Going West: The Lesser Travelled Roads of WA

Exploring the coastal crags of Western Australia

Feature type Story

Read time 9 min read

Published Apr 07, 2021

Author Matt Pickles

Photographer Matt Pickles

Matt Pickles

Western Australia. It’s not really somewhere that springs to mind when you think of places to go rock climbing. Even WA locals are generally trying to escape to the ‘better’ climbing locations around Australia; the Blue Mountains, Tasmania or, of course, the jewel in Australia’s climbing crown – The Grampians. But given the latter has effectively been banned for the foreseeable future due to ongoing conflicts with Parks Victoria (which we won’t go into here), and that international travel is currently off the cards for most of us, it means that we’ve all got to start looking a bit closer to home for new and adventurous places to visit.

Ellie May climbing on the oh-so-good Stainless-Steel Wall at Wilyabrup

Ellie May climbing on the oh-so-good Stainless-Steel Wall at Wilyabrup

Perth is recognised globally as one of the most remote cities in the world, which sounds cool, but generally just means it’s a pain to get to and is actually just miles away from anything. Normally this isn’t that much of a good of a thing, unless you like driving, lots of driving. But given the pandemic of the last year, its remoteness has actually worked out very much in Perth’s favour. Western Australia was quick to close its border off to the world (and the rest of OZ) when the pandemic first hit, leaving it pretty much unscathed. Covid just isn’t a thing here. Restrictions have been minimal, things have been open and travel around Western Australia has been largely unrestricted.

I was lucky enough to ‘get in’ early and have been slowly trying to explore some of the areas closer to Perth and see what was on offer. I took my van, my camera and set off to see what I could find.

Hutt Lagoon's iconic colouring comes from the presence of the carotenoid-producing algae, dunaliella salina - which is a source of beta-carotene; a food-colouring agent and a great source of Vitamin A.

Hutt Lagoon’s iconic colouring comes from the presence of the carotenoid-producing algae, dunaliella salina – which is a source of beta-carotene; a food-colouring agent and a great source of Vitamin A.

The lake contrasts beautifully with the shallow turquoise water of the reef and the deep blues of the Indian ocean beyond.

The lake contrasts beautifully with the shallow turquoise water of the reef and the deep blues of the Indian ocean beyond.

The pink dying algae is meant to be great for the skin, but I’d probably give the swimming a miss!

The pink dying algae is meant to be great for the skin, but I’d probably give the swimming a miss!

Pink Lake, Port Gregory

When it first appears through the trees, at first you can’t quite believe it’s real, but as you get closure it most definitely is. The pink lake is well, very pink. Contrasted with the beautiful blue hues of the ocean it’s a photographer’s dream. These vivid colours are something you see a lot of in WA and don’t ever get used to. It’s like someone pushed the saturation slider way too far to the right and forgot to bring it back down. Except they didn’t. The sea is that blue, the sand that white, the desert that orange, and yes, the pink lake – that pink.

Copper Rocks from above, Dunsborough.

Copper Rocks from above, Dunsborough.

Bouldering at Copper Rocks. At the right time of year migrating humpbacks can be seen in the shallows, just a stone’s throw from the shore.

Bouldering at Copper Rocks. At the right time of year migrating humpbacks can be seen in the shallows, just a stone’s throw from the shore.

Margaret River

Famous for its wine and big surf, Margaret river is 3.5 hours south of Perth, so well within easy reach of the weekend warrior. What it’s not as well known for though, is the climbing. But with newly developed boulders scattered along the coast and limestone sea cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean, it’s any adventurers dream and well worth checking out. Who could resist a cheeky surf in the morning, bouldering at lunch, a touch of sport climbing in the arvo and craft beer to wrap up the day in the evening? Perfect, right?

Two friends trade waves one breezy morning.

Two friends trade waves one breezy morning.

Who could resist a cheeky surf in the morning, bouldering at lunch, a touch of sport climbing in the arvo and craft beer to wrap up the day in the evening?

Misha McCartney climbing one of the highball V3s on offer at Whaleback boulders. One of the best you’ll find at the grade.

Misha McCartney climbing one of the highball V3s on offer at Whaleback boulders. One of the best you’ll find at the grade.

Paul Donovan ‘Toy Shopping’ at Bobs Hollow. A 26, or 7b+ in euro money. Just have to watch out for the local snakes who seem to like the pockets as much as the climbers.

Paul Donovan ‘Toy Shopping’ at Bobs Hollow. A 26, or 7b+ in euro money. Just have to watch out for the local snakes who seem to like the pockets as much as the climbers.

Albany and the South Coast

The south coast and Southern Ocean are wild. And it doesn’t take much to remind you that once you leave the coastline, there’s nothing all the way until Antarctica. Big seas, strong winds and of course, big sharks.

West Cape Howe is the most southerly point in WA. It’s sea cliff climbing at its finest, 4WD only access, and one hell of a place for a highline. Remote and adventurous and not a place for the faint hearted, it’s Western Australia’s answer to Gogarth.

That is, until you find the coves and inlets around Albany. A former whaling port, with a multitude of hidden beaches and calm waters, they provide some respite from the howling winds of the Southern Ocean and are the perfect spot for a kayak or a snorkel. Big granite wave washed slabs on one side, tranquil swimming spots on the other.

Torndirrup National Park.

Torndirrup National Park.

Stirling Range National Park

Home of WA’s second highest peak, Bluff Knoll (the highest being Mount Meharry, which is up in the Pilbara, but too far for me to drive and way too many flies for anyone to enjoy). Akin to climbing on the mountain crags of the Lake district or North Wales, the approaches are long and the rock sometimes questionable, but the routes are fantastic. The 4hr approach is a good filter meaning you’re pretty likely to have the place to yourselves. This place epitomises the spirit of adventure, and those willing to take the plunge will be duly rewarded.

The Aboriginal name for the range is Koi Kyenunu-ruff, meaning ‘mist rolling around the mountains’ –which even on the most benign days is frequently seen and catches many people off-guard. The range is also one of few places in Western Australia where snow occasionally falls.

Esperance

And after all that, you probably just want to sit on a beach, right? Get away from it all, no people, no signal, maybe even pat a kangaroo.

Well, keep driving to Esperance and you’ll get it. Probably home to the some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the whitest sand and the bluest water. Lucky bay is famous for its tourist friendly kangaroos, but give it a miss, keep walking and find some solitude. There’s an abundance of rock here just waiting to be climbed, with boulders around every corner of all shapes and sizes. But there’s very little climbing. And to be honest it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because some roads are better left less travelled.

About the author

Matt grew up in West Yorkshire, learning to climb on the gritstone boulders around his hometown of Todmorden, with the obligatory spell in Sheffield to ‘get strong’. Having failed in that he moved to Sydney in 2016 to escape the drizzle and follow a life in the sun whilst continuing his passion for seeing the world. He hopes to get back to Europe sometime soon as he misses proper beer, and as we all know – a good boomerang always comes back.

You can follow him at @_mattpickles_ and at pickledlens.com

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