South West Drive

The south-west is one of the prettiest corners of Western Australia where nothing is too far away from anything else - something rare in a state where in some parts the next town is often just a tiny settlement over an hour's drive away. Being where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, the South-West has higher rainfall than anywhere else in the state except for the tropical north, resulting in dense forests and lush green farmland that are a pleasure to drive through. On this drive there is dramatic coastal scenery, particularly on the south coast, to photograph, wild but friendly dolphins to interact with at Bunbury, giant waves to surf at Yallingup and Prevelly, acclaimed wines to taste at Margaret River, and a giant Karri tree to climb at Pemberton.

Distance: 1,041 km

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Karri forest, Pemberton

Day 1:

Journey south on South Western Highway, passing Serpentine National Park with its two picturesque dams and a few waterfalls. Continue along the Highway towards Pinjarra, one of the oldest towns in Western Australia, that is situated on the banks of the Murray River. It has always ben a great place to stop for some friendly country service and a delicious home cooked meal. From Pinjarra, head towards Mandurah on the coast, travelling through the Peel Region. Its large tracts of land, while not being stunningly pretty, remain untouched and give the drive an air of peace and tranquillity. Mandurah, now almost an outer suburb of Perth, is a great place from which to explore the Murray River and the Peel waterways, boats and canoes are available for hire in Mandurah as is fishing and crabbing gear.

About Mandurah >

Mandurah is a large centre to the south of Perth, essentially a commuter town for people working either at the Aluminium Refinery in Pinjarra, in the heavy industry at Kwinana, retirees, or workers prepared to make the daily trek north to Perth.

Mandurah grew from isolated holiday communities along the shores of the Peel-Harvey Estuary, and with the growth of Perth, it has become a popular lifestyle alternative. Mandurah's connection with the Perth CBD has been strengthened with the building of the Perth-Mandurah railway line. In spite of the development, the city centre foreshore near the mouth of Peel Inlet is still home to a variety of wildlife including dolphins, pelicans, shags, and an abundance of marine life including the manna crab, which has become synonymous with the area. Like neighbouring settlements Bunbury and Rockingham dolphins and whales frequent the city annually and dolphin and whale watching are a popular pastime. In December, the canal areas in Mandurah becomes well known for their Christmas lights and special boat cruises are often promoted as a result. Two zoos lie within the outskirts of the city, as well as a miniature village, a tourist railway and a national park.

Peel-Harvey Estuary is a natural estuary that is home to abundant marine wildlife including crustaceans such as the Blue swimmer crab and the Western king prawn and fish species such as black bream, mulloway, tailor and cobbler. It is occasionally visited by dolphins. The estuary is heavily used for recreational boating and fishing with numerous boat ramps and picnic sposts along the extensive foreshore with shaded sandy beaches. Houseboats can be hired at Mandurah to explore the estuary and the Murray River.

Yalgorup National Park

Mandurah is the closest city to Yalgorup National Park which is home to rock-like structures known as thrombolites as well as an array of flora and fauna. It contains a chain of about ten lakes. Lake Clifton and Lake Preston are both situated within the boundaries of the park and are home to a large variety of bird-life. Take the Old Coast Road from Manduarah, passing the coastal lakes of Yalgorup National Park. The thrombolites can be seen on the edge of Lake Clifton.

Geographe Bay

Like the famous Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool, in Shark Bay, the thrombolites are built by micro-organisms too small for the human eye to see. Lake Clifton is one of only a few places in Western Australia where living thrombolites survive. Bunbury is the major port for the South West, mainly for the export of woodchips and alumina these days. It has some interesting heritage buildings, good surfing (and sunsets) at Back Beach, a wildlife conservation park and wild but friendly dolphins that interact with people at the Leschenault Waterways Discovery Centre in Koombana Bay.

About Bunbury >

Bunbury is an attractive and interesting mixture of a pleasant, gracious city combined with a strong and successful industrial base built on the city's port. Bunbury was once an important port for the shipment of wheat from the hinterland. Today no wheat leaves through the port. Instead the port concentrates on woodchip and alumina and the city of Bunbury has become the regional commercial centre. The port city of Bunbury is the second largest city (after Mandurah) in Western Australia outside the metropolitan area of Perth, the state capital. Bunbury has a large number of genuinely interesting historic sites ranging from the old lighthouse (which is an extraordinary combination - an earlier lighthouse has been placed on top of the present lighthouse) to St Marks Church, King Cottage and the Regional Art Gallery Arts Complex.

The city has a large number of genuinely interesting historic sites ranging from the old lighthouse (which is an extraordinary combination - an earlier lighthouse has been placed on top of the present lighthouse) to St Marks Church, King Cottage and the Regional Art Gallery Arts Complex.

The Dolphin Discovery Centre on Koombanna Bay is home to around 90 bottlenose dolphins and one of the few places in the world where wild dolphins freely visit the beach to interact with humans. You can float and snorkel with dolphins, interact from the beach or cruise out to watch them swim in open waters.

At the end of Back Beach is the Bunbury Lighthouse with the checkered lighthouse which dates from 1959 on top of the more recent section which was built in 1971. Look carefully and you can see a join about 10 m from the ground. The original lighthouse has been attached to the present one. The light is now 25 m above the ground and can be seen 27 km out to sea. Further along the headland is the Marlston Hill Rotary Lookout Tower, a Bicentennial project, which offers an excellent view of Bunbury harbour and the breakwater.

Another excellent view across the city can be gained from Boulters Height Lookout (turn beside the Art Gallery and proceed up the hill following the signs). It is named after A. H. Boulter who established a rotunda on the site in the late 1920s. In 1966, to coincide with a visit from the Queen Mother, the local council built a 26 m waterfall. The view from the lookout is dominated by St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral (1920) with its red roof and soaring gothic lines.

Stay overnight in Bunbury, or follow the shores of Geographe Bay for an overnight stay at the resort town of Busselton. 247 km.

Sugarloaf Rock

Day 2:

Continue west from Busselton around Geographe Bay to the holiday and retirement towns of Siesta Park and Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste (historic lighthouse). The coastal scenery changes as you head south to Yallingup, the centre for surfing and the surfing culture in these parts. Prevelly Beach to the south is also a favourite though quite challenging place to surf. Canal Rocks is a great place to clambers over rocks and look for shells, crabs etc. while dodging the pounding seas that roll in endlessly.

Margaret River winery

The whole region to the south is limestone country, meaning that it is also caves and wine country. Guided tours are available at caves at Yallingup, Margaret River and Augusta to the south. As you leave Yallingup via Caves Road, you enter one of Australia's premier red wine producing regions - Margaret River. Blessed with an almost perfect Mediterranean climate, it is ideal grape growing country, and award-winning wineries abound. The region has become famous for its fruity, dry whites, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The renowned Margaret River Wine Region Festival is held every November. Tours, maps, details of events etc. are available from the visitor's centre at the Margaret River township.

About Margaret River >

Once a quiet surfing spot and service town to a prosperous farming community, Margaret River is these days the ultimate smorgasbord of good food, fine wine and spectacular coastal scenery. Events: Margaret River Wine Region Festival is held every March. Margaret River emerged as Western Australia's leading and one of Australia's top red wine producing regions in the 1980s, and as a result, is one of WA's most well known destinations. Margaret River is also an ideal base to discover the coastal scenery of WA's picturesque south-west corner.

Margaret River has made itself the hub of one of the most picturesque farming regions in Western Australia. For many years it was much like dozens of other small towns in the state's South West, a support centre for farms (mostly dairy) and a thriving local timber industry. Back then, the only visitors were Perth holidaymakers attracted by the picture-postcard coastal scenery and a number of limestone show caves in the area.

Lake Cave

The beaches north and south of the mouth of the Margaret River are premiere locations in the world for surfing. Ranging from challenging big wave locations to small wave fun, there are plenty of strong reef breaks and hearty sandbanks to wet any surfer's appetite.

The south west of Western Australia has some of the thickest limestone of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, but despite this, very few large caves or extensive systems have been found, probably because there are very few streams to allow for the development of large systems. A number of caves have been lit and are open for inspection.

Lake Cave

A system of limestone caves are located in the Margaret River area, starting at Calgardup Brook and finishing at Ellensbrook. The remains of a Tasmanian devil, a Tasmanian tiger and a giant kangaroo have been found inside Mammoth Cave. These species have been extinct in this part of Australia for centuries.

Just 2km south of Mammoth Cave lies Lake Cave, the most delicate and pretty of the entire southwest caves. Its most outstanding feature is the unique, suspended table formation that was originally two massive columns joined by a sheet of calcite on the cave floor. It looks spectacular reflecting in the dark, icy waters of the lake in the main cavern.

Jewel Cave, 37km south of Margaret River Township along Caves Road, contains a number of interesting crystalline formations including the Waterfall, the Organ Pipe and the worlds largest straw stalactite in a tourist cave.

Continue south, either on Caves Road or Bussell Highway to Augusta.

Boranup lies within the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park between Caves Road and the coast, and creates a powerful contrast with the rest of the coastline. Tall pale-barked karri trees, reaching 60 metres or more high, dominate the hilly slopes and valleys. Gravel roads suitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles wind through the forest to picnic and camping spots. It's just a short walk to Boranup Lookout which gives sweeping views over the forest and the coast west along Boranup Beach to the strikingly beautiful Hamelin Bay.

Hamelin Bay

The Augusta-Busselton Heritage Trail covers the 100 km from Augusta to Busselton and traces the early history of the area through the movements of the Bussel and Molloy families who settled in Augusta only to move further up the coast looking for suitable agricultural land.

The Cape to Cape Track is a 135 km long waliking trail and located within Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. It links Cape Leeuwin near Augusta in the south and Cape Naturaliste near Yallingup in the north. It is one of Western Australia's great walks.

About Augusta >

There is a sense in which Augusta really lies on the edge of the world. There it is this small, attractive town and beyond it lies Cape Leeuwin with that unforgettable sign dividing the oceans and indicating that to the south lies the Southern Ocean and to the west is the Indian Ocean. The third oldest settlement in Western Australia, Augusta is a small tourist town at the southern extremity of western Australia's south west region.

Calcified water wheel, Cape Leeuwin

From June through to September, Augusta is alive with whale song. Protected from the north-westerly wind by Cape Leeuwin, the gentle conditions of Flinders Bay make it perfect for whale watching.

Jewel Cave

A short drive from along Caves Road are the Jewel, Mammoth, Lake, Dingo's, and Moondyne limestone caves. There are over 200 caves in the area but these are the only ones open to the public. They contain a number of interesting crystalline formations including the Waterfall, the Organ Pipe and the worlds largest straw stalactite in a tourist cave.

Jewel Cave which was discovered in 1880 but not fully explored until 1958. It is an excellent limestone cave with an antechamber and two main caves one of which features the 'organ pipes' while the other is the 'jewel cave'. The main cave is 100 m high and 90 m long and has the usual run of features with names like 'the karri forest', 'the cauliflower' and 'the white canopy'. The fossil of a Tasmanian tiger which was carbon dated as being 25 000 years old was discovered in the cave.

Cape Leeuwin

Just out of town is Cape Leeuwin, a rugged, windswept jumble of rocks where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. This point is just about as far away as you can get without leaving the country from almost any place on Australia's eastern seaboard. The Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is open for inspection (entry fees apply) and the calcified waterwheel nearby is an interesting relic from the past.

Return towards Margaret River via the Bussell Highway, but only as far as the Brockman Highway junction. Take that highway to Nannup, then drive south along Vasse Highway to Pemberton. 138 km

Beedelup Falls, Pemberton

Day 3:

On the assumption that you would have not arrived early enough on Day 2 to have seen much of Pemberton, spend the morning having a look around. We recommend short drive through the forests to Beedelup Falls, trout hatchery and Walk Through Tree (a 75 metre, 400 year old karri which has a hole which visitors can walk through).

About Pemberton >

The Gloucester Tree

The town's most popular tourist attraction is the huge Gloucester Tree with its fire lookout some 64 metres above the ground, reached by climbing a hair-raising 153 rung ladder up the side of the tree to the top. Another way to discover the karri forests is to ride the Pemberton to Northcliffe railway, considered one of the most expensive railways built - ever! One of the more unique railway lines in Western Australia, a section of the line is now devoted to tourist tram to travels deep into the forest around Pemberton. The railway crosses rivers and passing areas which, in season, are ablaze with wildflowers. The journey, which runs daily, takes 4 hours and tickets and timetables are available from the Pemberton Visitor Centre.

The 49-hectare Brockman National Park, which takes its name from Brockmans Station, now known as Yeagarup Historic Homestead, provides a magnificent entry to the Pemberton area, on the road from Northcliffe and south of the Warren River. Here, the road winds its way through the tall, straight karri trees which line the main road. Below the karri trees is the typical understorey of smaller trees and large shrubs. The peppermint, karri sheoak and the yellow blossoms of the karri wattle mix with other large shrubs, such as the karri hazel.

The area around Pemberton is noted both for its rainbow trout which have been introduced (over 1 million are released into the local rivers annually) and its marron, a species of freshwater crayfish which is the third largest in the world. Details about fishing in the area can be obtained from the Visitor Centre.

The 12-kilometre Heartbreak Trail is a drive trail within Warren National Park that descends into the Warren River valley, following the river for a while before climbing back up the karri-clad slopes. This steep track was built by hand to clear a path down to the river for firefighters and the name reflects the hardship of the job. The rapids of Heartbreak Crossing and the Warren River Lookout are great stopping places along the trail and there are excellent camping sites for those looking for a longer stay. Tune in to 100FM for more information about the area while at Warren Lookout. The Heartbreak Trail is a one-way, gravel road that is steep in places and not suitable for buses or caravans.

Alternatively, take the Karri Forest Explorer is an 86-kilometre drive that winds through some of the south-west s most magnificent karri forest and passes through Warren National Park. You can explore it at your own pace view Beedelup Falls from the suspension bridge, have a swim at Big Brook Dam, picnic at Pure Marri, go bushwalking or fishing or just sit and take in nature. There is trailside information to guide you through the forest and a series of tourist radio stops (100FM). You can stop for a wine tasting, coffee or gourmet meal, and visit galleries and craft centres. There is a range of places to stay overnight so you can relax and spend time exploring the area. The Karri Forest Explorer starts just outside the historic timber town of Pemberton but you can join it at several points along the way, depending on which way you re travelling or where you re staying. For more information pick up a brochure at a Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) office or visitor centre at Pemberton. Phone: (08) 9776 1133.

Elephant Rocks near Walpole

Take the road to Northcliffe and then Middleton road to join South Western Highway. Turn right towards Shannon and the pretty south coast towns of Walpole (the big Tingle Tree at Hilltop is a must-see), Nornalup and Denmark that are extremely popular with Perth holiday-makers. The coastal scenery around here is pretty and in places quite stunning, making it an ideal area to come for a spot of fishing, beachcombing or bushwalking.

About Walpole and Nornalup >

The coastal town of Wolpole, at the southern end of the Karri timber region, is a popular destination for tourists during the hot summer months. The Walpole River feeds into Walpole Inlet which in turn flows into the larger, Nornalup Inlet before flowing through the mouth and into the Southern Ocean. The inletis a great favourite area for fishing and canoeing. William Bay National Park is a coastal park that it is amost completely sheltered from the waves of the Great Southern Ocean by the rounded rock boulders typical to this area, Greens Pool is paradise. A short distance away is Elephant Rocks, giant granite boulders which look like bathing elephants, all nestled in a sheltered cove.

Nornalup-Walpole National Park contains almost 20,000 hectares of tall forest, coastal heath and wetlands and forms part of the vast Walpole Wilderness. The rugged coastline, peaceful inlets and rivers are a major feature of the park's beauty. The park is probably best known for its treetop walk, and the huge buttressed red tingle trees, which are unique to the Walpole area.

The Treetop Walk in the Valley of the Giants gives intimate access this world famous forest of gigantic tingle trees - from the forest floor and from 40 metres up in the canopy. Then descend to the boardwalks below and explore the Ancient Empire - a grove of impressive veteran tingle trees.

The once thriving timber town on Wilson Inlet is today a popular resort town, the nearby coast offering visitors excellent swimming, fishing and surfing. Denmark has a range of activities and attractions for young and old, including some of Australia's finest wineries, a wealth of arts and crafts, cosy cafes, gourmet foods, exhibitions, walking trails under a forest canopy, wildflowers and whale watching.

Denmark wine region offers delightful premium wines, from vineyards set amidst the area's natural beauty. The fine, high quality local wines have distinct, recognisable, regional characteristics, with the gentle summer temperatures and higher winter rainfall being particularly suited to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

If you tear yourself away from the Walpole/Nornalup area, head for Albany for a two night stay there. 239 km.

Day 4:

Spend the day in and around Albany. Its main street seems to go straight into the Princess Royal Harbour, as if to warn visitors that this is a place full of surprises.

About Albany >

King Georges Sound, Albany

Albany is the site of the first European settlement in Australia. Unlike anywhere else in southern Western Australia, it rains a lot, 942 mm per year to be exact. It can also get quite cold when the winds from Antarctica blow straight off the ocean.

A wind farm that takes full advantage of the locality, welcomes visitors and has good signage to explain this eco-friendly technology. Albany sits on the edge of one of the largest natural harbours in the world. On its shore is a former whaling station that is now an excellent museum dedicated to whales and whaling. Whales still come to Albany, and are often seen between July and October in the calm waters off Middleton Beach.


Whaling was Albany's (and indeed Australia's) oldest industry, so it is appropriate that the town's most popular museum is dedicated to the history of whaling in Australia. Whale World is housed in the former Cheynes Beach Whaling Station, located on the picturesque southern coast of King George Sound. The station ceased whaling operations and was de-commissioned in 1978. Whale World takes visitors on an interactive journey through the site, which was the last operating whaling station in Australia, supported by a series of audio visual displays, artefacts and whaling history.

Natural Bridge, Albany

No visit to Albany could ever be complete without some hours spent in the Torndirrup National Park gazing in awe at the Natural Bridge, The Gap, the Blowholes, the Gorge, and Newles Inlet and visiting Whale World. Torndirrup National Park is renowned for its rugged coastal features such as the Gap and Natural Bridge.

There are many walking paths to the various natural features within the National Park which, in the main, are easy, relatively short walks. Be aware that this coastline has a notorious record for accidents due to people slipping and being washed into the ocean by unexpected freak waves or large swells, so take care and avoid going too close to the edge of cliffs.

The peak of Mt. Clarence, behind the town of Albany, offers commanding views of the harbour. Mt. Clarence is the site of the Anzac Light Horse Memorial statue to Australia's fallen at Gallipoli. It was from Princess Royal Harbour in November 1914, that the thirty-eight ships of the fleet that carried Australian soldiers to war left Australia's shores.

For the thousands of Australian soldiers who died at Gallipoli, Albany was their last sight of their homeland. The massive and splendid bronze of a rampant horse complete with ANZAC rider was originally erected in Port Said. The base of the statue bears bullet marks from the Suez crisis in which it was damaged and is the reason why the statue was relocated to stand majestically against the sunrise over King George Sound.

Day 5:

The return trip to Perth from Albany takes around 5 hours and for most people it is a straight drive through. Therefore, take as long as you like seeing more of Albany and surrounds on Day 5 before you leave via Albany Highway, or add an an extra day or two and include some of the following:

Two People Bay

Two People Bay: Only 35km east of Albany, Two People Bay reserve is perhaps most important for being home to the critically endangered Gilbert s potoroo and the endangered noisy scrub-bird, both of which were presumed extinct until being rediscovered at Two People Bay.

Bluff Knoll, Stirling Range

Stirling Range: a rugged mountain range rises spectacularly out of the surrounding plains. Located some 80km north of Albany, the Stirling Range National Park offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to explore an entire mountain range still in its natural state. World renowned for plant diversity, there are over 1,500 different flowers and plants including 125 orchids and 9 endemic mountain bells here in spring. Over 160 different birds have been sighted, including rare and endangered species.

West Cape Howe National Park: About half an hour s drive south-west of Albany, West Cape Howe National Park contains the most southern point in Western Australia, Torbay Head. Almost completely covered in heathland and forest and bearing the force of the Great Southern Ocean, this National Park is worth a visit. At the Shelley Beach Lookout, platforms have been built into the side of the hilltop for hang gliders and paragliders to launch. Scenic bushwalking trails along the coast lead you through virgin bush and offer commanding views.

Castle Rock, Porongurup Ranges

Porongurup Ranges: On they way home you'll pass the Porongurup Ranges, where you can take some great scenic walks. Although only 12 kilometres long and 670 metres at its highest point, the Porongurup Range is renowned for its beauty. It is clothed in a luxuriant forest of giant karri trees and the understorey puts on a brilliant display of wildflowers during spring and early summer. Pathway allow visitors to wander through the shade of ancient forests, discover fossils underfoot, see a rainbow of wildflowers, sit and listen to a symphony of bird songs, all with the magnificent views of the Stirling and Porongurup Ranges as your backdrop. 40 km north of Albany.

Albany to Perth via Albany Highway: 417 km

The Gap, Albany

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