Apr 29, 2019
Don’t miss the wildflowers, rugged landscapes, goldmines and vineyards and more that this region has to offer.
1. KINGS PARK AND BOTANIC GARDEN, PERTH
Alongside the Swan River, on a hillside overlooking the downtown high rises of Perth is an extraordinary garden celebrating the unique flora of Western Australia.
The vast state covers many varied habitats from biodiversity hotspots like the Ravensthorpe and Stirling Ranges, home to many thousands of species, to the more arid inland desert areas. Plants, some critically endangered in the wild, are grouped together according to the habit or region where they belong. Collections show the wide diversity in major plant families such as Grevillea, Acacia and Banksias.
There’s plenty to interest the non-botanists too – water features, sculptures, memorial avenues, picnic areas, walkways and spectacular views over the river and cityscape.
2. WAVE ROCK
A small wheat-belt town four hours drive east of Perth isn’t where you’d expect to find a world-class lace collection, vintage cars, model soldiers and much more. Hyden (population under 500) is truly an example of “build it and they will come”. After a picture of Wave Rock was published in a photography competition in National Geographic in the 1960s a few passing travellers started asking for directions to the rock and for permission to camp in a local farmer’s field. Starting with a campground and caravan park in 1970 then a motel, restaurant, wild-life park, guided walks and farm tours, the Mouritz family have built up a set of experiences that attract more than 100,000 tourists a year. The Mouritzes are not done yet. There are networks of bike trails through a wetland restoration area, eco cabins and a conference centre and concert venue under construction.
Wave Rock is a natural granite formation weathered into a 15 metre high overhang by wind and water. Water runoff supports a wealth of lichens and moss on the cliff face and wildflowers including many tiny orchids flourish at the edge of the gimlet and mallee eucalyptus scrub at the cliff base. Further along the same rock formation is Hippo’s Yawn, a shallow cave once used as a birthing place for the Noongar Aboriginal people of the area.
Standing in the centre of Kalgoorlie’s main street feels like you’re taking part in an episode of Kalgoorlie Cops as much of the TV show’s action scenes take place around an intersection with a picturesque historic pub on each corner.
But the biggest show in town is of course the Super Pit open cast gold mine. It is so deep that that enormous bulldozers loading the ore carrying trucks on the pit floor look like Tonka toys in a sandpit when viewed from the lookout spots at the rim 600 metres above. The truck grind their way slowly (3 kph!) up the roadways carved into the massive walls of the pit that’s 3.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide. Work never stops – the trunks carry ore to the crushers all day and all night every day of the year. After crushing the ore undergoes further processing to recover the tiny percent of gold in contains.
4. CAPE LE GRAND NATIONAL PARK
After days of travel across the arid interior catching sight of the sea on reaching the southern coast was a relief. The white sandy beaches and pristine blue ocean of Cape Le Grand National Park near Esperance are popular for boating, fishing, hiking and camping. The landscape is dominated by distinctive granite outcrops rising out of sand plains and salty marshes. In spring it’s a hot spot for wildflowers – particularly banksias – and it’s home to western grey kangaroos.
5. NATIONAL ANZAC CENTRE
On a low hill overlooking the harbour of Albany on the southern coast is the National Anzac Centre. It’s a site of Anzac pilgrimage that is not as well known in New Zealand as it should be. Our troops did not go directly to the battlefields of the First War World but initially went to Albany to join the Australian convoy so it’s the birthplace of the Anzac partnership.
Within the National Anzac Centre the story of the convoy and the troops role in the European and African battlefields is revealed in a personal way by telling the stories of 32 individuals of all ranks from Australia and New Zealand, an Australian nurse and an officer from Turkey. Visitors use an identity card to activate displays showing what happened to them during the convoy, training in Egypt, at Gallipoli and beyond. Photographs, service records, and diaries record the sacrifices made by so many in a very moving way.
6. VALLEY OF THE GIANTS
You know where you are in Australia by checking out the local eucalyptus trees. There are hundreds of varieties – blackbutt, tuart, jarrah, paperbark, salmon gums and many more. Each is adapted to specific conditions but the most localised of all are the red and yellow tingle trees restricted to a small area in the south-western corner of the state. As Australia broke apart from Gondwana, this cool, wet forest remained relatively stable throughout millions of years of climate change allowing these trees to evolve and thrive along with an ecosystem of invertebrates, birds and other plants unique to the forest. The stately 400-year-old tingles are best seen from the lofty heights of the tree top walk. Not only is the view spectacular, the walkway also protects the shallow tree root systems.
7. CAPE LEEUWIN LIGHTHOUSE
Right at the most south-westerly tip of mainland Australia where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet is the historic Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse built in 1895 to guide ships headed to the goldfields. Nowadays it’s automated and visitors can climb 176 spiral steps to the balcony where, until the 1980s, three lighthouse keepers tended the clockwork mechanism and kerosene burners. On a clear day it seems Antarctica is just over the horizon but during stormy weather the 2m thick walls must provide welcome shelter on this exposed headland.
8. MARGARET RIVER
Like Matakana on steroids, Margaret River is home to vineyards, olive groves, orchards and artisan producers of all kinds. You can enjoy a long lunch or a tasting session at a vineyard or try out olive oil soap scented with native plants. But that’s not all – there are world-famous surf breaks and limestone caves to explore too. Just watch out for the cockatiels! There’s no need to be alarmed by explosive rattles on the roof – it’s just the cockies hurling gumnuts onto the corrugated iron. Technically a woody fruit, gumnuts (immortalised in May Gibbs’ gumnut babies stories and illustrations) of some eucalyptus species can be 5cm in diameter. They’re hard enough to survive bush fires and sound like grenades when they hit the roof.
9. FREMANTLE PRISON
Ending up in jail isn’t usually on one’s travel destination bucket list but Freemantle Prison is the exception. In the 1850s transported convicts were sent from Great Britain to provide labour for the new settlement. Their first job was to build their own jail. It is grim and inhumane and was in use as a maximum security prison until surprisingly recently – 1991. Cells have been set up with replica layout and equipment from each era of the prison’s history. Take a guided tour to get the most out of your visit.
The writer travelled to Western Australia courtesy of AAT Kings.
GETTING THERE: Discover WA’s famous wildflowers or indulge in Margaret River’s food and wine on AAT Kings’ 10 day guided holiday from Perth to Fremantle, now priced from $4650 per person. Book with your own travel agent, call 0800 456 100 or visit aatkings.com.