Western Australia has always been many Asians’ (especially Singaporeans) fave destination in Down Under. It’s in the same time zone and we are primed for a fabulous vacation after a quick 4.5-hours flight. Perth is the gateway to the Coral Coast, which is ideal for travelers who enjoy road trips, beautiful scenery, wildlife and adventures away from touristy location. You can observe wild dolphins up-close at Monkey Mia, feast on some of the freshest lobsters at Cervantes, wildflowers trails along the routes or experience local Aboriginal culture, just to name a few.
This self-drive exploratory trip was a Jetabout Holidays project in collaboration with Tourism Australia as part of “UnDiscover Australia” – time to ‘undiscover” places you thought you knew and rediscover a new adventure Down Under. Over a 1-week period in November 2018, we traversed the northern region of Western Australia which included Cervantes, Geraldton, Kalbarri and Monkey Mia.
Brief insights on Western Australia
Western Australia (WA, abbr) occupies the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east. WA is Australia’s largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 km². The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants, or about 11% of the national total, with the vast majority (92%) residing in the Perth area, leaving the rest of the state sparsely populated. Currently, its economy relies mainly on mining, agriculture and tourism. The state produces 46% of Australia’s exports and is the world’s 2nd largest iron ore producer.
Road Trip Routes in Coral Coast, Western Australia
Our 7D6N road trip totalled about 2400km, with Perth as the start point, was meticulously planned by Jetabout Holidays. We leapfrogged along the towns of Cervantes, Geraldton, Kalbarri ending at Monkey Mia before backtracking. The following are some driving insights from the road trip :
- Tip #01 – Do rent a bigger capacity vehicle to better handle the long drive and for greater comfort and safety.
- Tip #02 – The roads are generally safe as it’s paved, mostly straight and well-maintained. Australia drives on the left side of the road and take note that different state has different practices, for e.g – the speed cameras location in WA may not be prominently marked like in Sydney. Observe the speed limits especially around residential and school zones.
- Tip #03 – You will need an international driving license, if your driving license is not in English. But you must also bring your local driving license as it will be required for verification by the rental car company.
Lancelin Sand Dunes (Day #1)
We stayed a night at Perth city as we arrived around midnight from Singapore via Singapore Airlines. After a good night rest, we commenced day one early with a groceries shopping jaunt to Woolworths, stocking up on drinking water, snacks and activating our Telstra SIM card.
After a smooth 1.5 hours drive from Perth, we reached the Lancelin Sand Dunes, a vast sand dune system that is some two kilometres long. You will quickly realise that the Sahara Desert is not the only place to enjoy desert adventures.
You can book 4WD trips on the sand dunes as its great fun with a huge area to explore. The dunes change every day due to the strong shifting winds.
There isn’t that many places in the world where you can enjoy 4×4, All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) drive or sand boarding on sand dunes with cooling balmy sea breeze from the Indian Ocean.
From Lancelin Sand Dunes, we proceeded to have a quick lunch and toilet break at the Dunes Restaurant which is just a 2-3 minutes drive away. The next destination, the Lobster Shack took about 1 hour of easy drive. Visitors, be it seafood lovers or not, will surely adore this lovely eatery by the Indian Ocean.
Travel mate Cindy from Jetabout Holidays and Lobster Shack Restaurant Manager Poliana, showing off a 2kg lobster. The Lobster Shack provides a close up encounter with the most valued single species fishery in Australia – the Western Rock Lobster.
Poliana explaining the size sorting and quality control process. Lobsters that lost 1 leg or are less than “complete” are used for their in-house restaurant. Export lobsters must be 100% perfect. On the paid tour, visitors also get see how the lobsters are processed in the factory and packaged up to be sent live to destinations all over the world.
This is my preferred dining area at the eatery patio – closer to the sea and breezy but not hot from the summer heat.
The mid-sized lobster on promotion was AUD55 (S$57) while there’s a bigger sized portion at AUD90. Our order came perfectly cooked and was delicious. Prices stated are seasonal and subject to change.
The Pinnacles Rocks @ Nambung National Park (Day #2)
From the Lobster Shack, we next arrived at our accommodation for the night after a 2-min drive at The Pinnacles Edge Resort before proceeding to have a quick checkout at the Pinnacles of Nambung National Park, which is just 20min drive away. This national park is a major natural attraction in the Coral Coast region of Cervantes and Jurien Bay. It covers an area of 17,487 hectares, providing a natural sanctuary for a wide array of native animals and bird life.
Day 2 morning saw us doing a sunrise shoot as the previous day lighting was not ideal. We woke up early for the unscheduled morning shoot on a windy, drizzling and cloudy morning. But we persisted and were rewarded with beautiful sunrise when the rain stopped.
The scenic walk and drive trail wind past the ancient limestone pillars of the Pinnacles, some several metres tall. They’re scattered across the park in their thousands, creating an alien-like landscape.
This place will enthrall visitors with its amazing natural limestone structures, which were formed approximately 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, after the sea receded. Over time, coastal winds removed the surrounding sand, leaving the pillars exposed to the elements.
We were blessed to have a rainbow that morning too. The park was peaceful at that moment and only have about 5-6 persons before the main tourists crowd arrive from Perth.
On the walk back to the car the previous day, we were captivated by the gorgeous sun rays peeping through the dark clouds, which was a consolation as the lighting was not ideal at the Pinnacle Rocks. When we visit natural attraction, be prepared for amazing moments as well as mundane ones.
Pink Lake @ Hutt Lagoon
From The Pinnacles Rocks, our next destination to the photogenic Pink Lake at Hutt Lagoon took about 4-hours with couple of rest-stops. This spectacular lake, which is sometimes bright pink, sometimes lilac and occasionally even red, promises to be one of the highlights of the trip. Locals would have know of Hutt Lagoon from various fashion shoots including Lancôme’s Life is Beautiful campaign and Myer’s Jennifer Hawkins Summer 2016 collection.
It’s the extremely high level of salinity that gives the lagoon its unusual hue and its vibrancy changes with the seasons and time of day. The ideal time to reach here for the optimal colour is between 11am to 3pm, where the sunlight makes it even more vibrant.
Spectacular backdrop for these black-winged stilt birds at the lagoon, making common birds looks even more appealing.
The pink colour makes it an ideal background for an intriguing and unique picture. The lagoon, is an elongated depression about 70 square kilometres in area, with most of it lying a few metres below sea level. The lake colour is due to the presence of the carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina, a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A. The lagoon contains the world’s largest micro-algae production plant, a 250-hectare series of artificial ponds used to farm Dunaliella salina.
If you are here, while looking for the salt-crystal encrusted stones under the water, do tread slowly and carefully, as the edges of the salt crystals edge are sharp as it’s all square and pointy.
Do have a picture at this signboard of the famed venue as not many places around the world offers such beautiful and unique ambience.
Coffee pit-stop – Green Beanie @ Port Denison
Enroute to the Pink Lagoon, we stopped at the Green Beanie Coffee Caravan at Port Denison, just by the Grannies Sea.
The freshly-made turmeric latte and the cappuccino were supreme. Do order a a chocolate scone if you are feeling peckish.
Beautiful sea view right by the beach with gentle cooling sea breeze. Coffee pit-stops are one of my fave activities during a road trip.
Nature’s Window @ Kalbarri National Park (Day #3)
From Hutt Lagoon, our next and final destination for the day was the Kalbarri National Park, which took about a 50min drive. This one of Western Australia’s most popular places for colourful wildflowers and it will also appeal to the adventurous with activities like bush walking, gorge hiking and canoeing. But the wildflowers season last from July to October leaving us to focus on the famous landmark at the park.
We took an unscheduled checkout drive to the park key landmark –Nature’s Window during day 2 evening for familiarization and decided that this spot is definitely a sunrise spot, as the gap in the rock formation is east-facing. Located just 500 metres from The Loop carpark, this spot is one of WA’s most iconic natural attractions, formed from layers of Tumblagooda Sandstone, which was formed 400-500 million years ago.
For this picture, I waited till the sun gets reflected in the river surface for a double sunstars shot. The Nature’s Window marks the beginning and end of The Loop (Class 4 trail), an 8km walking trail which concludes at the Loop lookout providing views of the winding gorge below. Class 4 Trails are paths that are often rough with few, if any, modifications. A moderate to high level of fitness is required and experience are required to attempt such trails. We skipped another landmark at the park, the Z-Bend as due to the trekking distance and time constraint.
During day two evening, on the drive out of the park, we were so mesmerised by the dusk colours that we had to stop to record the moment. It’s time like this you begin to appreciate the beauty of nature even more.
The Blue Holes
After a hearty breakfast at Gorges’s Cafe after the Nature’s Window morning shoot, we took a 6 min drive to check out the Blue Holes. A perfect place for great snorkeling, Blue Holes is located along the Red Bluff Road/George Grey Drive (southern entrance/exit road to Kalbarri). The protected waters and rock pools make the Kalbarri Blue Holes a natural aquarium for marine life.
Blue Holes is a fish habitat protection area and forms part of an inshore coastal limestone reef system. The reef features sections that are permanently submerged by the ocean and areas that are exposed at low tide. The Blue Holes name came from the reef, which has irregular depressions or ‘holes’. This place is safe for children too and snorkeling gears are available for purchase in the town supermarkets.
Along the Blue Holes carpark, we spotted a bunch of beautiful seaside shrubs called the Common Iceplant. This coastal plant naturally grows in sand dunes and seaweed deposits. This green annual ground cover has huge succulent leaves in Spring, with glistening bubbles of salt on the underside of leaves and stems.
The Red Cafe @ Billabong Shellhouse
From the Blue Holes, we set out on a 4.15hrs drive for our next destination at Monkey Mia, our furthest stop on our roadtrip. But I have to emphasize this interesting pit-stop at the quaint Billabong Shellhouse where we reached after a 2.5hrs drive from Kalbarri as this is the only rest-stop with facilities between Kalbarri and Monkey Mia.
This highway roadhouse is certainly characterful considering its history. Constructed in 1962, it was flattened by a storm in 1980, restored and yet again destroyed by a willy-willy (Australian slang for a dust storm or whirlwind) in 1984. Disaster struck again in 1991 when a fire gutted the entire building in 30 min. Thankfully, it’s been peaceful since 1993 after restoration.
Although being the only rest-stop with a Shell petrol station, caravan park and motel, the cafe still serves reasonably-priced meals and beverages.
The cosy and inviting pub-style cafe will definitely set visitors at ease. It opens daily, 365 days from 6am -9pm.
Can you spot your country’s currency on the wall? Why not be the first when you are here to paste the notes and coins on the wall.
Monkey Mia (Day #4)
After another 2-hr drive from the Billabong Shellhouse , we finally reached Monkey Mia, home of the renowned Monkey Mia Dolphins. This reserve is a must-visit for families and nature lovers alike. It’s located on the eastern shore of Peron Peninsula, about 23 kilometres from the town of Denham in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Most would have heard of the daily ritual of wild dolphins swimming to shore to interact with humans, the dolphins of Monkey Mia attract thousands of visitors to the Shark Bay region yearly and is certainly worth the long drive.
Our natural choice of accommodation at Monkey Mia is the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, which is renowned for its daily wild dolphin feeding right at the resort beach. This is the sole accommodation available at the reserve.
The resort has a laid-back vibe that even the birds like this flock of Australian Welcome Swallows, which seemed to enjoy my presence on the beach.
The residential pod of wild dolphins cruising slowly and right at the beach edge waiting patiently for the feeding session to commence.
Many visitors congregate at the feeding spot just by the resort jetty. The feeding starts daily at 7.40am and last about 30min each time. With two more feeding thereafter till 12.30pm. The dolphins are not fed full, so as encourage them to hunt for themselves.
The Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience is managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, along with a team of researchers who monitor the experience and provide guidance to the team of friendly rangers.
The dolphins are really intelligent marine mammals, as they swim right up to the shore and “check out” human beings on the beach.
The dolphin pod size varies and along the way, also introduce their babies. It’s really a beautiful example of wildlife and human beings in peaceful co-existence. There is nowhere else in the world where such interaction with wild dolphins occurs on an almost daily basis. In the last five years, the dolphins of Monkey Mia have only missed four days.
The story of Monkey Mia and world famous dolphins goes back many years. In 1982 the American researchers, Richard Connor and Rachel Smolker, visited Monkey Mia and discovered a small pod of wild bottlenose dolphins that would swim to the shoreline to be fed by humans almost daily. Since then, visitors from all over the world have been flocking to Monkey Mia to experience these beautiful creatures for themselves.
You can also spot the Golden Ghost Crab, which is endemic to the coast of Western Australia, from Broome to Perth. They are relatively large ghost crabs, with a carapace growing up to 45 mm long and 52 mm wide. They are easily recognisable by their golden yellow colouration.
4WD Adventure @Francois Peron National Park (Day #5)
The Francois Peron National Park is a must-visit when in Monkey Mia. This is where you can experience the raw beauty of Australia’s wilderness and see the striking red cliffs contrasted with blue water and white sand often depicted by many artists and photographers. The 52,500-hectare park is named after the French zoologist, who accompanied an expedition there in 1801. Now under the protection of the Department of Parks and Wildlife, it is considered a treasure of Australia, home to many rare and endangered species. This is the part on the trip where we have to leave our normal car behind and embark on a whole-day 4WD adventure, as it’s the only possible way.
We were off to great start, spotting this Emu and his chicks on the road before entering the park. The male Emu assumes the caretaker role while the female Emu leaves after laying her eggs and have offsprings with other males.
Definitely love the blue skies and emerald lake but this is where sunglasses and sunblock are essential travel kits. Only 4WD vehicles are permitted in the park as the sandy paths are not suitable for normal road cars.
The vehicle tyres pressure have to be reduced before entering the park. Lowering the pressure allows the tyres to flex more easily so they can conform to the terrain, which improves traction and minimises the chance of damage from impacts while giving the tyres a longer footprint.
Our eagle-eyed Aboriginal guide spotted this Tawny Frogmouth, perfectly camouflaged on the tree branches. It stayed totally still to avoid detection.
Capes, our Aboriginal guide, explaining some “ground rules” before we proceed to commence on the Bush Tucker session – “Anything I don’t put in my mouth, neither should you”. The vegetation in the arid landscape has plenty of food but some can be poisonous.
The bush long bean, which should taste like edamame beans when its steamed. We tried it raw, straight off the plant.
The Bush Tomatoes, looks edible but is poisonous. The plant is native to the more arid parts of Australia. While they are quite closely related to tomatoes, they might be even closer relatives of the eggplant, which they resemble in many details. A number of species contain significant levels of solanine which is highly poisonous.
Capes chewing on some Tree Grass, not much of a taste but good for hydration in the arid vegetation.
Capes preparing pan-fried mullets with olive oil for our lunch. I have a feeling the wildlife at the park is watching and itching to join us for lunch.
The sandy pathways can and do occasionally ensnare the 4WD vehicles. You just need one trapped and we have a “bad traffic” day.
Help is always at hand from fellow park visitors. Our guide duly assisted in the recovery effort.
Yours truly inching close on the thorny devil. The red sand was pretty hot as it retains the sun heat. I believe eggs buried in the sand will cook it.
The Thorny Devil is also known as the thorny dragon or the mountain devil. It’s a small (up to 8 inches in length), spiky lizard native to Australia. They eat only ants and can consume thousands a day. Their body also function like a water harvesting mechanism, as any water that gets into the grooves between its thorns is drawn by capillary action to its mouth, allowing the thorny dragon to suck water from all parts of its body.
Beautiful scene on the park Big Lagoon with resident colony of pelicans and cormorants. The secluded location of the lake ensure the lake remains in pristine condition.
An Australian Pied Cormorant (sometimes called a yellow-faced cormorant) zipping by above the lake. The Noongar Aboriginal people who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia believe that the pied cormorant (medi) is responsible for the transport of souls of the deceased across and beneath the Western sea to their final resting place. Medi can be translated as ‘agent’, or ‘medium’, possibly referring to the bird’s role as an intermediary between the living world and the afterlife.
The huge colony of cormorants at the park Skipjack Point. Visitors will remember this venue for the spectacular wildlife on full display both on land and in the water.
A parting shot with our affable and jovial aboriginal guide, Capes. A true man of the Earth, who encourage all his clients to feel nature and not just see them. As he puts it nicely – “Ngurrah Wangga” – Nature Talks (in Aboriginal language).
Wildflowers trails (June to November)
WA is renowned for having the widest range wild flowers on Earth. With more than 12,000 species, over 60% of which are found nowhere else except in WA, they will fascinate any visitors as it blanket the landscapes from coast to forest and city to outback. Although the wildflowers season was almost over when we were there, we managed to see the remnants of the beautiful season.
The six-month flowering season begins in the north in June and July on the vast outback plains of the Pilbara, Goldfields and Coral Coast where vibrant blooms contrast with pindan earth (red soil), rugged canyons and turquoise sea.
By September, it will move south and reached Perth’s botanical gardens, nature reserves and national parks, culminating in October and November throughout the forests and coastal heaths of the South West. As you drive along the wildflower scenic routes, do factor in some rest-stops among the gorgeous blooms to alleviate the fatigue.
Here’s some important minder for wildflower enthusiasts – (a) Picking wildflowers is illegal and can attract a AUD$2000 fine. (b) Respect private property and do not trespass. (c) Protect canola crops and prevent the spread of disease by staying out of canola fields.
Geraldton (Day #5)
After we departed Monkey Mia in the late morning, as we head back in the direction of Perth, we spent the night at the town of Geraldton after an almost 5hrs drive. But of course, along the way, we enjoyed the scenic drive, making brief stops to photograph places that captured our attention.
Merino Sheep Farms @ Northampton
Along the way to Gabbadah where we were staying for the last night at an Australian homestay, we spotted these beautiful Merino Sheep on fields of “gold” in Northampton. Throughout most of Australia. we have seen white sheep on green pastures but brown sheep on golden pastures, that definitely warrants a photo pit-stop.
Leaning Tree @ Greenough
Pushed repeatedly by strong prevailing southerly winds, the trees of Greenough leaned with the force. The horizontal trunks of the Red River Gum trees are scattered throughout the Shire of Greenough. This natural phenomenon is the result of airborne salt content being blown in with the winds off the Indian Ocean. This iconic tree can be viewed and photographed from the Brand Highway on the Greenough Flats, via a purpose-built parking area is provided for travellers.
The Star Fish Cafe @ Port Denison
On the way to Gabbadah, we chanced upon this cosy little cafe named Star Fish Cafe, just beside the Indian Ocean. It is listed on Google location search but it takes an actual visit, sip on a latte, munch on a muffin and savour the ambience to make the place comes alive.
This cafe serves the best muffin and latte on the trip. Perhaps the presentation or the cosy ambience affected our taste buds? Either way, you will love this little joint.
HMAS Sydney II Memorial
Day #6 morning saw us checking out early from the Mantra Geraldton Serviced Apartment where we spent the night, to visit the HMAS Sydney II Memorial. A quiet moment to pay respect to those who perished in World War II.
The memorial precinct is located at Mount Scott in Geraldton. You can learn more about this important chapter in Australia’s history at the Wall of Remembrance which bears the names of the 645 men who lost their lives. Each of the seagull in the dome represents one sailor who perished on the HMAS Sydney. The seven pillars supporting the dome represent the seven states and territories of Australia.
A section of the perished sailors whose name, rank and home base are engraved on the Wall of Remembrance.
Homestay with locals (Day #6)
We arrived at our final accommodation of the trip, a homestay with friendly locals in a lovely coastal town.
We arrived shortly after 1-pm and the delicious lunch was ready and waiting for us. And with the hosts’ warmth and friendliness, it certainly feels like home indeed.
The dinner entree, the cheeses platter with pumpkin spread and salami. This almost looks like the main course already.
Our dinner main courses sizzling in the oven and we were already burping from the dinner entrees. The host is such an excellent cook that I would believe if he’s a chef in 5-stars restaurant.
The dessert was supreme – the chocolate mousse is actually avocado blended with cacao powder. I would not know if I did not ask about the ingredients.
Earlier in the day, Cindy had a great time feeding the owner’s sheep at the property little farm. This is perfect for cityfolks with children to experience a taste of what a farmstay might be and reconnect with nature.
Host Anne getting ready to feed her pets dinner. The animal population are kept to a manageable size to keep the place neat and avoid them from overrunning the property.
Tea time with Brad is a charming session in the sheltered patio. Totally engaging and friendly, if you remember this homestay, the 1st thing you recall, is his friendliness.
The rooms in the homestay has three themes, this one is Bohemian Room – Original hand painted artworks capture the dramatic Gothic style architecture of medieval Prague. The backdrop which has long provided inspiration for many a wandering traveler & free-spirited artisan, allured by the romantic ideals & culture of the Bohemian lifestyle.
The Kosciuszko Room – This room features large original photographic images of some breathtaking scenic winter landscapes captured from Australia’s highest mountain peak. The room boasts all the creature comforts, high quality furnishings & features of the Alpine Resort after which it was named.
The Rockabilly Room – This room features original “Pin-up” styled photography (shot by Brad) & is decorated with time period fixtures as cool as “The Fonz”. With a checkered durable “hard-floor”. Step back in time to a “Rockin good era”.
The Flotation Therapy facility at the homestay – These are just a few of the conditions known to be improved by floating- stress relieve, muscular pain, rheumatism, chronic pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, migraine headache and jet lag etc. Certainly ideal for guests arriving after a long roadtrip. This flotation therapy session is available at a special rate for guests.
The homestay also has a heated jacuzzi with variable coloured lighting, perfect for a pre-bedtime soak under the starry night.
The Moore Estuary Lookout Point
Just a 20min quick drive from the homestay brought us to the scenic lookout point at Guilderton. The inlet lagoon is beautiful and there is also pelicans swimming about on the bay.
Enjoy the sunset view from the boardwalk or go down the stairs to the beach for an exhilarating walk along the Indian Ocean.
Yanchep National Park (Day #7)
En route to Perth on day 7, we drove 30min from the homestay along Indian Ocean Drive to visit the Yanchep National Park, our final activity for the trip. The beautiful tranquil park certainly didn’t disappoint. Entrance fee is AUD13 based on 1 car.
There are nine walking trails to suit all ages and fitness levels in this park. Each trail showcases the unique biodiversity of the region.
A flock of Black-Winged Stilt Birds at the marshland. They grouped together for security and to brave the chilly winds.
A heron flew in on the scene. Avid nature photographers will love the vibrant wildlife here.
A personal highlight of the visit, I spotted a Wood Duck and her chicks moving across the park field. A delightful photographic finale to the roadtrip as we depart for Perth Airport, just 50min drive away.
This visit to the Coral Coast in Western Australia marked my “completion” of visiting key regions Down Under including New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. I hesitate to claim “completion” as Australia is such a vast country that I feel I am only just “UnDiscovering” and rediscovering her immense beauty. What I have seen and experienced only made me to yearn for more.
I like to end this article with a famous quote by Henry Miller – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Yes, indeed – Australia is one destination you can always see new thing. And do things in new ways.
Many sincere thanks for coming along my pixels journey. Should any readers be keen to go on a similar self-drive trip in the future, please feel free to drop me a message. For my other Australian adventures, you can check it out here.
Footnote: All pictures used in this travelogue are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and all rights reserved. The opinion expressed is factual, objective and that of the author.