One of the finest times of the year to go exploring in the South West is during the winter months. Everything is green and lush, the rivers and falls are flowing, the morning dew makes it all fresh and clean and you don’t have to worry about the heat or the flies bothering you.
There are some spectacular gems in the South West, hidden away just waiting to be discovered. I have put together a list of unique family friendly outdoor adventures, some are very physically easy and others are more challenging.
Being in nature is a great way to de stress and connect as a family. My boys seem to thrive outdoors and on our adventures I notice them become calmer and happier and at night time they sleep soundly.
1. Boranup Karri Forest, Boranup
The Boranup Karri Forest is pure magic. It is full of stunning pale-barked Karri trees that can grow up to sixty metres tall or higher and coming into spring time the ground is covered in beautiful wildflowers.
This Karri forest is so rare because not only it is home to many underground caves but it is also so close to the ocean. Boranup Forest is the furthest west that these statuesque Karri trees (the third tallest trees in the world) will grow.
The combination of ancient trees and the sea breeze creates an environment to soothe and refresh the soul. Just the smell of the forest alone is incredible – I wish I could bottle it!
You can take a scenic drive through the tall timber trees to the Boranup Lookout where you can see the forest, farmland and the coast. There is a picnic table at the lookout and a camping ground nearby.
Nestled in the forest lies a beautiful family friendly café aptly named Café Boranup. The chef creates delicious, gourmet, hearty meals with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.
The kids’ menu is great; my boys were most impressed with their quirky babycinos.
Inside the cafe there are cosy couches with cushions, blankets, books, board games and toys.
Outside, you can sit and enjoy your meal over a peaceful view of the Boranup Forest with some Splendid Fairy (blue) wrens to keep you company.
There is also a great outdoor kids’ area with tables and chairs, games, toys and room to play.
Next door to the café is the Boranup Gallery, displaying works of art and handcrafted furniture from local designers and artists.
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2. Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, Dunsborough
In the 1800’s many ships crashed against the rocks as they were making their way to the West Australian coast so the government decided to build a lighthouse.
The mirrors which reflect the light were custom made by a company in England. The factory that made these mirrors later burnt to the ground and no more were made. The original mirrors are still in operation at lighthouse today and are now considered to be almost priceless.
The lighthouse was built out of limestone bricks that were cut out of Bunker Bay and carted up the hill by wagon. Three cottages were also built for the lighthouse keepers and their families. Three people were needed to keep the lighthouse going at night because the keepers had to carry buckets full or kerosene all the way to the top of the lighthouse to keep the flame going. After four hours of inhaling these fumes the keepers were prone to passing out so for the safety of the keepers and the boats they would do a change over.
The lighthouse was completed in 1903 and is a testament to the people who built and still maintain it because it is still in immaculate working condition today, except for the kerosene lamp. That was removed for a safer and modern option but it is still on display in one of the cottages.
Due the lighthouse being built on the top of a hill, it is naturally elevated and there are only 59 steps to the top. My two year old climbed up and back unaided (with me right next to him for safety) and wanted to do it again!
The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the trip. You can see the Indian Ocean meet Leeuwin National Park, Sugar Loaf Rock and from September to December you might even see a few migrating whales.
Near the entrance is a kiosk set up in one of the cottages where you can purchase light refreshments with tables, chairs, games and a bouncy castle for the kids outside.
3. Ellensbrook Homestead & Meekadarabee Falls, Cowaramup
The original homestead was built in the 1800’s which was home to the first European settlers in the region, Alfred and Ellen Bussell. It is still standing today and is well cared for by the National Trust. On weekends you can go inside and view the building and get a sense of how people lived back in the day.
The picnic grounds at Ellensbrook are just beautiful. There is lots of green grass and space to run around, trees, picnic tables, a stream, ocean views and public toilets.
The journey to and from Meekadarabee Falls is enjoyable and physically easy with well cared for paths suitable for prams. Walking along in nature amongst the wild gooseberry trees listening to the stream and falls flowing and birds singing is so relaxing and rejuvenating.
The path to the falls starts near the Ellensbrook homestead and is a 40 minute round trip. My family and I like to go for a walk and explore the falls and then come back to the homestead grounds for a picnic under the trees by the stream.
4. Jewel Cave, Augusta
Tucked away in the Karri forest of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge is the enchanting Jewel Cave. It is the biggest show cave in Western Australia and is home to one of the longest straw stalactites, on show to the public, in the world.
Guided tours bring the cave to life with colourful lights, stories and interesting information about the dazzling array of formations in the cave.
The cave has well defined walk ways and platforms with railings for safety.
The guided tour of the cave is moderately physically challenging; most of the walk is pretty easy but there are some areas with steeper stairs where little children may need some assistance.
Outside of the cave there is indoor area with seating, educational information, toys, public toilets and a café.
5. Quinninup Falls, Yallingup
The journey to Quinninup Falls is every bit as beautiful as the falls themselves but while the walk is very rewarding it is also the most physically challenging activity on this list.
Before you leave, make sure you tell someone where you are going, take plenty of water and allow yourself enough sunlight to get there and back. As a guide it takes approximately 45 minutes to walk to the falls and almost an hour to walk back, depending on your fitness level and age of your children. We had a two year old that we carried most of the way and a four year old that walked all the way there (big feat for a little one) but needed to be carried on the way back. Also factor in time to spend exploring the falls. All up the trip took my family around two hours.
To get to the falls park your car at the Moses Road carpark. On your left you will see toilets and a viewing platform and to the right is the path to the falls. At the start of the path there are three small wooden posts and some large bushes either side. As you are walking along keep a look out for the Cape to Cape Track signs, if you can see them you are going the right way!
The path to and from Quinninup Falls varies from flat and easy to rocky and uneven. There are also few big sand dunes that are a breeze coming down, but physically challenging climbing up.
The view is breathtaking and well worth the effort. At the start of the walk you can see and hear the waves crashing against the shore and surfers enjoying the ocean. There is a bridge with a stream running underneath it, you then walk out into red dirt plane before the land dips and weaves and Quinninup Falls appears.
The sudden change between the ocean and sand dunes and the waterfall is almost surprising and a welcome contrast. One minute you can hear the wind and the waves crashing against the shore and then you step down into a small, quiet, green sanctuary and the sound of the rushing waterfall takes centre stage.
6. Sugarloaf Rock, Dunsborough
Sugarloaf Rock is one of those places you just have to go and visit yourself to see what the fuss is about.
I would see people all the time taking photos of Sugarloaf and posting them on Instagram and I didn’t get it. I thought it was just big rock and I could not understand why it was such a big deal until I saw it from the top of the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and thought I would stop by on the way home.
As my son and I were driving over the hill and saw Sugarloaf up close for the first time we both said “wow!” out loud.
Sugarloaf is a staggering sea sculptured granite rock emerging from the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It has a presence that invokes awe and I now can see why it’s one of the most photographed coastal landforms in the South West.
You can see it fine from the car park but there is also an elevated lookout to get a closer view. The platform is close to the car park and the climb is physically easy.
Animals love Sugarloaf Rock too. There is often sighting of dolphins swimming nearby, sometimes alongside surfers! Between July and December Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales migrate to this region and can, on occasion, be seen from the platform.
The area around Sugarloaf Rock is a nature reserve and home to sea nesting birds like the Red Tailed Tropic bird.
7. Whale Watching, Augusta
One of the best experiences my family and I have shared so far was meeting a Southern Right Wale in Augusta. It was such a beautiful touching moment that my boys were hugging each other with pure joy.
The Southern Right and Humpback Whales are only in Augusta for a few months of the year, between June to August. They migrate from Antarctica for the winter to give birth in the warm sheltered waters of Flinders Bay.
The second point of call is Geographe Bay in Busselton. They migrate there with their new calves between September and early December and catch up with the Minke Whales and the largest mammals in the whole world, The Endangered Blue Whales.
My family had the pleasure of going whale watching on a spacious luxury catamaran with Whale Watch Western Australia. The “Steep Point” has comfy lounges, heating, toilets, a TV, a bar and a VIP Captains Lounge indoors and five viewing decks with seating outdoors.
Whales are wild animals and you can’t make them appear at your beck and call but on our tour a Southern Right Whale came right up to our boat. She was swimming and rolling around in the water, lifting her fins and blowing air and water out of her blowhole.
It was such an incredible experience that I think everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.