For a long time Western Australia was considered off the beaten track. But the world is waking up to its charms. It's where you can stay at the world's second best hotel, glide over whale sharks in a microlight and stand beneath trees that soar 90 metres (300 feet) into the sky.
By Fleur Bainger
What to expect
- Be entranced by the world’s second best hotel
- Swim with mesmerising whale sharks at World Heritage Ningaloo Reef
- Explore a tall tree forest by torchlight
- Time: 14 days
- Distance: 8,400 kilometres (5,220 miles)
- Transport: car and plane
- Nearest major city: Perth
- Price: $$$
Covering one third of the country, Western Australia is a big place, and it's filled with glittering gems. You'll find a vibrant capital city blessed with dynamic restaurants and bars, a stunning wine region where waves and whales meet forests and caves, and a World Heritage reef mere metres off the sand, home to tropical fish, coral and the elusive whale shark.
Day 1: Check in to the world’s second best hotel in Perth
Many guests at Perth's new five-star hotel, COMO the Treasury, don't even leave its refined surrounds. As well as having perks such as the Shambhala spa, a 20 metre (66 foot) indoor lap pool and canapés at the Treasury Lounge and Bar, the hotel is at the heart of a new restaurant and boutique precinct inside the historic State Buildings. An AUD$110 million restoration has reimagined Western Australia's grand 1890s structures as a bustling hub containing slick bistro Petition Kitchen, craft beer haven Petition Beer Corner, Thai street food restaurant Long Chim Perth, rooftop fine diner Wildflower and cocktail lounge Halford. Shopping is also good, with highlights including a bespoke chocolatier and artisanal skincare store. No wonder the hotel was just rated as the world’s second best hotel by Conde Nast Traveler.
Day 2: Get a food and culture fix in Perth
If you manage to pull yourself out of your hotel's intoxicating embrace, you'll find it’s ideally situated to make the most of Perth's inner city. The COMO faces the City of Perth's modern new library, St George’s Cathedral and a grassed area where lunch and weekend markets are often held. It’s a two minute stroll to Perth's parallel shopping malls, Murray and Hay streets, and a few minutes more to the Perth Cultural Centre, where you should allocate at least one hour to the Art Gallery of WA and lunch at Arthouse. Later, wander down to the Swan River and its new waterfront precinct, Elizabeth Quay. Cross its artistic bridge and dine at The Reveley, where you’ll get fantastic sunset views, or if it's a Friday night in summer, hit the hugely popular street food stalls at the Twilight Hawkers Markets.
Day 3: Dive into nature among the skyscrapers in Perth
Every bus that travels along St Georges Terrace, Perth's main street (and where COMO the Treasury sits), is free to use within the city centre. After a nourishing brunch at Post – a restaurant that was once the franking room in Perth's original General Post Office – pack a picnic and take any of the regularly passing buses up the hill to Kings Park. It is one of the biggest inner city parks in the world, located a five minute bus trip, or a 20 minute uphill walk from the hotel. The No.37 bus takes you right into the entrance, whereas others will drop you just out the front of the park (ask the driver to tell you when to get off), from where the walk in takes a few minutes down a tree-lined drive. Kings Park grants stunning views of the meeting of the Swan and Canning rivers and is an ideal place for an easy walk through native plants and bush. Boutique, Aspects of Kings Park is a great place to get a high-end, artistic souvenir, such as hand-blown glass, bespoke jewellery pieces and beautiful garden books. Free, one hour guided walks leave Aspects at 10am, 12noon and 2pm daily, or join an Indigenous Heritage Tour to learn about bush foods and the Dreamtime (departures by appointment). Return for dinner at subterranean restaurant Lalla Rookh for a house-made pasta.
Day 4: Swim at beaches where scrub meets sand in the Margaret River region
The road to Margaret River is an easy three hour drive, giving you plenty of time to arrive at the pillowy white sand and translucent blue ocean of Meelup Beach, one of the area's prettiest stretches of sand, and only a five minute drive from the beach village of Dunsborough. Afterwards, travel for another five minutes in the car to Wise winery and restaurant for wine tastings followed by a polished lunch. Then drop in to a few wineries, such as Happs Wines, Deep Woods Estate and biodynamic vineyard, Marri Wood Park (look out for the guinea fowl) on your way to Smiths Beach Resort apartment accommodation. Dine at in-house restaurant, Lamont’s and try the confit duck leg.
Day 5: Go on the tour for people who don't do tours, in Margaret River
Start with a walk and swim along gorgeous Smiths Beach then breakfast at Lamont's delicatessen. Book well ahead to join an all day tour with Western Australia guide of the year, Sean Blocksidge of The Margaret River Discovery Co. Sean runs exclusive experiences, limited to only six people who travel in his 4WD. On his Margaret River Discovery Tour (AUD$208 per person, or AUD$188 if you book via email) you begin with a peaceful river canoe before visiting surf beaches, spotting dolphins from clifftops and lunching at a celebrated winery that doesn’t open to the public. You learn about the region's Aboriginal history, search for marron (a high value crustacean and Australian delicacy), and keep an eye out for native wildlife. It's an unforgettable day – one that you can get excited about by looking at Sean’s hugely popular Instagram account.
Day 6: Fall for fast cars, good wine and long lunches in Margaret River
Drive 7.6 kilometres (4.7 miles) from the resort to the beach hamlet of Yallingup and paddle in its protected natural pool, gazing at your toes through the clear water. Throw on some smart clothes and take a pre-booked seat at Aravina Estate, a stunning winery with an extensive hydrangea garden, manicured lawns and an impressive sports car collection. Stay for a wine tasting followed by a long lunch (AUD$70 for three courses – order the white beetroot, macadamia and saltbush entrée). That evening, take a guided walk on the Cape to Cape trail. The magical Sunset, Forest & Cave Explorer Tour (which runs on request between 5pm and 9pm, and costs AUD$75 per person) has you walking through giant karri trees in the enchanting Boranup Forest at dusk, spotting kangaroos in the wild and standing in the mouth of an ancient cave.
Day 7: Explore Perth's creative neighbourhood
Bid Margaret River farewell – it will be difficult – and drive to Perth, checking in to the stylishly hip Alex Hotel. Its fantastic location allows you to explore Northbridge, a multicultural inner city zone containing local designer fashion, creative gift stores, small bars clad with street art, Chinatown and the fun Rooftop Movies above the sixth floor of a carpark. Eat dinner at Shadow Wine Bar, adjoining the Alex Hotel, then climb the laneway stairs to the Mechanics Institute rooftop bar.
Day 8: Fly Perth to Exmouth for an ocean-facing retreat
Fly to Exmouth with Qantas then pick up your hire car at Learmonth Airport and drive 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the other side of the peninsula, to stay in luxe glamping spot Sal Salis. The remote retreat can also arrange transfers, with airport pickups costing AUD$125 per person one-way, or scenic flights costing AUD$600 for two people, one-way. If you're driving, stop for a swim at Turquoise Bay en route. Settle in to your safari tent, equipped with a real bed, eco ensuite and sun-heated shower, nestled in dunes only 50 metres (165 feet) from the beach. Dine under the stars, savouring delights made by the retreat's chef (all meals are included).
Day 9: Swim over coral in world heritage Ningaloo Marine Park
As dawn illuminates the outback, keep an eye out for kangaroos grazing near your safari tent. After breakfast, pull on a snorkelling mask (provided) and float over some of the closest-to-shore parts of World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, the world’s longest fringing coastal reef. It’ll be buzzing, with about 500 species of tropical fish dancing around the coral, especially at low tide, and the reef starts only 10 metres (33 feet) from shore. Sal Salis offers plenty of activities to keep you busy, from guided bushwalking and birdwatching in Cape Range National Park, to kayaking, fishing or just relaxing with a cold drink in your hand.
Day 10: Soar above turtles and canyons and swim with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef
Swimming alongside a giant, gentle whale shark is one of life's extraordinary experiences. These harmless, spotted vegetarians visit Ningaloo Marine Park from April to July each year, and aquatic tours depart each morning to see them. Arrange an all day cruise through Sal Salis, or, depart early and strap in to a microlight for a 45 minute scenic flight across Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo's sparkling waters, spotting dolphins, turtles, whales and dugongs, before landing and being taken to a waiting whale shark boat. The Flying Fish package offered by Ocean Eco Adventures is a particularly special adventure. If you’re visiting from July to October, you can take the trip in reverse, and will swim alongside humpback whales during their migration season, instead of whale sharks. Spent the night in the oasis of Mantarays Novotel Ningaloo Resort.
Day 11: Fly Perth to Broome for sun and sand
Replace your flip-flops with sand shoes and take a return flight to Perth, connecting with a Qantas or Virgin Australia leg to Broome. Check in to the only accommodation facing the town's famous stretch of sand, the five-star Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa. Walk out front and dip your toes in the ocean along Cable Beach, or splash into the hotel's pools – one is adults only, the other is for families – and order lunch from the poolside bar. As sunset nears, grab a seat at the Sunset Bar and Grill and watch as camel trains pass by.
Day 12: Meet snubfin dolphins and discover dinosaur footprints in Broome
Start the day with a three hour cruise on Broome's turquoise Roebuck Bay in search of the rare snubfin dolphin, which has a cute rounded fin and nose. Broome has the largest known population of them, and David Attenborough recently filmed them for an upcoming documentary. Do the Roebuck Bay Eco Tour (AUD$95). Lunch at the Dragonfly Cafe then step inside a yellow hovercraft and be taken over water to a series of dinosaur footprints that are 130 million years old and fossilised in Broome’s rocks. It's an amazing one hour tour (AUD$128; bookings essential). Dine on share plates and try the creative cocktails at 18 Degrees.
Day 13: Cruise the waters of an outback pearl farm north of Broome
Pearls are a thing of beauty, but once you know how they’re cultured and grown in ocean beds to create a glowing lustre, they become so much more. Broome's pearling history is as rich as it is shocking, and you can learn all about it at Willie Creek Pearls, north of Broome. Book a four hour coach tour (AUD$105), which will pick you up from your hotel, driving 38 kilometres (24 miles) along red dirt tracks to the farm, or splash out on a helicopter transfer(AUD$295 return per person). As part of these tours, you'll board a boat for a 40 minute cruise of the pearl beds and find out how technicians seed the molluscs, which then build a pearl around the introduced matter. You'll even get to hold a pearl plucked fresh from the sea. Back on land you might be inspired to buy a special souvenir in the boutique. Return to the Mangrove Hotel for drinks and dinner on the lush, grassy surrounds, then finish the day with a film in the oldest working open-air cinema in the world, Heritage Listed Sun Pictures.
Day 14: Join an Aboriginal walking tour before flying to Sydney
It might be tempting to spend your final morning soaking up the views along Cable Beach’s 22 magical kilometres (14 miles), but if you’re more culturally inclined, join local Aboriginal man, Bart Pigram of Narlijia Cultural Tours on a two hour walking tour through the heart of Broome. The musician and guide will explain the town's multicultural history through immigration waves and pearling booms, while pointing out places of significance to his people. The walk covers about two kilometres (1.2 miles) on mostly flat ground, but can be taken by car if you prefer. Bid Broome farewell and board your flight direct to Sydney, where the Harbour Bridge and Opera House await.
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