Travel: Australia’s South West

Western Australia is home to the most isolated state capital in the world and, being a cool 5 hour flight from Sydney, is often overlooked.  The south west of Western Australia is one of the few lucky places outside of the Mediterranean to be blessed with a Mediterranean climate; hot, dry summers and wet, mild winters. WA is my home and a summer lover’s playground, so let me take you through some of the highlights as we head down the coast…

Ask any local, and they’ll tell you Perth is like a big country town. The city is split down the middle by the Swan River, named so after the black swans that call it home. Just north of the river lies the business and shopping district, great for shopping, a variety of pubs and eateries. For more pubs and restaurants and a little dance, head a little further north to North Bridge. There are a heap of different venues offering all sorts of music from Irish Folk, to drum and bass. On the southern foreshore, you can hire catamarans and go for a sail. Perth Zoo, also in south Perth is not to be missed. It has recently been revamped and has animals from all over the world in large modern enclosures. The Australian animal, African Safari and Nocturnal house are some of my favourite exhibits.

Rottnest Island, 18km from the mainland, was named for a curious little creature, called the quokka, which was mistaken by Dutch explorers for a giant rat. This adorable little marsupial calls the island home, safe from predators on the mainland. The island is surrounded by little bays with crystal clear waters, and some of the best surfing spots in WA. No vehicles are allowed on the island, so it’s a biker’s paradise. Every summer season people join the lottery to see who can get a camping spot and other accommodation!

Many people have heard of Phillip Island, off the coast of Melbourne, home of the ‘little penguin’ (formerly known as ‘fairy penguins’), but not many people know about Penguin Island, off the coast of the township of Rockingham. After checking out the cute ‘little penguins’ you can take a dip and do some snorkelling just off the shore. The island is also home to many other sea birds, and sometime sea-lions from the neighbouring island pop in for a visit too.

Heading further south you may come across a little place I called home for 15 years. Bunbury is surrounded by three bodies of water and has a greater population of around 80,000 people. Koombana Bay is home to the Dolphin Discovery Centre where the local dolphins often come in to shore. The local dolphin colony numbers around 100 and an average of 17 new calves are born each year. Tour boats can also take you out into the bay for an almost guaranteed sighting. Along the quaint ‘cappuccino strip’ on Victoria Street, try the macadamia ice-cream at Gelaré complete with a fresh waffle cone. The waters of the Leschanault Inlet and Big Swamp Park are other great spots to see black swans in the wild.

Lying just a 40 minute drive to the south is Busselton. Busselton is home to the inspiration behind the train line in Miyazaki’s Spirited away. The Busselton Jetty holds the record as the longest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere at 1841 metres. Follow the train tracks out and walk to the Underwater Observatory to check out the local marine life, you may be lucky enough to see a sea-lion! Fishing from the jetty and jumping into the waters below are common place here, and you should also try the ‘Ferrero Rocher’ ice-cream at Simmo’s Ice Cream… my favourite!

Further south again, Caves Road runs through the towns of Yalligup, Margaret River and Augusta. This road is home to some of the most beautiful and pristine limestone caves in the world. Mammoth cave you can tour on your own, while Jewel, Ngilgi and Lake Caves require either guided or semi-guided tours.

While down in Margaret River you should check out the wild-flowers (from August through to November) and wine region. Around 25% of Australia’s premium wine is grown here in the south. Margaret River is known for its robust dry reds and crisp dry whites. They quite often have great specials at the cellar door and tastings on offer, just be sure to nominate a designated driver.

While I feel I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s on offer in the south west of Western Australia, I should stop there or risk going on forever. So to get a slice of European weather without the jet-lag, head down under and check out all my playground has to offer!

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