Location: Albany, Western Australia
Albany was once the gateway to Western Australia and the biggest port town in the state which ferried early arrivals to the new city of Perth, as well as waved goodbye to many soldiers departing for the battle fields of the First World War. Today Albany is a popular long weekend destination for its amazing natural wonders, variety of outdoor activities and locally sourced food and fresh produce. For those who’ve been to Margaret River and are looking to go somewhere new then Albany will be the place for you! In Albany you can climb huge sea cliffs, glide over beaches and catch yourself some salmon as well as eat, shop and learn til your hearts content; and it’s also a great location to take a long road trip out from the city.
There are a few ways of getting to Albany, depending on your budget or time constraits; the quickest and also the most expensive is to fly, or you can sit on a TransWA coach for anywhere between six and nine hours (depending on how many stops the coach makes, and it’ll cost you $126 return), and then there is the easiest and most inexpensive being a five hour drive south of Perth with the added bonus of having your own set of wheels to get around.
Where to stay
As you’d expect there are a lot of different accommodation options, if you want to splash out then you can definitely do that here, but mostly when Siu On and I have been down we’ve gone with the cheapest options we could find (except for that Christmas we came down and had to pay for a motel on the outskirts of town for a few nights). If you get there and can’t find anywhere to stay then head into the Information Centre and chat to the ladies to hook you up.
There are some awesome (seriously awesome) free campsites down there, although that is being reigned in year after year. Some campsites that we had stayed at for free in years gone by, are now attracting a fee (although a small one). This is a great site to check out some of the free and low cost camping spots around Albany, and Siu On and I have stayed at Two People’s Bay East and Betty’s Beach which were still free at last check, and Cosy’s Corner (which now earns a fee) and Parry’s Beach (paid). Our favorite of those four are Two People’s Bay East for the location, and Parry’s Beach for the facilities (hot showers after a 10 days of no showers was a God send!).
Don’t be fooled into thinking this country town doesn’t offer much, because Albany is actually a very big country town by Australian standards. You can get just about anything here and there is variety too, so if you run out of supplies of any kind, it isn’t too hard to replace. The Information Centre is also very close to the harbor and should be your first stop for free maps and brochures, and advice on things to do in the area and also to check tide times if you’re going fishing.
There are heaps of restaurants and cafes in town to choose from, but when Siu On and I have been through we do prefer to stock up at the Farmer’s Market and cook our own meals as the produce in the area is amazing. I do enjoy a coffee and cake up at the Garrison Restaurant after I’ve been to see the views and the ANZAC centre, to digest all the things I’ve learned and ponder the history… yes, I ponder.
Things to do and see
Like most coastal towns Albany boasts a pretty nice town beach, with Middleton Beach the closest to the main part of town. It does fill up in the summer and can get pretty windy but there are a few cafes to shelter in, as well as grassed areas with shady trees. If you need to dry off before checking out the other sights then walk the coastal track that winds around the bay. There are many other beaches in the area to check out and are too many to list here, but check out this helpful map and explore the sandy options as you’re bound to find a stretch of sand all to yourself.
Most people when they visit Albany will end up in the Torndirrup National Park as this is where Albany’s natural wonder’s are located. Here you’ll find The Gap, Natural Bridge and the Blowholes and shouldn’t be missed if it’s your first time to Albany; and if you’re there during the right season you’ll even see whales off the coast. There is no entry fee to the national park or to view the sights, and there are some beautiful beaches and bay’s for picnics and water sports including the popular Frenchman’s bay.
The big draw card for many visitor is the fishing and let me tell you that the fishing here is totally off the charts! You can almost drop a line in anywhere and you’re bound to catch something (including the odd blowie so maybe don’t just drop your line anywhere). The grand daddy of fishing in Albany has to be the famous Salmon run, where schools of Australian Salmon come through every year usually around March, before they make their way up towards Margaret River and Yallingup. However, be aware that the swells and waves here are unpredictable and rock fishing is at your own risk so be careful, tie yourself in or fish from a safer spot because many lives have been lost during this season. The local council and WA Fisheries has started imposing limits on numbers of fishermen in popular and dangerous areas including Shelley’s Beach and the Salmon Holes, so get in early to those spots to avoid disappointment. I might add that Siu On claims to have once gotten a nibble on his line, but still no salmon to back up that claim (sorry babe it doesn’t count!).
Mountain biking trail are popping up around Albany and include the long Munda Bidda trail. For the hikers, ascending the tallest peak in the area, Bluff Knoll, that’s located out in the Stirling Ranges will be at the top of your list. Entry to the National Park is $12 per car and payable to the dummy ranger box, and be sure to sign in at the registry point and check conditions prior to starting your hike, as conditions at the top are known to be changeable (and it has snowed on random occasions!) as the trail is steep and can be difficult in sections due to inclement weather.
As I touched on before, there is a lot of hiking in the area, and with four national parks in the Albany vicinity you can take your pick depending on your needs. The epic Bibbulmun track meets it’s windy end here in Albany, and you can walk part of it along the beautiful coastline or the ridges above Shelley’s Beach. West Cape Howe is also known for it’s hang gliding and paragliding, with many people jumping off the platform over Shelley Beach.
Albany has a rich maritime and naval history, and was the first place in Western Australia where troops set sail for the battlefield of Europe and North Africa during the First World War. The National ANZAC Centre located at the top of Mount Clarence, is an excellent interactive museum which details both the War and WA’s role in it, whilst overlooking the waters around Albany. Entrance costs $25 for adults, but I felt that it was worth it as I enjoyed learning about the ANZACs and happily lost two hours of my life in there. The whole Mount Clarence area is packed with historical sights including the ANZAC Peace Park and Ataturk Memorial, and also has some amazing views from the Padre White lookout; so if you’re a total history junkie like myself, you have to get yourself here and be prepared to learn!
Our favorite places
Siu On and I love the trad climbing out in Albany. West Cape Howe and Peak’s Head has some amazing sea cliffs that’ll definitely put some hairs on your chest, and for the boulderers there are a lot of hidden boulders around the place too… if you can find them. To access most of the crags you can get there with a normal two wheel drive and a hike (of varying length), but for West Cape Howe it is advised to have a four wheel drive car as the track can be difficult to navigate if it’s been raining and will need the higher car clearance; however, there will usually be signs indicating the track’s condition.
If you’re after a spectacular sunset then to head to the Albany Wind Farm and watch the sun set over the Southern Ocean, best thing about this is that it’s free and not usually crowded with people. The Albany Farmer’s Market is by far my favorite in the South West region, with a heavy emphasis on selling a good variety of locally produced fruit, vegetable and other locally produced items. The market is held every Saturday from 8am to 12 noon and is definitely the most authentic with Farmer’s selling direct to the public. Siu On and I always stock up on jars of the Eden Gate Blueberry jam and bring back bags of apples, avocados and stone fruit back to Perth as they’re always cheap and sweet and usually set us back $30. Lastly, Siu On and I love the beaches out at Two People’s Bay (also our favorite free camping spot) and Frenchman’s Bay in the Torndirrup National Park for a swim and a picnic.
Albany can be an awesome budget destination, as many of the natural attractions and outdoor activities won’t cost you anything except your time and effort; plus there are still some amazing free camping spots along the coast where you can literally wake up with the water lapping at your tent door. A long weekend may not be enough to fit in everything, and that’s good because you’ll want to come back and spend more time exploring not just Albany but the whole region.
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Main photograph by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.