Whether you're after a relaxed escape among the vines or a wild weekend with sea lions we've got the perfect break for you..
A scenic flight: Lake Hillier
A dozen different shades of blue glow beneath you as you fly over the waves from Esperance on WA’s south coast. That, however, is just the overture. Only when you get close to Middle Island does your flight reach a crescendo as you spy Lake Hillier, sparkling in a vivid, utterly unlikely shade of pink. Take in this view on a seasonal (typically October to April) flight by HeliSpirit departing from either Esperance – a four-hour drive from Kalgoorlie – or nearby Orleans Airfield (which cuts an hour from the three-hour tour). You don’t just get to admire the spectacle from above; the trip includes a guided walk and if you’ve departed from Esperance there’s also a picnic. There’s no swimming in the microbe-rich lake but bring your bathers anyway; you can take a dip at one of the island’s white-sand beaches before heading back to stay at the Esperance Chalet Village.
A new old hotel: Warders Hotel
Bustling weekend markets, boutique breweries, elegant Victorian and Edwardian architecture and a live-music venue at every turn… Perth’s classic beachside getaway has many ways to draw you in and now there’s a reason to stay, too: the Warders Hotel. Built in 1851 as accommodation for the guards at the nearby Fremantle Prison, the boutique property opened last November with just 11 rooms and cottages. Limestone walls, antique mantelpieces and original timber floors hint at another time while modern touches – Bose sound systems and rain showers among them – keep you in the present.
Book one of the Terrace Rooms upstairs if you’re travelling sans kids but if you have little ones in tow, the ground-floor Terrace Cottages are a better bet, with separate bedrooms (including bunk-style beds) and kitchenettes.
Drop in at the tiny bar, Gimlet, with seating for only 24 guests, to enjoy a glass of something local (try a cab sav merlot from Margaret River) before dining on sensational Asian fare at the Emily Taylor restaurant – start with the pan-fried oxtail dumplings.
A culture hit: WA Museum Boola Bardip
Otto the blue whale has come a long way. By train. And horse-drawn carriage. Right to the centre of Perth. Otto – or more accurately, Otto’s 24-metre-long skeleton – is the centrepiece at the city’s revamped WA Museum Boola Bardip. Suspended from a three-storey-high ceiling and arranged as though about to lunge through a swarm of krill, Otto is “older than the heritage-listed building it is housed in”, says the museum’s CEO, Alec Coles. “It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I’m underneath it,” he adds, before sharing a little of the whale’s history. (After washing up near the mouth of WA’s Vasse River in 1897, Otto was discovered by the young Daisy Locke.)
Otto’s story is one of many worth uncovering at the museum, which reopened in November 2020 after a fouryear, almost $400-million makeover. In the language of the Noongar people, the traditional custodians of WA’s south-west region, Boola Bardip means “many stories”.
Kids will love the interactive displays in the Reflections collection. A stand-out? The biscuit-sorting conveyor belt – a homage to the erstwhile Mills and Ware factory, which was once one of the largest industrial employers of women in WA. Simply turn the wheel to send toy biscuits flying.
Grown-ups, on the other hand, will enjoy a trip through time with the Changes exhibition. Look out for the tiny Mandu Mandu beads – at more than 32,000 years old, they are one of world’s oldest examples of ornamental jewellery.
But it’s possible that the thing you’ll linger over longest is the museum itself, a dramatic marriage of old and new with five heritage-listed buildings wrapped in a shimmering glass and steel edifice. “Of all the things that are on display here,” says Coles, “I think the design and architecture are the most breathtaking.”
Image credit: Michael Haluwana, Aeroture.
A wine weekend: Swan Valley
Drive north-east from Perth and you can be ambling amid Swan Valley’s vineyards just 30 minutes later. Though libations are the focus here – there are more than 40 wineries, plus a few breweries and distilleries – the cuisine and coffee are stars, too. Stop for a big brekkie at Oakover Grounds, done either “paddock” style (with spicy beans and avocado) or “farmhouse” (featuring cheesy chipolatas) and a three-coffee tasting paddle, brewed with beans from local roaster Fiori. Pedal past cellar doors and pretty picnic spots by following one of the four routes of the Swan Valley Cycling Trail, which range from a family-friendly three kilometres to a robust 32-kilometre loop. Stay amid the grapevines –or as close as you can get – at The Colony at Caversham winery Mandoon Estate, where the 32 rooms overlook the verdelho vines and the valley’s namesake river. Luxuriate in a long lunch at the winery’s fine-dining restaurant, Wild Swan, or the more casual Homestead Brewery (where breakfast is served on weekends, too). Should you want to head out for dinner, The Guildford Hotel is an institution and serves hearty meals like barbecue brisket with rosemary potatoes and ’slaw.
A wildlife experience: Jurien Bay
Ningaloo Reef isn’t the only WA wildlife hotspot. Jurien Bay, on the lower Coral Coast, is beloved by sea lions as well as snorkellers. A boat tour with Turquoise Safaris increases your chances of seeing the oceanic acrobats up close, as well as other abundant marine life and seabirds. Airbnbs abound; one sleek and spacious house in the Beachridge Estate (7 Bettong Avenue, Jurien Bay; +61 421 153 557) has four bedrooms and a large alfresco area for sunset dinners.
A road trip: Katanning
Gaze out the window at passing woodlands and wheat belts on the drive to this little town in the Great Southern region, just over Gantheaume Point, near Broome; three hours from Perth. From July to October it’s worth taking a detour to wonder at the state’s famous wildflowers. The pay-off for the drive time? The Premier Mill Hotel, a former flour mill that’s now an impressively renovated boutique hotel, with a design that combines heritage elements, such as pulley wheels and grain chutes, with modern amenities and styling. Arrive in time for a tipple at The Cordial Bar, the hotel’s subterranean space open from 3pm.
A Coastal Getaway: Broome
Sometimes the joy isn’t in finding local secrets, it’s in having the bucket-list experiences you find so easily in regional Australia. Tick off a host of them in Broome, a two-and-a-half-hour flight north-east of Perth. Stay at the Mangrove Hotel, overlooking Roebuck Bay, where visitors flock from March to October and sometimes in November to witness the mudflats light up after dark in the phenomenon known as the Staircase to the Moon. Join a sunset camel ride on Cable Beach. And head to Gantheaume Point at low tide to see the dinosaur tracks imprinted in the rocks along this iconic coastline.
This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.