I fell in love with Western Australia not once, but twice. The first time I was in a little coastal town called Kalbarri. I had landed a job as a guitar player at a local seafood café, getting a free meal plus enough dollars to pay for my lodgings. As the sun set on the nearby ocean, I would play my tunes, sip beer then head home to look forward to another day of idling in the sunshine. Even now I get a little choked up as a recall how ridiculously idyllic the whole thing was. The second occasion I was near the diving town of Exmouth. I had come along way since my days of busking for a living and a work trip had led to me staying in a 'luxury eco lodge' called Sal Salis. I say work, because this glorious place was so remote that internet and mobile phone reception were non-existent. Two days of being incommunicado in perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world lay ahead. I was smitten with WA all over again. These are two highly personal examples of what wonders WA has to offer outside of Perth, but here are 5 others that are well worth giving a try.
The Dampier Peninsula
The Dampier Peninsula is only about 100 miles north of the pearling town of Broome, but like much of Western Australia it has that remarkable ability to feel both remote and welcoming. A 4WD vehicle is strongly recommended if you're venturing your way up here but the effort is well worth it. The peninsula is made up of lots of small indigenous communities and there is the chance to meet them and learn about their life.
The Bungle Bungles
The first time I heard of the Bungle Bungles was in the late 1980s, when the Aussie soap 'Neighbours' was causing teenagers all over the UK to bunk off school at lunchtime. As I recall, one of the characters (Helen Daniels) was carrying on a romance with an artist always referred to as "Frank Darcy from the Bungle Bungles". At the time I thought he must be part of children's entertainment troupe, but in fact the Bungle Bungles is a range of nobbly sandstone mountains in an area that seems almost untouched by humanity. They are almost hypnotic in their appearance, and utterly captivating. I can see why Helen D liked it up there.
Diving with Whale Sharks
Ningaloo Reef is Western Australia's 'bijou' answer to the Great Barrier Reef. The marine life is amazing, and you even get the chance to dive with Manta-rays here. But venture a little further out into the Indian Ocean and you can swim with Whale Sharks. They are huge animals, growing up to about 12 metres long. That's as big as ½ the length of a UK swimming pool (or ¼ of a length of one Aussie's many Olympic sized pools). No, they won't eat you as they are filter feeding animals, but their very presence will get your adrenalin running.
Wine Tasting on the Margaret River
Margaret River used to be synonymous with surfing, which I suppose is hardly unusual for Australia. Yet as the years have gone by, its reputation as a wine growing area has come to the fore. As in many places where vineyards dominate, there is always an opportunity to go on a wine tasting tour. However, here it can be more like an adventure as you take on the bush on a 4WD or paddle off through the rivers in a canoe. How good is the wine, though? Well, the region produces less than one per cent of Australian wine, but over 15 per cent of the country's premium wine.
Monkey Mia & Shark Bay
You could almost set your watch by the bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia.
Everyday for about 40 years they have been coming back to the shore here. The dolphins are watched by fascinated punters, and in turn they are all watched by rangers from the Department of Conservation. Monkey Mia is part of the Shark Bay Marine Park whose local Aboriginal name for this place is Gutharraguda, meaning 'Two Waters' and if you want to get to know more about their culture there is also ample opportunity.