The top five short drives from Western Australia’s capital, Perth
1. Perth to Margaret River
WA’s most famous southwest coastal destination is overflowing with attractions, from legendary surf spots and cliff-top walks to wineries, orchards, caves, cheeseries, trufferies and other gourmet delights. Around 280km (4.5hrs) south of Perth, the actual township is surpassed in beauty and quirky interest by others nearby (like Yallingup, Dunsborough and Busselton) and the surrounding thick forests abound with bike trails, camp grounds, farmstays, B&Bs and luxury boutique outfits. So be prepared to roam far and wide
Along the way // If you stay the first night at Mandurah, about 75km south of Perth, you’ll have time to experience little known gems of the region, like an afternoon kayak visit to the sea lion colony on Seal Island, or a tour of Penguin Island and its 1000-strong Little Penguin colony. A gentle cruise on the Murray Estuary (2.5 times larger than Sydney Harbour!) is also great for spotting bottlenose dolphins – often with a backdrop of million-dollar boats and waterfront mansions.Further south, Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery centre on pretty Koombana Bay is excellent, with close to 100 of the playful creatures visiting the nearby shallows at dawn and dusk. Busselton’s famous 1.8km timber jetty, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere, is a must-visit, as is the drive out past Eagle Bay to Cape Naturaliste and its lonely lighthouse. But not before stopping at the Dunsborough Bakery, which should have songs written about it.
Did You Know? // Donnybrook, southeast of Bunbury, produced the world’s first Granny Smith apple in 1900. Try and time your visit for October, when the apple trees are in full blossom.
2. Perth to Northam
WA’s largest inland town, Northam is 98km northeast of Perth and is the perfect launching pad to several picturesque historic townships in the Avon Valley region. From Northam itself, hot air balloons offer a bird’s eye treat with early morning glides over mist-clad rolling green fields. Back on the ground, you’ll be happy to know you can soon gain a different kind of altitude when presented with a post-flight complimentary champagne breakfast.
Along the way // Spend your first day exploring the gastronomic wonderland of Swan Valley, only 30min northeast of Perth. The oldest wine growing region in WA, the valley is renowned for its quality roadside fresh produce stalls, saliva-inducing restaurants and cafes, boutique breweries, galleries, heritage buildings and of course wineries. See it all on the well-signposted 32km Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail, then spend the night at one of many boutique guesthouses or self-contained chalets. From Northam, dip into the region’s history with a drive 48km northeast to Goomalling, where a heritage walk will vividly invoke this little town’s past. Three klicks out of town is the equally pleasing original Slater Homestead, which provided refreshment to explorers and surveyors in the late 1800s. York, to the southeast, famed as WA’s first inland settlement, stimulates the senses with museums, galleries, arts and crafts – keep an eye out for the beautiful handcrafted furniture fashioned from all manner of recycled materials. Toodyay, to the northwest, has some of the finest examples of 19th Century architecture, and those with a love of the outdoors should check out the local alpaca and emu farms.
Did You Know? // The Avon Descent, a famous whitewater boating event passing close to Northam, has been running for more than 35 years and is considered one of the most challenging river races in the world.
3. Perth to New Norcia
Australia’s only monastic town, New Norcia is a calming and spiritual retreat 132km north of Perth. A group of 14 black-robed Benedictine monks employs more than 50 civilians for the running and upkeep of a town in service of God (and tourists). When not in prayer, the monks tend olive groves and orchards, bake bread, nut cakes and almond biscotti, and (in keeping with European monastic traditions) make wine and beer – all of which you’re advised to partake of. Stay in the monastic guesthouse or the town’s grand hotel, originally built for Spanish royals who never showed. Wander through dusty streets surrounded by old-world Spanish architecture, or join the monks for mass in one of the town’s many churches
Along the way // Get on the Great Northern Hwy and bolt north. If golfing is your thing, veer off to The Vines Resort and Country Club, just outside Perth, for a round of 18 on WA’s premier golf course. With your inner Tiger satiated, continue northward to Chittering Valley, hugged on all sides by the Darling Ranges. Seasonal wildflowers are abundant, wineries beckon and citrus orchards abound. Stop for lunch at one of many fine local restaurants then check out the Bindoon Arts & Crafts Inc or visit a vineyard to taste the local drop. For afternoon and evening you might visit a farm stay, like Bindoon Windmill Farm, where you can ride a horse, tour the farm on a tractor, visit a fruit orchard or watch a wool spinning demonstration after dinner.
Did You Know? // On January 23, 1986, two men entered the New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery, bound and gagged the attendant and stole a booty of 17th and 18th Century paintings, gifts from the Queen of Spain. The men were soon arrested and the paintings returned.
4. Perth to Lancelin
WA’s very own outdoor playground 130km up the coast from Perth, Lancelin is surrounded by massive mounds of shimmering white dunes, perfect for fun-fuelled dune buggy, dirt bike and sand board shenanigans. The turquoise waters here are home to some of the best sail boarding and kite surfing conditions in the world – and there are schools to teach you how to do it.
Along the way // Head due north from Perth past idyllic orchards and strawberry farms before stretching your legs at Yanchep National Park, a beautiful slice of native bush with koala colonies, wild kangaroos, fascinating Aboriginal lifestyle and culture programs and up to 400 limestone caves. Closer to the coastal drive, the stunning Yanchep Lagoon Beach is great for a dip, before continuing north to Guilderton on the banks of the Moore River. Settle in to some pleasant beach or riverside accommodation, then take a canoe out on the river, go for a fish or just relax at one of a number of pleasant cafes. Rise the next morning for a swim or quick nine holes on the local golf course before heading north for fun at Lancelin.
Did You Know? // Rock lobsters are very lucrative crustaceans for WA; $6.5 million worth, a large percentage of which are harvested at Lancelin, are exported from this area each season, making them one of WA’s biggest money earners.
5. Perth to Jurien Bay
Jurien Bay, 380km north of Perth, is the access point for Jurien Bay National Marine Park, WA’s most accessible water wonderland. Boats regularly visit island colonies of sea lions just off the coast. Frolicking dolphins and migrating whales are frequent highlights on such journeys, as are the multitude of offshore limestone reefs with caves, overhanging formations and tropical fish in the area. Windsurfing is another popular activity, while pristine white sands and turquoise waters allow enjoyable spectatorship for the lazy. In downtime, foodies are supplied with a range of culinary experiences at Jurien Bay’s many eateries, from a la carte dining to simple tasty cafe meals.
Along the way // Head north from Perth on the Great Northern Hwy to Gingin, an 80km (1.5hr) drive. There are some great remnants of the pioneering days here. Take the Jim Gordon VC Trail, a 45min walk combining historic buildings with a little local fauna appreciation. Then, head to the terrific Gravity Discovery Centre, a short drive inland, for a comprehensive and multi-sensory education on all things astronomical. Virtual galactic tours, laser shows, a Foucault Pendulum and an innovation exhibition will expand your mind. If you find your self star-struck, stay till dark and scan the skies with the 25-inch Obsession, the largest public access telescope in Australia. Gun it northwest to Nambung National Marine Park and let the earlier science take on a little fiction as you enter the surreal landscape of the Pinnacles Desert, where thousands of limestone pillars rise from sinuous shifting sand.
Did You Know? // The excellent non-profit Gravity Discovery Centre northeast of Yanchep is home to the 40m Leaning Tower of Gingin, atop which visitors can replicate Galileo’s gravity experiments of the 17th Century by dropping weights over the side.