely on their sacred lands.