Photo: Frances Andrijich

Drive Western Australia

Enjoying the views from behind the wheel in Australia’s wild west.

Driving to Western Australia is a serious motoring commitment by any standards, but getting behind the wheel once you’re in Western Australia is as rewarding as the state is vast.

Neil Dowling

Toursim Western Australia, Neil Dowling and Frances Andrijich

2 August, 2022


Western Australia may have the illusion of living its life along the coast but there's plenty to see away from the salt air and sea breezes

Australia’s western capital is seemingly a world away from the country’s east coast, but whether you’re a resident or a visitor, Western Australia offers a wealth of road trip options that are made for the motoring enthusiast.

The Perth diamond

Western Australia may have the illusion of living its life along the coast but there's plenty to see away from the salt air and sea breezes. A trio of inland towns holds strong importance as centres that formed a rich agricultural industry that created both a valuable food source for early settlers but also important export dollars.

For a day out, the diamond formed by the roads linking Perth with Toodyay and Northam and then York before returning to Perth, is a panorama of early history, diverse scenery and interesting stop-offs.

Start in Perth and head to Toodyay via — no surprise, Toodyay Road — which starts on the coastal flatlands and winds its way through the Darling escarpment through small farmlands, vineyards, pretty streams and bushland. The distance is 87km.

It’s an interesting road with plenty of curves and undulations, but few stop-off opportunities aside from the Noble Falls Tavern — which has been there seemingly forever and still offers great pub-style food. 

Toodyay is a neat, busy and interesting town with a focus on the tourist. Worth a look are the Old Gaol Museum and Connor's Mill (which has a working steam engine), or nearby Coorinja Winery which is WA’s oldest winery. For something a little different, Toodyay Emu Farm, is claimed to be  the world’s oldest emu farm. 

Leave Toodyay on the road to Northam – a pleasant drive with its open county and a road that is gently sweeping and undulating. Past Glenfield Homestead, St Saviour’s Church and the Katrine homestead and barn which was used by people on their way to the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfields.

While in Northam, consider visiting the Bilya Koort Boodja centre for some Nyoongar culture, or if you’re more adventurous, the town has a fantastic hot-air balloon experience.

York is only 34km from Northam and the road changes again, transitioning from the winding and open roads to straighter land alongside stretches of paddocks and, although there’s less scenic opportunities, the destination is worth the loss.

York, settled at the same time as Perth in 1829 to become the state’s oldest inland township, was like its sister towns a centre for sheep and grain farming and also for its sandalwood trade. 

There’s lots to see in York, including the long-standing motor museum, architecture including the court house and adjoining laneway, the Residency Museum, intimate shops selling specialist clothes and vintage collectables, and a walk across the suspension bridge over the Avon River and to the top of Mt Brown in time for sunset.

Here you can linger a while or even make it an overnight stopping point – but the run back to Perth is just another 75 minutes give or take, so this is an easy and very rewarding day spent on the road.

Cape to Cape

It’s the tall tree-lined road that ferried a million surfboard-laden panel vans and Kombis, carried thousands of caravans and produced generations of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from kids on holidays.

Caves Road is embedded in the history of almost every West Australian holidaymaker and leisure seeker as the conduit to relaxation, to fun. It is, simply, a road that should not be missed.

As a strip of bitumen, it snakes its way through rural dwellings and farmland at its northern-most point at the seaside town of Dunsborough, before rolling through the cave-rich district around Yallingup and the nearby surf beach, then south through dairy country and cheese shops, wineries and restaurants, some world-class accomodation and coastal views that will take your breath away. 

Caves Road is embedded in the history of almost every West Australian holidaymaker and leisure seeker as the conduit to relaxation

Much attention is given to the town of Margaret River and its surfing, but the actual township is 8km inland and sits picture perfect on the river

Caves Road runs in parallel to the Bussell Highway, a more frequented route used by delivery vehicles and people who haven’t the time to sightsee.

The 34km section of Caves Road from Dunsborough also includes the hamlet of Gracetown, renown surf spot but also a pleasant sideline that has a killer cafe on the bay.

Much of the appeal of the road, aside from its striking tall-tree scenery and modest 80km/h speed limit, are the regular signposts to the left and right to invite exploration of small and large wineries, intimate bays for surfers, swimmers and hikers. 

On to Prevelly, at the mouth of the Margaret River and perfect for a stop and walk around, perhaps a coffee and cake at the nearby cafe.

Much attention is given to the town of Margaret River and its surfing, but the actual township is 8km inland and sits picture perfect on the river.

Continue south on Caves Road for more coastal stop offs and then to Hamelin Bay, noted fishing spot and holiday spot.

It is here that Caves Road ends, pointing the motorist back to Bussell Highway at Karridale and then south to Augusta. That marks the end of the journey, with Augusta recommended as a stop off for its unusual location on the junction of a river and the two oceans - Indian and Southern. 

Drive to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin (built in 1895 along with three stone cottages that are now tourist centres and cafes) for a major history lesson and the knowledge that you have driven the Cape-to-Cape, 94km (about one and a half hours without stopping) from Cape Naturaliste near Dunsborough to Cape Leeuwin near Augusta.

Balingup to Nannup

On Western Australia’s Tourist Drive 251, between the south-west towns of Balingup and Nannup, the bitumen narrows and twists, buckled by the tight-packed hills and tortured course of the stream.

The view ahead is limited by the sharp turns, close-knit trees and undulations that gives this road the sense that it has been torn from its map, crushed and condensed so its 41km distance bears no relationship to the mere 6km as the crow flies.

This road is designated as the Blackwood River Tourist Drive or Tourist Drive 251 which wriggles from Balingup to Nannup and then to Bridgetown. The start point, Balingup, is 230km from Perth and in the heart of the south west. 

You can follow tourist maps that connect the dots by including an extension to Bridgetown (effectively heading east) which partly follows the meandering Blackwood River and, in doing so, produces some stunning scenery and lots of twisting road sections.

If you start at Balingup and head to Nannup (the best road section) you can then head to Bridgetown and stay overnight, enjoy the restaurants and hotels, before returning to Balingup via the South West Highway to create a loop, on the way north and back to Perth.

Route 251 forms part of a longer drive that picks the eyes out of Western Australia’s centrepiece south western corner. Geographically, this corner is popular because it tightly packages pretty tourist towns with vineyards and secreted wine-tasting outlets, breathtaking coastal scenes and hushed inland lakes and rivers.

It is in stark contrast to much of the remainder of the state that is open, flat and, for the driver, linked by roads made to expedite travel in the quickest way possible — a straight line.

Enjoy some of the more rewarding roads Australia’s other states and territories have to offer. 

Victoria

Tasmania

South Australia

Northern Territory

Queensland

If you start at Balingup and head to Nannup – the best road section – you can then head to Bridgetown and stay overnight

Photo: Neil Dowling