Western Australia

When I decided to study abroad in Australia, I pictured the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House on the eastern coast. Instead I found myself in a photography program on the western coast, and I ended up with an experience better than I could have ever imagined. I lived in Fremantle, a southwestern harbor city of about 25,000 residents.

SEE: FREMANTLE Take time to explore the city. A large port near Perth—the largest city in the Southwest—Fremantle mixes hustle and bustle with the easygoing attitude of Australian coastal living. There are heaps of artisan shops and plenty of great places to grab a bite. Make a day of walking around, starting at the Moore & Moore Cafe, where they serve the best breakfast sandwiches and flavored coffee.

EAT: SWEETLIPS For the best fish and chips in town, head to the Fremantle marina and look for the unassuming Sweetlips sign. Don’t bother asking for a menu, just order the classic lunch. You won’t be disappointed. Outdoor seating lets you eat alfresco with the sound of crashing waves in the background. Order a to-go meal so you can walk out onto the sand and eat just above the tide’s reach. If you want an out-of-the-ordinary sweet, order the sticky date pudding at LITTLE CREATURES. Topped with ice cream, this warm pudding dessert melts in your mouth.

CAMP: ROTTNEST ISLAND A 15-minute boat ride from Fremantle, Rottnest Island has clear-water beaches perfect for snorkeling, and campsites for overnight stays. As someone who has camped all over the United States, I can tell you this overnight trip is absolutely worth it. Book your ferry tickets online and you’ll be picked up right next to the Fremantle train station. Rent a bike online as well, so you can experience all the island has to offer. Spend the day at the beach and take a loop around the island to see the lighthouse. Grab dinner at a restaurant on the island or grill at your campsite (each site comes with a charcoal grill and water hookup). Before you tuck in, set your alarm for at least an hour before sunrise. Trust me, you’re going on an amazing adventure. When the alarm goes off, hop on your bike and follow the only path. Take along a flashlight because you’re going across the entire island in the dark. Soon you’ll be taking bridges over the most astonishing natural pools imaginable. All of the lights in the heavens seem to reflect off these waters, until you feel surrounded by stars from above and below. You won’t be able to tell where earth and sky meet. Before the sun rises, stop and drop the kickstand so you can watch the sky wake up in a million colors.

SHOP: FREMANTLE FARMER’S MARKET This world-class farmer’s market is six buildings long, open four days a week and bustles with energy. Shop for items, but also for stories. The locals love to chat and are full of great tips about what to see while you visit. The first three buildings offer knickknacks, souvenirs and clothing. The back three buildings are filled to capacity with produce, plus fresh-caught fish, homemade breads and indescribable pastries, all of which you will want to package up and send home. If your schedule allows, shop on Sunday when vendors attempt to sell everything before closing. I usually managed to score a two-for-one price for yummy crepes filled with hazelnut spread.

DISCOVER: MARAPANA WILDLIFE WORLD This is not your typical petting zoo. Well-educated guides offer tons of facts about Australia’s cutest creatures, including dingoes, camels, ferrets and miniature horses. Meanwhile, kangaroos and their joeys hop around and sleepy koalas wait to be picked up. If you want to head home with great pictures, visit this park and redefine your concept of “cuddly.”

EXPLORE: KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK The most important thing to do when visiting Western Australia is to road trip the coast. Don’t just stick to Perth; rent an RV or convertible van, and see as much as you can. This national park is known for its rugged and beautiful scenery, so pack your water and your camera. A variety of trails range in level of difficulty, but the best kept secret is taking a trail down into the gorge. A refreshing, cool river snakes its way through the valley. Jump in and make your way through the ravine. Walls of red rock are perfect for climbing, and cliff diving into natural pools. Plus, there’s a spectacular waterfall.

TOP PICKS:

• Chill Iced Coffee: Look for this bottled mocha beverage in any Aussie supermarket and you’ll have a new coffee favorite.

• Cable Beach: Located north of Broome, this beach is frequently rated as one of the world’s most beautiful.

• Fremantle Haunted Prison Tour: Learn more about the nation’s convict-filled history on a creepy tour of the empty prison.

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Alice, my Aussie roommate, had never been to the western part of the continent and loved every second we spent in Karijini National Park.

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Up close and personal with one of Australia’s most popular attractions.

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