administrative region in Western Australia

The Wheatbelt is one of the nine administrative regions of Western Australia, with a population of about 75,000 in 2014, and with Northam as its largest town. It's bounded to the west by the Indian Ocean and the city of Perth, to the north by the Mid West, to the east by Goldfields-Esperance, and to the south by South West region. It's the heartland of a larger wheat-growing area; tourist literature often describes it as two regions, the Sunset Coast and the Golden Outback.

Towns

edit
  • 1 Lancelin has a sheltered bay lined with sand dunes, drawing windsurfers, divers and sand boarders.
  • Cervantes is a small beach resort and the service village for Pinnacles Desert / Nambung National Park.
  • 2 Jurien Bay is a relaxed coastal town with some good beach fishing. Inland is Lesueur National Park.
  • 3 New Norcia is Australia's only monastic town.
  • 4 Northam is the region's largest town, on the banks of the Avon River.
  • 5 Clackline has a haunting derelict brickworks.
  • 6 Toodyay is filled with historical buildings and surrounded by forest and granite outcrops.
  • 7 York was the first established inland town, with many well-preserved buildings.
  • 8 Merredin is a good midway break on the way to Kalgoorlie.
  • 9 Hyden is the base for visiting Wave Rock.

Other destinations

edit

Understand

edit

The Wheatbelt is a large tract of Western Australia converted to wheat and sheep agriculture in the 19th century, which involved the British settlers ejecting and sometimes slaying the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area. This was done initially to feed the growing city of Perth, and export further afield was only feasible with mechanisation and better transport in the mid 20th century. Transport has long shaped this region: settlers of the Avon Valley from the 1830s had to slog up the slopes of the Darling Range, and the coastline north of Perth lacked harbours. The railways made all the difference later that century - the main motive was to reach the goldfields further east, but they created a transport corridor for agriculture. Small towns developed along the tracks and in many places are little changed.

Highways now sweep across the landscape and a modern automobile will hardly break sweat on the incline east of Perth. These are relatively recent: the Great Eastern Highway was completed in 1938 and only fully sealed in 1956, replacing the rough tracks that convicts had hewn with tree trunks for a base. Brand Highway north was likewise only built in the 1950s, and it follows an inland route as far as Dongara, so coastal communities remained isolated. Not until 2010 was the last section of the coastal highway sealed, putting this strip within an easy drive from Perth, a mixed blessing. When the disparate pre-existing sections of road were then re-designated as the continuous Indian Ocean Drive, the sturdy people of Wanneroo raged against a "futile and worthless exercise that was tantamount to heresy", and "offensive to the pioneers" of Wanneroo, no way could their main street be renamed. It got renamed anyhow once they'd had their strop.

Get in

edit
 
Wave Rock

1 Perth Airport (PER IATA) is where most visitors arrive in Western Australia. Here (or in Perth city after a layover) is the best place to pick up car hire, which you'll need to cover any distance through the Wheatbelt.

Several towns have airstrips. There are no commercial flights but excursions sometimes use them, for instance to Hyden for Wave Rock.

By road

edit

There is a good network of sealed roads and gravel tracks suitable for 2WD, and self-driving is the best way to get here and get around. Car rental desks in Perth city don't charge extra for a drop-off at the airport or vice versa; much of the Wheatbelt is within a couple of hours' drive from the city but overseas arrivals will do well to get a night's sleep before driving off down these long, lulling roads. Traffic laws are much the same as in western countries, but the legal alcohol limit is near zero. Principal routes are:

  • East: Hwy 94 Great Eastern Highway runs out from Perth to Northam, Cunderdin, Merredin and Coolgardie: a turn-off links to Kalgoorlie while the main highway turns south to Norseman.
  • North: Coastal Highway 60 runs via Lancelin, Cervantes and Jurien Bay towards Dongara.
Brand Highway runs inland, joined by Highway 60 some 30 km south of Dongara, then away north to Geraldton, Carnarvon, Karratha, Port Hedland, Broome and Darwin, pretty much halfway to China.
Highway 95 runs further inland from Perth via New Norcia towards Mount Magnet, Newman and Port Hedland.
  • Southeast: Highway 40 leads via Brookton to Hyden, then trends south to Lake King and Ravensthorpe.

There are also ungraded roads and beaches only suitable for 4WD. Check ahead with the rental company which routes are okay by them, and don't try it in the wet season. Signs warning of soft sand must be heeded, as you won't get a mobile signal to call for help if you bog down.

By bus

edit

Integrity buses run Tu Th Su evenings from Perth north up the coast to Lancelin (3 hr), Cervantes, Jurien Bay (4 hr) and Dongara (6 hr) then on to Geraldton, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Exmouth, Port Hedland and Broome. Tu mornings they run north inland from Perth to New Norcia, Mount Magnet, Newman and Port Hedland.

TransWA buses run once M-Sa from Perth inland north on Highway 1 to Dongara, Geraldton and Kalbarri, and two days on the coast road to Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Dongara and Geraldton. They run four days from Perth to New Norcia, Dongara and Geraldton, and two days via Northam and Mullewa to Geraldton.

They run Tu Th Su mornings from Perth to York (90 min), Hyden (Tu only), Lake King and Esperance.

They run daily from Perth to Northam, York, Beverley, Narrogin, Tambellup, Tenterden and Albany.

By train

edit

The Prospector runs daily from Perth to Toodyay (90 min), Northam (1 hr 50 min), Meckering, Cunderdin, Merredin and away out east to Kalgoorlie. Mereddinlink plies M W F over the Perth-Merredin section.

Avonlink is a commuter train M-F morning from Northam via Toodyay to Perth, returning early evening.

Get around

edit
 
Grain silos at Cunderdin

You need your own wheels. Public transport can get you to most towns, but your accommodation and the main sights may be at some distance from the bus / railway station, under a hot sun. A car also gives shade, and shelter from those damned flies.

Never let your tank drop below quarter-full.

Check Western Australia#See for admission fees and passes for the National Parks.
  • Lake Campion northeast of Nungarin is a great salt-encrusted lake.
  • New Norcia has a 19th century Benedictine abbey, still active. You can visit the abbey church.
  • The Pinnacles are eerie limestone pillars in the dunes of Nambung National Park near Cervantes.
  • York has the best-preserved Victorian town centre, as later travel routes passed it by.
  • Wave Rock is a remarkable 15 m smooth breaker wind-carved into the rock, and striped by mineral run off.
  • Wildflowers make the desert bloom August to September.
 
Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park
  • Sandy beaches line the coast, suitable for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and wind-surfing. There are multiple points for vehicle access and barbecues. They can get busy at weekends as they're within a day trip from Perth.
  • Boat trips putter out to nearby islets, for instance from Cervantes to the haunts of sea lions.
  • Golf: you're a brave soul if you play on these arid courses. Poor Alfred Gibson, lost on a desert expedition of 1874, was probably looking for a shanked golf ball.
  • Skydive at Jurien Bay.

Cafes and restaurants in the Wheatbelt region serve trad meaty fare, but the outlook is getting better for vegetarians, vegans and GF.

Larger towns might stretch to a pizzeria and a Chinese, otherwise it's burgers again tonight.

Drink

edit

Drink water, and plenty of it - you don't realise how much you're sweating as it evaporates so fast.

Cafes and restaurants serve alcohol, but only the larger towns have stand-alone bars.

This region is too arid for wine production, so WA wine travels up from South West region.

Sleep

edit
 
Imperial Hotel in York

Most towns have a caravan park / campground and one or two motels. Prices are high by European and North American rural standards, as everything they need has to be trucked in, and labour is not cheap.

Especially attractive to overseas visitors are the 19th century traditional hotels, with their verandas, intricate ironwork and creaking floorboards. They often house the town's main restaurant and tavern.

Book ahead as much as possible. Places may fill up, and then it's a long way to the next town - where you might end up sleeping is while driving erratically along the median strip with an oncoming road train.

Go next

edit
  • North the next region is Mid West. Highlights are the town of Geraldton and Kalbarri National Park.
  • East is Goldfields-Esperance. Inland are old mining towns, while the coast is lined with National Parks.
  • South is South West region, lusher country with vineyards.
  • West are unmissable Perth and Fremantle.


This region travel guide to Wheatbelt is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.