How to see the best of Southern Western Australia in 9 days
So you are looking to “head West” to Perth but not quite sure where to explore, or just how much you can fit in?
While you could easily spend a week between Perth and sister city Fremantle on the coast, most visitors like to take in at least a few side trips, or head south!
This post is part of our Discover Australia series – learn all about travelling around Australia with kids
Your 9 Day South West WA road trip itinerary
We recommend if you have at least one week to explore southern Western Australia (WA) that you take in a circular road trip of the South West. Our 9-day itinerary assumes you have a week starting and ending with a flight through Perth, but there are plenty more day trips from Perth you could add onto either end of your itinerary, as well as further activities around Perth itself and Fremantle to make this into a spectacular 2-week+ WA itinerary.
Bear in mind that distances are deceptive! It looks like a very small corner of Australia but, in fact, the South West road trip we are about to describe can take well over 1000kms! You may at a glance think you can cover it in a few days, but trust me, you will need longer, to do it any sort of justice and not spend all day in the car.
You could choose a straight forward drive from Perth to the Margaret River Region which is only around a 3-hour drive away and base yourself there just a few days before coming back to explore more around Perth. However, we think there are so many of Australia’s natural gems you’ll miss out on if you don’t continue to head east and explore the Southern Forests and at least part of the Amazing South Coast.
You could also choose to stay longer in each place if you hate the pack/unpack element of road tripping! We’ve given you plenty of different accommodation ideas to try along the way, but another option is to hire a campervan and bring your home with you! Holiday Parks are an incredibly popular way to explore in Australia and make new friends along the way.
You may find holiday rental homes are subject to minimum stays and not as convenient for short road-tripping – but they are absolutely the way to go if you plan to spend a week or more. We’ve recommended a mix of hotels, holiday parks and self-catering accommodation as you make your trek “Down South”
For rental cars, we recommend you start your search on rentalcars.com.
Day 1 Perth
Assuming you are arriving into Perth Airport Day 1 it’s a perfectly logical place to start our round trip and get to know the most isolated capital in the world before starting your road trip.
The airport is only an 18km drive into the city centre. The city is based around the Swan River and the newly developed Elizabeth Quay Waterfront is a real highlight. From here if time permits you can catch a river cruise or head into the city centre. The CBD does not take long to explore, it’s quite pedestrianized and made up of a series of little arcades.
Our favourite place to head to with the kids is Kings Park. You can easily spend a whole afternoon here exploring the various parks and catch spectacular sunset views over the city. Some favourite spots include the Federation Walkway and the Rio Tinto Naturescape park.
Where to stay in Perth
A huge range of accommodation options in the CBD and nearby suburbs. Like any city, the closer to the centre the more you’ll pay. Watch out for car parking fees if you’ve picked up your hire car from the airport. Otherwise, there are some car rentals close in to town too but having your car ready means an early start day 2.
At the top end of the range, the Crown Towers in Burswood is great with plenty of play parks and facilities nearby (also great if you happen to be in town for the AFL!).
There is an increasingly good range of AirBnB properties in Perth to choose from, ideal for family groups.
Day 2 Perth to Bunbury via Dwellingup
Perth to Dwelling up 1hr 30 mins – Dwellingup to Bunbury 1hr 20 mins; or direct Perth to Bunbury 2 hours
Start your journey south from the Mitchell Freeway/State Route 2, turning off at Pinjarra then heading into the forest around Dwellingup with your first stop at Trees Adventure, a ropes course in Lane Poole Reserve! This is a fabulously fun family activity in the forest, ideal from 4 years+ they have a low ropes course then 7 years+ they have various degrees of challenging high ropes courses to tackle. (Pre-booking especially weekends and holidays is a must).
From here you can camp in the forest if you’ve come campervan equipped, or continue your journey back to the coast.
A family favourite in Bunbury is the Dolphin Discovery Centre. This interactive zone has been set up to help foster a healthy relationship between the dolphins that like to all these warm waters home, and us curious humans who love to interact with them.
Where to stay in Bunbury
Day 3 Bunbury to Busselton
Bunbury to Busselton 40 minutes direct
The next stop is only a short hop – though our kids will always insist on a side trip to the small farming town of Donnybrook, famous for it’s Apple Fun Park! Its claim to fame? The biggest FREE outdoor playpark in Australia! There’s all manner of outdoor play equipment here for kids of all ages to enjoy, and of course, nearby bakeries to stop at for a treat before heading on to nearby Busselton.
The undoubted highlight of Busselton is the iconic Busselton Jetty. The longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, a huge amount of restoration work has seen a small electric train installed for those not quite up to the 1.8km walk get to the end and enjoy the Underwater Observatory in Geographe Bay.
The Geographe Bay area generally has very calm beaches making it perfect for small children to swim. There are a multitude of playparks along the foreshore here, or keep heading along the coast to Dunsborough and as far as the tip to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. You can also use this area for beachside walks or running and if you have a doubt on how to choose equipment for these activities, check more here.
Where to stay in Busselton
There’s a HUGE range of family accommodation here from holiday parks to motels and resorts (though don’t quite go thinking Bali). We love and can personally recommend Big 4 Beachlands with great family sized cabins and facilities. Staying near to the jetty in town try the Busselton Jetty Chalets with family sized room options.
Day 4 Busselton to Margaret River (or to Augusta)
Busselton to Augusta is around 1 hour direct
Now, are there any wine lovers in the house? For us grown-ups, this can be the highlight day of a tour down south! There are incredibly over 180 wineries in the Margaret River Region alone, many of which offer cellar door tastings – from huge conglomerates offering restaurant meals and entertainment with your lunch or dinner, through to smaller boutiques only open weekends for tastings by appointment. The options are endless!!!
If you are coming for a full wine-tasting experience you will, of course, need to plan carefully. There are many tour companies that can do the driving for you – or take sensible precautions and allocate your skipper! Police are vigilant on you remaining below the 0.05 alcohol limit for driving – with good reason and those small sample glasses add up quickly.
You can perhaps reasonably see three to five wineries in one day without being totally rushed, but wine-lovers are best recommended to allow extra days in the region to enjoy this part of the itinerary to it’s fullest. Our full list of family-friendly favourite wineries coming soon.
If you’re more beer than wine, or drinking is not really your thing there is still PLENTY to do in the Margaret River region. Many craft breweries double as family-friendly restaurants and are top spots for a day out, we love Cheeky Monkeys, Colonial Brewing Co & Bootleg Brewery just to name a few.
Exploring the limestone caves along aptly named Caves Road is also an exciting part about visiting the Margaret River Region. Suited to slightly older children, take on Mammoth Caves, Jewel Caves with its enormous chambers, enjoy the underground Lake Cave or reveal in the history of the region with a guided tour through Ngilgi Cave – a complete guide here to which caves may suit your family’s ages best.
And more kiddy favourites in the region include the Yallingup Maze, the Margaret River Chocolate Company, Margaret River Ice Cream and the Candy Cow in Cowanarup.
How have I gotten this far and not mentioned the beaches? Renown for its spectacular surf coast, there are many wonderful beaches along the Margaret River coast, most notably Smiths Beach and Prevelley Beach mouth for your surf-lovers and crashing waves. Neighbouring Gnarabup Beach is slightly calmer with the kids.
Our complete guide to Margaret River with Kids coming very soon!
Walking with the stingrays at Hamelin Bay is also a popular past-time, you will find Hamelin Bay toward the southern end of the Margaret River Region coastline. Then the very last town you come to is Augusta. A walk out to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse will see you at the very south-westernmost point of Australia, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.
Where to stay near Margaret River
Compared to the rest of the South West, the Margaret River Region is actually quite a compact part of the state between the tip at Cape Naturalist to Cape Leeuwin in the south is about 110kms. You could choose to spend 3-4 days based in one spot in this region without moving every night. Margaret River itself is only one of many small towns, though it has grown substantially in recent years along with its reputation.
The township of Augusta is actually quite small and quiet. There is an OK motel in town, and plenty of holiday homes spotted around, but you may prefer to stay further north in the region and just day trip down to Augusta or try out the sweet little holiday park in Hamelin Bay.
Got an accommodation suggestion? We are currently compiling our list of best Margaret River family stays for 2020 – get in touch if you have an idea or want your property to feature as the Globetrotters will be touring the region this year for updated reviews.
Day 5 Augusta to Walpole via Manjimup
Augusta to Walpole is 245kms or 3 hours direct
Day 5 is one of those deceptively long drives, depending on which route you take and how many stops. There are no straight lines through the spectacular forests of southern Western Australia.
You will be utterly blown away as you head through the tall timber forests including Karri Jarrah and Tingle Tree forests. The region has a checkered history between the need for forests and wood and the need to protect the biodiversity of the region. A trip through the Southern Forests and particularly Walpole on the south coast brings much of this to life with a combination of both plantation and old growth forest.
Those with a good head for heights may want to stop in at one of the Fire Climb Trees in the Pemberton region (recommended for older children only). You can head to the visitor centre afterward to collect a certificate marking your achievement (I still proudly have mine from when I was 10!!)
No trip to the Southern Forests region for us would be complete without a stop in at the Manjimup Heritage Park adventure playground. It has one of the most amazing and beautiful kid’s playgrounds with one of the tallest slides you will ever see! (The cafe seemed closed during our last visit 2018, there are otherwise several bakeries in town to grab a bite before heading to the park).
One of the most famous attractions in the region is the Valley of the Giants Skywalk and Ancient Empire Walk below. It’s quite pricey to go in but, of course, amazing. A small tip though you can get into the Empire Walk for free, the charge is only for the treetop walk. Otherwise, there are many other tingle forests and short walks in the region that are without charge too, learn about them here.
Where to stay near Walpole
We highly recommend heading just a little beyond Walpole to an area called Coalmine Beach. They have both normal camping sites here, cabins, and even glamping tents – you can see our full review of their glamping tents here!
Got longer? Stay another full day in Walpole and catch one of the morning WOW Wilderness Cruises that comes highly commended via relatives and friends. It commences at 10am daily from the jetty in Walpole and lasts 2.5 hours. Host Gary Muir takes you through the regions nature and history on a fabulous and fascinating excursion back in time with some amazing humour and storytelling.
Day 6 Walpole to Albany via Denmark
Walpole to Albany is 120kms, 1.5 hours if you drive direct
There are two ways you can tackle this leg – depending on if you’ve had your fill of spectacular beaches or if you’re tending towards beer and wine – though by all means try both!
If you didn’t have time to see the Valley of the Giants then tackle this at the start of Day 6 as they are the next stop from Walpole on the South Coast Highway.
There are several inlets you can stop at but our absolute favourite and I’m sure you’ve caught dreamy photos before is Greens Pool in William Bay National Park. The stunning rock formations and brilliant white sands are to die for! (So much so this is where we had our wedding photos taken!)
We love heading slightly further around to Mad Fish Bay. Be warned the waters here can be rougher, and you need to be very careful with your tides, but there are more little coves and better rock climbing to be found here with fewer tourists who don’t want to take on the extra dirt track – still 2WD accessible.
Whilst you can happily spend all day here, if you are a wine-lover, you won’t want to miss Scotsdale Rd. Wind through the hills behind the coastal township of Denmark for what I would argue are some of WA’s best wineries (they just don’t shout about it as loud as Margaret River but trust me, you’ll be spoilt!!!)
A great family place to stop for a feed on the South Coast Highway is Boston Brewing Co. They have a huge garden area and playground for the sunny days, as well as a lovely warm restaurant with fire for the winter months.
Another up and coming boutique star to try just before you get to Albany is Wilson Brewing Co. (It’s definitely a designated driver day!)
Where to stay near Denmark
There are plentiful accommodation choices just in Denmark, though many holiday homes are better suited to longer stays. Otherwise, head onward to Albany which is another 40 minutes drive and make this your base for the next two nights.
Day 7 Albany
Albany is one of the country’s most dramatic coastal towns with an incredibly rich history. It is, in fact, WA’s oldest city being settled in 1826 as one of the first military outposts of New South Wales (it pre-dates Fremantle).
We recommend you start with a morning at the Albany Heritage Park, Mount Adelaide and Mount Clarence. Here you will find the National ANZAC Centre and stunning views over the city from the highest vantage points as well as several memorials and exhibits from World War I and World War II.
Spend a little time in Albany High Street – if it’s raining the little WA Museum here makes an excellent refuge! Kids will no doubt want to explore the Brig Amity replica ship, very popular with the little ones.
In the afternoon, head out to the Vancouver Peninsular and Torndirrup National Park. Once again, there are some stunning beaches. At the end of the peninsular, you will come to whaling cove and the historic Discovery Bay Whaling Centre. It is an interesting visit, but if you’re short on time, I would save your money and stick with the spectacular natural attractions.
The most dramatic ocean stops await at the Gap & Natural Bridge and the Blowholes. Hold on to the kids because it can be mighty blustery even on a calm day (The blowholes are not suitable for small children). The Gap has seen major infrastructure put in place so visitors can stand on a viewing platform while watching the stunning show beneath as waves fiercely crash into the rock face, a true force of nature.
Want to add some extra days from Albany? If time permits, keep travelling east and keep enjoying the spectacular southern ocean coastline. Our all-time favourite little patch of beach (albeit I need to shut up about it as every year more and more people are there, even in winter!) is Little Beach in Two People’s Bay. It is that perfect.
It goes without saying as with anywhere along this south coast, watch the tides and changes in the ocean. Never leave kids unsupervised near the water and watch for sudden winds.
Further afield again, you could keep heading on to Bremer Bay, 180kms further east. A much smaller town but an excellent spot for whale spotting. If you are visiting during January to March you may catch the killer whale season in the Bremer Canyon.
Where to stay in Albany
Albany has a huge range of accommodation offerings to suit all budgets. For families, we recommend the calm waters of Middleton Beach or Emu Point with its plentiful playgrounds and access to the Ellen Cove walk.
We recommend Big 4 Middleton Beach for camping and onsite cabins, or try Emu Point Motel. There are a great number of longer-term rentals around Albany too, or more motel style accommodation closer to town.
Route Alternative: At this point, most travellers on a tight schedule head back to Perth, but as part of a longer 2-week round-trip, you can extend your road trip along the south coast to Esperance (480km/ 5 hours). You return journey could then take you further into the Wheatbelt and past Wave Rock (approx. 8 hours return). Learn more about travelling from Perth to Esperance here.
Day 8 Albany to Perth
Albany to Perth, via the Porongurups, is 5 hours driving
You can return directly to Perth up the Albany Highway, but there still plenty of stops you can make along the way depending on time. The direct drive will take you 4.5 hours but we recommend more stops along the way to make a full day of it.
The first stop is Mount Barker and its award-winning bakery for breakfast, then head slightly east from Mount Barker to visit the Porongurups. An easy(ish!) morning walk is up Castle Rock and the Granite Skywalk. A fairly steep 45-minute uphill climb then some scrambling at the top to be rewarded with these views.
As part of an extended trip down south you could take on the Stirling Ranges too, the highest point in Western Australia – often hitting the news when on the occasional coldest days of winter the peaks experience snowfall!
The drive home up the Albany Highway is rather flat and straight from this point. Williams is a nice town to make a snacking stop before climbing back through the forests of Jarrahdale andthe dramatic mountainous decent into Armadale and Perth city.
Where to stay in Fremantle
Day 9 Fremantle
Spend your final day in Fremantle before departure exploring the port city – locals will tell you they are two different cities but the sprawl of suburbs it’s hard to tell!
Fremantle is undoubtedly the industrial port but also has a unique charm that lures visitors to enjoy fish and chips on the harbour, explore the markets and the many museums.
With a little longer on your itinerary, you will want to add either a day trip or spend a few nights out at “Rotto”. Rottnest Island is a favourite with Perth families for its calm bays and car-free roads made for family cycling trips, and adorable quokkas, of course!
The practicalities – how to road trip in Western Australia
We have a comprehensive guide on road tripping the whole state of Western Australia here, but assuming you are just tackling the South West corner, here are a few further ideas to help you plan your trip:
- Beware WA school holidays – it is exceptionally busier during the Western Australia school holidays& public holiday weekends.
- Weekends in the Margaret River region are also much busier with weekend trippers from Perth. If you can visit outside of Friday/Saturday/Sunday things might be much quieter.
- Don’t be surprised though once you’re off the main tourist drag, many smaller businesses may be shut early in the week, only opening say Thu-Sun.
- The roads are undulating and windy; towns certainly do not connect in straight lines and speed limits vary for the conditions. This makes it a great excuse to explore small town WA. There are many claims to fame of having the best park or the best stopover, best bakery, you name it – this corner of the world is just thriving for that “quick stop” on the side of the road so plan your day by day progress carefully!
- Watch for limited kms when hiring a car. More of an issue when you hire a car in the more remote parts of Australia, they will limit the number of kilometres you can do per day without extra charge – always read the fine print.
- If driving near sunset especially, keep your eye out for ‘roos. You should always use headlights on the highways.
- Driving is on the left side of the road (steering wheel on the right) and speed limits strictly enforced.
- Like all good travellers – make sure you take out travel insurance!
Use this comprehensive Skyscanner planning tool to price out the different parts of your WA Trip
A two week Perth to the South West Itinerary
Ask anyone in Perth and I am sure they will tell you a week is nowhere near long enough to explore down south. This itinerary is just a taster so you can see what’s available and the distance that needs to be covered.
We’d highly recommend at a minimum you double this itinerary to two weeks to make the most of it and settle into places for longer. A two-week itinerary for the south west of WA could look like:
Day 1-2: Perth
Day 3: Pinjarra & Bunbury
Day 4: Busselton & Dunsborough
Day 5-7: Margaret River & Augusta
Day 8-9: The Southern Forests
Day 10-12: Denmark & Albany
Day 13-14: Fremantle & Rottnest
It’s entirely up to you – tailor your holiday to your families love of beaches, nature & fresh produce – there is an abundance of all of our favourite things in this most amazing corner of the world!
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Want to catch more of our Australian Adventures?
Don’t miss our guides to:
- Best Australian animal encounters
- Port Douglas & things to do with kids in tropical north Queensland
- Essential stops on a Queensland Road Trip
- Broome with Kids
- Brisbane with Kids
- Unique Sydney experiences with Kids
- Melbourne with kids
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