Twenty reasons to visit Albany

visitors to The Gap watch the sunset at the platform on Albany's south coast.
visitors to The Gap watch the sunset at the platform on Albany's south coast. Photo: Andrew Halsall

1 ANZAC CENTENARY

Australia-wide Anzac centenary commemorations will kick off in Albany on November 1. That is the date the first Australian and New Zealand troop convoy left Albany for World War I. For many of the troops, it was the last time they saw Australia. Ships from the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and possibly from other nations will be in Albany for the centenary, which will include troops marching in the main street, a commemorative service, a community concert with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, a harbour sound and light show, pop-up restaurants and the lowering of the Ensign during navy sunset ceremonies. Construction of a $9 million National Anzac Centre is also under way. It is due to open on November 1 in the Princess Royal Fortress on Mount Adelaide - a historical military museum precinct.

See anzacalbany.com.au, albany.wa.gov.au/facilities/princess-royal-fortress/.

Maitraya Luxury Retreat swimming pool.
Maitraya Luxury Retreat swimming pool. 

2 TO THE EDGE, AND BACK

The wind feels gale force and there's an 80-metre cliff right in front of me, but I'm on my belly and determined to crawl to the very edge of Australia. Below, the powerful swell lines of the Southern Ocean crash into the rocks at West Cape Howe. This is the salt-kissed southernmost part of Western Australia, as wild as it gets.

Next to me is Western Australia's best guide, David Bomba, who won the golden guide award at the state tourism awards and whose business, Out of Sight Tours, was voted the best eco tourism operation. To get here on this day trip from Albany has been an adventure along sandy and hilly 4WD tracks with obstacles such as "Heartbreak Hill". There are no other tourists.

Sunset at Middleton Beach
Sunset at Middleton Beach Photo: Adam Halsall

See outofsighttours.com.au.

3 OLD-FASHIONED MILK IN BOTTLES

Dreadlocked Jersey farmer Alby Van Dongen is one of the most recent stallholders at the Albany Farmers' Market, where he sells bottled milk, with cream on top, fresh-milked from his 11 grass-fed cows. Like his Yard 86 labelled milk, everything at the Saturday-morning market is seasonal, local and straight from the producer. Ringwould goats' cheese, avocados, blueberries, honey and asparagus are also on the trestle tables.

the Sandalwood Factory at Mount Romance.
the Sandalwood Factory at Mount Romance. 

See albanyfarmersmarket.com.au.

4 SEASONAL AND REGIONAL

Good food goes beyond the market. There is a bounty of fresh regional produce such as the award-winning Torbay olive oil (see torbayolives.com.au) and free-range eggs from Shipley's Farm which practises ethical animal husbandry and is soon to start selling its beef (see shipleysfarm.com.au). Another delight, Plantagenet pork belly ($34), is served with cabbage at the casual York Street Cafe, one of several cafe/restaurants embracing the regional food movement here.

Albany Farmers' Market.
Albany Farmers' Market. 

See 184york.com.

5 GOOD DROPS

Margaret River (three hours from Perth) gets the plaudits for wine but Albany (4½ hours from Perth) is in Australia's biggest wine region, the Great Southern. Albany wines include pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling. James Halliday has rated four wines from the West Cape Howe winery in his Top 100 for 2013, the only West Australian producer to make the list. Great Southern also includes towns such as Mount Barker, Frankland and Denmark where pleasant cellar doors among the vines include the Lake House (lakehousedenmark.com.au) which has a whole store of local relishes, pickles and handmade sauces alongside its wines. Nearby Singlefile Wines (singlefilewines.com), has been picked by Halliday as his "dark horse of the year".

6 WHALE WORLD

Albany has a dirty past that is remembered at the Whale World museum, the last working whaling station in Australia that closed in 1978 after thousands of sperm and humpback whales were slaughtered. This is a fascinating place. Allow about three hours. General manager Glenn Russell says Sea Shepherd anti-whaling captain Paul Watson has given Whale World his imprimatur so people can see what anti-whaling activists are campaigning against. Whale World is considered by many as the highlight in Albany. It is getting even better, with a botanical garden of West Australian wildflowers and native animal exhibit where you can pat kangaroos.

See whaleworld.org.

7 SANDALWOOD

Lying down, barefoot, and sniffing sandalwood oil in a tepee-like cone while a symphony of gongs reverberates around you could be the ultimate hippie experience. The one-hour relaxation session ($19.50) is part of the Sandalwood Factory at Mount Romance. The fragrance from sandalwood is said to promote relaxation, and at the factory showroom you can buy everything from aromatherapy oils to beauty products.

See mtromance.com.au.

8 SURFING

Nanarup is a long and exposed beach with turquoise water, but at one end a rocky knoll protects it like a cupped hand. This is where we are surfing with Little Seeds Surf School, on clean waves protected from the wind. Little Seeds is one of several surf schools in the area. The surf breaks range from novice waves at Middleton Beach to toe-curling takeoffs at the Blow Holes.

See littleseedssurf.com.

9 BEST BEACH

The coastline near Albany has some outstanding beaches. Little Beach, in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, is sometimes referred to as the best in Australia. When we arrive, we have the granite boulders, turquoise water and white sand to ourselves. Cosy Corner is another not to miss and has plenty of picnic places in the shade of peppermint trees. The nearby Cosy Corner cafe and shop is an attraction in itself, with a great menu featuring homemade local produce.

10... AND NEXT TO THE BEST

Albany's main beach is Middleton Beach, a long sweep of sand four kilometres from the centre of the city. There are grassed areas with playgrounds at the beach, shaded by Norfolk pines. Whales can sometimes be seen within 20 metres of the shore, or, for a higher vantage point, take a stroll on the three-kilometre Ellen Cove boardwalk that runs along a hillside on the southern shoreline. (Seasonal whale-watching tours are also available). Three Anchors is a cafe/bar/restaurant at Middleton Beach that again supports the concept of local produce.

See threeanchors.com.au.

11 THAR SHE BLOWS

Waves rush in and out of The Gap, a granite channel on the coast at Torndirrup National Park, 10 kilometres from Albany. A small lookout provides a viewing platform 24 metres above the water. Nearby is The Bridge, another rock formation of spectacular proportions. There are several walks here, including a 50-minute trek to the Blow Holes and a return trip to Bald Head that takes from six to eight hours but rewards with sea views.

12 BIBBULMUN TRACK

This is a 1000-kilometre walking route between Albany and Kalamunda in the Perth Hills. It is broken into nine sections including Albany/Denmark, an 85-kilometre stretch along the coast. Day walks are also possible and each year about 100 people walk from end to end.

See bibbulmuntrack.org.au.

13 THE OTHER DENMARK

Kangaroo, Thai green curry, and seafood chowder pies are on the menu at Denmark Bakery, which has won more than 300 awards. Another food highlight is the Salt & Pepper restaurant at Forest Hill Vineyard, where one of the region's star chefs, Silas Masih, turns out dishes close to his Fijian-Indian heritage. His creations include blue swimmer crab linguine in coconut garlic butter and Cone Bay barramundi with cumin raita. This pretty town, about 50 kilometres via the main road from Albany, is also rich with artists and galleries.

See denmark.com.au, foresthillwines.com.au.

14 KAYAK FISHING

On Honeymoon Island, in the middle of the Kalgan River, we're having a picnic of sushi and sashimi. We've pedalled here, not along a bike track but via the river on pedal kayaks. They're easy to use and the advantage is that you have your hands free to cast for bream. There are plenty of them in the water, but hooking one is another thing. The kayak excursion is easy and safe and one of several tours offered by Great Southern Discovery.

See greatsoutherndiscovery.com.au.

15 MARRON ON THE MENU

One of the food treats of the area is marron, a freshwater crayfish that is served barbecued with mild lime wasabi butter at the Albany Marron Farm. There are also marron pizzas on the menu, and platters that include yabbies, smoked trout, white anchovies and feta. Segway tours are an unusual side attraction at the farm. With a bit of instruction, they'll have you zipping along bush tracks on the property, which is 20 kilometres from Albany.

See albanymarronfarm.com.au.

16 WIND FARM

Wind farms around Australia have been mired in controversy and the turbines spinning relentlessly on the coast at the Albany Wind Farm have been no exception in attracting outrage. This farm opened in 2001 and now provides 15,000 Albany homes with power, half of the city's energy needs. The 35-metre-long blades are on towers that are 65 metres high. It's possible to get up close to check them out from tracks and lookouts open to the public.

See verveenergy.com.au.

17 NAUGHTY BOYS

This region doesn't just turn out good wines, the Great Southern Distilling Company uses traditional methods to produce premium spirits, including its flagship, the award-winning Limeburners single malt whisky, as well as brandy, gin, grappe and vodka. Lunch is casual, comprising flathead and chips, but the drinks list will knock your socks off with the likes of the "naughty boy", a concoction of single malt whisky and chocolate.

See distillery.com.au.

18 LADY GAGA'S BEDROOM

I've just crept into Lady Gaga's bedroom. She's a lucky girl, having stayed here once in the best of eight king-sized bedrooms at Maitraya Luxury Retreat. The room's vacant when I peer in, but I imagine she enjoyed the floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views, the retractable star-gazing roof, open fireplace and double bathroom with jacuzzi. Guests also have an indoor swimming pool, glass atrium with jungle foliage and a theatrette. Lady Gaga probably arrived via the property's private air strip.

See maitraya.com.

19 SPOT THE DOG

This is an Albany landmark. A massive rock next to Middleton Road, it is shaped like a dog's head and is more photographed than a royal dog show's hound of the year. The reverence shown by the townsfolk is clear because there is no sign of graffiti, although someone has painted a collar around the old boy's neck. The council wanted to blow the feature up in 1921, but there were howls of protest and a referendum voted to leave the granite canine alone.

20 THE MOTEL THAT ROCKS

Across the road, the Dog Rock Motel, one of Albany's key accommodation choices, harks back to the '70s with mixed reviews for its rooms; some have been renovated while others are in retro condition. The hotel's funky Lime 303 Restaurant is well regarded and heavily booked, even by non-guests, but at $40 the fresh local nannygai (it's a fish) isn't cheap for a motel meal.

See dogrockmotel.com.au; amazingalbany.com.au.

The writer was a guest of the City of Albany.

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