Our road trip through Western Australia with Wicked Campers was amazing and we especially loved exploring the mid-west of Australia’s largest state. In our first week we travelled to the southern part and you can find all information including recommendations for Perth here. The second and third week we drove all the way from Perth to Coral Bay and Exmouth along the beautiful Coral Coast. In this article you find all our best tips for this region, making sure that your trip will be as great as ours!
Starting in Perth
Exploring the Coral Coast can be best started from Perth, as this is where all the international flights arrive and where most rental companies such as Wicked Campers, which we used, have their offices. It is a good idea to spend a few days in Perth before starting your actual road trip up to north, as this way you can experience this great city as well! You can find all our tips and information about Perth including hotels, restaurants and good coffee places in our first article about road tripping in South-Western Australia here.
Perth to Coral Bay: The ultimate road trip in Western Australia!
Perth to Cervantes
The first distance takes you about 200 kilometres north from Perth to Cervantes. It is a really beautiful drive as the street is right next to the coastline offering some really nice views. Take a little bit of extra time to stop every now and then, enjoy the views and take some pictures. You will pass a few lookouts, where you can get a feeling of how big Australia is and how few people actually live here. Once you leave Perth and its suburbs you’ll find less and less houses and a lot of untouched nature. You will also pass a big sand dune which you can spot from the far distance already. Make sure to stop and take some pictures – it’s quite impressive! Cervantes itself has not too much to offer, but makes a good overnight stay before heading further up north.
Another stop you definitely need to make on your way to Cervantes are the famous Pinnacles. These are small to large limestones rising out of the yellow desert in the Nambung National Park. You can take your car with you and drive through the Pinnacles Desert, and every now and then there are parking spots and lookouts to stop. You can also go on a track and walk through these incredible formations, but make sure not to get lost and to take enough water with you – in the end, it’s a desert! The park opens all year and the entrance is 12 AUD per person / vehicle. If you come between August and October you might be lucky to experience the more than beautiful blossom of the wildflowers!
Cervantes to Geraldton
The first stop from Cervantes going north is Jurien Bay. This is a small town with beautiful beaches! The sand is white and the water turquoise and very clear. Make sure to take your time and enjoy the waters, go snorkelling or diving in the limestone reefs and caves. Your next and final stop is Geraldton, which is a cosy town and the biggest you will encounter during this trip. We’ve spent two days here to get some work done in the town’s library which offers free wifi. You also find a few nice cafés and bars in Geraldton and there are plenty of public barbecues to enjoy right at Geraldton beach.
Geraldton to Kalbarri
From Geraldton it’s less than 160 kilometres to Kalbarri and the Kalbarri National Park with its famous window rock. The park is located behind the city centre and you shouldn’t miss a walking trip here! You can also do a horse tracking or do a scenic flight if you want to be a bit more adventurous. Kalbarri is only a small town with not too much to offer, but its surrounding nature is incredible. Right before entering Kalbarri you will pass the magnificent costal cliffs such as the Red Bluff and other formations. You can stop here, have lunch and take a short walk to explore this iconic landmark. Alternatively, you can also go for a few hours costal track to fully explore this coastline.
Principality of Hutt River
If you’re up for something weird and crazy, you can visit the Principality of Hutt River on your way to Kalbarri. This is an independent country within Australia and you even get a stamp in your passport when visiting it! The founder of this small country is an old Australian and happy about any visitor. When you visit, he will tell you the whole story about how his country got independent from Australia and some very personal facts about his life. You can feel how proud he is about his achievement, and you can see a lot of stuff from other countries which he got as presents from other visitors and even other heads of states.
Kalbarri to Denham / Shark Bay
This is a rather long 4.5 hours drive so you better get up early in the morning or start driving in the afternoons and plan a stop at one of the many overnight parking spots next to the highway, like we did. Once you leave the NW Coostal Hwy and turn left towards Shark Bay you’ll pass Hamelin Pool. Though it sounds like a rather scientific and boring spot to visit you should follow the signs and stop for a few minutes here, walking all the way to the pool as the view is amazing! The next stop towards Denham is Shell Beach, literally a beach that only consists of shells. And you’d better wear your sun glasses as the beach is so bright! Once you enter Shark Bay there are many places to camp in the wild, however you need to buy a permit at the Denham visitor center before.
Monkey Mia is on the other side of Shark Bay and another 30 minutes drive from Denham. Don’t be surprised as we’ve been, as it’s not really a town but only a small resort hotel. You might think why to drive all the way just to visit a resort, but trust me, it’s worth it. Monkey Mia is known for its dolphins that swim into the bay every morning to feed. And you get the opportunity to come really close to them and watch when they are being fed by the resort’s staff. It might sound like quite a commercial activity, but the people there really take care not to interact too much with the dolphins and they also collect data for scientific purposes. But still, to be honest, I would not participate in the feeding and this very touristy and just relax at the beach there. The dolphins come very close anyways and you can even swim in the waters while there are just a few meters next to you! There are also big pelican running around which is very impressive to watch.
Francois Peron National Park
If you are travelling with a 4WD you can also visit the Francois Peron National Park.You will find empty beaches, red coastlines and wild Emus running around here. There are several walking tracks as well as camping spots to stay over night. However, the park might be closed to to heavy rains and flooding like it was when we visited. Always check the latest weather conditions to prepare for alternative activities. Again, you need to get the permission to enter and camp in the park at the visitor center in Denham.
Shark Bay to Carnarvon
The next distance is also rather far and takes about 4 hours of driving. When we arrived in Carnarvon we were rather shocked as the city was just hit by a Cyclone and you could see trees lying on the streets everywhere and there was a really weird atmosphere. We just stopped there to fill our stock as the city has a really large supermarket with good prices. Make sure to buy a lot here as you won’t find such a great choices and cheap prices anymore on your way to Exmouth – especially fruit and vegetables are great to buy here as the region is famous for its plant ages! Other than that the beaches and waters around Carnarvon are good for snorkelling as they are between Shark Bay and the Ningaloo Reef. 150 km east of the city you will find the Kennedy Range National Park, an elevated sandstone plateau. You can access it with both 2Wd and 4WD but sometimes the roads can be rather difficult to pass depending on the weather conditions. So make sure to check it and plan a whole day to explore the park!
Carnarvon to Coral Bay
From Carnarvon you continue to Coral Bay, which takes about 3 hours of driving. Coral Bay is really a teeny-tiny village with only a few houses and shops, only there to serve tourists. Coral Bay has a really beautiful beach with fantastic snorkelling opportunities. This is because the famous Nigaloo Reef start just in front of Coral Bay. This is one of only few reefs worldwide which comes so close to the coastline and where you only need to swim a few meters until you see corals and colourful, tropical fish swimming beneath you. Very cool! We stayed here for a night and rented snorkelling-gear. However, if you like snorkelling you should consider buying equipment as there are a couple more great opportunities to snorkel when travelling further north, and this will definitely safe you money on the long run.
Coral Bay to Exmouth
This is the last distance to travel and takes about 2.5 hours to drive. Exmouth is a really, really small town with one supermarket and a few cafés, restaurants and shops. But the surroundings of Exmouth are incredible and there’s a lot to discover! You have the famous Ningaloo Reef, a lot of pretty beaches, whales and whale sharks, and lots of cute kangaroos jumping their way through the Cape Range National Park. So better take your time and stay for a couple of days in this area. The best idea is to get in contact with the Exmouth Visitor Center to get an idea of what to do and explore.
Cape Range National Park
This park is relatively easy to access and almost makes up half of the Exmouth peninsula. It consists of
rocky gorges that were carved by ancient rivers and just look incredible, especially from the top! So if you are up to it, book a scenic flight and enjoy the formations from above. There are plenty of things to discover and you can also do walking and guided tours here. Great spots include the Yardie Creek Gorge, the Shothole Canyon with its colourful rock layers and the Charles Knife Canyon, offering spectacular views!
Beaches & the Ningaloo Reef
The Cape Range National Park also has many beautiful beaches and it’s really difficult to choose which one to stop. Most popular and also ranked s the second most beautiful beach in Australia is the famous Turquoise Bay. But to be honest, almost all beaches around Exmouth are just incredible and you better spent a whole day exploring them. As the Ningaloo Reef comes really close to the coastline, you can go snorkelling and see tropical fish, manta rays, sea turtles and all sorts of great sea life just a few meters from the beach. The waters are crystal clear and it’s a great experience to see all those colourful fish so close! We’ve even spotted a small reef shark at Turquoise Bay, and some spots are even great for surfing!
Whales, dolphins and dugongs
The waters are also famous for spotting whales and dolphins and this area is even known for having the highest density of humpback whales passing by. You can spot these great animals anytime between June to November, but chances are highest from July to October. And if you’re lucky, you can even spot a humpback mother with her new born calve! Dolphins are also home to the Ningaloo Reef and so are the rare dugongs. Unfortunately we haven’t spotted any dugongs but a lot of dolphins!
Swimming with whale sharks
And if you are in Exmouth between April and July, you’ll have the chance to swim with the biggest and also one of the most beautiful fish: the whale shark! We were really lucky as we visited Exmouth just when the whale shark season started end of March and took part in the very first tour of the year – and yes, we swam with whale sharks! It was so incredible and one of the best experiences I’ve ever made! There are many operators doing the tour but we decided to go with Charter1. We had a fantastic day with the crew on board and can really recommend them! The staff is super friendly, and they pick you up from your hotel or camp site in the mornings, teach you a lot about whale sharks and provide both breakfast and lunch on board. And they make sure that you’ll feel safe and have an incredible time swimming with the whale sharks! They also stop in the beginning and at the end of the trip where you have the opportunity to snorkel at the back side of the Ningaloo Reef or try Stand Up Paddling which is so much fun! To end this fantastic experience they give you a yummy glas of champagne to celebrate – what’s more to ask?
See it for yourself and watch my vlog about swimming with the whale sharks! Even if you don’t understand German you will get a feeling of how great this experience is!
Have fun road tripping though Western Australia’s mid-western part along the beautiful Coral Coast! Our next part will tell you what to see and do when exploring Northern Australia!