West Australia is the self-declared road trip state and one of the best drives in WA is this trip along the gorgeous Coral Coast.
From the lunar-like Pinnacles to the wide spaces of WA’s outback and the glistening turquoise waters of the Ningaloo Reef, the road trip from Perth to Exmouth packs a punch. See all the highlights here to get the most out of your travels along Australia’s west coast.
The Perth to Exmouth drive is 1270 km. If you drive straight through you can do the trip in 12 hours driving time. For a road trip that includes stops at the major attractions, the recommendation is a minimum of 6 days but you can make this trip last as long as you want. Driving distances are long and you really don’t want to spend all your time doing nothing but driving.
I’ve written as much detail as possible to help you see what all the options are and decide on what you want to see and what you want to leave out. I hope it helps.
If I could pick at a time to do this trip, I would choose April to June. This is when the strong southerly winds ease up, the Indian Ocean becomes one huge lake and the sweltering heat turns to temperate sunny days.
If you come for windy days, choose October to January. It’s a windy coastline and I’ve even heard people from ‘windy’ Wellington in New Zealand complain about the strong seabreeze.
The strip from Perth to Geraldton along the Indian Ocean Drive offers lots of sightseeing opportunities. The highlights include Yanchep National Park where you can see Koalas, the Pinnacles, the sand dunes around Lancelin, beaches along the turquoise coast and the oldest living organisms at Lake Thetis.
This road can get busy with sightseers on their way to the Pinnacles and beyond. On weekends and holidays, there are many caravans on the road and preciously few overtaking options.
Take care on this strip of road and stick to the speed limit which has now been lowered to 100 km. See my article for more Driving tips for Western Australia.
Geraldton is a small town that has come a long way in the past few years and is a worthwhile stop on any trip north. It’s home to some fab beaches, cute cafes, weekend markets, an excellent museum and the Yamaji Aboriginal Art Centre.
Click this article for ideas on other things to do in Geraldton.
Oakabella Homestead’s claim to fame is that it’s known as one of the most haunted buildings in Western Australia.
These days though, the homestead makes a fabulous stopover on any trip between Geraldton and Northampton. Not least because of the delicious scones that you can indulge in on the verandah overlooking the historic buildings.
Built in the1850s the historic site provides a fantastic insight into the lives of the early settlers in the region. You can take a tour of the buildings including the original homestead, stables and living quarters.
Then, of course, there’s the tea room with those scones and other indulgences. Along with Coronation Beach on the coast, Oakabella offers cheap camping if you want to stay the night. See more on Oakabella here.
This quaint historic town will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The main street is lined by old colonial buildings, quaint little shops and a few good old fashioned pubs.
Off the main road is the impressive St Marys Church built by renowned priest and architect Monsignor Hawes whose churches throughout the midwest are one of WA’s architectural masterpieces.
To most people’s surprise, Horrocks Beach won the accolade as the best mainland beach in Australia in 2017. Take a trip to this little coastal community and decide yourself if this is the prettiest beach in WA.
It’s an 18km drive from the Kalbarri Road to get to Horrocks. However, there’s a new road heading out north towards Port Gregory which makes for a nice coastal drive and lessens the extra mileage.
Located before Port Gregory, Hutt River Province is one of WA’s oddities. This micronation succeeded from Australia in 1970 to become its own independent nation.
You can take a visit to the principality, meet the king and get your passport stamped. For more on this micronation including history and full details on how to get there, see Visiting the Principality of Hutt River.
For Instagram worthy pictures, make a beeline for the Pink Lake on the Hutt Lagoon near Port Gregory. The lake constantly changes colour and the intensity will depend on the time of day and cloud coverage.
See some tips on the best time to visit the Pink Lake here.
The scenery changes drastically the closer you get to Kalbarri and the red plunging coastal cliffs are truly breathtaking. Take a stop before you get to the town for some spectacular coastal scenery. Keep an eye out for the migrating humpback whales in Autumn and Spring.
Kalbarri is a thriving coastal town and has lots of land and water-based activities. The star attraction is the National Park and the gorges. My favourite things to do are watching the surfers at Jakes Point and a casual seafood dinner at Finlays.
I’ve heard lots of different opinions about making the trip to Denham / Monkey Mia on a Perth to Exmouth road trip. The main consideration is that from the North West Coastal Highway, it’s a 129 km drive to get to Denham and the road seems to stretch on forever.
In short, it’s not a quick detour. Depending on how much time you have, you may or may not choose to take this option and drive to Carnarvon instead.
My advice is, if you’re planning to go to Monkey Mia for one night only my recommendation is not to go because it’s a long way in and you have to take that exact way back again the next day.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a few extra days the Shark Bay Heritage area is a nature’s paradise that’s worthy of exploring. The highlights are below.
Petrol stations begin to get sparse from here onwards and it’s well worth stopping for fuel when you have the chance. I always stop at the Billabong, it usually has the cheapest fuel and the inside of the roadhouse is worth a look for all the photos and memorability. There’s also free camping if you need a place to rest.
Shell Beach is made up of exactly that – millions and millions of tiny, white shells stretching along the beach for an incredible 70 km. Shell Beach is located on the Denham Hamelin Road 45 km before Denham.
Imagine seeing the first life on earth? Sounds incredible but that’s what the thrombolites and stromatolites are. They’re the earliest organisms on earth that are responsible for the oxygen we have on earth.
Hamelin Pool is one of the only sites in the world where these incredible organisms still exist. See more about the stromatolites here.
Denham is a little coastal community located on the bay of the Shark Bay World Heritage area. It’s a good base for exploring the rest of the area and only a short drive from Monkey Mia. The main advantage of staying in Denham is that it has all amenities including supermarkets and a good selection of caravan parks.
Monkey Mia is synonymous with dolphins who regularly come to feed in the sheltered waters here. Some people come away disappointed with their dolphin experience. It has become a tourist hub and feeding sessions are strictly regulated. At best you can expect to feed the dolphin a fish along with many other people. It is a nice way though to come close to dolphins and see them up close in the clear waters but if you’re looking for a David Attenborough experience, this is not it.
While most people only come for the dolphins, Monkey Mia has plenty of other things going for it. This area is WA’s first World Heritage Listing due to its incredible wilderness and the diversity of marine life. The area has one of the world’s largest populations of dugongs and turtles.
From Shark Bay to Carnarvon it’s back along the same road to North West Coastal Highway and on to Carnarvon.
Driving along the highway, the idea of a Riverfront Retreat seems unlikely, but that’s exactly what Wooramel is. This is an awesome working station that offers a real outback experience.
Wooramel offers true outback hospitality. There are camping sites along the river banks (depending on rainfall this might be dry or flowing), camp oven dinners and amazing natural hot bore baths. See what I mean here.
Carnarvon is known as West Australia’s food bowl and produces the majority of fresh fruit and vegetables for the state. This means that it’s a pretty good place to stock up on fruit and veg. The best way to do this is along the Gascoyne Food Trail. The trail takes you past all the best plantations where you can buy direct from the growers.
Other good reasons to stop in Carnarvon is for a visit to the Space Museum where you can dress up as an astronaut. It’s also the best place to hit the supermarket and stock up on supplies before you get further north.
Once past Carnarvon the road continues north. There’s an option to take a trip to the Blowholes and the strip of coastline from Quobba Station to the Red Bluff and Gnarloo Station.
The Carnarvon Blowholes are a natural phenomenon and shoot water through cracks in the granite rocks making a massive roar in the process. They are particularly impressive on days with big swell.
The blowholes are located 75 km from Carnarvon and again, it’s not a quick detour. If you have time there are some excellent camping options at Quobba Station and further along the track to Gnaraloo.
Located 237 km from Carnarvon, Coral Bay is a small seaside town located along the Ningaloo Reef. Snorkelling and diving are amazing here. You can literally access the reef from the beach in no time – no boat required. It’s also a fantastic place to chill and relax for a few days.
There are two caravan parks in Coral Bay, both get very busy during holiday times, see Our stay at Coral Bay here.
Bullara station is located between Coral Bay and Exmouth. It’s a working outback station and an awesome spot to experience true outback hospitality. Bullara is open between April and October and has affordable bush-style camping sites with communal campfires, bbqs and seasonal activities. See their website here.
One on the road from Coral Bay to Exmouth, these incredible structures pop up all across the landscape. Created by tiny termites these fortresses structures are like medieval fortresses with kings and queens and soldier termites doing all the hard slogging.
Take a stop on the road to Exmouth where you can take a closer look and read more about the creatures behind these mounds. See this excellent article to understand more on termite mounds.
Exmouth is the gateway to Cape Range National Park and much of the sensational Ningaloo Reef. It’s a top town to use as a base to explore the surrounding area and offers plenty of conveniences. My favourite thing is the emus who are frequently seen leisurely strolling up and down the main road.
The highlight of course of any trip to Exmouth is swimming with whale sharks. Whale shark tours operate from Exmouth from April to October. See some options of tours here.
There you have it, all the details for a fantastic drive from Perth to Exmouth. Would love to hear your questions or comments below.