Last Updated on December 17, 2020 by Travels with Kids
One of our favorite places in the world, here is our guide to South West Western Australia. As this is a big area, the best places to visit down south are most easily done so by car! From powerful and isolated coastlines to the towering forests of the Southern Forests, the South West WA is a magical place to visit. If you are interested in a rural getaway, some of the best escapes are found in the charming hinterland towns of Bridgetown, Balingup, and Nannup. Read on, enjoy, and discover this beautiful part of South West Australia.
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Where Is South West WA
Honestly, whether you are a local or a visitor, the area that is South West WA is a bit confusing. The Tourism WA brochures show Australia’s South West region from Bunbury in the north, incorporating Margaret River and the Southern Forests, and running through Walpole and Denmark to Albany. For Western Australians, the South West is also a regional boundary that incorporates Bunbury, and the whole “foot” of Western Australia through to the village of Walpole.
Why Do A South West Australia Road Trip
Western Australia is simply awesome! Isolated from the rest of Australia by the massive Nullarbor, it has evolved at a slower pace and much of rural Western Australia feels like you are stepping back in time. It has a sleepy country feel. On the other hand, it is blessed with massive national parks and reserves which means that the stunning natural beauty of the area is well preserved and accessible – if not by car, by world-class walking tracks like the Cape to Cape Trail and the Bibbulmun Track.
If you are looking for “secret gems” in Australia, that aren’t as well known (but are equally special) then a South West Australia road trip is for you!
Most Instagrammable Places In South West Western Australia
The many treasures crammed into the southwest pocket of WA are innumerable. It goes without saying that there are lots of ‘must-do’ things when on a South West Road trip. But what about Instagram? These days’ people need to know what the most instagrammable places are in order to make sure they don’t miss any of those important shots. During our South West Australia road trip summary, we have also outlined what are the best Instagram spots South West Australia
Margaret River Wine Region
For the purposes of this guide to South West WA, we assume that you will be traveling from Perth southwards! To kick-off, you’d want to check out our Perth To Margaret River Road Trip Itinerary that covers the best of that area!
A must stop place. Busselton is famous for its immensely long jetty – the second-longest wooden jetty in the world that extends far out into Geographe Bay! You can, of course, walk all the way to the end. However, most people choose to take the train and explore the Underwater Observatory for a fascinating glimpse into the underwater world. The jetty is a great attraction in South West WA.
In addition to being the home to the famous Busselton Jetty, Busselton is also an awesome beachside holiday destination for families. There are loads of kid-friendly activities, which we have covered in our post Things To Do In Busselton With Kids.
Best Instagram Place In Busselton – Anything related to the Busselton Jetty or the small blue houses at the end are iconic places to get an Instagram photo.
Located further along Geographe Bay than Busselton, Dunsborough itself is smaller and less spread out. It is literally packed with holiday homes along the foreshore. Dunsborough provides a lot of easy access to the attractions of both Busselton and Yallingup. We love staying in Dunsborough because it is so central to a lot of our favorite attractions. Check out our Best Things To Do In Dunsborough WA.
Most Popular Instagram Spot – Sugarloaf Rock is just stunning at sunset! A must photograph stop in South West WA.
Inextricably linked with the early days of surfing in Western Australia – and indeed the world, Yallingup is an amazing destination within the Margaret River region. In short, if you are looking for an amazing weekend getaway you can head just to Yallingup. You will be blown away on many levels. From Ngigli Cave (formerly Yallingup Cave), the old world heritage of Caves House in Yallingup, or the Injidup Natural Spa, you can keep yourselves occupied for a few days around Yallingup – at least. Oh! We didn’t even mention the wineries! Check out more to do in The BEST Things To Do In Yallingup WA.
Most Instagrammable Place – You always see spectacular spots of Injidup Natural Spa or Canal Rocks on the ‘gram! Just remember that this coastline is naturally rough. It is spectacular which makes it unpredictable and dangerous. Be careful when getting your photos!
Margaret River Town
The epicenter of the Margaret River Wine Region! The actual town of Margaret River is located in the centre of the now, much larger tourism and wine-producing region. Not only is the town of Margaret River the center of amazing wine and food culture, but it also allows awesome access to some of the best surf breaks in the entire world at Gnarabup and Gracetown.
Of late, Margaret River has also become famous as a home to some amazing breweries! Which we had the hard job of reviewing them. Check out the Best Margaret River Breweries. If you are visiting with kids, then don’t miss out on the Best Of Margaret River With Kids.
Most Popular Instagram Spot – The vines/the wineries. Take a wander in the vines at any of the cellar doors and you will most certainly get a post that says “I’ve been to Marg’s”! Also, the Boranup Forest. The Boranup Forest was logged around 100 years ago. This resulted in an even growth, open style forest which provides insanely good photos for Instagram! You can’t call yourself an Instagrammer if you don’t get a shot at Boranup Forest!
A further 40km (or 30 minutes’ drive) from Margaret River is sleepy, windblown Augusta! Don’t think you shouldn’t head this far south though. If you didn’t go to Augusta you would be missing out on some seriously amazing sites. Augusta is home to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and the point where the Southern and Indian oceans meet. It also is home to the special Flinders Bay which is a vitally important stopping point for the whale migration. This means that you can be privy to some amazing whale watching experiences for several months of the year.
Most Instagrammable Place – Just north of Augusta is the great campground at Hamelin Bay, where you can get up close with the famous stingrays! Not only are the white sands and turquoise waters stunning, but the stingrays also make for a unique Insta post.
Central Rural Towns
Bustling Donnybrook is the center of a thriving orchard industry. It has always been on our list for stops with kids as the home of the Donnybrook Apple Fun Park. More information on Donnybrook Apple Fun Park below, in our special section South West road trips with kids.
Also, in Donnybrook you should (theoretically!) get great fresh fruit deals in season. The Fruit Barn on the main road also has toilets and some fun apple folk signs. We always take pictures with the signs when we visit!
Most Popular Instagram Spot – In spring the orchards come alive with blossoms. There are some stunning photos that can be taken. Remember, always be respectful that these are operating orchards and private property.
Ok, this is not a real town, more like a locality! However, at a mere 25 km from Donnybrook, a trip to Gnomesville is definitely worth a detour. Here, thousands of garden gnomes have congregated from all around the world on a roundabout in the middle of the verdant Ferguson Valley countryside.
Most Instagrammable Place – One of those iconic Western Australian spots, that are worth photographing. I mean, everyone wants to say “I’ve been to Gnomesville WA”.
Check out tips and hints in A Guide To Visiting Gnomesville WA.
From Donnybrook, Balingup is another 30 minutes down the road. It used to be a ‘blink and you will miss it’ type place. Now, it’s a wonderful example of small-town ingenuity! There are a number of things to do in Balingup all year round.
In addition, with rolling hills and beautiful countryside Balingup is a great place for a rural retreat.
Early in April each year the village center quite literally springs to life with colorful, creatively decorated scarecrows welcoming visitors to Balingup in celebration of the Balingup Small Farm Field Day.
Mumma traveler is partial to the Tinderbox organic products. They are highly recommended if you are interested in natural, organic skin-care products, herbal remedies, essential oils, and herbal teas. All made in Western Australia.
Another special thing to do in Balingup is the Golden Valley Tree Park. A 60-hectare park, heritage listed, it has a collection of trees that was begun over one hundred years ago. It is now the largest arboretum in Western Australia. Best of all – a visit to the Golden Valley Tree Park is free! We highly recommend visiting the Golden Valley Tree Park in autumn (or fall!) as the colors of the turning trees are spectacular. It is one of the most colorful places in Western Australia
Instagram Ideas In Balingup – For such a small town, there are lots of Instagram options. Visit the Golden Valley Tree Park in autumn, and frolic among the leaves. If you visit when the scarecrows are visiting you should get some fun selfies. How about the medieval festival, now that would be interesting!
Located 260km south of Perth, Bridgetown is famous for being the coldest place in Western Australia. Also, it is the home of the amazing Bridgetown Blues which is held each November. Now having operated for many years the Blues at Bridgetown is well-known as an excellent showcase for established Australian blues artists and also for up and coming blues artists making it into the scene.
Nestled in a valley that allows the Blackwood River to flow through, Bridgetown is one of the prettiest towns on our list. Though also fraught with its reputation for the cold – some enterprising local has attached a number of fridge doors to a fence, spelling out ‘Fridgetown’.
The historical main street of Bridgetown dates back to the federation and has an old-world rustic feel to it. There is a range of very cute souvenirs, bric a brac shops that are fun to browse while you stretch your legs.
If you are looking for a convenient place to stay, we’ve enjoyed the lovely Nelsons of Bridgetown. The picturesque main historical building dates back to circa 1890, while the actual motel rooms are modern and functional. Check here for currents rates to stay at Nelsons of Bridgetown.
Best Insta Spot – I’ll admit I haven’t got any ideas. I’d love it if you could hit me with something in the comments!
I tend to make a stop at Nannup when traveling from either Margaret River or Busselton down south. Like Bridgetown, Nannup is located on the banks of the Blackwood River and is another character-filled timber town from the early 1900s/federation period. A wander down the short main street past the weatherboard shop fronts and colorful flower boxes is like stepping back in time.
Or, if going on a tiger hunt is more your thing, find the Nannup Tigers and check out the many sculptures and artworks scattered around the town.
Most Instagrammable Place – Don’t miss out on the Nannup Flower Festival every August. Here you can get spectacular photos amongst the Tulips. Otherwise, a wander down the main street with the historic pub should yield you a beautiful shot.
The stunningly beautiful Southern Forests are located in the stunning South West of Western Australia. A food bowl of amazing produce, as well as home to some beautiful trees and amazing outdoor experiences.
Located 333 km south of Perth, Pemberton was once a vibrant timber town. It has a beautiful location amongst the rolling green hills and surrounded by forests of magnificent karri, jarrah, and marri trees. There are lots of great things to do in Pemberton.
Of note is several Pemberton Farm stays. They allow you to experience the best of country living, as well as amazing drive trails. Beedelup Falls are amongst the prettiest waterfalls in Western Australia and the trees in Pemberton the best. Take a full look at our Best Things to do in Pemberton WA.
Most Instagrammable Place – There are so many places around Pemberton that are stunning for Instagram. Definitely head to one of the fire lookout towers that were built at the top of karri trees. Around Pemberton, you can choose from the world-famous Gloucester Tree or the newer Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. Both offer some super Insta ops!
Another rural center, Manjimup has not typically been on tourist radars. It is the food hub of Southern Western Australia. They produce a delicious array of stone fruit, vegetables, and root vegetables like potatoes. In short with milk, meat, and eggs also produced in Manjimup this is a place that produces a lot of food.
The best places to see in Manjimup only opened recently – in 2020 – and center around the Timber Park Manjimup (correctly known as the Manjimup Heritage Park).
The Manjimup Heritage Park facility includes the following:
- Power Up Electricity Museum – Outlines the history of electricity in Western Australia from the 1800s – 1900s, through displays, features, and interactive experiences.
- The State Timber Museum – Highlights the timber industry’s role in Western Australia, including shaping the character of the towns around Manjimup and Pemberton.
- Steam Museum – This unique museum is stacked with information on steam trains and the role they played in Manjimup’s timber industry. This part of the Manjimup timber park includes a walk through the Historical Hamlet. Here you will find seven restored buildings that were used during the early days of Manjimup and districts.
From the timber industry to the center of the western Australian truffle industry, Manjimup has certainly changed in recent years. One of the best things to do is a Manjimup Truffle Hunt which will allow you to learn a lot about this fascinating European delicacy. For more information read our Going On A Truffle Hunt Manjimup WA.
On an adventurous note – just out of Manjimup is one of the Fire Tree Lookouts, the Diamond Tree. Only do this if you are good with heights! It’s well worth a stop and a grueling 51-meter climb if you are up to it. Diamond Tree Lookout was one of several lookouts constructed in the 1930s and 1940s when the extreme height of the trees within the Karri forest made it too costly to build a fire lookout tower.
You require National Park Pass to enter the national parks in which the climbing trees are located. Purchase passes from DPaW, Manjimup, or Pemberton Visitor Centre prior to arrival. A day pass for the National Parks is $12. Or, if you will be visiting a number of National Parks during your holiday, we recommend the $44 pass which gives you access to National Parks. Even better is the $88 pass which gives you year access!
** Note – The Diamond Tree was closed to climbing in 2020. You can still climb the Dave Evans Tree or Gloucester Tree near Pemberton. **
Remote Northcliffe was the center of the dairy industry for many years. Recently it has enjoyed a resurgence as an off the beaten track, slightly quirky tourism destination.
Understory – Northcliffe
One of my favorite outdoor artworks in the whole world is Understory, located in the small village of Northcliffe. A range of really unique artworks is located along a 1.2km walk trail through lovely native forest. Sculptures, stories, poetry, and music help us to question our relationship with nature and the ‘spirit of place’. All up there are the artworks of 50 artists. If you have time you can easily spend 1 to 1.5 hours walking the trail and listening to a range of five audio tours (including interviews with participating artists, stories poetry, and music). There are also audio tours that are designed for kids and young people!
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of photos of the Yeagarup Dunes on Instagram. They are pretty amazing looking! Take note that the only way to get to Yeagarup Beach and sand dunes is with a four-wheel drive. You have no hope of driving a two-wheel-drive vehicle in there, so don’t try!
These are some of the biggest and most impressive sand dunes you will see. For experienced off-road drivers it offers a lot of fun.
This is NOT something that you should attempt if you don’t have 4WD experience.
Also in the Windy Harbour area, you might like to get off the beaten track and climb Mt Chudalup which is a granite mondanock with great views.
What’s A Mondanock
Rather than saying a ‘huge rock’ geologists use the term mondanock or inselberg (“island mountain”) to describe an isolated hill or a lone mountain that rises above the surrounding area. The most famous of the mondanock around the world is Uluru/Ayers rock – find more Uluru Facts here.
This 187m high granite outcrop is located in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park and a very short drive from Windy Harbour Rd. Apart from the trail at Mt Chudalup, you will BBQ & toilet facilities along with informative trailhead signage.
Once you leave Manjimup and follow the South West Highway, you get a sense of the vastness and size of the Southern forests. You are entering the Walpole Wilderness. It is a vast tract of land that stretches over 3600 square kilometers and incorporates 7 National Parks. You are now really experiencing the natural wonders of South West Western Australia. We cover Walpole as part of our t 11 Great Things For Kids On The South Coast Of Western Australia.
When Is The Best Time To Visit The South West Of Western Australia
The South West of Western Australia offers a completely different microclimate from the rest of the state. It receives more rainfall and is lush and green for about 9 months of the year. It is also susceptible to some severe weather fronts in winter, making the June through August period quite wet and rainy. There are great things to do down south in winter. However, you have to love the outdoors and a bracing wind!
In our opinion, the best time of the year is spring when the wildflowers come alive in all parts of the South West. We’ve covered our favorite Western Australian wildflower spots in our Where To Find The Best Wildflowers In Western Australia.
Summer is also a good time to visit. It generally doesn’t get too hot and the beaches are insanely beautiful, with white sands and azure waters. We won’t lie – the water is still briskly cold! Autumn, especially March and April, are beautiful months in the South West as the first rains have arrived, adding a tinge of green to the rolling hills. Mist lingers in the cool mornings, but the days are clear and crisp.
In short, the South West is a great year-round destination that is beautiful at all times of the year!
What Is The Best South West Western Australia Accommodation
South West Western Australia accommodation is unique and varied! From the luxury 5 star resorts like the Pullman Bunker Bay at Dunsborough and the amazing Injidup Spa Retreat to stunning Glamping at Olio Bello in Cowaramup, there is a range of different types of accommodation to enjoy.
If you are looking for accommodation Western Australia South West we suggest doing the following:
- First going to our guide for the town.
- Then going to the end of the post where we have made our suggestions for the best accommodation South West Western Australia.
Finally, take a look at our summary of The Best Family Accommodation South West WA where we have put together our experiences staying in a number of family-friendly hotels and resorts throughout the South West.
Best Stops For Kids On A South West Australia Road Trip
Venturing down to South West Australia with kids? Here are some Great Stops for Kids on a South West Australia Road Trip: from Perth to Walpole (or onward to Denmark). We include a stop at the increasingly famous Donnybrook Apple Fun Park.
Walpole, on the far south coast, is one of our favorite places for a nature-based getaway. It is also a 5 to 6 hours’ drive (on a good day) from the center of Perth so you need to plan your breaks when on a South West Australia road trip with small kids. Believe us, this is a well-researched list!
If you are traveling “down south” for the first time there are many places to visit and see and you may break the drive with an overnight stay in Bridgetown or Pemberton. Therefore this guide is intended for someone who is doing a big chunk of driving in one day and looking for good breaks for kids.
Based on our experience everyone is able to keep things together for the first two hours. However, by 1.5 to 2 hours south of Perth we are looking for a break on our South West Australia road trip
The Crooked Carrot Myalup
Located 1.5 hours south of Perth, the Crooked Carrot Myalup is by far the most popular place to stop on the South West Highway! Oh my goodness, go past on the weekend or on the school holidays and you will see the cars parked far away before you actually see this cute café and an awesome playground.
As can be expected for something named the Crooked Carrot, this place is seriously quirky! It’s like a playground, crossed with a farm machinery museum, and features a restored Melbourne Tram in the middle of the playground.
This imaginative and different adventure playground is definitely somewhere the kids will burn off some energy before heading on the next section of your South West road trip. There is also a smaller section which is good for the little ones.
Whether it’s nature-based playground-style climbing areas, crooked carrot pictures, or driving the tram, the kids will love everything about the Crooked Carrot. This is definitely amongst the most fun things to do South West WA.
There are a lot of indoor and outdoor tables. If they are full you can always take a blanket and spread it out on the grass. Be aware that this is a busy, busy café. If you want to have a long lunch or make this your destination from Perth – you should call ahead and reserve a table. We’ve had tasty muffins, an emoji pooh cake, and a pie on different visits.
The Crooked Carrot is dog friendly, a welcome spot for you to give your pooch a break during the trip.
The Gingerbread House, Boyanup
This is a new and wonderful place to visit in Boyanup, South West Australia. The Gingerbread House has lots of yummy stuff for everyone, play equipment, and a beautiful outside area! The beautiful Jacaranda tree flowers in the late spring and adds to the fairy-tale feeling of this Gingerbread house.
Donnybrook Apple Fun Park (About 2.5 Hours From Perth)
When Mumma traveler was a child (some 40 years ago) she loved arriving in Donnybrook. It had some large apples lining the main street, symbolizing the local orchard industry. Now, the big apples are literally and figuratively dwarfed by the Donnybrook Apple Fun Park which is supposed to be the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.
‘Nuff said – this place is huge! With a whole range of brightly colored and challenging playground equipment, there is plenty to do for the whole family. There is a smaller children’s section at one end, the extremely tall climbing towers are in the center, and then the other end (near the toilets) are for all ability children.
There are lots of undercover barbecues. However, when you visit on the weekend most of these can be filled up with local families enjoying them.
If you are traveling down south the Donnybrook Apple Fun park should most definitely be on your fun things to do South West WA bucket list.
Balingup (About 3 Hours from Perth)
When you have got Donnybrook’s Fun Park 30 minutes up the road, it’s a bit soon to stop again in Balingup if you are traveling with kids. However, they do have a small playground on the main street and on more than one occasion this Mumma left the kids playing on the playground with dad while she whipped up the street to her favorite skincare shop – the Tinderbox!
The kids will also enjoy the scarecrows that line the streets in April. If you are visiting in autumn, don’t forget to head out to the Golden Valley Tree Park.
Bridgetown (About 3.5 Hours from Perth)
The home of the Bridgetown Blues Festival. We almost left this very cute little town out. However, if you need to take a break there is a good little playground in the main street, with plenty of space to run and play.
If mum or dad wants to take a stroll along the street there are loads of vintage, antique, and quirky shops in the first couple of blocks from the playground.
Alternatively, once crossing the Blackwood River there is another modest playground and park area alongside the river. There are toilets and it is a beautiful place to run and stretch the legs.
Manjimup (4 Hours from Perth)
The Timber Park in Manjimup rivals Donnybrook’s “biggest playground in the Southern hemisphere” in our kid’s hearts. When our children were aged 2 & 5, it consistently won their “best playground ever” award for quite some time.
Manjimup has struggled with its image as a timber town. However, this is a sensitively designed nature-based park really defies the stereotype! The playground games are quite different, interactive, challenging, and creative. Watercourses, flying foxes, hidey houses, and more are all highlights of the Manjimup Timber Park Playground. There is a lot to see and do and a shaded and a separate little kid’s area. Located in the heart of a historical and tree park they just added a REALLY high slide for the adventurous in your family (or big kids).
Continuing On With The South West Australia Road Trip …
We hope that you have found this South West Western Australia road trip summary useful in planning your trip. However, it doesn’t end here folks! We’ve covered the next stage of your journey in our South Coast Road Trip Summary.
From the Southern Forests towns of Pemberton or Manjimup, the next stop south is Walpole. We’ve often written about the wonders of Walpole and the Walpole Wilderness area. There are lots and lots of (mostly) nature-based attractions around Walpole.
A Western Australian icon, don’t miss out on a visit to the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. Our top tips to visit the Valley Of The Giants Tree Top Walk With Kids.
If you are staying in Denmark for a few days, we strongly recommend putting aside a day or more for a visit to this wonderful nature-based destination. Alternatively, we also really love the hippy vibe in Denmark Western Australia.
For more information on traveling South Western Australia check out these Western Australia guidebooks. We highly recommended them.
The Verdict – South West Australia Road Trip Ideas
We hope you have enjoyed our South West Australia road trip ideas and gained some insight into what makes South West Australia so special! For families, the Donnybrook Apple Fun Park is a must stop, while for Instagrammers we hope we have given you some great ideas of where to get that next super shot!!! Thanks for joining us in South West WA, we love it and we know that you will be blown away by its beauty!
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