Western Australia

Western Australia is the largest state in Australia, occupying the western third of the continent. It is larger in size than western Europe.

Regions

Western Australia Regions Map
Perth
The state capital and its suburban and semi-rural surroundings are set along the Swan River and sandy Indian Ocean beaches.
Wheatbelt
Dominated by expansive golden fields of grain in the interior and empty beaches on the coast
Mid West
The Western coast has surfing beaches. The closer to Perth, the more temperate the weather and hospitable the landscape
Gascoyne
The central coast offers various wonders: the Ningaloo Reef is not as famous as the Great Barrier Reef, but equals or surpasses it in beauty, and Shark Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Pilbara
A hot mining region, very lightly populated, with various natural attractions.
Kimberley
In the far North. It is a huge chunk of wilderness including the resort town of Broome on Cable Beach. Vast areas of spectacular scenery, and equally vast areas of desolate nothingness.
Goldfields-Esperance
A barren and flat interior becomes greener toward the coast where chilly king waves sent from Antarctica pummel the rocky shore into wondrous shapes.
South West
Known for its wineries, surfing, forests and caves

Cities

Other destinations

Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia

Understand

The large majority of the 2 million inhabitants live in the southwestern part of the state, in or close to Perth, the capital and the most isolated city of this size anywhere in the world. Outside of the Perth area there are fewer than 500,000 people, hence the demoynm Sandgropers. The largest towns outside Perth metro include Albany and Broome, less than 30,000 population each depending on seasonal fluctuations. Beyond the coast, Western Australia's vast interior is very sparsely populated, with only a handful of townships with over a few thousand residents. Mining settlements and cattle stations are thinly-spread so it is all too easy to find yourself alone in a 100 mile radius.

One of this state's main attraction is precisely its overall remoteness and huge expanses of untouched scenery.

Geography

Mount Augustus is widely claimed to be the world's largest monolith

Western Australia covers about third of the total land mass of Australia. It encompasses climatic zones from the monsoonal and tropical north, to the temperate and Mediterranean south, and the desert and barren inland. Apart from the south-western coast, the majority of the land is extremely old, eroded, flat, arid and infertile.

Many of the population centres are isolated from one another, and from the other populated zones of Australia. This and the tough environment may account for a more independent spirit than in the eastern states.

The vastness of the state is certainly not to be underestimated when planning your trip. If it were a country, it would be in the top 10 by area, as large as Argentina, larger than any African or European country, and twice the size of Alaska. It is the largest sub-national administrative division in the world besides the Sakha Republic in Russia.

Perth and the south-west corner including Margaret River and Albany are easily accessible. Visiting much of the rest of the state requires some planning, and will probably require some long drives. Never plan on doing a road trip, without clearly telling either the authorities or someone else, on your planned route, as you could have considerable delays if you break down. Make sure you always have lots of water (and spare fuel) with you.

History

Western Australia was discovered by the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog in 1616 while en route to what is now known as Jakarta. In the following decade, other Dutch explorers would encounter the land here, but with no apparent natural resources to exploit, left as quickly as they came. During the late 18th century, the British and the French began to explore the more Southern regions of Western Australia and in 1826 the British decided that King George Sound would be a suitable location for a settlement. Three years later the Swan River Colony was established and this would later become the city of Perth. The state grew slowly until the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie in the 1890s, which led to a huge influx of people.

Western Australia is the only state to never have been part of New South Wales and is the only Australian state to have tried to leave the federation, voting to secede in 1933. A delegation was sent to Britain to petition parliament to pass the legislation needed to enable independence, but it was determined that the British parliament did not have the necessary powers to pass such legislation. The suggestion of secession still appears in the Western Australian media from time to time and generally gains most attention during mining booms. A minority of Western Australians support the idea.

Time Zone

Western Australia is in the Australian Western Standard Time zone, 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+8). It doesn't observe daylight savings time, and is two hours behind the east coast of Australia during winter, and falls three hours behind New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania when they move to daylight savings. Note that not all of W.A. is in the same time zone! Residents of towns east of Caiguna on the Eyre Highway (including Eucla, Madura, Mundrabilla and Border Village) in the south-east corner near the South Australian border do not follow official Western Australian time. Instead, they use what is unofficially known as Central Western Standard Time, which is halfway between Western and Central time--UTC+8:45.

Get in

By plane

Perth airport in Western Australia with most regular international flights, however Skywest also fly from Pt Hedland to Bali in Indonesia.

The vast majority of interstate flights also land in Perth. However there are a small number of interstate flights to Kalgoorlie, Kununurra, Karratha and Broome. Skywest has a weekly flight from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne, however it may still be cheaper to fly Kalgoorlie - Perth - Melbourne depending on the travel dates desired.

The price of flights from other Australian capital cities to Perth fluctuates wildly. The red-eye overnight flights can often be obtained at a discount over the more civilised flight times.

By car

Considering the huge distances, driving into Western Australia from anywhere else is an experience by itself.

There are only two sealed roads into Western Australia: in the south, the Eyre Highway is the most direct route from Adelaide to Perth. In the north, the Victoria Highway connects the Kimberley region with the Northern Territory up to Darwin. Both involve extremely long drives. Perth-Adelaide is at least 3 days of driving with stops only to sleep, and much of the drive is across the extraordinarily barren Nullabor Plain. Darwin-Perth is at least a week.

It is often possible to organise one-way car hire without additional fees from Adelaide to Perth. Shop around, and check conditions carefully, as some cars hired in Adelaide cannot even be driven into Western Australia.

The unsealed Great Central Road, Tanami Track and Gunbarrel Highway run between the Northern Territory and remote Western Australian towns.

By rail

There is one railway connecting Western Australia with the eastern states. The Indian Pacific train service runs between Sydney and Perth via Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill. More expensive than air travel, but you can put your car on the train. The train ride is a unique experience in itself, as it can take 3 nights to get to Sydney at the other end of the line and you see a lot of rugged beauty along the way.

Quarantine

There are quarantine rules if you are coming from other states in Australia. You cannot bring fruits and vegetables (including seeds and cuttings) into Western Australia. Frozen fresh food is also not allowed but you will be OK with commercially packaged foods, except honey and bee products. There are quarantine checkpoints set up on the state borders and rules are strictly enforced. Inspectors board trains into the state to check passengers, and there are checkpoints at all airports.

If you are arriving directly from overseas, additional quarantine rules apply. See the Australia article for details.

Get around

By car

If you want to travel across WA by road, be ready to drive a lot to get from point A to point B. There are only a limited number of sealed roads (any map of the state will probably show you all of them), if you plan to leave them to get to more remote areas you will need to consider renting a 4WD. Contact the company to which you rent the vehicle to check the policy concerning driving on unsealed tracks, as you might have to get their authorization. Driving a rented conventional (non-4WD) vehicle on an unsealed track may breach your rental contract and void your insurance. Check with the local depot before arriving.

Distances

Never under-estimate the distance involved in travelling around Western Australia. Fatigue from long drives annually kills drivers from overseas, falling asleep at the wheel is a genuine issue.

Always make allowance for fuel stops, rest stops, toilet stops, refreshment stops. There is a speed limit on all roads, never catchup with speed.

Sealed highways and byways

Unsealed (dirt) roads and tracks

Track in Western Australia

Unsealed roads require preparation and research. They should not be taken lightly, and you would be unwise to just set off down a dirt road without having done your homework. Be cautious. On some more remote tracks, it could be weeks until anyone finds you or your body if you break down. Road conditions, weather, availability of fuel and spares, contact (phone/radio), and survival supplies should be on your checklist.

The Gunbarrel Highway may not be what you would think of as a highway. It may not even be what you would think of as a road.

That said, some of the best scenery and adventures that Western Australia has to offer lies on its dirt roads. Some can be traversed, slowly, and with care, by an average driver. Study your route, and be prepared for conditions.

By plane

Given the distances involved, plane travel is a vital connection to many Western Australian communities. Many towns based on mining have private 'Fly-in Fly-out' (FIFO) services for their employees, which are difficult for travellers to access.

Most larger towns have some form of commercial scheduled air service. Charter services are commonly available to access more remote areas, and airstrips available for landing are available even in the very smallest towns. If you can get a group of 6 together, a charter flight need not cost significantly more than a scheduled commercial service, but don't expect to be able to each take your 23kg suitcase on board.

By train

Train services are limited outside of Perth and Mandurah. In addition to the Great Southern Railway's Indian Pacific, there are three regional train services, all operated by TransWA, that depart from Perth to various country towns in the south and south-east of the state:

These regional rail services are not "walk on" services like inner-city rail; tickets to board these services must be purchased in advance, either online at the TransWA website, or from various TransWA booking offices located around the state, usually in areas serviced by the TransWA regional rail and coach network.

By coach

Coach Services comprehensively cover the southern regions of the state, publicly operated by TransWA. These coach services connect Perth to various regional towns, as far north as Geraldton and Meekatharra, as far south as Albany, and as far east as Kalgoorlie and Esperance.

These regional coach services are not "walk on" services like inner-city bus services; tickets to board these services must be purchased in advance, either online at the TransWA website, or from various TransWA booking offices located around the state, usually in areas serviced by the TransWA regional rail and coach network.

Other private coach services also operate, such as Greyhound that runs a coastal service from Perth through to Broome, and into Darwin via Kununurra.

See

If WA does not quench your thirst of (harsh) wilderness, it is unlikely that anywhere else in the world will. That said, most visitors stay within the very civilised areas of the southwest corner and Broome, which have many attractions and well developed facilities.

One of the eleven convict sites making up the UNESCO World Heritage site "Australian Convict Sites" is located in Western Australia; the Fremantle Prison.

Do

Besides driving, which can be an experience for some (being on the only sealed road for hundreds of kilometers, without crossing anyone, might be either disturbing or enjoyable to most of Western Europe drivers). The regions for surfing on its beaches include, the south west corner in the Margaret River region.

Dive

Hike

Swim

Eat

Perth and the larger towns have the usual range of restaurants. Australian influenced Thai, Chinese and cafes are common. Pubs can usually be relied upon for an evening meal in most towns and roadhouses have a range of sandwiches, burgers and sometimes more substantial cooked meals. Trips away from the major towns will probably require some amount of self-catering.

Drink

Beer

Coffee

A debate about the quality of coffee in WA grumbles on endlessly, with many visitors claiming a decent cup near impossible to find in the west and locals countering that they are just not looking in the right place. Subjective bean preferences aside, it is agreed that coffee is generally more expensive than in Eastern capitals and a higher price (averaging $3.80, but up to $5) does not necessarily buy you a better cup.

Spirits

Wine

Western Australian viticulture may not produce the large volumes of the wineries on the east of Australia, but the vineyards here are known for producing quality over quantity.

Sleep

Camping

Western Australia has an abundance of places to pitch a tent or roll out a swag. Many campsites in National Parks have managed sites with facilities toilet and cooking facilities. Most charge a fee of $7-9 per person, per night. Campsites can fill up quickly during long weekends and school holiday periods, especially in the South-West.

Stay safe



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