This region covers the western third of the continent. This is a huge area: more than 2.5 million sq.km, with a 12,500 km long coastline. Many places within this immense expanse have never seen human presence. The state capital, Perth, holds the title of “most isolated city on earth.” It takes five hours to fly by plane from Australia’s east coast to Perth
Isolation is responsible for many of the state’s characteristics, including political ones: West Australia as a political entity feels separate from “the other side” (a term used to describe all cities on the east coast). In 1933, the state’s citizens voted for a separation of their state from the rest of Australia (a step prevented by veto from the federal government), and a local movement demanding complete independence exists and thrives to this very day.
In general, climate is tropical in the north, dry in the center, and Mediterranean-like in the southwestern region of the state. Because of its isolation and climate, prehistoric relics have been preserved in West Australia. The age of mineral crystals found in the bush have been dated back to 4.3 billion years – the oldest findings on earth. At the Haemlin pool in Shark’s Bay you can see a rare phenomenon: Stromalites, singular cell photo-synthesizers, a primitive form of life that flourished 3.4 billion years ago and survived only in very few places on the globe.
These microscopic algae are what made life as we know it possible by creating oxygen on a primitive planet earth. It’s worth coming over and saying “Thank you!” Southwards, you will find fossils telling the story of how the first animals left the water to go up onto land.
To summarize, a trip to West Australia can be a trip back in time. Another aspect of the “present past” of 40,000 to 80,000 years ago is the appearance of the Aborigines, a fascinating subject that can hardly be discussed within in the framework of this site. The first Europeans were Dutch traders, who landed by mistake on the coast in 1616 on their way to the Dutch colony of Biava. During the centuries that followed, many ships, washed against the coast by the strong winds blowing there, crashed and drowned. Whoever managed to land in one piece found an arid and uninviting wilderness. So for a long time, nobody wanted to settle such an empty and hostile place.
The region was settled first by the British, who in 1826 founded a fort inhabited by soldiers at the Swan river mouth with the aim of preventing the French from claiming the area. This colony became the city of Perth. Captain Sterling, the governor of the colony, chose this place because he thought mistakenly that the area would be good for agriculture. For many years, the colony was sparsely populated and subsisted on cattle and sheep raising, but in 1890, something happened that changed its character radically: inland, in Marble Bar, great amounts of gold were discovered. This discovery, together with discoveries of many other mines over the years (including enormous iron deposits) brought a stream of money and people to West Australia, and Perth became a modern, bustling city.
When and How to Come
You don’t arrive and travel in West Australia just like that; the distances involved require a certain amount of attention and planning (as well as money). Of course a two-day visit to Perth is not the same as a daring 4x4 trek to the far North. Do not forget while this isolation makes it difficult to get there and be mobile, it is also what makes West Australia so special. An Australian friend of mine put it succinctly: “Right, Queensland is marketed as if it was a wild and adventurous country, while actually it has become rather touristy. West Australia is where it’s really still wild.”
You can get to Perth by plane (internal or international), by train (the Indian Pacific from Sidney via Adelaide in three days, the second longest train line in the world after the Trans-Siberian train), by tourist buses, or private car. If you choose one of the “ground” options, a unique, but not simple experience lies ahead of you. It is especially important for those who want to travel by car to keep the season in mind: in the hot summer, temperatures climb rapidly and many drivers find themselves traveling at a speed of 80 km/h at the most during the day, without air-conditioning, in order to prevent the motor from overheating.
It is best to travel in spring; in many areas of Southwest Australia, this season is characterized by breathtakingly beautiful blossoming.
Naturally there is much to see in an area the size of Europe, and we cannot possibly cover everything here. Some recommended and popular places are: Rottnest Island
A very friendly island 30 km off Perth (and 18 km from Fremantle) that can be reached by ferry. The island is a popular and pleasant vacation spot, where you can engage in an enormous variety of activities: swimming and diving, guided or independent walking or bicycle tours (we especially recommend the latter!), car trips or flights, boating, or simply sun tanning.
This is pleasant coast town near Perth, which has largely preserved its old-time flavor from the beginning of the previous century. The town is full of markets, galleries, restaurants and coffee shops, street artists, and museums. Every November, there is a festival that includes music and acrobatic dances (and, as always in Australia, generous quantities of beer).
Located half an hour’s drive northeast of Perth, this is West Australia’s main wine region. This is good place for vacationing, watching wildflowers, taking car trips, and enjoying lots of wine.
Inside Nambung National Park, about three hours north of Perth, you will find thousands of chalkstone pillars, which are considered one of the most beautiful sights on the continent.
General name for an immense area that starts about 600 km west of Perth and continues up to South Australia. Besides of its wide expanses, it is of historical interest. It’s worthwhile to visit the miners’ town of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie for a taste of authentic Australian outback atmosphere, including tough miners, two-up games, and bars with topless waitresses. You can reach the area on your way to West Australia (or back) over the Eyre highway, or while going up north in the direction of Darwin or Queensland.
Valley of the Giants
Next to the town of Walpole, 420 km south of Perth, is a beautiful national park, which includes also a Tree top walk, a unique (and not very well known) experience on a promenade built at a height of tens of meters above ground, between tree tops.
North of Perth, this area includes the Hammersley mountain range, the town of Marble Bar, which claims the title of “The Hottest Place in Australia” (and even entered the Guinness Book of Records because of the most horrible heat-wave ever measured), and the magnificent Karijni National Park, with its ancient and unique geological formations.
The northern region of West Australia is desolate but abundant in unique and breath-taking natural wonders, hundreds of kilometers of splendid and lonely beaches, Aborigine rock drawings, and much more. One of Australia’s more successful and less known sites is Ningaloo Marine Park, 1200 km north of Perth— an immense coral reef only 100 m from the beach. Some say it is more beautiful even than the famous Great Barrier Reef. Between March and the middle of May, you can swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. This is the only place on earth where they appear regularly every year.
The main settlement in the Kimberley region is Broome, from where you can make excursions to explore the area. In order to reach more outlying places you need a 4x4 vehicle, not to mention experience in cross-country driving. There are also guided tours, by car or camel back (!).