Taking the Indian Ocean Drive up to the southern part of the Coral Coast, particularly during wildflower season, makes Cervantes an excellent day trip or first stop on a journey north.
No visit to the area is complete without taking in the Pinnacles Desert in the Nambung National Park, home to thousands of golden limestone spires that stand up to five metres tall. Explore the park on the 1.2km walking trail, which is stunning at sunrise or sunset.
Further north, and separated by the Irwin River, the twin towns of Dongara and Port Denison form a charming, romantic hub with a warm and friendly community.
Take a stroll from the museum, around historic buildings to the marina, where you’ll discover captivating stories of local shipwrecks.
A visit to this area is a must for seafood lovers, and the good news is, you can enjoy the produce without having to catch it first. Local seafood (including the coveted Western Rock Lobsters) is on the menu at cafes along the coast, and can be bought fresh if you want to cook it yourself.
It won’t take long to work up an appetite – the towns of Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Green Head, Leeman, Dongara and Port Denison all offer ideal conditions for water sports. Get your fill of fishing, snorkelling, diving, boating, windsurfing and kitesurfing. Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Green Head and Dongara all have boat ramps.
To see the area’s wildflowers and fauna, lace up your boots and set off on one of the many walking trails, or explore the caves of Stockyard Gully National Park.
In the 90s, comedian Billy Connolly’s nudie run put the Pinnacles on the map. Follow the streaking trend through the spires if you must – but don’t get your bits burned!
Take a walk on the wild side, and see wildflowers and wildlife on trails through the bush to beautiful beaches.
Let off steam with a spot of kayaking, kitesurfing, sailing and windsurfing.
Fish for blue manna crabs off the coast of Dongara.
Marvel at marine life while scuba diving or snorkelling, or take a boat tour to spot sea lions and whales.
Hire a sandboard and head to Sandy Cape to ride down the dunes.
Catch a drive-in movie in Port Denison – Saturday nights, all through summer.
Explore the Pinnacles and vast coastline from above, by taking a chopper flight.
Camp on the beach under a blanket of stars.
See the Stromatolites – the world’s oldest living organisms – at Lake Thetis.
The Pinnacles Desert.
Take in a picture show at the Dongara Denison Drive-in. This 1960s cinema, run by the local surf club, screens flicks every second Saturday night from October until May. Sit in the back of utes under the stars, gather on camp chairs, or snuggle up in the front seat of the car to catch the latest movies on the big screen.
Camping under the stars is very popular on the southern Coral Coast – with great warm weather and a pristine coastline, why not? In Dongara, you’ll find shops, hotels, units, motels and B&Bs, while most of the caravan parks are south of the river in Port Denison. Visitors in fully self-contained RVs can camp for free at the town oval, or you can stay for nothing, right on the beach and surrounded by nature, for up to 72 hours. The most popular site is Cliff Head on the Indian Ocean Drive.
TIP The region is busy at certain times of the year (school holidays), so book ahead. Check wind conditions with the Bureau of Meteorology before setting up camp (www.bom.gov.au/wa, or (08) 9263 2222).
Cervantes sunset (photography Shevaun Buschenhofen).
Australia’s Coral Coast CEO, David O’Malley
Explore the world under the sea at the Jurien Bay Snorkelling Trail at the old jetty. The first of its kind in Western Australia, the trail features an artificial reef teeming with marine life, as well as underwater signage about the Jurien Bay Marine Park. The trail, starting just 25m from the shore, is suitable for snorkellers of any age.
Photography Australia’s Coral Coast.
DO AND SEE
The Thungarra Trails
Walkers will love these six nature trails, ranging between 2.7km and 9km, which take in the history, flora, fauna, estuary and ocean views from Dongara to Port Denison. Trail three will take you along the banks of the Irwin River. Pick up a free map from the Dongara Visitor Centre.
Flowers blossom in such abundance in the Western Flora Park that you it’s possible to find 27 different species co-existing within one square metre of each other. Guided walks leave every afternoon (4.30pm for the wildflowers tour), while 4WD tagalong tours are available three days a week from August to November.
Soak up some History
Built in 1870, the former Dongara police station, courthouse and gaol is now the Irwin District Museum, where you can learn about the hardship and triumphs of the region’s pioneers.
In Dongara, you can net blue manna crabs and catch tailor, mulloway and squid off the north and south walls of the marina. 4WD fishing tours are available with beach, sand and land options. Snorkelling gear can be hired from Breeze Inn Dongara.
Cruise South Beach
South Beach’s sand is so hard you can drive on it in a 2WD, before settling on a spot for the day and taking a dip. Stop for lunch at the quaint Starfish Cafe.
Overlooking the twin town and Indian Ocean, the 18-hole (par 72) Dongara Golf Course is a short 5535m in length, and one of the cheapest courses to play. Clubs and buggies are available for hire.
EAT AND DRINK
This region is all about sampling seafood straight from the sea. You won’t taste fresher lobster, so lash out if you love it, or stick with traditional fish and chips on the foreshore.
While you might choose to self-cater most nights (especially if you fish), Dongara and Port Denison offer plenty of options to eat in town, with two hotels, a tavern overlooking the marina, coffee shops on the beach, a delightful bakery, and more. For coffee and cake, head to Moreton Terrace and sit in the shade of Dongara’s century-old fig trees, or indulge in local olives at the Silverdale Olive Orchard. If you need a break from seafood, try the award-winning pies at Highway Caltex, or the steak sandwiches at Southerly’s Tavern.
Held at Town Park on the first Saturday of each month, plus
long weekends and school
AUSTRALIA DAY FIREWORKS
Free festivities for all to enjoy at the Port Denison Foreshore. Jan.
Competitors gather over two days for this kitesurfing festival at South Beach, Port Denison. Feb.
EASTER IN DONGARA
There’s markets and an art exhibition on Good Friday, with horse races and an Easter egg hunt on Saturday. Apr.
HANGING OF THE QUILTS
This quirky Dongara event at the Irwin Recreation Centre showcases newly made quilts, demonstrations, art displays and market stalls. Oct.
LARRY LOBSTER FESTIVAL
This annual festival is held to wish the rock lobster fleet a successful season, and features free activities and a chance to hop aboard the fishing boats. Nov.
INDIAN OCEAN FESTIVAL
Jurien Bay’s Indian Ocean Festival includes the blessing of the lobster fleet and a range of entertainment and activities. Nov.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
The Priory Hotel, Southerly’s Tavern and the Dongara Hotel Motel all host special themed nights. Dec.
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Nicole Nelson, manager tourism and library services
Pack your bathers, sunscreen and towel. There are loads of safe swimming beaches to choose from, and the climate is ideal for soaking in the rays, but make sure you slip, slop, slap.
Learn to surf – qualified surfing instructors will get you standing in no time at the beautiful South Beach in Port Denison.
There are dunes all along the entry to Port Denison. Discover them by sand boarding – it’s fun for the whole family, with a range of dunes to cater for your ability.
Cervantes is around 200km north of Perth via the Indian Ocean Drive. The Cervantes to Dongara stretch is about 160km along the same road. Tour companies offer day trips to the Pinnacles, and you can get a coach to the towns, but you really need your own wheels to explore the area properly.