Thought the eastern coast had the crème de la crème of activities, locations and tourist attractions? Think again. From Broome to Ningaloo and everything in between, here we uncover the wonders of Western Australia, all ready and waiting for you to explore…
Broome is a great platform to head off to the surrounding attractions from. So if you want to start off your journey with a bang, take a trip to the astonishing Horizontal Falls. If you thought all waterfalls fell from a steep cliff to a pool below, think twice! Intense tides that flow through two parallel cliff gorges in Talbot Bay result in horizontal tides – hence the name. There are a number of tours that will take you here, all varying in price, so make sure you do your research before setting off.
Karlamilyi is the largest national park, and probably the most remote, within Pilbara. There are a range of lakes in Karlamilyi National Park – including Dora, Blanche and Auld – but there’s only a substantial amount of water after a very wet season. If you want to make sure you get your feet (and everything else) wet, pay a visit to the Desert Queen Baths within the Throssell Ranges. Entering the park from the north, via the small mining town of Marble Bar, a rough, narrow 18km track will lead you to the campsite of the baths, for which a 4WD is the only option.
While there’s potential for eight pools, only four are permanent due to the seasons and are accessible by swimming from one to the other, or clambering around the edges. It’s well worth the effort; ‘Kangaroo Pool’ contains unique rock art, or petroglyphs, that are only visible by walking around the gorge, and ‘3 Goanna’s Pool’ has three goanna petroglyphs – hence the name – but these can only be seen during sunset. This pool provides a good source of water and perfect for a refreshing dip on a blisteringly hot day. Stretching 1.2 million hectares, Karlamilyi is one of the lesser visited areas of Australia, so these idyllic pools remain untouched and undisturbed.
Marble Bar, Newman is adorned with a cool oasis in the form of the Opthalmia Dam, perfect for a cool-down and recreational afternoon before the sun sets. Newman also has the addition of the mountain of the same name, which offers views of the Opthalmia Ranges and the lush colours of wildflower between July and September. These examples of water and vegetation are few and far between in the Pilbara outback, so make use of them when you can.
Marble Bar is surrounded by creeks including Brockman, Eight Mile and Yandicoogina, as well as rivers Shaw, Coongan and Talga. It is the Jasper Bar that runs along the Coongan River that gave the town its name, as inhabitants originally believed it was marble. The A-Class reserve, just a few minutes from the town centre, is a highly valued spot. Including the beautiful Chinamen’s Pool and Picnic Area, the reserve spans the Coongan River and is perfect for picnicking and taking a refreshing dip.
Port Headland – a three hour drive through the wildnerness north of Marble Bar presents the renowned Eighty Mile Beach, which is exactly as it sounds. Eighty Miles of pristine white sand and blue waters, catch your dinner fresh from the Indian Ocean and camp under the stars. The huge tides of the northwest are a sight to see, as are the resulting tidal flights etched into the sand. For respite from the challenges of the dry inland, spend a few days in Port Hedland, either chilling out on the beach or learning the history and culture of the area from the Heritage Trail or at the Dalgety House Museum.
Karijini National Park and Millstream Chichester lie further west. Just under three hours from Newman – and just under four from Port Hedland – Karijini is an adventurer’s dream. There are things to see and do here that are not only unique to the state, but of the entire country. If you only have time for one, it has to be Dales Gorge; you get three highlights in one, with the popular Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool and Circular Pool. A refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters, surrounded by two billion year old rock formations, will make you forget all about the testing drive here. You should give yourself two hours to walk from the provided car park through the gorge, but the inviting waters will be so tempting, you’ll end up wanting to spend the whole day swimming and bathing. Trust us: you will be in no hurry to get back.
Millstream-Chichester National Park is north of Karijini. It serves as a refreshing change from the rocky terrain that you’ve experienced so far, with its inviting pools lined with trees and regular, winged visitors. Python Pool is a popular location to relax; the jagged ochre cliffs that surround it are a perfect backdrop for a swim and afternoon picnic. Not one for sitting around? The 8km camel trail begins at the pool and ends at Mount Herbert, with the Chichester Ranges, McKenzie Spring and blooming flora in between. You can also drive to the base of the mountain on a separate track and climb the 367m to the summit.
Karratha is growing rapidly as the heart of the West Pilbara Coast; it is well located, whether you want to take a day trip to the Dampier, head into the wilderness of the Karijini or Millstream-Chichester, drive the North-West Coastal Highway to Port Hedland or Broome, or board a flight to Perth. Its 20,000 strong population, as well as the dining and shopping opportunities, are a warm welcome after the struggles of the outback. This growing mining town is abundant with accommodation, from budget to luxury. However long you stay at Karratha, dedicate a day or two for a trip to the Burrup Peninsula and the Dampier Archipelago. Holiday like a movie star on the cleanest, whitest, most exotic and secluded beaches you can imagine, view Aboriginal rock art dating back tens of thousands of years, and swim with a stunning variety of marine life.
The Dampier Port is the gateway to the 42 islands that make up the Archipelago. Never mind a sweeping one-day visit, you could spend a whole season island-hopping, snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, catching dinner and camping on one of the hundreds of beaches. The whole of Angel Island, Gidley Island and Collier Rocks have camping available, as well as all beaches on Dolphin Island except the south-east. The surrounding sea is a hub of wildlife including manta rays, bottlenose dolphins and the endangered dugong. In the winter, look out for humpback whales migrating to temperate subtropical waters for breeding, and spot the colourful birds that flock to the island for ideal protection all year round.
The Montebello Islands are just four hours from the Dampier range of islands and are made up of 100 limestone islands and islets that make up the Montebello Islands. Catch your dinner, snorkel the pristine waters and make your bed on the clean, white sand that is home to what is believed to be Western Australia’s first ever shipwreck, the sunken Tyrall from 1622. Barrow, the second largest island in Western Australia, lies south of the Montebello Islands.This unique island is severely protected due to the wildlife, as it contains 22 species of mammal, reptile, bird and flora that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The highly-conserved fauna includes the black-flanked rock wallaby, boodie, spectacled hare-wallaby and golden bandicoot.
Exmouth, home to Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef lies on the very northern tip of the Coral Coast. Whatever time of year you travel, you’ll be greeted by something spectacular; from whale sharks feasting on krill between March and July, humpback whales migrating from June to November, and turtles nesting along the beaches November to March.
The Ningaloo Reef that should be on everyone’s bucket list! With a coastline stretching 260km and covering 5,000 square km of the Indian Ocean, it has been protected since 1987 and contains the last significant portion of dugong in the world, at just a mere 2,000. The creation of the reef is so incredible that in some areas you can walk straight into the sea from the beach and within five to ten metres, be swimming over stunning corals and anemone.