The spotlight has turned on the South-West, which has been named one of the world's top regions for travellers to visit next year.
The South-West shares the kudos with Alsace (France), Bali (Indonesia), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), Goa (India), Koh Kong Conservation Corridor (Cambodia), Lake Baikal (Russian Federation), Oaxaca (Mexico), Southern Africa and the Lake District (Britain).
Together, these diverse places are rated as the world's Top 10 regions to visit in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel in 2010, an annual collection of the best places to go and the best things to see around the world in the year ahead.
Best in Travel says the lush South-West offers variety in spades, and recommends walking at sunrise on the Bibbulmun Track, canoeing under the forest canopy at Nannup and cooling off under Pemberton's magnificent trees.
It adds: "Well-heeled Perth weekenders make the three-hour trek from the big city to the gourmet paradise of Margaret River; families of adrenalin-fuelled kids hit the Busselton beaches; sturdily shod walkers take to the tracks and trails that join Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin; recent sea and tree-changers live side-by-side with long established farmers and long-haired hippies who've been hanging out there since the 70s."
WA Tourism Minister Liz Constable says Lonely Planet's latest rating elevates the South-West to the world stage. She says tourism is a key driver of WA's economy, generating 80,000 jobs and injecting more than $2 billion a year into regional areas.
Officially the South-West forms a triangular corner of the State from Bunbury to Albany, and takes in Busselton, Bunbury, Cape Leeuwin, Margaret River and Pemberton. It is a region that can be driven around in a long weekend.
Those with more time to spare head further along the coast to Esperance for some of the whitest beaches in Australia, then drive inland to Kalgoorlie for a taste of the Golden Outback. For when you look at the map this, too, is part of the South-West.
DOLPHIN PLAY (Bunbury)
Dolphin sightings are highly likely in Bunbury's sheltered Koombana Bay which is home to almost 100 bottlenose dolphins. The city's Dolphin Discovery Centre enables visitors to learn and listen to captivating recordings of pods of dolphins communicating with one another. Visitors often stand in the water hoping a dolphin or two will cruise by - it does happen - or cruise on the bay to see dolphins breach, or snorkel for what may become a dolphin encounter.
ICONIC JETTY (Busselton)
There are great stretches of wide sandy beach, parkland and a lively cafe scene but it is the town's stunning jetty that visitors want to see. It curves 2km out into Geographe Bay and is the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere. International swimmers follow its pylons in the annual ironman competition, athletes train along its wide jetty and families walk it or ride the tourist train to the Underwater Observatory at the deep end where colourful coral teems with fish life. Of late, the jetty has been partly closed for renovations but should be fully open again early next year.
CAPE TO CAPE (Cape Naturaliste National Park)
This back-to-nature coastal track weaves along a scenic ridge of beach, and woodland from Cape Naturaliste lighthouse (near Dunsborough) in the north through 135km of national park to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse in the south. Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly tip of Australia and is where the Indian and Southern oceans meet. The cape walk takes five or six days and there are low-key campsites en route but many walkers do the trail in smaller sections.
CAVE CAPERS (Yallingup)
Beneath the limestone ridge which forms Cape Naturaliste is the ethereal Ngilgi caves where stalactite and stalagmite formations abound. Named after an Aboriginal legend of the area, the cave has cavernous chambers as well as narrow passages which can be explored on an organised tour that takes in sections called "double squeeze", "pot belly" and "crystal crawl".
THE GOOD LIFE (Margaret River)
Top wineries with international reputations, equally fine restaurants, and hand-made chocolate, cheeses and fudge outlets are all part of the experience in this pretty town and surrounds. Sybaritic spas, cellar door tours, award-winning accommodation and invigorating surf also help visitors kick back and unwind.
SNUFFLING TRUFFLES (Manjimup)
In forest heartland at Manjimup, the Wine & Truffle Company is stirring the pot overseas by digging up black gold (truffles). So special are these truffles - "snuffled" out by specially trained dogs from under hazelnut and oak trees - that many of France's illustrious chefs, and home-grown cooks - snap up the truffles as quickly as they are found. The on-site restaurant has a menu with a truffle flavour and hosts an annual truffle festival. Visitors book in advance to go on a truffle hunt with the dogs.
VALLEY OF GIANTS (Denmark/Walpole)
Be closer to heaven, and nesting birds, with exhilarating views while strolling a steel walkway amid a canopy of red tingle trees 40m above the forest floor. This appropriately named Valley of the Giants has protected trees which are hundreds of years old. At ground level follow the Ancient Empire boardwalk through trees with trunk girths of 16m or more, and be dazzled by nature.
WHALE WATCH (Albany)
In years gone by Albany was a busy whaling port but no more. These days the city's Whale World gives an interactive insight into life on a whaling ship from yesteryear and makes visitors gasp at the skeleton of a whale, the world's largest mammal. This coastal area is now a great place for whale sightings from land or out at sea. Nearby Torndirrup National Park has ancient rock formations, including arches, blowholes and The Gap, a gaping 25m drop into the Great Southern Ocean.
ROOS ON SAND (Esperance)
It is hard to bypass Esperance as it constantly garners kudos for beaches with Australia's whitest sand. Even the kangaroos here join swimmers lolling on the pristine sand. Soaring cliffs, sand dunes, deserted beaches and outlying islands are close at hand. In 1979 debris from the US Skylab landed here and turned the world spotlight on the town.
GOLDEN FRINGES (Kalgoorlie to Hyden)
Taste the real outback while still close to civilisation from the gold rush city of Kalgoorlie where the Super Pit is one of Australia's largest gold-producing mines. Head north for virtual ghost towns such as Menzies and Gwalia (where former US president Herbert Hoover lived briefly). A highlight has to be Lake Menzies with surreal sculptures by British artist Antony Gormley that appear as lone figures on the vast salt pan. With more time, head to Wave Rock at Hyden for the extraordinary sight of a perfectly proportioned surf wave in rusty rock.Details: www.australiasgoldenoutback.com.
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