The Ultimate Western Australia Road Trip Planning Guide | Australia
I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while, because quite frankly where on earth do you begin writing about a road trip that covered over 4,000km and ended up being your best experience in Australia? How do you find the words to describe a trip that changed your world? I’m not exactly sure even now and it’s going to be a little rough around the edges, but the time has come to try and share my experience with you guys – so here is my raw and unedited guide to planning the most epic road trip across Western Australia.
Where on earth do you begin?
Which way shall I go?
Start simple and see how it fits in with your travel plans and the changing weather across Australia – do you want to do what I did and start down in Perth as winter arrives and drive up towards the heat of Darwin’s dry season? Or do you want to escape the wet season in Darwin and drive down towards the sunshine of Perth? Both ways have their pros and cons, so choose what fits with your plans the best. I always prefer to chase the sun so I started in the cooler place and planned to end my time in Darwin so I could easily pick up work after the trip.
Who shall I go with?
You might already have road trip buddies in mind, or like me, you might have yet to find them. Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone who is planning to do the trip at the same time as you! I just caught a flight to Perth, found a hostel in Fremantle and within my first few hours there I already had two separate offers from travellers asking if I wanted to join their trip. Within a week I met even more amazing people who were asking the same, and basically my end road trip group was a random mixture of people who originally had never planned to do the trip together. It was great, nobody really knew each other that well, but we knew we liked each other and we were excited to travel together. I actually didn’t 100% make up my mind to join them until less than 24 hours before we started driving! We started out with myself in a car with an English girl, Lizzie, and a German couple driving another car, but by the end of the trip we would have a convoy of 10 people in six cars – almost all friends from Fremantle. When choosing who to go with, you just have to trust your gut.
What car do I need?
Okay first of all, let’s clarify that you don’t NEED a 4WD for this trip. There are only a few very small parts that you are unable to access with a 2WD and it will save you a lot of money. I was lucky and everyone else already had cars so I was able to just jump in and contribute to fuel costs – this is a great way of doing it if you don’t feel confident buying a car and having to sell it afterwards. However, buying a car is the best way to do it – you have the freedom to drive for as long as you want, to change your plans at the drop of a hat and so much more independence. Hiring a car means you are on a time limit, you have to take extra care of the vehicle and worry about damage costs plus you have to pay a daily rate on top of fuel costs. My friends all had Holden Commodores and I can’t recommend them enough – such reliable vehicles, we had lots of room to sleep in the back on mattresses, plenty of space to store all of our camping gear, plus great on fuel.
How long will it take?
The trip can take as long or as short a time as you want – we took six weeks to drive from Fremantle to Darwin but we all wanted to really take our time on the trip and enjoy it. We rushed the last bit between Broome and Darwin because two people had to catch flights, we did that in just a week, but the rest was a nice gentle pace. However, I know people who have done it in 2-3 weeks and have still had time to do the highlights – but, you do have to be realistic about the driving. 4,000km is no joke and sometimes the road are just big and empty for a very long way, driving on your own can be exhausting so it’s good to have someone to swap with for a while, especially if you’re planning to drive a long stretch in one day.
How much will it cost?
Again it does depend on whether you buy a car, hire one or jump in with friends and how long you take to do the trip. But I saved probably around $3-4,000 and then had money put aside from my tax-back before I did the trip. I think altogether I spent around $2,500 on the trip which included all the fuel, food, trips like the whale shark swim, entrance to national parks and alcohol. I saved money by jumping into the cars of friends and my now-boyfriend, I also saved money because they already had all the camping gear/bedding etc that we would need. We also shared food and cooked altogether which I think saved us a lot of money and effort doing it individually each night. We nearly always camped wild so we didn’t have to pay for campsites, and in terms of alcohol, we weren’t getting drunk every night so it wasn’t too expensive to buy a few crates of cider every now and again between all of us.
What do I need?
Top things to think about once you have the vehicle organised is where will you sleep? If you’re sleeping in the car, organise a proper foam mattress – you won’t regret it, this will give you some of the best sleeps. Camping? Make sure you have a good tent that is quick and easy to put up in the dark, plus either a blow up or foam mattress – a lot of the camping spots have rocks and uneven ground, which can mean a rubbish sleep if you don’t go prepared. Take very warm clothes for at night, at the beginning of the trip I would go to bed in three layers including thermals, a hat, two pairs of socks and laying under a thick duvet – it was mighty cod at night near Perth and I was sleeping in a car, it was worse in the tent. Don’t worry, it couldn’t be more different up by Darwin.
Make sure you have all your food preparation gear – camping stove with plenty of gas, chopping board, cutlery, sharp knives, pots and pans, a teapot or camping kettle is good for boiling water faster. Get storage containers for all your food and gear, it make life so much easier when it can easily be taken out of the car in the evenings and you know where everything is – plus they stop anything trying to eat your food. Camping chairs make a huge difference – they cost barely anything so make sure you have some. Also, make sure you have a spare petrol can – either strap it to the top of the car or keep it inside, it will come in handy. If you see cheap fuel, fill it up and save money late on when prices get higher.
Why should I do this trip?
Western Australia is genuinely the most beautiful part of Australia – forget the partying of the East Coast, WA is vast, untouched and empty – they couldn’t be more opposite. It was my favourite experience of Australia and the one really true taste of living that Australian dream of camping out under the stars and on the beaches every night, washing in the ocean, swimming in crystal clear waterfalls and clambering through gorges, driving huge empty roads, hiking mountains and sweaty jungle, swimming with dolphins and whale sharks, seeing nature at it’s wildest, sand boarding down the dunes and climbing up to breathtaking viewpoints in national parks. I could go on – but my words aren’t enough to do it justice, you really have to experience it for yourself.
30 highlights of Western Australia
Now we’ve talked about how to start planning the trip, let’s talk about the amazing place you’ll see and the things you’ll do on the trip! I’ll be writing about most of these in much more detail in separate posts but here is just a list of all the must-see sights along the way:
- Sand boarding at Lancelin
- Leaning Tree at Greenough
- The Pinnacles desert at Nambung National Park
- Camping at Jurien Bay, right on the beaches
- Lesueur National Park for a beautiful drive through meadows of flowers
- Gorge walks at Kalbarri National Park
- Waterfall swims and mountain climbs at Karijini National Park
- Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia
- Snorkelling at Coral Bay and Shark Bay
- Swimming with whale sharks at Exmouth
- Beaches, snorkelling, gorge hikes and views at Cape Range National Park
- Mermaid moments at Shell Beach
- Sunsets of dreams every single night
- Outback living at Bulgarra Cattle Station
- Hiking, gorge walking and bat spotting at Katherine Gorge
- More waterfalls at Litchfield National Park
- Stargaze and moon watch as you camp in darkness, prepare for the most shooting stars you’ve ever seen
- Go croc-spotting up the coast and through the national parks
- Watch the camels at sunset on Cable Beach in Broome
- Natural power at The Blowholes and The Gap at Albany
- Hot springs at Katherine
- Visit Lake Argyle for peaceful man-made beauty and croc-spotting
- See the pink lake, Lake Hillier, with your own eyes
- Nature’s Window
- Lookouts at Eagle’s Bluff
- Francois Peron National Park for red cliffs, white beaches and clear waters
- If you have 4WD, the Gibb River Road towards Darwin
- Kakadu National Park for more amazing waterfalls and hikes
- Diving around Exmouth, including the Pier Dive
- Drinking ciders around a campfire under the stars
Hopefully this guide will give you a head start on planning your trip by answering some of the questions I definitely had before I left – but also I want to remind you to be spontaneous and keep changing your plans. If you talk to locals and head about an amazing camping spot, stay one more night to experience it, or fancy spending a few days snorkelling at the beaches, just do it. Our trip was incredible because we were all such a laid-back group and because we didn’t have a time limit, we just enjoyed the freedom of life on the road and took one day at a time. Western Australia is one of the few road trips yo can do where you can genuinely be in the wilderness and not see another soul for days at a time, take the time to appreciate this life – turn your phone off, breathe in the clean air, watch the moon rise and really live every second. You won’t regret it.
Have any questions about planning your WA road trip? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer all your questions…