The Great Southern is known for its dramatic cliff lines and beaches, with mild temperatures in the cooler months making the region a magnet for whale- and wildflower-watchers. While it was once in Margaret River’s shadow, this region has become one to watch over the coming years. Albany is embracing change, with the rebranding of Whale World to become the Discovery Bay Tourism Experience, a 13.5-hectare development that’s been more than four years in the making. Denmark, now boasting more than 30 wineries, is becoming an increasingly popular escape for epicureans, while the orca tours in Bremer Bay Canyon proved so popular in 2014 that the research tours will run again in February 2015.
Top things to do
Visit the Hidden Treasures
Hike up Bluff Knoll
Spot whales (from June to October)
Have a picnic in the Porongurups
Go for a swim at Greens Pool
Tour the wineries
Take the kids to Discovery Bay
Bushwalk through Fitzgerald River National Park
Book an orca tour from Bremer Bay
Tackle a portion of the Bibbulmun Track
Go fishing at Emu Point or Middleton Beach
All these things to do and more at www.scoop.com.au/greatsouthern
There is so much to see and do in the Great Southern, it’s best to start with the main centre and work your way out from there. Founded in 1826, Albany has evolved along historical trade routes and laneways, ensuring a less-than- onventional town plan. The main centre along York Street is home to a great selection of retail and food outlets that you’ll want to spend a full day discovering. At nighttime you can park yourself in front of a roaring fire at any one of the town’s eateries, and enjoy a meal prepared from fresh, in-season produce (there are also a couple of late-night spots if you’re keen to head out). The town is accessible by foot, but has limited public transport, and if you want to access the region’s national parks you’ll need a car. Once you have wheels, take a drive along Princess Royal Drive because you’ll likely see truly stunning views of the wind farm. Famous for its clean, clear waters, Emu Point is a haven for swimming, fishing and picnicking. Pay a visit to the nearby Oyster Harbour, where the waters are thick with molluscs, sold fresh at the Albany Oyster Farm. If you’re after a good photo, Mount Clarence looms over Albany, and the 360-degree panorama of Emu Point, Middleton Beach, Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound makes the 100 or so steps to the top totally worth it. Towards the end of the year, Albany’s events calendar becomes jam-packed, including a vintage motorcycle weekend, an agricultural show, and a new downhill bike race. For more information about what’s on offer, visit the Albany Visitor Centre on Proudlove Parade.
A sea lion on the Albany coast (photography Jamie Kiddle).
The Denmark Coast offers some of the most varied travel experiences in WA, everything from a romantic escape to a nature-based family holiday. There is an abundance of world-class natural attractions, including the Valley of the Giants and spectacular beaches such as Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks, with some of the oldest rocks in the world. Surrounded by hills and karri forests, the town spreads along the western bank of the lower Denmark River and Wilson Inlet to Ocean Beach and the scenic rugged coastline and headlands. Since its foundation in 1895 as a timber town, it has supported orchards, beef cattle and dairy farming, and now booming tourism and wine industries. The region’s soil and climate make it particularly suited to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinor noir and merlot, and consequently there are more than 30 wineries in the region, almost all with cellar doors. This region is adventure central and there are numerous horseriding, cycling and walking trails between Denmark and Walpole (67km). Locals suggest the Heritage Rail Trail that follows the route of the former Albany to Nornalup railway. The trail features a variety of forest, farmland and coastal heath views, and is currently in three sections from the mouth of the Denmark River to just east of Nornalup. On the waterways, paddling (whether in a canoe or a kayak) up the Denmark River or Wilson Inlet, the Hay River east of Denmark to the Franklin, and Deep Rivers close to Nornalup, is a perfect way to see the region.
Mount Barker and the Porongurups
This region starts 344km south of Perth via Albany Highway, perfectly framed by the majestic Porongurup and Stirling Ranges. A 45-minute drive from both Denmark and the historic town of Albany, the town is a perfect touring base to explore the Great Southern. The region is well-known, both nationally and internationally, for its riesling and shiraz. The climate provides excellent fruit-ripening conditions, while the cool nights enhance and retain acidity. A few wineries, both in town and on the outskirts, offer cellar door sales and gourmet restaurants, most with spectacular views of the mountains. There’s also the quaint township of Porongurup – its population is less than 1000 – that is well worth a stop. It’s the spectacular mountains and bushwalks that make this region so unique: the Stirling Range National Park and Porongurup National Park offer the bushwalker some of the highest peaks in WA, rare birdlife and an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. Out bushwalking, you will see emus, kangaroos, wallabies and numbats. There are many well-equipped bush camps and caravan parks in the region, not to mention the luxury B&Bs and retreats where you can soak away a day’s climbing pain in a spa. The region also has significant cultural value, especially Bluff Knoll: at 1095m, it’s a challenging three-to-four-hour effort. Don’t forget to climb Castle Rock’s tourist walkway for more brilliant views.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
The Perth to Albany drive will take around 4.5 hours – the first section isn’t overly scenic, so bring the coffee along. The route to Denmark is via Albany Highway, Muirs Highway and Denmark-Mt Barker Road. It is about 30 minutes’ drive west of Albany, 45 minutes east of Walpole, and four hours’ drive from Margaret River.
The Lake House vineyard, Denmark.
Frankland River | The Frankland River wine region (420km south of Perth or just
a 90-minute drive north of Albany) is one of Western Australia’s best-kept secrets. The warm days and cool nights along with rich and productive farming land have created an ideal location for growing shiraz and riesling grapes. There are only a handful of wineries here, but they are of the best quality and are gaining world recognition as a result. Follow Wingebellup Road west from the town centre to drop in at two popular cellar doors, with others located close by on Ferngrove Road and Franklin Road.
Mount Barker and Porongurup | As one of the coolest growing regions in the state, Mount Barker and Porongurup produces world-class, award-winning wines. The most sought-after wines in this area are riesling, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from Mount Barker, and chardonnay, riesling and semillon from Porongurup. Take a spectacular drive through these lush, rolling hills and enjoy views of the Stirling Ranges as you meander east from Mount Barker along Mount Barker Porongurup Road. There’s absolutely no rush in this area, so make sure you stop in at the wineries along this stretch of road. There are also a handful of great cellar doors to visit as you drive west along Muirs Highway from the Mount Barker township.
Denmark | Denmark’s surrounding vineyards produce grapes for riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and merlot wine varieties. You can sample the wines at one of the many cellar-door operations dotted throughout the region, which vary from tiny family-run enterprises to swanky establishments – although even the fanciest tend to be more laidback than what you’ll find north in Margaret River. That’s not to say that there’s any lack in quality: many an award-winning wine began life as a Denmark grape, and there are some spectacular restaurants, too. You can pick up a map detailing all the local wineries from the visitor centre.
Albany | The cooler weather in Albany makes it a prime location for producing pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling. Tipple your way around the region and experience everything from five-star rated wines to the Great Southern Distillery for internationally awarded whisky and locally produced vodka, grappa, gin and brandy.
The Hidden Treasures of the Great Southern region comprises eight shires including 16 rural and coastal towns, from Woodanilling to Bremer Bay, Nyabing to Frankland. It’s a scenic mix of colonial buildings, agricultural expanse, beaches, mountains, wildlife and good old country charm. The wildflower season (spring) in September and October is the best time to visit, but March is also great – Pingrup hosts its annual races, a huge event with wine tasting, entertainment and Two Up (and it’s an excuse to dress up). Kojonup is popular with history buffs and boasts 52 historical sites – including the Military Barracks and Old School. Kodja Place is well worth a stop, with a great interpretive display that tells stories of the Kojonup’s Nyoongar-Aboriginal and settler cultures. Bremer Bay, which is two hours from Albany and 4.5 hours from Esperance, is one of Western Australia’s most popular summer holiday towns, with pristine beaches, great surfing spots and plenty on offer for families. Accommodation-wise, there are B&Bs or the wilderness retreat, as well as chalets and caravan parks. If you’ve got your furry friend in tow, the Bremer Bay Resort & Tourist Park is pet-friendly. Close by is the world-renowned biosphere of Fitzgerald River National Park – between Bremer Bay and Hopetoun. Recently there have been upgrades to roads, lookouts, camping grounds, walk trails and beach access, along with new picnic spots, thanks to a $40 million grant. July to October is the best time of the year to spot southern right whales from Point Ann (within the park). If you’re planning on visiting the Stirling Range National Park, Borden is the closest town. It’s picturesque farming country, with campgrounds, B&Bs, farmsteads, retreats and more. The ranges feature some of the best mountain walks in WA, as well as great rock climbing, abseiling and nature spotting. There are several lakes in the region that are great to visit, including Lake Poorrarecup, Lake Ewlyamartup and Police Pools (natural lakes). Keen 4WD enthusiasts can take the Holland Track out of Broomehill to Kalgoorlie – one of the best outback adventures to be had. TIP For a quirky activity, visit Katanning, where you can see sheep auctions every Wednesday at the new Sale Yards (the largest in the southern hemisphere, and with surprisingly great food!).
Cape Howe forest drive (photography angewallphoto.com.au).
SPOT THE WILDFLOWERS
This region boasts some of the best displays of wildflowers in the state, with many species that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are the top wildflower locations in the Hidden Treasures.
Myrtle Benn Flora and Fauna Sanctuary Kojonup
Farrar Dam Reserve Kojonup
Stirling Range National Park Borden
Fitzgerald River National Park Bremer Bay
Lake Magenta Nature Reserve Pingrup
Corackerup Nature Reserve Jerramungup
Chinocup Lake Pingrup
Banks of the Gordon River Tambellup
Broomehill Golf Club & Boot Rock Reserve Cranbrook Wildflower Walk
WHEN TO GO
Whales | June to October. Middleton Beach Boardwalk trail, or the old whaling station, both of which overlook King George Sound.
Wildflowers | August to November. Bluff Knoll, Stirling Range National Park and Porongurups, Hidden Treasures.
Birdwatching | November to March. Cheynes Beach is known internationally as one of the best spots in the southwest for spotting rare and WA endemic species.
Surfing | Beginners – March to September. Middleton Beach, Albany.
Intermediate – October to May. Conspicuous Beach, Walpole.
Advanced – March to October. Mids Point South, Albany.
Hiking | April to November. The Bibbulmun Track should be your first choice of hiking trail for this region. Take in the beauty of the coast all the way from Walpole to Albany.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Temperature | As you head south, the weather gets noticeably cooler, with summer maximums averaging 21°C. Winter down here is crisp and cool (average 14°C) with frosty, fresh evenings.
Wind | In the south, the wind from the Southern Ocean can get bitterly cold (especially in late autumn, winter and early spring), but it’s put to good use at the fascinating Albany Wind Farm.
Snow | That’s right, snow. There’s only one or two places you’re likely to find it in WA, and they happen to be in the southwest’s Stirling Ranges or Porongurups near Albany. It has to be extremely cold and you’ll have to climb Bluff Knoll to see it – and at an altitude of more than 1000m, it’s a moderate and rewarding trek.
Photography Ben Reynolds.
Walpole (08) 9840 1111 Denmark (08)
9848 2055 Albany (08) 9841 9290 Bremer Bay Resource Centre (08) 9837 4171 Mt Barker (08) 9851 1163 Cranbrook (08) 9826 1008 Frankland River (08) 9855 2310 Kojonup (08) 9831 0500 Katanning (08) 9821 4433
NATIONAL PARK ACCESS FEES/ CONTACTS
Mt Frankland National Park (08) 9840 0400
Walpole-Nornalup National Park (08) 9840 0400
Walpole and Nornalup Inlets Marine Park (08) 9840 0400
Mt Frankland South National Park (08) 9840 0400
Mt Lindesay National Park (08) 9840 0400
Mt Frankland North National Park (08) 9840 0400
Torndirrup National Park (08) 9842 4500
Fitzgerald River National Park $12 per car (08) 9842 4500
Porongurup National Park $12 per car (08) 9842 4500
Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve (08) 9842 4500
William Bay National Park (08) 9840 0400
Stirling Range National Park $12 per car (08) 9842 4500
Mt Roe National Park (08) 9842 4500
West Cape Howe National Park (08) 9842 4500
Gull Rock National Park (08) 9842 4500
Waychinicup National Park (08) 9842 4500
Fees are payable in cash on entry, camping fees are additional. An Annual Pass ($88) or Holiday Pass ($44) allows entry to multiple national parks, and is available online from Department of Parks and Wildlife (dpaw.wa.gov.au).
Albany Combined Cabs (08) 9841 7000
Denmark Cab Company (08) 9848 2295
Katanning Taxi Service (08) 9821 5000
Mount Barker Taxis (08) 9851 2332
Emergency contacts: car breakdowns (RAC 13 11 11)
St Mary Campground
Four Mile Campground
Waychinicup Inlet Camping Area
Parry Beach Campsite
Cosy Corner Beach Campsite (free)
Torbay Inlet Camping Area
Mutton Bird Camping Area
Bibbulmun Track (08) 9481 0551
Denmark-Nornalup Rail Trail Divided into three sections of varying difficulty.
(08) 9848 0300
Yungermere Crescent in Mount Barker (08) 9851 1163
Two Peoples Bay Heritage Walk (08) 9842 4500
William Bay (Greens Pool to Elephant Rocks) (08) 9840 0400