Backpacking Western Australia is quite extraordinary.
“You’re catching a bus around WA?”
“Sure am – on a hop on/hop off bus service.”
“I didn’t know that even existed!”
Neither did I. But that was the common reaction I got when I told fellow Perth city folk that I was planning to hop on a bus instead of being behind the wheel and be fully in control of my WA travelling destiny. People were almost gasping for air in shock that coming from a car capital, that I would even consider such a thing.
Perth to Broome on a bus? You are crazy! Isn’t that like a million hours plus?!
I am no stranger to bus travel. I consider myself a hardcore veteran at it – awkward sleeping bus positions at 20-minute intervals included. Like many Aussies who followed the unofficial rite of adulthood and called London home for a few years, I became a pro-bus person, cashing in on cheap trips around Europe with one long road trip at a time. Bus travel became the place for me to zone out and take it all in. See the world in real-time as opposed to being high in the sky and utterly oblivious to my surroundings or be at the wheel and eye on the prize, err road. When travelling solo, the bus is the best seat in the house to see all oddities en route.
It may have taken longer to get from point A to point B, but bus travel suited my wallet. I also had no responsibility once I was onboard other than making sure I got to the bus on time. Just sit back and chill to your next destination…
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Australia is no Europe – or is it?
As I couldn’t leave my state due to COVID-19 restrictions, I longed for my annual Euro trip, taking travel back to basics, backpack in tow on a bare-bones budget and meeting new people from all walks of life. Australia is no Europe, but I could copy aspects of what makes travelling on that continent so great in my own backyard. Thankfully, I was stuck in a state that is big enough to escape the cold and experience summer weather in technically a winter season, matching with Europe’s glorious summer holiday period, so no FOMO felt there.
So, forget grabbing a coat for winter warmth, I was reaching for the sunnies, swimmers and sunscreen just like my European counterparts and letting summer reign. And how glorious it was.
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How I backpacked Western Australia
2020 made me look at my travels differently and to do something that I never once contemplated doing – backpacking around WA.
Independently owned Integrity Coach Lines offers a cost-effective hop on/hop off bus services from Perth to Broome and almost all in between spanning over 20 destinations. It suited the way I wanted to travel with being budget-friendly and flexible with passes ranging from 1500km ($265), 3000km ($395) and 6000km ($750).
This holiday was all about slow travel – the bus, of course, is one aspect of it. Unlike travelling throughout Europe, I wasn’t going to pass by cutesy towns frequently. This time around, the scenery was going to be much rawer and untamed journeying through the outback and the journeys even longer.
I was tempted to take advantage of Integrity’s visited destinations and thus shortening the time spent on the bus, but this trip wasn’t about blitzing the state in a month. I decided to select only a handful of destinations to visit across a vast area – Coral Bay, Exmouth and Broome – and to stay at hostels that were surprisingly busy.
I felt like I was travelling elsewhere again
WA was a haven for so many internationals caught up in the pandemic that has raged on – and still is. Many travellers stuck in the right place at the wrong time and lucky enough to be able to fulfil their travel dreams, keeping calm and carry on exploring Australia.
I first arrived at Coral Bay just after 10am on the back of an overnight bus trip. Falling asleep and waking up at the beach was the most effortless travel one could ask for. Coral Bay is like WA’s Las Vegas – a famed strip in the middle of nowhere and vivid in colour. That is where the sameness stops as unlike the party capital of the world, Coral Bay has all-natural allure, with the Ningaloo Reef its adult playground.
Soon after I checked into my private hostel room at the resort-like Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers, and waltzed into the pool area, I heard all sorts of accents. I was relishing being amongst people from all over the world finding themselves in this tiny coastal town.
Unlike previous backpacking trips of going to the bar on arrival or doing a walk around town to get my bearings, I headed straight to the main beach, Bill’s Bay, fins and snorkel in tow to explore the vibrant healthy corals of Ningaloo Reef just metres from shore. I would follow a daily routine: swim, snorkel, sunbake on repeat, living my best-beached whale life along the beach with new friends made at the hostel. Watching the cotton-candy sunsets over the Indian Ocean was the ultimate additional sweetener experienced in this slither of coastal paradise.
Next stop on tour was Exmouth, just a 1.5-hour bus journey north of Coral Bay. This time around, I found that backpackers lingered in Exmouth for its wealth of activities. I crossed off bucket-list experiences such as swimming with whale sharks and humpback whales, diving in world-class dive sites, and discovering the purest blue (and deserted) beaches along the Ningaloo Reef. Really, where else in the world could you fill up your days with these types of one-of-a-kind grandiose aquatic adventures?
One of the things I love about staying in communal accommodation is the ability to meet with like-minded people and sharing a spontaneous moment. Along with three backpackers sharing the same dorm, we decided to drive to Exmouth’s most famous sunset spot, Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Cars snaked around the road leading up to the picturesque white lighthouse, people waiting to catch a glimpse of the sunset over the Indian Ocean, Exmouth town and beyond. It was magical, and I felt that I appreciated the moment more so as I saw the happy faces of my new friends basking in this holiday highlight.
Last stop on the crusade around WA was Broome, the at-home alternative to Bali. Long reign summer, it was hot up there with winter days experiencing temperatures over 30 degrees. Broome is the pearl of WA for many reasons: a historical pearling town, a favoured beach hideaway and the gateway into one of the last true wilderness areas in the world, the Kimberley. The latter, an incredible place to go put the adventure cap on and explore areas such as Windjana Gorge and Dampier Peninsula for the day with Kimberley Wild Expeditions.
Flashpacker accommodation Beaches of Broome proved that budget travellers could experience a luxe life while going easy on the bank account. More like a resort, the hostel had a pool for those too lazed to walk 500m to Broome’s iconic Cable Beach. The hostel was booked out most nights with many internationals calling it home for short-period due to its comforts. I couldn’t blame them – staying there was a permanent holiday feel.
The overnight and day bus ride back to Perth was long, with numerous stops along the way to stretch the legs and buy knickknacks at roadside houses. As I was travelling on a budget, I packed a small supermarket in my bag to get me through the long trip from Broome.
Just like my previous travels, I made new friends from everywhere but here that I have continued to keep in touch. I mean, I may be on home turf but who else would I reminisce about all those wild experiences in WA’s epic sceneries with?
Distance from Perth – 1121km (11.5 hours)
Stay: Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers, Robinson St, Coral Bay WA 6701
Distance from Coral Bay – 152km (1.5 hours)
Stay: Potshot Hotel Resort, 1 Murat Rd, Exmouth WA 6707
Distance from Exmouth – 1372km (14 hours)
Stay: Beaches of Broome, 4 Sanctuary Rd, Cable Beach WA 6726
Feature image: Julia D’Orazio
See more: Western Australia travel
Julia was a guest of Integrity Coach Lines and all thoughts and opinions are that of her own.