I love living in one of the most remote places on the planet. There’s so much space in South Western Australia yet so much to see and do, which in a crowded world makes me feel truly privileged.
It’s also a fabulous region for families because, well … of exactly that; lots of attractions and tons of space to run around in. So today I’d like to introduce you to 3 fabulous family friendly things to do in South Western Australia, the region south of Perth.
First up, let’s go swim with dolphins.
It’s not everyday that you get to commune with wild dolphins, and I love taking guests with children to the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury (2 hours from Perth) where they can wade into the water for a dolphin experience or sail off for an eco-cruise and swim with them.
People are always moved by the sense of mystery and awe dolphins invoke. Perhaps it has something to do with their inquisitive nature and their vulnerability? I’m not sure, but I do know they intrigue and humble me to the point where I’m lost for words and quite spellbound when they swim up close.
Discovering Wild Dolphins in Bunbury
It’s a wonderful experience to head out on a small boat into Koombana Bay, a bay which offers both shelter and food for dolphins. Imagine a warm breeze on a perfect late summer’s day with a gentle easterly wind blowing. Listen to the thump of the sea against the boat’s tin bottom, a slip, slop and slap. Underneath the water is crystal clear and perhaps the ocean is still, like a mill pond.
Now you’ll motor out towards what’s known as The Cut.
Excuse me for pointing out, but it’s all so un-touristy, and soon you’ll arrive at the mouth of the estuary, into which 3 rivers run.
There won’t be tens of boats anchored here, tourist or otherwise. You’ll probably be alone except perhaps for a tiny Murdoch University research boat, yet you are at one of the best places in the world to see bottlenose dolphins in the wild.
About 20 – 60 dolphins live in Koombana Bay. Because it’s shallow, only about 4- 8 metres deep, it’s ideal for mums and babies. The Mums treat it like a maternity ward. In total there are around 250 identified dolphins that visit the bay – seems as if they treat it a bit like a dolphin club or playschool.
Fast Fact: In the sea between Mandurah and Busselton you could be lucky enough to see up to 500 dolphins in a pod
Tips and Hints
- You’ll find the Dolphin Discover Centre on the arc of Koombana Bay along a beautiful stretch of beach with a look-out/viewing point for dolphin watching.
- There are ‘Swim with dolphin’ tours, beach encounters and eco-boat trips.
- In the main building there’s an interpretive centre along with marine life such as sea horses, turtles and octupus which are being rehabilitated ready for life back in the ocean. There’s also a gift shop and a café.
- You could watch the 3D dolphin movie (7 minutes)
- Or you could adopt a dolphin. How about Tangles, Shanty, Osho, Nicky, Levy or Shredder?
- The centre is not for profit and run by Volunteers – you might also like: Volunteering with Dolphins
Busselton is only half an hour from Bunbury, and what a great place it is for families. You can walk, swim, jump off the jetty, kayak, eat, drink and be merry if you wish.
Seven years ago Busso didn’t really seem to be a ‘happening’ place. At least we didn’t think so. There was a rather decrepit old wooden jetty and a pretty beach, but the town didn’t seem vibey, in fact it all felt a little lacklustre and uncared for.
Fast forward to 2015 and the waterfront has been upgraded and the old jetty has been revamped. Sure the jetty which juts out over the turqoise blue water of Geographe Bay is heritage listed, and it’s still the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere at 1.8 kms long, but now there are no holes in the timbers and there are places for the kids to jump off, and for fishermen to fish – there’s even a sink for gutting them – the fish, not the kids.
There’s an amazing beach at Busselton fringed with tall Norfolk pines which give wonderful shade over the grassed areas right by the seafront. Hugging the promenade is a fabulous cordoned-off pool area for children along with shade sails picturesquely dotted along the sand behind which are cafes and restaurants, and within a short walk away you’ll find Queen Street at the heart of this bustling seaside town.
If you don’t fancy walking to the end of the jetty and back then there’s a small train that runs its length all the way to the end where a fantastic underwater observatory gives you a glimpse of life beneath the ocean waves without having to don a mask or diver’s tank.
The observatory is such fun because you walk down a winding staircase with huge windows looking out onto a watery world of many different kinds of fish and a natural reef environment that’s developed around the jetty’s pilons.
When you’ve walked back to the beach have fish and chips or a Simmo’s ice cream on the foreshore. It’s the simple things really, isn’t it?
Fast Facts about Busselton Jetty
- Construction of the original Jetty began in 1865
- In 2011 a $27 million refurbishment of the jetty was completed
- The boatshed style ticketing centre includes an interpretive centre and cultural heritage museum with gifts, homeware, and cooldrinks for sale.
- The underwater observatory at the end of the jetty allows visitors to view the spectacular marine environment beneath the jetty.
- For more information you might like to visit www.busseltonjetty.com.au
Western Australian Circus Festival, Lunar Circus Site, Karridale
The third thing I’d like to introduce you to only happens once a year, so you’ll need to plan but it usually falls within the Christmas school holidays. The thing is though it’s unique and likely to take you by surprise because it’s a very different kind of circus to the ones you might imagine in a big top. Much of the time the acts perform outside, or in smaller tents, and yes also inside a big top … but over a whole weekend, well 3 days actually.
The event’s focus is on training circus performers, and throughout the festival children are also encouraged to participate in various circus workshops, as well as have fun watching local, national and international contemporary circus stars perform at the height of their craft – quite literally.
Now this might sound a bit “Ho Hum” but when you get there, park up in a big field in the middle of nowhere outside of Karridale near Margaret River and walk into the grounds you’ll suddenly realise that you’ve joined another world. Artistes in distinctly eccentric get-ups wander between tents and high wires.
You might spot a pirate, or a Canadian high flyer, or the ringmaster with a top hat as the kids munch a burger and you sink a glass of beer at the ‘pub’.
Mostly though it’s all about ‘circus’ and you’re in it. Kids can run wild and you can vicariously live the life of a wandering circus troubadour for the weekend.
There are circus, comedy, cabaret and theatre shows from around the world as well as music, great food, market stalls, several bars, and even a flying trapeze. The setting is highly original and funky too.
I’ve never been to anything like it, and both times I’ve attended the settings and the acts have been quite different. I’ll definitely go again.
Overall, the event is avant garde, it’s fringe, it’s all things you are probably not expecting and more … and kids love it.
So put the date in your diary, and in January take a tent, take lots of water, take a sense of expectation and please put the children to bed before the more adult, definitely risque, fringe and burlesque acts begin later at night.
You can find out more here: The Lunar Circus
Disclaimer: Jo’s eco-boat trip was complimentary.
I’d love you to add your favourite family friendly things to do particularly in the South West, or anywhere in Australia for that matter.
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