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Adventurous, enchanting and wild Western Australia. Far away? Yes. Worth the time it takes to get there? Absolutely. It’s home to caves, world-class vineyards, diverse and spectacular landscapes, amazing animals, stunning beaches and treetop forest walks. It’s where cliffs, perfect for rock climbing and rappelling, meet the seemingly endless Indian Ocean. It’s where the night sky is full of an awesome amount of stars. And the best part about it? Anyone at any age can enjoy a trip to Western Australia. We visited with a 1-year-old and 3-year old in tow, but this trip would also be great for elementary-age kids, tweens and teens.
The state of Western Australia is incredibly large. For your first visit to the area, we recommend you travel to the southwestern corner, starting out in the city of Perth, and heading south to the Margaret River Valley.
Start out by flying into Perth, the capital of Western Australia and Australia’s fourth-largest city. Upon landing at Perth airport, you can pick up a rental car (it’s best to make a reservation in advance) and let the exploring begin. We rented a full-size car that ended up being a wagon in nearly perfect shape, with an infant car seat that was also in great condition.
After your long flight, an excellent first stop to expel some energy is King’s Park — one of the world’s largest inner-city parks. King’s Park, mostly bushland, has stunning views overlooking Perth and the Swan River, wonderful walking trails, wide-open space for young ones to run freely and explore, children’s play areas, guided walking tours and a chance to stroll through the treetops on the Lotterywest Federation Walkway (entry is free and wheelchair accessible).
Perth has more sunny days than any other capital city in the world, which makes it perfect for going to the beach. Together with the adjacent town of Fremantle, or “Freo” as the locals call it, it’s home to some stunning beaches. The Indian Ocean is a sparkling turquoise blue in this vast, remote corner of the world. The white, soft, sandy beaches are great for playing, and watersports are plentiful in the more popular spots. We recommend Cottesloe (the area’s most iconic), Scarborough (beach surf school — fun!), Mettams Pool (great shallow-water snorkeling) and South Beach (white sand beach with rolling dunes, a kids’ play area and a great place to watch sunsets).
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TIP: If you have older children, consider hopping aboard a 90-minute ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island for a full-day adventure of biking, snorkeling and exploring. The small island has spectacular beaches and spots to check out marine life. The island is also home to quokkas, adorable little animals that come from the same family as the kangaroo. If you happen to be in the area between September and December, migrating humpback and southern right whales can be seen in the island’s waters. Rottnest Island is truly unique, and your family will never forget spending a day there.
When you need a respite from the great outdoors, try out SciTech, a children’s interactive science discovery center in Perth. With everything from giant hands-on Rube Goldberg demonstrations to a baby chick incubator, this place has it all. It’s a great learning experience for the kids, and adults too.
Also, don’t miss spending time in Freo itself. This funky and free-spirited town with a side of immense coastal beauty is more relaxed and lower-key than Perth. During our time in the area, we opted to rent a cottage on South Beach in Freo, which was perfect for our family of four.
After you’ve had your fill of city life, hop in the car and head two hours south to the charming seaside town of Bunbury. Here, you’ll want to check out the Dolphin Discovery Center. With young children, you can tour the educational center, which showcases fish and coral aquariums, a 360-degree Digital Dolphinarium, cool fossils and more. The center offers 90-minute dolphin eco-cruises in Koombana Bay daily or, if your kids are older and adventurous, you can swim with wild dolphins in the open water of the bay (November-April). Finally, just in front of the Discovery Center is an “Interaction Zone” that offers a one-of-a-kind wild dolphin interactive experience on the beach, managed by volunteers. The most common visiting times are in the mornings of the warmer months between 8am-noon.
We also found fun beachside playgrounds for the kids in Bunbury and noshed at Nicola’s, which had a great children’s menu and delicious food.
If one of your goals is to spend as much time in nature as possible, why not entertain a stay in the countryside? Balingup Heights, a breathtaking bushland property tucked amid native jarrah and marri trees, offers six hilltop forest cottages, plenty of space for kids to explore and for parents to unwind, and true immersion into nature. The cottages are spaced out for privacy and have excellent views. Every morning, my kiddos joined owner/host Brian to feed the horses, guinea pigs and chickens (or “chooks” in Aussie-speak). Every evening, we settled into our cottage with a wonderful fire and admired the myriad stars from our deck. Another option in the area is Ferguson Farmstay. They offer tractor rides, fishing, animal feeding, and a bunch of additional activities for the little ones. It is wise to book early!
En route to Margaret River, don’t miss the seaside town of Busselton. It’s home to the Busselton Jetty – dubbed the “longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere.” This is an excellent spot to play on the beach, dine on fish and chips, indulge in Simmo’s ice cream and ride the famous jetty train. At the end of the jetty, there is a 24-foot underwater observatory (tickets sold separately), where families can see an array of vivid tropical and subtropical corals, sponges, fish and invertebrates. Other seasonal activities in the area include whale watching, scuba diving, jet boating, canoe tours and more. And in typical Aussie style, there is an awesome playground for little ones right on the beach.
And with that, you’ve come to the real prize of the region, the Margaret River Valley. Margaret River is, without a doubt, our favorite part of Western Australia. From caving to canoeing, camping, abseiling, surfing, bush walking, wine and much more, this place offers adventures for the whole family. If you like hiking, stargazing and exploring the great outdoors, Margaret River is for you. If you enjoy beautiful vineyard settings and great wine with a place for the kids to play, Margaret River is for you. If you love a good surf, Margaret River is for you. It truly has everything.
Here are a few activities we highly recommend:
We stayed at Bussells Bushland Cottages, in Margaret River, which happened to be everything we were looking for: cozy, kid-friendly and privately situated in the bush, yet still only a 5-minute drive to the township. Every morning and late afternoon we went on a bush walk around the property. Each time we went out, we encountered kangaroos in their natural habitat, as well as beautiful birds (there was a feeder in front of our cottage that the kids could fill with seed every day). In the evenings, we built a fire and read our nighttime stories in the living room together. Perfection.
The final stop on your journey south is Pemberton (about a two-hour drive from Margaret River township). Pemberton is slower and quieter than Margaret River, but the bush is perhaps even more spectacular. The area offers a multitude of bush walks of varying distances and difficulty. Its karri tree forests are really special and shouldn’t be missed. Another classic activity in the area that younger kids in particular will adore is taking a tram ride deep into the forest.
We chose to do a farm stay in Pemberton at Pump Hill Farm Cottages. If you have little ones, riding on a tractor-pulled hay wagon each morning to feed horses, cows, donkeys, chickens and ducks is pretty awesome. It was a welcome mix of entertainment for the kids and relaxation for the parents.
If you make the trip to Western Australia, you will create lifelong memories. I have been thrice: once as a teenager, once as a young adult and once with two young children. Each time carries with it a certain set of memories that are distinct, wonderful and exotic. My only problem with going is that each time I didn’t want to come back. Western Australia is a nearly untouched gem — raw and wonderful, natural, captivating and full of adventure.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Loren Braunohler except where noted.
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