Maybe it’s all that desert in the way, but a lot of east coast Aussies never bother making the jump across to Perth. ‘Too far’, they say. ‘Isn’t that where the sharks live?’
Perth locals don’t really care, because they know they’re on to a good thing, and the last thing you want when you’re on to a good thing is a crowd of pasty Melbournians or Sydneysiders walking around going ‘Wow!’ at everything.
The truth is, Perth is one of the most liveable cities in the world (ranked #9 at last count). It’s got beaches to rival Queensland, sunny weather almost year-round, direct access to some of the country’s wildest bush and lots of weekend getaways within easy driving distance. Just the way we like it.
1. Try sand boarding in Lancelin
Lancelin has always been a classic beach destination for Perth locals, sitting about an hour and a half north of the city proper. You can come here to fish, swim, kite surf and sail, but the real attractions are the perfect white sand dunes on the north edge of town. You can hire sand boards at a few of the shops (try the Lucky 7 convenience store or the petrol station).
They’ll set you back about $15 for two hours, which is all you’ll need. If you want to 4WD the dunes, you can, but make sure you’ve got the proper gear for extricating yourself if you get stuck. Nothing says ‘tourist’ more than a beached BMW 4WD, lying forgotten in the sand like something out of a zombie movie.
2. Drive through The Pinnacles
You can do the Pinnacles as a day-trip from Perth (Nambung National Park is only a couple of hours outside of town), but you’ll get more out of it if you spread the fun over a couple of days. Base yourself out of nearby Cervantes or Jurien Bay and go exploring.
The Pinnacles desert is famous for its rock spires – a few thousand of them, rising out of the golden dunes. They’re the million year-old remnants of an ancient sea, and one of Western Australia’s most spectacular natural wonders. Take the scenic walk track (or if you’re lazy the driving trail) and spend a couple of hours admiring the scenery, then head back to Cervantes for the best crayfish on the Turquoise Coast. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
3. Go quokka-spotting on Rottnest Island
Okay, so ‘driving distance’ doesn’t really apply to Rottnest Island, which sits about 18kms west of Fremantle, out in the Indian Ocean. Rottnest is really at its best when you give it a full week, but a weekend will do in a pinch.
Catch the Rottnest Ferry from the Barrack Street jetty in Perth (you get a bonus cruise along the beautiful Swan River) and spend a couple of days cycling up the island’s big hills, swimming in aquamarine waters (a lot of Perth locals rate Rottnest’s beaches as the best in the region) and spotting nocturnal quokkas when they appear at night. Quokkas are a classic Australian ‘minestrone’ kind of animal: a bit of rat, a bit of kangaroo, a bit of cute cuddly thing. Try to resist the urge to touch – you can be fined up to $300.
4. Chill out on Wedge Island
If you wanted to know what Western Australia looked like in the 60s, when pastels were a thing and no-one seemed to do much but fish and complain about the heat, go to Wedge Island. It’s a tiny fishing village about 20minutes north of Lancelin, and it’s actually the largest shack settlement left in Australia.
I didn’t know we ever had shack settlements, but apparently we did, and Wedge Island is the last of them. So why go there? Apart from the charming time-warp thing, there’s some epic 4WDing on the sand dunes north of town, one of the coast’s best beaches to the south, and great fishing off the point. There aren’t any services in Wedge Island, so BYO basically everything. If you get stuck, drop in at a shack and ask a local for help – they’re notoriously friendly.
5. Taste your way along the Margaret River
There are plenty of tour companies that run food and wine trips along the Margaret River, but if you plan it right, you don’t really need them. Start with the Margaret River Dairy Farm, an award-winning cheese maker on the Bussell Highway. Next stop, Candy Cow, a sweet factory where you can watch people make old-school honeycomb and pick up a few calorie-dense driving snacks.
The Margaret Riviera, in the heart of Margaret River, is a fantastic little provedore and gourmet deli, where you’ll find some of the region’s best oils, dukkas, relishes and preserves (free samples too). Finally, finish up at the Margaret River chocolate factory. No need to tell you what happens there. Suffice to say, it might be worth tackling the Cape to Cape track in the near future to work off those chocolate pounds.
6. Check out Wave Rock
Even if you’re not from Perth, you’ve probably seen pictures of Wave Rock. It’s a rock, shaped like a wave. What more do you want? It’s over 14m high and about 110m long, and when you’re walking close to the break it feels like it’s about to tumble down onto you.
A great spot for photographers, particular the early rising ones – try to make it at dawn (or sunset) as the fading light hits the granite wave. Wave Rock may be the destination, but there’s no reason you can’t combine it with a day trip to the awesomely-named Lake Magic nearby – a great spot for a swim and a picnic on a lazy Sunday afternoon.