From Perth To Esperance And Back Again – How To Tackle The Epic 12-Day South West Edge Road Trip
As expansive as Western Australia may be, it doesn’t mean you can’t conquer it on the wide open roads. In fact, there’s no better way to experience and explore the stunning variety of landscapes to be found in our great southern land.
From huge native forests, to windswept coastlines, delicious winery regions and stark outback scenes, it’s a unique corner of the world that is open to any and all adventurous spirits ready and willing to tackle it.
The South West Edge is one new initiative that provides an easy-to-follow path exploring the south west of WA in an achievable 12 days, across a very achievable 1200 kilometres. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be outlining that journey for you, one that kicks off in Perth before winding down the coast all the way to Esperance, and traversing back up through our stunning golden back.
We hope you’ll not only follow our journey, but be inspired to start mapping out your own. So we invite you to check in over the coming days as we unveil each new leg with some stunning photography courtesy of renowned Western Australian photographer, Jarred Seng.
DAY 1 – ROTTO TO FREO
To get the ball rolling it makes sense to start with Rottnest Island, where you can spend the day relaxing, exploring or both! It’s got some of our State’s most beautiful beaches and bays for lazing on the sand, or go snorkelling at and experience a marine life-rich underwater world like no other.
The Basin, Little Parakeet, Geordie Bay, Parker Point… the list is endless. On land traversing the Wadjemup Biddi walking trail offers a fascinating insight into the island’s geography, while the Wadjemup Museum is an essential stop to understand Rottnest’s history in relation to its treatment of Indigenous peoples.
There’s plenty of great eating and drinking to be done, from staples like Hotel Rottnest, the Rotto Bakery and Frankies, to fresh stops like Pinky’s Beach Club and Lontara at Samphire. From there it’s back on the ferry to wile the night away in Fremantle. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many great restaurants around Freo, like Manuka Woodfired Kitchen, Lions & Tigers or Freo institution, Capri.
Afterwards there’s plenty of beaut bars to pop into for a cocktail, we recommend checking out Strange Company, Republic Of Fremantle, Ronnie Nights or The Old Synagogue. Venture a little further to South Freo and experience fine establishments like Madalena’s, Percy Flint or La Cabana for an unbeatable margarita + taco combo.
DAY 2 – FREO TO BUNBURY
First stop is fuelling up at one of the many cool cafés around Fremantle. Duck Duck Bruce, The Attic, Bread In Common, Little Lefroy’s or Port City Roasters should get you feeling healthy and full ahead of the road trip south to Bunbury’s beautiful Ferguson Valley.
Head there via Collie AKA WA’s lake district to check out some stunning inland swimming holes like Honeymoon Pool, Potters Gorge, Stockton Lake and of course WA’s most-grammed destination, Blake Diamond Lake. If you’re making good time there’s plenty of opportunities for a quick bush walk or bike ride along one of Collie’s many diverse mountain biking trails.
Afternoon in Bunbury could be spent either in the township or exploring Ferguson Valley’s bubbling winery scene. There’s over 20 to visit who’ll be more than happy to tell you about the area while testing a few drops, along with a couple of breweries like Bushshack and Wild Bull, and even a brand new distillery – Cuprum Distillery.
You’ll find some equally tantalising food and drink propositions in Bunbury proper that night. Grab a pub feed at Prince Of Wales or The Rose Hotel, or something a little fancier at Market Eating House or Mojos Kitchen. A quick cocktail at Lost Bills or brand new rooftop bar Brooklyn32 will put a nice little capper on your first big day in the south west.
DAY 3 – BUNBURY TO YALLINGUP
Before jumping back on the Old Bussell Hwy to continue your South West Edge experience a stop off at the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Koombana Bay is a must. Seen as we’re short on time we recommend heading down to the viewing platform where you’ll very likely catch the local pod swimming by, followed by a quick run through of the centre itself – it’s basically a mini AQWA.
As you enter the Margaret River region a visit to Busselton’s famous jetty is the perfect stop over for some fresh air and a stretch of the legs along its almost-2km length. There’s a fantastic museum to scope at the start of the jetty, but the real winner is at the end where you can go for a dive amongst one of only six natural aquariums on Earth. Otherwise keep it simple with a foreshore swim or watch the whales swim by during their winter migration. A quick lunch at Shelter Brewing Co’s huge new brewpub should do the trick before heading towards Yallingup.
Along the way a pitstop in Dunsborough for a browse of the local boutiques can’t hurt, before an afternoon spent beach hopping. Given its position, the beaches near Dunsborough are all well-sheltered from the afternoon seabreeze – Castle Rock Bay, Meelup Beach, Eagle Bay and more await you and your beach towels.
If the weather’s a little cooler and you’re feeling more adventurous, trekking part of the Cape To Cape Track will reveal some stunning vistas, while underground you’ll find some incredible caves like the Ngilgi Cave to explore. For an even deeper understanding of the land in this area, tee up an Aboriginal experience like Koomal Dreaming next door to the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse – you’ll gain insight into the area’s history and the native flora and fauna surrounding it.
DAY 4 – YALLINGUP TO MARGARET RIVER
Get up nice and early and make a beeline for the Injidup Natural Spa, another of WA’s most-grammed locations and a place that gets crowded pretty quickly – just remember to be respectful and take care in – and of – the area. From there it’s worth popping into check the surf and impressive coastal headlands at Cowaramup Bay, before onwards to the winery capital of the country – Margaret River.
Margaret River is home to dozens of cellar doors, restaurants, distilleries and breweries to indulge in. It can be a daunting proposition, and one definitely not done while driving, so your best bet is to organise a guided tour with someone who can not only get you around the area, but provide plenty of insight while they do.
Of course it’s not all about boozin’ and cruisin’, there’s wild beaches to discover and a whole bunch of caves to climb down including Lake Cave, Mammoth Cave and Jewel Cave. Go for a kayak along the meandering Margaret River herself, or tackle the mid-section of the Cape To Cape Track during winter to enjoy some whale watching while you do.
After enjoying a sunset over Margaret River mainbreak in Prevelly, head back to town for a pub feed at Settlers Tavern, or something a little fancier at one of the many excellent eateries around town. You’ve got Miki’s Open Kitchen (Japanese), morries (tapas and cocktails), La Scarpetta Trattoria (Italian) and loads more.
DAY 5 – MARGS TO PEMBERTON
Once again an early start is key, as even though we’re headed to Pemberton we’re making a slight detour via Hamelin Bay to see the stingrays! After getting acquainted with the friendly locals on the shoreline, it’s away from the coast and into the massive karri tree forests of Pemberton.
Thrill seekers would be served well heading to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, a 75m high former fire lookout tree, now challenging climb for some incredible views at the top. The 58m high Gloucester Tree will provide an equally challenging climb. If you’d like to stay closer to the ground the Warren River Loop Trail will have you marvelling upwards instead of down, while Pemberton Pool is a tranquil, picnic-perfect, spot to visit.
Eats and drinks wise Pemberton isn’t short on some wineries of its own, with the unique growing conditions creating some delightful pinots and Bordeaux-style wines. Further treats for your taste buds come in the delicious marron caught fresh around the place, along with the Périgord truffle, some black gold you’ll find around nearby Manjimup in the wetter months.
DAY 6 – PEMBERTON TO DENMARK
Day 6 and it’s already time to make our way back to the coast via Northcliffe and Walpole. If you’re feeling adventurous a 4WD tour of the incredible Yeagarup Dunes will put you in the midst of the world’s largest moving sand dune system. It’s then on to Denmark via the Valley Of The Giants Tree Top Walk, an awe-inspiring trail amidst the top of the region’s mighty tingle tree forests.
Afterwards is your chance to explore Denmark’s beautiful beaches, many of which are protected from prevailing southerly winds. Start your coastal cruise at Peaceful Bay and visit the fish and chip shop for a fresh-off-the-boat feed. Then it’s onto Greens Pool and the boulder-filled Elephant Rocks, great for a spot of snorkelling or just floating around. They get very busy during the day, so you could always leave this one til early the following morning to beat the rush.
It’s been a hectic few days on the road as we hit the halfway mark, so maybe tonight it’s a quick bit of pub grub from the Denmark Tavern or a nice slice of pizza from Massimo’s before an early night’s sleep.
DAY 7 – DENMARK TO ALBANY
Given the coastline we’ve experienced so far it’s crazy to think what lies ahead, and trust us when we say Albany isn’t short on striking coastal landscapes and tranquil beaches and bays to marvel at. Even better, it’s one of the places in WA where you’re basically guaranteed to catch a humpback or southern right whale cruising past, especially in King George Sound where they don’t mind popping in for a bit of R&R or calving.
Albany is also heaven for history buffs, with the impressive National ANZAC Centre, Museum Of The Great Southern, Historic Whaling Station and more just waiting for your eager eyes and ears. Ahead of some serious hiking tomorrow morning, perhaps a chilled arvo checking out the spectacular Gap and Natural Bridge is on the cards, or visiting world class beaches like Two Peoples Bay, Point Possession or Shelter Island.
DAY 8 – ALBANY TO HOPETOUN
Once you’ve filled your boots with a big brekky at one of Albany’s great little cafes, chuck on your walking boots and conquer some of WA’s most impressive walking trails. You’re spoilt for choice with the likes of the Bald Head Walk Trail, and then of course there’s the Porongorup National Park with its stunning Castle Rock Granite Skywalk. If you wanna get real serious then pack the water, sunscreen and warm clothes to tackle one of WA’s highest peaks – Bluff Knoll – and score unparalleled views of the Stirling Range National Park.
After grabbing some lunch at one of the Porongurup’s boutique wineries, it’s onwards to either Bremer Bay or Hopetoun. Bremer Bay will require an extra day for this trip to give you the chance to find some killer whales between January and April, along with being the gateway to the FItzgerald National Park.
DAY 9 – HOPETOUN TO ESPERANCE
If we’re giving Bremer Bay a miss this time around, today’s the day to really enjoy Fitzgerald National Park, one of the biggest and most botanically significant national parks in the country. It’s a park filled with a spectacular array of wildflowers during the right season, along with equally spectacular views of dramatic coastlines along Hamersley and Pabelup Drive, with even more whale watching to be had around late-winter to spring.
After a morning of scenic drives pull up to Lucky Bay Brewing to sample some of their eight brews made with local barley, or enjoy some fresh local seafood at popular local haunt Fish Face. Wind the afternoon down with a vista-filled drive along Esperance’s 40km loop of the Great Ocean Drive, and find the perfect lookout for a southern sunset like no other.
DAY 10 – ESPERANCE
It’s been a breathtaking journey along The South West Edge road trip, which means it’s time to stop and smell the roses. A quick hike in the morning along the Cape Le Grand National Park’s Le Grand Coastal Trail puts your right near the world famous Lucky Bay.
Drive right onto the beach and enjoy a lunch with the sunbathing kangaroos that frequent the beach’s crystal clear waters and soft, white sand. Hellfire Bay, Eleven Mile Beach and Twilight Bay are a few others to tick off, or if you want to see the vibrant pinks of Lake Hillier book a scenic flight to get that proper bird’s eye view.
For a bit of fun why not check out Esperance’s weirdly wonderful Stonehenge replica, and then for some actual history of the area pop into the Historic Museum Village. Located on Dempster St, it’s a collection of preserved buildings that serve as a wonderful time capsule of the area.
DAY 11-12 – ESPERANCE TO PERTH
Distance: 715km via Hyden or 985km via Kalgoorlie
As we mentioned, our journey en route along The South West Edge is sadly turning towards the home stretch, but it’s a long home stretch that’s not over yet! You’ve got a couple of options, returning via Hyden or Kalgoorlie over the next couple of days. One is filled with incredible natural history, the other pure Australiana.
Going through Hyden will reveal one of the world’s most impressive rock formations, Wave Rock, an imposing, 2700 million year old multi-colour granite cliff that stretches 110m long and 15m high. It’s also an historic area for indigenous Australians, who’ve inhabited the region for hundreds of years, with several ancient rock-painting sites in nearby Mulka’s Cave.
Conversely all the fresh air, stunning beaches and national parks of the past week-and-a-bit might have you seeking some kind of civilisation, and Kalgoorlie is a curious proposition in this regard. A town steeped in living gold history and filled with quirky outback pubs, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the Aussie outback towns of yesteryear.
For more info and to start planning your adventure along The South West Edge, head here!