PLACES TO GO
At just over four hours’ drive south of Perth, Albany is a touch too far to be an easy weekend getaway from Perth – and it deserves more than a couple of days anyway. As the first European settlement in the state and the hub for the farms of the Great Southern, it’s a bustling city of 34,000 residents, and has some excellent attractions, in the city centre, out in the nearby national parks, and along the beautiful coastline. While Albany has a reputation as being a bit wet (you’ll often cop a fair bit of drizzle, especially during the winter months) the flipside is cooler summer temps, excellent surfing and good growing conditions for the Great Southern’s farmers (check out their bountiful produce at the two farmers markets each weekend). The city sprawls, but the main action for visitors is in the CBD and on the north side of Mount Clarence at Middleton Beach. A great way to get your bearings is to walk or cycle the 3km track that runs from the city’s harbour to Middleton Beach – there are great views from the headland. In the city, along York Street and Stirling Terrace, many buildings from the 1800s are now bars and cafes; there’s no shortage of excellent places to eat here. There are also a surprising number of trendy boutiques mixed in among the bog-standard chain shops. A little further north from Middleton and Emu beaches (which are actually one long stretch of white sand), you’ll hit Emu Point, a haven for swimming and fishing, where you’ll also be able to grab some decent takeaway. South of the city, Frenchman Bay is yet another scenic swimming beach, and you can’t visit the region without checking out the wild coastline of the Torndirrup National Park, with its stony icons The Gap and the Natural Bridge. There’s accommodation to suit everyone, from high-end private homes and historic hotels, to budget-friendly motels, small-scale B&Bs and campgrounds. The fishing and surfing options along the coastline are topnotch, and hiking in the nearby national parks is popular, too (the Bibbulmun Track and Munda Biddi cycle trail both finish in Albany).
Until the late 70s, Albany was home to a thriving whaling station that, at its height, saw the processing of between 900 and 1100 sperm and humpback whales per year. That history is now preserved in Albany’s award-winning museum whale museum (formerly Whale World), part of the newly rebranded Discovery Bay Tourism Experience. Located on the shores of King George Sound and on the site of Australia’s last working whaling station, the facility comprises the interactive whaling museum, along with Botanic Garden and Australian Wildlife exhibits, native gardens, a wildlife park and a restaurant with one of the best views in town.
Torndirrup National Park
On Frenchman Bay Road, 10km south of Albany, this rugged national park is the most visited in WA, and draws punters for its wave-carved features including the Natural Bridge, The Gap, and the Blowholes, plus the chance to spot whales from the sea cliffs. There are lookouts and short walk trails from the car park near the main entrance. Stony Hill Heritage Trail is a 500m scenic circuit that gives 360-degree views of the park and back over Albany, or take the six-minute return walk to the Jimmy Newells Harbour lookout. This is also where you’ll find some of Albany’s best fishing action – head down the steep steps to Salmon Holes where, as you can guess, there’s an abundance of salmon and snapper in the beautiful bay. Fishing is good off the beach and the rocks, but be aware that king waves have claimed lives, so it’s a good idea to wear a lifejacket. It’s a popular surf spot, too. Whale World is also within the borders of the park (see Historic Albany, overleaf). Sitting below the former whaling station to the east is the secluded, north-facing Misery Beach, a clean stretch of sand that offers shelter in most weather conditions for swimming and snorkelling. There are no camping or other facilities in the park.
Two Peoples Bay National Park
Don’t be alarmed if you hear some awful noises while in this reserve – it’s home to the noisy-scrub bird, and their calls are particularly loud during mating season (May-September). This park, 35km east of Albany, also boasts some great swimming, fishing and beach-walking spots, and is accessible by 2WD. Head to Little Beach or Waterfall Beach for pretty, calm waters that are well-sheltered and good for kids (it’s a good rule of thumb to stick to beaches that are accessed by marked paths along this dangerous coastline). The bay is good for boat fishing, and you can launch from the beach near the end of Two Peoples Bay Road. There is a 4.6km Heritage Trail that takes four hours from the visitor centre to Little Beach (take a towel). The centre is open 10am-4pm during summer holidays, sporadically during winter, and has information about the local history, wildlife and conservation projects, (08) 9846 4276.
West Cape Howe National Park
This park between Denmark and Albany is the most southern point in WA, and its cliffs and beaches draw an active crowd. 2WD vehicles can access the park via Shelley Beach Road, but almost all the other sites in the park need a 4WD. There are a few camping bays at Shelley Beach (the winding gravel road should not be attempted by anyone towing a caravan), along with the only toilets in the park. Experienced climbers will find kilometres of quality rockfaces at West Cape Howe, but be careful of loose rock towards the top, and changing sea conditions at the base (always check conditions before climbing). There are a handful of 4WD tracks; one of the most challenging is the track to Broholm Beach (don’t even attempt it unless you have a serious 4WD, a tyre gauge, pump, radio and supplies). Always check with the Denmark or Albany visitor centres to see which tracks are open and if you’re equipped to handle them. Golden Gate Beach (4WD) averages 2m waves, and is popular for surfing, but beware of rocks in the inner surf. Australian salmon, shark, groper, mulloway, whiting and herring can be caught across the park. Shelley Beach is a lovely swimming spot and a good place to throw a line, or head to The Steps for good rock fishing (wear a lifevest and check sea conditions). Easterly winds, particularly in summer, make for great hang gliding and paragliding. The take-off spot is at the Shelley Beach lookout: register with the Department of Parks and Wildlife first, (08) 9842 4500.
The Brig Amity (photography City of Albany).
THINGS TO DO
Albany’s waters are chilly (pack your thick wetsuit) but they’re also home to one of the most diverse collections of dive spots in the state, from wrecks, near-shore islands and colonies of sea lions, to fields of plate coral and cave systems. And with so many whales passing along this coast, there’s a good chance you’ll spot one. An advanced dive ticket is required to dive the HMAS Perth wreck (it sits at 35m) but it’s an excellent dive and has been well thought out – an interpretive trail leads around the 133m-long vessel with plaques pointing to interesting plant and animal life, and facts like where it was shelled during the Vietnam War. The wreck of the Cheynes III is has been submerged longer, so it’s home to a wider range of marine life. It’s suitable for all divers (with a depth of 23m), plus seals often pop out and scare divers silly. Experienced divers with their own boat will find most of the popular dive sites have moorings. Contact the Albany visitor centre, (08) 9841 9290, for maps, guides and tips on where to go and what you’ll need. Seal Island is a popular local’s pick – you can dive with the resident seal lions and enjoy plate corals, scorpion fish, and blue groper. Keen eyes might even spot a sea dragon. For something a little different, the reefs off Two Peoples Bay are home to leafy sea dragons and the rare red lipped morwong. For equipment hire, charters, or the lowdown on the best sites, visit The Dive Locker, (08) 9842 6886, or Southcoast Diving Supplies, (08) 9841 7176.
The Munda Biddi Trail is a 1000km off-road trail from Mundaring to Albany. This ultimate ‘cycle and camp’ trail has facilities like free huts and campsites, toilets (BYO toilet paper), and there is a town every 45-50km to break up the journey. The best time to tackle it is during autumn, spring, and parts of winter, and it’s suitable for all skill levels (see www.mundabiddi.org.au for more details). In Albany, bikes can be hired from Albany Bicycle Hire, (08) 9842 2468, which will also deliver your bikes to any accommodation in the Albany city area, free of charge. Download the Cycle Amazing Albany Map from www.transport.wa.gov.au for an overview of all of Albany’s trails. The Go Taste trail is an easy 75km loop through the countryside past food producers (see Wining and Dining, overleaf). In town, the beach trail to Middleton Beach is a 6km return trip littered with lookouts and beach views, and suits the majority of fitness levels; venture a further 3km north from Middleton Beach to Emu Point along the dual pathway running along the beachfront. For wildflowers and wildlife, a four-hour eastward trail leads around Oyster Harbour to Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, where you can refresh with a swim and a picnic.
A sea lion on the Albany coast (photography Jamie Kiddle).
Nanarup Beach | Easily accessible, with a sheltered pool on the west end for the kids. Fish off the beach for herring (autumn to winter is when the biggest numbers are out), skippy, whiting, salmon, flathead and tailor. TIP Use a berley sinker for your herring.
Cosy Corner | Fish from the rocks, the beach or the boat (a ramp is available) for samson fish, skippy, mulloway, pike, herring, snapper, tuna, squid and buff bream. Be careful if hand fishing, especially during winter (the roughest and also highest-yielding season).
Kalgan River | This beautiful stretch of river flows into Oyster Harbour, and it’s towards the estuarine end, where much of the fishing happens. Some of the state’s largest bream have been caught here (using soft plastic lures), as well as King George, small sharks and mulloway.
Salmon Holes | Popular for the schools of salmon that come in close to the shore, this spot is as rewarding on the angler’s eye as it is in on their line. Obey safety warnings, though – the waves can be dangerous. Season starts early March and can linger into September.
Oyster Harbour | A permanently open estuary used to shelter a fishing fleet carrying out commercial fishing. Mostly boat fishing takes place, though there is some jetty fishing. You’re likely to bag herring, whiting, squid, skippy, flathead and rock species.
Other hotspots include | West Cape Howe National Park, Sand Patch, Emu Point, King River, Frenchman Bay, King George Sound and Ledge Point Beach.
Salmon Holes (photography Tourism WA).
As WA’s first settlement, Albany is chock-full of important historical sites.
Discovery Bay | Closed in 1978, Australia’s last operating whaling station lets people explore a ship, watch old footage, and learn how significant the whaling industry once was to WA. If you need fresh air and a break from all the gory details, you can take in the rest of the re-branded Discovery Bay. Open 9am-5pm. Adults $29, children $10, (08) 9844 4021.
The National Anzac Centre | Representing the Australian and Western Australian governments’ most significant investment in the ANZAC legend, the National ANZAC Centre opens on November 1, 2014 to commemorate 100 years since the first convoys left Albany’s shores to join the Great War. The museum provides an opportunity to interact with the ANZAC story through interactive technology and layers of multimedia.
The Brig Amity | This replica of the vessel that brought the first settlers is a fascinating look into a harsher time. Thanks to a recent revamp it now has new models and audio effects, too. Open 9:30am-4pm daily. Adults $5, children $2, (08) 9841 5403.
Princess Royal Fortress | Built to protect Albany from attack from the Russians and the French in the late 1800s, the fortress boasts restored shore batteries, armouries, barracks, and a collection of torpedoes and naval guns you can walk among. Open from mid-October, 9am-5pm. Entry to the open areas is free of charge, (08) 9841 9333.
WA Museum – Albany | The WA Museum has an Albany offshoot with permanent
and regular touring exhibitions that cater to kids. Learn about the influence of Mokare, a young Nyoongar warrior, or sit in the original ‘one room, one teacher’ Torbay School. Open 10am-4:30pm. Entry is free, although a $5 donation is suggested, (08) 9841 4844.
Wesley Methodist Church, built in 1890 (photography Maggie Whittle).
Go rock climbing in West Cape Howe National Park
Reel in a salmon off Salmon Beach
Take an Old Gaol night tour
Dive with the seals at Seal Island
Mingle with locals at the Albany Farmers Market
Listen out for the noisy-scrub bird in Two Peoples Bay National Park
Head to Torndirrup
National Park to spot whales off the cliffs
Check out the new effects on the Brig Amity vessel
Go adventuring on a Segway tour
Count as many birds as you can along the Lake Seppings bird walk
See the torpedoes and naval guns at Princess
All these and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo
WINING AND DINING
Albany’s reputation as a gourmet destination may be growing, but don’t think for a second it’s gone corporate. Cellar doors are still manned by winemakers themselves, the weekly farmers market still operates out of a car park, and some of the best meals are served in homely, mom-and-pop restaurants.
EAT AND DRINK
Albany is home to some of the state’s most delicious produce. From the sea come dhufish and the famed Western Rock Oyster. Inland, Albany’s rich coastal soil produces fantastic asparagus, berries, avocados, apples, olives and persimmons. Albany is equally well known for its dairy, honey, venison, yabbies, marron and eggs.
Fasten your seatbelt, pack an appetite and hit the Go Taste Albany Trail. The 75km route brings you to the doorstep of some of the region’s best local producers, where you can sample local wine, beer, cheese, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, all while soaking up the region’s stunning landscape. For outdoorsy-types, bicycle-friendly routes and venues are marked out on the map provided by the Albany visitor centre, or available for download at www.transport.wa.gov.au.
Every Saturday morning from 8am till noon, the award-winning Albany Farmers Market attracts throngs of local shoppers to Collie Street. Neighbours mingle over a cuppa from the excellent Coffee to Go espresso cart, and buskers get the kids dancing while customers chat with the farmers about the produce. Sunday is Albany Boatshed Market day. Located on the Albany waterfront, it’s where to find fresh local seafood. In summer, the venue’s popular Summer Shed Sundowners combines live music, food and drinks.
The cooler weather in Albany makes it a prime location for producing pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling. The wineries are a little spread out, so a wine tour can
be a good way of getting around them (contact the visitor centre for details),
or you can cycle them on the Go Taste trail. For something a touch stronger, there’s the distillery for internationally awarded whisky, vodka, grappa, gin and brandy. Better yet, sample them all in some of the trendy bars in town.
A grocery store in Albany town (photography Renee Bergere).
Luke Pen Walk | This 9km easy trail along the pretty Kalgan River and through farmland takes four hours to complete. The start is on East Bank Road, 16km out of town (turn left from Nanarup Road).
Stony Hill | This 500m heritage-listed walk to a rocky outcrop in Torndirrup National Park has plaques along the way inscribed with the thoughts of the original settlers, and has great views. Take Frenchman Bay Road and turn right about 1km south of Salmon Hole Road.
Lake Seppings Bird Walk | This easy 2.7km return walk around Lake Seppings is popular with birdwatchers – it’s home to over 100 species, including white ibis, yellow-billed spoonbill and the white-faced heron. There are plenty of lookouts, seating areas and even a camouflaged bird hide. The gravel trail surface and boardwalks are wheelchair accessible.
Bald Head Walk | Hardcore bushwalkers will enjoy this strenuous 16km return walk over Isthmus Hill and Limestone Head, finishing at Bald Head in the Torndirrup National Park (fees apply). The terrain is steep and difficult in parts, but the coastal views are excellent.
Return Hike to Sandpatch Hut | This 5.7km return through heathland starts at the Albany Windfarm car park (at the end of Sandpatch Road). Follow the moderate trail under the turbines, then turn left when you get to the Bibbulmun Track and loop back. There is a viewing platform at Sandpatches Hut, 2.7 km from the first viewing platform and down a path to the right that is easily missed.
Bibbulmun Track | The 1000km track that finishes in Albany can make a nice day walk from the southern terminus at the Albany visitor centre. The 13.4km trip is best tackled by the fit and agile. Head east along the track to see the Amity replica, continue out of town to The Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park, and take the boardwalks to Mutton Bird Island and the wind farm.
Bibbulmun Track walkers (photography City of Albany).
PIAF Great Southern Festival | Each year a curated program from the wider Perth International Arts Festival trove of performing arts, literature and film events is brought to Albany. Feb-Mar.
Taste Great Southern | A celebration of local taste sensations, with home-grown and visiting chefs and producers hosting events across Albany. Mar.
Albany Port Authority Harbour Swim | Brave the waters at Princess Royal Harbour for a cash prize, or cheer along entrants in the 4km swim. Apr.
Albany Car Classic | Watch a variety of cars in the Albany CBD, from vintage wire-wheels to post-vintage and big muscle cars, all taking part in this motor-enthusiasts’ event. Jun.
ALBANY Urban Downhill | This epic mountain-bike race winds through Albany’s historic settings in the CBD. The course is fantastic for spectators, and draws thousands from across the state. Highlights include plenty of obstacles and a jump off the pedestrian overpass. May.
Known to keep you on your toes, Albany skies can be bright and clear one day, dreary and grey the next. Temperatures are cooler than Perth’s, so you’ll definitely need layers. Something waterproof is also recommended for visits to the Blowholes, The Gap and other edge-of-the-cliff areas where you’re likely to get sprayed, and also because rainfall is a strong possibility. Don’t dismiss the bathers though – you’ll be kicking yourself if the weather’s warm!
Albany is a small port city so there’s no shortage of shops, restaurants, fuel, ATMs, internet access and accommodation. It makes a great base for exploring the Great Southern region, with Denmark just 30 minutes west, the Porongurups half an hour north, and the Stirling Ranges and Hidden Treasures north one hour.
Albany is just over four hours on the road from Perth via Albany Highway. If Albany Highway’s the route you’re taking, you can stop off at Williams, Kojonup and Mount Barker (the wineries and Porongurup National Park are close by). If you’re prepared to add a couple of hours to your trip, you can drive via Bunbury and the picturesque Blackwood River and Southern Forest regions. The main road on this route is South Western Highway. TransWA operates return bus services to Albany daily, departing from East Perth terminal and taking six hours, or you can get there in approximately an hour from Perth by plane with Virgin Australia (formerly Skywest).