Last Christmas we ventured across our vast continent for a family holiday in south-west Western Australia (WA). WA is a fabulous holiday destination with something to offer everyone. From spectacular scenery to beautiful wineries to unique wildlife there really is so much to discover. As for me, I had another bonus – I got to catch up with my brother and his beautiful family and experience this area with locals that were in the know. Read on for my 8 highlights of south-west WA.
1 | ROTTNEST ISLAND
Without a doubt this island paradise tops my list of highlights of south-west WA. Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Freemantle, the Perth locals love Rottnest Island and it is popular for day trips. I didn’t realise how unique this island treasure is. There is nothing else quite like it. My advice – skip the day trip and head there for 3 or 4 nights. You won’t regret it.
The crystal blue bays of Rottnest island are breathtakingly beautiful with their powdery white sand and clear, calm waters. Big call, but I think Rottnest has some of the finest beaches I have ever seen. I think it is the vibrant shades of blue contrasting with the pure white sand (and the lack of cars) that really set this island apart.
There are 63 beaches, so if you want to step foot on your very own private beach, get out your surfboard, fish, dive or snorkel you will find the perfect spot. The island also boasts a rich history, an abundant marine life and is home to what has to be our happiest little marsupial, the Quokka.
Rottnest is a car free zone which adds to its overall charm and helps make the entire experience an adventure. The best way to get around – by bicycle. This beautiful place forces you to slow down to fit into its laid back, casual vibe. You can find out more about my trip to Rottnest Island here. My highlights include:
- Our accommodation in eco-sustainable glamping tents at Discovery
- Cycling to idyllic beaches and enjoying the panoramic views
- Enjoying the friendly local marsupials – quokkas
- Snorkelling the protected Little Salmon Bay
- Swimming at The Basin, Little Parakeet Bay and Geordie Bay.
- Donuts for morning tea from The Rottnest Bakery in Thompson Bay Settlement
- Happy hour at Hotel Rottnest on the beachfront at sunset
- Cycling into town at night for local cinema complete with deck chairs
2 | MARGARET RIVER
The Margaret River region (from Busselton in the north to Augusta in the south) is located just a 3-hour drive south of Perth. You could easily stay here for weeks and not run out of things to do and I’d recommend 3-5 nights as a minimum.
The world-renowned wineries are outstanding, but this region is also famous for its beautiful beaches and natural wonders. To see it you really need to hire, beg or borrow a car and make sure you stay somewhere central so that you have easy access to the main highlights. We found Yallingup, Dunsborough and Bunker Bay to be central to many of the wineries and attractions. My highlights of the Margaret River include:
- Snorkelling and walking the Bussellton Jetty
- 3.5km walk from Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse to Sugarloaf Rock
- Injidup Natural Spa is a spectacular natural landmark and hidden gem
- Relaxing at picturesque Meelup beach
- Meeting graceful sting rays and eagle rays at Hamlin Bay close up and personal
- Enjoying the wineries, breweries and gourmet food in the area
- Enjoying the scenery and the drive through the Boranup Karri Forest on Caves Road
We didn’t explore Lake Cave near Boranup forest, but I’ve heard this is a great activity to do too.
3 | HAMLIN BAY
Although this is part of the Margaret River region, Hamlin Bay really stood out as one of the highlights of south-west WA all on its own. Hamlin bay with its old timber jetty remnants is a beautiful beach in itself, but it is the friendly sting ray and eagle ray inhabitants that make a visit something to remember. If you love nature you will feel like you’re taking part in a live David Attinborough documentary.
The rays are found at the old boat ramp and swim right up to the shoreline in the hopes of a morsel of fish. For the best chances of seeing them we were told to arrive between 9 and 10am – and see them we did! There must have been 10 or more of these graceful giants delighting a crowd of onlookers.
The rays are gentle and very inquisitive. They will rub their fins on your legs and gently take any offerings of fish. Be respectful of these creatures. The rays are wild and do have barbs on their tails.
4 | MANDURAH DOLPHIN CRUISE
Our dolphin experience in Mandurah (a coastal town 1 hour south of Perth) was definitely a highlight of our trip to WA and a complete surprise (thanks Bro). Man did those dolphins put on a show! We were lucky enough to see one of the dolphins catch a cobbler. These tasty fish have to be thrown around to break off the venomous spines before a dolphin can swallow it whole. An amazing sight.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend ‘The Dolphin Island Adventure’ with Mandurah Cruises. Mandurah is a lovely coastal town to stop off at for a couple of hours break from driving or overnight if you wanted to.
5 | BUSSELTON JETTY
The Busselton Jetty is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, spanning 1.8km in length. For a small fee you can walk the jetty in about 25 minutes each way. There is also a jetty train you can catch for an additional fee if exercise is not your thing.
Snorkelling around the piers at the centre or end of the jetty is also spectacular with colourful coral lining the piers and interesting fish darting about. If snorkelling is not your thing you can purchase a ticket to the underwater observatory at the end of the jetty. The tour commences 8m below the jetty via a spiral staircase to the ocean floor. Tours depart on the hour and take approximately 45 minutes to complete.
The Busselton Foreshore is also a popular beach destination for families with its calm waters making it perfect for safe swimming. There is a wonderful playground for children and the fish and chips from Salt at the end of the jetty are fantastic.
6 | GREENS POOLS & ELEPHANT ROCKS
15km to the west of Denmark is a magical beach called Greens Pool. Almost completely sheltered from the waves of the Great Southern Ocean by the rounded rock boulders, Greens Pool is a natural swimming wonderland. If you are tougher than me and can bare the water temperature Greens Pool is also a popular snorkelling spot with many fish and coral lining the inner side of the rock breaks.
At the eastern end of Greens Pool you can take a short 10 minute walk to Elephant Rocks. Quite bizarrely, these huge boulders look like a herd of elephants, paddling in the shallow waters. It is quite a stunning sight.
7 | DENMARK & SURROUNDS
Similar to Margaret River in feel, the area surrounding Denmark is abundant with wineries, gourmet food options, stunning rugged coastline and forest. My highlights include:
- Relaxing at Greens Pools and Elephant Rocks
- Enjoy a gourmet platter by the lake at The Lakehouse Winery
- Climb 53m to the spectacular look-out structure of the Gloucester tree karri forest (I didn’t achieve this feat (I have a growing fear of heights) but most of my family did and my 8 year old will never forgive me for not letting her do the climb)
- Enjoy some mead or honey icecream at Bartholomews Meadery
- Discover the 40m high tree top walk in the canopy of an ancient tingle forest in the Valley of the Giants (I did do this even with my fear of heights)
- Experience a Sri Lanken curry at the Normabar
8 | PERTH & SURROUNDS
We spent 3 night in Perth staying at the fabulous Quest Apartments, South Perth. Located on the South Perth foreshore these apartments were the perfect solution for a family of five. Fully self-contained 2-bedroom apartments with a mind-blowing view of Perth city were around $400/night. The location was perfect.
There is a 24-hour supermarket below the apartments and some fantastic shopping and eateries nearby. It is also located adjacent the ferry terminal so a trip across the river to Elizabeth Quay is only 10 minute ferry ride away.
It reached a scorching 41oC + daily while we were in Perth, so we had to pace ourselves (and allow for air-conditioned afternoon naps:) I don’t think the extreme heat hindered our adventure except perhaps for our day in the Swan Valley where the heat felt truly stifling. My highlights of Perth include:
- Exploring Kings Parks and it’s habitats for a great view over Perth
- Feeding the black swans on the Swan River
- Visiting the Freemantle Market and sampling some delicious fare
- Sunning ourselves on Beautiful Cottisloe Beach (if you’re driving this is just a hop, skip and a jump from Freemantle)
- Exploring Elizabeth Quay at sunset
- Visiting the Swan Valley
The Swan Valley for me couldn’t compete with the picturesque rural scenery throughout the Margaret River. It is generally located around a busy highway, so has a different feel. In saying that we did have an enjoyable day even if I have never experienced heat like it. There were a few special highlights for our family.
- The Swan Valley ‘Cuddly Animal Farm’. This is a really lovely farm and we got to feed, hold and experience animals that are out of the norm for us. Feeding baby pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and an emu. Considering the weather that day, the farm turned our entire day around and was a big hit.
- The Margaret River Chocolate Factory was also fantastic. We went from deserted wineries (it was just too hot) into a chocolate scented space overflowing with customers enjoying the air-conditioning and devouring their favourite flavour of icy delight. You can’t beat that on a sweltering afternoon.
- Finally, if you want a stunning spot for lunch, Mandoon Estate ticks all the boxes. As well as the cellar door, there is a brewery and casual dining venue along with the fine dining restaurant, Wild Swan. We dined casually and it was beautiful food in a stunning, contemporary setting and if the weather had been different sitting outside at a shady picnic table overlooking the vineyards would have been spectacular.
I hope you find my top 8 highlights of south-west WA useful. If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to explore some of this beautiful area , I am envious! I’d love to hear some more tips from everyone in WA, because without a shadow of a doubt – I’ll be back!