2 weeks in Australia's wild west: we've planned a wonderful holiday for you
The state of Western Australia occupies a third of the country and includes beaches, vineyards and dusty Outback towns. Fleur Bainger charts a stunning two-week tour, from Perth to Ningaloo
Australia's Wild West has undeniable allure - I know, because its charms snared me: I moved here for six weeks and never left. That was 12 years ago.
Perth, the capital, is one of the most isolated in the world, its coastline long, untouched and bloated with marine life, and its people upbeat and outdoorsy - perhaps buoyed by the 3,000 hours of sunshine Perth soaks up a year: more than any other Australian capital.
There's also the intrigue of Australia's "other side", one that's off the beaten tourist path and more in tune with the rugged wilderness of the Outback. Oh, and then there's those impossibly cute, furry marsupials called quokkas that have been taking over the internet.
And the massive, gentle whale sharks that are quite relaxed about your joining them for a swim. What visitors often don't know is that behind the Caribbean-like beaches are forests that stretch 60m towards the sky, characterful portside towns with winding streets and elegant wineries responsible for 20% of the country's premium output.
Western Australia isn't just beaches, you see. It covers one-third of the country and stretches from the cooler, verdant south to the ochre, sun-baked north. This first-time trip takes in the best and most accessible parts of a dream trip.
The quickest way from SA to Perth is on SAA. The eastbound flight on just over nine hours while prevailing winds add two hours to the westbound flight. A test booking for travel in early April turned up a return Saver fare of R13,707.
The Perth Cultural Centre fans out into free art galleries, leafy trees, cafés and the train station
William Street, where you are, bears local fashion designers, one-off cafés, independent gift shops and small bars. Peel off to the Perth Cultural Centre, fanning out from Alex into free art galleries, leafy trees, cafés and the central train station.
Come 6pm, take a taxi to Trigg Beach to breathe in the Indian Ocean breeze. Appetite summoned, dive into a Middle Eastern-meets-Mediterranean take on local seafood at Island Market.
Walter McGuire sees Perth through an indigenous lens that's worth peering into. Join the Aboriginal guide for a 10am walking tour of the waterfront precinct, Elizabeth Quay, while learning about Perth's pre-colonisation past. Afterwards, grab a takeaway from Aloha Poké and board any bus along St Georges Terrace that's passing Kings Park. Follow the row of pale-barked gums to the Botanic Garden.
After, cab to Cottesloe Beach, then explore Fremantle, a port town with a boho vibe - and the home of Little Creatures, where you must taste a Rogers' ale and order kangaroo skewers. Return to base to freshen up for dinner at Petition Kitchen.
West Aussies have a rightful obsession with Rottnest Island. It has 63 bays, powdery beaches, car-free roads and the world's happiest animal - the quokka, pictured - hopping around its pines and scrubland.
From Alex, walk to Barrack Street Jetty, from where you'll board the 8.45am ferry. The 1.5-hour scenic trip passes dolphins and the Swan River's mansions before crossing the open water. From Rotto's pier, amble to Hotel Rottnest for lunch overlooking a bay confetti-strewn with yachts. The 4.30pm return ferry arrives all too soon.
Wash off the salt at Alex then stroll to The Standard, a busy bar with illuminated city views.
Hire a car and set the GPS for Margaret River, a wine region so genetically blessed it's almost unfair. As well as producing a fair whack of the country's best chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, Margs, as it's known, is covered in tall forests and has calm, Bombay Sapphire-hued bays, and epic wave breaks.
After a three-hour drive, pause at Meelup Beach, where the bush reaches the sand. Check in to Smiths Beach Resort, a 15-minute drive away, then travel to Rustico at Hay Shed Hill, for the best value degustation around. You're in prime wine-grape growing land now, so pop into nearby cellar door stars, Vasse Felix, Moss Wood (by appointment only) and Larry Cherubino on the way home. Catch the sunset from Smith's Beach and dine at Lamont's.
Ask Sean Blocksidge about being chased by a tiger snake. Or fracturing his skull. Or how he ended up driving people around a place he calls paradise with his 4WD tour company, The Margaret River Discovery Co.
Join Sean on a canoe trip on the Margaret River, honey tasting with a side of Aboriginal history and surf-break ogling, plus an enlightening wine education with a behind-the-scenes look at the elegant Fraser Gallop Estate. Then, a cliff walk along the Cape to Cape Track to gaze across the endless ocean.
If it's a Saturday, rise early to nab the freshest produce at the Margaret River Farmers' Market. If you miss it, order a big breakfast at the eclectic Margaret River Bakery. Source a treasure at the eclectic Lloyd's store before driving to Surfers Point, where professionals ride waves. Splash in at calmer Gnarabup Beach, then motor to Cullen Wines for lunch under peppermint trees.
The acoustics inside Ngilgi Cave amplify Josh Whiteland's didgeridoo playing and elevate them to an other-worldly experience.
There's also traditional fire lighting and bush walking on this 9am Aboriginal tour. Next, drive south along Caves Road and when you pass the Margaret River town turn-off, you'll be yelling, "Quick! Pull over!" The white, sky-scraping forest of Boranup is an arresting sight. Have friendly stingrays coast over your toes at Hamelin Bay.
Afterwards, drive three hours to Walpole, where the tingle trees giving the Valley of the Giants its name sprout. Bounce gently along the 40m-high suspended Tree Top Walk. End the day listening to the gently lapping water at Winniston Lodge.
The village of Denmark delivers more boutique wineries, more forest trails and more stunning beaches.
Prioritise Green's Pool for its rock-studded emerald waters, and neighbouring Elephant Rocks for its textured boulders, then lunch at Singlefile winery, so-named for its resident ducks.
From there, follow the 34km Scottsdale Scenic Drive which passes Howard Park and Rockcliffe's cellar doors, then trace the Mount Shadforth Scenic Drive. Dine at Pepper & Salt.
It's been 100 years since the end of the Great War, a fitting time to visit the National Anzac Centre, 45 minutes east of Denmark, in Albany, to commemorate the fallen Australian and New Zealander soldiers. En route, follow the curves around Frenchman Bay to The Gap, a pulse-rising skywalk that juts 10m over a cliff.
Calm yourself with a whisky tasting at the Great Southern Distilling Company, then savour French-Vietnamese fare at Liberte at the London Hotel. Arrive at Mt Clarence for your Anzac experience. At sunset, the Avenue of Honour glows with 16,000 spherical bulbs, the work of UK artist Bruce Munro. The Field of Light illuminates nightly until April. Dine at Garrison and sleep at The Beach House at Bayside.
Fly to Perth and on to Learmonth, where an outback town known for its annual visitation of whale sharks lies. Exmouth is hot and dry, but it sits on a peninsula that's parallel to the world's largest fringing reef - a World Heritage-listed mass of coral that's accessible from the beach. Spend your evening relaxing by the pool at the Ningaloo Novotel Resort.
See whale sharks from the skies with a microlight flight. Gavin at Birds Eye View is enthusiasm defined, and his passion for the dolphin, ray and whale-speckled waters of Ningaloo Reef is contagious. Take a 30-minute "trial introductory flight", then transfer to Sal Salis, a luxury wilderness camp.
Open your safari tent, lie back and watch for 'roos in the scrub. Then, transfer to a whale shark swim boat for a cruise. The fish visit from April to July each year; if you're here from July to October you can swim alongside migrating humpback whales instead.
Fly back to Perth to catch your direct flight home. -The Daily Telegraph