Backpacker's guide to the west coast

From top to bottom, Western Australia – Australia’s largest state – caters to people who want adventure and fun while keeping to a travel-friendly budget. Backpacker's guide to the west coast
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Backpacker's guide to the west coast

From top to bottom, Western Australia – Australia’s largest state – caters to people who want adventure and fun while keeping to a travel-friendly budget. 


Much of Western Australia's most stunning, eye-popping wilderness costs less than AUD$20 to experience. From a vertigo-inducing cliff overhang platform to a huge outback moonscape, epic turtle-flecked snorkelling and an island-spying infinity pool in the middle of nowhere, there's plenty to do without it costing the earth. Here are eight amazing ideas.

GAPE AT THE SURREAL PINNACLES FORMATIONS

The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park, Coral Coast, Western Australia

If ever you've wondered what it would be like to walk on the moon, a stroll through the dandelion yellow, limestone spires known as the Pinnacles is as close as you'll get on Earth. The biggest columns are five metres (16 feet) tall, and about one metre (three feet) wide. About 200,000 years old, they're hidden within Nambung National Park just outside the coastal town of Cervantes, about 2 1/2 hours drive north of Perth. There's a driving route through the karst formations, plus a boardwalk, and entry to the national park is only AUD$12 per vehicle. Visit the Pinnacles Dessert Discovery Centre to get an in-depth understanding of this extraordinary moonscape.

WALK PERTH'S ART-SPLASHED ALLEYS

Mount Lawley, Perth, Western Australia

Perth's laneway walls and nondescript buildings have been decorated by some of the world's most respected street artists, and with the help of Perth's interactive street art map you can see them. Through the three-year-old Public program, more than 200 local and international artists have sprayed, stencilled and splashed 166 artworks in public places. The art, by big names such as Belgium’s Roa, Milo Manara from Italy and American Maya Hayuk, has changed Perth in the eyes of both residents and visitors. And the best part? The cleverly curated urban gallery is free to see. There's also a good map for the street art of Fremantle, 30 minutes south of Perth's city centre, here.

VISIT ROTTNEST ISLAND’S 63 BEACHES BY BIKE

Rottnest Island, near Perth, Western Australia

Rotto, as it's dearly known to West Australians, is a car-free island only 19 kilometres (12 miles) over water from Perth. Ferry rides are discounted on Tuesdays (AUD$39 return). Once you arrive, hire a bike for $30 per day and get pedalling to those white sands. Explore historic buildings, where yellow-shirted volunteers give free walking tours – the island was once an army base and penal colony – and keep an eye out for furry, friendly marsupials called quokkas. Puff up hills to reach the west end boardwalk, which is made from 200,000 two litre milk bottles and 2.25 million plastic bags.

SPEND A NIGHT IN PRISON IN FREMANTLE

Fremantle Prison, Fremantle, Western Australia

World Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison is also backpacker accommodation run by Youth Hostels Australia. You can stay in a cell, if you like, and dream about the convicts that stayed there from the 1850s onwards. The accommodation section is in the division that housed women as recently as 1991. Unlike the prisoners, you'll have free Wi-Fi on hand. During your stay, do a tour of the main prison - there are nighttime torchlight tours, an underground tunnel tour or the regular day tour available, where you'll learn about a significant escape by an Irish prisoner. This is one of Western Australia's top overall experiences on TripAdvisor.

DANCE UNDERWATER WITH MANTA RAYS

Swimming with manta rays, near Coral Bay, Ningaloo Reef, Coral Coast, Western Australia

In the crystalline ocean off Coral Bay, harmless manta rays more than two metres (six feet) wide glide and flap like underwater birds, zooming in slow loop-the-loops as gracefully as ballet dancers. A full day boat cruise out past the colourful, fish-filled coral to swim with the mantas will cost about AUD$175 - a memorable experience that's much cheaper than the popular 'swimming with whale sharks' tour, which is what attracts most visitors to Coral Bay. There's also excellent backpacker accommodation available in the town, starting from AUD$29 a night. 

SIP YOUR WAY THROUGH MARGARET RIVER

Bootleg Brewery, Wilyabrup, Margaret River region, Western Australia

Margaret River is one of the fastest growing microbrewery regions in Australia, and now it has two new, dedicated tours showing visitors the best of its beer and cider houses. Margaret River Brewery Tours (AUD$110) and Margaret River Cider Tours (AUD $100) share the same bus and set you up with beer tasting paddles or cider samples at every stop. They also take you behind the scenes, teaching you the importance of hops, malt, terroir and water purity, as well as apples and pears. A highlight is the converted dairy farm brewery, where you enter via the creamery and milking parlour.

SWIM IN THE KIMBERLEY'S MOST FAMOUS INFINITY POOL

Lake Argyle Resort, East Kimberley, Western Australia

You wouldn't normally expect to find an infinity pool in a campground, particularly one in a remote part of the outback. But Lake Argyle Resort in the Kimberley is a camping ground with benefits, most notably the extraordinary elevated views. It overlooks Australia's largest man-made lake, which is studded with islands that were once mountain peaks. The lake is so big it's regarded as an inland sea, and it's full of freshwater crocodiles. Unpowered sites cost AUD$17.50 per person (AUD$9 extra for powered sites). Safari tents, cabins and villas are also available.

PEER OVER GIANT BOULDERS IN ALBANY

Torndirrup National Park, Albany, Western Australia

Like cliff jumping without the splash, a new see-through skywalk hanging over boulders in Albany's Torndirrup National Park delivers a thrill. The steel platform extends 10 metres (33 feet) past the edge of the granite cliff at The Gap, and 40 metres (131 feet) above sea level. About 420 kilometres (260 miles) south-east of Perth, it opened in April 2016, and has lured thousands of visitors to this epic coastline of raging Southern Ocean, wildflower-dotted scrub and footprint-free beaches. After gazing at the frothing white water below your feet, look out to the horizon to search for migrating whales that pass by from June to October. National park entry costs AU$12 per vehicle.

GET VERTIGO UP IN THE TREE TOPS

Tree Top Walk, Nornalup, Western Australia

Imagine being 40 metres (131 feet) above ground level, swaying in the canopy of some of the tallest trees in the world. That's the sensation you get when you're on the Tree Top Walk, a bouncy steel construction suspended between immense karri and tingle trees in Walpole-Nornalup National Park's Valley of the Giants. It's five hours drive south from Perth. The tingles are believed to live for about 400 years and measure up to 20 metres (66 feet) in circumference. The karri, meanwhile, grow to up to 90 metres (295 feet) high, making the species one of the world's tallest hardwoods. The 600 metre (656 yard) circuit (entry AUD$21) is made with steel grating, so you can see through to the forest floor – not advised if you suffer from vertigo.

CAMP, SURF AND SNORKEL AT GNARALOO STATION

Surfing at Gnaraloo Station, near Carnarvon, Coral Coast, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

The ocean opposite a remote, century-old working pastoral property called Gnaraloo provides some of the most adrenaline-pumping windsurfing, kitesurfing and surfing in Western Australia. Camp here (from AUD$24 per person per night) and you've found yourself one of the cheapest ways to access magical Ningaloo Reef. The snorkelling is excellent, and if you visit from late November to early March you may be able to monitor sea turtle tracks with resident scientific volunteers. Loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles make an annual pilgrimage up these ivory beaches.

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