A far cry from the arid outback that most people envision when they think of Australian landscape, the Golden Outback of Western Australia is a place that looks more like fairy tale than reality. Here you’ll spy kangaroos lounging on beaches, marvel at rock formations, venture into caves and experience a kaleidoscope of color through fields filled with wildflowers as far as the eye can see. For otherworldly sights and experiences, this “other outback” is well worth the trek.
One of the major highlights of the Golden Outback is Lucky Bay, a majestic oceanfront that defies all stereotypical standards for what an outback can be. Here you’ll find the whitest sands in the region, with equally striking turquoise water washing up along the coast of Cape Le Grand National Park. Idyllic for swimming and lounging, alongside leisurely kangaroos no less, the five-kilometer bay also offers four-wheel driving tours and between July and October, migrating whales can be viewed off the shores. A bit inland, you’ll find a series of hiking trails and walking paths, most of which afford incredible views of the Recherche Archipelago. The bay also has campgrounds with picnic areas, and for those staying overnight, the beach gets even more enchanting at night, lit up with stars that illuminate the beach.
From June through the end of the year, Western Australia bursts with color, as the largest collection of wildflowers on Earth comes into bloom. More than 12,000 species, 60% of which don’t grow anywhere else on the planet, can be found in the Golden Outback, stretching from coastline to canyons and everywhere in between. The flowers are hard to miss, especially if you come later in the year, but they’re best viewed via walking trail or scenic drive. The Everlastings Wildflower Trail that stretches from Cervantes to Mullewa is a particularly good one, or drive from Esperance to Bremer Bay.
For avid hikers and/or geologists, the world’s largest monolith beckons. Mount Augustus rises like a colossus from the outback, soaring to a height of 860 meters with an enormous 49-kilometer base trail accessible via four-wheel drive. Naturally, rock climbing and hiking are popular activities here, along with camping and bird-watching. The mountain is steeped in ancient history too, as aboriginal rock art can be seen throughout the grounds and on cave walls. Gum trees, shrubs and abundant wildlife (koalas, kangaroos and honeyeaters are regular sights) populate the terrain, which shifts from red and blue hues to tints of gold and orange as the sun sets, making this one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful settings in the region.
The largest waves in the Golden Outback are actually made of stone. This visually striking natural formation reaches 15 meters in height and 110 meters in length, comprised of angular, wave-like rocks that have been eroded over hundreds of millions of years. Wave Rock is close to Hyden, roughly three to four hours from Perth, making it a nice little day trip. Hiking trails run along the base of the formation and overtop, providing different vistas of the unusual landscape. Located near Wave Rock, Mulka Cave is a subterranean expanse rich with aboriginal lore. It’s named after the son of a woman who was born out of a forbidden marriage, and who had crossed eyes as a curse for breaking such taboos. Although Mulka grew to great height and strength, his condition prevented him from successfully hunting, and thus was banished to the cave.
National parks, bays and caves aren’t the only attractions in the Golden Outback. Man-made marvels like the Inside Australia exhibit, the largest outdoor gallery on the planet, are just as destination-worthy. The handiwork of Antony Gormley, the sprawling gallery expands 10 square kilometers, outfitted with 51 black chromium steel sculptures scattered throughout Lake Ballard’s white salt plains. Day tours are offered out of Kalgoorlie, but the exhibit is also accessible via personal vehicle, a 45-minute drive from Menzies. For the best vantage point, ascend to the top of the hill and look out over the series of sculptures. Come early morning or late afternoon for the best views, as shadows extend across the plains connecting the sculptures together.
The largest city in the outback is rich with history all its own. Filled with grandiose colonial architecture, Kalgoorlie was the area’s most prized destinations in Western Australia’s gold rush, making it a mining Mecca in the late 1800’s. The Super Pit, one of the largest open mines in existence, serves as an incredible reminder of the city’s past, with guided tours of the 3.5-kilometer mine available for visitors. The city today is nowhere near the stereotypically dusty and baron ghost towns of frequent gold rush lore, though. Hannan Street in the city center bustles with bars, restaurants and activity, while hotels, campgrounds and caravan parks provide ample lodging and world-class art is on display at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder WA Museum. Additionally, the longest golf course in the world, Nullarbor Links, is a short drive from the city.