Albany to Augusta – drive WA's scenic southwest
June 4, 2019 • Toby Ley
6 min read
Steeped in history and surrounded by stunning coastal scenery, Albany and Augusta stand as bookends for one of Australia’s most spectacular stretches of coastline. From havens of white sand beaches and crystal waters to ancient stands of Gondwanan forest, there’s few places better to lose yourself in for a few days.
WA’s southwest is a corner of the country often touted as one of Australia’s most beautiful areas. Despite that, it’s never managed to become quite as big of a tourist draw as many of its counterparts over east. The beaches are certainly prettier and are bound to be less crowded most of the year, and while it can take a bit more effort to get down there, I doubt anyone’s going to be complaining about the journey.
While the coastline from Albany to Esperance is renowned for its pristine beaches, west of Albany those beaches are fringed by a more wild country, carpeted in dense stands of an ancient forest. The 360km trip from Albany to Augusta is often done in a day, typically by those travelling the entire coastal route from Perth to Esperance or beyond, or sometimes even skipped entirely.
But it’s a stretch that begs further attention. Even when pressed for time and done in a day, the drive itself is spectacular, and there’s still loads to be squeezed in, especially along the southernmost route, which I’d recommend.
With a little more time on your hands, you could easily fill a week with the incredible beaches, waterfalls, ancient forests, national parks, history and charming towns hidden across this wild coast.
Lying on the coast some 450km south of Perth, the port city of Albany was one of WA’s first settlements, nestled in the bays of the spectacular King George Sound. There’s a rich history to be uncovered here, from the early settlement stories to the convict and whaling history.
To shed a little light on this colourful past, I’d recommend a visit to Albany’s Museum of the Great Southern, the National Anzac Centre, or Albany’s Historic Whaling Station at Discovery Bay.
The heart of town straddles two rocky hills that overlook the surrounding sound, and it’s packed with great cafés, shops and breweries, as is the surrounding countryside.
For those looking to embrace the more natural side of things, Albany is a great base for exploring a trove of nearby national parks and reserves. Torndirrup’s probably your best bet for straight up coastal scenery and walking, with Two Peoples Bay for beaches, and the Porongurups and Stirling Range for mountains.
Denmark and Peaceful Bay
I’ve done this part of the drive several more times than the rest, and yet it’s still got me feeling like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this area’s got to offer.
Denmark is the first town you’ll hit travelling west from Albany, and it’s a picturesque riverside town with no small amount of charm. It’s filled with boutique shops and more great cafés, which are quite welcoming considering it happened to be raining just about every time I’ve visited.
Beyond Denmark, a side trip to West Cape Howe and William Bay National Parks is well worth the effort, especially to visit Elephant Rocks and Greens Beach, the latter being one of the nicest swimming beaches on the coast.
A little further on, the charming beachside community of Peaceful Bay has a caravan park and a small shop, with some spectacular rocks, beach driving, fishing and swimming.
Walpole, Nornalup and Surrounds
This is where the forest truly starts to rise. While the rest of the drive from here to Augusta spends most of the journey winding beneath the towering canopy of these ancient trees, Walpole-Nornalup National Park is the best place to really explore it.
A one-way loop road leaves the main road just east of Walpole, taking in the mist-shrouded karri forest, giant tingle trees and the idyllic Circular Pool. This section between Denmark and Pemberton is also a great stretch of the drive for foodies, with wineries, a cidery, bakery, honey farm and ice creamery to break up the drive.
Pemberton is another small, quaint town with a rich history that rose from the fading remnants of the area’s timber industry. It makes for a good lunch stop, but it’d serve just as well as a base for exploring the surrounding area.
D’Entrecasteaux National Park is a huge swathe of coastal wilderness with some great beach camping, and there’s no fewer than six other national parks within a stone’s throw. There’s a heap of tranquil waterfalls hidden around here too, with Beedelup Falls the most accessible, hidden just off the main road.
You also can’t drive past without at least visiting either the Gloucester or Dave Evan’s Bicentennial trees. If you haven’t heard of these before, they’re two towering karri trees that once served as fire lookouts for the surrounding area.
Now, passing adventure enthusiasts can climb the daunting “stairway” of metal poles driven into the wood to reach the precarious lookout at the top. Honestly, it’s a wonder such a thing is allowed, but hey, while it is, face those fears and have a crack at it. Be warned though, they’re not for the faint-hearted.
Commonly known as the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet, Augusta is the furthest southwest point of the Australian continent. It was established in the 1830s and rose with the expansion of the timber industry throughout the area, and is now just another small town on a spectacular stretch of cost.
There’s caravan parks and some idyllic camping at nearby Alexandra Bridge or Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, which also hides some great swimming beaches. Closer to Augusta, you can’t go past the rugged coastline of Cape Leeuwin and the scenic lighthouse at its tip. It provides some sweeping late-afternoon views, with limestone caves, coastal hiking and some fascinating historical relics strewn across the area.
From here, it’s also a short drive to the increasingly popular Margaret River region, as well as the rest of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, which stretches all the way up to Cape Naturaliste, some 110km to the north.