Put simply, the South West Edge is a 1200km drive from Perth to Esperance.
It is a suggestion creating the thought of heading south from the metro area, through the South West, with its coast and forests, and then east across the South Coast.
It is the chance to spend a couple of weeks on the road, at this mild time of year.
Put in a bigger frame, it is an epic environmental journey around the botanically diverse corner of this trailing edge of this ancient continent.
From the metro area, where most of us live, we will head south across the tamala limestone that stretches down so much of the southern part of this western coast. We will have the Indian Ocean on our right shoulder.
And then we will “turn the corner”, and head along the granite of the south coast, now with the Southern Ocean beside us.
Different geology and oceanography. Different weather patterns.
We will drive through jarrah and red gum, tingle and karri forests.
They are dramatic shifts.
Put emotionally, this is to meander with purpose. To freewheel, but with a theme.
WHEN TO VISIT
Autumn Mild days, blue skies, often windless and still.
Winter Waves of weather; clear days, showers. Humpback whale migration along the coast.
PERTH METRO to BUNBURY
We’re off — on the road, footloose, shaking off the everyday. We head to Bunbury via (or staying in) the Ferguson Valley. And there’s plenty of time, so let’s slow it down. Let’s take a look around the valley — or let’s have Wellington Forest National Park and Black Diamond Lake near Collie in our sights.
That’s the whole point — this is not a race; it’s not a point-to-point dash. (That is the point.)
And, as Mogens Johansen has been suggesting in recent weeks, for those who haven’t been in and stayed in Bunbury for a while, we’re confident the refreshed foreshore and city will surprise.
BUNBURY to YALLINGUP
95km (extra for Cape Naturaliste side-trip)
Once again, there’s plenty of time. So don’t just dash down breakfast and head out of town. Spend some early-light hours here. There are paved areas, street art and cafes to enjoy. One of my favourite spots is Back Beach, with its Bunbury Basalt.
Yes, we could have spent a couple of nights here (and we’ll make a note to come back) — but just at this moment, we’re off.
We could have broken the trip up even more, with a night in Busselton, but (on this occasion) we’ll just have to settle for a look at the jetty, and then head on down to Dunsborough (stopping to look at the beach and drive the nice road out to Cape Naturaliste) and then on to Yallingup.
YALLINGUP to MARGARET RIVER or AUGUSTA
40km to Margaret River
85km down Caves Road to Augusta
We could just wander inland to Margaret River township, stopping at sites and sights on the way — a gallery, a winery for lunch. Then we could just enjoy the town itself in the evening and overnight.
...or we could drive on south down Caves Road through Boranup Forest, calling in at Hamelin Bay, and arriving in Augusta, with the Blackwood Estuary and Cape Leeuwin. It’s a good option, if we are truly following the South West rim, as this broken finger of granites jutting south is one of the world’s three great capes.
We can either stay the night here (there’s a wide range of accommodation), or head north to Margaret River township.
MARGARET RIVER to PEMBERTON
From Margaret River, we are soon in the Southern Forests, to drive though Nannup and Manjimup on the way to Pemberton.
And we need plenty of time (as you will see in our “Moments”, because there’s a lot to see and experience).
PEMBERTON to WALPOLE or DENMARK
130km to Walpole
190km to Denmark
We could stop off briefly in Walpole and drive on through to Denmark — but we’ve decided to slow things down, and stay in Walpole. It’s a favourite spot, and this also evens out the drive days.
Besides, the drive through forest from the Pemberton turn-off on South Western Highway to Walpole has to be one of my favourite bits of road in WA. I don’t want to rush that.
And I want time to walk the shores of Walpole Inlet and drive The Knoll, and do the boat tour out to the inlet’s mouth, and then drive red gravel roads through the tingle forest.
(But it’s your choice, of course.)
Denmark Travellers deciding to stay in Denmark instead will want time for Ocean Beach, Scotsdale Drive, Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks — so maybe reframe your itinerary for two nights here.
WALPOLE to ALBANY
This bit of the south coast feels completely different. We have, indeed, truly turned that corner. Black cows on green grass.
Ficifolia and she-oaks. Albany seems themed by the long drop of York Street down to Princess Royal Harbour.
ALBANY to HOPETOUN
Albany to Porongurup, 50km
Porongurup to Hopetoun, 320km
OK. It’s time for a big day on the road. (Mooching around is fine, but sometimes I just want to get moving.) Let’s get into it. Start early today and drive north, inland to Porongurup National Park, with its Granite Skywalk (see Moments).
There are spots to buy lunch around here, or plan ahead and bring a picnic.
Rather than heading north, the alternative is to visit Bremer Bay and maybe (and/or) Cheynes Beach, following the coast on the way to Hopetoun.
Hopetoun is 50km south of Highway 1 at Ravensthorpe — so it is a “there and back side-trip”. That means that, either on the way in, or the way out, travellers can (and should) make time to stop in Ravensthorpe.
HOPETOUN TO ESPERANCE
We certainly don’t want to rush our time in Hopetoun, for not only is it on the doorstep of the biological hotspot that is Fitzgerald River National Park, but some of the south coast’s prettiest beaches (I think).
And then we’re off to Esperance... maybe timing our arrival to do the 40km loop of the Great Ocean Drive in the late afternoon.
Let’s head out to Cape Le Grand National Park, with those kangaroos on the beach at Lucky Bay. Matthew Flinders was here, in this safe anchorage, in 1802, naming Lucky Bay and then Thistle Cove for John Thistle, master of their British ship, Investigator, who went ashore and found fresh water.
Esperance Museum is packed full of stuff, from the recreation of an early settlers’ home with an Acme mangle and hip bath heater to a Boddington seed grader. Founded in 1976 and run by enthusiastic volunteers, it’s one of my favourite museums in WA and lives in the converted railroad equipment sheds.
Return from Esperance through Kalgoorlie or Hyden. We have chosen the latter for this route...
ESPERANCE TO HYDEN
Drive back to Perth metro through Hyden over two days. There’s accommodation, and Wave Rock.
HYDEN to PERTH
thesouthwestedge.com.au has a map, more itineraries and more on destinations.
It is produced by Destination Perth, Australia’s South West and Australia’s Golden Outback.
Moments on the road
This is the year for learning this place better. Just as we would overseas — take tours, listen to the stories, and get insights from locals that add to the experience.
Maybe join a four-wheel drive tour in Pemberton, through the Yeagarup Dunes.
Don’t just scoot past the Peel-Harvey estuary — its wetlands and wildlife are to be explored and understood. They are an important feature of the landscape of the South West of WA. Knowledgeable guides offer tours — a good way to really learn what’s going on around you.
Sometimes I want something simple — a no-frills, clean, overnight hotel in the centre of town, so that I can just stroll out for a meal.
Sometimes I want to feel more immersed in a place — a bespoke resort overlooking a lake.
And sometimes I want to be able to be more self-contained, and stay longer.
All along the route, there are all these options.
Local visitor centres are a good place to start. Find them at visitorcentreswa.com.au
It’s only 15 minutes from Bunbury, but quite a different world — and quite a different option for the night, perhaps followed by an early morning walk through jarrah in Crooked Brook Forest. (And there are 15 heritage sites in the township.)
We might immediately think of the beach, but in local Indigenous language, “Yallingup” means “the place of caves”. For we are still on that tamala limestone, on the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, which is like a concrete-set sponge, full of holes and bubbles.
And, indeed, the caves were very much a foundation stone of tourism in the South West. For, after Europeans arrived and found them in the early 1900s, they became popular and exciting spots to visit. They still are, particularly Ngilgi Cave on Caves Road.
Canal Rocks is surely one of the South West’s most spectacular spots, and it’s very well set up for visitors now. I park and stroll and watch the ocean surge up the “canal” as the sun dodges in and out of clouds, spotlighting the rocks. The flora here is truly nature’s cottage garden.
MOVING (movie) MOMENTS
CinefestOz Albany Film Festival is from April 29 to May 1 — (perhaps time a road trip to take in some of the festival). Albany’s recently refurbished town hall will be the festival hub, but CinefestOZ has a strong partnership history with Orana Cinemas, which will show films. There will be opening and closing night events, free screenings and a short-film set. cinefestoz.com/albany-film- festival/albany/
Bremer Bay has been taken over by filmmakers shooting Blueback, based on a story by Tim Winton. The movie, about a boy who befriends a giant groper while diving, stars Eric Bana. The bay at Bremer has an unusual maritime ecosystem, partly due to the fact that its water temperature has very little annual variance — from about 17C to 21C. Species thrive in these conditions.
Driving into Nannup is like driving into a film set. The timber buildings; the sense of being just a step away from buzzy suburban everyday lives. There’s a sense of the lifestyle here being chosen, particular, curated. And then there’s the echo of an actual film. A lot of the 2012 movie, Drift, was shot here — and many residents were rightly upset that neighbouring towns got too many of the credits.
Just up the road, Pemberton was the perfect location for the 2019 movie, Jasper Jones. The story is set in the South West during the 1960s, and the historically authentic buildings and streets, and surrounding forest, made an ideal a backdrop.
In 2016, Denmark was the setting for Breath.
H is for Happiness, an uplifting film about a 12-year-old girl with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world, was filmed in and around Albany in 2019. As part of CinefestOZ Albany, Busy Blue Bus Tours with CinefestOZ has created a location tour in Albany for Friday, April 30, leaving form Albany Visitor Centre at 9.30am and returning at 2.30pm. The tour will visit locations used in the filming, and the film’s producer, Tennille Kennedy, will be on board. The tour is $120, including lunch. Book at busybluebus.com.au/tours.
MANJIMUP AS MENTOR
Manjimup is earning a name for itself for its museums and traveller learning spots, and that is largely due to Manjimup Heritage Park.
Near the centre of town, the 12ha park is home to three museums, and the keeper of the stories of Manjimup and the Southern Forests.
There are also walk trails and four free barbecue areas.
State Timber Museum In a stand-out building, the museum not only recognises the timber industry’s role in the State’s history and present, but how it has helped to shape the towns of the Southern Forests.
Steam Museum Steam power played a crucial role in forest industries, and the full story is told here. There are old photographs and a restored 1907 Robey Cross Compound Engine.
Power Up Electricity Museum By the Manjimup Visitor Centre and PARK Cafe, the museum tells the story of electricity in WA, from the 1800s to the 1900s. There are good exhibitions, displays and interpretative experiences.
From next Saturday (April 17) to May 19, the park is hosting the Australian Heritage Festival, with special events, tours and exhibitions. manjimupheritagepark.com.au and 9771 7777
...AND DON’T FORGET
Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Just 55km further on from Manjimup, the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum has a really good collection of original items and tools used by the Northcliffe Group Settlers more than 80 years ago. This was the everyday life of work and living on the dairy farms on which the district of Northcliffe was founded.
In Northcliffe’s Jubilee Park picnic grounds, the electric barbecue and gazebo are dedicated to Northcliffe’s Pioneer Women.
Some of the karri trees around Pemberton are more than 80m tall, and certainly more than 300 years old. Gloucester National Park has some beauties, including tall trees used as fire lookouts.
The 12km Heartbreak drive trail follows the Warren River and valley.
Stroll to Beedelup Falls along its walk trail in Beedelup National Park.
Lefroy Brook tumbles over The Cascades.
The produce of the area comes from a rich landscape — taste the country through its food and wine. The climate and soil suits Bordeaux style wines. Sip on pinot noir.
Granite boulders in backyards; a view round every twist in the road; more views from Mt Clarence and Mt Melville (my preferred spot); time at the National Anzac Centre, and the whole precinct around it; a visit to Middleton Beach. Farmers’ markets, local produce, wine makers and distillers. Albany really has it all for tonight — two nights — three nights.
Head out to Torndirrup National Park, to visit Frenchman Bay, the historical attractions at Discovery Bay and The Gap and Natural Bridge.
Remember the granite I mentioned at the start of this guide?
Well, this is certainly it. The granite of the Porongurups may be more than a billion years old, and this 12km range may be one of the planet’s oldest, but Granite Skywalk is a new-tech way of seeing it. Follow the 1.5km walk trail, then step out into the sky.
Make a note of the Porongurup Range Food and Wine Trail, which will lead you to some of the best produce.
Barrens Beach in Fitzgerald River National Park is absolutely one of my favourite spots in WA.
In a 4WD, it’s worth the drive out to Point Ann. Don’t be scared of the final hill down towards the beach. It’s worth it to feel “right out there” and walk on the sand.
Apart from the art of the Ravensthorpe PUBLIC Silo, there are historic buildings, a big lollipop sculpture, and take your pick from Ethel Daw Scenic Drive, Mt Short Scenic Drive and Pallarup Rocks, along Mt Madden Scenic Drive. The helpful folk at Ravensthorpe Visitor Centre and Museum (not to be missed) will offer helpful advice.
Esperance has brilliant beaches. Among my favourites:
Twilight Beach is dominated by the small but dramatic rocky islands in the bay.
And you can get ice cream.
Blue Haven is sheltered, good for families, and with classic, turquoise water.
Ten Mile Lagoon, 19km from the centre of town, has a natural breakwater protecting a long pool.
Eleven Mile Beach has protected bays and a long lagoon.
Town Beach. Don’t discount it. It has a jetty to jump from and a swimming platform with a slide.
Bandy Creek is about as much fun as a family can have, I think. It’s protected, good for swimming and just playing around. On one side there’s a good boat ramp.
We have the plan for a road trip. What we really need now is a playlist with music born of the South West and Great Southern, written and played by locals.
For we want “local produce” in our music, too, to add to our authentic experience. Local songwriters and musicians voice local attitudes, approach and landscape.
And there is certainly a distinctive coastal indie “sound” for our South West and South Coast.
I stream on Spotify but there are other streaming services. Look out for live music — bands playing in their home regions.
These are among my pick because, put together, for me they give a soundtrack of our south, and they’re good road trip listening.
ASKYA A singer-songwriter from Margaret River, Tom Boerema’s first two singles ranked in multiple top-tier Spotify playlists worldwide. ASKYA was also selected by Triple J to play at The Drop Festival 2019. Tom blends acoustic, folk roots and a passion for electronic production.
Katie White Margaret River vocalist, guitarist and writer Katie, who grew up in Denmark, brings a real warmth to her songs. She’s played hundreds of venues across Australia and won the 2016 West Australian Music Industry (WAMI) Song Of The Year blues and roots category with her song, River.
She’s playing at Caves House, Yallingup, from 5.30pm to 8.30pm today (April 10).
Brayden Sibbald Another 20-something year old, Brayden is from Dunsborough, playing folk-rock. His debut EP, Beyond These Words, opened the door to more local playing.
Ricky Green A folk-indie singer from the South West, Ricky’s two passions are surfing and singing. His oceanic upbringing has influenced his music, and he’s known for whimsical guitar riffs and heartfelt lyrics. Surfing and singing have taken him through Indonesia, Europe and the US.
Lily Cate A singer-songwriter from Dunsborough, Lily, pictured below right, has been performing since childhood. Brought up with music, she spent primary school and early years of high school singing in musicals, choirs, competitions and public performances alongside other aspiring artists. She was in the WA Eisteddfod and often performs around Dunsborough, Busselton and Bunbury.
Salt Tree Tom Boerema pops up again, but this time with NathanParsons as Salt Tree. They have been performing together since 2015, and have built a solid following around Margaret River. Their music ranges from laid back acoustic to upbeat folk
Songbirds of the South West The Songbirds combine the harmonies of six vocalists with a tight eight piece band. Great jazz, and a combination of the largely Margaret River-based musical talents of vocalists Michelle Spriggs, Andrea Frances, Janine Andrews, Scott Wise, Tilly Kelleher and Cleo Wiese and backing from Kevin McDonald (guitar), Viv Booker (bass), Gary Larkin (drums), Sean Lillico (keyboards), Kevin Jones (trombone), David Rastrick (trumpet), Mike Wiese (baritone sax and clarinet) and Louise Marsh (tenor sax and vocals). The music of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Astrid Gilberto, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse brought to the South West.
ZARM... I’ll add in this Perth band because their pop-creole-reggae is happy driving music. And the band, which has supported Ziggy Marley and Eddy Grant, is playing Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, on April 17 and 18.
Carla Geneve This Albany artist released her debut EP, Storm,in a Teacup, when she was 15 and won The Quest young songwriter competition in 2015. In 2017, Carla completed WAAPA’s diploma of contemporary music. She sings and plays solo (from heartfelt folk with mandolin to rock with her Gibson guitar), and is also the vocalist in Albany-based band Locust.
Willow I first heard Willow singing on stage at the Denmark markets, I think, when she was about 14. (Not that long ago.). She was already a polished performer — not surprising as she debuted on stage when she was five. A singer-songwriter recording and playing her own music, she has also performed at the Johnny Young Talent School, West End Academy, Australian Girls Choir & The Albany Light Opera and Theatre Company.
Isla Imogen A singer-songwriter based in Albany, Isla’s style has been described (by those who know better than me) as “an enigmatic fusion of quirky folk, indie and jazz”. I reckon she just writes and sings good songs. The winner of the 2015 The Quest Song Writing Competition, Under 18s Song Writing Award and performing professionally since the age of 16, she’s played from the Fairbridge Festival in Pinjarra to the Harbourside series in Albany Entertainment Centre.
Rastarix Let’s mix up the playlist with some South West reggae. Rastatrix plays reggae with a twist, mixing in funk, jazz, soul and world music. Their 2012 album, One Drop in the Ocean, was recorded live, so look out for them around the South coast and South West. They have played venues from the White Star in Albany to the Denmark Hotel and Settlers Tavern in Margaret River.