Beach Life: A Perth to Esperance Driving Holiday

A kangaroo on a white sand beach in front of a turquoise ocean with people swimming and an offshore island, Lucky Bay, WA

When it comes to Western Australia, most people go north. Chris and Sarah decide to buck the trend and instead explore the state’s stunning southwest in a 12-day driving holiday. It doesn’t disappoint.

We always search for epic adventures, so when Chris suggests we head to Perth and drive around the southwest corner of Western Australia, who am I to argue? With a full two weeks’ holiday booked, we jump on a plane and pick up a trusty vehicle from Apex Car Rentals at Perth Airport. Now, we’re hitting the long road to what promises to be sensational scenery and natural wonders.

Raise a Glass: Perth to Pemberton

Two people climb a huge tree using spikes coming out from its trunk, Gloucester National Park, Pemberton, WA

You can spend days meandering between cellar doors and surfing the breaks of Margaret River, but we’ve been lucky enough to visit her before (you can read all about it here) and decide to pass through quickly, apart from a stop at Cullen Wines for lunch. Here, most of what you’re presented at the table is grown in the biodynamic kitchen gardens. Not a bad way to begin a holiday!

When we arrive in Pemberton, a town surrounded by incredible karri forests, we head to the Gloucester Tree. It has spikes coming from its trunk that act as a spiral ladder – before spotter planes were used to track fires, people would climb to the top to look out over the landscape. Chris decides he can take it on and climbs 53 metres to the top, where, he tells me when back on terra firma, he could see for miles in all directions.

Forest to Sea: Pemberton to Albany

A high walkway links pockets of thick forest at the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk near Tingledale, Western Australia

Everyone in Pemberton tells us to check out the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. It’s not quite as high as the Gloucester Tree, so I don’t have to worry about vertigo kicking in. The massive tingle trees – they’re a type of eucalypt – that make up this forest have been here for hundreds of years and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Looking up at them from the Ancient Empire Walk, I stand still and take a deep breath. If you’re going to be in such an impressive forest, you might as well bathe in it.

By the time we hit the coast road again, we’re ready for a swim. Lights Beach is just one of the many options, and we take a dip in the pool at one end before going for a walk along the sand.

For the next four days, we explore all the beaches around Denmark, drive to cellar doors in the Great Southern wine region, do the challenging hike to Toolbrunup Peak in the Stirling Range National Park then head on to Albany. This town has some great history. In fact, it was where the first convoy of soldiers, horses and supplies shipped out to Europe during World War I. Now it’s home to the National Anzac Centre, which has impressive multimedia displays and interactive exhibits to connect visitors to those troops.

Into the Wild: Albany to Esperance

Banky beach, Bremer Bay

We’re doing this drive in March for a couple of reasons. First, the worst of the summer heat is gone. Our main reason, though, is a little deeper. And when I say ‘deeper’, I mean it literally. There’s a huge 5,000-metre canyon beneath the ocean’s surface about 70 kilometres off Bremer Bay. It was only discovered in 2013 and, with it, the incredible marine life that comes from a confluence of currents and upwelling that means the water here is full of nutrients. It means there are giant squid, tuna, salmon and, more excitingly, apex predators, including big sharks and killer whales. Lots and lots of killer whales. From January to April, you’re guaranteed to see them.

I’ve seen footage of Bremer Bay’s killer whales doing their thing as a pack, ripping apart much bigger whales. “Not sure I want to see that,” says Chris, as we’re heading out with Naturaliste Charters. We’re not sure what we will witness, since the skipper tells us every day out here is different.

Then we spot it: a huge flock of seabirds – albatross, giant petrels, shearwaters – circling close to the surface and diving into the water. It’s a sign orcas have hunted, and the birds are scavenging the leftovers. And that’s when we see them. I’m not sure whether there are 20 orcas moving rapidly or 50. It’s thought this pod, the biggest in the southern hemisphere, numbers up to 200 whales. They breach and leap, coming in close to the boat then moving away again. One of the scientists on board puts a hydrophone into the water so we can hear their chatter. I watch in awe as an orca snatches one of those poor birds from just above the waves and dives away with it.

“That has to be the greatest day ever,” says Chris, as we head back towards land. And I agree. Taking this trip to Esperance has been the best decision we’ve ever made.