Cosmopolitan Bunbury is in the south-west of Western Australia at the northern tip of Geographe Bay.
This is the City of Three Waters, so-called for the bodies of water that surround it on three sides.
These are the Indian Ocean, the massive Leschenault Inlet and the shallow, sheltered waters of Koombana Bay.
Bathing in Koombana Bay you may be joined by the wild but friendly bottlenose dolphins that have also decided to settle in Bunbury.
Out of the water there are snazzy, locally-owned shops, a great regional art gallery, wineries and yet more natural treasures waiting to be discovered.
1. Dolphin Discovery Centre
In Bunbury’s Koombana Bay wild bottlenose dolphins swim right up to the shore, and are such a part of the scenery that a visitor attraction was set up in their honour.
Established to fund a conservation programme, this is a non-profit with no entry fee, and reopened in December 2018 after a multimillion-dollar expansion.
Inside are aquariums showing off the marine and freshwater wildlife of the region, as well as interactive exhibitions explaining the bottlenose dolphins and their habits.
You see what’s on at the 2D and 3D theatres, and a spectacular 360° digital dolphinarium.
Outside is the beach interaction zone, where you can get up close and friendly with dolphins.
November to April you can take part in a dolphin swim tour or hop aboard the 90-minuteDolphin Eco Cruise.
2. Bunbury Wildlife Park
In a swathe of calming woodland, the Bunbury Wildlife Park has more than 60 animal species native to Australia.
These are marsupials like red and western grey kangaroos, hairy-nosed wombats, quokkas, possums and a variety of wallaby species.
In aviaries there are scores of native birds to check out, from emus to tawny frogmouths, eastern king parrots and Australian shelducks.
The park’s line-up of reptiles is also exciting and boasts pythons, various lizards and the western bearded dragon.
There are keeper talks daily at 11:00, and you can also get involved, chatting with cockatiels or petting the kangaroos in their spacious paddock.
3. Koombana Bay
Bunbury’s natural harbour protects the bay to the northeast of the city from the Indian Ocean currents.
So if you’re here with the whole tribe the beach at the southern apex of Koombana Bay is the best place for kids to play in the water.
The shoreline has been updated in the last few years, and underpins the family-friendly nature of the whole place with play areas, a flying fox, promenade, public art and facilities like a kiosk, showers, disabled access and public toilets.
And of course, it’s not just people who appreciate the sheltered waters in Koombana Bay, as you may find yourself in the company of those friendly bottlenose dolphins.
4. Marlston Hill Lookout Tower
At the top of Bunbury’s CBD you can scale this lookout tower cresting Marlston Hill to find out why people call Bunbury the City of Three Waters.
This vantage point is on the site of Bunbury’s original lighthouse, and from here you can trace the contours of the coastline around Geographe Bay, Bunbury Harbour and Koombana Bay to the east.
You’ll see Bunbury’s beaches, the water traffic coming and going from the harbour and that pod of bottlenose dolphins breaching in Koombana Bay.
The tower went up in 1988 to mark Western Australia’s bicentennial.
5. Back Beach
Moments on foot from Bunbury’s CBD is this strip of white sand, speckled with black basalt rocks, all facing west on Geographe Bay.
Back Beach has light surf, good for paddling, snorkelling and beach fishing, while there’s lots of room on that soft white sand to lie back, build sandcastles or sit with a loved one watching the sun go down.
There are barbecues on the foreshore behind so you can cook your catch right here, and next to Ocean Drive is a paved bike path giving riders almost constant views of the Indian Ocean.
Keep your eyes peeled and you may catch sight of dolphins in the bay.
6. Bunbury Regional Art Gallery (BRAG)
The city’s art destination has a beautiful home in the sizeable former Convent of Mercy, painted a pale shade of pink.
The city purchased the building in 1979 as a venue for its growing art collection, which was begun in the 1940s with a donation by West Australian philanthropist Sir Claude Hotchin.
This includes hundreds of works by the Bunbury watercolourist Rosetta Kelly (1861-1961), and can be viewed in an ever-changing exhibition in the Music Room upstairs.
The gallery is large enough that it can hold five exhibitions at the same time, showcasing talent from Bunbury, across Australia or overseas.
7. Victoria Street
North to south, Bunbury’s main artery runs along the city’s spine, and between its modern structures are palatial Georgian houses and elegant Victorian buildings with verandas.
What will grab you about Victoria Street is just how many of the businesses are local, be they restaurants, bars, hip cafes, gift shops, homewares or fashion boutiques.
Many of the eateries have little covered terraces on the footpath.
A couple of picks: The stylish Melo Velo combines a cafe, spin room and bike hire shop.
Meanwhile the Market Eating House is a dining hotspot for Bunbury, with a custom-made charcoal grill and a wood-fired oven, for delicious Middle East-inflected cuisine (think roasted pumpkin salad, 12hr lamb shoulder, BBQ chicken with tahini, Lebanese manouche).
8. Leschenault Inlet
Northeast of Bunbury there’s a stunning, finger-shaped estuarine lagoon, 14.5 kilometres long and divided from the Indian Ocean by the slender Leschenault Peninsula.
Covered with dunes, the peninsula is protected as a conservation park, where you can behold the wonderful blue tones of the lagoon and walk in tuart and peppermint woodland behind the foreshore dunes.
This is inhabited by ringtail and brushtail possums, and there are ample opportunities to spot the lagoon’s 60 recorded bird species and those bottlenose dolphins on the south and west sides.
Come in spring for the beautiful wildflowers and watch the kitesurfers contending with the ocean winds.
9. Ferguson Valley
Go 15 minutes inland and you’ll be in the pastoral Ferguson Valley, a place of rolling, cattle-flecked hillsides and rambling vineyards.
These tend to grow warm climate grapes like Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
Oenophiles will be spoilt for choice here, with more than 20 wineries and vineyards in the valley.
A good starting point may be Willow Bridge Estate, which has a cellar door (tasting room) open seven days a week.
Elsewhere, you can seek out the amazing King Jarrah Tree, as old as 400 years and 40 metres tall.
And those who like eccentric attractions will love Gnomesville, a village populated by 3,000 gnomes from all over Australia and the wider world.
10. Mangrove Boardwalk
There’s a parcel of white mangrove forest around the waterway off Koombana Bay, a remnant of the woodland that once covered much of the coast in this region.
Now, white mangrove is almost unheard of this far south, and usually occurs north of Shark Bay 800 kilometres up from Bunbury.
The waterway is encircled by a five kilometre trail, one piece of which will carry you through the mangrove on a wooden boardwalk.
The walk will also take you through more conventional public parks and gardens, with jetties, picnic tables and inviting grassy areas.
11. Bunbury Museum and Heritage Centre
At this complex by the Stirling Centre mall, east of Victoria Street, you can get to know Bunbury’s story.
Enhanced with interactivity and lots of artefacts, the museum and heritage centre recalls the city’s origins and development, profiling many of the fascinating characters who have helped make Bunbury what it is today.
You’ll discover the hardships of early settlers and convicts, the shipwrecks that have occurred on this stretch of coast and what life was like in the port in the 19th century.
12. Bunbury Lighthouse
Atop the dunes at the south end of Back Beach Bunbury Lighthouse cuts a distinctive figure with its narrow tower and chequered pattern.
Complete with a flared base, the 25-metre building looks a little like a rocket, and is visible from most parts of the city.
The automated beacon has a range of 27 kilometres.
Built in 1970, this is the most recent of a succession of lighthouses constructed at this spot to guide boats into Koombana Bay.
The first wooden structure was completed in 1870, while the current building incorporates the cast iron tower constructed in 1959.
13. Ngilgi Cave
For this day trip you can travel around Geographe Bay to this limestone show cave, discovered by Europeans in 1899. Ngilgi Cave merits the journey for its many awe-inspiring concretions, in the shape of stalagmites, stalactites, helictites and shawls in varying shades.
A partially guided tour will take an hour, and begins with a descent into a marvellous chamber called The Amphitheatre.
From there you can explore the cave system at your leisure and find out facts and tips from another guide stationed halfway.
If you want to experience Ngilgi Cave like a real caver you can register in advance for an Adventure Tour, putting on hardhat and lamp and going off-circuit on a three-hour journey.
14. Tuart Forest National Park
On your way to Ngilgi Cave you could make a stop at the largest surviving tract of pure tuart forest in the world.
Tuarts, from the eucalyptus genus, are one of the six native forest giants in the Southwest and grew in vast quantities until they were felled for timber and displaced by urban development.
The tuarts in the park grow in a narrow strip on limestone soil and can reach more than 30 metres in height and ten metres in girth.
Residing here is also WA’s last remaining population of the endangered western ringtail possum, and these live in the ancient tuarts’ many hollows.
Other wildlife to observe include birds of prey, kangaroos and smaller marsupials like brush-tailed possums and quendas.
15. Bunbury Farmers Market
Not a market in the weekly sense, the Bunbury Farmers Market is a business open seven days a week under one roof.
You’ll find it at the corner of the Australind Bypass and Vittoria Road, and it’s recommended to anyone who cares about where their produce comes from.
The fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, jams, dips and wealth of speciality ingredients is sourced from hundreds of local growers, makers and farmers . There’s also top-notch prepared food and drinks freshly made each day, like pies, quiches, cakes, sushi, smoothies, yoghurts coffee and a big menu of meals to heat and eat.