Driving from Broome to Exmouth is only 1400km down National Hwy 1. It’s paved road the whole way. You could even drive it in a day, and many people do. But with so much to see and do between the two, both along the coastal Hwy 1, as well as further inland into proper Pilbara red dust country, why on earth would you drive straight through and miss it all?
Broome is one of those towns that you either love, or you don’t. For us, we’ve always had a pull to Broome, and it’s consistently been on our list of places to potentially stop and live for a wee while. We love the small town feel, the tropical heat, the beautiful Boab trees, the mangos, the white beaches, and those red red rocks.
There’s also an awful lot to do here and in the surrounding areas – so much so that you could easily spend a few weeks exploring the area before you head south. If that’s something that sounds like a good idea to you then check out the article we wrote detailing some of the best things to do in and around Broome, to make sure you really get the most out of your time here.
You might also want to check out the Dampier Peninsula and Cape Leveque just north of Broome before you start the journey south.
Barn Hill Station, Eighty Mile Beach, Pardoo Station, & Cape Keraudren
Heading south from Broome along National Hwy 1 you’ll find there’s a huge stretch of coastline (including the aptly named Eighty Mile Beach) where there seemingly isn’t really a whole lot happening. But if you’ve got the time to stop off here and there – for a few hours, or a few nights – you’ll find some great little gems right on the coast and not far from the main road.
Barn Hill Station, Eighty Mile Beach, Pardoo Station and Cape Keraudren are all fantastic places to stop and camp for as long as you can manage – particularly if you like to throw a line in. They say it’s impossible not to catch a fish at Eighty Mile Beach, but I’m sorry to say we’re living proof that they can still be elusive!
You’re really heading into Pilbara mining territory now! Port Hedland is more of an industrial town than a tourist one – built around the local mining, shipping, and salt industries. But if you’re following the coastal road then you’ll be passing through it, and it’s a great place to stop in for supplies. Plus this whole Pilbara area is so unique – look out for huge road trains, and even bigger actual trains, full to the brim with iron ore and snaking off into the distance as far as the eye can see.
Port Hedland is also one of many Pilbara towns (including Broome, Karratha, Dampier and Onslow) where you can catch the amazing Staircase to the Moon phenomenon. As the full moon rises over local mudflats, its reflection in the water gives a beautiful staircase effect making it appear as if you could just walk right on up to the moon itself. Keep an eye on the full moon dates and if you’re going to be anywhere along the Pilbara coast during a full moon then pop into the local visitor centre to find the best place to check out this unique experience.
Don’t forget to use Campermate’s maps to filter and find campsites and road trip essentials while exploring between Broome and Exmouth.
Side Trip: Tom Price, Karijini, Millstream-Chichester & Mt Augustus
From here you need to make some decisions about which way to continue south – by the coastal route or heading inland. If you’re in a bit of a hurry then carry on along Hwy 1. But if you’ve got some time up your sleeve we definitely recommend heading inland a little ways, where you’ll find one of our all-time favourite national parks – Karijini National Park.
Karijini is on most people’s Big Lap Bucket List for very good reason – it’s the perfect combination of Pilbara red dust and stunning gorges with plenty of fresh, clear water to cool off in. Plus, no visit to Karijini is complete without stopping in to the nearby town of Tom Price where a tour of the iron ore mine is a really interesting insight into the local industry. The Karijini area’s got enough to keep you busy for a whole week (or even more!), but even if you’ve only got a few days we highly recommend stopping in.
Visiting Tom Price and Karijini can be easily achieved without a 4×4 vehicle, but if you do have the ability to get off-road, have a bit more time, feel a bit adventurous and want to explore the Pilbara further then there’s some great other options in the area. The Millstream-Chichester National Park is a bit like Karijini’s little cousin – not quite as large or spectacular, but still worth a look if you’re passing through. Then further inland you’ll find the Pilbara’s hidden gem – Mt Augustus. Which, believe it or not, is actually Australia’s biggest rock (yes, it’s bigger than Uluru!) We really enjoyed our trip out here, and found it well worth a visit if you’ve got the right set up and enough time for a wee detour.
Karratha, Dampier and surrounds
If you carry on down the coast you’ll soon pass through Karratha, another Pilbara mining town. We stopped to work here for a few weeks and it’s a lovely family-friendly place, with plenty to do in the surrounding areas. If you’re a fan of the movie ‘Red Dog’ (and really, who isn’t?) then you must detour out to Dampier to get a photo with the famous Red Dog statue and to check out Red’s home town.
The whole coast around this area is beautiful, and there’s some great camping areas – we particularly like Cleaverville, 40 Mile and Point Samson. The tides here are among some of the largest in the world so setting up camp in the beach will offer markedly different views depending on the tides. When the water is in it’s all blue-green seas contrasted with red and white sands. But when the tide is out the water is far off into the distance leaving only little pools to explore, with plenty of marine wildlife to be found. Look out for some very cool small red octopus in the pools, but don’t get too close – they like to squirt water at visitors so you might get a soaking!
This area also has some amazing but little-known rock art within the Murujuga National Park on the Burrup Peninsula. Here, you’ll find a huge collection of rocks with a pathway to explore, so you can go for a wander and try to spot some of the 40,000 year-old petroglyphs (engravings). Now don’t expect big, beautiful, colourful artworks – these are ancient etchings, not modern Indigenous Art. They can be hard to spot at first, and there isn’t a lot of signage to guide you. But once you start to notice a few etchings in the rock, you’ll soon be spotting it everywhere, and it’s pretty unbelievable to realise these artworks have been out here for 40,000 years or more.
As you leave the Pilbara region and head towards Exmouth and the Coral Coast there’s one last red dust location to check out before you hit the reef. Bullara Station is just shy of Exmouth and a great stop over for a night or more. It’s a working cattle farm with plenty to keep the kids (and adults) entertained, particularly if you happen to visit during a muster. And they do a mean Devonshire tea at the homestead, or a damper on the campfire if you prefer.
Exmouth and surrounds
And just like that, you’ve made it to Exmouth! Whether you took a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months, I’m willing to bet it was a fantastic journey. Now you get to explore one of the best reefs in the world – the Ningaloo Reef and everything that comes with it. It’s a stunning area, and one of our favourite parts of Australia.