With a combined age of 212, my sister, Helen, her ex husband, Paul and I decided to do a road trip in Western Australia. We planned to drive from Perth to Broome and then back to Exmouth before flying back to Perth. In the end we did over 2,800 miles and we loved every minute of it! So for any other adventurous Silver Travellers I thought I would list the highlights of our trip.
We had booked with Flight Centre who were excellent, everything went like clockwork and I would definitely use them again. We flew with Singapore Airlines who were OK but I had travelled with them in the past and I was sorry to see that their standards do not seem as high as they used to be. However we had no problems with the flights and before arriving in Perth we had 3 fabulous days in Singapore (see separate review). As the flight from Singapore to Perth is only 5 hours we arrived feeling quite fresh and eager to start our adventure.
When we arrived in Perth we got a taxi to our hotel,( Peppers, Kings Square on Wellington Street). In retrospect we realised we should have checked out the buses into Perth from the airport as they are very frequent and very cheap and we could have saved ourselves quite a hefty taxi fee. The hotel was a boutique hotel (which usually means tiny!) but the rooms were nice and the staff very friendly. Helen and I had visited Perth before but Paul hadn’t so we took him down to show him The Bell Tower on Elizabeth Quay. (The bells actually come from St Martin’s in The Field in Trafalgar Square). Elizabeth Quay is a lovely area, right on the Swan River and when the weather is nice you can sit at one of the outside restaurants and watch dolphins swim around! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great (well it was their Autumn!) but we found a pub with overhead heaters and had a drink with Perth’s skyline on one side of us and the Swan River on the other. Later we had dinner in a ‘Dome’ Restaurant (these are all over Australia and have good food at reasonable prices).
We had booked a trip to Rottnest Island today. We were picked up and taken to the Quay and as the weather was nicer we had a pleasant ride down the Swan River, past Freemantle before heading out into the open ocean and heading for Rottnest, Once on the Island we had a bus tour around the Island, passing bays with lovely names such as Salmon Bay, Fish Hook Bay and Porpoise Bay. We also saw the Wadjemur Lighthouse (Wadjemur is the aboriginal name for the Island) and the Salt Lakes which were covered in different bird species. We had an outside lunch with some of the local Quokkas for company! A Quokka is a small marsupial that looks like a cross between a rat and a small kangaroo and it is only found on Rottnest Island. (In fact the island got it’s name because the first humans to land there thought the place was inundated with rats!)
So the road trip begins! We picked up our car from Avis ( a rather nice Toyota Camry) and we headed off for our first stop, Cervantes. Driving in Australia is so easy, long straight roads and little traffic and once we left the Perth suburbs we had the beautiful Indian Ocean on our left hand side. En route to Cervantes we visited The Pinnacles National Park. Huge limestone structures make this park look like an alien landscape. You can walk or drive through the park and the limestone changes colour according to what time of day it is. We drove on to our hotel, The Pinnacles Edge Resort which was a motel like place in Cervantes. Other than motels there is nothing in Cervantes except a general store, a bottle shop and a pizza place! So it was pizza for dinner! (Plus it was a BYO restaurant so we were able to buy ourselves a nice bottle of wine from the bottle shop to have with it!)
We left Cervantes and did a small detour to Lake Thetis to see the stromatolites which are living organisms like coral and have been in the lake for hundreds of years. There were lots of birds around the lake, including two curious emus who were in the car park! We then drove through Jurien Bay and Port Denison and stopped for lunch in Dungara. This area is called the Turquoise Coast and we could see why, it has beautiful white beaches and a turquoise sea. Then we headed up the Batavaria Coast (named after a famous ship wreck) and arrived at our next stop, Geraldton. At our Hotel, The Mantra, we had a suite. Paul had the large en suite room with a Queen bed and we had ‘the kid’s room’ of twin beds in a tiny room! (We had this problem throughout our trip. Most places were expecting a couple and a single person and although my sister and her ex are still very good friends they are way past the point of sharing a queen size bed!) That evening we found a typical Aussie pub ‘The Freemason’s Hotel’ where the food was great and we managed to leave before the open mic session started!
Before we left Geraldton we visited the HMAS Sydney Memorial which is highly impressive and was well worth the visit. Our next stop was Monkey Mia. As we had been heading North it was getting warmer and warmer. By now it was about 34 degrees and when we stopped at roadhouses for petrol or food the heat and the flies hit you as soon as you opened the car door! We seriously considered buying those “nets” to put over our heads as the flies were so abundant but, luckily, they seemed to be mainly inland. We arrived at our hotel, the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort
and Helen and I had a lovely cabin right on the beach. The view was stunning. Paul had a smaller 2nd floor apartment with equally good views. The beach here is fabulous and we could sit on our decking and see dolphins right in front of us! Dolphins are what Monkey Mia is famous for. It is a National Park and each morning the Rangers feed some of the dolphins. The visitors can stand in the water and watch the dolphins just feet away from them. It is done ethically so that the dolphins don’t become dependent on the food but it is an amazing thing to see. There is nothing but the one hotel at Monkey Mia so dining options were limited. The main restaurant was closed for refurbishment but the bar offered a god selection of food.
We spent two nights here, sunbathing, watching the dolphins and we even went on a wonderful sunset cruise. It was quite idyllic.
Time to leave Monkey Mia and as we left we visited the nearby Shell Beach. This totally deserted white beach is made up solely of tiny shells and is very unique). Then we headed off to our next stop, Carnarvon. This is another small town with motel like accommodation. The Hospitality Carnarvon was basic but clean. The only choice for dinner was The Harbourside Cafe which looked like a fish and chip shop but once again we had an unexpectedly good meal.
More driving today along straight outback roads. Lots of roadkill, mainly kangaroos (you see few live ones but plenty of dead ones line the roadside). Today we were heading to Coral Bay. This popular town is full of caravan and camping sites. Our hotel, The Ningaloo Reef Resort was ideally situated right on the most beautiful beach. We were straight onto the beach and I was quickly snorkelling with the huge Red Emperor Snapper fish that abound in the area (and are very popular in the restaurants!) We had three nights here and we spent it on the beach, on a snorkelling trip on a glass sided boat and in the evening, we frequented all the cafes and bars which although they looked very downmarket served the most excellent food and had super service.
We were all sad to leave Coral Bay today. We had a long drive ahead (7 1/2 hours) to Port Hedland and once again we saw no live kangaroos! Although the driving was easy we had to combat the boredom of long straight roads and we were also very pleased that we managed not to fall out during these long driving spells. As all of us are probably a bit hard of hearing (but don’t want to admit it) so there was a lot of shouting going on in the car but luckily none of it was of the angry kind! We did of course have the AC debate, Paul was in favour of having the air conditioning on all the time, Helen wanted it off all the time and I wasn’t really bothered so that debate went on for most of those 2,800 miles! As we neared Port Hedland, which is an iron ore industry town we encountered many road trains. These huge lorries pulling sometimes as many as 7 wagons are quite daunting and almost impossible to overtake!
We arrived at tonight’s stop, Discovery Park. This is a huge caravan/camping site and we had two cabins here. There really isn’t a lot on offer in Port Hedland but it is the only place to stay en route to Broome. Even finding an open restaurant that night was difficult!
I am not a great lover of cabins (they always seem to feature in horror films and are usually quite dark and overhung by brooding trees). So we weren’t sorry to leave our creepy cabins this morning. We had another long (kangaroo less) drive to Broome today but it was definitely worth it. We had 3 nights booked here and our hotel, Sea Shells Broome was lovely and right near Cable Beach. Cable Beach is 20 kilometres long and quite spectacular. We were a little disconcerted to hear that part of the beach had been closed the previous day because of crocodile sightings but we luckily saw no sign of reptilian life during our stay! We had a suite at the hotel and again Paul got the large main bedroom but luckily our twin room was quite luxurious as well.
Broome is a huge place compared to the other towns along the West Coast of Australia. The sunsets on Cable Beach are incredible and we also saw a caravan of camels taking tourists along the beach one night. We ate in restaurants overlooking the beach, had drinks in the Surf Club (I felt like an extra from Home and Away) and one day there was a polo game organised on the beach. Seeing the ponies being led onto the beach and all the people in their finery was quite special. (Well the ladies were in their finery, Australian men seem to think that dressing up just means ironing their shorts!) We visited Court House Market (lots of hippy stalls) and drove to Gantheaume Point to see the dinosaur print fossils. Broome is definitely a place to visit again!
We were very sad to leave Broome. We had to drive back to Port Hedland for one night and by coincidence this night was the time of the year when the full moon reflecting off the mud flats creates a phenomenon called ‘The Staircase To the Moon’. So Port Hedland was much more interesting tonight, there was a local street market where we could buy some dinner and then we followed the locals to watch the moon rise and create the illusion of a staircase! It was quite unique and beautiful. Even in an iron ore town like Port Hedland Australian has so much natural wonder and beauty!
Today we drove from Port Hedland to Exmouth. Nine years ago I had visited Exmouth on my own and I had stayed in a very downmarket motel. One day I had walked along the beach and came to a lovely hotel. Whilst I had a drink in their pool bar I remember wishing I was staying there and not my corrugated room 3 miles down the road! Imagine how thrilled I was we when we drove into our hotel and I realised it was the same place I had coveted nine years ago. (It had changed it’s name and was now called Mantaray’s). We had a two bedroom luxurious apartment and we could sit outside on our patio and see the palm fringed pool and a lily covered pond. It was as beautiful as I remembered! This was the end of our road trip journey and what better place could we have asked for to spend our last four days!
There was another reason we were in Exmouth. I have always wanted to swim with whale sharks and Exmouth is one of the few places you can do this. On our first full day in Exmouth we had booked a trip with Ningaloo Discovery and we all went out on a catamaran to find whale sharks! Ningaloo Discovery have spotter planes and when they see a whale shark the boat heads to the area and everyone jumps in to swim with the largest fish in the world! After 5 aborted sightings I found myself snorkelling alongside a 6 metre whale shark! The calmness and beauty of this huge fish is difficult to describe. I had planned this experience to treat myself as it is my 70th birthday this year and although Helen and Paul didn’t swim with me they enjoyed their day on the boat as the staff are all so friendly and helpful. (I might mention here that if you aren’t going to get into the water on one of these trips, do let the boat company know as there is a huge discount. We had booked this in England and they thought we were all going to swim so Helen and Paul didn’t get the reduction in price they should have! A costly mistake on our part!)
We spent our last few days in Exmouth discovering more beautiful beaches. We drove into The Cape Range National Park which has incredible bays like Turquoise Bay and we also, for the first time, saw live kangaroos there too! Exmouth is a small town where you are likely to meet emus walking down the high street! It is really only busy during whale shark season but there are many places to eat. All the hotels have lovely restaurants serving excellent food. One day Paul took a microlight ride and saw, from a distance, more whale sharks than I had!
Our time was up. We left the car at Learmonth (the smallest airport ever!) and flew back to Perth for one night before heading home.
Western Australia is very arid, very beautiful with some of the finest beaches in Australia. The people are friendly, the food good, the service is excellent, no one expects a tip and the sun shines continually!
Our road trip was perfect, exceptt maybe for the flies!