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Me and J are simple people. How do simple people plan travel destinations with kids?
Here are the steps:
Step 1: figure out how many hours in the air we’re willing to spend with our offspring.
Step 2: go to Google Flights, plug in the number hours (see Step 1), see what the options are, prioritize direct flights, prioritize places we haven’t yet explored.
That’s about it. Done.
And that’s how we arrived on our decision to visit Western Australia for a family vacation: we figured we could survive any direct flight for up to about 7 hours from our home in Thailand. At six hours and forty-five minutes, Western Australia, Perth to be exact, ticked all the boxes (just).
In 2016, we traveled to New Zealand and fell in love with the experience of exploring, road-tripping, and camping. We were hoping to somehow recreate that adventure, this time with our little plus one.
A word about our itinerary: Australia is a big place. And by big we mean MASSIVE. And we only had about 14 days – we did a LOT of driving. We love road trips and J actually loves wide-open driving, so it worked for us.
Since Karijini National Park was on our must-see list, our plan was to head straight there. This was to get the longer drives out of the way during the first week of the trip, then relax a bit on the way back down to Perth.
Our overall strategy with the little one was to make our longest drive of the day during his after lunch nap time. L, almost two years old at the time, did great with this arrangement. Even the long driving days were fun because he started looking forward to getting “water for the car” (gas) and running around at the rest stops.
Wanting to get the most zzz’s out of our toddler, we chose the flight that departed from Bangkok around midnight (we’re not completely nuts).
By the time we landed, we were greeted by the morning sun down under. We made Perth our entry and exit point. Although we were tempted to explore the south, we looked at the weather forecast and planned to set out north, up the coast of WA instead.
We set up at Quest Mounts Bay Road, a centrally located hotel right next to Jacob’s Ladder and King’s Park where we could see the beautiful cityscape of Perth from above.
Perth wasted no time charming us. It had all the perks of city life but felt very laid back at the same time. And blissfully cool compared to the heat we had left in Bangkok.
We explored the neighborhood around our hotel by foot and ended up at Elizabeth Quay, a small harbor surrounded by cafes, restaurants, play areas, a carousel, and BHP Water Park. Our boy had a blast – it did not go well trying to explain to a happy wet toddler that it was time to go!
Compared to Bangkok, we found Perth (and all of WA) to be extremely kid-friendly in terms of outdoor facilities – tons of awesome playgrounds!
Day Two: Perth to Sandy Cape – 239 km – 2h 40m
As much as we were enjoying Perth, the main event for us city-dwellers was…getting out of the city!
Our trip was a bit last minute so we were frantically searching for appropriate wheels. Thankfully, we stumbled upon ShareACamper. We’d never heard of it before, but it was great! It’s an AirBnB-like concept except for vehicles and very active in Australia and New Zealand. Very easy to use, just put in your pick up spot and travel dates and you’ll get vehicle options. After reserving the car, you’re mostly dealing with the vehicle owners themselves, so we settled all the details and arrange a time to pick up the car.
So, the next day we picked up our sweet ride and our home for the next 2 weeks: a 4WD pick up truck with a built in tent on top, or “Tent Car!” according to our toddler.
Oh, before I forget, I have to mention that the tent on top of the car was completely automatic! There’s a chord that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and with the push a button, 30 seconds later our room for the night was all set up. Easiest camping we’ve ever done!
The truck came with everything else we needed as well: bedding, towels, stove, gas for the stove, cooking kit, chairs, a table, ladder, etc. Very, very easy.
Speaking of easy, to help guide our trip we used an app called Campermate which is amazing. It not only helps you find campgrounds, but gas stations, supermarkets, dump stations (if you’re in a big RV), public showers, toilets, and points of interest. We would have been lost without this app! We used Campermate in New Zealand too.
The campsite, Sandy Cape Recreation Park, was lovely and just a short walk away from a deserted beautiful white sand beach with tons of sand dunes for our little one to play on. The cost was about AUD $20 per night for the campsite – kids under 3 years old stay for free.
Day Three: Sandy Cape to Gladstone Bay – 523 km – 5h 30m
After a relaxing morning at Sandy Cape, it was time to hit the road. We timed our stop in Geraldton around lunch and used the opportunity to stock up on gas, groceries, and goodies before heading north to the Shark Bay World Heritage area.
By late afternoon, we settled into Gladstone Bay Campground for the night.
Gladstone Bay wasn’t a destination for us, mainly a stop based on how tired J was and how far we felt we could travel towards Karijini that day. That said, we were satisfied – we had a site fronting the beach, with a great view for sunset and sunrise.
The campground was basic, but had the essentials: flush toilets and an outback shower. The cost was about $10 AUD per person and children under 16 years old stay free. Again, we really relied on the Campermate app and we were able to be flexible and make a last minute decision after doing a quick search.
Day Four: Gladstone Bay to The Middle of Nowhere – 573 km – 6 hours
Day four we really got a feel for the vastness and remoteness of Australia as we left the coast and headed into the bush. Our grocery and gas and stop was Carnarvon, a tiny town of only about 4,400 people, but felt very much like the big city compared to what awaited us on the road.
Australia is truly massive and some parts are extremely desolate. Sometimes we found ourselves alone for miles and miles. We passed signs that said these roads are also used as emergency airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and why not? Seems like a great use of empty asphalt.
You’ve been warned: You will see a ton of “sleeping” kangaroos laying on the side of the road in varying states of decomposition. Just a heads up for parents of young kids!
We ended the day at House Creek Rest Area, a free campsite on the road to Karijini with a pit toilet, rubbish bins, some picnic tables and not much more. Don’t be fooled by the tranquil photo that we took the next morning: the campsite comes with complimentary pesky flies and ants that will drive you insane.
Especially the flies.
You will definitely know that you are in the outback because of these flies!
This will not be the last time I mention the flies!
Probably not a big deal to locals, but we definitely were not used to them.
And by “them” I mean “the flies!”
Anyway, they seemed much more aggressive in the evening. The next morning, we were greeted with the chirping of loads of friendly birds which we all enjoyed a lot more than the flies(!).
In fairness to the House Creek Rest Area – the toddler was fine, it was the adults who were fed up. And we would have had a better time if we had been more prepared. Head nets, definitely head nets!
And, wow, the stars were amazing! Not much light pollution way out there!
Day Five: House Creek Rest Area to Karijini National Park – 334 km – 4h 30m
Day Six: Karijini National Park
After securing our campsite at Dales Campground, we wasted no time exploring. Dales is another basic set up: no drinking water, but there are toilets and some barbecues. It cost about $20 AUD for the three of us: kids under 5 are free.
Dales is great because it’s just a short walk from Fortescue Falls, Fern Pool and Circular Pool – offering J a much deserved break from being behind the wheel.
That first afternoon, we hiked down to see the beautiful Fern Pool, where J took a dip in the cold water. The tropical girl in me just could not take the coldness of the water at that time of the day!
You will see a lot of eucalyptus tree in Australia. A lot a lot. As I’m putting together this post I just read that they even have their own National Day in Australia on March 23!
After so much time on the road, we encouraged the toddler to walk our around as much as we could. We also brought a balance bike so he could scoot along the trail. Those tires were nice and red from the Outback dust well after we returned to Thailand!
We spent the entire next day exploring the park, enjoying the beautiful scenery, stretching our legs, and taking a bit of rest from the road.
Our first stop on the second day was Fortescue Falls and because we’re early risers, we were able to enjoy the spot before the crowd arrived. I even took a dip in the water! It was chilly but J was able to convince me to jump in. I’m glad I took the dip. It was beautiful…and warmer near the falls!
Near the water, the trail is very step-like, which was perfect for L too. He enjoyed “mountain climbing” up and down the rocks surrounding the falls.
There are also saw a bunch of gorges around the park which you’re able to see from various view points. This view is from Joffre Gorge, which to me was the most beautiful gorge in the park. Check out the tiny people in the photo for some scale:
Our toddler really took notice of the massive “termite houses” all over the park. We heard that they are at least three times bigger underneath the ground than what is visible on the surface!
There are really only two places to stay at Karijini National Park, so on the second night we camped over at Karijini Eco Retreat. Much more developed than Dales Campground, you can go full-on glamping style and pay hundreds of dollars for the premium package. We stuck with an unpowered campsite for about $20 AUD.
They also have a restaurant for a nice break from camp food. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can feast on emu, kangaroo, and crocodile sausages – although we did not have the nerve to try!
Day Seven: Karijini National Park to Coral Bay (“Truck Appreciation Day”) – 626 km – 8 hours
Now for the big one: getting back to the coast from Karijini.
This day wasn’t as bad as you might think actually. Maybe because we were dreading the drive so much and expecting a massive amount of pain that by the time we actually hit the road, the drive seemed bearable. It was a long day of being on the road of course, but we had a bit of fun with it – J called it “Truck Appreciation Day.”
It helped breaking it chunks. We started very early and took a break every 2.5 hours or so. In the end, it took us about 8 hours.
Part of the fun of traveling in Australia is when you come across road signs along the way which remind you that there is nowhere else in the world besides Australia where you can see signs like this! We also encountered vandalized signs where people put the letter A in front and back of the word “stray” making it read ASTRAYA ANIMALS, which for some reason really made J and I laugh.
Maybe because there wasn’t much to see on this stretch of road, or maybe the 8 hours on the road with a toddler was starting to make us crazy.
And just at the point of total delirium – Coral Bay!
Ah, hard to put into words how nice it was to see the ocean after a few days in the bush!
First things first, secure our campsite. We went with an unpowered site at Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview for about $45 AUD. Much more expensive that we were used to paying, but they had many more amenities including a playground and a baby/toddler pool. Very, very welcome at this point in our trip.
After setting up camp (er, parking the Tent Car) went to straight to check out the beach. And it’s immediately obvious why Coral Bay is such a hit with both locals and tourists.
First, and most notably, the water in the bay was very clear and full of sea life. J even saw a manta ray swimming by when he was only knee deep in the water.
Second, the bay is quite protected which makes the water very still and safe, perfect for families with small children.
Third, this is a famous place to snorkel. We booked a glass bottom boat tour since our toddler was not yet old enough to snorkel (not that we’re above handing over our offspring to total strangers so we can enjoy the water, as we did in Coron, Philippines).
The glass bottom boat was a great snorkel substitute. Everybody was able to see the beautiful corals and colorful fish. The guides on the boat were very knowledgeable, pointing out and describing everything we floated over, from the fish to 2000 year old giant coral. The tour also includes feeding big hungry parrot fish.
As you can see that the water is so clear that the glass bottom boat is almost unnecessary. Just peering over the side of the boat is like looking down into an aquarium.
Overall J and I thought that Coral Bay was nice, but prefer less crowded towns – we felt it was a bit too touristy. Maybe it was the contrast between the previous days of nothingness that stood out to us. In fairness, we definitely appreciated the break from the road, the sea, the pool, the non-camp food, and the playgrounds! And we didn’t snorkel or dive which is the main attraction here. You should definitely check it out if you’re into underwater activities. But be warned, Coral Bay is very popular.
And there you have it, Week 1 of our 14 Day Toddler Friendly (or at least Toddler-Tolerated) Western Australia Road Trip Itinerary!
Keep an eye out for Week 2, coming soon!
Have you decided to take a road trip in Western Australia? Here are some trip practicalities to help you plan:
- The Campermate App was really indispensable on this trip. It allowed us to be a bit spontaneous and make last-minute decisions if plans changed or we needed a break from driving
- ShareACamper, AirBnB for vehicles in Australia, really saved us when we couldn’t find a vehicle with traditional car rental companies. Plus we felt good about supporting individual vehicle owners rather than a big company.
- A balance bike was great to have on the trip – our toddler was very happy zipping around the Outback and getting his tires covered in orange dust!
Cheapest Flights to Australia:
- If you’re not already in Australia, you have to get to Australia. For cheap airfare, our first stop is always Momondo where you can sort for cheapest, quickest, and, brilliantly, best (which basically gives you an idea of how painful the flight will be on a smiley face scale from 1-10). We’ll then double check with another site like JetRadar and the airline website itself to make sure we’re getting the best price.
Best price on the hotel:
- We usually start our search on Tripadvisor and go from there. Once we settle on the cheapest option, we get further discounts by making the purchase through the Ebates/Rakuten website. For example, if a Tripadvisor search shows that Hotels.com has the lowest price, instead of going directly their website, we go to Hotels.com through the Ebates/Rakuten portal, which gives us an additional 3.5% (or whatever the the rate is that day) cash back. Easy.
TAGS: ADVENTURE, AUSTRALIA, TRAVEL WITH KIDS