Western Australia as a Travel Destination—
Add-on or focus?
estern Australia is the largest Australian state in terms of area (being second
after Siberia’s Sakha Republic as a sub-national entity), and its capital
Perth is the geographically most isolated city in the world. In terms of
population density (0.79/km), it is second last in Australia before the
Northern Territory (0.15/km, compared with 22 in Victoria and 137.53/km in
Capital Territory). In terms of international tourism, however, Western Australia
is rather neglected despite decades of promotional efforts. It does not help
that in Eastern Australia there is a tradition of viewing Western Australia
as the back of beyond and as a cultural wasteland, as an area of little
culture. Undoubtedly, the main reason for this neglect is Western Australia’s
geographical isolation. Although it is situated in the southwestern corner
of the state,
the Perth area is closer to Jakarta than to Sydney.
in other parts of Australia often say and write “West Australia.”
This is unacceptable in the West, even if it is consistent with “South
Australia,” the official name of the neighboring state. The official
and only acceptable version is “Western Australia.” But the adjectival form “West Australian” is the preferred one,
though “Western Australian” is acceptable. — You sure aren’t alone if you’re confused now.
Being situated on the Indian Ocean shore, Western Australia began as a separate
British colony after weak Dutch and French attempts at exploring and colonizing
the area. Even the railway system began as a separate
that of Australia’s east, with rails of a different gauge, so that train carriages
must still be fitted with different wheels at the border between Western Australia
and South Australia. But ... see? This is fun, isn’t it? It ain’t no run-of-the-mill stuff. There are lots of adventures
and lots of things to explore—and we aren’t even only talking about breathtaking landscapes and splendid beaches
away from the usual tourist track. There’s history, and there’s culture—contrary to many people’s preconceived ideas.
It is important to consider Western
Australia in this light rather than as a negligible appendage to Eastern
Getting There— From
the east or
through the back door?
Flights from Australia’s east coast to Western Australia are often more costly
than those from Southeast Asia. Western Australia is therefore not a convenient
destination for international travelers with severe budget and time constraints
that hope to accommodate a visit west with a visit to the usual tourist
destinations in Eastern and Central Australia. The large state is too remote
and has too much to offer to be thought of as a flying-visit destination,
as an afterthought.
If it does not serve as a destination in its own right, it might as well
be combined with a visit to Bali, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur
or Singapore for example.
And if you have been to Eastern Australia before, you might find it
and economical to combine a visit to Western Australia with one to Southeast
By the way, West Australian time is seven hours
ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, being in the same time zone as the Far East (e.g.
Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo), which is two hours behind the Australian east coast
and twelve hours ahead of the US east coast.
Those with the wish and time to include Western Australia in their visit
to Australia ought to consider three modes of ground transportation, taking
at least three days one way. (It is about 50 hours of driving between Perth
Driving a motorcar across (at least one way) combines the freedom
of movement with access to unforgettable sights of the rugged Southern
and of the outback, including the unforgettable Nullarbor Desert.
Doing the same by “coach” (overland bus) is similar,
only with less freedom, though there tends to be a familial atmosphere
among the passengers by the
end of the trip. It can be a fun trip, even though amenities tend to be
on the rustic side.
The Indian-Pacific train service offers by far the most convenient
and spectacular ride, though not the cheapest one. It is one of very few
left in the world—with private compartments, showers, good food, and
tea or coffee in bed. It’s a cruise on wheels with splendid sights of Australia’s
natural wonders. For many people, this alone is worth a trip to Australia.
It’s three in one: a train enthusiast’s dream come true, an outback safari, and a relaxing cruise on wheel.
ain’t Kansas anymore.”
Remember that we are dealing with Down Under where many a thing seems upside
down and back to front to people of the Northern Hemisphere. Water whirls the
other way around, and, sporting the Southern Cross, the usually
sky looks totally different. And the seasons are “reversed” also, of course. Add an assortment of climates to the mix, and things start
getting even more interesting. This requires particular timing strategies on
the part of the visitor.
Your timing depends on your itinerary and interests. As we now know for sure,
the seasons are “reversed” from those of the Northern Hemisphere. Bear in mind
north is hot and dry in the “winter” and rainy in the summer, and that
in the south it is the other way around.
Australia still has secluded beaches and coves,
such as this one at Margaret River, south of the Perth area.
In the south, the rainy season
(with regular downpours and cool nights) begins in about April
or May and
ends before Christmas, after which time there is no rain at all, and
midday temperatures can soar to over 100°F (37°C) in dry air, until the
Doctor Wind” cools things down in the afternoon. After a windy period
around sunset it cools down considerably. Although the nights are actually
balmy taken by themselves, the sudden drop in temperature makes them feel rather
cool. So you might have to put on a light jacket. But, hey, you can
still lounge around outside, and people do.
Summertime is garden party time.
(Can you smell the jasmine underneath wafts of lemon-scented eucalyptus?)
The climate in the Greater Perth Area is comparable to those of the Mediterranean
Well, if you are from North American, think of it as Arizona with a beach if
you can. You are basically dealing with desert climate, though there is a
narrow coastal belt with beautiful flora between the ocean and the “bush,”
and in and around urban centers this has been boosted by flora introduced mostly
from Mediterranean Europe and from Southern Africa.
Those with an interest in flora and an eye for natural beauty need to consider
taking in the state’s springtime wildflower splendor—vast carpets of a dazzling
array of weird and wonderful blooms. Areas rich in wildflowers, most of which
are unique to the area, can be reached by car or with organized
tours from Perth and several towns.
Old Mill in South Perth
Those that want to experience the spectacular vast Northwest are best
advised to consider doing this during the northern dry season and
to do so with organized tours or by flying to Broome and renting
there. (Dry riverbeds can be filled up in a matter of minutes during the rainy
season, and it is not uncommon for travelers to get cut off from the outside
world.) Population centers are few and far between. Outside mining areas, the
Aboriginal sites. If you want to experience what it feels like to be all alone
on earth and to be the first person ever to enter a place (even though you
aren’t), you’ll have plenty of opportunities for that.
The town of Broome is worth a visit in that it began pretty much as a
tropical settlement of people from Asia, including Japanese pearl
fishers, and it has preserved and expanded its Asian character. It’s a wonderful
place to enjoy East and Southeast Asian seafood dishes, to stroll through markets
and to see the closest thing to camel caravans.
In the summertime, it is particularly pleasant to head south from the
Perth area through beach resort towns and the magnificent and unique fern-padded
karri forests riddled with ancient caves, many of them archeological sites.
Such a tour might end in the historic whaling port Albany where the Indian
it may continue
Esperance and then northward inland to the old mining towns Kalgoorlie and
Coolgardie, from there westward back to the Perth area.
skyline of Perth, Western Australia’s capital, can be seen from East Fremantle.
All year round, seafood, lamb and beef are plentiful, relatively affordable
and usually of high quality, as are locally grown fruits and vegetables sold
directly by market gardeners. “Tree”-ripened West Australian bananas ... “yummy”! The quality of food
preparation and presentation in various eateries is high and rising steadily,
and there is
especially due to large-scale immigration from Mediterranean Europe and from
many Asian countries. West Australian beer and wine production is noteworthy.
If you are American, try Australian ginger ale and realize what the real stuff
is supposed to taste like. And what can be better than
a cold can of that stuff on a hot afternoon somewhere on a bench in Perth
Colonial Western Australia—
Once a remote
penal colony with a Dutch touch
There are numerous colonial sites in the southwest, too many to name them all.
Roundhouse is Western Australia’s oldest
By far the most historic place is the port city of Fremantle, affectionately
called “Freo,” now a de facto part of the greater capital city area, just a short
ride from Perth’s city center. The downtown area is full of history-rich
buildings. You can easily walk to most of them in the downtown area, beginning
with a stroll from the Mall by the historic town hall down High Street to the
Roundhouse. This area offers much diversion in a casual, relaxed atmosphere,
of shops, eateries, pubs and cafés.
one of the British Empire’s most notorious convict labor
facilities, the Fremantle Prison is now a museum.
Overlooking Bathers Bay, the Roundhouse is the oldest remaining building
in the state, having been built as a colonial jail (locally spelled “gaol”)
in 1830–1831. Bathers Bay used to be a significant whaling port (another famous
one being in Albany at the state’s southwestern corner).
Now a public museum, the architecturally interesting Fremantle Prison used to
be one of the British Empire’s most notorious convict labor facilities. Within
easy walking distance from downtown Fremantle, it
is found in the sleepy West End area in which many beautiful restored colonial
homes can be admired.
mental health facility of the scary kind to a place of history and
culture— the Fremantle
History Museum comes with several ghosts.
Once the “Fremantle Lunatic Asylum,” also known as the “Asylum for the
Criminally Insane” and now dedicated to local and state history and occasionally
serving as a function venue, the Fremantle History Museum is one of the state’s
most significant restored colonial buildings. It
now houses the Fremantle Arts Centre and the Immigration Museum. Don’t be surprised if you feel watched or touched while strolling by
yourself or listening to a chamber music concert in the courtyard. The place
is said to be haunted, and it isn’t the only such place in Freo.
The West Australian Maritime Museum and The Shipwreck Gallery make up an impressive
maritime archeology museum complex complete with beautifully displayed salvaged
cargo and the preserved 17th-century Dutch ship from which it came. Housed
in a daringly designed building on
Quay, the New Maritime Museum serves as an extension of the older facility.
renovated Fremantle Market entices locals and tourists.
Built in 1897, the Fremantle Market building is now listed by the National
Trust and Heritage Council. It was restored and reopened as a market in 1980
and is a favorite among both locals and tourists. Produce and specialty foods
tend to be of high quality, and there is always some entertainment and lots
In Perth, King’s Park with its spectacular vistas and excellent botanical garden is a definite
Following the Swan River upstream from its sizeable mouth eastward, you hit upon
historic agricultural communities and notable wineries with guided tours and
The old Gold Rush towns Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie are situated in the
Gold Fields, in the outback east of the Perth area. You can drive there from
Perth, take a bus or go by train. They are stops along the Indian-Pacific line.
historic buildings lining the cities’ wide streets, and the look and atmosphere
is reminiscent of the old American
with “light” and “cazh”
West Australians prefer a casual lifestyle and rarely dress up as much
as people in most other countries would on special occasions. You are expected
to wear a top and shoes (and of course pants or a skirt) in pubs and eateries
as well as at indoor parties. Otherwise dress rules are few and far between
and are really contrary to common Australian attitudes with their underlying
contempt for pretentiousness and authority. It is not uncommon to see people
do their grocery shopping in their “bathers.”
browsing in casual dress inside the Fremantle Market
This casual atmosphere makes packing for a trip to Western Australia easy. (If
you come from South Africa or Namibia you don’t need to change a thing; much will remind you of things back home.) Leave
heavy and bulky clothing at home, and go with a bunch of light clothing that
Add a light jacket or cardigan for windy evenings and cool nights. Go with
the most breathable fabrics. Cotton is ideal. You can always handwash and airdry
some items. The
assure that even denim dries in no time. Shorts and light dresses are predominant
in the warm season. For special occasions, casual, albeit neat-looking tops
and pants are good enough, as are nice but non-flashy dresses. (European visitors
are often seen as overdressed, even if it is normal for them.) In this
as in other
rules of thumb in Australia are “casual, not sloppy” and “don’t be a show-off.”
But either bring or upon arrival buy a sun hat (preferably one that doesn’t take off with the first gust of wind) or something of that ilk. Sunglasses
are very important, for daytime light tends to be very glaring. Most importantly,
make sure you apply and frequently reapply a strong sun block (with no less
than SPF 45). Australia with its thin ozone layer and with a predominance of
people of North European descent has a high skin cancer rate, and baking in
the sun is very dangerous, especially if you come from a moderate or cool climate.
to the area, the kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos
manglesii) is Western Australia’s
If you must
take home stuff
other than memories
Favorite and most accessible West Australian tourist souvenirs include dried
wildflower arrangements and seeds, and, as elsewhere in Australia, opals.
If you are a wine lover, consider having a
case of your special Swan River variety shipped home for you. Or how about
crafted furniture or sculpture made from silky native wood? Also, Western Australia
has its fair share of artists and craftspeople, and there are numerous gems
Last but not least, there are Aboriginal arts and crafts worth considering.
But if you are a stickler, you should look for them at reputable shops whose
willing to provide authenticity papers as well as information
about the people that created the works.
author lived in Fremantle
for about ten years.