Before travelling in Western Australia, I had never heard the name of Albany. No backpacker ever told me about this place, no tourist guide or blog article I read ever mentioned it. For me it was just a city to stay overnight on the way between Margaret River and Esperance, the 2 most popular attractions of south-west Australia. But after a few days there Albany became one of my favourite places in Western Australia! Here’s why you definitely should add it to your itinerary if you’re visiting this area.
An historical city…
Albany was first home to the Menang Noongar aboriginal people, who called it Kinjarling which means “place of rain” (luckily it didn’t rain at all during my time there and if it might be quite humid during the winter, it’s still a relatively dry and sometimes warm place in summer). It became the first European settlement in Western Australia in 1826, 3 years earlier than Perth and Fremantle. During the First World War the naturally sheltered harbour was used to gather ships and form convoys to carry troops to the European battlefiels.
Nowadays many old historic buildings can still be seen around the town center, as well as some remains of the defense systems built on the coast during World War II. You can also visit a full size replica of the Brig Amity (picture above), the original ship that sailed to Albany in 1826 with its first settlers.
…with the most beautiful coast of South-West Australia…
The best part of Albany is its incredibly stunning coast. It got me completely mind-blown. You don’t need to leave the city for a first insight of the many treasures to spot in the area. Start from Middleton Beach and take the coastal track that begins next to the Three Anchors café/restaurant. It’s a 2.5kms one way sealed path, perfect for walkers or bikers, which offers a stunning view over Frenchman Bay and Shoal Bay, separated by the Vancouver Peninsula. Between June and October you might even be able to see whales around.
From Middleton Beach you can drive to the summit of Mount Clarence where you’ll find different lookouts as well as a war memorial and the War museum; I didn’t visit it myself but the collection of canons and vestiges of WWII exposed outside was already impressive.
The other treasures of the coast are a little bit further. First stop: Wind Farm, where huge windmills dominate the Southern Ocean.
Head then to the Torndirrup National Park. That’s where the coast is the most stunning and every halt will be a pure delight; Frenchman Bay, Salmon Beach, the lookouts of Stony Hill and Jimmy Newells…
My favourite spot was at the Vancouver Peninsula. Sheltered by the coast, Fisherman’s Beach is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for a refreshing swim. From there you can also hike to the very end of the peninsula via the Heritage trail. The information sign at the car park indicates that it takes around 3 hours but I took my time and did it in one hour and a half. The picture on the right was taken on this path; Stairway to Heaven…
Last but not least, after relaxing on all these paradisiac beaches get ready for some action! The Gap on the south part of the National Park consists of a vertiginous platform above a huge crack between the cliffs into which waves are constantly rushing with a scary noise. Trust me, you will hold on to the handrail very carefully… Next to it don’t miss also the Natural Bridge; I still wonder how such a massive rock isn’t collapsing under its own weight!
…surrounded by many other wonders!
If you’re still looking for more after all this coastal exploration, don’t worry: there’s something to see in every direction around Albany.
West of the town you’ll find the forest of the giant karris, the biggest trees in Australia. The two best spots are the Valley of the Giants next to the town of Denmark, and the forest around Pemberton a bit further west. Staring at these amazing trees will make you feel very small! For a different point of view you can try the Tree Top Walk, a 21$ attraction that will bring you 40m above the ground, close to the canopy. Free but much scarier, it’s also possible to climb to the top of the Gloucester Tree and the Diamond Tree, both formerly used as watchtowers to prevent fires. A basic ladder with not much protection (one might say no protection at all) winds around the trunk until a small platform, 53m up for the Gloucester Tree! If you dare climbing, let me know how it was, even if I really wanted to my fear of heights was stronger…
If you’re going north, the next main attraction is Wave Rock, about 350-400kms from Albany. On your way there you’ll drive next to the Stirling Range National Park. I can’t tell you much about it as I didn’t stop, but the mountains with clouds at their feet were a beautiful sight in the early morning.
Wave Rock is famous because here the erosion of a massive rock created what looks like a 10m high stone wave. Really impressive! At walking distance from the wave, another rock formation is called Hippo’s Yawn. Look at the picture below: it really does look like a giant mouth doesn’t it?
15kms further you’ll find The Humps and Mulka’s Cave. The Humps is a big monolith, almost like a “small Uluru”. You can climb to the summit and have a nice 360° view. Below it, don’t miss Mulka’s Cave and its tragic legend. Nowadays you can go inside and see more than 300 handprints on the walls, painted hundreds of years ago! That’s something I wanted to see for a very long time so it was a very emotional visit for me.
Finally, the coast east of Albany until the Fitzgerald River National Park is apparently beautiful as well, and you won’t find many tourists there. I say apparently because I unfortunately didn’t see it: I went to Wave Rock instead and then drove directly to Esperance further east. So if you have the chance to visit it, let me know in the comments what you thought about it and which place was your favourite!
Have fun in the Albany region and I hope you’ll like it as much as I did!