Detours: Western Australia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2008, 12:00am

The region south of Perth, or the 'bottom end' of Western Australia, can be an excellent antidote to the stresses of Hong Kong.

Some visitors describe it as a microcosm of Australia with a fine wine region, historic towns and some of the best beaches in the country, and with daylight saving in operation it's just an hour ahead of Hong Kong.

The best way to see the bottom end is by car and there are plenty of rental options at the airport, usually a seven-hour, 45-minute flight from Chek Lap Kok. You can then take a clockwise 1,150km loop through the area, heading east to check out the delightfully kitsch 'curio' shops of historic York.

You can also see Aussie pioneer artefacts at The Wagin Historical Village, or push on through the rolling forests of grass trees and the craggy Stirling Ranges to Albany, an old whaling town on the south coast, about 420km southeast of Perth.

Set between Mount Melville and Mount Clarence, Albany has sweeping, empty beaches such as Middleton and Frenchman's Bay and colourful farmers' markets.

Across Princess Royal Harbour, the violent Southern Ocean carves holes into cliffs and the Whale World Museum displays the region's marine history. You can also learn more about essential oils and receive a one-hour-long relaxation treatment known as 'the cone, the gong and the bowl' at the sandalwood oil distillation factory in Mount Romance, 15km to the west of Albany.

Further to the west lie the coastal stops of Walpole and Denmark. This is the land of the karri, Australia's tallest tree, as well as the marri, jarrah, and the towering tingle trees found only near Walpole. You can also see she-oaks streaked with lichen and strands of bull banksia trees forming idyllic backdrops to the skim of birds above rivers bordered by cycads, grass trees, wild flowers and ferns.

You can also check out the area's coastal wilderness and birdlife in regular cruises across the Walpole and Nornalup inlets, where cowtail stingrays often flick underwater.

The highlight of the trip is a call at a little jetty and a short walk to a local 'hideaway', the beautiful blue Coalmine Bay, with a white-sand shoreline backed by orange boulders and dramatic cliffs.

Further out, green islands rise above pounding surf for an environment that feels so exhilarating and remote that you might feel like a happy castaway.

Turning north up the Western Australian coast, Busselton's long pier hides an underwater observatory in which visitors can view the area's famed marine life.

This town's attractions are all about water - swimming, fishing, waterskiing, snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and of course, some great fish and chip restaurants. The town is also a great lay-by before heading on to Bunbury, which is famous for its dolphins and the last pit stop before Perth. Curious visitors stand in the sea and wait for a fin to cut the surface as the mammals' slippery bodies arc through the water towards them, mesmerising children and adults alike with their ease and grace.