They call it Australia’s last frontier, a land of photogenic landscapes, endless desolate roads, remote outback areas, unforgettable sunsets, incredible natural wonders, and beautiful beaches. Infatuated by the romantic image of traversing the lesser explored state of Western Australia we boarded a flight to Perth and prepared for a 10-day road trip along the West Coast. We researched the routes and attractions, calculated driving times and planned stopovers. We listened to locals advice and made sure to visit their favourite spots. We felt ready and in theory, we were. But in reality, no trip no matter how well planned out and researched is ever a smooth sail. So just like many others, we made a plethora of little mistakes along the way. Mistakes that could have been avoided with a list of Things to Know Before Traveling to Western Australia.
So consider us your knight in shining armour, here to save you from making the same silly mistakes! Here are a few things we wish we had known before embarking on our adventure in Western Australia.
1. It’s Not Always Hot
We knew that May-June was the best time to visit Western Australia. The summer heat, which can sometimes get up to 35-40 degrees had just subsided bringing the daily averages down to very manageable 25-30. The water was still warm, 25-27 degrees and despite the fact that May and June are known to be the rainiest months of the year, we lucked out with clear blue skies for the entire duration of our trip. We packed for hot summer climate, prepared to spend 10 days bumming around in bathing suits, shorts, and singlets.
But the weather in W.A. caught us by surprise. At night, the temperature in Perth and along the Coral Coast dropped down to 15-18 degrees (sometimes even lower), leaving me wishing for hooded sweatshirt and a another pair of warm long pants. I packed 1 pair of Aladdin pants, mostly for the plane ride there and back, and 1 light sweater, both of which I ended up wearing every single day. My advice, if you are planning to travel to Western Australia between the months of May-Nov, pack at least a few warmer pieces of clothing to keep you cozy at night and warm after a swim in the ocean.
2. Driving at Night is Possible
All the research told us that driving at night in WA is a terrible idea. “The wildlife roams freely in the outback”, they said, “it is best if you don’t drive between dusk and dawn”. Supposedly, some campervan and car rental companies even forbid driving at night altogether. (Ours didn’t, although they too recommended that we don’t do it). We didn’t plan to drive at night at first, but after giving it a try on our first evening, we realized it was actually a lot safer than everyone made sound. We found that by driving in the evening we could split up our long 7-10 hour drives into more manageable 3-5 hour drives and avoid losing too much precious daylight on the road.
But, we weren’t careless by driving after dusk. We drove well below the speed limit and only for a few hours after sunset. We kept our high beams on at all times, keeping our eyes peeled on the road and the wildlife that did sometimes pop out from the bushes. In some places, like the Cape Range National Park near Exmouth, we had to slow down to 40km/hr to avoid running into 40 kangaroos that we counted chilling on the side of the road. In other places 80-90kms/hr was sufficient. Be extremely careful if you are considering driving at night. Know your own limits and never drive while tired!
3. Google Navigation Can Lie (but that’s actually a good thing!)
Those that frequently explore new countries by car will attest that Google maps and Google navigation is the best thing invented since sliced bread. For those planning to explore Western Australia by car it’s an invaluable resource. Even if you don’t have mobile reception or WIFI connection on the road, you can hook up to wifi at your hotel and pre-load the maps/route and use GPS to get from point A to point B with great ease. However, don’t trust Google in Western Australia. It seems that Google navigation hasn’t quite figured out the speed limits on some roads in W.A., labelling many 110km/hr roads as 60km/hr or even less. The good news is that it’s always a mistake that will benefit you. What may look like a 10 hour drive on Google Maps (Exmouth to Karijini National Park, for example) is actually only 550kms and with a speed limit of 110kms/hr it really is only a 6 hour drive. That’s 4 extra hours you can now spend exploring the park, or chilling out on the beach in Exmouth. Thanks for an unexpected surprise, Google!
4. Fill Up on Gas Every Chance You Get
Gas stations (or roadhouses, as they call them here) in remote areas of W.A. can be very spread out, with some being 200-300 kms apart, so err on the side of caution and fill up when you can. We learned this the hard way, pushing our luck a bit too far when making our way from Kalbarri National Park to Coral Bay. We bypassed the gas station in Kalbarri, thinking that with over half a tank of fuel we’ll be fine and ended up barely making it to the next roadhouse. The last thing you want is to run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, so play it safe and fill up whenever you can.
5. Drive Slower, It Saves Money (and lives)
If you are navigating around W.A. by car you’ll know that fuel usage can have a huge impact on the total cost of your trip. If a campervan is your choice of transportation you may be surprised to learn (we were) that driving at 80-90kms/hr is more efficient than going at the 110km/hr speed limit. Based on our experience, driving at slower speeds can give you 50-100kms extra per tank. So if you are trying to conserve slow down! You’ll not only save on gas, but will be more likely to avoid an accident with wildlife on the roads.
That’s enough about cars…here are a few other tips!
6. Fly Nets are a Necessity
We knew that pesky black flies were common in Northern Territories, in places like Alice Springs and Uluru, but we were not prepared to encounter them in Western Australia. We were swarmed by hundreds of flies (literally!) as soon as we entered Kalbarri National Park, located just 600kms north of Perth. The flies were so annoying that we had to use our clothing to create makeshift head covers to get us through the first few hours in the park. We soon discovered that fly nets can be purchased in any local grocery/convenience shops and at most gas stations in the area. The nets are stupid expensive at $7, but it’s a small fee to pay for being able to enjoy the parks without 100 flies on your face. The money is well worth it, so don’t hesitate to spend it up front.
7. Save Money and Budget Lots of Time for Sandboarding in Lancelin
We heard about sandboarding in Lancelin but struggled to find much information about it. Most resources seemed to point at day tours from Perth that take visitors out to the dunes in Lancelin. There was not a lot of information available about visiting Lancelin Sand Dunes without a tour, so we kind of winged it. We found out that sandboards can be hired from the gas station and a few other shops in town. Excited that our research didn’t lie, we grabbed 2 boards from the first place we came across, the Lancelin gas station. We paid $20/board for 2 hours only to later discover that the 7 Lucky shop down the street offered the boards for half the price and has a variety of sitting and standing boards available. We kicked ourselves for not shopping around and getting ripped off, silly tourist style.
So if sandboarding in Lancelin is on your to do list for WA, forego booking an expensive tour and head straight to the 7 Lucky store on Cunliffe St for the best selection of boards at cheap prices. Then head straight to the dunes (the guys inside 7 Lucky can point them out for you) and give yourself at least 3-4 hours at the dunes. Time flies when you are having fun!
8. Don’t Miss a Chance to Explore the Pinnacles!
The Pinnacles in Cervantes is one of Western Australia’s best kept secrets. Knowing that the Pinnacles are best enjoyed at sunset we arrived in Nambung National Park, home of the Pinnacles Desert just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. We imagined the Pinnacles to be a small patch of desert in the middle of the park, a place that you can check out in 15 minutes or less and were surprised to find out that the Pinnacles Desert is actually a 1.5km trail. Walking the trail should take approximately 45 mins-1 hour, but if you add the time for photos and exploration and you are looking at at least a 2hrs adventure.
And turned out, the Pinnacles were worth every minute! I wish we had arrived at the park earlier, giving ourselves ample of time to explore the pinnacles before sunset without feeling rushed.
9. Give Yourself Lots of Time to Explore!
If there is one piece of advice I could give to anyone traveling to Western Australia, it would be to give yourself lots of time to explore this side of the country. We knew that a 10 day trip was ambitious, but we didn’t realise how rushed it would be. Sure, we got to see everything on our itinerary, but it was exhausting!
There are simply too many amazing places to see in Western Australia, and with an added travel time you really do need at least 2-3 weeks to properly explore the region.