Western Australia is freaking massive. Seriously it is basically the whole left side of this country. Exploring this was going to take some logistics but mostly some luck. I have been dreaming of this side of the country for years now and was ecstatic I had arrived. I booked into a hostel for the first couple days, luck favors those with open itineraries I have found.
My hostel was right in the center of Northbridge, the hipster part of Perth. The CBD was a quick 10 minute walk straight down Williams st which ended at the river. There are running and biking paths up and down the side of the highway with beautiful views of sunsets. The bar and restaurant scene in this area from Northbridge down Williams st to Murray st, the open air mall, are endless. I went to jazz shows, saw local rock bands, and ate delicious Chinese food on a rooftop. The botanical gardens are nearby, but basically impossible to get to walking. This city is made for cars sadly. It is such a beautiful city, and a perfect jumping off point to explore either the north or the south.
We didn’t stay in Perth long though as my friend Sloane escaped the Sydney lockdown and made it over to me just in time to avoid the quarantine restrictions. We took the $5 train down to Fremantle and grabbed breakfast before taking the ferry over to Rottnest Island. Freo is a weird combination of an old forgotten colonial town plus a spot for 20 somethings to rage. Luckily we did not come for the culture though, we came for the environment.
Rottnest or Wadjemup
Some British guy decided to call this beautiful island Rat’s nest island, which slurred to Rottnest. Gross. The Aboriginals who lived there used to call it Wadjemup, meaning “the place across the water where spirits are” as it used to be a burial ground for them. The island was inhabited thousands of years before which truly goes to show how incredibly long this group of people has been on this continent and how detailed their oral history is to share these old stories of their ancestors.
The reason most people go here are for the quokkas aka the rats. They are marsupials, they look and even act like little kangaroos. It is adorable! They are all around the island and are mostly friendly and not too afraid of us. We spent the most hilarious afternoon trying to take selfies with them as they hopped away from us. With your ferry ticket you can rent a bike which is the most fun way to explore the island.
Driving Down South
Since the weather looked like crazy rain for the next couple days we grabbed a cheap rental car from Thrify and decided to drive 5 hours down to Albany, from there we could drive up the south west coast. Each coastal town had incredible beaches, beautiful rock formations, Karri trees hundreds of years old, and waterfalls. We had 4 days and a sort of itinerary; Albany to Denmark to Pemberton to Cape Leeuwin to Margaret River. Cue all the names just being places in England, as usual.
What was supposed to be rain turned into a colossal storm, we had a later start because there were some crucial errands we had to run that morning. First we had to get a refund from our hotel. I booked one of those pubs that has rooms above which I will literally never do again. When we went to the room at 9pm the floor was literally shaking from the bass. It could not have been louder if Pitbul himself had been in my room literally singing to me. We grabbed our bags and walked in the rain, up a hill, to a b&b that thankfully took us in at 10pm. So the refund was crucial. Next, I got my first vaccine shot! I wrangled myself an appointment probably from someone’s cancelation because most of these appointments have to be made weeks in advance. Then a quick laser appointment, also crucial, and we were off!
Now we were an hour away when the sunset. Driving in Australia after that is basically anyone’s game and not ever recommended, especially not in a storm. I drove 50kmph basically with my hazards on as we finally arrived at the hotel. After that drive I was desperate for some wine and bed. About 1 hour later as we were settling in we lost power. Albany is located on this bay and the winds were scary. Sometime after midnight the power came back on and the next morning the skies were blue.
Before we took off anywhere, Sloane decided she was not going back to Sydney in the next couple days. The covid cases were off the chat for Australia, averaging 30 a day, and the city was in full lockdown with no end in site. My next plan was to try and get north to Broome, she said she would join me and fly out from there. I quickly started looking up relocation vans and found a steal of a deal through Apollo. For a $1 a day, with fuel allocation and a travel bonus we were able to have a 6 day sleeper camper van. I booked it quickly and filed that away as our next adventure to figure out.
That morning we swung by the Natural Bridge in Torndirrup. The winds were so brutal that morning that we ran there holding our jackets desperately, took some photos, and then sprinted back. We tried to see the blow holes but honestly every part of that coast line was blowing water it was like everywhere was a blow hole. Next the plan was to drive to Denmark from Albany but the only two roads were closed due to trees falling in the storm. We asked one of the tradies how we can get there and he replied “no one is getting to Denmark today”. Alright, so next plan.
We drove instead to Pemberton to see the Gloucester tree. All of the southwest is one massive forrest. The drives are just through continuous parks. Driving through it all is stunning but also terrifying because at any moment a kangaroo can jump out. Thankfully the one that tried to jump into us we missed and he merrily continued on his way. A couple hours later, right before sunset we arrived at the Gloucester tree. This ancient Karri tree was turned into a ladder for early settlers to use to spot fires. Rungs were stabbed in the sides and people climbed up entirely too high to the tops of the forrest to spot them. I climbed a couple rungs for the photo and was like thank you goodbye. The top is 58 meters or 180ish ft. We explored the forrest around loving getting lost in the skies trying to bend backwards to see these tree tops.
The next morning, we headed to Beedelup to explore the falls and surrounding Karri forrest. These trees are known to grown for 300 years. They grow extremely well down in this part of Australia and are stunning to behold. We continued the wet drive to Augusta and down to Cape Leeuwin. The bays carve into the ocean, and the constant rain meant every couple hours we had the most stunning rainbows. There was a lot of driving but the terrain kept it interesting.
Turning up the coast and heading north now we entered the Margaret River wine region. It is really made up of a variety of different regions each known for different types of wine. We stopped first at Cape Mentelle, then to Mr Barval Wines. We were the only ones at Mr Barval so we chatted the woman there who excitedly took us through their wine making process. They are a tiny winery and we got to see their press and learn about how they do it all, mostly, by hand. With a couple bottles we headed to our treehouse airbnb for the night excited for the wine tour the next day.
We booked through McLeod tours after a recommendation from our airbnb. This tour was a bit different than the Hunter Valley ones that bring you to 6 wineries and leave you feelin randy by the end. This tour started at a local coffee shop, where they taught you about their beans, where they were imported from and how they roasted them. From there we went to RedGate, to drink wines and kick off the tour properly. Next to Cowaramup Brewery for some grilled fish lunch and pilsner. Our next winery was Thompson Estates, for another quick tasting. Then to change it up we went to a local olive oil producer, Olio Bello. Here we could try 10 different olive oils, dips, sauces, delicious. Now our bags were full with wine and dips but this was not the end. We were taken to one last winery, and then to a chocolate producer, Margaret River Chocolate Co. They were more than generous with the samples and after that we truly thought we were going home to sleep and nurse our wallets. Surprise! One last stop at the local dairy cheese store, Margaret River Dairy Company. Finally, after a long but deliciously decadent day we made our way home to crash.
We had reached the end of our trip. When I called to extend the rental until 5pm she told me we could return it the next morning! Amazing, now we had the day to slowly make our way back to Fremantle. With this extra time we balanced the day between a couple more wineries, and some local beaches.
Right outside Yallingup was House of Cards, an adorable winery with a cute theme. On the way north we stopped in Wilyabrup for another tasting. The local beaches were Injidup Natural Spa which is a small pool that gets occasionally overrun with water from the other side creating a massage experience. I was too afraid of the tow but some as we left we saw some brave people in bathers. Up the coast are the Canal Rocks another stunning bay with incredibly blue water dancing in the sun.
The last stop was in Busselton, to stretch our legs and have a snack. Just a couple hours away from Freo now were coasted home in the sunshine. We had two more nights in Perth before we picked up our rental van and started the next epic 2,900km drive up the rest of the coast. Feeling accomplished with this little tester trip down and 1,800km already under our belt we felt ready to take on the challenge.