Central/downtown Perth is a great base from which to explore outer Perth and surrounding Western Australia. Set up here, rent a car, then explore the dazzling blue waters, white sandy beaches, and breathtaking hidden bays that WA has to offer. We highly recommend Thrifty Car & Truck Rental which is located in the heart of Perth City.
Downtown Perth itself, where we stayed at the Pan Pacific Hotel, was definitely different to the big cities I’ve frequented my entire life: places like New York, London and Shanghai, that are teeming with energy and swarming with people around the clock. Downtown Perth is comparatively laidback and doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of F&B, nightlife or entertainment. That’s why you should use it as your base for exploring more of WA.
Rottnest Island & Little Creatures Brewery
At the port city of Fremantle, part of the Perth metropolitan area about half an hour away from downtown Perth, visit the fun-loving Little Creatures beer brewery or take a 25-minute ferry out to Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island, or ‘Rotto’ as it’s affectionately known, offers stunning natural scenery, a wide range of different beaches, and the famously adorable quokkas. It’s too easy to get to not to visit! Catch the Rottnest Express from the ferry terminal at Fremantle. Note that you can only park at the carpark next to the ferry terminal for a maximum of 4 hours. If you plan on spending the day out – which you should do, to make the most of your visit to Rottnest Island – there’s a car park a little further away that offers full-day parking. Ask the folks at the ferry terminal about it and they’ll point you in the right direction. As with any beach day, make sure to bring a bag containing towels, swimwear and sunscreen. Snacks and water bottles can be brought along too, or bought on the island.
Rottnest is, right from the onset, beautiful to behold. The ferry arrives at Thomson’s Bay, where dozens of docked boats bob on dappled blue-and-green waters. From here, head to the Visitor Centre to pick up a bottle of water and a map. Picking up a number of water bottles at Thompson’s Bay should be your first priority, because once you go exploring, there’s no where else to buy water from — and it gets very hot here.
Nearby, a small collection of shops and cafes sell drinks and sandwiches. There’s also a Simmo’s Ice Creamery, a famous long-running ice creamery chain offering a huge range of classic and unusual flavours in mammoth scoops. When I had been researching a Perth itinerary, Simmo’s had consistently popped up in my Google searches and even ranked on Trip Advisor as an attraction, so of course I had to go. It was most definitely Trip-Advisor-attraction-worthy.
Visitors can explore the island by foot, bike rental, or, if you prefer not to cycle, use the public hop-on hop-off buses, which do regular circuits of the island and stop at the larger bays for a $20 fee. Rottnest Island is bigger than you expect, so if you plan on seeing more than two beaches then don’t rely on just walking. On bikes you can stop and start wherever you please, taking pit-stops at the smaller and more secluded beaches and getting a more than decent workout in the process.
The Basin is one of the most popular spots on Rottnest Island. It’s a natural swimming pool, formed by a shallow reef platform which extends in a crescent shape from the shore. You can walk on this platform for a few metres before it abruptly stops and you find yourself standing at the edge of a very large hole in the reef, like a pool. The water is crystal-clear and comes in every shade of blue, lovely to look at but less so to swim in: Rottnest Island’s water temperatures range from an average of 23°C in summer to 19°C in winter. We definitely caught it on the cooler side of the spectrum. If you do take the plunge, look out for small schools of buffalo bream, which are often found swimming around people’s ankles.
Even if the waters are a little too ‘fresh’ for your liking, the land is still warm in the summer and is a beautiful place to spread your towel, take some snaps, and get cosy under the sun. Our next stop, Longreach Bay, was even more breathtaking. Impossibly picturesque, with sand dunes that roll down to the bay, here you’ll find clusters of family boats and inflatable devices rocking peacefully on the water, and a few kids playing cricket on the beach. It looks like something out of a postcard and I was too fixated to even get my camera out for a photograph – but trust me when I say it’s one of the best beaches here!
Cyclists won’t encounter much gradient until embarking on the route to Salmon Bay, at which point everything seems to be uphill. The effort is worth it for the sweeping panoramic view. There were hardly any people here, which made it all the more humbling a spectacle. This is one of the larger bays: a large curve of blindingly white sand rapidly opening into an endless sprawl of deep blue ocean. Water here gets deep very quickly and isn’t the kind of place for a swim, but it’s a sure sight for sore eyes.
On Rottnest you’ll encounter one of the island’s main attractions: the adorable quokka! A small marsupial loved by the internet as ‘the happiest animal in the world’, the quokka is unique to Rotto and can be spotted happily hopping about wherever people are. They are so much fun to photograph and such endearing creatures to watch bumble around. People often pose for selfies with them, and if you’re lucky they might even let you stroke them. Remember that even though they don’t fear people, they are still animals and should be respected as such. Rottnest Island fiercely protects its quokkas: it’s against the law to harm or steal one. Don’t chase after them or pick them up!
We returned our bikes and headed to a restaurant overlooking the water at Thompson’s Bay, awaiting our ferry. The brownie and hot chocolate I had here were surprisingly good, leaving me on a very happy sugar-high parting note.
The most wonderful thing about Rottnest Island is the great variation of its landscape: there are calm, charming little bays where family boats rock gently and kids have picnics on the sand and you wonder whether you’re inside an Enid Blyton novel, and then there are the sublime expanses of deep blue water and rough waves where you might spot a whale in the distance or a school of dolphins. It was just so much larger & more varied than I had expected. On the whole, Rottnest makes for a gorgeous day outdoors and an unforgettable experience. It will surely exceed your expectations. If you go to Perth and don’t go to Rottnest, you’ve missed out!
Once off the ferry and back in your rental car, you can head straight for Little Creatures, an Australian brewing company based in Fremantle barely 15 minutes away. The atmosphere here is raw. During peak hours it is absolutely packed, buzzing with energy and overwhelming with noise. It has an easy-going Australian vibe, with canteen-like tables and a tapas-style menu featuring quick fixes like pizza and fries. It’s a solid choice for a meal if you’re feeling laid-back, don’t mind the noise, and have just hopped off the ferry from Rottnest!
“I went skydiving first thing in the morning in a monkey onesie” is not something many people can proudly say, and I am honoured to have joined the ranks of those who can. I love any kind of activity that gets the adrenalin coursing through my veins, and skydiving has been no.1 on my wish-list of such adrenalin-incurring activities for a very long time. The folks at Skydive Geronimo Busselton were as cool as I’d hoped they’d be: a friendly, funny, approachable crew, as patient as they were thorough in their procedures, and as enthusiastic and upbeat as I was excited. The best part was choosing what to wear. I’m just not operating on the same wavelength as anyone who would pick a regular sky-dive jumpsuit over a colourful selection of animal onesies. When you have the option to skydive as a frog, a rooster or a lion, you do it!
I shimmied into a monkey onesie and my tandem instructor, Paul (a real cool dude and the epitome of stereotypical Australian gnarliness; Paul told me he had been skydiving for 17 years) set up the equipment over it. We scrambled aboard a tiny plane and before I knew it we were up, up and away — climbing steadily towards 14,000 ft. I watched the ground rapidly shrink beneath us and a great expanse of blue water balloon into view. Meanwhile Paul, sat behind me, hooked me up to his own equipment. At 14,000 ft he pulled the door open to the cold, roaring air outside. We inched towards the opening until I was sat right on the edge, giddy with excitement and nerves, my legs hanging out of the plane and my hands gripping my harness like I’d been told to. I vaguely remember the trademark croon of “Geronimo!” coming from behind me as Paul pushed us both forwards, out of the plane and into empty air. We tumbled fast. For a few seconds I endured an unbreathable rush of movement in every single direction going downwards, and that epic dropping sensation you get in the pit of your stomach on roller-coaster rides — but a hundred times more exhilarating!
We hit maximum velocity very quickly, at which point Paul tapped my shoulder to let me know it was okay to bring my hands out. We picked up a lot of spin and went round and round for a few seconds like a spinning wheel on a tabletop, before falling steadily again. The view of the ocean beneath us was incredible.
If you choose to buy a film of your fall, the instructor will be holding out a Go-Pro to get the best shots of your expression, which will make for great viewing later.
The chute opened and we were instantly tugged to a slower pace, with Paul manoeuvring us towards the shoreline for our beach landing. He offered me the steering toggles so that I could manoeuvre us for a minute or two — an offer I tried very hard to resist for fear that I’d send us divebombing straight into the ocean. When I eventually did take over, I didn’t want to give the handles back! It was so much fun veering through the sky and controlling our path, and I realised that this second phase of the skydive is exhilarating in a different way to the first: free-falling is a wild ride — it’s exciting because it’s all about the present, the exhilarating and disorienting ‘now’, the feeling of having surrendered absolute control — but steering yourself down after the chute opens up allows you to regain your senses whilst still falling but at a pace, giving you time to catch your breath and really appreciate the views.
When we landed on the beach I hardly felt the impact I expected to feel. I don’t know how someone can rocket down from the sky and still land easily on two feet as light as a feather, but now I’ve seen and felt it done! I wish I could say I landed on two feet but only Paul managed it – I let him put his feet on the floor first before I promptly fell flat on my backside and knocked him backwards too. (oops)
If you get the chance to skydive — not just in Australia, but anywhere — and you feel up to it, then you should absolutely do it. For the adrenalin-seekers among us, it’s an experience that offers a feeling of pure unrestraint and freedom, not to mention the opportunity to experience the world from up above — not simply by gazing out of a plane window but by feeling the very world you are part of as you hurtle towards it and it hurtles towards you.
Bunker Bay, Eagle Bay, Meelup Beach
After the skydive we made for Bunker Bay in Dunsborough to have breakfast at Bunker’s Beachhouse. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows ensuring that even if you’re sitting indoors, you still have full view of the surroundings, whilst the covered outdoor area brings diners even closer to a stunning view of the beach. If you choose to sit in the outside portion of the restaurant be prepared for flies: constant swatting becomes second nature to diners out here! It’s utterly worth it for the food — the likes of a full fried breakfast, pancakes, salads and more — and the chance to enjoy such a mesmeric atmosphere.
Bunker Bay itself makes for a great walk but didn’t strike me as a great place to swim: there seems to be a lot of kelp in the shallow water, which also washes up on the shore, and the water gets deep fast. The highlight here was definitely dining at Bunker’s Beachhouse!
Fortunately Eagle Bay is only about a ten-to-fifteen minute drive away, and is one of the most extraordinary expanses of water and sand you will ever see, perfect for swimmers, sun-seekers and photo-enthusiasts alike. You won’t believe your eyes: are they seeing a blanket of freshly fallen snow, or is the enormous stretch of sand really just that powder-soft and blindingly white? Here, the bay stays shallower for longer and the water hardly seems to stir — it is gloriously flat and a dazzling shade of light blue followed by an abrupt colour block of navy blue that continues into the horizon. This bay is big, but not at all busy. Here you can lie in undisturbed peace, in a place as flawlessly constructed as a film set but a hundred times more exquisite for the fact that it is real. I personally will remember lying here on the sand in stillness underneath the sun as one of the most blissful moments of my life. Big empty sky, vast ocean, endless stretch of sand: you’ll not regret this one.
We then swept along on the seven-minute drive from Eagle Bay to Meelup Beach. Meelup buzzes by comparison to Eagle; it is far more family-friendly and plays host to a larger crowd thanks to the presence of a food truck serving ice cream and cold drinks, wooden tables, kayak rental, and communal showers. You’ll lie on the sand here surrounded by a different vibe, one that radiates energy: more noise, more people, more activities. This is the beach to go to if you need to make a pit stop for water or an ice cream, need to shower some sand off, or simply want a more family-friendly environment. The spirit here is jovial and uplifting, and the water is also stunning (although not as stunning as Eagle Bay’s shallow Maldivian-blue waters). If you want to spend the bulk of your time at a more secluded and tranquil beach, head to Eagle or, on the drive between Meelup & Eagle, you’ll see a small quiet bay with shallow water and big boulders to stop and lay your towel at.
All in all, our trip to Western Australia is right up there with the best of them. It was an action-packed couple of days and that’s all we really needed: a quick trip, something new, something beautiful and exciting. So if you only have a few days to take a trip to Western Australia, don’t worry — you can definitely see the best of Perth in a short amount of time if you commit to a well researched itinerary and include these places. Leave any leftovers for your return!