Self Driving Western Australia
Singapore Airlines recently introduced a fifth daily flight between Singapore and Perth, so now it is even easier to reach one of Australia’s most beautiful, and for Singaporeans, accessible and affordable, cities. Many Singaporeans want to get off that plane, hire a car and hammer down on the gas pedal. They are aching to hit the highway to Western Australia’s most lauded destinations. WA’S open roads await you with many exciting, exotic and colourful locations to explore.
JUSTLY A FAVOURITE
Many travellers head to the very popular wine growing area and culinary centre, Margaret River, a justifiable favourite. In Western Australian terms, from Perth it is a really short drive, just over three and a half hours. A drive to Shark Bay is nine hours. Nine hours sounds like a long time, but in Western Australia, that is nothing at all.
Say you had a bit of madness in you and decided you want to drive around WA, starting at Eucla in the south, on the border with South Australia, if you head north to Kununurra, 30kms from the border with Northern Territory, it would take you 60 hours of continuous driving, at the speed limit of 110kms. Those are open roads that you will never be able to experience in Singapore. Snap on your seatbelt, turn up your favourite travelling music, and kick it into overdrive.
There is nowhere else in the world where you could drive for that long
STEVE COLLINS SAYS HE’S BEEN EVERYWHERE MAN, FROM PERTH TO BUNBURY, BUSSELTON, DUNSBOROUGH, MARGARET RIVER, AUGUSTA, DENMARK AND ALBANY, HE’S BEEN EVERYWHERE MAN AND HE HAS SOME TIPS FOR YOU ABOUT DRIVING IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA. AND HE MIGHT EVEN GIVE YOU THE PHATIC FINGER IF HE PASSES YOU ALONG THE WAY.
and still remain within the same state. Western Australia is the second largest state in the world after Yakutia, Russia. Because of its extreme frigid climate, you can’t drive around Yakutia. WA is the same size as Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world. Outside of Perth, in the sparsely populated regions, public transportation is rare, so it makes sense to hire a car and explore this amazing land on your own.
SOUTH OF PERTH
The South West, from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Margaret River, Augusta, Denmark and Albany is well-populated with many facilities and all major towns cater well for tourists. There is great accommodation, restaurants, activities and sightseeing. Margaret River wineries are world famous, but there are several other wine-producing regions that are equally as good. Driving is easy and distances between towns are not vast. If time is precious, you can have a great holiday here for just three or four days.
The Golden Outback encompasses the farming and gold mining regions east of Perth, extending to Kalgoorlie. Within a three-hour drive of Perth there are many farming towns and good roads, so pleasant opportunities to stop and rest and to sightsee. Enjoy the fantastic granite outcrops, such as the massive Wave Rock near Hyden, and beautiful farm country.
GREAT EASTERN HIGHWAY
Once you pass Merredin, three hours from Perth on the Great Eastern Highway, the farms give way to more rugged rich-red country that is dotted with mines and historic towns, particularly Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. Kal, as the locals call it, with its lovely architecture and massive Super Pit mine (which can be seen from the International Space Station) is well worth the visit. The
Fimiston Open Pit was Australia’s largest open cut gold mine until 2016 when it was surpassed by the Newmont Boddington gold mine, also in WA. The Super Pit is located off the Goldfields Highway on the southeast edge of Kalgoorlie. The pit is oblong and in plain view from the highway. It is 3.5k long, 1.5k wide and over 600m deep.
Consider taking the Prospector train to Kalgoorlie (because it is a daytime trip and is one of Australia’s best train journeys) and then drive back to Perth to enjoy both experiences. There is one train each way daily between East Perth and Kalgoorlie that covers the 653km journey in about 6 hours 45 minutes. On Mondays and Fridays there are two services each way. Give yourself a week for this trip.
OTHER WORLDLY LANDSCAPE
Australia’s Coral Coast extends from about 100k north of Perth at Lancelin all the way up to Exmouth, a mere 1133k. The Indian Ocean Drive is particularly lovely with terrific ocean views, the extraordinary Pinnacles and Lobster Shack at Cervantes. It is a day trip from Perth to the other-worldly landscape of the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. Along the way, stop to meet friendly kangaroos and you can even try sand-boarding. The best time to go is between July and October when you’ll see Western Australia in full colour, as the coastal landscapes are filled with spring wildflowers creating Impressionist nature paintings.
Proceeding north to great coastal towns such as Jurien Bay, Dongara, Geraldton, Pink Lake, Kalbarri then up to Shark Bay, and Carnarvon, At Coral Bay where, just one metre after stepping into the water, you can snorkel in safety at the
extraordinary Ningaloo Reef. The Ningaloo Marine Park is a World Heritage-listed site halfway up the coast. The crystalline water harbours the world’s largest fringing reef, a 260-kilometre (162-mile) long coral reef swarming with turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, humpback whales and the elusive whale shark. Nowhere on Earth do these majestic creatures reliably congregate in such large numbers as at Ningaloo Reef.
Finally, you arrive at Exmouth with its gorges, beaches, and reefs where you can base yourself to partake in exciting and unique activities. Do not to miss the incomparable experience of swimming
with a whale shark, flying above migrating whales in an Exmouth microlight flight and staying in a luxury campsite metres from the coral reef. Due to the distances you would need 10 days for this trip. However, you can fly back from Learmonth (near Exmouth) if your time budget is restricted.
Australia’s North West extends from north of Exmouth right through the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, and is enormous. The best time to see this area is in the dry season from May to October. Whilst there are some lovely towns such as Dampier and Karratha in the Pilbara, it is in the Kimberleys where you will see some of the best scenery Australia has to offer.
THE PLANETS OLDEST
The inland distance from Perth to Broome (which is the shortest route) is 2,242 kilometres and I do not advise driving it as you will be very tired long before you reach Broome. My advice would be to fly to Broome and join a tour or a Kimberley cruise. Unless you are very experienced at offroad driving, and know how to drive through rivers, you will not be able to see the best of the Kimberley. Broome has many great tour operators that offer everything from camping to hotel accommodation.
This is some of the oldest land on the planet, and it is simply amazing to experience impressive gorges, wide rivers, cool waterholes in which to swim and a night sky without any ambient light that you can rarely experience anymore. The Kimberleys are huge, you’ll need about ten days to see it properly, or just a couple of days staying in Broome would be more relaxing.
Driving in Western Australia is not difficult but does require planning if you are heading east or north. The reason: very long roads with hardly any towns along the way. Going north, once you reach the town of Northampton, which is over five hours north of Perth, the next town you reach is Carnarvon a mere 425 kms away. The benefits of driving in WA is that you will experience some extraordinary scenery. They are good roads, and visibility is excellent except for when it rains, which is not very often.
So, if planning a driving holiday in Western Australia consider the distance, the loneliness and, most importantly, the danger of getting tired behind the wheel.
It is most important to have at least two drivers in the car, so that one can take over when the other gets tired. On those long trips drivers do get tired. When that happens immediately stop and change. My wife and I do that all the time. I normally drive, but when I feel I am getting tired I pull over, we swap seats and I have a nap. Usually, after ten minutes I feel fresh again.
Stop in towns for a break, for a drink or a meal. Most importantly, you will need that toilet break. In WA there are times when there is no roadside cover such as shrubs or trees.
Travelling north or east you will need to plan your fuel stops.
Out on those long roads where you rarely see another car it is the tradition to greet an oncoming driver with a onefingered salute called a phatic finger.
This is far different than giving one ‘the finger’ which shows displeasure. This is a friendly gesture to acknowledge other drivers. It is a sign of Australian genius that we can use just one slightly extended digit to simultaneously bid a stranger welcome, acknowledge our inferred mateship, plus bid each other a good, safe journey. It is a benign but powerful signal which exudes comradeship and benevolence.
You would think the importance of having such a fleeting acquaintance with another traveller would be celebrated with wild gesticulations, perhaps the honking of horns, or the flashing of lights; but, no. Australians aren’t really overly expressive.
With both hands hanging onto the steering wheel, a device that could quite possibly be redundant on those long, straight roads, the best way to salute your soul mate, that oncoming driver, is to simply raise one finger of acknowledgement as you pass; or perhaps two fingers if you are in a frenzied frame of mind.
Western Australians are friendly, the scenery is magnificent. Our local, fresh cuisine is delicious. Forget about crowds, do something wonderful. With that fifth daily Singapore Airlines flight to Perth, come to WA, where you know you will get a great welcome and satisfy your inner driver.
Snap on your seatbelt, turn up your favourite travelling music, and kick it into overdrive.