New openings, fun festivals and fresh ways to view age-old landscapes. There are countless reasons to visit or revisit the Golden State.
Follow the wildflowers
They begin erupting in June each year like terrestrial fireworks, spreading joy from the colour-rich north-west all the way south, taking in the golden outback and the eastern wheat belt – even the city of Perth (Boorloo). For about six months each year, 12,000 species of flora (almost two-thirds of which are found nowhere else on earth) carpet the state in a riot of colour, fed by rain and guided down the coast by the warmer days of spring.
In Perth, most of the wildflower displays centre on Kings Park and Botanic Garden, much of which is natural bushland. Time your visit to coincide with September’s Everlasting Kings Park Festival, which includes the blooming wildflowers in the Botanic Garden as well as workshops, tours, talks and art displays.
If self-driving is your thing, the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia maps out some great seasonal road trips. Or if you’d prefer to let someone else take the wheel, from August through to October, Luxury Outback Tours guides small groups to the best flower sites – north or south, depending on the season – on one-, four- and seven-day excursions from Perth.
Alternatively, base yourself at an outback station – some of them are the size of small countries – and combine seeing the blooms with birdwatching, hiking or just getting involved in station life (the properties rarely knock back another pair of hands). The landscape is vast but wait ’til you see the night sky. With little ambient light, the stars put those wildflowers in the shade.
Cruise the Kimberley coast
There are two ways to explore the rugged majesty of the Kimberley coast – the hard way and the easy way. By “easy” we mean the utterly decadent newcomer Scenic Eclipse II. The Discovery yacht will sail out of Darwin Harbour in May, en route to Broome, with up to 228 passengers, 10 different dining experiences, a spa, several butlers, a fleet of Zodiacs, a team of naturalhistory experts and two helicopters, the latter to ferry guests to wonders the ship can’t reach, such as spectacular Mitchell Falls (Punamii-Uunpuu).
The 11-day itinerary includes a zoom through the legendary Horizontal Falls, seldom-seen Aboriginal rock art and wildlife such as saltwater crocs, green turtles and scores of species of seabirds. Crucially, the vessel has two “vitality pools”. It’s hot where you’re going and while those salties are fascinating to observe, you don’t want to swim with them.
Sleep in the wilderness
As anyone trying to navigate the famous Gibb River Road (GRR) will tell you, touring the Kimberley by road comes with some logistical challenges. Where do you base the family, for instance, to explore the marvels you’ve driven all that way to see?
Whether you’re looking to camp, glamp or sleep in a standard bed, Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge has the answer to almost any West Kimberley accommodation question. The lodge, at the end of a 50 kilometre driveway off the GRR, is comfortable more than luxe but what it lacks in white fluffy bathrobes it makes up for in authenticity.
With a shaded campground, powered tents that range from safaristyle with ensuites to bell-shaped and spacious with shared facilities, a comfy homestead (again, with shared facilities), a swimmable river and a tavern with delicious food and live music, the biggest challenge is knowing when to hit the road again.
Helicopters, piloted by dudes with Top Gun-like monikers such as “Eagle”, “Maverick” and “Air Dawg”, are on hand to whisk you over the Horizontal Falls, spectacular gorges and pristine terrain your vehicle can’t access and rivers you don’t want to (yes, there are crocs). The Lodge also offers all-inclusive tours from Broome.
Stay small, live large
With more than 20 eco-friendly cabins already dotted across the state, Heyscape Tiny Cabins are spreading south faster than the annual wildflower blooms. In September, the company opened four new boltholes on the fringe of Cape Le Grand National Park next to an olive grove in wild and beautiful Esperance. Each of the air-conditioned cabins has a queen bed (with bedding), a kitchenette and bathroom with an indoor shower and odourless composting toilet. Outside you’ll find a barbecue, wood fire, picnic table and chairs and a natural wonderland begging to be explored.
There are bushwalking trails and hiking tracks aplenty through the national park, which is also blessed with one of the country’s most striking beaches, Lucky Bay. With white sand stretching down to the Tiffany-blue Indian Ocean, it captivates humans and kangaroos alike (share nicely – the roos found it first).
Soak up some R&R
Geraldton, just over 400 kilometres north of Perth, has a beach for every activity, a growing arts and culture community and a booming food scene. What was missing until 2021 was a festival that wrapped all of Gero’s attractions into one very fun reason to visit the state’s Mid West. Shore Leave, scheduled for April 24 to 28, features live music, markets, art exhibitions, stargazing and a host of kid friendly activities. But the main event is food, with the region’s renowned western rock lobster taking centre stage.
The four-star Ocean Centre Hotel is across from the beach and the foreshore where most of the Shore Leave program takes place. Book a room here and you’ll never be far from the action – or a lobster. It’s also a good base from which to explore the red gorges and starry skies of Kalbarri, less than two hours up the road, and the spectacular Abrolhos Islands, 60 kilometres off Geraldton’s coast.
In fact, Shore Leave’s signature event is the Abrolhos Island Long Table Lunch so secure a ticket and start dreaming: sand between your toes, Vasse Felix wine in your glass and coal-fired lobster and octopus on your plate.
Cycle through the Mid West
With Sting’s hit song in your ears, ride through fields of gold on WA’s newest cycling event, Backroads. It’ll be on again in August next year, when the pastures of the Mid West region are aglow with golden canola, lofty wheat crops and, yes, blooming late-winter wildflowers.
Setting out from (and returning to) the town of Nabawa, a 30-minute drive from Geraldton, riders of all ages and abilities are invited to follow various runs, from the 10-kilometre Gravel Groms (for lapsed riders and little ones) to a 160-kilometre stretch for the serious cyclists. If you think the reception at the finish line of the Tour de France is enthusiastic, you haven’t met the Nabawa locals.
While you’re in the area, walk off the saddle-soreness on the Chapman River Nature Trail, habitat of the endangered ringtail possum and Carnaby’s black cockatoo.
See Broome with the locals
There are no camels or cocktails and there’s no confected history. There’s also no more engaging way to learn the backstory of Broome (Rubibi) than on a walk through the mangroves and mudflats of Roebuck Bay.
Yawuru man Bart Pigram – a professional curator and member of the musical Pigram family – is the founder of Narlijia Experiences. He and his Aboriginal guides take visitors into havens sheltering fish, turtles and other aquatic creatures while sharing stories of First Nations history and the settlement of Broome and its pearling industry.
Not all of Pigram’s stories are pretty but in his eloquent telling, they’re always absorbing. So slip on some boots, slap on some sunscreen and don’t forget the insect repellent. This is Broome unvarnished.
Visit the cinema in paradise
With its food, wine and glorious beaches, the state’s south-west doesn’t seem to be an obvious place to sit inside and watch movies, let alone host a six-day film festival. But the organisers of CinefestOZ know that when the credits roll, there’s nowhere better for after-parties, dinners, workshops and free time than a region blessed with excellent vino, cool eateries and cranking surf.
The festival – back in 2024 for the 17th time – not only premieres some of Australia’s best new movies but it also awards the country’s richest film prize and gives cinephiles the chance to connect with filmmakers and industry bigwigs at events in places such as Busselton, Margaret River and Dunsborough. To be close to the screenings (and picturesque Geographe Bay), check into Aqua Resort, a collection of self-contained one- to five-bedroom beach houses in Busselton, many with their own heated plunge pool.
Festival regulars this year were thrilled to see Busselton foreshore dining icon The Goose back on the program after it was destroyed by fire in 2021. If you want a break from all the movie action, watch the wood-burning grill make stars of whole market fish, grass-fed beef and pizza. In Margaret River, drop into Rhum Burgundy, a hip cocktail bar helmed by mixologist Billy Phillips and partners in wine Dylan Arvidson and Taryn Hogan. But for sheer drive-through joy, lower the window at Coffee Heads in the hamlet of Vasse and pick up a sanger by Brendan Pratt, former head chef at fine-diner Vasse Felix. Pratt’s roastchicken roll is Oscar-worthy.
Slow down in the Pilbara
There was a time when tourists would arrive in the Pilbara region, marvel at the scenery then keep driving, oblivious to the history of the landscape or the stories held for thousands of years by the area’s original inhabitants. Clinton Walker, a descendant of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi peoples, Traditional Custodians of the coastal and inland areas of the West Pilbara, wanted to change that.
Forming Ngurrangga Tours, Walker and his fellow First Nations guides began taking visitors into Murujuga National Park, home to the highest concentration of ancient rock art in the world, down the coast to forage for bush tucker and on 4WD camping adventures. Now a night-time tour has been added to the itinerary, enjoying a glorious Pilbara sunset, a starlit campfire and a fireside corroboree (ngunda).
Taste the best of Perth
A sprinkling of hospitality fairy dust has settled across Perth this year, with an array of restaurant and bar openings, some inner-city, some unexpectedly suburban and all worth a visit.
Bassendean, for instance, 10 kilometres north-east of the CBD, isn’t quite as cool as urban hot spot Northbridge but it’s making a fine start with new watering hole Bertie. Helmed by veteran bartender James Connolly, with chef Anthony Yuill (ex-Melbourne fine-diner Vue de Monde and Shadow Wine Bar in Northbridge) on the pans, the vibe here is European while the food is a modern take on the British classics of the chef’s childhood.
Sitting at the other end of the spice spectrum, 180-seat Miss Mi, which opened in Perth’s Novotel Hotel in February, dishes up a blend of traditional South-East Asian cuisine and local produce (the lamb ribs with Szechuan glaze is getting rave reviews).
In a neighbourhood packed with great places to eat, Subiaco newcomer Shui might be the only one wily enough to offer a dish as irresistible as sesame prawn crumpets with black garlic aioli. It’s the standout on a menu that also includes local swordfish crudo with coriander ginger ponzu and snapper with a peppered oyster glaze.
One suburb along in Shenton Park, a bistro with sage-green banquettes, crisp white tablecloths and antique-mirror-lined walls has been transporting locals to France since late 2022. La Bastide serves classic French dishes with a modern, local twist, such as Wagin farm magret de canard, pommes dauphinoise, haricots verts, sauce au gingembre, and a considered wine list. This is an eatery serious about its mission but unpretentious in its approach.
Northbridge is not to be outdone, with the opening of Edward & Ida’s, a pub and cocktail den on the site of an old theatre that was founded by a couple of characters called Edward and Ida Beeby. It’s pub fare with a focus on pies. Cheers!
Image credit: Martin Callow (Heyscape tiny cabins)