Feature by Fleur Bainger
From picture-perfect beaches and warm clear waters to close-up views of unique wildlife, these Western Australian offshore escapes have it all.
Believe it or not, Western Australia is home to more than 2000 islands. Fragments of land are scattered around the entire coastline, from the smooth-surfaced Recherche Archipelago off Esperance in the far south, to the craggy red expanse of the Buccaneer Archipelago in the ocean-lapped Kimberley. As isolated as they are beguiling, few WA islands bear traces of human interaction, and only a handful have people living on them, which makes them all the more enchanting to visit.
In summer, islands in the southern half of the state are ripe for exploration. WA’s most populous, and popular, holiday isle is Rottnest Island, loved for its easy-as-pie proximity to Perth (only 19km on the ferry) and its ridiculously cute quokkas. The bicycle-dominated destination can win any boasting competition with its 63 beaches of soft, grainy sand, while its glass-clear waters reveal a curious mix of temperate and tropical fish. With the warm Leeuwin Current passing by, the island’s waters are said to be a couple of degrees warmer than Perth’s – another good reason to cross the channel.
Perth’s closest island is Carnac, a haven for Australian sea lions and birds. Numerous boat cruises – motorised and under sail – bring visitors to this A-class nature reserve to snorkel, fish and watch nature up close.
Only 45 minutes’ drive south of the state capital and a five-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Penguin Island has the feel of a nature reserve with the fun of daily penguin feeding sessions. The 1200 shy, flightless birds the island draws its name from can be hard to spot, but a number of extroverted and vocal penguins consistently turn up for the free fish handed out by rangers at the Discovery Centre. A walking trail revealing low scrub, flat beaches and rugged limestone formations is worth following before the short boat ride back to Shoalwater in Rockingham.
Further south, 15km off the coast of Esperance, Woody Island is a nature reserve surrounded by crystalline waters. You can admire it from the water on an archipelago cruise, or take a ferry with Woody Island Eco Tours to look for the likes of dolphins and seals. With a number of safari huts available, you can even stay the night.
On the Coral Coast, 60km from Geraldton, the warm waters surrounding the Abrolhos Islands are famed as a snorkellers’ paradise. A scenic flight offers an overview of the 122 islands in this stunning archipelago – and you might spot some white-bellied sea eagles, too. If you have more time, consider a charter tour to discover the best fishing, diving and surfing spots.
Nearly nine hours’ drive north of Perth is Dirk Hartog Island, in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It’s open year-round, but over summer something special happens: baby loggerhead turtles hatch on its remote beaches, an incredible event to witness. It’s also when the ocean swell calms and the water clears to grant extraordinary visibility for divers and snorkellers. Like many points on the WA coast, it gets windy in summer, yet sheltered spots can be found out front of the island lodge and camping ground, allowing for shallow paddling and coastal boating. The only family to live on the island, the Wardles, have just installed a new bar and cafe on the water’s edge, the place to be after a day of adventure 4WDing.