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If you’re travelling the west coast of Australia, then chances are that the Indian Ocean Drive is the starting point of your road trip in Western Australia. For me, turning into the Indian Ocean Drive always marks the point where I’ve left the city behind and the holiday or weekend begins.
The Indian Ocean Drive is a scenic coastal drive alongside the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and one of the highlights of travel in West Australia. Constructed in 2010, the Indian Ocean Drive connects Perth’s northern suburbs and Geraldton with plenty of attractions along the way, including the lunar-like Pinnacle Desert.
For a memorable West Australia road trip, I’ve listed the main attractions of the Indian Ocean Drive here, along with the best places to stop. If you’d rather go on a one-day tour to see the best that this strip of coastline offers, click here for more.
Things to see on the Indian Ocean Drive
Lancelin Sand Dunes
It may be a 9km detour from the Indian Ocean Drive to get to Lancelin township but if you want to experience the biggest network of sand dunes in WA, then it’s well worth the extra mileage.
These mountains of sand form an otherworldly landscape that you can walk, drive (4WD only) or sandboard across.
Access to the dunes is on the northeastern periphery of the town, opposite the North End Caravan Park. Follow the signs for the Lancelin offroad area.
For more great things to do in Lancelin, click here.
If you missed the Lancelin Dunes, take the short detour to the Nilgen Lookout. Here you’ll get panoramic views of the gigantic dunes as well as the first glimpses of the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
Wedge Island and Grey Shack Settlement
For a scene that could be out of Mad Max, take the trip to the shack settlements at Wedge Island or Grey.
Before the construction of the Indian Ocean Drive, these semi-legal fishing communities were accessible only via a lengthy and adventurous 4WD trip across the beach and sand dunes. These days though, both settlements can be reached on paved road and are an integral part of the local heritage of this coastline.
Wedge is one of the largest remaining shack settlements in Australia. Made up of corrugated iron shacks with generators and windmills, walking through the town creates an almost post-apocalyptic feeling.
The Wedge Island turnoff is located 35km north of the Nilgen Lookout turnoff. Grey is a further 27km north.
Nambung National Park and the Pinnacles
If you just stop off at one place along the way, then make sure it’s the Pinnacles. Rising out of the yellow sand, these limestone formations form a truly lunar landscape. For the best experience view see the Pinnacles at sunrise or sunset. The light truly transforms the landscape into something remarkable during this time and you really don’t get the same experience during the middle of the day.
Admission to the National Park is $12 per vehicle and can be accessed any time of the day. Once there, follow the signs for the Pinnacle Discovery Drive, a 2km drive through the most scenic part of the Pinnacle Desert.
For more information on the formation and geology of the Pinnacles as well as their cultural significance visit the Pinnacle Discovery Centre. See more on the Pinnacles here.
For a great picnic spot and a dip in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean stop off at Hangover Bay, Thirsty Point or Kangaroo Point. These are all found on the road to Cervantes as you head north from the Pinnacles.
Cervantes Lobster Shack
The strip of coastline from Lancelin to Geraldton is renowned for the Western Rock Lobster – West Australia’s most valuable fishery and the mainstay of many of these coastal communities.
For a gourmet lunch, albeit a casual one, head to the Lobster Shack in Cervantes. Here you can also take a tour of the processing facility or jump aboard the Shack Attack, the flagship crayfish vessel to experience the day in the life of crayfishermen.
Alternatively, buy a lobster or two and stop along the coastline for a gourmet picnic lunch. You’ll also find this delicacy in many of the eateries along the coastline.
The Stromatolites at Lake Thetis
They may not look like much but these rock-like structures found at Lake Thetis near Cervantes are in fact some of the oldest living organisms found on the planet. Not only are these old micro-organisms classed as the earliest form of life on earth, they have also been crucial in unravelling the long history of life on earth.
There are only a few places in the world where you get to see stromatolites and Lake Thetis provides a fascinating and impressive insight into the origins of life.
Entrance to Lake Thetis is free. The boardwalk provides easy access to the best viewing sights and there’s also a 2.5 km walk around the lake. See my blog post here about Lake Thetis.
Lesueur National Park
In springtime, Lesueur National Park is one of the best places in the state to view West Australia’s world-famous array of wildflowers. Located 20 km northeast of Jurien Bay, Lesueur is home to over 900 types of wildflower species with many of these not found anywhere else in the world. See a more detailed list of wildflower hotspots here.
Lesueur National Park has a scenic drive that guides you through the most picturesque parts of the park. There are also several bushwalking trails throughout the national park with the best time to visit is from August to October.
Jurien Bay Diving and Snorkelling Discovery Trail
The Jurien Bay Diving and Snorkelling Discovery Trail provides an amazing underwater experience. The trail follows a reef system that is home to a plethora of fish and other marine life. There are also caves, grottos and overhangs to explore for more experienced divers and snorkellers.
The Diving and Snorkelling trail is located 25 metres from Jurien Bay Beach at the end of the old jetty piles. Swim Cards with descriptions of the varieties of fish and coral found along the trail are available from local shops in Jurien Bay.
Skydiving Jurien Bay
If you have the urge to jump out of a plane, you can do this in Jurien Bay with Skydive Jurien Bay. Skydivers are rewarded with the most spectacular aerial views of the turquoise coastline before landing directly on the beach.
Jurien Bay Skydive is located on Bashford Street, Jurien Bay and operates year round. See more here.
For the ultimate beach camping experience, stay the night at Sandy Cape campground. Located 13 km north of Jurien Bay, Sandy Cape is a near perfect camping experience with a picturesque white sandy beach and crystal clear water that’s ideal for swimming, snorkelling and fishing.
The campsite is accessible by 2WD vehicle. Sites are not available for pre-booking and the campground can get pretty busy during weekends and school holidays.
For a step into a bygone era, take a look at Greenough. Settled in the 1860s, Greenough provides a glimpse into the early agricultural history of West Australia and tells the tales of the settlement of the midwest region.
The Central Greenough Historical Settlement contains 11 original buildings in what some claim to be Australia’s best preserved 19th-century town. The buildings are now administered by the National Trust and are open daily between 10 am and 4 pm.
Also, look out for the sharp leaning trees in this area. A testament to the strong seabreeze that comes howling through here in the summer months.
Places to stay on the Indian Ocean Drive
Hotels and Resorts
Pinnacles Edge Resort – 4.5-star resort in Cervantes. The resort has modern and new studios, and 1 and 2-bedroom apartments, many with spa suites. There’s also a great pool, as well as restaurant and bar.
RAC Holiday Park – newly upgraded, the holiday park is located in Cervantes with direct access to the beach. The holiday park has self-contained cabins, including some that are dog-friendly and a new pool.
Jurien Bay Motel Apartments – brand new and modern apartment style accommodation located near the jetty. Excellent facilities and nicely furnished.
Jurien Bay Tourist Park – affordable self-contained cabin style accommodation. There are 1 and 2 bedroom cabins and well suited to families.
All towns along the Indian Ocean Drive have caravan parks with good facilities and powered sites. You’ll find these in Lancelin, Cervantes, Greenhead, Jurien Bay, Leeman and Dongara.
There are some excellent camping sites along the Indian Ocean Drive. These are non-powered and offer basic facilities, including eco-toilets. You’ll need to be self-contained and bring your own water but you get an excellent beachfront place to camp for a budget price. These sites can’t be booked in advance and operate on a first come, first served basis.
Sandy Cape – located 10 km north of Jurien Bay, this is one of the prettiest beaches along the coastline with fantastic camping sites on the beach. See more here.
Milligan Island Camping Node – located between Greenhead and Leeman. The site is $15 per night and has nice camping sites near the beach. See more here.
Cliff Head – free campsites north of Leeman with direct beachfront access. See my blog post here for more details.
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