Perth to Exmouth Road Trip: Everything You Need to Know
Cover photo: Natural Bridge, Kalbarri. Photo credit: Tse Yin Chang
One of the most rewarding ways to explore our beautiful state of Western Australia is to pack up the car, hit the road and create your own road trip itinerary.
Unlike travelling by plane, a self-drive holiday makes for a much more fun and memorable experience. There’s so much to see and do – so many memorable moments to be enjoyed – before you reach your final destination.
If you enjoy driving and like the thought of the freedom of the open road, there’s no better time to get out there and embark on a Perth to Exmouth road trip. Given the distance (over 1,200 km) break up the journey and incorporate lots of pit stops along the way to make the most of what’s going to be an unforgettable quintessential Australian road trip experience.
How long will it take to drive from Perth to Exmouth?
If you were to drive direct from Perth without any stop offs, it would take 12-13 hours to reach Exmouth. It’s a long drive, and it’s not wise to do the trip in one go. Not only from a safety aspect, but doing so would mean missing out on some of the best and most beautiful destinations Western Australia has to offer.
To get the most out of the experience, you’re going to need at least a week – ideally two – to allow enough time to enjoy the spectacular scenery and adventure that awaits you.
What’s the best time of year to go on a Perth to Exmouth road trip?
Exmouth itself is blessed with beautiful weather all year round. If you like dry hot weather, this is the place to be. The north of WA enjoys a semi-arid climate and, in the summertime, daytime temperatures in the area can reach 40°C. Conditions in the peak summer months aren’t the most ideal for driving long distances. So, the best time of year for a road trip is between April to November, which nicely coincidences with Western Australia’s wildflower season (July to October). If you’re wanting to visit Exmouth to swim with whale sharks, bear in mind that whale shark season starts in mid-March and ends in late July/early August.
What places should I visit along the way?
Driving over 1,200 km from Perth to Exmouth takes you along the Coral Coast Highway. Widely regarded as one of Australia’s most scenic drives, you’ll be tempted by many incredible attractions and experiences. So, it really depends on how much time you have! There’s so many fabulous beaches, coastal cities and towns that deserve a place on your road trip to do list. Let’s take a look at some of the must-see places and stop offs you don’t want to miss, in our humble opinion.
Lancelin and Cervantes
About an hour and a half north of Perth is the sleepy fishing town of Lancelin. If you love white sandy beaches and beautiful turquoise waters, it’s worth including in your road trip itinerary. Whilst in Lancelin, swing by the famous sand dunes – a stunning landscape of mountains of powder white sand – for some four-wheel driving or sandboarding fun.
The charming coastal town of Cervantes is another little pocket of paradise along the Turquoise Coast. It’s a popular spot for water-based adventure activities including fishing, windsurfing, surfing and snorkelling. Cervantes is nestled between tourist hot spot the Pinnacles and sparkling blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Don’t forget to pop by the iconic Lobster Shack for a seafood lunch. It’s a Cervantes institution and a must-do.
The magical Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park is another must-see. Famed for its unique limestone formations, driving through it feels very much like being on another planet. The shoreline of nearby Lake Thetis, home to billion-year-old living fossils called thrombolites, is not to be missed either.
Geraldton and Hutt Lagoon
Continue north for about 2 hours 40 minutes, and you’ll reach the colonial port city of Geraldton. Head to the HMAS Sydney II Memorial for some quiet reflection. The memorial is a beautiful and respectful tribute to the crew of the HMAS Sydney lost off the coast of Western Australia during World War II. The landmark also offers one of the best vantage points of the city.
Depending on how much time you have in Geraldton, you could take a tour out to the Abrolhos Islands. With crystal clear water, it’s a must-do for scuba or snorkelling enthusiasts. Whilst you’re in the area, take a drive out to Hutt Lagoon. Also known as the Pink Lake, it’s about an hour’s drive from Geraldton. One of the Coral Coast’s most visited landmarks and a hot spot for tourists, the colour of the lake changes depending on the time of day and cloud cover. At its most vibrant shade of pink, it’s a spectacular sight to see.
Approximately a two-hour drive from Geraldton is Kalbarri, a delightful resort town known for its wild pelicans, rugged coastal landscapes and beautiful national park.
Covering around 186,000 hectares, Kalbarri National Park is the area’s main attraction. With epic views and hiking trails, be prepared to have your breath taken away as you cast your eyes on stunning inland river gorges and striking red cliffs that reach out into the ocean.
Head to Red Bluff, Pot Alley, Eagle Gorge, Island Rock and Natural Bridge for the best vantage points. And don’t forget to visit the iconic Nature’s Window and snap a selfie or two. Formed from layers of tawny-red Tumblagooda sandstone, the natural rock arch is possibly Kalbarri’s most visited tourist attraction. Living up to its name, the rock arch perfectly frames the spectacular views over the gorge.
Located across the gorge from Nature’s Window is the park’s newest attraction, the Kalbarri Skywalk. Perched on the cliff-top two 100-metre-high lookouts hang over the Murchison River Gorge and provide incredible views of the area.
No visit to Kalbarri is complete without checking out the daily pelican feeding down on the foreshore opposite Murchison Caravan Park. Local volunteers have been feeding the hungry pelicans for more than 40 years. Get there for 8.45am and enjoy this unique Kalbarri experience.
Shark Bay and Monkey Mia
From Kalbarri, continue to drive north towards the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shark Bay. The drive itself will take around four hours or longer if you decide to stop off at some of the local tourist attractions in the region, like the Hamelin Pool stromatolites and Shell Beach.
Instead of sand, Shell Beach is made up of billions of small smooth, white shells. Stretching for more than 70 km, you won’t find many beaches like it in the world. It’s one of only a handful, so it’s pretty unique. Another local landmark, Hamelin Pool is home to the stromatolites, the world’s largest and oldest living fossils that date back 3.7 billion years. One of only four places on the planet where living marine stromatolites exist. Let that fact sink in as you stroll the purpose-built jetty.
Francois Peron National Park is another not-to-be-missed highlight of the Shark Bay region. Located on the Peron Peninsular, framed by the most stunning turquoise water, it’s where red sand meets red cliffs. Just a 10-minute drive from Denham, the park is vast in size – more than 52,000 hectares of arid shrublands and red sand plains. Due to the deep soft sand, you will need a 4WD to explore most of the park.
Don’t forget to visit the famous Monkey Mia dolphins before you leave the area. It’s one of the most reliable places in Australia to interact and see the local bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat.
Known as the “Food Bowl of the West”, Carnarvon is a small fishing town located approximately three and a half hours from Shark Bay. Points of interest include the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum, Quobba Station, Point Quobba Blowholes and Carnarvon’s One Mile Jetty.
Most people visit the area to experience the blowholes, some 75 km north of Carnarvon. They are an awe-inspiring sight to see, especially on a windy day. Always make sure to follow the safety warnings because the coastal area can be dangerous. If the weather conditions are right, you’re in for a treat. Watch in awe as jets of water erupt up to 20 metres in the air through sea caves. It’s an incredible natural phenomenon to witness.
Nearby Point Quobba is home to a calm coral-filled lagoon and a white sandy beach. It’s a favourite spot for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing.
Don’t leave Carnarvon without stopping by the Cactus Garden, which in recent years has become something of an Instagram sensation.
Coral Bay and Exmouth
Another three-hour drive, and you’ll arrive in the small coastal settlement of Coral Bay. It’s a tiny seaside town loved by locals and tourists who can’t get enough of its spectacular white sandy beaches. It’s also an ocean lover’s paradise, where you can snorkel or scuba dive the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. It’s an idyllic location, and you’ll be able to enjoy close encounters with the region’s marine life year-round.
Explore the crystal-clear waters, which are home to manta rays, turtles and dugongs, and an abundance of tropical fish. If you prefer to stay dry, head out on a glass-bottom boat tour or book a scenic flight and take in the breathtaking reef views from above.
Between June and November, you can take a whale watching tour to spot migrating humpback whales. The area is also one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, with tours operating between mid-March and early August.
When the time comes to depart Coral Bay, continue driving north for approximately two hours, and you’ll reach your destination. Read more about our favourite things to do in Exmouth.