Are you thinking about doing an Exmouth to Perth road trip and unsure of the best places to stop over? Fear not! Denea & Borna have travelled all over Australia and are sharing their guide for visiting the stunningly beautiful and underrated Western Australia coast.
Having moved from Vancouver in Canada to Sydney in 2018, engaged couple Denea and Borna are sharing their travels around Australia on their Instagram page @pacifictopacific. Make sure you follow them to keep up to date with their stories! While they absolutely love their day jobs, they like to get out and explore their own backyard and beyond regularly.
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Why You Should Do An Exmouth To Perth Road Trip
The Coral Coast is unique for its red rock ranges and glistening turquoise waters and is a unique road trip in Australia you need to put on your bucket list. It’s a beautiful introduction to the rugged, immense landscapes of Western Australia, and has made us want to revisit again and again.
The WA coast has truly has something for everyone! While it is most suited to those seeking adventure, you would be forgiven for simply enjoying some of the best sunsets and best beaches in Australia! There are also many sites that are traditional and sacred to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people along the way, and the entire region maintains a vibrant cultural history.
Exmouth To Perth Travel Time
We did the road trip from Exmouth to Perth in 12 days, which was a bit short, but that was all the time our schedules allowed. We would recommend at least two full weeks, and more if you want to fit in a few scuba dives or additional detours.
A straight drive from Exmouth to Perth is over 1,200km, or approximately 13 hours. However, you won’t drive straight – you’ll most likely check out beautiful peninsulas such as Shark Bay, Monkey Mia, and Kalbarri, making the drive take closer to 20 hours. It is a big undertaking, but SO worth it! Because this Exmouth to Perth road trip is a big undertaking, this West Coast Australia guide focuses mainly on logistics. We also cover the highlights of each area and touch on what we had to give a miss.
Best Time Of The Year To Go From Perth To Exmouth
There are two seasons I would recommend when planning a Perth To Exmouth Road Trip! Either plan it for the whale shark season from late March to July or for the humpback whale season from August to November. Odds are you will fall into the category of people vying for a chance to swim with whale sharks. In that case, try to avoid going around Easter so that accommodation and tours don’t fill up.
Things To Know Before You Go
There are a lot of things to consider before doing this road trip, as you will find yourself in some pretty remote areas. We decided to camp, mainly because the campgrounds tend to be in really awesome locations. We selected a vehicle with a rooftop tent and made that our temporary home.
There are loads of awesome free campsites on the west coast Australia road trip, including some gorgeous stations. If you have a 4WD and are generally self-sufficient (think: bore water only), it can be a spectacular option. If that’s not your thing at all, there is standard hotel and motel accommodation along the way as well.
We elected to split the difference between ‘roughing it’ and comfort and chose the paid campsites as we wanted the security of having a reservation, amenities, and better access to phone service.
Drive From Perth to Exmouth Or The Other Way Around?
You might be wondering whether to do a Perth to Exmouth road trip or an Exmouth to Perth road trip! But which one is the best? There are pros and cons to each but we decided to start in Exmouth where we picked up the rental car and dropped it off in Perth. We did this because it was much cheaper than doing it the other way around.
I suppose how many people will need to hire a rental car in Exmouth versus hiring a car in Perth? It makes more sense to pick up a car in Exmouth and bring it back to Perth.
If you choose to head the opposite way, just swap the order of our Exmouth to Perth itinerary. It is a very long drive one way, let alone both ways. While a roundtrip drive would save you the one-way rental car drop off fee and the regional flight to Exmouth, it would have required much more time than we had available.
Keep in mind that most car hire contracts won’t allow you to drive between dusk and dawn due to the risk of colliding with an animal, so your driving hours will be limited to daylight. Petrol is expensive, and the stops can be far and few between. We selected an economical vehicle for this purpose.
If you see petrol in a remote highway stretch, no matter how full your tank is, put an extra bit in for good measure.
What we didn’t expect, however, is for the rooftop tent to create as much drag as it did on highway speeds. This made the car guzzle a bit more gas than we anticipated, and at one point we weren’t sure we were going to make it to the next petrol stop.
Best Places To Visit From Exmouth To Perth
We’re going to start this Exmouth to Perth itinerary from Exmouth and work out way down to Perth. These are the main places which stood out for us.
1. Adventure In Exmouth
From Learmonth Airport, take the airport shuttle or pre-book a taxi to your car hire or accommodation in Exmouth. Make the most of your daylight hours by driving out to vibrant Turquoise Bay, which is right at the edge of Cape Range National Park. There is a drift snorkel you can do if you’re a confident swimmer – we saw turtles and schools of small fish.
If you have a 4WD, you can carry on to explore the Park. Instead, we caught the sunset at Vlamingh Head lighthouse before heading back to YHA Exmouth. If you are in the mood for beach hopping, you can check out rugged Dunes Beach and Bundegi Beach, or Town Beach if you’re looking for something more accessible from Exmouth’s food and accommodation.
We didn’t have time to do a fishing charter, but because the continental shelf is so close to the Exmouth shore (as close as 8km away in some spots), fishing is supposed to be world-class.
We were supposed to scuba dive the Exmouth Navy Pier, which is rated one of the top pier dives in the world. However, given the pier itself creates an overhead environment, the dive cannot go ahead in poor conditions. Sadly, we missed out due to unfavourable wind and current this time around.
While you can take snorkel and scuba tours to the Ningaloo Reef from both Exmouth and Coral Bay, Exmouth has more tour options and is closer to the main section of the Reef. We went on a full-day snorkel tour with Three Islands Whale Shark Dive, and they were absolutely stellar with everything from reef and wildlife education, snorkel guides, photography, food service (which was tasty and filling!) and most importantly – finding us whale sharks to swim with!
The Ningaloo Reef, we were told, is in better condition in some parts than the Great Barrier Reef. While it’s not generally as brightly coloured as the GBR, because of the proximity of the continental shelf, the sea life is truly vast. I remember being just blown away not only by how alive the Ningaloo felt but how many colours the fish themselves brought to the Reef.
If you can, leave an extra day or two available while you are in the area in case of inclement weather. Swimming with whale sharks is such a highlight not to miss – of all of the snorkelling and scuba diving we’ve done, swimming with whale sharks still comes to the top of our mind when we think of our best underwater adventures.
3. Visit Coral Bay
Coral Bay is about one hour and a half south of Exmouth, and is absolutely stunning! It had a bit more of a resort feel, with a few upscale accommodation offerings and restaurants, and was more walkable. We made the most of our time in Coral Bay with a beach quad bike experience, and another snorkel tour to the Ningaloo Reef, but this time with the intention of seeing mantas and turtles (spoiler alert: we did!).
While you’re in Coral Bay, take a morning or sunset walk to beautiful Bill’s Bay or Paradise Beach. After your busy days out on the water or the dunes, check out Bill’s Bar for great food and drinks. We also saw our absolute favourite sunset of the entire journey (and that’s saying a lot) from Coral Bay Beach.
Coral Bay has a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, and as it is not a far drive from Learmonth Airport, you could come up just for a few highlights.
Carnarvon is a small fishing town with a regional airport. We stopped here mainly as a place to stay overnight after checking out the impressive Point Quabba Blow Holes, which are about 2.5 hours away from Coral Bay.
We expected to watch a few blasts and turn around, but we were mesmerised by it and got a little too close to dusk for our comfort. It is approximately one hour back to Carnarvon from the Blow Holes. Alternatively, it is only a 10-minute drive to the beautiful Quobba Station. We had a tight schedule to make the next day, so we could not stay the night at Quobba Station, but would definitely do so on a future trip.
We left our Carnarvon campsite early in the morning, grabbed a coffee, and walked along Carnarvon’s One Mile Jetty watching jumping fish and birds feed. Definitely a gorgeous slow morning to have before our big drive to Shark Bay.
5. Tackling Shark Bay and Monkey Mia
From Carnarvon we drove to Shark Bay, which was approximately 3.5 hours’ drive in total. First, we visited the Hamlin Pool Stromatolites, which are the world’s oldest and largest living fossils. They were here a few billion years before humans were – and they’re still alive today! We then went to Shell Beach which is exactly what it sounds like, but more impressive. Instead of a beach full of sand, it is full of small, smooth, white shells.
As our last stop before making it to our campsite, we went to Ocean Park Aquarium. It is relatively small, but pretty remarkable. We learned a lot about Western Australia’s sea life, watched a shark feeding, and even got to check out venomous sea snakes and stonefish in real life.
They also run scuba diving tours, which we would have taken advantage of if we had more time. I would definitely recommend spending a few nights in the Shark Bay area if you can. If you have a 4WD you can explore the beautiful Francois Peron National Park at the north end of Shark Bay. Alternatively, there are 4WD tours that can take you there (including some run by Ocean Park Aquarium).
However, we had packed enough into the day, so we grabbed a quick bite and were happy to relax at our site at Denham Seaside Caravan Park which was right on the beach. When late afternoon started setting in, we drove to Monkey Mia for a sunset cruise.
Have I already mentioned Western Australia has unreal sunsets? In hindsight, we should have camped at Monkey Mia, as the next morning we drove back from Denham first thing in the morning in time for the wild dolphin feeding.
The wild dolphin feeding has been going on since the 1960s, so the local dolphin population comes right up to shore. Some lucky dolphins get fed a small portion of their diet (so that their natural hunting behaviours are preserved) from volunteers at Monkey Mia.
In fact, while we were there, we saw a few dolphins hunting fish on their own. This was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.
Leaving Monkey Mia, we were on the road again for approximately 4 hours to reach Kalbarri. We thought the best was behind us, but Kalbarri had striking views of red cliffs reaching out into the ocean. Out of all the walks and activities to do in the area, we chose to focus on a few highlights.
A few minutes’ drive from the main town is breathtaking Red Bluff Lookout and Red Bluff Beach. Further down the road is equally beautiful Eagle Gorge Lookout. Definitely don’t miss going for a snorkel in the Blue Holes. For dinner each night, we grabbed takeout and sat at Chinaman’s beach.
Due to time constraints, we skipped Rainbow Jungle, but it looks like an impressive bird enclosure! We also had to take a pass on gorge canoeing and visiting Nature’s Window. In Kalbarri National Park we stopped at the beautiful Z Bend and went abseiling to fully immerse ourselves in the gorgeous red rock. We would have loved to stay longer and get a better chance at spotting local critters like echidna and the elusive thorny devil.
The way out of Kalbarri is a gorgeous stretch of road, and we took a quick pit stop to see the Natural Bridge.
7. Hutt Lagoon
About 45 minutes south of Kalbarri is the pink lake of Hutt Lagoon! The colour of the lake can change depending on the time of day and cloud cover. When we first arrived, the lake appeared to be bubblegum pink. By the time we left, some blue became more prominent in the lake, leading to a somewhat lilac hue. It’s really gorgeous at any shade.
We chickened out of taking a dip (it is an algae that makes it pink – swimming is not recommended, but not prohibited either) and instead stopped at the General Store in Port Gregory to revive ourselves with a bite before continuing our drive.
8. Geraldton And Jurien Bay
We drove right through Geraldton, but it is beautiful and we’d recommend an overnight stop to take in the beautiful slow pace and amazing seafood of regional WA. If you have the time, a snorkel or scuba out at the Abrolhos Islands is supposed to be incredible.
We also drove through Jurien Bay after much debate. The main highlight of Jurien Bay in our opinion is the opportunity to snorkel with seals just off the coast. However, we figured we could take a miss, as we were eagerly anticipating a fur seal scuba on the NSW South Coast later in the year (which we would highly recommend, but that’s a story for another day!).
Jurien Bay is also known for fishing charters, so definitely look into that if fishing is up your alley. From here through to Cervantes, the road creeps right next to the Indian Ocean (it’s actually called the Indian Ocean Drive at this point). We’d recommend timing the drive for around sunset so you can catch glimpses of the ocean at sunset as you make your way down.
9. Cervantes and Lancelin
We wanted to spend the night in Cervantes so that we could catch sunrise at the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. On our drive in at dawn, we caught kangaroos calmly feeding off the side of the highway. The Pinnacles are limestone rock pillars that seem to rise right out of the desert. While it appears barren, the Pinnacles have become home to insects, birds, and animals. Because the area is so large, while we were there, we only spotted one other person.
If you are into astrophotography, this is one of the best places to visit. About an hour past the Pinnacles is Lancelin – home to more sand dunes! We just couldn’t get enough time at the dunes in Coral Bay, so we rented a sand board from a local shop (only $12.50) and spent a couple hectic hours sliding around.
If you have a 4WD, you will have no problem driving right up to the dunes. If you have a 2WD, you can drive into the area but you have to park before the ground starts getting soft and walk a couple hundred meters to the start of the dunes. Don’t worry – it is clear enough where to stop, especially if many others have arrived before you!
10. Perth and Rottnest Island
From Lancelin, it is only about 1.5 hours to Perth. Before arriving in Perth, we stopped at Caversham Wildlife Park, which we would highly recommend. We decided to treat ourselves – we returned our car hire, and stayed at the Hyatt for a proper rest for our last couple days. We didn’t plan much to do in Perth for this reason, and simply enjoyed restaurant meals and walking along the Perth foreshore.
We also checked out the Fremantle Markets, which are absolutely amazing! On our last day on the road, we went to Rottnest Island with Rottnest Express. We were able to book our roundtrip ferry ticket, Rottnest Island admission, and bicycle hire through them.
We would definitely recommend renting a bicycle to get around the island, but fair warning: it is hilly in spots, and the bicycles are what you’d expect with heavily used rentals. We definitely got more of a workout than expected.
I know you’re wondering: will I see quokkas? The answer – YES. Don’t panic if you don’t see them the second you get off at the ferry terminal. Just walk or cycle to some less trafficked areas, and they will be there. Some can be timid, but most are used to humans.
One non-quokka highlight was spotting the seal colony from Cathedral Rocks.
Make sure you get all the way to West End to check out the view from the tip of the island. Being here almost made us forget how close we still were to Perth! You can stay overnight at Rottnest, which we would recommend if you want to check out some snorkelling spots and enjoy more relaxed beach time. However, we felt that we did everything we wanted to do in one full day, and we even got the treat of one last beautiful sunset on our ferry ride back to Perth.
With that, our time was up, and we had to head back to Sydney. Would we do it again? Yes! We would be more than happy to repeat everything we did. However, because there is just so much to see and do, a second trip wouldn’t feel repetitive at all.