Perth to Exmouth is one of the great camping and caravanning trips in Western Australia. At roughly 1200km one-way it’s ideal as a stand-alone road trip, or as part of a longer adventure. Here, Renee shares some of the (many) reasons why it ranks among the country’s best coastal drives.
Australia is pretty blessed in the coastline department, and we’ve been lucky enough to explore a large part of it. So after some pretty extensive travels, choosing our favourite stretch of coast would be like choosing a favourite child. But the piece of coast that runs from Perth to Exmouth has to be up there towards the top of the list.
Not only does it have one of the best and most easily accessible coral reefs in the world, it’s also got some amazing beachside camping areas, fantastic wildlife experiences, and you can experience red sands, ancient rocks, white beaches and pink lakes along the journey. So, let’s start from Perth, head north, and see what we find shall we?
Heading north from Perth along the Indian Ocean Drive, one of the first stops most people make (which can also be done as a day trip from Perth) is Cervantes to visit the Nambung National Park, where you’ll find the amazing rock formations that form The Pinnacles.
Here you’ll find thousands of large limestone pillars rising up from the desert across the sand as far as the eye can see. In fact, to properly explore them you need to take your car on a looping drive through the sand, with designated places to stop off and explore further by foot. Make sure to allow a couple of hours, and be aware that there is nowhere to camp in the immediate area. Also like most WA national parks, there is an entry fee per vehicle – but it’s well worth it!
Jurien Bay Sea Lions
This stretch of coast has a wide variety of marine creatures to get up close and personal with, particularly once you get up further north – whale sharks, sea turtles, humpback whales and manta rays to name a few. But sea lions must be arguably some of the most playful and interactive of the sea life on offer. They don’t call these guys the dogs of the ocean for nothing!
They’re heaps of fun and seem to love swimming with humans as much as humans love swimming with them. There’s only a few places in Australia you can swim with sea lions, and Jurien Bay is one of them, so if this is something that sounds like your cup of tea make sure you stop in and book a tour to visit them for yourself.
Hutt Lagoon or just ‘The Pink Lake’ as it’s probably more colloquially known, is conveniently located directly beside the Indian Ocean Drive, meaning all you need to do to see it is pull your car over into one of the lookouts.
How pink it looks will depend on the local conditions, and how much sun you’ve got – try and visit around the middle of the day when the sun is out to see the colours at their most bold. Hutt Lagoon is one of a handful of pink lakes to be found around Australia, but is probably one of the more impressive and accessible options so it’s definitely worth a stop.
This little-known gem is one of our all-time favourite campsites. Found between Hutt Lagoon and Kalbarri, it’s a beautiful spot right on the beach. Plus, if you have a 4×4 you can head off into the dunes to find the perfect secluded place to camp up all to yourselves. You’ll have wide open starry skies, a beach to yourself, and it’s the perfect place to throw in a line.
The Kalbarri area, where the Murchison River meets the sea, is the perfect mix of ocean, river and sandstone gorge, and as such has a wide variety of things to see and do. Most people at the very least stop in to take a picture at Nature’s Window – a perfectly formed natural rock window which frames the beautiful view of the gorge below. But don’t let that be the end of your visit – there’s some lovely hikes through the gorge, great places to go for a fish or a kayak, beautiful beaches to stop in for a swim, and a stunning array of wildflowers if you’re lucky enough to visit in the season (July to Oct). Plus, the newly opened Kalbarri Skywalk looks pretty cool – we’re going to have to go back and check that one out for ourselves.
Now some would argue that the Indian Ocean Drive ends here, and sure if you’re out of time and need to head back to Perth then here is a good place to turn around. But in our opinion the best is yet to come, so if you can spare another week (or more!) then keep heading north – I promise, you won’t regret it.
Side trip: Shark Bay
The Shark Bay region (which encompasses areas like Monkey Mia, Denham, Francois Peron National Park, Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island) is one of our all-time faves. But it does require a bit of extra time, and a 4×4 to see the best parts of it. If you’ve got another week to spare, or even just a few nights, then we definitely recommend detouring in and checking out at least part of this area.
You can venture out to the westernmost point of the country at Steep Point, spot whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins, sea lions, and maybe even a dugong right from the shore, throw in a rod and almost guarantee you’ll catch a fish (if we did, anyone can!), and see the stunning contrast of red dunes, white sand and blue water at Francois Peron National Park. This area really requires a whole article of its own, so we wrote one! Check it out here.
Carnarvon itself is a great little town – it’s the perfect place to stop in and stock up on supplies and we recommend a visit to the Space Museum while you’re in town. But for us personally the real magic lies just a little out of town and will require a bit of a detour from the main road.
About 45 mins drive towards the coast lies Point Quobba, which is home to the Quobba Blowholes, which in and of themselves are pretty cool. But the best part is just a little further past the blowholes where you’ll find the aptly named ‘Aquarium’.
A fantastic rockpool area just off the shore that holds a spectacular array of sea life and is a fantastic place to jump in for a snorkel. It’s nice and sheltered from the outer waves, isn’t too deep, and is particularly great for kids or novice snorkellers to practice their skills. Just keep an eye on the tide – it needs to be on the higher side to ensure there’s enough water to snorkel above the coral and rocks without doing yourself an injury. There’s also a great little camping area here if you want to extend your stay – we did.
If you’d like to continue exploring a little further up the coast off the main road you’ll also find a couple of excellent station stays in this area, all well-known among the travelling, surfing and fishing community – Quobba, Gnarloo and Warroora Stations are all well-worth a visit in their own right, so we’ll let you decide for yourself which ones to add to your itinerary.
Congratulations, you made it! What a journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed this stretch of coast as much as we did. But before you turn around to head back to Perth (the inland road has it’s own little gems too!) or carry on with your journey, make sure you allow a little bit of time to explore the Exmouth area, including Coral Bay and Cape Range National Park. The Ningaloo Reef is one of the best and most accessible reefs in the world – you can snorkel right from the beach and spot an unbelievable array of wildlife big and small. In fact we love the reef so much, we wrote another article about it. Make sure you check it out, and spend some time exploring the region. You’ve come all this way, now it’s time to enjoy it!