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 can be explored on a budget. From a vertigo-inducing cliff overhang platform to a huge outback moonscape, epic turtle-flecked snorkelling and a stunning infinity pool in the remote outback, there's plenty to do without blowing your budget. Here are just a few great ideas.
Gape at the surreal Pinnacles formations
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, a 2.5-hour drive north of Perth. There's a driving route through the karst formations, plus a boardwalk. Visit the Pinnacles Dessert Discovery Centre to get an in-depth understanding of this extraordinary moonscape. National park entry fees apply and are charged per vehicle.
Walk Perth's art-splashed alleys
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. 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. If you’re taking a road trip outside of Perth, follow the PUBLIC Silo Trail through beautiful regional towns to discover massive murals done on grain silos, transformer boxes and iconic infrastructure.
Visit Rottnest Island’s 63 beaches by bike
Rotto, as it's dearly known to West Australians, is a car-free island only 19 kilometres (12 miles) over water from Perth. Discounted ferry rides can be found here. Once you arrive, hire a bike 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
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
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 is 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.
Sip your way through Margaret River
Margaret River is one of the fastest growing microbrewery regions in Australia, and offers dedicated tours showing visitors the best of its beer and cider houses. Margaret River Brewery Tours and Margaret River Cider Tours 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
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. There are powered and unpowered camping sites as well as safari tents, cabins and villas, making this the perfect stop-off on your Kimberley adventure.
Peer over giant boulders in Albany
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 lures 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 apply.
Get vertigo up in the tree tops
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 a five-hour 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 up to 90 metres (295 feet) high, making the species one of the world's tallest hardwoods. The 600-metre (656-yard) circuit 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
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 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 spot the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles that make an annual pilgrimage up these ivory beaches.