On the Road to Bunbury

On the Road to Bunbury photo

There's a feeling of, freedom in getting behind the wheel of an automobile and taking off for unknown places on a self-drive Australian holiday. There's the challenge of a road never traveled before and the reward of sights never seen before — and the enjoyment of being able to stop when and where you want.

Opt for a 230-mile driving trip south of Perth to Bunbury in Western Australia, and your rewards will be great — green pastures and dairy lands, farming communities and sun-splashed meadows. But before you can set out, you'll need to master driving English style on the left side of the road. While this may seem a major adjustment, remember that all the controls are reversed, too, making it easier.

The hardest part of your driving trip may be getting out of Perth. The city has the usual complex of urban freeways. But with a map supplied by the rental car company and some directional advice, you'll soon be out into the countryside. Away from Perth, multilane highways narrow to two-lane affairs, and the pace slackens. The southern road, Highway 1, travels through dairy lands. Around Pinjarra at the foot of the Darling Ranges, you'll find wide open pastures, cattle, baled hay, and windmills. Woolly sheep, daubed with blue paint, stand ready for shearing.

Continuing south over a well-paved road, you'll drive through Waroona and Harvey. Waroona has an auto speedway and a public library dating to 1933. Green rolling hills sweet with grass surround the Shire of Harvey. The Harvey River, flanked by willows, runs through town, and the neat homes sport well-tended lawns.

At Brunswick Junction, not far from Bunbury, a statue of a black-and-white Holstein, a life-size replica of the cow that you'll see grazing much of the countryside, stands on Main Street. Peters Creameries is across the street, and alongside the concrete heifer stands St. Peter's Catholic Church. And at the base of a hill is an English-style tavern with several chimneys and signs advertising Swan Lager.

Three hours after leaving Perth, with stops along the way, you'll arrive in Bunbury. As you enter, you'll notice a sign that reads "Bunbury is a tidy town. Don't be a litterbug." And indeed Bunbury homes are neat, with flowers in the yard. Some of the older residences have spacious verandahs, and the Old Grand Central Hotel downtown has a second-story balcony trimmed with a wooden picket railing.

Bunbury is an attractive little town. Most of the shops are in two-story, turn-of-the-20th-century brick buildings. There's a modern public library on Stirling Street fronted by a war memorial. And on a hill overlooking town rises the spire of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Located on the Indian Ocean, Bunbury draws fishermen and water sports enthusiasts year round.

This is a good time to stop for a bite to eat before heading back to Perth. Fish and chips seems to be the order of the day at the local cafeteria. Outside shoppers run their errands, and teenagers gather in small groups texting on their cell phones. And just about every other person seems to be sipping on a carton of chocolate milk. You'll return to Perth by the road that hugs the coast. Through grassy meadows and eucalyptus groves, the Old Coast Highway will take you north. Along the way, you may want to stop to buy some fruit from a roadside produce stand.

At Mandurah, a river flows into an estuary and then into the sea. Picnickers eat their lunches as sea gulls squawk overhead. Off the road are numerous beaches, and passing cars sport overhead racks with fishing poles.

Around Rockingham, you'll travel through dunes country, followed by a stretch of grazing country with old abandoned farm buildings. The gentle rural sights begin to disappear at Cockburn as industrial factories begin to appear on the way into Fremantle, the port for Perth.

The trip to Bunbury and back takes a full day and is best done during September to October when wildflowers — yellow and red banksia, fuzzy lambs tail, and bright kangaroo paws — are in bloom. Don't forget your camera.