Imagine rugged coastlines, sweeping yellow desert sands, a dreamy pink lake, and colourful coral reefs all waiting for you, right on your doorstep. The Coral Coast Highway stretches 1,250 kilometres from Perth to Exmouth and is one of the most scenic road trips in Australia boasting otherworldly natural beauty unfound anywhere else on earth.
Here’s your guide to road-tripping Australia's Coral Coast and every stop you need to make along the way.
The Route: Perth to Cervantes
Your journey will begin with an exceptionally beautiful two-hour drive heading north from Perth along the rugged Indian Ocean coastline. Your first nights’ stay will be in Cervantes, but before arriving in this quaint coastal town, make a stop at the ancient Pinnacles Desert of Nambung National Park. Here you’ll discover a landscape of impressive limestone pillars covering a vast yellow desert oasis. While driving through the national park, be sure to keep an eye for furry and fluffy locals like kangaroos and emus. From there, drive north to Cervantes and check into your accommodation. On your way out of Cervantes, be sure to stop by Lake Thetis to see the living fossils of Thrombolites.
Drive time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
The Route: Cervantes to Geraldton
From Cervantes, you’ll continue your journey north to the seaside town of Geraldton. There’s plenty to explore here but diving beneath the waves at Hansen Bay and having a picnic at Ellendale Pool need to be top of your list. If you've got time, the Houtman Abrolhos Islands (a chain of 122 different islands approximately 100 kilometres long) lies off the coast of Geraldton. Hop aboard a fishing charter, live-aboard cruise or experience the islands beauty via a scenic flight. Aside from spectacular natural scenery, Geraldton also has a top-notch gastronomy scene, so fuel up for the day ahead at Piper Lane or Jaffle Shack. On your way from Geraldton to Kalbarri, make a stop at Northampton’s Oakabella Homestead for lunch set to the backdrop of the dramatic country landscape. From there, continue north to the famous and captivating pink lake, Hutt Lagoon. You’ve definitely seen Hutt Lagoon’s dreamlike pink hues grace your ‘Gram discovery page but nothing does it justice like seeing it in person. Once you’ve soaked up the dazzling scenes here, continue to Kalbarri.
Drive time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
The Route: Geraldton to Kalbarri
Where the Murchison River intersects with the Indian Ocean, Kalbarri is teeming with adrenaline-fuelled activities like kayaking, quad-biking, and snorkelling the Blue Holes. Lace-up your hiking boots and set out on one of WA's most spectacular coastal walks, the Bigurda Trail. The hike is eight kilometres one way, which takes approximately two to three hours to complete. Kicking off at Eagle Gorge, you’ll wind around dramatic coastal cliffs dotted with wildflowers all the way to the Natural Bridge. As the name suggests, it’s a limestone bridge that’s been carved away from the cliff by the ocean. For more adrenaline-packed adventures, check out the new Skywalk in Kalbarri National Park where you’ll trek 100 metres above the Murchison River. If you’re keen to tackle everything Kalbarri has to offer we recommend staying a few nights before hitting the road again and heading north to Shark Bay.
Drive time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
The Route: Kalbarri to Shark Bay
As a proud World Heritage Area and the first location in Western Australia to receive UNESCO status in 1991, Shark Bay is an absolute must-do when road-tripping the Coral Coast Highway. Shark Bay is a refuge for thousands of flora and fauna like 12 species of seagrass, 10,000 dugongs, five of Australia's 26 species of endangered mammals and the oldest living fossils on Earth, the Hamelin Pool Stromatolites. To meet some of the animals that made this part of the world so famous, head to Monkey Mia Beach and you'll be greeted by a pod of friendly dolphins come feeding time. For anyone who loves a touch of relaxation, throw down a towel at the world-famous Shell Beach that's made up of millions of tiny white shells, enjoy a picnic at Little Lagoon, and soak in the hot tub at Peron Homestead. For anyone chasing adventure, hop in your 4WD (or go with an eco-tour) and head to Francois Peron National Park. Here you’ll find steep cliffs and a red desert intersecting with white sandy beaches and azure blue waters. Once you’ve explored here, it’s time to jump in the car and head to Coral Bay.
Drive time: 4 hours and 10 minutes
The Route: Shark Bay to Coral Bay
As you drive towards Coral Bay you’ll pass the tropical fruit town of Carnarvon, where you can stop off to sample fresh, local produce and seafood. If you’re travelling between May and October, take a drive along the Fruit Loop Drive Trail to pick up fresh fruit and veg from roadside plantation stalls (bring cash) and visit the Insta-famous Cactus Garden. Once you reach Coral Bay, you'll be greeted with colourful coral gardens glistening beneath the waves just metres from the shoreline. It's the ultimate laid-back seaside paradise just begging to be explored. Home to the famous Ningaloo Reef, here you can swim with local manta rays, whale sharks, turtles or humpback whales. Or if you prefer to stay above the water, you can see the coral gardens without getting wet, onboard a glass-bottom boat. Soak up the sun at Paradise Beach before hitting the patio at Bill’s Bar and indulge in a few sundowners. Once you’ve explored everything Coral Bay has to offer, drive one hour and 40 minutes to Exmouth. Just west of the town lies Cape Range National Park, home to rugged limestone ranges and breathtaking deep canyons such as Yardie Creek that are well-worth exploring. Exmouth is home to an airport if you choose to fly back to Perth (once restrictions have eased and it's safe to do so, of course) or you can begin your drive back south to Perth. Just be sure to stop and see everything you didn't get a chance to on the way up.
Drive time: 5 hours and 40 minutes
Boasting otherworldly beauty unseen anywhere else on earth, when road-tripping the Coral Coast Highway, it’s clear the journey is the destination. Go on, there's no better reason to holiday here this year.