10 Surreal Wonders of Western Australia
With its dazzling cliffs, bizarre rock formations, and otherworldly pink lakes, Western Australia's Coral Coast will fuel your wanderlust.
Western Australia’s wild and wonderful Coral Coast is a road tripper’s dream destination. Nearly every bend in the road delivers views of extraordinary natural wonders and can’t-miss opportunities to take adventure up a gear. Discover some of the most surreal places in Western Australia by hitching a ride on A Curious Quest with National Geographic Photographer Corey Arnold and KIA Sorento.
Here are 10 of the awe-inspiring sights you can see when you hit the open road in Western Australia:
Geraldton Leaning Trees
Bending and twisting like giant tree yogis, the river red gums of Greenough (13 miles south of Geraldton) grow wild along the Brand Highway. While the native river red gum (a species of eucalyptus) is widespread across Australia, the leaning variety is unique to the windswept Greenough Flats. Here, southerly breezes bend, but don’t break, the tree’s trunks. Park at the designated photo stop (about 20 minutes south of Geraldton) for the best views.
Legions of imposing limestone sentries stand watch over Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. The otherworldly scene—ancient rock pillars emerging from yellow sand—looks straight out of Star Wars. Follow the one-way Pinnacles Desert drive for dashboard views of the spires and the occasional wild emu. Rev up your Instagram a notch by posing (no climbing allowed) among the pinnacles, some standing up to 11 feet tall.
Prepare to be dazzled by the stunning Red Bluff cliff face of Kalbarri National Park. Thought to be 400 million years old and soaring more than 300 feet high, the red sandstone behemoth looms over the Indian Ocean and the rugged Kalbarri coastline below. Park on top to walk to the lofty Red Bluff and Pedrick lookouts, and hike down (2.3 miles one way) to the water on the Red Bluff to Beach Trail.
Snap your best-ever selfie framed by Kalbarri National Park’s iconic Nature’s Window sandstone arch. Sculpted by wind, weather, and the waves of an ancient shallow sea, the red-and-white-banded rock formation is perched high above the Murchison River valley. Shoot upstream through the window to capture the river gorge backdrop below.
For dizzying eagle’s-eye views of the Murchison River gorge, park and walk a short (about a third of a mile) trail to the Z-Bend lookout. The scenic—and safe—viewing spot appears perilously perched at the edge of rock overhang nearly 500 feet above the river. If you dare, power on down into the gorge on the Z-Bend River Trail: a steep and challenging hike requiring ladder climbs and a hefty dose of courage.
On the Coral Coast, short walks regularly lead to big views and even bigger adventure. Case in point: Mushroom Rock Nature Trail. The 1.9-mile loop leads down through a gorge to the ocean where you’re treated to front row views of crashing waves, the trail’s eponymous balancing rock, and other wind-and-water-sculpted sandstone formations. Make the hike at dawn or dusk and you just might see grazing kangaroos, too.
Fishermen named this rocky cove, legendary for devouring the cray pots used to catch rock lobsters. The cove and a small beach sit at the mouth of Pot Alley Gorge, a deep crevice carved in the sandstone. See sweeping ocean and cliff views from the lookout above the gorge. Explore more by hiking down the steep slopes to the secluded beach, backed by 65-foot-high sandstone cliffs.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
A natural cocktail of sun, salt, and beta carotene-producing algae gives the water in shallow Hutt Lagoon its trademark cotton candy blush. Commercial micro-algae farming produces the deeper shades of pink seen in the lagoon’s manmade aquaculture ponds. Add the bright blue Indian Ocean (separated from the lagoon by a narrow strip of land) to the mix and the result is a liquid rainbow best viewed from the air on a Pink Lake Scenic Flyover Tour.
Bowes River Mouth
Watch daredevil surfers ride the reef and beach breaks on either side of Bowes River Mouth, the sweet spot in Horrocks where the Bowes River meets the Indian Ocean. A rock-reef intertidal platform creates consistent waves in the no-frills surfing and surf fishing zone. For off-road thrills and scenic views, follow the 4WD tracks along the Bowes River sandstone escarpment.
Unleash your inner thrill seeker on an adrenaline-pumping ride through Western Australia’s largest sand dunes. Covering roughly 500 acres, the Lancelin dunes are a powder-white sandbox for off-roading, dirt biking, and sandboarding. Roar across the windswept sand, watching out for hazards like knife-edge dune crests with dangerously sheer drops on the back side. Bring or rent a board to surf the sandy slopes.