Western Australia

Is snorkeling on Ningaloo Reef overrated?

Turqouise Bay Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing reef on the planet. It extends for 260 kms (162 miles) along the coast of Western Australia from Red Bluff, near Carnarvon to Bundegi Beach just north of Exmouth. The turquoise blue waters are stunning, the fish and other marine animals prolific and, best of all, much of the reef can be accessed by stepping straight off the beach. What is there not to love? I am a self-confessed snorkeling addict married to an otherwise perfect husband, who doesn't swim. Being able to snorkel by stepping straight off a beach ought to be nirvana for me. It saves me going out alone on long boat trips to reach the coral.  Perhaps my expectations were too high but having nagged David for years to take me to Ningaloo Reef, I was disappointed.

Pinnacles and Stromatolites: Ancient formations and living fossils on Western Australia's Coral Coast.

The Pinnacles
The Pinnacles Desert and the stromatolites of Lake Thetis make a great day trip for anyone with even a vague interest in what the earth may have looked like in primordial times. The Pinnacles may be as old as half a million years, while the stromatolites show life as it was at the dawn of time - 3.5 billion years ago. Bored to tears by geology in high school, I found the Pinnacles Desert and the Stromatolites of Lake Thetis fascinating.

No one knows quite how long ago the eerily, striking natural structures of the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, Western Australia were formed, but today they draw 250,000 visitors every year. Pillars of time-warn limestone, some several metres tall, jut out of the surrounding sand dunes like a petrified, paleolithic garden. Every structure seems to have its own unique, weather-beaten shape.

The stromatilites of Lake Thetis are babies by comparison. While the organisms you see are estimated to be only 3,500 years old, they are living descendants of the earliest life-forms to appear on earth - literally living fossils.

Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia: A pink lake you can drive to.

Hutt Lagoon a pink lake
Hutt Lagoon near Port Gregory on Western Australia's Coral Coast is a brilliant effervescent pink - or at least parts of it were on the day we visited. I have been chasing pink lakes for a while now and I finally found one which is easily accessible. You might remember, last year David and I went all the way to Esperance on Western Australia's far south-east coast looking for pink lakes and sunbathing kangaroos. We lucked out on both scores. You can read about our search at Esperance: Pink lakes and kangaroos on the beach. This time we hit the jackpot. Hutt Lagoon was a bright shiny pink, just sitting there waiting to be instagrammed.

El Questro Station Bungalows: The best kept secret in the Kimberley.

El Questro sign
The Kimberley in Western Australia is one of the last true wilderness areas of the world. I wanted to go there forever. David was not so keen! Being a wilderness, the Kimberley is a little short on reasonably priced, mid-range to luxury accommodation - the kind we usually stay at.

There are generally three types of travellers in the Kimberley. Those who pay a small fortune (think upwards of $2000 per night) to stay at an all inclusive resort, those who join a tour (all the tours involve camping) or those who have kitted themselves out with monstrous four-wheel drives. This last group sometimes camps and sometimes travels with an equally monstrous caravan. They have a rudimentary knowledge of how to fix things if they break down. They know how to pitch a tent, unhitch a caravan and cook on a campfire. They can ford rivers and 'lock diffs' (Does anyone know what that actually means?). None of these things are in our skill sets - and - David doesn't camp, full stop, end of story. He refuses even to contemplate the idea.

Mantra Geraldton on Western Australia's Coral Coast

Mantra Geraldton
David has a golden rule when it comes to holiday accommodation. Find the best place in town and stay there - who can argue with that - and so we found ourselves at Mantra Geraldton on the Coral Coast of Western Australia. This was meant to be a quick stop over on our way further north but Geraldton turned out to be a hidden gem. Four and a half hours from Perth by road, it is the last large town for more than a thousand kilometres. It has a 'leaving civilisation' kind of feel to it. You want to stay somewhere nice because it might be a while before you get the luxury of good accommodation again.

The Abrolhos Islands with Shine Aviation: Stunning snorkelling and the bloody story of the wreck of the Batavia.

Abrolhos Islands

A few hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia, struck Morning Reef off the Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. The Batavia was neither the first nor the last ship to come to grief in the treacherous waters off Australia's uncharted and unforgiving west coast but the tragic fate of her survivors has ensured she is the best known.

Emma Gorge in The Kimberley: There is something you need to know!

Emma Gorge Pool
Have you ever been to Emma Gorge? Only an hour's drive from Kununurra in Western Australia's Kimberley region, it is one of the easiest gorges to get to and one of the prettiest - but there is something you need to know. Before you start imagining yourself floating alone in a perfect rock pool under the southern sky, revelling in the warm waters of the Australian outback (it never gets cold in Australia - right!) consider this. Emma Gorge Pool is deep, very deep - and it is in a gorge. The red rock cliffs surrounding the water hole are 65m high - much of the pool never sees the sunshine. All this means that stunning as it looks, Emma Gorge Pool is cold, very cold - icy is a word which comes to mind.

Willie Creek Pearl Farm and the Perfect Pearl.

Pearl in an oyster shell
Have you ever heard the expression, 'you don't choose the pearl, the pearl chooses you.' At first blush it sounds like just another advertising slogan - except this time it's true. On our first trip to Broome in Western Australia, way back in 2004, David gave me an Australian South Sea Pearl. Out of hundreds of pearls on display, that pearl was the one I fell in love with. It remains my most treasured piece of jewellery. A single, tear-drop shaped white pearl on a simple gold chain - I wear it everywhere.

David decided to buy it for me when he saw me admiring the pearls in the showroom of Willie Creek Pearl Farm.  With not a lot of time to see the sights of Broome on this trip, the one thing we did not want to miss was a return to Willie Creek and its tour of how these exquisite gems are produced.

Zebedee Springs and Chamberlain Gorge: Disappointment in The Kimberley.

Chamberlain Gorge
Even on the best trips it is inevitable that at least one thing won't quite live up to expectations. On our recent trip to the Kimberley in Western Australia, there were two: Zebedee Springs and Chamberlain Gorge. Zebedee Springs because, to quote my mother-in-law, the world and his wife were there, and Chamberlain Gorge because it was Chamberlain Gorge and not where we set out to go - Explosion Hole.

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Amalia Gorge: Would you go swimming with a crocodile?

Amalia Gorge
"A freshwater croc lives in the pool there."

With these less than comforting words ringing in our ears we set off for a late afternoon hike to Amalia Gorge. I should add that the very nice lady on the information desk did say this particular freshwater crocodile wasn't dangerous - unless we annoyed him. I don't know what you would do but I wasn't about to take any chances. We came to the Kimberley region of Western Australia for the scenery, not to become reptile lunch. If you are swimming in a rock pool and come face to face with a prehistoric monster of gargantuan proportions how exactly do you ensure that you don't annoy him? So much for taking a dip at the end of our walk - cross that one off the list!

Berkeley River Lodge: A wilderness resort in the Kimberleys, Western Australia

The Berkeley River
There are few places left on the planet where you can visit an untouched wilderness. Berkeley River, on the far northwest coast of Western Australia is one. Beyond the outback, the landscape stretches from one horizon to the other without a single sign of human habitation save Berkeley River Lodge - and perhaps a lone sailor sheltering for the night in the safety of the river mouth.  Access is by light plane from Darwin or Kununurra and supplies arrive by barge. There are no roads in or out.

Two Weeks in Western Australia: A road trip itinerary through the south-west corner of Australia

Albany cycle path
West Australians are different. They live in one of the most remote corners of the planet. Their capital, Perth, has a reputation for being the most isolated city in the world. It is 41 hours from Sydney by car, much of it across the barren and unrelenting desert of the Nullabor Plain, 4 hours by aeroplane, 184 hours by bicycle and, for anyone crazy enough to walk, 741 hours on foot.  Even Adelaide, the nearest city of more than a million people is a colossal 2,691 km away. Travel to Western Australia ('W.A') from anywhere on earth and you will have undertaken an epic journey before you even get there. That is why I love it!

Esperance, Western Australia: Pink lakes and kangaroos on the beach. Does Esperance live up to its reputation?

Whale Tail EsperanceI came to Esperance for the pink lakes and sunbathing kangaroos. David came because I wanted to and he is good like that. Google Esperance and you will see kangaroos posing for selfies in the sunshine on the beach at Lucky Bay and lakes so bright pink it is hard to believe they are real. Perhaps I am naive but if Google promises me something I kind of assume I will actually see it, or at least have a shot at seeing it. Sadly, my hit rate with Esperance was zero out of two - no pink lakes and no sunbathing kangaroos. Zero out of three if you include the fact that I expected warm weather and blue skies and the weather we got was worthy of an arctic winter. Zero out of four given I didn't see a single whale - but hey who's counting!

Did Esperance live up to its reputation? No, not for the things I expected. Do I think Esperance should be on your travel bucket list? Absolutely!

7 things to do in Amazing Albany!

Is Albany on your bucket list? It should be. Even Charles Darwin couldn't resist a brief visit, although by all accounts he wasn't impressed. I put that down to Albany being one of his last stops aboard the Beagle's almost five year journey. He also came by ship across the notoriously rough Great Australian Bight. Like Darwin I suffer from perpetual seasickness. Note to self: Never come to Western Australia by boat.

By the time he arrived in Albany in Australia's far south-western corner Darwin was home sick and fed up - not a great way to get the most out of any destination. If he were to arrive today -  on one of the new 787 Dreamliners, Business Class of course, and know he could be home again in 18 hours he wouldn't want to leave.

Self-contained accommodation in Albany: Albany Harbourside Apartments and Houses.

Albany Harbourside Apartments
David and I came to Albany in Western Australia for the whales. In September 1998, when our boys were little, we arrived to discover two of these magnificent creatures had taken up temporary residence in King George Sound. The weather was warm, the sun was shining and the whales were making the most of a temporary respite from their long journey south. They stayed in the sound for three or four days, putting on a great show of frolicking, slapping their tales and generally, dare I say it, having a 'whale of a time'. One afternoon as I walked along the boardwalk at Middleton Beach, I saw them directly below me, no more than a few metres away - their massive, sleek bodies gliding effortlessly through the water. It was an experience I will never forget.

The National ANZAC Centre, Albany, Western Australia

National ANZAC Centre Albany
Perched on a cliff, high above Albany, the National ANZAC Centre looks out across Frenchman Bay toward the Great Southern Ocean. In 1914 in response to the outbreak of World War I, Australia raised a new army -  the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). At the time Australia as a nation was little more than a decade old. The AIF was joined by a force from New Zealand and together they became known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). For the 41,265 men of the First and Second ANZAC Convoys, the coast of Albany was their last sight of Australia. 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders perished in the war at a time when the two countries had a combined population of just 6 million people - every Australian soldier was a volunteer. The National ANZAC Centre is dedicated to telling the stories of the men and women of the First and Second convoys and the stories of the ANZACS who followed them. David's great uncle was among the Australian dead.

Fraser Suites, Perth - a review.

Rottnest Island: A guide to quokkas, cycling and beaches.

Rottnest Island
It has only taken me 38 years to get back to Rottnest Island ('Rotto' - as the locals call it). I first went there in my early twenties and loved this tiny spec of land off the coast of Western Australia. We hired bikes and spent the day cycling from beach to beach in blissful car-free freedom. Automobiles are banned on Rottnest and, in the days before cycle paths, it was one of the few places in Australia you could cycle without sharing the road.