14 DAY SOUTH WESTERN AUSTRALIA ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
I recently embarked on an epic adventure along The South West Edge – a road trip from Perth to Esperance in Western Australia that travels through wine regions, towering old-growth forests, pristine coastlines, and loops back across the outback. I created my own version of The South West Edge that begins in Nannup, exploring en route along The Edge during the last two weeks of September. Here’s how I did it. For tips, tricks and costs – scroll to the end of this post!
Day 1: Perth to Nannup (2hrs 40mins | 221kms)
To begin my version of The South West Edge road trip, I drive the 2hrs 40mins from Perth to Nannup in Australia’s South West, starting at the tranquil Barrabup Pool. The gravel crunches under my feet as I step out of the car and take in the green scene before me. The pool glistens, gently lapping at the sandy banks from water flowing further up-stream. There is silence – all but for the sound of the tree tops rustling in the breeze and the occasional chirp of a bird. It is true serenity and I’m immersed in it, completely surrounded by nature. I stay a while, dip my toes in the water but quickly jump back from the icy cold – it’s a better swimming spot during summer – and enjoy a picnic lunch on the wooden deck of the jetty, soaking up the beauty.
I roll into the quaint town of Nannup and am immediately welcomed by Saturday markets, selling trinkets of jewellery, artwork, crochet creations and wooden carvings. I enjoy a hot coffee at Melo Velo café, and stroll past boutiques and a restaurant or two on the main street, which is lined with tulips from the Nannup Flower & Garden Festival (usually held over a weekend in August each year but this year extended for five weeks).
Afternoon tea is a homemade scone with jam and cream and a pot of tea on the patio at Nannup Lavender Farm before checking into Holberry House Bed & Breakfast, where my upstairs Queen Room with ensuite is homey and inviting. In the communal areas, I soak up the sunshine in the greenroom, make a cup of tea in the living room and read a book in the sitting room before catching the sunset over the rolling hills opposite the back of the property. A two minute drive to the main street and I’ve ordered the creamy garlic prawns from the Blackwood Café for dinner, which I devour in their garden setting.
Overnight: Holberry House.
DAY 2: Nannup
Continental breakfast is served in the dining room – freshly baked homemade muffins and crusty bread with a spread of local jams, local seasonal fruit, yoghurt, cereals and tea and coffee. All to be enjoyed while looking out at the gardens and watching the birds.
I need the energy from breakfast for my hike to Beyonderup Falls, which are found tucked behind a Private Property on Balingup-Nannup Road. A beautiful scenic drive along this road, which winds its way around the rivers, valleys and lush green rolling hills of Nannup, takes me to the property opposite Beyonderup Falls Country Escape.
The Nannup Flower & Garden Festival includes Open Gardens, so first I greet the friendly old man at Gullyfoot Garden and meander through his and his wife’s vibrant, colourful display of wildflowers and native plants. The couple lend me a strong stick to aid with the steep hike up to the falls, which are hidden in the valley behind their property. Afterwards, I accept a complimentary cup of tea on their verandah, where rainbow parrots, blue fairy wrens and red robins frolic in bird baths; the sun shining in the blue sky above the garden.
Later, I take the steep, uneven gravel road through towering pine forest to get to Tank 7, grateful for a four wheel drive. The sweeping views of lush, green rolling hills are uninterrupted from here – a vantage point popular with photographers. As the sun goes down, it casts rays of amber orange over the trees and hills in the distance and I exhale in awe.
The fire is crackling when I return to Holberry House and shortly after my arrival a steaming bowl of home-made potato and leek soup (which I ordered earlier) arrives on a platter, complete with warm crusty bread and fresh biscuits for dessert.
Overnight: Holberry House.
Day 3: Nannup to Pemberton (55mins | 77kms)
It’s a short 300m walk to the suspension bridge that provides a clear view of Beedelup Falls in Pemberton, which is absolutely pumping. The gully is surrounded by lush greenery and I follow the boardwalk stairs up and around on the loop trail to the viewing platform at the top of the falls.
Being the budding photographer that I am, I swing my legs over the boardwalk on the right-hand side of the bank (if you’ve started the loop in a clockwise direction) and carefully slide into the gushing stream; camera and tripod hanging over one shoulder. I inch cautiously toward the falls, meticulous in placing my gumboots in stable crevices of rock so as not to slip and slide down the river. From here I find at least one good composition, snapping long exposure shots with my Nikon D750 and Nisi Advanced Filter Kit – making it worth the adventurous risk.
All checked in at RAC Karri Valley Resort, I crawl the car along the driveway, past kangaroo-dotted paddocks and then beside the gleaming glass-like water of the lake toward my Lakeside Room. I dine at the Lakeside Restaurant, peering out the glass doors toward the dark lake, and savour every bite of the best four mushroom risotto I’ve ever eaten, alongside a glass of Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon.
Overnight: RAC Karri Valley Resort.
Day 4: Pemberton
Sunrise at Pemberton Pool is morning mist rising from the glassy water and sunlight filtering romantically through the trees; with not another soul around. Breakfast is a fried egg and smoky bacon bagel with a side of hot coffee at Wild at Heart café.
When the sun has risen to 10am, it’s time to join Pemberton Discovery Tours on the Beach and Forest Eco Adventure Tour into the heart of the Warren and D’Entrecasteaux National Parks. We meet at their office on the main street, and the group piles into the car for a half-day of adventure. It’s a bumpy – yet somehow comfy – ride in the 4×4 Troopy. My body jiggles as we bunny-hop down the steep slopes of the sand. We accelerate up one final hill and reach the impressive Yeagarup Dunes. The white expanse goes on and on, a vast landscape that disappears into the distance. It’s one of the world’s largest moving sand dune systems, and it is breathtaking. We continue on to Yeagarup Beach, where it is indeed beach, just beach – for as far as the eye can see. We arrive back in Pemberton a little after noon, but not before devouring fresh homemade rolls with tea and coffee in the forest.
My adventure continues with an exhilarating adrenalin-inducing climb to the top of the tallest old fire lookout tree, the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. At 75metres-tall, my heart rattles in my chest as I grasp each steel rung of the ladder winding its way up the trunk, hardly daring to look down. But the view is worth it, high above the tops of the trees, the forest expanses forever.
Before heading back to my accommodation, I pick up some fresh produce from Wild at Heart, which also sells fresh fruit & veg, cheese, nuts and crackers. Back at the resort, my balcony that hangs directly over the lake is frequented by parrots, eager to say hello. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese platter as the sun goes down and watch as it ricochets pink hues over the clouds in the sky.
Overnight: RAC Karri Valley Resort.
Day 5: Pemberton to Walpole via Northcliffe (1hr 47mins | 128kms)
It’s a short drive to Northcliffe, where I begin the 1.2km loop trail of Understory Art and Nature from the Northcliffe Visitor Centre. Just $10 grants me entry and I’m offered an umbrella for the walk. The immersion of art and nature is fascinating, with works of art integrated into the trees and the trail. It’s peaceful and unique, and the perfect warm up walk for my next challenge just a 20minute drive away…
There’s not another soul around as I begin the 5km-return hike to Lane Poole Falls. The track is relatively flat, with soft, leaf-littered earth beneath my feet. A final extremely steep 200m descent on slippery orange mud leads me to the viewing platform for the waterfall, which is gushing well from winter rains.
Then it’s on to Walpole, where I’m grateful to cosy up in my Luxury Queen Ensuite Glamping Tent at Coalmine Beach Holiday Park, complete with a heated towel rack, hot shower and electric blanket to keep me warm and snug.
Overnight: Coalmine Beach Holiday Park.
Day 6: Walpole
There’s much to be explored in the Walpole Wilderness, more than you would expect. I opt first for a visit to Fernhook Falls, a 30 minute drive away along South West Highway followed by a right onto the gravel Beardmore Road. Near a campground, there’s a very short, flat walk along a bitumen path to a boardwalk that follows the Frankland River downstream to Rowell’s Pool. Once again, I find a spot on the bank – to the right after the first boardwalk before reaching the picnic tables – to access the rocky terrain of the falls for a better picture.
Next I tackle Mount Frankland, where the steep 500m-ascent (1km-return) is rather remarkable – over 300 stairs take me to the peak. The sweeping views toward the Walpole coast and the mountains in the distance are uninterrupted. An eagle circles and soars high in the blue sky above me, screeching to its companion as it glides through the air.
After watching the sunset from Coalmine Beach just walking distance from my glamping tent, I cook spaghetti bolognese in the shared camp kitchen and chat companionably to other friendly travellers about their journeys.
Overnight: Coalmine Beach Holiday Park.
Day 7: Walpole to Denmark via Peaceful Bay (1hr 23mins | 83kms)
My morning begins with a WOW Wilderness Eco Cruise, where local operator Gary – Gazza! – makes our group giggle frequently with his wild sense of humour and animated story-telling. His knowledge of this part of the world is immense, and we learn about the landscape, the colonisation history, and much more while we cruise down the Walpole inlet towards biodiverse and untouched landscapes. We get to disembark on an island and explore the flora and fauna, as well as the wild ocean on the other side. Back on board the vessel, we enjoy tea and coffee with a side of freshly baked tingle cake – a special treat unique to the tour.
Next I head for the Peaceful Bay Caravan Park Fish & Chip shop, which is renowned for having the best fish and chips going around. Freshly caught local Kingfish is served on a bed of crispy chips which I enjoy by the beach, and it truly is spectacular – fish so tender and juicy, and chips so perfectly salty that the gulls eye them carefully, but they’re not getting a single crumb today.
On my way to Denmark I stop at Lights Beach and admire this tremendous stretch of coastline with its aquamarine waters – regrettably the William Bay National Park home to peppermint-tinged coves at Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks is closed for carpark upgrades, otherwise I would’ve paid them a visit (hopefully they will be reopen in November 2020), but Lights and Ocean Beach are just as beautiful in their own right.
Day 8: Denmark to Albany via Shelley Beach (1hr 18mins | 77kms)
It’s time to chase the sun as the radar predicts a storm is rolling in. I travel to Albany, but not before stopping at Shelley Beach to soak in the wild rolling waves, thick green coastline and orange dusty road leading to the shores. The wind here is treacherous, so I only stay long enough to admire the view from the lookout.
Albany’s City Centre is a hive of activity as I pop into the Visitor Centre on the main street to ask advice on finding the Queen of Sheeba orchid in the nearby Gull Rock National Park. A few map instructions later, I slip on my gumboots for maximum snake protection (you can never be too careful in Australia), and trudge onto the overgrown fire trails in Gull Rock National Park in search of The Queen. My eyes scan the vegetation, looking; searching. I don’t find her, but I do stumble upon other orchid species and colourful wildflowers, as well as a bungarra lizard (sand goanna) slithering its way up the road, before the rain hits. I shelter at my accommodation, but if you’re looking to eat out you mustn’t pass on Liberté, a Parisian inspired bar in the historic London Hotel serving French Vietnamese concoctions which I’ve enjoyed on previous trips to Albany.
Overnight: Albany Holiday Units.
Day 9: Albany to Hopetoun (3hrs 32mins | 331kms)
The giant painted grain silo – an outdoor art mural as part of the PUBLIC Silo Trail – greets me as I head into Ravensthorpe, and I know I’m officially in Australia’s Golden Outback. It’s been a long, never-ending road to get here, but there’s only 30 more minutes until my next destination; Hopetoun.
However it’s windy and grey during my time in Hopetoun, so I relish in the shelter of my cabin. If it wasn’t for the weather, I’d drive the 20 minutes out to Barrens Beach and West Beach to check out the epic coastline here, or venture inland to explore the biodiverse Fitzgerald River National Park; perhaps tackle the climb to the summit of East Mount Barren, or hike one of the many walking trails which at this time of year will be lined with the many wildflowers of botanical significance in this region.
Overnight: Wavecrest Tourist Park.
Day 10: Hopetoun to Esperance (1hr 51mins | 184kms)
Today’s the day! I head off toward Esperance, excitement racing through my bones. I pass the ‘Welcome to the Shire of Esperance’ sign and wiggle in my seat – I’ve arrived. I head straight for Great Ocean Drive, past the Pink Lake that’s no longer pink (the lake that is still pink is at Middle Island off Cape Arid’s coast, accessible by seasonal cruises and flights), and follow the coastline here, which is unbelievably raw and can only be described as phenomenal. Coastal cliffs so high and treacherous and ocean for as far as the eye can see, which barrels against white sand beaches in hues of every blue. Though windy, it’s still easy to see the beauty here.
The wheels of my car crunch on the white sandy gravel as I roll into Esperance Chalet Village. From the parking bay, it’s a short stroll under the garden lights to my little white A-frame Studio Chalet. The door is unlocked, and the key waiting for me on the table where a vase of native dried botanicals is prefaced by seashells; with a postcard propped up between the two that reads ‘Welcome, enjoy your stay.’
It’s a sanctuary here, with every little detail thought through. A cheeseboard with a cheese-knife and saucer sits on the mini kitchenette bench, alongside a coffee pod machine. The bed is perfectly made up with designer linen; four plump pillows and a burnt orange throw. The bathroom sports handmade soap, and an array of body wash, shampoo and conditioner bottles from Appelles Apothecary & Lab are displayed on a wooden stepping stool. The table with my key also features woven placemats frilled with puka shells and a chair covered in a white fur rug. I breathe a sigh – I feel at home.
Overnight: Esperance Chalet Village.
Days 10-13: Esperance
Two out of the three days I spend in Esperance are too windy for my liking. On the first windy day, a failed attempt to climb to the summit of Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand National Park sets me off with emotion – the raw, uncomfortable side to being a solo traveller cripples me as the disappointment sinks in. It’s simply too steep and risky to tackle alone. But I soldier on – and know I’ll be back one day to conquer it with some company.
Then one glorious weather day turns it on, with sunny blue skies and not a whisper of wind. On this day, I wake early (6am) and head straight to Cape Le Grand National Park (45mins drive), passing seventeen kangaroos on the way. But there’s not a single roo on Lucky Bay Beach. Fortunately, the crystal blue hue of the waters and the pristine white sandy shores make up for it. The sand is damp and claps softly on my feet like wet cement as I walk to the water’s edge. I shade my eyes from the morning sun and gaze at the endless expanse of beach in the distance – where there’s only one other person taking a stroll.
Next, it’s on to Hellfire Bay where the ocean gleans from cobalt blue to turquoise before crashing on white icing-sugar sands. The shores at Wylie Bay are equally as beautiful, where ocean from either side of some rocks surges to meet in the middle of a sand bank – a unique sight to see. The rest of the day is spent exploring Great Ocean Drive, marvelling at the blue waters of Blue Haven, Twilight, Ten Mile and Eleven Mile Beach. I dive into the sparkling, crystal clear (and freezing cold) waters of a rock pool and lay in the sunshine, content as can be.
Overnight: Esperance Chalet Village.
Day 13: Esperance to Hyden/Wave Rock (4hrs | 384kms)
It’s a long drive through a completely different terrain to the one’s I’ve come from. When its present, the vegetation turns to thick, durable shrub – and to vast farmland when it’s not. Finally, I reach Wave Rock Road where I find the Wave Rock Caravan Park & Kiosk, the Toy Soldier Museum, The Lace Shop, Visitor Information Centre & Café and the infamous Wave Rock itself, all within a 150m-walking distance of one another.
I follow the short, flat path toward Wave Rock, whose mighty 110m-long curved rock stained with colours of grey, charcoal and orange towers above me at 15m-high. From here, it’s a short 1km stroll through budding bush and wildflower-ridden earth to Hippo’s Yawn, an eroded rock face resembling a sleepy beast which loops back to the Caravan Park. Yet another thing to tick off the bucket list!
Overnight: Wave Rock Caravan Park.
Day 14: Hyden to Perth (4hrs | 332kms)
It’s back to Perth today, past a plethora of paddocks and hectares upon hectares of farmland. ‘Wide Open Road’ by The Triffids plays through the stereo and I wind my window down to feel some of the fresh air as I whizz past the landscape, ready to tell anyone and everyone who will listen all about my adventure. Ah – home, sweet home!
TOP TIPS FOR THIS ROAD TRIP
– You will likely have limited mobile phone service throughout this trip – with Optus I only had reception in the town centres and none at RAC Karri Valley Resort or in Hyden. If you are with Telstra you will have much more reliable reception throughout the trip, though still none at RAC Karri Valley Resort or at The Cove in Denmark.
– There was only free and well-working wifi available at Holberry House, Albany Holiday Units and Esperance Chalet Village, while patchy wifi was available at RAC Karri Valley Resort (and limited to 1GB with 10GB available for purchase), free wifi only at the onsite Bistro & Bar at Wavecrest Tourist Park, and free strong wifi only in the undercover area at Wave Rock Caravan Park.
– Due to limited service, I recommend downloading offline maps and always carrying a hard copy map book with you. Don’t always trust Google maps in remote areas – when I travelled from Lane Poole Falls to Walpole it took me through unsealed, boggy and tree-ridden roads in the Shannon State Forest. In this case, it’s best to head back towards Northcliffe from Lane Poole Falls and follow the route along the main roads of Middleton Road and South Western Highway.
– To this point, there are lots of unsealed roads on this trip, though all except Tank 7 would be manageable in a two wheel drive.
– Some of the distances between towns are quite long and there are no fuel stations between towns, so make sure to fuel up frequently – I’d advise to do so whenever you have an opportunity.
– If travelling alone (and especially if hiking alone), it’s important to always have plenty of water and a first aid kit with you. I have the ‘Emergency +’ app downloaded on my phone, which allows you to dial 000 in the event of an emergency even without mobile phone reception and will capture a GPS of your location. I always carry a PLB (personal locator beacon) with me as well just in case.
– You are required to pay entry fees into National Parks in Western Australia ($15 per vehicle for a day pass). The most cost-effective way to do this is to purchase a Park Pass – I opted for an Annual Park Pass with my RAC Members discount for $60.91.
– The total costs of this trip were roughly $2,000 for accommodation (a mixture of budget and borderline-luxury standards, so this could also be done for less if camping or willing to compromise on standard), $400-500 for fuel in a four wheel drive Subaru Outback that takes 91 Unleaded fuel, $140 for eating out (including alcohol) with $170 spent on groceries to make meals myself and keep costs down. Entry to Northcliffe’s Understory Art and Nature Trail is $10 per adult, the WOW Wilderness Cruise was $50 and Pemberton Discovery Tours Beach & Forest Eco Adventure Tour $125. This trip is doable on a budget of $3000 or less.