Western Australia’s Bremer Bay is the south's sleeping beauty — peaceful, pure and a dream to wander. Its natural splendour of secluded coves, granite headlands, bubble-gum blue beaches, exotic flora, and snaking bush trails can leave you eager to venture beyond its realm, even if that means finding yourself at the edge of a continental shelf.
Far from its farming origins, Bremer Bay captures imaginations with its extraordinary wildlife. It lures those who like to venture out of their comfort zone to see its famed residents despite their nightmarish-sounding names — mythical-looking leafy and weedy sea dragons and killer whales.
I felt a bit disoriented when I first arrived at this emerging tourist destination 500km south-east of Perth. There is no main thoroughfare strip with local institutions such as an old faithful country bakery or historic pub — just residential housing with ad hoc establishments in between.
Solitude is bliss in my holiday state of mind. In a place where beaches seemed to outnumber shops and the like (something of a bonus in Bremer Bay), it encourages people to seek natural forms of fun. Although the tiny hamlet may appear to be in a constant slumber, its residents — both above and below sea level — have many good reasons to expend their energies elsewhere.
A SLICE OF PARADISE
The drive itself from Perth to Bremer Bay is roughly 5.5 hours, but that doesn't take into account the almost mandatory pie stop in Williams. It’s a family tradition and, with my sister in tow, I couldn’t resist.
Keeping in with the family theme, the Williams Woolshed along Albany Highway is a multi-generational family-owned business and a tourist attraction in its own right.
The corner tin shed weaves its freshly baked goods with woolly comfort wears under one roof, so you may be tempted to spend more than a tenner for a homemade pie and caffeine hit and walk out with a new winter wardrobe en route to the Great Southern region.
In hindsight, we could've made do with an extra layer with our almost dusk arrival into Bremer Bay's Native Dog Beach. As we trailblazed the narrow gravel roads for our sunset viewing over opposing headlands and sea, the last glimmer of sunlight flashed. Sigh — we had just missed it as we pulled up along its rocky hinterland.
If there was any consolation, watching the sky slowly take on cotton candy colours of lilacs, pinks, and metallic blues spectacularly overshadowed our failed sunset attempt. You could see why this turquoise beach is popular with surfers, with rolling waves transforming into roaring pipelines even at sundown. The waves weren't inviting enough to don a wetsuit, but Bremer Bay had its other ways.
“We found paradise,” my sister happily squealed as we drove around the last bend along the unsealed road into Little Boat Harbour early next morning. The paradise claim wasn't out of place with the beach's sheltered position, dazzling crystal blue waters, and greenlit headland skirted with boulders enticing enough.
“You can't get much softer than this sand,” she said as we walked barefooted on the fine granules that made this white sandy beach even more pristine.
Squeak, squeak with every small step along the sands before we let our towels mark the spot. But things only got better once the flippers and wetsuit were on to see its other deep-sea charms.
Bremer Bay's shore dive and snorkel mecca is a great diving block to see a vast diversity of species found in the area thanks to the Leeuwin Current's ebb and flow of warm and cold waters. Its nutrient-rich waters are the reason why this unique underwater playground thrives with temperate treasures found nowhere else.
To become more familiar with the area's marine life, avid sea explorers can follow a short shore dive trail. Nine plinths ranging from 3m-10m dot the seabed and provide information about local marine or plant life found around the Bremer Bay coastline. The holy grail would be catching a glimpse of the weedy sea dragons.
Due to storm conditions, we were advised by Craig, the owner of Bremer Bay Dive and Sports — and the town's only scuba diving school — that these pipe-snout fish would be hard to spot but are usually present in abundance thanks to the seagrass beds providing breeding areas. Still, my snorkel search for the shy seafarers would not disappoint.
I was entranced by the mustard-yellow seagrass meadows dancing in the rhythm of the gentle waves. Cods, small schools of fish, a few Red-lip Morwongs and a couple of zebra-looking Old Wives paired together caught my eye. Rocks masked with prolific sponge life and the zany patterns of small sea slugs added pops of colour in the big blue.
I was rapt with what little creatures I saw with such ease from shore, but Bremer's Bay renowned ticket attraction is one to call for a bigger boat.
EDGE OF GLORY
Bremer Bay's most famous natural landmark is one we don't get to see, but it paves the way for a spectacle — the Bremer Bay Canyon.
Bremer Bay Canyon has put the town on the map for attracting one of the biggest seasonal orca (killer) whale populations in the southern hemisphere. Throughout the Australian summer months, the slick movers can be reliably sighted in the biological hotspot alongside diverse oceanic birdlife, making the region even more remarkable for wildlife spotting.
The deep-water ecosystem sits at the edge of the Australian continental shelf and plummets to depths of 1000m. The tremendous biological discovery was made back in 2005 by filmmaker Dave Riggs just 70km from the town's coast.
Each summer between 2005 and 2013, the Esperance local participated in oceanic surveys looking at various wildlife onboard Japanese southern bluefin tuna research expeditions. At the edge of the continental shelf, he noticed strange smells wafting in the region. It wasn't until his previous work of filming shark tagging intersected with this that he believed his discovery of a ‘hotspot’.
Data from a previously tagged 3.2m shark indicated a large predator had devoured it in close vicinity to the speculated hotspot. Killer whales, sperm whales, giant squid and white sharks were possible perpetrators. It became little more than a point of fascination until Riggs partnered with a local vessel operator for further research for his ABC documentary The Search for The Ocean's Super Predator. As if right on cue, his suspicions were soon realised with the discovery of the area's nutrient-rich waters teeming with life.
I braced myself for the wild ride ahead onboard the Naturaliste Charters’ vessel Alison Maree — the same one used by Riggs to make his famous discovery — to see the ‘pandas of the sea’ at play. Earlier this year, the killer whales weren't fooling around. Over 70 killer whales attacking a lone blue whale, the biggest animal to roam the planet, was recorded. Would I see this rare sight play out before my eyes? I hoped not. But at the same time, the intense and confronting scene of nature doing its thing would be something I knew I wouldn't be able to look away from.
I decided to forgo the seasickness tablets, but people onboard were reaching out for the paper bag throughout the 90-minute topsy-turvy ride, with the two-metre swells being too much to bear. I held on — just.
There were four marine biologists on board, including Zoe, who took the reins of the tour. She informed us that we were in for a 96 per cent chance of seeing the apex predators. As the hours went by, I was losing faith. I held onto the top deck rail with my cold, pale hands, my camera around my neck, waiting for the money shot — a whale fluke perhaps?
Anticipation was mounting. We had spotted WA’s big bird, a chocolate brown wandering albatross soaring the skies, but no black and white ocean beasts were in sight. But how do you spot these things among the mighty waves of the Southern Ocean, I thought.
“There it is, coming back up!” a passenger shrieked. Yes! The first whale of the day had been sighted.
Adrenaline was kicking in. The killer whale's huge black dorsal would appear a few moments later. Soon enough, more whales joined. A collective ‘coo’ from the crowd sounded.
There was commotion along the ocean with us open-eyed whale watchers rushing back and forth on all sides of the boat to observe the whales' sporadic appearances over the next three hours. I was in full-blown paparazza mode, clicking away at every sight of black and white cutting through water. You would think that whale watching was Bremer Bay’s official sport looking at everyone with their cameras.
I was mesmerised by a mother and calf roughly five metres from the boat as they performed their merry-go-round moves in and out of the water. They would join the tally of nine killer whale sightings, including two full-grown bulls and a pod of five.
A perfect goodbye to the long day of adventure was seeing a small pod of three were sighted on the right-hand side of the vessel, synchronising glides along their unpredictable journey, and boy, it was an exhilarating watch.
A WALK IN THE PARK
An oversized botanical garden is on Bremer Bay's doorstep and is worth the 40km drive along sealed and unsealed roads to see the park in bloom.
Fitzgerald National Park is one of the country’s most botanically abundant and contains one-fifth of WA’s plant species — the royal hakea is a standout. There are plenty of walking trails to see the park's scenic grandeur, including its namesake river mouth, mountain peaks rising in the far wilderness, and green shrub-specked cliffs cloaked by beautiful blue seas.
The Point Ann Heritage Trail marries history and nature along its 1.5km loop. The coastal walk includes a short section along the old rabbit-proof fence and has whale watching platforms — that is, if you have a keen enough eye to see blow holes in the far horizon. Our stroll along the moderate trail was a stop-start affair taking in the sweeping vistas. While walking along the beach, it seemed as if small fireworks were going off with crackling sounds heard. As it turned out, the waves were giving kisses to the rock-strewn beach.
Tip: The trail has upgraded barbecue facilities and would be the perfect spot to cook a snag with a view!
A short drive away, I felt like I was at world’s end, walking along the off-white sands of the desolate St Mary Inlet. The barren inlet was still, with a handful of birds flying over as we made our way across. We were on a foot safari, observing a trail of kangaroo prints in the broad sandbar a metre or so apart from one another, stretching out into the distance.
Closer to home, Bremer Bay has other trails worth the following, including walking trails, Tooreburrup Hill Lookout with 360-degree views of the town and Snail Trail. The 60km Point Henry Drive Trail offers historical insight into the area, offering interpretive panels of its settlement and contemporary European history.
A visit to Wellstead Estuary, a significant feeding and recuperating ground for migrating birds that voyage on the East Asian Australasian Flyway, is a must for bird lovers.
REFUEL AND RECHARGE
I have noted there is not much to Bremer Bay as a township, but it does deliver when it comes to replenishing.
Brunch in Bremer Bay is worth the dough. Situated in the historic Telegraph station, the Telegraph on Bremer Bay offers ‘food as art’ eats made from locally sourced seasonal produce.
To have a taste of its history, I headed to Wellstead Museum. Named in honour of Bremer Bay's pioneer, John Wellstead, the museum houses over 6000 artefacts, ranging from cars to a hair-raising antique 1750 Transylvanian horse-drawn hearse — kooky and spooky. On the premises, there is Wellstead Museum Café, with a colourful salad of the day that was more suited to be on Instagram. Not surprisingly, it tasted as good as it looked.
The area also is home to the heritage-listed Currawong and Boobook stone cottages dating back to first settlement in 1850. It's simply magical coming here at sundown and seeing the kangaroos feeding on the grass with the cottages a storybook backdrop.
There may be an absence of a traditional pub, but drinkers can find solace in its boutique waterhole. Bremer Bay Brewing Company is an unofficial welcome sign into town, located on the corner of a roundabout along aptly named Seadragon Avenue. I indulged in grilled abalone and squid salad with a pint of lobster red ale in the buzzing two-storey nautical-themed pub. Hearing the sounds of locals toasting drinks and retelling their adventures was a wholesome way to cap off days of being out and about listening to nature’s soundtrack.
My whirlwind stint in Bremer Bay had only just scratched the surface but left me with a healthy appetite for more.
BREMER BAY BEACHES RESORT TOURIST PARK
P: (08) 9837 4290
BREMER BAY CARAVAN PARK
P: (08) 9837 4018
NATURALISTE CHARTERS WHALE WATCHING AND KILLER WHALE EXPEDITIONS
Bremer Bay Killer Whale (Orca) Expedition $385 per adult, $300 per child (10–17)
P: (08) 9750 5500
BREMER BAY DIVE AND SPORTS
One boat dive from $175 including all gear
One shore dive from $85 including all gear ($60 extra to dive with a divemaster)
P: 0427 374 440