From Perth, you can drive in almost any direction and sooner or later you’ll come across something amazing. Drive along the coast northwards and you’ll eventually come to Shark Bay with its abundant marine life and stromatolites. Drive southwards instead and you’ll find yourself in the Margaret River Region, a haven for foodies, outdoors enthusiasts and ocean lovers alike. However, why not hire a car and drive eastwards into the Western Australian hinterland to Kalgoorlie, some 700 km away, for a different kind of adventure? You’ll get to see those wide open landscapes Down Under is famous for and there are plenty of attractions to make this more than just a drive. You’ll probably even get to see road trains, those huge trucks pulling a seemingly infinite number of trailers, along the way.
Before setting off, take some time to explore Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Visit the Perth Zoo, the Aquarium of Western Australia, the Western Australian Botanic Garden, the Western Australia Museum Perth, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Scitech Discovery Centre, the Old Mill and Adventure Park. Take a deep breath then head to Kings Park for some active pursuits and great views of the city, the Darling Range and the Swan River. If you’ve still got the energy, take the ferry to idyllic Rottnest Island, then spend a day in Fremantle with its café culture, Victorian architecture and attractions like the historic Fremantle Prison, the Round House, the Whalers’ Tunnel and the Western Australia Maritime Museum.
We’re not finished yet: Laze on the beach, of which there are many along the coast, and try your hand at water sports like surfing or fishing. Head into the hills, take the Swan Valley Tourist Drive and visit the wineries of the oldest wine region in Australia. While you’re here, why not stock up on some provisions for your trip inland?
Perth is one of the best places in Oz to catch a game of footy, also known as Aussie Rules Football. Cricket and other spectator sports are popular too. This is the only time you’ll get to enjoy big city life during this particular road trip, so make the best of it by enjoying the shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
The Great Eastern Highway
The road between Perth and Kalgoorlie is called the Great Eastern Highway. It was developed in the 1930s although in the Belmont area, highway workers found evidence of a convict-era road too. The entire highway is sealed, so you don’t need to hire the biggest four-wheel-drive vehicle you can get to do this drive.
Detour: Mundaring Weir and Beelu National Park
Just after leaving Perth, it’s time for your first detour. Mundaring is just under 35 km from Perth’s CBD and is considered a suburb of Perth. Here, turn off the highway and head south to the Mundaring Weir. Here you’ll find the historic Goldfields Weir Hotel, which dates from 1898, as well as the C Y O’Connor Museum housed in the old Pumping Station Number 1. This old pumping station is at the start of the Golden Pipeline, which you’ll see running parallel to the Great Eastern Highway for most of the way to Kalgoorlie. The pipeline, which has been in existence for more than a century, forms part of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme to ensure that Kalgoorlie and its surrounds don’t run dry.
To the west of Mundaring Weir lies the Beelu National Park, where at Southern Ledge there is a lookout with a great view of the Mundaring Weir. The park is also home to Western Australia’s largest oak tree.
From Mundaring, drive about 17 km to The Lakes, a small community where the Great Eastern Highway and the Great Southern Highway meet. Turn onto the Great Southern Highway and drive the 45 km or so east to York on the Avon River. This is Western Australia’s oldest inland town, having been established back in 1831, two years after the settlement of Perth. Like many towns in what is known as Western Australia’s Wheatbelt, York has long been a farming community but tourism has become a growing industry here too.
York is a lovely town with many historic buildings dating from the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. They include the Holy Trinity Church from 1854, St Patrick’s Church Hall from 1860, St Patrick’s Church from 1886, the Old Gaol and Courthouse from 1895, the Old York Hospital from 1896, York Town Hall from 1911 and the York Railway Station from 1885. Back in the day, miners would end their train journey here and then make the long journey to the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. The Residency Museum is located in an old colonial house that dates from the 1840s.
Why not spend a few days in York to fully enjoy the town’s attractions? Stroll along the Avon River and make your way across the suspension bridge, a structure that dates from 1906. Do you need more of an adrenalin rush? See York from way up high then by going gliding or skydiving. Before continuing your road trip, pay a visit to the York Motor Museum with its vintage cars and stock up on local produce, including wines from the Avon Valley.
Back on track: Northam
After York, make your way back to the Great Eastern Highway by driving northwards to Northam, a little over 35 km away. Northam lies on the banks of the Avon River too and is the largest town in the Wheatbelt Region. Many of the people living in the Northam area are of Eastern European stock, since there was a migrant accommodation centre in Northam back in the 1940s to accommodate immigrants and displaced people after World War II.
Northam is another town with a wealth of heritage buildings, like the Old Northam Railway Station and the Morby Cottage. In fact, in Western Australia only Fremantle has more buildings on the heritage list.
Onwards to Kalgoorlie
About 35 km east of Northam is the town of Meckering, home of the Big Camera, one of Australia’s Big Things. The Big Camera is actually a museum of photography and to enter it, you walk through the ‘lens’.
Next up is Cunderdin, a town about 23 km from Meckering. Check out the Cunderdin Museum, which is housed in another old pumping station of the Golden Pipeline, Pumping Station Number 3. Apart from the displays on the construction and workings of the pipeline and the history of the local area, one not to miss is the earthquake simulator, which will help you get an idea of what it felt like for the people of Meckering back in 1968, when an earthquake with a 6.9 magnitude hit the town causing millions of dollars of damage.
Across the road from the museum is the Ettamogah Pub, a building which is very hard to miss. Based on the work of Australian cartoonist Ken Maynard, the pub boasts a bright red roof with a vintage truck on top. If you’re thinking of quenching your thirst here, the good news is that the pub also has accommodation so you won’t have to drink and drive.
After Cunderdin, you’ll drive through communities like Kellerberrin, Merredin, Southern Cross and the former mining town of Coolgardie before you reach Kalgoorlie, almost 440 km on. You’ll also be crossing over from the Wheatbelt into the Goldfields along the way. The landscape starts changing into the barren, red dirt that most people associate with the Australian interior. Stop to stretch your legs and admire the wildflowers which at certain times of the year cover the earth. Visit Boorabbin National Park or find a campsite to spend a night underneath the stars.
Once you reach Kalgoorlie, you’ve reached the end of the road but not the end of the adventure. This is one of the region’s larger towns and a centre of WA’s gold-mining industry. The largest open-cast gold mine still in operation in Australia is just outside Kalgoorlie. It’s called the KCGM Super Pit and has a viewing platform from where you can watch the mining activities.
Much of Kalgoorlie’s history is intrinsically tied to mining. In the foyer of the Palace Hotel, for instance, is a mirror sent to the hotel in 1898 by an American mine manager who was totally besotted with one of the barmaids. What became of the barmaid is unclear but the mine manager was one Herbert Hoover, who became the 31st President of the United States.
When to go
When you plan your road trip between Perth and Kalgoorlie, keep in mind that summer temperatures soar, especially in Kalgoorlie and surrounds. It might be more comfortable to make the drive during the cooler months. Early spring, for instance, is a good time because you might still be able to spot some whales off the coast at Perth and it’s pleasantly warm. Whenever you go, though, remember your slip, slop, slap!
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