Perth – Ningaloo Reef – Perth. 12 Days, 11 Nights

While the sunsets on the West Coast of Australia are spectacular, there’s also the sand, the reefs, the wildlife, the starlight and the breathtaking national parks on this magnificent stretch. Distances are vast but it’s an area of contrasts and provides many beautiful and interesting sights and stops along the way.

Day 1

Perth -> Dongara

Travel time: About 4 hours

Distance: 360km

Nights: 1 night

From our depot it’s an easy run north out of Perth through the Swan Valley, WA’s oldest winemaking region. Stop to sample something local if you spy something appealing as you go by.

Your first night brings you to the pretty seaside twin town of Dongara-Port Denison on the Irwin River, featuring fishing boats, long stretches of beach and even a 1967 drive-in, one of two remaining in WA, that operates from about September – April (check local listings).

Dongara is a historic town with well-preserved buildings and an appealing strip of sprawling fig trees in the main street, planted in 1906. It’s also a very motorhome-friendly town with the added bonus of being pet-friendly: your pooch is welcome at many of the caravan parks.

Day 2

Dongara -> Carnarvon

Travel time: 5 hrs 45 minutes

Distance: 540km

Nights: 1 night

This is a fairly long day of driving, so after an early start from Dongara (try the breakfast at the Seaspray cafe, a local favourite), head north along the Brand Highway, past historic Greenough with its famous leaning trees. From the highway you can spot the river red gums that have given up growing vertically and gone for the horizontal option.

You’ll pass through the fishing city of Geraldton and onto the North West Coastal Highway, where there isn’t much to see on the way – just a few roadhouses but they’re handy places to stop. When you arrive in the agricultural hub of Carnarvon you can stock up on fresh water and supplies if needed, including locally grown mangoes and bananas during season. There are several caravan parks in this riverside town.

If you have extra time, allow for a visit to the Space and Technology Centre.

Day 3 – 4

Carnarvon -> Coral Bay

Travel time: 2.5 hrs

Distance: 240km

Nights: 2 nights

If you’re feeling leisurely about this drive, detour north-west off the highway to check out the impressive Quobba Blowholes, about 70km north of Carnarvon. Just 1km south of the blowholes there’s a gorgeous white beach with good snorkelling in the lagoon. If you like what you see you can stay at the campground.

As you watch the vegetation get shorter further north, keep an eye out for emus, giant termite nests and impressive birds of prey circling overhead.

But your reward for covering many kilometres early on in your trip is to arrive in the relaxed tourist town of Coral Bay, where it’s time to get to know the world-famous Ningaloo Reef. Take a trip with one of the local operators to swim with giant manta rays and turtles (year round) or whale sharks between about March and July.

This is real bucket-list stuff: you’ll be delighted at the sight of a playful manta ray turning circles and you’ll never forget the sight of a gentle giant whale shark cruising just a few metres away. The wildlife of Ningaloo Reef is carefully protected and tourism is well managed. It’s also now also possible to swim with humpbacks on their annual migration.

Book in advance for your boat trips and even your accommodation, as everything fills up quickly in popular times such as school holidays.

Day 5 – 6

Coral Bay -> Exmouth

Travel time: 1.5 hrs

Distance: 150km

Nights: 2 nights

A few nights in the town of Exmouth gives you time to take in the stunning gorges and hikes of the Cape Range National Park, explore Ningaloo Reef even further or dive at the Navy Pier, one of the top shore-dive sites in the country. As it’s a working naval pier, you’ll need to book through a licensed company).

On this trip, don’t forget to take a moment at night to appreciate the astonishing view of the stars. With little light pollution this far north, the Milky Way is clear to see and the giant bowl of constellations arching overhead is endlessly fascinating.

Stay longer if you have more nights to spare. You may not want to leave!

Day 7 – 8 – 9

Exmouth -> Kalbarri

Travel time: 8 hrs

Distance: 800km

Nights: 3 nights

It’s a good idea to start early from Exmouth and share the driving on this long way back south. If you’ve got extra time, add in a few nights at Shark Bay to take in the wildlife and scenery of the area, including Monkey Mia and Dirk Hartog island. You might see dugongs, dolphins, turtles, whales, rays, tiger sharks, flying fish and an abundance of birdlife. That’s an area rich in attractions – but might require another trip depending on how much time you have!

Otherwise if you do the long drive on this day and are still driving at twilight, keep an extra eye out for kangaroos which are likely to spring out from the side of the road.

Arriving in Kalbarri, settle in for a few days of exploring this glorious area. There’s so much to do: hire a boat and try fishing up the river or just off the sand, feed the pelicans daily on the riverfront, book in for a sunset cruise of the coastal cliffs or an offshore fishing charter, take a hike through the spectacular gorges in Kalbarri National Park and stop to appreciate the wildflowers if you arrive in season (July to October).

It’s a well-serviced town with beautiful scenery, friendly locals, great caravan parks, some terrific places to eat and on top of all that, stunning sunsets over the river mouth and out to sea.

Day 10

Kalbarri -> Geraldton

Travel time: 1hr 45min

Distance: 155km

Night: 1 night

From Kalbarri, take the coastal route south. Pull in at one of the rugged cliff spots such as Pot Alley to spot passing whales, access a secluded beach and take deep breaths of the fresh coastal air. Further down, be sure to stop at the pink lake that is Hutt Lagoon (it’s caused by a natural algae) and pop in to see the tiny town of Horrocks with its beach voted a well-deserved best on the Australian mainland.

If you’re peckish, stop for lunch and/or Devonshire tea at the reportedly haunted 1850s Oakabella Homestead south of Northampton, where you might also be lucky enough to hand-feed some lambs and can even camp in a field.

From there it’s an easy run to the fishing town of Geraldton, the setting of Randolph Stow’s 1965 coming-of-age book The Merry-Go-Round In The Sea. The kids (and young-at-heart) will appreciate Geraldton’s foreshore playground and waterpark.

Pay your respects to the 645 lost on the HMAS Sydney II during WWII at the splendid memorial, and try locally caught fish and chips at the fishing harbour.

Or you could book in for a trip to visit the shipwrecks of the nearby Abrolhos Islands, where the Batavia struck a reef in 1629. That’s a bizarre and grisly story – you can learn more at the Museum of Geraldton which has a replica of the longboat that ferried survivors ashore to a miserable fate.

Day 11

Geraldton -> Sandy Cape

Travel time: 2hrs

Distance: 180km

Night: 1 night

About 25km south of Geraldton, the historic town of Greenough is worth a look with its National Trust-listed buildings (pop into the 1863 Hampton Arms Inn), wildlife park – and those leaning trees.

Then for a leisurely coastal route, take the scenic Indian Ocean Drive past dunes and fishing shacks (watch out for echidnas), and turn off to the campground at Sandy Cape Recreation Park. You can’t book here so just show up and see if there’s a spot to be grabbed. You can pay camp fees to the caretaker, and there are barbecues and drop toilets but no drinking water so bring your own.

It’s a truly stunning spot with a sheltered bay great for fishing, swimming and snorkelling, or take in the views from the lookout. You can rent a stand-up paddle board for the calm waters or a sand board to slide down the dunes.

If the campground is full, try holiday parks at Jurien Bay or Cervantes further south, but phone early if it’s a busy period. Jurien Bay is notable for its nearby colonies of Australian sea lions. There are thought to be fewer than 12,000 along the southern coastline, and this is one of the best areas to spot these endangered creatures. Book in for a tour to see their island breeding grounds.

Day 12

Sandy Cape -> Perth

Travel time: 2hrs 50 mins

Distance: 245km

Night: 1 night

Time to return to Perth, but not without a quick stop for coffee at Jurien Bay, or perhaps a tour of the Lobster Shack in Cervantes for a close-up look at the Western rock lobster processing and export industry, and maybe lunch.

But the real must-see on this leg of the trip is a visit to the bizarre landscape of the Pinnacles. Seventeen kilometres south of Cervantes, Nambung National Park’s weirdest feature is a 190ha desert area studded with thousands of limestone monoliths. They’re the remains of a limestone layer that was gradually leached by water from the soil and plant life above, now exposed by sand to the elements. The area is accessible by car but not caravans or larger motorhomes, and you can walk around these puzzling monuments and feel you’re in a George Lucas film.

Speaking of Star Wars scenery, further south you can visit Lancelin’s amazing sand dunes, fit for 4WDing, sand boarding or imagining you’ve crashed your space ship.

Then it’s through the northern region of Perth and if you have time, a trip up to Kings Park to check out the sweeping views of the city and water and finally back to the depot.

Ready to book your own adventure? Book your motorhome or campervan with Let’s Go Motorhomes today!