Until you’ve been to Australia, it’s impossible to appreciate just how vast the world’s largest island is. Despite having a fraction of its population, Australia has almost the same landmass as the United States and the majority of its inhabitants live in the more built-up cities that are scattered around the edge of the huge rock, meaning that there are huge stretches of uncharted land around the country. This all adds up to one hell of a road trip.
Most backpackers flock to the east of the country and for good reason; the well-trodden path up from Melbourne to Cairns is full of exciting towns and cities, beautiful beaches and top surf spots. However, if you really want to get away from it all and experience the true outback, head west and touch down in Perth, a gorgeous mix of urban vibrancy and sun-kissed fun that lays claim to being the most isolated major city in the world – seriously, you can even see it from space.
Before you set off on the road trip of a lifetime, make sure that you pack correctly. You’ll definitely need a 4×4, and a passing knowledge of engines and car maintenance will definitely come in handy. Also important: a spare tyre, a jack, plenty of food and water, camping equipment, and, if you’re planning on going really off-piste, you might want to consider investing in a satellite phone in case you run into any danger. It’s best to let people at home know your approximate route and check in with them when possible. And remember: if you do run into trouble, never leave your car!
It can take you as little as 10 days to complete this road trip, but if you really want to appreciate all of the stops and don’t want to stuck in a sweltering car for the majority of the time, we’d recommend dedicating at least six to eight weeks.
All strapped in? Let’s burn rubber towards the nine jaw-dropping places to stop on the Perth to Darwin road trip!
See the Sunrise Over the Pinnacles There’s no better way to start this trip than by watching the rising sun cast long, thin shadows from the base of these bizarre and brilliant limestone pillars. The formation is set near the town of Cervantes and you can camp nearby – check to see whether you need a permit or not before pitching your tent – and set an alarm for just before dawn to see the magnificent spectacle. Once you’ve had your fun, check out Cervantes’ white sand dunes where you can put your 4×4 to the test as well as take part in the hilariously fun ‘sand-sledding’ – all you need is a flat cardboard box!
Feed Dolphins at Monkey Mia This is a detour well worth taking. Head north-west after Hamelin Pool and you’ll end up at a destination that boasts flawless blue skies 320 days of the year. If you arrive at Monkey Mia beach between 07:30 and 12:00 noon then you can watch these flippered friends getting a tasty treat. If that isn’t enough aquatic action for you then you can always jump on a catamaran tour of the bay, potentially spotting some of the tiger sharks that are known to roam these parts.
Enjoy Some Epic Snorkeling at Coral Bay This small fishing town provides some of the most amazing opportunities for drift snorkeling on the entire coast. Simply slap on a mask and mouthpiece and paddle out to meet giant tortoises and a whole host of other sealife as the current gently carries you along the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. Be aware that once you get into the Northern Territory, swimming in the ocean is strictly off-limits for at least half the year due to the presence of box jellyfish, so this is an ideal chance to see some of the greatest underwater scenes in the world.
Swim with Whale Sharks at Exmouth Exmouth is an excellent spot to stop and recharge your batteries (literally, if you’re car needs a jump start). In this popular tourist town you can stock up on food, equipment and petrol…and swim with the largest known extant species of fish. Hop on a whale shark-spotting cruise and you’ll be practicing scuba-assisted breaststroke with these gentle giants of the ocean in no time. You may also spot migrating whales, manta rays, dolphins and dugongs amidst the stunning coral. Sure beats the local pool back home.
Get a Waterfall Massage in Karijini We’re taking you inland now, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of opportunities to get wet in this gorgeous area of Australia. Situated in the Hamersley Ranges of the Pilbara region, Karijini National Park is 600,000+ acres of geologically fascinating landscape. The high density of iron ore make the rocks red and orange and walking through the five gorges – Dales, Bee, Wittenoom, Kalamina and Yampire – is like something from another planet. There are plenty of pools to swim in and you can even sit on one rock ledge and let the cascading waterfall above relieve your back of tension built up from the hours on the road.
Kneel At the Stairway to Haven at Broome Broome is a popular town where travelers tend to get pleasantly stuck, drifting into its casual way of life and working odd jobs to keep themselves from leaving this quaint seaside setting. Tourists come for the ‘staircase to the moon’, a natural phenomenon in which the moon rises over exposed tidal flats Roebuck Bay every two or three days a month between March and October. Sit on the grass, uncork a bottle of wine and take in this wonderful optical illusion.
Go Skinny Dipping at Manning Gorge We could write an entire article on the Gibb River Road that takes drivers from Derby to Kununurra, billed as the ‘last true outback adventure’ – in fact, we will – but it would be remiss of us not to mention Manning Falls in this overview. Located on Mount Barnett Station, this 3-hour, often rocky hike leads you to a beautiful pool overlooked by a 20+ ft. rock, which is just begging to be jumped off. There’s rarely people around, so some like to make this jump naked. Just what we’ve heard.
Find Out What the Bungle Bungles Are at Purnululu They might sounds like a pop band from the ’60s, but the Bungle Bungles are actually a plateau of Devonian sandstone carved into gigantic beehive-shaped domes. How exactly they came about remains a mystery, but if you want to know what it’s like to walk on Mars, this incredible Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley region can give you a pretty good idea.
Say, “That’s not a knife!” with Authenticity at Kakadu Most famous for being the location where Crocodile Dundee was filmed, this sacred Aboriginal territory – you’ll need a visa to visit certain places in this National Park and there are plenty of examples of ancient rock art – offers possibly the most jaw-dropping panorama of the entire trip. Standing on top of one of the taller rock peaks, you’ll be able to take in the Mamukala wetlands, the lush forest, and expanses of dry desert all in one 360° shot.
Litchfield 100 km south-west of Darwin is Litchfield National Park, home to a plethora of waterfalls, bushwalks…and a few freshwater crocodiles. Don’t worry, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone, and you’ll be far too distracted by the incredible scenery and swimming opportunities to worry about any snappy intruders. Don’t leave without driving around the huge magnetic termite mounds or taking a dip in the magnificent double-plunge waterfall of Florence Falls.
Even if you’ve only ticked off half of these must-sees – don’t worry, it would take you a lifetime to cover every single amazing sight on Australia’s west coast – then you’ll have probably have driven around 10,000 km, seen hundreds of kangaroos, suffered a few dozen mosquito bites and made several memories that will last for a lifetime. Remember to take note of all of the hotspots in your BUCKiTDREAM planner and share images from your dream trip on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.