By: Tatum Stafford
If your ideal holiday involves secluded beaches, underwater adventures and uninterrupted ocean views, it might be time to book a trip to one of WA’s pristine islands.
With endless fishing, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling and diving on offer, visiting an island off WA’s pristine coastline is a unique way to get up close and personal with some of our State's most beautiful nature, wildlife and scenery.
So, it’s time to pack your bathers and hop on a ferry, barge or flight – here are 10 island experiences to tick off your WA bucket list.
1. Buccaneer Archipelago, Kimberley region
Comprised of more than 1,000 small islands, the pristine Buccaneer Archipelago is rugged, secluded and mostly untouched. Sitting north-west of the town of Derby, the islands are characterised by sandy white beaches, beautiful mangrove estuaries, rugged cliffs, Indigenous rock art and rich patches of rainforest.
One of the most impressive aspects of the archipelago is Horizontal Falls, a powerful tidal current which flows through two narrow gorges. Located in Talbot Bay, the water in the Falls surges with incredible force, causing the tide to rise and fall as much as 10 metres within six hours. The tidal pressure and sheer volume of water creates a horizontal water effect, contributing to the falls’ name.
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Along with its stunning natural features, the archipelago is also home to a huge array of wildlife, including snakes, birds, crocodiles, and most importantly, fish. There are fantastic fishing opportunities here, so you’re likely to catch barramundi, snapper tuna, Spanish mackerel and even gigantic mud crabs.
How to get there: From Broome, hop on a sea safari, cruise, flight or charter boat tour to reach the islands of the archipelago.
2. Dampier Archipelago, Pilbara region
The Dampier Archipelago consists of 42 coastal islands and islets that form the richest area of marine biodiversity known in Western Australia. With over 650 species of fish and plenty of coral gardens, sponges and seagrass, the archipelago is a haven for diving and snorkelling.
If you’re heading underwater, you’re also likely to spot green, logger head, hawksbill and flatback turtles, as well as dugongs, bottlenose dolphins and manta rays. Dolphin Island is one of the archipelago’s most popular diving and snorkelling spots.
This archipelago is also a prime spot for history buffs, as there are ruins on West Lewis, Gidley and Malus islands to explore. On West Lewis Island, you’ll encounter ruins believed to have been one of the early pastoral settlements of the archipelago, on Malus Island you’ll find the remains of old whaling and pearling stations, and on Gidley Island’s Black Hawk Bay you’ll see the remains of the pearler campsite and a few grave sites. The east side of Enderby Island is another point of historical interest as the resting place of numerous boats and planes.
While there are no formal facilities, beach camping is permitted in some spots along the archipelago, including Angel Island, Gidley Island and Collier Rocks, for a maximum of five nights.
How to get there: Boat charters, cruises and scenic flights are available from Dampier.
3. Rowley Shoals Marine Park and Mermaid Reef, Kimberley region
Essentially a protected aquarium in the middle of the ocean, the Rowley Shoals Marine Park (including the nearby Mermaid Reef) is home to some of the best diving spots in Australia, and is comprised of numerous small, sandy islands. Formed of three coral atolls (or ringed reefs); Clerke Reef, Imperieuse Reef and Mermaid Reef, the park’s waters are teeming with coral, fish, molluscs and larger marine animals including manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins and whales. If you’re lucky, you may also spot giant clams, giant potato cod and Maori wrasse.
As well as its fantastic diving opportunities, the marine park is also a prime spot for big game fishing. The deep ocean floor within the park is home to world-famous gamefish, including marlin, wahoo and dogtooth tuna. Though it’s an incredibly popular spot for recreational fishing, it’s up to you to know the rules – so make sure you’re abiding by the Department of Fisheries requirements.
How to get there: Charter boats and cruises depart from Broome. As it’s a 12-hour journey, many boat charters depart Broome at sunset to arrive at the park by sunrise. Conditions are best from September to December.
4. Mackerel Islands, Pilbara region
Comprised of 10 pristine islands and atolls, the Mackerel Islands offer a variety of marine wildlife experiences, and unique accommodation options on both Thevenard Island and Direction Island. Whether you take a day trip or extend your stay, you’ll have direct access to explore the islands’ protected, calm waters.
Diving and fishing are the most popular pastimes around the islands. If diving, you’ll head at least three metres below the surface to discover gropers, reef sharks, stingrays and plenty of fish. Due to challenging conditions, it’s recommended you have previous diving experience – so if you don’t, opt for a safe snorkel around the islands’ main reefs instead.
When it comes to fishing, you’ll be treated to some of the Pilbara’s ‘fishiest’ waters here, as there’s an abundance of species you may encounter, including red emperor, sailfish or crayfish. These islands are a great location to try different styles of fishing, as boat, beach and fly fishing are all popular with experienced anglers who visit.
If you’re staying on Thevenard Island, book a beachfront cabin and bring your kayak, snorkel or SUP board to explore the surrounding waters. In summer, marine turtles use the island’s beaches to nest and rest, so be careful not to disturb them. To explore the island on foot, hop on the Thevenard Eco Walk Trail. Passing 12 points of interest, the walk should take you around three hours to complete.
Alternatively, a stay on Direction Island* is one of the most private island experiences you’ll find in WA. On the island, there’s a sole beach shack that sleeps two to eight people, and is the perfect base for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking or fishing around the secluded island. This island also provides brilliant vantage points for whale-spotting, and has stretches of sand that are perfect for casual beach walks.
How to get there: Charter flights from Exmouth to Thevenard Island are available, or hop on a boat charter or ferry transfer from Onslow.
*Direction Island is currently closed for the 2020/2021 season.
5. Wilderness Island, Coral Coast region
Positioned along the eastern side of the Exmouth Gulf, Wilderness Island is an inshore island which provides unique accommodation and excellent fishing opportunities. If staying overnight, you’ll be placed in one of the island’s five beachfront eco cabins, all of which have uninterrupted ocean views and furnished front porches perfect for watching the sun set.
If you’re eager to cast a line in, the island is famous for its fly fishing on a series of flats that are a short walk from the eco cabins. These flats are protected by headlands, so are great spots to fish no matter the time of year. You’re likely to catch sailfish, longtail tuna, Spanish mackerel and cobia off of the island.
The island is open from April 1 to November 31 each year, and you’ll need to book your stay in advance.
How to get there: From Exmouth, it’s a 15-minute scenic flight or one-hour boat ride (in good weather).
6. Dirk Hartog Island, Coral Coast region
Dirk Hartog Island is the biggest island in WA. Renowned for its tranquil beaches, rich Australian history and rugged cliffs, the island is a haven for marine wildlife and an idyllic spot to snorkel, dive, fish or swim. Some of the most notable sites on the island include the blowholes, the pink Rose Lake, Turtle Bay and Cape Inscription, the landing site of Captain Dirk Hartog in 1616.
Located on the southern end of the island, Surf Point is a great spot for snorkelling and diving – and from July to October, it’s home to hundreds of nervous sharks who swarm the waters and are fascinating to observe. If you’re eager to view more sharks, head to Quoin Bluff South to spot baby sharks swimming in the shallows.
Each beach, cliff or point of interest on the island is linked via four-wheel drive tracks, so you’ll need a high clearance four-wheel drive to explore the island. Most of the tracks are hard sand but there are a few rocky sections, so take extra care and read our beginner’s guide to four-wheel driving in WA for more tips and information.
How to get there: Via Denham, take a boat or charter flight. Alternatively, a landing barge called the ‘Hartog Explorer’ is available to transfer four-wheel drive vehicles from Steep Point (located in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area) to the island. Bookings on the barge are essential, and it operates from 7:30am to 10am 364 days a year.
7. Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Coral Coast region
Often dubbed the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, this 122-island-chain is renowned for its epic snorkelling, diving and fishing opportunities. Once you’re underwater, you’re likely to spot beautiful coral gardens, colourful fish, seagrass meadows and animals including the vulnerable Australian sea lion. For a scenic underwater route, follow one of the islands’ seven self-guided dive and snorkel trails.
One of these trails will lead you through the remains of the famous Batavia, which wrecked on the islands in 1629. Often touted as one of WA’s best diving spots, the ship’s hull, cannons and anchors are fully visible on a dive – as are beautiful coral gardens and fish including dhufish, baldchin gropers and Spanish mackerel.
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If you’d rather spend time on-land, try your hand at fishing in the Abrolhos’ abundant waters. You'll be able to catch some of WA’s most prized eating fish, including dhufish, coral trout and emperor trout, as well as octopus, scallops or Western rock lobster. Recreational fishing is permitted around the islands within certain seasons, so before casting a line in, contact the Department of Fisheries for further information.
How to get there: The islands lie approximately 60 kilometres west of Geraldton, and can be reached by flight or charter boat. If you're an RAC member, you'll save 10% on scenic flights with Experience Oz WA.
8. Rottnest Island, Perth region
Situated off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is a snorkelling enthusiast’s paradise. With over 80 beautiful beaches and bays to explore, Rottnest’s coral reefs and wrecks are filled with a diverse range of fish and coral species – and one of the best snorkelling spots on the island is the Parker Point Marine Snorkel Trail. Located on the southern edge of the island, the trail is comprised of a series of plaques on the sea floor which contain information about Rottnest’s history, flora and fauna. There are a variety of beautiful fish and coral to view here – but if you’re a less experienced snorkeller, the neighbouring Little Salmon Bay may be a better spot to practice.
Surfing is another popular pastime on Rottnest, as the island is treated to idyllic conditions and some of the most consistent surf breaks in the State. Some of the most popular surf breaks are at Strickland Bay, Salmon Bay or Stark Bay – or if you’d rather try a reef break, Radar Reef, Cathedral Rocks and Chicken Reef are also great spots. Waves off Rottnest can be up to three feet higher than waves at Perth beaches, so take extra care before hitting the water.
There’s plenty to do on-land on Rottnest, too. You’ll be able to take your pick from segway tours, bike rides, quokka meet-and-greets, museums and much more. To understand more about the island’s rich history, hop on a walking tour with Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences. Your trusty guide will take you around Wadjemup (the local Aboriginal name for Rottnest Island), and perform a traditional sand or water ceremony, share Dreamtime stories, and sing traditional Noongar songs.
How to get there: You can take a scenic flight or seaplane from Perth, but the most popular option is to hop on a ferry. Ferries depart daily from Fremantle or Hillarys – plus, RAC members save on ferry vouchers with Rottnest Express and Rottnest Fast Ferries.
9. Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, Perth region
Comprised of pristine islands, reefs and shipwrecks, the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park is a haven for avid snorkellers, wildlife-watchers and kayakers. Along with its plentiful fish and coral, the park’s Seal Island is home to a colony of rare Australian sea lions which you may spot in nearby waters, and numerous little penguins who call a dedicated discovery centre on Penguin Island their home.
One of the best ways to explore the park is in a kayak or on a SUP board. There’s an 8-kilometre paddle trail that takes you past the park’s islands and reefs, and is a great way to tick off the key sights in one go. Starting at Point Peron, you’ll pass the cove at Bird Island, sea lions asleep on the beach at Seal Island, and a nice picnic area on Penguin Island, where you’ll turn around to complete the looped trail. It’s recommended to complete this trail in mornings from September to May – and if you don’t have your own equipment, you can hire it in Rockingham.
A highlight of the park is the Penguin Island Discovery Centre, home to Perth’s famous little penguins. The little penguin display has glass walls to provide unrestricted views of the creatures as they splash, play and are fed by the centre’s volunteers. Once you’ve visited the penguins, hop on a guided interpretive walk at 11:15am or 1:15pm daily to learn about Penguin Island’s cultural history and unique flora and fauna.
How to get there: Return ferries and cruises depart from Rockingham, and take you to and around the park’s various islands.
10. Recherche Archipelago, Goldfields-Esperance region
Also known as ‘The Bay of Isles’, the Recherche Archipelago is comprised of 105 islands that stretch over 230 kilometres long. The archipelago’s surrounding waters are teeming with sea sponge, coral and various fish and mammal species - including the rare minke whale and large groups of dolphins. Some of the most notable islands within the archipelago are Woody Island (the only island with public access), Middle Island, and Salisbury Island, a breeding ground for Australian and New Zealand fur seals.
If you’re an avid snorkeller, make the Woody Island Snorkel Trail in Shearwater Bay your first stop. The bay’s crystal-clear, temperate waters provide excellent visibility, and the trail is a short swim from the bay’s swimming platform. If you’re lucky, you may spot the elusive leafy seadragon here. There are plenty of other snorkelling opportunities across Woody Island, too, as there are heaps of drop offs, caves and swim-throughs that make up the island’s underwater outcrops.
Though it can only be visited by plane, Middle Island is home to one of WA’s most impressive natural features – the bubblegum-pink Lake Hillier. The lake is separated from the Southern Ocean by a thin strip of stand, so it creates a visually appealing contrast of blue water, white sand and pink water. The best way to view the lake is by a scenic flight or cruise - if you're an RAC member, you'll save 10% on scenic flights with Sightseeing Pass WA.
How to get there: To reach the archipelago, catch a ferry boat from the Taylor Street Jetty in Esperance, or fly from the helipad in Esperance Bay. The ferry operates daily from November to June.
Ready to immerse yourself in WA’s island life?
Some of these islands are within national parks, so make sure you’ve got a national park pass - RAC members save 50% on digital national park passes.
Image credit: Osprey Creative
Last updated: January 2021