Most travelers that come to Australia stick to the east: Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast, Brisbane. If you want to experience the real Australia, head 4000 kilometers west to the most isolated places on the continent.
Working south to north, here are 10 spots you should hit:
This windy coastal town is home to some of the whitest beaches in the world. The surrounding national parks offer miles of coastline to explore on foot or by 4WD. At this isolated former whaling outpost, the Indian and Southern Oceans crash with each other. The numerous uninhabited islands just offshore make a fine place to play pirates. Or just go fishing.
This port city underwent a major facelift prior to the 1987 America’s Cup, but more than two decades later, “Freo” retains much of its Mediterranean magic. Grab an espresso on The Strip and you could be in any European seaside town — if you can ignore the teenagers in their V8s lapping the boulevard, that is.
Check out the famous markets or immerse yourself in Australian culture and watch local footy team, the Dockers.
Set on the banks of the sparkling Swan River, Western Australia’s capital is pleasant and offers a fine base to launch your adventures from. Groovy enclaves such as Subiaco and Leederville offer cool shops, cafes, and bars, while the beaches just 15 minutes from the city are as good as you’ll find anywhere.
Leighton, Cottesloe, and Scarborough have the shimmering sands and blue-green Indian Ocean to match any tropical island.
Kings Park is the spot to wander among towering lemon gums while looking down on the sprawling Swan.
Just a ferry ride from Perth but worlds apart. Cars are banned so hop on your bike and hit the bays for snorkeling, fishing, surfing, or lazing about. Befriend a quokka — the famous wallabies (like a pint-sized kangaroo) found all over. Dutch explorers mistook the little buggers for rats, hence the name ‘Rat’s Nest.’
Camp or stay in self-contained bungalows and don’t miss the Quokka Arms — the island’s only pub with views of the city back across Cockburn Sound.
Steep river canyons wind their way to the coast near this quiet crayfishing town where the sheer cliffs provide a perfect vantage point for whale and dolphin watching. Fish the rivermouth, visit Finlay’s fish barbecue, or try to sneak in a few waves with the locals at one of the world’s heaviest left-hand reef ledges.
7. Monkey Mia
Ever wanted to pet a dolphin? Here’s your chance. Generations of dolphins have been visiting this remote beach since the 1960s when a local fisherman began feeding them each day. The calm, crystal waters of Shark Bay make great conditions to spot these gentles creatures cruising the shallows, and Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort on the beachfront has accommodations to suit every budget.
Ningaloo is the jewel of the North West. Stretching for more than 250km along the coast, it’s one of the largest fringing reefs in the world and the most accessible, coming to within 100 meters of the coast at certain points. From Coral Bay, through North West Cape, to Exmouth, the reef offers incredible fishing, snorkeling, surfing, and diving in warm water all year round.
Step off the beach into turquoise waters to see turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and more.
Now you’re entering the tropics proper. Long a favourite of backpackers and those fleeing the winter chill, this town is lazy and sun-drenched. Nobody hurries — they’re all on ‘Broometime.’
Do some nude sunbathing or just enjoy the sunset view at the famous Cable Beach, down a mango beer at Matso’s microbrewery, visit a pearl farm…there’s plenty to do.
North of town, the aboriginal-run Kooljaman camp at Cape Leveque is worth the drive. Palm-frond huts and 5-star safari tents overlook a typically stunning West Oz beachscape.
10. The Kimberley
The last frontier of the West, this is where things get wild. 4WD vehicles are essential for exploring this ancient land of hidden waterfalls, ochre cliffs, and indigenous rock art. Derby marks the start of the Gibb River Road: 600km of bone-jarring track through the heart of the rugged north. If you make it through, be sure to pop into El Questro, a million-acre former cattle ranch, now turned wilderness park.
With extra time, worthwhile detours are the national parks of Karijini and Millstream-Chichester in Western Austrlalia’s Pilbara region. Closer to Perth, the Pinnacles — a spooky landscape of petrified trees in the desert — also warrants your consideration.
For a broader look on what there is to see and do in this part of the world, click over to 15 Things You Can’t Miss in Australia and Top 10 Places to Study in New Zealand and Australia.