It was part of our Australian itinerary from the get-go: an epic west coast road trip via campervan up the country’s less explored coastline.
We were ready for deserts sunsets, endless rust colored highway, deserted beaches, and sleeping in the back of a car for three weeks. We weren’t ready for the lack of gas stations, sweltering heat, or the monumental distance between Perth to Darwin.
Many people travel to Australia to embark on this very road trip, and every journey is different. Ours went a little like this.
Finding a Car or Campervan
Where We Rented: Traveller’s Autobarn
Would We Recommend: Yes, but you get what you pay for. The vans are OK, but old, and we had a few customer service issues. We mostly recommend them because when we dropped it off the representative was extremely understanding about the issues we had with the camper and gave us a smaller car for a few days, free of charge, to make up for it.
This is arguably the easy part. Because the west coast is almost exclusively explored via car or campervan, there are many options.
We opted for a campervan because we figured it would be a fun experience. Many people choose a car simply because you can save a lot of money on the rental and gas. The cheapest way to do it is definitely by car, provided you’re using a tent instead of paying for hostels or hotels every night. It depends on your budget and what kind of experience you want.
We rented a campervan from Traveller’s Autobarn, a budget rental company, and opted for their most popular Kuga campervan. For two people, this was perfect. It says it sleeps/seats 3, but from experience that would be crowded unless that third person is a child.
Regardless of what you choose, here are a couple of things to keep in mind regarding your car/campervan:
Gas is EXPENSIVE and gas stations are few and far between. Fill up every chance you get, no matter how full your tank is. You can use the app maps.me to help you find gas stations along your route (it will work without service so long as the maps are downloaded). Keep in mind: the bigger the vehicle the pricier the gas.
Most rentals are MANUAL. We learned this the hard way when we got dealt an old school ’08 manual camper when we expected an automatic. Luckily, MJ is a champ with manual and I knew enough to get the hang of it, but if you need an automatic make sure you’ve signed up for one.
Insurance doesn’t cover idiots who get stuck in the sand. You will be hard pressed to find someone to help you if you drive off road and get bogged down because you wanted that perfect shot of the sunrise (yes, we were those idiots). We ended up taking an hour to get our heavy camper out of the sand after multiple calls to tow companies and roadside assistance told us we were on our own. Do yourself a favor and stay on the pavement.
If you opt for a camper, you will need to charge it, refill the water, and refill the gas. Ask where the hose/charging cables are in your camper BEFORE you leave…(we didn’t find our hose the whole time and had to get creative).
Take the insurance, just don’t get bogged.
Drive during the day whenever possible. Driving at night might be your favorite thing to do (me) but you will never forgive yourself if you add to the roadkill death toll on Australia’s west coast highway. MARSUPIALS ARE NOCTURNAL. You would be too if you lived in the desert, let’s be real.
Knowing how to change a tire is a life skill that’s great to have before you make this journey.
Bring your own charging cable and aux chord and DOWNLOAD your music (a lot of it) before you leave. Maybe even some audiobooks if that’s your thing. You’re in for a lot of driving and not a lot of service.
If they offer you a fan, TAKE IT. This was a lifesaver during the night.
Whether you start in the north or the south, stock up on supplies in the biggest city you’re starting in. Once you hit the road, all the prices go up as the average population goes down. Supply and demand baby.
Stock up on:
Food. Try and stick to the easy stuff. Also a plus if it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Unless you’re opting for a big camper, you’re going to be very tight on fridge space.
Water and booze. Both get more expensive as you head out of town.
Bug spray and sunscreen. Both are necessary and, again, prices go up.
Here are a couple things we were really happy we had:
Headlamps. Can’t stress enough how many times we’ve been happy to have headlamps on this trip. Endlessly useful.
Ziplock containers (for leftovers) and garbage bags.
Sleeping bags. They provided sheets for us but having to make the bed every night was super annoying. These were just easier.
Table and chairs. We rented these from the rental company. They were great to have when we wanted to get out of the camper for dinner or just to enjoy our beach reads in the shade.
A speaker. I always carry at least two on me because there’s nothing worse than listening to music from an iPhone speaker. Our campervan was so old we didn’t even have an aux plug, so we ended up using a speaker the whole time.
Cameras. We each have one and carry it with us everywhere. If you’re thinking of investing in a better one or are unsure whether or not you want to bring yours, this is the sign you’re looking for. BRING IT. You will see so many beautiful things and it’s worth documenting properly.
Planning Your Route
It’s a little more than 4000km from Perth to Darwin on the shortest route. That’s about 43 hours of driving, which doesn’t cover the driving you do to get to the actual highlights of your road trip. We had an amazing time, but not enough of it. Our last three days of driving averaged about 10-12 hours of driving per day. BE BETTER THAN US.
Give yourself the time to enjoy the west coast properly. Opt for a shorter route, like Darwin to Broome or Perth to Broome, or, if you’re in it for the long haul, give yourself 4-6 weeks to enjoy the trip from Perth to Darwin.
Our Highlight Reel from the West Coast
Many of these stops we’ve written about in more detail, but here is the short list of what we loved about our 3 week adventure.
Perth, Fremantle and Rottnest Island
Where We Stayed: Bambu Backpackers Hostel
Would We Recommend: Yes
Can’t stress this enough. This city and the surrounding areas are beautiful and absolutely worth starting or ending with. Perth is a vibrant city with unbelievable beaches, a great and cheap transportation system, and so much to do.
Where We Stayed: RAC Cervantes Holiday Park
Would We Recommend: Yes
No one is entirely sure how this natural wonder happened, but boy is it beautiful. Just off the road near Cervantes, the Pinnacles are a must stop for those looking to get that perfect sunset picture. Drive your car through the park or get out and walk among the thousands of stone pillars.
Where We Stayed: Linga Longa at Lynton Station
Would We Recommend: Yes
Instagrammers - DON’T MISS THIS ONE. I saw pictures of Australia’s pink lakes years ago when planning and knew this wasn’t something we could skip. We had a blast doing our cheesy little photo shoot at the pink lake near Hutt Lagoon. Definitely worth the stop (you’ll be happy you packed that camera).
This was so cool. A 45minute drive in from the coastal town of Kalbarri, Nature’s Window is one of the main attractions in Kalbarri National Park. This iconic attraction is a literal “window” in the rock that perfectly frames the river behind it. It’s a short 1km walk into the Loop, which is a larger walk you can opt for to see more of the beautiful national park.
Sharkbay World Heritage Site
Where We Stayed: Denham Seaside Tourist Village
Would We Recommend: Yes
We camped out here for a few days because we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave this little slice of heaven. Perfect beaches, natural wonders everywhere and a great place to take your first break on your crazy road trip. Enjoy a trip to Monkey Mia to visit the dolphins, stop at Shell Beach for a quick dip in crystal clear water, and take in the Hamelin Pool Stromatolites that give Shark Bay its World Heritage title.
While you’re in Shark Bay, take the time to learn about the community’s fascinating initiative to combat community waste.
Where We Stayed: Potshot
Would We Recommend: Yes (in high season, BOOK EARLY. The town triples in size.)
Divers! You already know you need to stop here. We missed the whale shark season (March-Sept), but we were just in time for sea turtle mating season, which definitely made up for it. The diving here is out of this world, so if that’s your thing DON’T MISS IT. Navy Pier alone was worth the extended stop.
We dove with a company called Dive Ningaloo and they were EPIC. Definitely recommend.
Broome & Cable Beach
Where We Stayed: Tarangua Caravan Park
Would We Recommend: Yes
Broome is amazing coastal city. Unfortunately, when we went it was hot and so, so humid that we spend our entire time there doing one thing and one thing only: Cable Beach. This beach is worth the trip alone. It’s massive and is perfect for lounging the day away or watching the camels walk buy with some sundowners.
Tip: Skip the camel ride, they smell bad and the pictures you’ll get with the camels in it are cooler than the ones you’ll get from the camel’s back.
Tip: If you have a car (NOT a camper), you can drive it down to the beach! It’s very flat and the sand is packed down, very low risk of getting bogged.
Where We Stayed: Lake Argyle Resort & Holiday Park
Would We Recommend: SO MUCH.
Our final stop before Darwin, this resort of Lake Argyle was everything we could’ve hoped for. Not only is a lush and green, a welcome break after weeks in the dust and sand, but it has an unbelievable infinity pool looking out over the lake. We camped out here until they literally had to kick us out when it got dark. You can take a tour of the lake by boat as well, but we didn’t have time.
Where We Stayed: Darwin YHA aka Melaleuca on Mitchell
Would We Recommend: Yes, if you’re looking to party
We weren’t prepared for how much we would love Darwin. It’s not a huge city, but if you’re a backpacker looking to meet some cool people and party/celebrate the end of your insane three-week road trip, it’s everything you need. Don’t miss out on this hostel, we had the time of our lives during our weekend in Darwin.
Get Up for Sunrise, Make Time for Sunset
It doesn’t get more beautiful than it does on the west coast of Australia. We started our longer driving days at 4am so we could enjoy sunrise out in the middle of the desert. Highly recommend it.
What We Wish We’d Had Time For (AKA Our Regrets)
No trip is perfect (unless you have 6-7 weeks to do it), so here are some places we’re going to have to come back for (and some super fun ideas for you when you go cause we’ve totally sold you on this road trip!!).
Karijini National Park
More Time at Lake Argyle
Diving with Whale Sharks in Exmouth
Diving in Coral Bay
Gibb River-Wyndham Road (southwest of Darwin)
Emma Gorge (southwest of Darwin)
Kununurra (near Darwin)
Kakadu National Park (near Darwin)
Wine Tasting at Margaret River (south of Perth)
Serpentine National Park (near Perth)
Lancelin Sand Dunes (near Perth)