Drives: Goldfields/Gt Southern (10 days)

The first half of the trip follows the route of our South West Drive as far as Albany on the south coast. This section takes in the resort town of Busselton, Geographic Bay, the Margaret River wine region with its vineyards and cheese and chocolate factories, the surf beaches of the Margaret River area, then on to the forests of Pemberton and the historic town of Albany.From Albany we continue travelling east to Esperance, a town known for its beautiful beaches and offshore island. From Esperance, we head inland through the mining town of Norseman, which marks the beginning of the Eyre Highway to the Eastern States. Travelling north, we reach the goldfields city of Kalgoorlie. The return journry to Perth is through the Goldfields ghost town of Coolgardie and the town of Western Australia's Eastern Wheatbelt.

Distance: 1,443 km

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. Take the Old Coast Road from Manduarah, passing the coastal lakes of Yalgorup National Park. Rock-like structures known as thrombolites can be seen on the edge of Lake Clifton. 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. Follow the shores of Geographe Bay for an overnight stay at the resort town of Busselton. 247 km

Yallingup Beach

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.

The whole region to the south is limestone country, meaning that it is also caves and wine country. Guided tours are available at Yallingup Caves and caves at 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. Continue south, either on Caves Road or Bussell Highway to Augusta. 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 via the Bussell Highway as far as the Brockman Highway junction. Take that highway to Nannup, then drive south along Vasse Highway to Pemberton. 138 km

Climbing the Gloucester tree, 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. The short drive through the forests to Beedelup Falls, trout hatchery and Walk Through Tree (a 75 m, 400 year old karri which has a hole which visitors can walk through). 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.

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.. If you tear yourself away, head for Albany for a two night stay there. 239 km

The Gap, Albany, during a storm

Day 4: Albany is the site of the first European settlement in Australia. 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. Unlike anywhere else in southern WA, 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.

A blowhole, gap and huge natural bridge are just minutes away from each other can be found on a superb stretch of dramatic coastline weathered by the timeless forces of the Southern Ocean. These are just a few of the many places to visit in and around Albany.

Bluff Knoll, Stirling Range

Day 5: Travel east from Albany to Ravensthorpe, passing through the Stirling Range. A climb up Bluff Knoll takes half a day and is well worth the effort for those eager to embark on a moderate climb up a good marked track.

Ravensthorpe is an historic gold mining town known for its spectacular wildflowers and proximity to the Fitzgerald River National Park, Ravensthorpe is a good base for exploration of the Park and the nearby coastal town of Hopetoun. Portions of the fence made famous in the film, Rabbit Proof Fence can be seen in the area.

Point Ann in Fitzgerald River National Park is where Southern Right Whales come to calve between June and September each year. There is a whale viewing platform which is perhaps the best mainland whale viewing locality in Australia. Wave Rock, Hyden, is 194 km north-west of Ravensthorpe; allow an extra day return trip if you add Wave Rock to your itinerary. 293 km

Twilight Beach, Esperance

Day 6: Continue travelling east to Esperance. You should arrive around lunchtime, which gives you a chance to check out the town, visit the town's pet sea lion, Sammy, down at the tanker pier, and take the Great Ocean Drive, visiting Pink Lake and pristine beaches like Twlight Cove, for which Esperance is famous.

The islands of the Recherche Archpelago rchipelago are scattered across the bay. You can take a tour or charter a boat to enjoy the clear water, perhaps see porpoises and whales, dive or snorkel. Some of the larger islands have camping facilities, but you can enjoy a beach picnic on most of the islets. Spend 2 nights at Esperance. 188 km

Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Day 7: The whole day is set aside for a visit to Cape Le Grand National Park, which is a short drive from Esperance. With its sand plains and granite outcrops, it is one of Australia's most spectacular national parks. Visit Lucky Bay and you may see sunbathing kangaroos along its 5km beach. From September to November, you can see spectacular wildflowers.

The Superpit, Kalgoorlie

Day 8: The longest driving day of the trip, today you will travel 391 km northwest (about 4 1/2 hours) via the Coolgardie Esperence and Goldfields Highway to Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie's Golden Mile had the richest concentration of gold anywhere. Now that Mile is a huge open pit.

Located on the Nullarbor Plain, Kalgoorlie is filled with historic buildings from the era of the independent prospector, so do take some time just to mosey about. You can fossick on vacant crown land or with permission of the leaseholder or owner. Do be sure to ask permission; many people will not permit you to fossick on their land. Before you leave town, check out the Superpit. 391 km

Elachbutting Rock near Mukinbudin

Day 9: The day's drive to Merredin takes around 4 hours, so you have time to hang around Kalgoorlie in the morning or spend the hours up your sleeve exploring the ghost town of Calgoorlie, which you will passed through on the way to Merredin. Hike the Merredin Peak Heritage Trail, take one of the Rock Hop routes to see local wildflowers and birds, and stop by the Old Railway Station where the clay bricks are rumored to have gold in them.

The Zig Zag Wildflower Garden showcases local and rare plant species, including the endangered Sandpaper Wattle. The herbarium of local plant species will also help you identify the wild flowers you are seeing. The garden is always open; check with the Merredin Visitor Centre to tour the herbarium. 334 km

Connors Mill, Toodyay

Day 10: The drive back to Perth takes you through the little town of Meckering, whose main claim to fame is being destroyed by an earthquake in the 1970s. Ruined buildings and twisted railway tracks have been preserved. The Avon Valley has three towns of interest - Northem, York and Toodyay. The latter two are picturesque Victorian era heritage towns oozing with charm. York has an interesting car museum, Toodyay has a couple of fine museums, both towns have some great cafes and bric-a-brac shops. 262 km

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