There’s something exciting about road trips. The idea of just hopping into a car or motorbike and going wherever the road takes you has been immortalized in many films and books. We have taken a few road trips before, but none were as long (distance wise) as a road trip we did in 2005 in Australia, touring the west coast from Perth to Albany. We covered roughly more than 1,000km for this round trip over 3 days.

Perth

Perth is a popular destination for Singaporeans. It’s the nearest ‘Ang Moh’ city you can get to (5 hours flight) and it also has a large Asian population due to immigration over the years. By Asian standards, Perth is a small city with a population of just over 2 million. It is also the capital city of Western Australia State and is the 4th most populous city in Australia.

We arrived in July and although this month is mid summer in the Northern hemisphere, it was the middle of winter here in the Southern hemisphere. However, winters are rather mild here and the lowest temperature we experienced was around 10°C in the night. One thing odd that we found was that the service apartment that we stayed didn’t have heaters despite the cold, and I hear that lack of heating is quite common in Perth apartments. No wonder the apartment provided thick quilts on the beds. Even then, we had to wear our sweaters indoors and to sleep.

The view of Perth's downtown from our service apartment's balcony.
The view of Perth’s downtown from our service apartment’s balcony.

If you thought Singapore was boring, Perth has us beat. It was really quiet on the Sunday morning that we arrived. We had to go to the car rental company in the downtown area to collect our car, and no buses were running to the downtown as it was a Sunday, so we walked. It was probably a 2-3km walk but the cool weather made it pleasant. And I remembered the downtown was eerily quiet and devoid of people. It was like we had walked into a scene from some post-apocalyptic zombie movie.

We found the car rental and got our car, a Toyota Camry V6 with a 2.5L engine. For long distance. cross country driving, a large car with big engine capacity is recommended as it gives a more comfortable ride (more leg room, less bumpiness) and better fuel efficiency at cruising speeds. Anyway, we spent a few days in Perth for some sight-seeing before setting off on our road trip.

King's Park and Botanic Garden is a nice place to spend the day and it overlooks Perth.
King’s Park and Botanic Garden is a nice place to spend the day and it overlooks Perth. This is probably the only big attraction within the city limits.
One of the more traditional shopping streets in Perth.
One of the more traditional shopping streets in Perth. Shops close early by 6pm and the only late night activity is dinner at a food street.

Fremantle (20km from Perth)

So Perth is considered boring and most people take trips outside the city for sight-seeing. The nearest place of interest is Fremantle which serves as a port is located a short drive from Perth. It has some heritage buildings from the 19th century including the old prison from the days when Fremantle was a penal colony for British convicts.

The Fremantle Market where you can shop for all kinds of local produce like handicrafts, souvenirs, and food.
The Fremantle Markets where you can shop for all kinds of local produce like handicrafts, souvenirs, and food. You can find some really unique stuff for sale here.
The harbor with shops and seafood restaurants galore.
The harbor with rows of shops and seafood restaurants galore.
Our seafood lunch. There's just so much seafood to choose from.
Our seafood lunch. As you can tell from the picture, we spared no expense to eat as much as we could.

We actually came back to Fremantle a couple more times during our stay in Perth as it has more to offer in terms of sights, shopping and food. It’s just a 30 minutes drive from downtown Perth, or you can take the train if you don’t drive.

Busselton (218km from Fremantle via Highway 1 and 10)

After Fremantle, it’s a long drive all the way south to Busselton. For our case, we just stayed in Perth and made a day trip to Fremantle. You can probably make the drive to Busselton in 3hrs from Perth or Fremantle using Highways 1 and 10 which follow the coast.

Busselton is actually named after the Bussell family who first settled the area in 1834. The most famous tourist attraction here is the Busselton Jetty which is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere. It stretches 2km out into the ocean and offers a train ride to the underwater observatory at the end. The train wasn’t running when we arrived due to bad weather, and we also didn’t want to walk with the cold winter wind blowing all around us. So we settled for just having lunch at a restaurant by the sea shore.

The Busselton Jetty. It's a really long walk to the end point.
The Busselton Jetty. It’s a really long walk to the end point.
The visitor center at the start of the jetty.
The visitor center at the start of the jetty.

Cape Naturaliste (38km from Busselton)

From Busselton, we took the coastal road northwest towards Cape Naturaliste. The Cape was named after one of the ships of French explorer Nicholas Baudin in 1801. The area around here is elevated 100m above sea level giving a nice panoramic view of the Indian Ocean crashing into the rocks below, and it’s possible to spot seals and whales in the waters. There are many hiking trails here where you can hike to your heart’s content. The most prominent feature is a lighthouse here built in 1904 from white limestone. However, just to hike to the base of the lighthouse requires an entry fee (A$4), and a further fee (A$9) to tour the inside of the lighthouse. Unless you are interested in visiting the lighthouse, it’s just better to admire it from far away (like us).

Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. To enter and see the lighthouse you have to pay and join an organized tour.
Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. To enter and see the lighthouse you have to pay and join an organized tour.
The view of the Indian Ocean from Cape Naturaliste.
The view of the Indian Ocean from Cape Naturaliste.

We broke our journey staying in a resort near Busselton which we had booked in advance. Being winter, the rates were lower and we were one of the few people staying there. Again, we found that our suite didn’t have any heaters despite the cold winter nights.

Margaret River (49km from Busselton via Highway 10)

Margaret River is a well known wine producing region where people come here to enjoy fine food and wine. The town is named after the river and many boutique vineyards dot the area. We didn’t plan to stay here long, although on hindsight we should have.

We visited a vineyard. But as it was winter, the harvest was long over and bare vines could only be seen.
We visited a vineyard. But as it was winter, the harvest was long over and bare vines could only be seen. We did visit the winery for some wine tasting.
The famous Margaret River Chocolate company. Visitors can stop here for a meal and shopping.
The famous Margaret River Chocolate company. Visitors can stop here for a meal and shopping. We had lunch here and continued our way.

There are several caves in the area which are opened to the public although we skipped these since we were not that interested in caving. Instead we continued onto Augusta where we wanted to join a whale watching trip.

Augusta (40km from Margaret River via Highway 10)

From June till September, whales migrate to Flinders Bay near Augusta. I blogged about the whale watching that we did here in a previous post. If you are visiting in the summer then you can probably skip Augusta as it’s basically a retirement town, unless you want to relax on the beaches and surf the waves.

After our whale watching, it was already late afternoon and our plan to was break our journey at Albany. But we realized soon after a couple of hours drive that we were not going to make it to Albany until late in the night.

Walpole (262km from Augusta via Highway 10 and 1)

After driving for almost 3 hours along Highway 10 and rejoining Highway 1, we arrived at Walpole, the only decent and sizeable town along the way. It was already evening and it was obvious that we could not reach Albany before nightfall. Deciding to stay the night here, we enquired at the only gas station in town for lodging. The friendly attendant gave us the contact of a lodging to call. Being winter, they had an empty house for a reasonable rate and we took it gratefully, and regretfully cancelled our booking for our lodging in Albany.

If you like nature, then Walpole is  actually a great place to stay. It’s surrounded by the Walpole-Nornalup National Park and sits on top of the Walpole Inlet. I guess the inlet would  make for good boating and fishing if you are interested in that.

We got a decent house like this one to stay in for the night considering that it was a last minute booking.
We got a decent house like this one to stay in for the night considering that it was a last minute booking.
Our lodging was walking distance to Walpole Inlet and it offers a nice morning view.
Our lodging was walking distance to Walpole Inlet and it offers a nice morning view.

Although we did not plan to stay at Walpole, I would recommend spending a day and night here to explore the natural beauty of the place, and I’m glad we did. After resting the night in Walpole, we set off the next morning towards Albany.

Valley of the Giants (18km from Walpole)

No, you won’t see giant people here. This place gets it’s name from the giant red tingle trees which grow up to 40m tall and are more than 400 years old. There is a tree top walk here which brings you to the level of the tree tops. The Valley of the Giants is a short drive away from Walpole and in the direction of Albany.

The start of the tree top walk at ground level. It gradually slopes upwards until you reach the tree tops at 40m above the ground.
The tree top walk starts at ground level. It gradually slopes upwards until you reach the tree tops at 40m above the ground.
The high point of the tree top walk. It's 600m in length.
The high point of the tree top walk. It’s 600m in length from the start point at ground level.
Besides the tree top walk, there are many old and huge tingle trees. some have faces on them.
Besides the tree top walk, there are many old and huge tingle trees to see. Some even have faces on them.
Some of tingle trees are large enough to have a path going through them or a shelter built in.
Some of tingle trees are large enough to have a path going through them or a shelter built in.

As the entire tree top walk is ramped from the start, people in wheelchairs and strollers can be pushed all the way to the top. The entrance fee is A$19 for adults, but I find it worth the visit as the experience is something you won’t find anywhere. If you want a free visit to a tree top walk, you could visit Singapore’s own tree top walk. It’s not as long and not as tall, but it’s free.

Albany (104km from Valley of Giants via Highway 1)

After spending the morning being fascinated by the huge red tingle trees, we continued on our way to Albany. Albany is a port city on the south coast of Western Australia State. It is well known for it’s heritage buildings and the city retains a certain old world charm around it. We didn’t get to spend much time here, since our original schedule to stay here was changed. So it was only for a short afternoon visit before we had to rush back to Perth.

Just south of Albany across Shoal Bay is Torndirrup National Park and it’s granite cliffs with natural rock formations carved by the sea. One of the more well known formations is called The Gap, a narrow channel naturally carved into the granite cliffs. Another rock formation is the Natural Bridge.

The granite cliffs near The Gap with spectacular views of the coast and Southern Ocean.
The granite cliffs near The Gap with spectacular views of the coast and Great Southern Ocean.
The Gap. Recently, they have built a viewing platform that overlooks the right side of The Gap offering a safer and more spectacular view of the narrow channel below.
The Gap. Recently, they have built a viewing platform that overlooks the right side of The Gap offering a safer and more spectacular view of the narrow channel below.
The Natural Bridge formation.
The Natural Bridge. As the name suggests, it’s a granite bridge formed by sea erosion over eons.

After spending some time at Torndirrup National Park, we had a late lunch in Albany with just a short time to appreciate the heritage looking streets and buildings.

Back to Perth from Albany (420km via Highway 30)

After our late lunch, we got into the car and started on the long journey back to Perth. We were taking Highway 30 instead of back tracking through the coastal roads that we had come before. Highway 30 is a straighter and shorter route running inland and mostly surrounded by farmlands and wilderness.

A map of the area covered and places described in this blog are marked with a red star.
A map of the area covered and places described in this blog are marked with a red star.

Even with the shorter route, by the time we reached Perth it was already past 8pm in the night. We had covered more than 1,000km by the time we arrived back in Perth. For most Singaporeans, travelling 1,000km by car is equivalent to almost 1 month’s worth of driving in Singapore.

And if you think 1,000km is a lot. We had only traveled to a small part of Australia (the previous map is the area in red).
And if you think 1,000km is a lot. We had only traveled through a small part of Australia (the previous map is the area inside the red box).

Lessons From This Road Trip

While the idea of road trips is kind of romantic, just hop on and ride off into the unknown. In reality, road trips need more planning and preparation than just getting into the car and driving off, especially if you are taking a road trip in another country. A good resource on driving in Australia can be found here and it mentions a lot of the stuff below.

A good thing for us Singaporeans is that cars in Australia are also right hand drive, and drive on the same side of the road as us. So we don’t have to be unfamiliar with a left hand drive system. Driving within Perth and other major Australian cities would be almost similar to driving in Singapore. However, the big differences come when driving out of the cities into the rural areas like on this trip. I find that in general, the majority of Singaporeans are quite crappy drivers. Years of driving in a safe urban setting have made us unable to react and adapt to adverse road conditions. For those who drive to Malaysia on long road trips and to it’s rural countryside, you will be able to identify with my obervations below.

One thing I learnt is that road conditions are very different from the map. Based on the map, we thought that we could reach Albany from Augusta quickly (it looks like it’s the same distance from Perth to Busselton), but the actual road was longer and winding which slowed us down a lot. The actual driving from Perth to Busselton is quite fast actually due to the wider and straight roads. So I think it would be better if breaks can be planned on a shorter distance instead of trying to be too ambitious. It’s the same with Highway 30. although it’s a ‘Highway’, it’s more like a 2 lane road similar to the old trunk roads in Malaysia. So you can’t really go that fast, especially if there are slower vehicles on it, since you will have to overtake by waiting for the oncoming lane to be clear first. In 2005, GPS was not standard, and the car rental only provided a street directory book (like what we have in Singapore in the past). So we navigated from paper maps. With modern GPS systems and Google Maps, it would be easier to plan a road trip now.

If you have driven in Malaysia, you would have encountered those large trucks hauling logs or cargo and speeding at times. Now imagine if those trucks were hauling another 2-3 trailers of cargo and travelling at high speeds. These are the road trains which are common in rural Australia, and they are quite common along Highway 30. The driver of the road train may not be able to see you if you are trying to overtake from way behind, but they will usually indicate to you that it’s safe to overtake by blinking their turn indicators. Once, I wanted to overtake one of these road trains but he deliberately moved out of lane to block me. I thought this guy was a psycho, but actually, he had seen an oncoming car from his higher position and was preventing me from colliding with the car. So if you encounter them, follow at a safe distance and overtake only if you have a long stretch of road that is clear ahead.

We Singaporeans drivers love to speed once we are out of Singapore. In fact, I was going 170kmh at times on Highway 30. However, as much as we like to speed, crashing into wild animals on the road can lead to serious accidents. There are many cases of drivers ramming into wild kangaroos and resulting in the car being totaled. I only ran into a flock of colourful lorikeets feasting on an earlier roadkill. By the time I saw them and was deciding whether to slow down, the car had already ran over them leaving behind a bunch of colourful feathers flying in the rearview mirror. So if you want to speed, be extra careful since reaction time is shorter. Being in an accident out in the middle of nowhere, and possibly no cell phone reception is not a good situation to have.

Try to avoid driving at night in the rural areas. On our way back to Perth, we ended up driving a portion of Highway 30 in the dark as it was winter and the day ends earlier. There are no street lights and it’s really very dark, since there are not many cars on the road. The main problem I had was that swarms of insects from the forests were attracted to the car’s headlights, and they suicidally threw themselves onto the car as we passed. After a while, the windscreen was covered by a layer of smashed insects obscuring the view. I had to use the wiper wash and wipers to sweep away the dead insects every few minutes. After more than an hour of doing this, I wondered if I would run out of wiper fluid. Luckily, we found a petrol station and got to clean the windshield and top up the wiper wash, while fueling up the car. By the time we arrived back in Perth, the whole front of the car was covered in a layer of smashed and dried insect bodies which was really difficult to wash off. When we returned the car the next day, the car rental didn’t say anything. Sometimes, the car rental company will charge a cleaning fee if you return a really dirty car.

We spent only 3 days for this road trip, and I think it was too short. I think a minimum of 5 days would be ideal, with added overnight stopovers in Margaret River and Albany. This would give more time to explore and appreciate these places better.

So what interesting road trips have you done?

2 thoughts on “Road Trip Down Under

  1. I’ve yet to visit Down Under, but your photos and introduction makes me want to take off to Australia immediately 🙂 Many of your posts has this affect on me. Cheers to a great day!

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