Many West Australians will think nothing of
journeying a thousand kilometres for a few days' fishing. First
impressions of the State for visitors are daunting -it is over 1400 km
from the border at Eucla to the State capital, yet the same distance north
from Perth will only reach Onslow on the mid-north coast, with another
1800 km to get to the northernmost settlements of the State at Kununurra
Taking up over a massive 2.5 million sq. km,
Western Australia is by far the largest State in Australia, occupying more
than a third of the mainland, and has enough attractions and plenty of
delights to keep the most jaded traveller happy and contented. The State
also has a sense of newness 'almost rawness' about it, a vitality that
transcends its boom-and-bust mineral-based economy, and an open, friendly,
independent, outdoor lifestyle; it feels different from the rest of
With a population of about 1.8 million people
-over 1.2 million of which live in
Perth, the State is very sparsely
populated. Over 90 per cent of the population lives in the more temperate
south-west, so once you head inland, there are only a handful of towns
that have more than a thousand people, and all those towns owe their
livelihood and prosperity to mining.
In the south-west of the State, the Mediterranean
climate and relatively high rainfall mean prosperous farming land, forests
of tall trees, and delightful rivers and streams; there is a lushness and
verdancy here not found anywhere else in Western Australia.
This area is, in the main, rolling hills and
plains, but two mountain ranges -the Stirling and the Porongurup have
created a unique habitat, complete with their own flora and, to a lesser
degree, some unique fauna. The Darling Ranges behind
Perth are little more
than a line of hills bordering what was once a swampy sand plain.
Vast areas of the State are uninhabited, with much
of it being classed as semi-desert or desert. The Great
Little Sandy and the Great Sandy deserts stretch from near the southern
coast all the way to the north-west coast north of Port Hedland, and to
the southern edges of
The Kimberley, making up two-thirds of the State.
But it would be quite wrong to write this desert
country off as uninteresting and always the same. Here, in this vastness,
subtle changes take place continually; nothing is the same for long. Vast
stretches of spinifex country eventually give way to mallee and mulga,
changing yet again to gentle desert oak-dotted plains, or low, red-raw
rocky ranges marked by the occasional vivid ghost gum.
Among this desert and semi-desert country are the
two other 'mountainous' regions of Western Australia: the tallest in the
State is Mount Meharry, in the Pilbara region, reaching just 1245 m. In the far north of the State is the rugged Kimberley region, whose
highest peak, at 983 m, lies within the Durack Ranges.
If there is variety in these desert lands, then
the coast offers a real kaleidoscope of habitats, experiences and images.
The coastline stretches for over 15,000 km, from Eucla across
the western half of the cliff-lined Great Australian Bight, to Esperance
and onwards, past hundreds of rocky headlands interspersed with bays of
glistening white beaches and turquoise blue water, to Cape Leeuwin. Here
the cool waters of the Southern Ocean meet the warmer waters of the Indian
Ocean, and it is this ocean that laps the shores of Western Australia all
the way north to its meeting with the Timor Sea and the
border. Long stretches of sand intermingle with lines of cliffs, small
bays, islands and reefs, including the Ningaloo Reef, the second-longest
fringing coral reef in Australia (and one more readily accessible than
Great Barrier Reef).
Broome, heading along
coast, the sea and ocean mix in a virtual battleground, and roaring tides
and raging currents have carved great rents into the coast, leaving the
coastline littered with dozens of islands and reefs. It is one of the most
dangerous coasts in the world, as well as one of the most spectacular
The climate is as varied as the land. The south
has hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters -Perth has the mildest climate
of any Australian capital, with average summer maximums of about 30
degrees C and winter minimums of around 8 degrees C.
The desert country has very hot, dry summers, with
the temperatures often in the high forties, and mild, dry winters, with
temperatures in the mid-twenties. Marble Bar, in the north-west of the
State, is recognised as the hottest place in Australia.
The tropics have two seasons: the Wet and the Dry.
The Wet is in summer -hot, muggy, and, of course, wet. The temperature is
often 30 degrees C or more, and the humidity is high. Occasionally there
are tropical cyclones along the coast, and when these move inland they can
bring heavy rain to a large area of the State. The Wet means road closures
-any dirt roads can stay closed for weeks as they become mud bogs. The
Dry, or winter, is mild and sunny. This is the better time to visit the
north of the State.
The road network through the south-west of the
State is well maintained, and in the main it is bitumen capped, but away
from settled areas bitumen is reserved for major highways and towns. Only
two highways make it to the border in a bitumen state: the Eyre Highway in
the south across the Nullarbor, and the
Victoria Highway in the north,
east of Kununurra. The others are dirt, and in some cases very rough dirt.
Once north of either
Geraldton (on the coast) or Meekatharra (inland), the only roads that are blacktop are the main North
West Coastal Highway, the Great Northern Highway, and a couple of major
roads to Tom Price and Exmouth. You will have to travel on gravel roads to
experience the delights of the Pilbara, the Gascoyne or
-once away from the major mining towns, the roads and tracks are really
4WD standard only.
Many of Western Australia's wildlife species have
evolved slightly differently from those found in the eastern States. Some
of its species, including the State emblem, the numbat, are found only in
Western Australia offers the visitor vast expanses
and profound tranquility, all of which comes with a diverse range of
landscape, flora and fauna. The hugeness of the State and its seasonal
differences mean a number of visits, perhaps at varying times of the year,
are the best way to experience all the delights of Western Australia.