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Winding along Thunderbolt’s WaySample the sweet south-west

The journey from Esperance to Bunbury, in the south-west corner of Western Australia, is a fascinating tour through a very different part of the nation.

Story and photos Denis O’Byrne

If a journey through the south-west were edible, the main meal would be a series of magnificent national parks spiced with tall native forests, spectacular landscapes and world-class biodiversity. For sweets try a friendly little timber town, a booming surf beach or a carpet of stunning wildflowers. Finally, there are some superb local wines to wash it all down.
Not including side trips, the route covers about 950 kilometres, most of it on the South Coast Highway and the South Western Highway. It’s by no means a major trek and you could easily complete the drive in three days. However, there are so many worthwhile things to see and do, and interesting people to meet, that three weeks might be a more realistic time frame.

Winding along Thunderbolt’s WayOn the edge of the outback, Esperance (population 13,000) is a busy regional centre and export-shipping terminal with a rich agricultural hinterland. Though founded in 1893 as a port for the Kalgoorlie goldfields, growth was slow until the 1960s, when a farming boom followed the discovery that the poor soils could be greatly improved by adding superphosphate and trace elements.

These days tourism is developing as another important local industry. Major attractions include mile upon mile of dazzling unspoilt beaches and the hundreds of islands and islets that make up the Archipelago of the Recherche, just offshore. The islands are nature reserves and provide refuges for such diverse wildlife as Cape Barren geese, sea lions, tammar wallabies and death adders. The miracle of trace elements is readily apparent as you head west on the South Coast Highway towards Ravensthorpe. Looking at what little native bush remains, it seems incredible that such poverty-stricken scrub could be converted to productive agricultural land. Story end

Full story OUTBACK Issue 36 Aug/Sept 2004

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