At the base of the elongated curve of Geographe Bay, the town of Busselton is recognised by its record-breaking jetty.
Going back to the 1860s, this is the longest in the Southern Hemisphere, and after outliving its industrial purpose is a magnet for visitors.
From September to November you can see humpback whales passing by, while in winter the ocean is warmed by a tropical current that allows coral to flourish further south than anywhere else in the world.
Geographe Bay is walled to the west by Cape Naturaliste, so many of the north and east-facing beaches near Busselton have clear, pool-like waters for safe swimming.
You can spend unforgettable days drifting around the bay, encountering tracts of rare woodland, spectacular granite rock formations and half-deserted beaches.
1. Busselton Jetty
The pride of Busselton is the longest timber-piled pier (jetty) in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dating back to the mid-1860s, Busselton Jetty is 1,841 metres long and for the first hundred years of its existence had a purely commercial role as somewhere for large cargo ships to be loaded with timber.
The jetty shoots out into protected waters, and you can catch the train to the Underwater Observatory at the far end to view the tropical marine life that has made a home from the jetty’s wooden piles.
At the landward end is the Interpretive Centre, with interactive touch-screens telling the long story of the jetty and the unique ecology that you can view at the Underwater Observatory.
The jetty has a calendar loaded with seasonal activities, like yoga, themed walks, diving, jet-boat tours, art classes and whale-watching.
2. Jetty Train
In 2017 the old railway running the length of the jetty was converted to renewable energy and is now fitted with solar panels.
The train departs the Interpretive Centre on the hour throughout the day for a relaxing 45-minute ride.
The carriages, which are fully accessible for people with wheelchairs, come equipped with see-through blinds for shelter on hot days as well as playing absorbing audio recounting the jetty’s 150+ years of history.
On the journey you can just sit back and watch the glimmering ocean, as fishermen land their catch and playful dolphins surfacing.
3. Underwater Observatory
Busselton may have a southerly latitude, but you wouldn’t know it from the ocean life, which is closer to what you’d see at tropical climes.
This is all down to the Leeuwin Current, which in autumn and winter pulls a narrow ribbon of warm water in Geographe Bay.
Coral grows here at 33° south, compared to other continents like South America and Africa where it only occurs above 5° south.
Once you get to the end of Busselton Jetty you’ll be met by a tour guide who will lead you to one of only six underwater observatories in the world.
You’ll descend eight metres below the surface to view the wonderful species that have made their home in the manmade reef created by the jetty’s piles.
The observation chamber has eleven large viewing windows, through which you can glimpse up to 300 different marine species.
Among them will be tropical and subtropical fish, invertebrates, sponges and corals.
4. Meelup Beach
If you’re willing to travel a little there are some picture-perfect beaches not far from Busselton.
The pick of these has to be Meelup Beach, set within a regional park.
You could not pick a better spot for a family day by the ocean: There’s soft white sand, native trees along the foreshore offering ample shade for picnics, and the beach is angled towards the east, which shields it from the wind and ocean currents.
Little wonder that Meelup Beach has been a favourite with families for generations, and there’s more than a hint of luxury thanks to the private yachts that drop anchor in the gentle surf a little way out.
Around early spring it’s not unusual to see humpback whales on their migration along the coast, and if you need to stretch your legs there are light tracks fringed by wildflowers around October and November.
5. Busselton Foreshore
Busselton has put a lot of care into the coastline encompassing the jetty, enhanced by a decade-long regeneration scheme that has given it lots of public amenities and open space.
Starting at the jetty there’s a broad paved pathway, stretching several hundred metres to the west and sandwiched by the beach and ocean on one side, while on the other are lawns sprinkled with trees like Norfolk pines.
Set here are children’s barbecues, picnic benches and shelters.
As you walk the pathway, look up and you’ll notice that the streetlights have little wind turbines attached.
The Busselton Foreshore Playground is extraordinary, looking like something out of a theme park, with a large, climbable sailboat being tipped by a whale tail and a giant squid lurking in the sand.
6. Busselton Museum
In an idyllic location next to the Vasse River sits the Heritage Butter Factory, first built in 1918. This operation survived the Great Depression and hit its peak in the immediate post-war years before winding down by the 1970s.
Now you can visit to admire the history of the building and investigate different strands of the town’s past, from agriculture to forestry and maritime history.
The museum holds a real wealth of objects as diverse as antique clocks, crockery, sewing machines, cameras, uniforms, school equipment and riveting pieces related to the whaling industry.
Special detail is devoted to the 1920s Group Settlement Scheme, which set the template for development in the South West, and there’s a faithful replica of the Jetty Rotunda.
7. Wonky Windmill Farm & Eco Park
There’s an obvious mature appeal to Geographe Bay, with its sophisticated shopping, tranquil beaches and the vineyards of the Margaret River Region.
But children aren’t left out at attractions like this multifaceted working farm, not far away in Yelverton.
Wonky Windmill Farm is on 130 acres, bordered by vineyards, grazing sheep, dairy farms and open bushland.
Kids will have lots of farmyard animals to meet, like goats, ponies, pigs, emus, ostriches, llamas and alpacas, and depending on the season you’ll get to bottle feed lambs.
The farm grows a wide range of fruit and nut trees, and between April and December you can pick-your-own produce, with a little help from the farm’s friendly team.
The cafe serves scones and homemade jam, and you can get hold of all sorts of goodies at the farm shop, from preserves and jams to olives and olive oil.
8. Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Geographe Bay is enclosed to the west by the magnificent Cape Naturaliste, and since 1904 ocean traffic has been guided by a lighthouse standing 20 metres tall.
This is a visitor attraction, welcoming the public for tours and with a scenic observation platform, but is also a working beacon that continues to use its original Fresnel lens manufactured by the Chance Brothers in England’s West Midlands.
At the tower and its cottages you can find out about the many shipwrecks claimed by this treacherous stretch of coast, as well as the gruelling routine of a lighthouse keeper in times past.
September to November humpback whales migrate along this coast, and there’s absorbing information about their journey and the role of the powerful ocean currents offshore.
9. Bunker Bay
The rugged outcrops of Cape Naturaliste protect this exquisite beach just east of the lighthouse.
Mostly out of the wind, Bunker Bay is a perfect crescent of white sand bathed by transparent waters and gentle waves.
This is a heavenly place to snorkel or just bask in the ocean.
Tracing the sand is nothing more than undeveloped bush, although a short way behind there’s a luxury Pullman resort.
In amongst the vegetation on the west side you’ll find the stylish Bunkers Beach House for a bite or cold drink, with a spacious shaded terrace.
10. Ludlow Tuart Forest National Park
Hugging the coastline in a narrow strip, between Busselton and Capel is the world’s largest surviving tract of pure tuart forest in the world.
Felled in big swathes in the 19th and 20th century and now increasingly rare because of pests, this variety of eucalyptus is one of Southwest Australia’s six forest giants, growing to anything from 10 to 40 metres.
One of the most memorable experiences you can have at the national park is along the Possum Spotlighting Trail.
Come at night and bring a torch and you’re sure to see the rare western ringtail possum, as well as the more common brushtail possum.
11. Castle Rock
Safely tucked into the east side of Cape Naturaliste there’s a dreamy sandy beach bounded to the south by a fortress-like granite outcrop known as Castle Rock.
Oriented away from the Indian Ocean, the beach is ideal for swimming, fishing and just unwinding on the soft sand.
Surfers also come to ride an excellent break a little way out, also safer than other areas because of the orientation of the coast here.
As for Castle Rock, this is a popular lookout for whale watching when the humpback whales are migrating, between September and November.
Also at this time of year there’s an eye-catching display of wildflowers along the coastal track to the rock, with several types of orchid (jug, donkey, spider, mustard), native roses and acacias.
12. Old Court House Complex
Within a minute or two on foot from the jetty and beach is a compelling slice of Busselton history now part of a flourishing arts precinct.
The Old Court House was completed in the early 1860s, and its construction signalled Busselton’s arrival as a key regional settlement and port.
Now this handsome Victorian building is an art gallery and performance space, also hosting artists’ studios and a shop for contemporary arts and crafts.
The wider ArtGeo Cultural Complex is constellated around the jetty-end of Queen Street and features the Weld Repertory Theatre, a peaceful courtyard, a bush food garden and a growing array of outdoor public art.
13. Fig Tree Lane
Pottering about Busselton’s CBD you’re sure to be drawn into this shopping arcade, which cuts between Kent Street and Prince Street.
This is a haven for independent businesses, and inside you’ll happen upon a gallery, bakery, cafe and one-off shops for books, fashion, cute gifts, jewellery, home design, toys and kitchenware.
The name of the complex comes from the historic fig tree at the Kent Street end, where you can take a seat under the branches at the cafe and take a moment.
Open at the height of summer and set not far west of the Busselton Jetty is what is claimed to be Australia’s largest inflatable floating water park.
Aquatastic is normally in action from December to March, and will thrill and exhaust teenagers and smaller children with its giant trampolines, planks, slides and climbing walls.
The park is in calm, shallow water and lifejackets are provided.
There’s also a designated area for littler children to play in safety.
15. Sugarloaf Rock
From Cape Naturaliste you can follow a small piece of the long-distance Cape to Cape walking track down to get a better view of this famous granite island.
Sugarloaf Rock, so called for its conical shape, is just a few metres from land, across a channel with dangerous currents.
The island has graced the cover of Australian Geographic magazine and creates a breathtaking scene when the sun sets behind it.
Remember to bring a pair of binoculars, as those granite crags shelter nests for seabirds like the red-tailed tropicbird.