Think hot dry long straight roads, howling winds, perfect waves, silver sands and a hippy like windsurfing community living in vans full of windsurfing and camping gear, driving deliriously to their next destination whilst dodging kangaroos, wallabies, snakes and spiders. You should have an idea about what WA is about.
Windy and Hot from October through to April, you can get away with only a 5.3, 4.7 and a 78litre all round wave board, two fins, a shortie and plenty of sunblock. WA is one of those places that you absolutely have to go for an amazing travelling experience and some mindblowing windsurfing.
Apart from the wind only blowing from the left, if you want to, you can taste every windsurfing experience imaginable. It is fantastic place. Because there are so many places to sail, this is a very comprehensive guide.
|Windy Season||October to April, the middle period often the best.|
|Water Temp In Summer||Mid twenties, but can be cooler. Shortie/summer wetsuit is needed.|
|Wet Suit?||None in the Summer. Shortie or 3mm wetsuit at other times.|
|Average Wind Speed||The Freemantle Doctor, starts in Perth and accelerates North between 20 and 30 knots. 4.2, 4.7 and 5.3 are sensible sails.|
|Flight Time (From UK)||You won’t get much change out of 24 hours.|
- How To Get There
Finding the best deal flight that will charge you the least amount for baggage is always the main problem. Avoid flights like Brunei Airlines, although they are cheaper for the flight they have a very strict baggage code (plus you don’t get beer on the flight!). Qantas are a premium price for flights.
Austravel.com have some really good deals going with Thomson fly. Thomson fly ( 0870 166 2120)
Malaysia and Singapore airlines have always had good feedback and have been fairly baggage friendly.
To make the most out of your trip you need a car, no question. There is a way to avoid having a car, by staying at the excellent Lancelin Lodge. The Lodge will pick you and your gear up from the airport. Once you are there they have special trolleys for you to wheel your kit to the beach. This does however mean that you are limited to staying in Lancelin. Not a bad way to start a long trip and meet people.
Buying a Car
Buying is as tricky as anywhere, you can get some good deals, or some not so good deals. If you are there for a long period of time, and want to buy then hire first so you can look around at a good deal. The local paper in Perth lists loads of cars for sale, there is also a car sale next to the airport every Sunday where many travellers will be selling off their cars. Remember that many of these cars will have done the rounds with windsurfers and surfers. There are also plenty of second hand garages around. When you do buy you will have to get it “rego’d” i.e taxed, and insured. You can pick up a decent car for about $1200 which is about £5-600. Split between two of you, it works out quite well.
Hiring is often a safer bet, but is fairly costly and remember you will doing a massive amount of miles which will add onto the price of a car. Reliability is the benefit of this.
- How The Wind Works
Western Australia is windy because of a sea breeze, the bulk of Australia being a hot, hot desert. The further North you go, the windier it is. At Geraldton you will often be on two sizes smaller than
you are at Perth , the wind is called the Freemantle Doctor. The North often gets the wind first, this is because it juts out into the Indian ocean more and gets the seabreeze and acceleration effect the first. The South is a bit more fickle for wind, although Margaret River and Esperence often work on different wind patterns to the West Coast. Esperence is actually not that consistent, so make sure you have your facts right before making the epic journey. When trying to forecast winds in Oz, then look at the pressure charts. If the lines go horizontally across the coast line you will be fine. If they dip in a v shape on the coastline, then this is known as a “trough”. If this happens it will be extremely hot and not windy. You are better off heading South, or catching the early morning Easterlies at Swan River.
The wind always swings offshore towards the evening. The classic down the line sessions are therefore at this time. Coronation beach is a perfect example of this, it has a really long wave but is cross onshore during the day and excellent for jumping. The “Evening Session” here can be an excellent, cross shore down the line experience!
Ocean Outlook is a very good site for planning your windsurfs.
- The Sailing Spots
Starting in the North and working south. There is not a single bad place to sail. There is only one wind direction, it blows from the left and tides are never really a problem. Low tide will expose the reef more but it is more a case of using your judgement.
One of the best waves in the entire world. It is a perfect cross off direction and the wave bends so more offshore the more you go on it and on a good day you can 20 or more turns. There are loads of different sections and it can be really hard to make the whole wave. It is probably the most fun you can have on a wave. There are 3 different surfing breaks, if it is big it is impossible to sail the whole thing, it is such a long wave. The launch is tricky, so a lot of people where boots. You launch through a key hole and depending on the state of tide, it is on sharp reef or just off the sand. At low tide it is really hard, you come in at the same place. If the wind dies you can come in further down wind but you need some help from people on the beach. There is a little onshore spot you can sail in front of the campsite called Fencelines.
The reef is shallow and you can break your kit easily, you then have to swim in downwind. The water smells like fish, so it is also quite a “sharky” experience.
From Perth it is about a 12 hour drive, you have to shop at Carnarfon to shop for however long you are staying there, you need absolutely everything water, beer, bread and anything else to help pass the time in the evenings, surfboard.
GERALDTON click here for map
Geraldton is the second biggest city in WA. It is not actually that big and you get the feeling that the locals don’t really leave there. You can easily spend your whole trip in Gero’ as the sailing is varied and convenient. It is a long drive from Perth as you would expect. There are plenty of café’s and bars in the town to keep you amused.
More sideshore than Coronation, more waveriding, it is quite a bowl section. You need a 4×4 to get there or you can sail there, which takes 40mins sailing upwind from Coro ’.
North of Geraldton and off the main highway is Coronation Beach. Coronation is one of the best allround spots in the world. You start off with a 700 metre flat water lagoon which runs into a really nice small steep stunt ramp, then you get a nice bit of flat before you hit a much larger rolling wave. It is a really good playground. Good for cross on wave riding during the day and side offshore in the evening session. It is also an amazing place for freestyle and learning, because the inside is so flat. You really get everything out of a day’s sailing here. For an 80kg bloke, the most popular sail size you will use is a 4.7. Choose to camp or commute from Geraldton which is 30 mins away. Camping is an excellent experience and shouldn’t be missed. Access is down a full dirt track that started off as a good road.
Sunsets can get really good, It’s on the north side of Geraldton. It needs a really big swell as it hardly ever breaks. It breaks off the corner of a river mouth. It is a down the line wave, that can be a little gusty to get out. When it works it is the best spot in Geraldton. Parking is easy there are two, one right in front of the Caravan site and one you just drive down too. You can rig up and just walk down the beach.
The most southerly point of Geraldton is also very popular, there is also campsite near by. Hells Gate (the reef) probably picks up more swell than anywhere else. There is good jumping and good riding, but it is right out to sea so if the wind drops it is hard to get back in. There is a big channel. On the right is Hells Gate and on the left is Kiddies. It is always quite choppy and the flat section is never as smooth as Coronation beach. If you take the wave for too long you will end up on a dry reef and a sucky ledge. There is plenty of parking and a grassy rigging area. The windsurfing shop Sailwestis right on the beach.
Greenhead is a stop off between Lancelin and Geraldton, it is a fishing town in the middle of no where on the coastal route. Parking is on the beach. There is a jetty with loads of Cray fishing boats. The launch is through a flat section where the wind is quite gusty. The actual reef is about a kilometre out. It gets really windy, cross shore and is worth a trip.
A mellow laid back town that you will find hard to leave. Lano’ works on the same weather patterns as Perth so it doesn’t get as much wind as Geraldton. There is good rental and accomadation here. Also the pie shops are amazing. The main pub, the Tavern, is a good place to hang out and is also the Ocean Classic, a festival style competition.
Downwind from main break, is a point break that can be really good. It is more cross shore than main break. Be careful not to go upwind too far as there are a few scary ledges. There is a good lip to hit, the wave then reforms as it travels over the reef.
Hole in the Wall
Mainly a cross on jumping spot, between main break and south passage.
600 metre flat water stretch perfect for freestyle, learning and blasting until you hit the main reef. It is a point break. It is not really that good until there is a lot of swell, when it can be really good. You can get some amazing jumping at Main break, because the run up is so long. On a good day it will link up across the channel to the “Hole in the Wall”, when it does this it is amazing. If you get worked here it is not too bad because it breaks into quite deep water. Lancelin can be stupidly crowded, as loads of windsurfers of different experience venture onto the main break.
4×4 track that takes about an hour and a half, really sandy beach, there is a sort of beach hut town there. Sand gets blown everywhere. There is excellent surfing there. Really good jumping and really good riding. It is a beach break but there is not much of a shore dump. It gets more swell than the reef breaks at Lancelin.
Perth could well be where you start your journey, and there is some really good sailing to be had too. Perth City itself is also a very cool place to hang out.
Cross on, loads of rip and horrendous shore break, really punchy wave, but pretty fun once you get used to it. There are two carparks to launch from, pick your run up well, its often a bit light on the inside so you will want a floatier onshore style board to make more use of it. Its not that great for jumping, and riding requires a good technique. A lot of local sailors will sail here after working hours, they are all pretty friendly. The wind normally gets up there quite late, and gets the breeze much later than anywhere up North. Still as you will be flying into Perth, it’s not a bad starting point.
Breaks a bit further out than Scarborough, but similar. The Cott is famous for its party nights.
The morning before a seabreeze and quite early you get a hot Easterly wind that comes off the desert. It is really good for freestyle and blasting about. Pelicon Point windsurfing and kitesurfing centre are also based here. When it “trough’s out” you can sail here in the morning.
THE SOUTHWEST + SOUTH
MARGARET RIVER map
Possibly the most famous break in WA. Margies is a place not to be underestimated, yet is has a gentle side to it. It is a big gnarly peeling wave that breaks on a cavernous reef, aptly named the Surgeons Table. Yet it has a big mellow rolling shoulder where, you can get too if the bowl gets too much. Every now and then though, a monster set will come in, and you will see air bubbles forced out from the surgeons table into the wave. There is a system here to get waves, the sailors rotate in a circle, out the back and take it in turns to get waves. If there are more than 12 out it gets too crowded. Getting in and out requires you to go out through a key hole (previously made by blowing up the reef with dynamite), steer down wind on a gusty run, head right, then down wind again. Tricky, but you get the hang of it.
The beaches at Esperence are some of the most amazing you will ever see. The water is fresh (that is cold), and the sand is really white. Esperence also gets frontal weather systems, unlike a lot of the west coast. So don’t be too surprised if you get the evil tack “starboard” as Aussies call it. There are a couple of well posted campsites that you will find yourself at. If there are a groupl of you, then it might be cheaper to hire out a chalet for your stay.
9 mile/ Observatories
Did we mention that Margaret’s was heavy, well on a big day the wave at Esperence is heavier. It is a big, hollow, powerful beach break that takes no prisoners. If your kit is a bit old, slightly worn then forget it. It will not last the day. We saw so much older kit wrecked here. The wave is amazing, but unpredictable. It can wall up and break anywhere, you really have to have your wits around you. When you get punished, you get it big time. You hit the bottom, get brought up and go down again, then you have to somehow swim in to your kit. Getting out there are no channels, you have to pick your moment well and charge out at full speed like a crazed maniac. When smaller it is not so extreme, but you still will find yourself going over quite a harmless looking bit of white water, only to find it spins the board from beneath you and you are back at the beach again, feeling fairly defeated.
Fourths is the onshore beach, nearer the town. A bit more popular than 9 mile because it is not so hectic. But if you drive all the way to Esperence, then get yer ass down to 9 mile.
- Instruction And Kit Hire
Accommodation depends on what your plans are and where you want to take it. The only place worth mentioning is the Lancelin Lodge, as there are so many backpacker hostels around Perth . The Lodge is a great starting point, and an excellent place to meet other windsurfers. Lancelin itself is a pretty cool town, the Lodge owners are very friendly and helpful, the atmosphere of the lodge is like any Hostel, so it may not suit your needs for too long. You are looking at $20 per night which is pretty cheap! Email them and they will pick you up from the airport.
Camping is the most common type of accommodation, there are plenty of good campsites in Geraldton, One in Lancelin and a couple in Margaret River and Esperence. They are all well sign posted and you can just turn up. For the best camping experience then you have to spend some time at Coronation Beach . Camping involves finding a clearing and setting up camp with all your mates, using the stone fire pits to cook on. The only facility is a dodgy tin shed toilet covered in spiders webs – you get used to it! A warden will come round every now and then to collect some cash. It is important that you don’t hack down the trees for firewood, they save the environment and are your only shelter.
Renting a house
If you are there for a long time or are fed up of camping it is quite easy to hire a house or join in with some who have. Doing this you lack the flexibility of just getting up and going. The local papers or Estate Agents will help you out here. Geraldton is probably the best place to do this, since there are a number of different sailing spots and the wind is the most consistent.
There are plenty of places to eat out, as you would imagine in a place the size of WA, that cover all needs. Worth mentioning for the particularly hungry are Eagle Boys, they do amazing deals including 3 pizzas and a bottle of large coke for less than a tenner. Hungry Jacks in Geraldton is a good place to hang out and make use of the air conditioning when it is too hot outside.
If you are camping then the usual foods are the best, you can get really cheap steak which are great for the many BBQ’s that you will be having. Every campsite has a mandatory Barbie for you to throw a shrimp on.
Best value beer is Carlton Draft. You get beer from a drive through bottleo (everything in Oz has an “O” at the end).
Best value wine is Coulambar, decent red wine! You can get a “Goon Bag”, which is one of those 5 litre boxes for about a fiver.
Perth is a nightlife mecca there are plenty of nightclubs, for some reason I have forgotten what they are called. The “going out” weekend starts on Thursday and finishes on Sunday with the Sunday Session, an all dayer at the Cott. The Sunday Session finishes fairly early and is covered well on the radio. Geraldton also had a dodgy night club, a couple of nights are popular with travellers. There are also some good pubs, one has a regular open session night which is always worth a laugh. Lancelin is a bit quieter. The Tavern is a good pub. At Christmas, New Years and during the Ocean Classic it really comes alive, there is a stage in the massive back garden with good bands and thousands of people. It goes off! Aside from that every night around a campfire with a couple of tinney’s is a good night! Nights not to forget are the bikini contests. There seem to be a lot of these and are very popular.
- Bored Of Windsurfing
If you get a good season with all the travelling to do, then you will be hard pushed to fit in many other activities. If you are into non windsurfing activities then Australia is known for the “great outdoors experience” so there are a lot of things to do, from surfing, climbing, bush trails, bush tucker tours, canoing, walking, diving etc. There are also plenty of tourist attractions such as the Pinnacles (a load of monolith rocks that cause nice shadows), tree walking, kangaroo dodging, wildlife parks. One of the best things is the wine tasting, WA has plenty of excellent vineyards, from Margaret River , to Albany and North of Perth. Also check out places like Wave Rock, Monkey Mia, Walpole National Park and Rottnest Island . All the details of these be found in depth on australian explorer. To be honest, you will generally just stumble on them.
Wear a lot of sunblock, the sun is very strong and you are staring at it all day!
Don’t embark on a big trip just on the off chance that there might be wind somewhere else, you will end of with a lot of driving and not so much windsurfing. Places like Esperence are unreliable.
Don’t drop in! Euro’s have a bad reputation. Margies is especially known for priorities. Follow the routine, and don’t gybe on a wave before the sailor in front of you!
If planning on staying at Gnarloo and Coronation beach, then remember you will need a lot of drinking water. You can fill up tanks at petrol stations.
Don’t buy a car from another state, you will not be able to sell it.
You will need camping stuff, there are plenty of good shops, but if you buy a second hand car off a traveller it usually comes with it all included.
Get a skinny mast! Otherwise you will be replacing them regularly.
Best cars to buy are Ford Falcons or Holden Commadores.
If travelling to Esperence overnight, then time your fuel stops right, because there are no 24hr stations and you will need more than one tank.
If you have contact lenses then “wet ones” are essential for cleaning hands, as Coronation beach has no washing facilities. You can also get washing soap that works in salt water for doing the dishes.
Get a fly hat for late in the season, if there have been a lot of easterlies the fly’s will make you insane.
Feature by Clyde Waite and Paul Hunt. Pix by Camilla French, Amanda Van Santen, Sam and Katie