Our Insane & Epic Three Week Road Trip in Western Australia

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.

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The Logistics

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.

Celebrating getting ourselves un-bogged in the desert (!!!)

Celebrating getting ourselves un-bogged in the desert (!!!)

 

Supplies

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.

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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. 

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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.

Spend a day at the beach, spend a weekend in Fremantle, and spend a perfect day with the quokkas on Rottnest Island

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The Pinnacles

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. 

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Pink Lake

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).

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Nature’s Window

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.

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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.

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Exmouth

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.

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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.

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Lake Argyle 

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. 

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Darwin

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.

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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.

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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)

The Perfect Week in Tasmania

The Perfect Week in Tasmania

Deciding to include Tasmania in our packed 2-month Australia itinerary can be summed up in a very casual, “well, why not?” Despite getting some serious colds, probably from staying up for nearly 48 hours, we made the most of our adventure up the east coast. 

Read More

Road Tripping New Zealand’s South Island

Highlighting the best routes for the ultimate roadside views.

 

Why Road Trip?

It’s just fun. Plus, New Zealand’s tourism industry is modeled around the assumption that most tourists are getting around via car rental. Most attractions are pretty far apart, and buses don’t run very frequently. The country is too small (only 5 million people!) to invest in an extensive and inexpensive transportation system to connect two islands with insanely varying terrain. As such, car rentals are the most reasonable and reliable method of transport. 

New Zealand is world renowned for its breath-taking landscapes and plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities. So we brought camping gear and bookmarked tons of secret spots for camping. (They’re not actually very secret. There’s a great app called CamperMate that shows you all the local camping options on a map.) Having a car just makes it easier for us to explore some of the more remote treasures. Plus, camping helps us save money on accommodation. which in turn helps fund the cost of the car! Full circle!

The Department of Conservation, mainly referred to as DOC (as in, waddup doc!), is absolutely phenomenal here in New Zealand. Most areas have an i-Site and/or DOC visitor centre dedicated to helping tourists plan their visit around the local area. So many pamphlets. So many maps. So much support. 

 

Renting a Car

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to rental cars and campervans. JUCY is the most popular - and iconic - choice here in New Zealand. They make a whole line of vehicle options, including the infamous purple and green campercan. A lot of people opt for campervans because they’re well equipped and easy to maintain here in NZ, but being that we already have an outstanding backpacking tent and two mediocre sleeping bags, we chose to downsize to the “el cheapo” option. For 40 days, this little cherry red hyundai would be home.

Unfortunately, you can’t get around the fact that you constantly need to buy gas. It takes 91 unleaded, which isn’t cheap compared to prices in the States, but luckily el cheapo’s are relatively fuel efficient. Much more efficient than a campervan would be.

Also it’s weird, but you pay for gas after you pump it. We learned that the awkward way our first time at the pump. Apparently they “trust people” here. Also it’s called petrol, not gas.

 

Driving on the Other Side of the Road

It’s not actually that weird. It really only takes a day or two to get used to. As always, never drive distracted, and it’s totally fine. At first, turning is the trickiest part. Roundabouts, too. While they’re super efficient for traffic control and emission reduction, they’re definitely less straightforward than a 4-way intersection.

Only complaint: windshield wipers. Every time we go for the blinkers, our wipers start wiping. RIGHT HAND for indicating, not the left. 

 

Our Route

After a quick two weeks in the North Island, we hopped on the Interislander Ferry in Wellington for the beautiful cruise to Picton. It’s a very enjoyable cruise, with lots of available snacks on board and lots of opportunities to see stunning landscapes and maybe even some wildlife - especially going through the Marlborough Sounds when you get closer to Picton. If you’re planning a double-island road trip, make sure you look into prices and timetables for the ferry! It’s always easier to book in advance, especially during the busier months.

Once we landed in Picton, we headed dead south to Blenheim for a weekend of well-deserved wine tasting. Next we darted over to Nelson Lakes National Park for a few days of hiking and camping. After that, we zipped to Kaikoura for a day of whale-watching, and then up into Arthur's Pass for a night. Then we headed down to Tekapo for a night, and onwards to Wanaka for a few days. We ended up doubling back north to spend a night in Mount Cook National Park, and then looped south again to Queenstown. We spent the last week based out of Queenstown, venturing out to Glenorchy for a day, and to the Fiordlands a few times too.

 

Kaikoura

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Unfortunately, we drove this route at night and can’t provide any proof of the pretty views. BUT I’ve driven it before, and if you like winding through mountains and across river valleys, make sure to take SH 76 to Kaikoura. (Depending on when you visit, you might not have a choice… both main access roads to Kaikoura were heavily damaged in a recent earthquake…). Make sure to check road closings before you head out!

 

Arthur’s Pass

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Depending on whether or not you plan on going to the west coast, you can choose to go through Arthur’s Pass, or just into the village and back out. Both are great options, as there are plenty of viewpoints along the way. Just north of the main village, there’s a cool part of the road with a rock slide shelter and aqueduct that’s well worth a quick visit before leaving even if you’re not headed to the west coast!

 

Road to Wanaka

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Another beautiful pass through farmland and rolling hills. We went on a moody day, bringing out the exceptional rustic colors around us.

 

Road to Blue Pools (Haas Pass)

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Haast Pass is aa exceptional drive along the isthmus between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. There are plenty of lookouts to stretch your legs and snap a picture, or for the more adventurous, stop along the way for a day hike up to Isthmus Peak for even more incredible views. Continuing towards the west coast, you enter Mount Aspiring National Park with recreational pull-offs every few minutes. Plenty of things to do!

 

Road into Mount Cook National Park

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There’s only one way in, and one way out. The entire approach to the National Park will be one big tease of Mount Cook staring right at you, waiting for you.

 

Paradise Road

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The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy will put you in a trance, slowly meandering along the east side of long Lake Wakatipu. But, even better, if you continue north after Glenorchy you will find a secret backroad called Paradise

 

Queenstown to Fiordlands

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The first time we followed this road was on a big bus on our way to a Doubtful Sound Cruise. For the first part of the drive, you follow parallel to the Remarkables - which frankly, are quite Remarkable. Once you get into the Fiordlands, it’s all open spaces and distant peaks. Quite peaceful. 

 

Bonus road: Up to the Remarkables

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On the way back from hiking the Key Summit Track, just a few minutes outside of Queenstown, we found a very steep drive up to the Remarkables ski area. Do not do this drive in the winter. If the roads are clear, and you’re confident driving twisty, windy, switchbacks at high elevations - you will be rewarded with absolutely stunning views of the Remarkables and greater Queenstown area. 

 

Interested in the North Island? Check out our other road trip post!

North Island, New Zealand Road Trip

Highlighting alternative routes for the ultimate vehicle-based experience.

 

Why Road Trip?

It’s just fun. Plus, New Zealand’s tourism industry is modeled around the assumption that most tourists are getting around via car rental. Most attractions are pretty far apart, and buses don’t run very frequently. The country is too small (only 5 million people!) to invest in an extensive and inexpensive transportation system to connect two islands with insanely varying terrain. As such, car rentals are the most reasonable and reliable method of transport. 

New Zealand is world renowned for its breath-taking landscapes and plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities. So we brought camping gear, and bookmarked tons of secret spots for camping. (They’re not actually very secret. There’s a great app called CamperMate that shows you all the local camping options on a map.) Having a car just makes it easier for us to explore some of the more remote treasures. Plus, camping helps us save money on accommodation. which in turn helps fund the cost of the car! Full circle!

The Department of Conservation, mainly referred to as DOC (as in, waddup doc!), is absolutely phenomenal here in New Zealand. Most areas have an i-Site and/or DOC visitor centre dedicated to helping tourists plan their visit around the local area. So many pamphlets. So many maps. So much support. 

 

Renting a Car

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to rental cars and campervans. JUCY is the most popular - and iconic - choice here in New Zealand. They make a whole line of vehicle options, including the infamous purple and green campercan. A lot of people opt for campervans because they’re well equipped and easy to maintain here in NZ, but being that we already have an outstanding backpacking tent and two mediocre sleeping bags, we chose to downsize to the “el cheapo” option. For 40 days, this little cherry hyundai would be home.

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Unfortunately, you can’t get around the fact that you constantly need to buy gas. It takes 91 unleaded, which isn’t cheap compared to prices in the States, but luckily el cheapo’s are relatively fuel efficient. Much more efficient than a campervan would be.

Also it’s weird, but you pay for gas after you pump it. We learned that the awkward way our first time at the pump. Apparently they “trust people” here. Also it’s called petrol, not gas.

 

Driving on the Other Side of the Road

It’s not actually that weird. It really only takes a day or two to get used to. As always, never drive distracted, and it’s totally fine. At first, turning is the trickiest part. Roundabouts, too. While they’re super efficient for traffic control and emission reduction, they’re definitely less straightforward than a 4-way intersection.

Only complaint: windshield wipers. Every time we go for the blinkers, our wipers start wiping. RIGHT HAND for indicating, not the left. 

 

Our Route

Most people go the most direct route from Auckland to Wellington, stopping in Waitomo, Hamilton, Matamata, Rotorua, Taupo, Tongariro, and finally Wellington. That’s pretty much the most basic way to go through the North Island, hitting some of its top attractions.

However, we took a very different route, expanding out to other regions of the North Island and cruising roads less travelled. We started in Auckland, and immediately shot north to the Bay of Islands, where we stayed at a friend’s place in Russell. Then we revisited Auckland briefly before heading down to EcoQuest on the Firth of Thames, and around to the Coromandel Peninsula where we stopped along Hahei Beach and the town of Coromandel. Afterwards, we wandered around Waikato, Matamata, Tauranga/Maunganui, and Rotorua. After that, our plans got a little jumbled, but we headed down past Wai-o-tapu to Taupo, and then back up to Ohope to take the East Coast Road to Gisborne and Napier. Finally, we took route 2 through the mountains to the North Island’s southernmost city, Wellington.

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If you’re wondering why we doubled back from Taupo, read this post.

 

Road to Russell

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Dome Forest trail, off SH1 leaving Auckland

Dome Forest trail, off SH1 leaving Auckland

Rockman trail, off SH 1 leaving Auckland

Rockman trail, off SH 1 leaving Auckland

Kauri Grove Trail, Russell Whakapara Road

Kauri Grove Trail, Russell Whakapara Road

 

Coromandel Peninsula - the 309 Road and the Pacific Coast Highway

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Waiau Falls, the 309 Road

Waiau Falls, the 309 Road

Stuart and the Pigs, the 309 Road

Stuart and the Pigs, the 309 Road

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Pohutukawa trees along the Pacific Coast Highway

Pohutukawa trees along the Pacific Coast Highway

 

Southern Waikato

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Limestone rocks poking out of farm hillsides in Southern Waikato

Limestone rocks poking out of farm hillsides in Southern Waikato

Surprise rainbow over the farms along the Waikato River

Surprise rainbow over the farms along the Waikato River

Rainbow over the limestone rocks

Rainbow over the limestone rocks

 

East Coast Road (Tauranga-Gisborne-Napier)

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The East Coast Road climbs and falls through the mountains right up against the ocean

The East Coast Road climbs and falls through the mountains right up against the ocean

Blue and purple rivers wander out to the ocean under the overpasses of the highway

Blue and purple rivers wander out to the ocean under the overpasses of the highway

The East Coast is known for the "old time" feel, where townspeople still ride horses from place to place

The East Coast is known for the "old time" feel, where townspeople still ride horses from place to place

Churches dot the coastline

Churches dot the coastline

 

And of course, no matter where you go:

Sheep

Sheep