Classic road trips series: Perth to Albany via the South West

A classic Aussie road trip is the way to see the South West region of Western Australia. Having your own wheels and the freedom to turn off and explore when you want to is a must when exploring this remarkable part of Oz, because every small town or out-of-the-way place has something special to offer. The roads are excellent and best of all, they’re not crowded. Much of the time you may feel like you have this remote corner of the country all to yourself! Superb nature-based attractions, rambling walks, phenomenal food and wine experiences, and a rich Indigenous cultural heritage are just some of what awaits you around the next bend in the road. So what are you waiting for? Let’s roll!

Bunbury (170 kilometres)

The drive from the Western Australian capital to the town of Bunbury on Koombana Bay is the longest stretch you’ll have to do in one go on this trip, so if you’re travelling with kids, get them stocked up with things to do and promise them something extra special at the end of the drive. Bunbury is home to the new state-of-the-art Dolphin Discovery Centre, and around 200 wild bottlenose dolphins regularly visit the centre’s interaction zone on the edge of the bay. A volunteer will ring the bell when dolphins are sighted, and everyone can make their way down to the water to say g’day to these inquisitive marine dwellers. In the meantime, the kids will love the aquarium, and the 360-degree digital dolphinarium and activity centre.

Need a place to stay? For great value accommodation in Bunbury, you can’t go past the Quality Hotel Lighthouse, which is situated right on the oceanfront. It’s also an easy walk into the town centre to cafes and restaurants.

Dolphin Discovery Centre. Image – Adam Ford

Busselton (60 kilometres)

On to bustling Busselton, which is the gateway to the uber-famous Margaret River food and wine region. Busselton makes a great base for exploring Margaret River and you may need two or three days to do it justice. What you get up to will depend on your interests. Families will want to check out the heritage-listed Busselton Jetty – the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. Extending out across Geographe Bay for almost two kilometres, there’s a tourist train that runs along the jetty to the Underwater Observatory at the far end. You may even see a mermaid (courtesy of Southwest Mermaids), so keep your eyes peeled. Afterwards, head to The Goose on the waterfront for a relaxed lunch.

Outdoor enthusiasts can fish, water ski, snorkel, scuba dive, windsurf and sail. Consider walking a section of the famous Cape to Cape Track. It takes six days to do the walk in full, but for a taster, head to the car park at the end of Smiths Beach Road outside Yallingup and follow the coast around to the Canal Rocks. It will only take you an hour or two to do.

Foodies could spend months getting a handle on Margaret River’s food and wine scene. One of the region’s must try eateries is Yarri at Dunsborough. The menu reflects the six seasons recognised by Western Australia’s Nyungar people and showcases ingredients obtained from specialist farmers and producers across the region. Wine lovers interested in organic production should pay a visit to Cullen Wines, which derives its vintages from bio-dynamically grown grapes.

Need a place to stay? Comfort Inn Busselton River Resort offers one and two-bedroom family rooms and is just a short drive from the Jetty precinct.

Pemberton (150 kilometres)

Farewelling Margaret River and heading for Pemberton, you’ll delve deep into the South West region – complete with rolling winelands, towering karri forests and quintessential country towns. Plan a lunch stop in Manjimup at Tall Timbers, which also acts as a central cellar door for a number of local wineries. Sadly, if you’re the designated driver, you’ll need to sit this one out!

From Manjimup, it’s a fairly short drive to Pemberton, so make a stop en route at the famous Diamond Tree and check out the spikes that form a staircase of sorts to the fire lookout platform at the top. It’s hard to believe when you look at it, but until recently, the tree was open to the public to climb!

On arrival in Pemberton, consider doing a tour of the region with Pemberton Discovery Tours. You’ll head off road in their 4WD vehicle and see parts of the region that you probably wouldn’t discover on your own. That includes the Yeagarup Dunes – the largest landlocked range of sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Beach & Forest Eco Adventure with Pemberton Discovery Tours, Pemberton
Visit the Yeagarup Dunes with Pemberton Discovery Tours. Image – Frances Andrijich

Albany (120 kilometres)

The drive from Pemberton to Albany is peppered with natural highlights. Make your first stop the epic Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, located between Denmark and Walpole in the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. The Tree Top Walk is a suspended walkway that weaves its way through the forest of giant tingle trees, 40 metres above the ground. Some of these incredible trees are believed to be more than 400 years old.

From the Valley of the Giants, head east towards coastal William Bay National Park, which is famous for its turquoise waters and pristine sandy beaches. Greens Pool is the perfect spot to cool off with a dip. From there, do the short walk around to the Elephant Rocks – a collection of huge granite boulders that looks like a herd of elephants enjoying a splash of their own.

If you love cheese and you have the time, do a detour inland to Ducketts Mill Wines and Denmark Farmhouse Cheese. Sample a range of fine wines and cheeses, and shop for fudge, preserves and other gourmet goodies.

From here, you’re on the home stretch to Albany – one of Western Australia’s most historic urban centres and the gateway to the epic Great Southern region. As you cruise towards town, hang a right onto Frenchman Bay Road, circle around Shoal Bay and head into Torndirrup National Park. Here the pounding Southern Ocean has carved out a deep ravine known as The Gap. There’s a viewing platform that provides a dramatic view of the waves rushing in and out. Hold onto your hat, and welcome to the wild and woolly Great Southern!

Need a place to stay? Conveniently located on the approach into Albany, the Quality Apartments Banksia Gardens offers one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Climb to the lookout at the nearby Mount Melville Parklands for more stunning views of the coastline.

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.

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