Less familiar than Australia’s topline tourist states, Western Australia nevertheless captures the quintessence of the lucky country in one vastly spacious hunk. As well as unparalleled wilderness, rugged, empty beaches and biodiverse reefs, it has world-class wines and local produce, serious restaurants and bush comforts to rival any southern African safari camp.
Australia’s sunniest city, Perth, is on the rise. Where it used to be a launchpad for Margaret River and the Kimberley, it’s evolving into a gourmet and culture hot spot, partially due to the immense wealth gathered from the mining industry (Perth has the highest number, per capita, of self-made millionaires in the world).
Although cranes line the skyline, accommodation lags behind the food and drink scene, but that’s changing as boutique options come on stream, and local neighbourhoods become more soulful and gentrified. The nearby town of Margaret River has also felt the effects of the city’s growth: as well as wineries, it also now has a selection of art galleries, top cellar-door eateries and farm-gate artisanal treats.
Heading north of Perth, Ningaloo Reef is one of Australia’s best-kept natural secrets, and one of the best places on Earth to swim with whale sharks – and camp in comfort on the dunes. Then on to Broome, the charming outpost poised between the turquoise Indian Ocean and the red earth of wilderness, but with a bewitching, surprisingly sophisticated composite of Asian and European influence – and a launching post into the wilderness of the Kimberley.
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Hotels are not Perth’s forte (although more are on the drawing board – watch out for the opening in summer of the Old Treasury Buildings). But The Richardson in West Perth is the best for service and room standards; its restaurant Opus is one of the foremost in the city, and its three-bedroom, 170-square-metre Kings Park Suite has views to Perth’s trademark gardens.
The city has fine Indian Ocean-facing beaches, such as Scarborough, and a characterful port, Fremantle, at which Perth’s only true beachfront restaurant, Bathers Beach House, has opened. As for other food: from Nobu in the Crown Casino to the new Standard Bar Garden & Kitchen, an inside-outside garden oasis with the best drinks list in Perth, there’s an abundance of class. For something more idiosyncratic, Leederville’s new food safari by rickshaw takes in the area’s Asian fusion kitchens, and Perth-wide walking tours can be tailored to foodies’ interests.
A trip to the Swan Valley, Western Australia’s oldest wine region, with Sergio Libertino is fun for oenophiles, as are bars such as Helvetica, which also has a long whisky list.
The wine area is three hours’ drive from Perth, set against a backdrop of ocean and forest, and the 22-room Cape Lodge is its jewel and one of Australia’s Top 5 gourmet retreats, set within 16 hectares of parkland and vineyards. At its Lakeside Restaurant Tony Howell’s menus change daily in response to local produce. Winery tours and truffle hunts can be arranged, as can sunset safaris to spot the western grey kangaroo.
Treatments at the nearby Injidup Spa Retreat, beside the Indian Ocean, are always sublimely relaxing. And for great cellar-door lunches, both Vasse Felix and Aravina Estate are highly recommended.
At this extraordinary, low-footprint outpost, the Outback nudges the sea, and nine tents are dotted amid the white dunes that border the reef of Western Australia’s Coral Coast. One of the country’s best-kept natural secrets, this is a superior site for spotting and swimming with whale sharks and manta rays (guided by an experienced diver); sea kayaking is also a marvellous way to gently explore the reef. Back on land, red kangaroos, rock wallabies, goannas and emus stroll freely through the camp. By night, upmarket seafood feasts are served on the shared dining deck.
This unlikely, balmy and civilised outpost on the brink of the desert – kilometres from any metropolis and overlooking the turquoise horizons of the Indian Ocean – started out as a pearling centre, attracting a multicultural population that left its mark. These days it’s a launchpad for the wilderness, but is still worth stopping at for some good food, beach walks and shopping for Broome pearls and rare pink diamonds. Camel trekking on Cable Beach is a classic activity, as is watching the caravan plodding in at sunset from the comfort of Cable Beach Club: a dated but town institution and the place to stay for those who insist on beachfront rooms and a butler.
The most sophisticated place to stay is Pinctada McAlpine House, a traditional lattice-work residence laced with charm, once owned by Lord Alistair McAlpine, who fell in love with Broome, founded the Cable Beach Club and, many argue, made the town what it is today. From here, helicopter rides can be taken into the Kimberley and the beaches and cliffs of the Aboriginal stronghold Cape Leveque.
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This article was written by Lydia Bell from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.