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Albany: Eat Stay & Play in West Australia

by Fiona Harper

Regularly overlooked by her more sexy Margaret River cousin to the north, Albany has big plans to entice visitors in 2014.

Albany undeservedly slips under the radar when it comes to holiday destinations. Possibly because it’s isolated. Albany? Whoever heard of Albany? I have, but it’s my business to know of such isolated treasures. But I’m cheating a little as I actually visited Albany on a childhood holiday. My sister tells me (though I don’t actually remember it) that we visited the whaling station when it was still actually processing whales. Hard to believe I know. Mmy sister wouldn’t lie to me. (Would you Jaci??)

But back to Albany in 2014. It’s still bloody isolated. Actually it’s 400 km southeast of the world’s most isolated city, Perth. There is also a perception that nothing much happens there. Some would say that’s unjust, others would say it’s a fair call. Me? I think it’s a bit unfair. When I visited late last year the town was pumping (it’s all relative – Albany is no New York City let’s face it) as the 12 crews and their supporters in the round the world Clipper Yacht Race were in town. So too competitors equipped with bikes and paddle skis for December’s Albany Adventurethon. The welcome mat was well and truly out city-wide.

There are big plans afoot for later this year as Albany gears up for a massive 100 year commemoration since the departure of the ANZAC fleet bound for Europe. Yep that’s 100 years since the first global war otherwise known as WW1. We’ve learnt a lot as a human race since then. Haven’t we? Here’s 10 reasons why I think Albany is fighting above its weight:

1. Whales

Whale World AlbanyIt’s almost incomprehensible that whaling stations harvesting humpback and sperm whales operated on Australia’s south west coast less than 40 years ago. The former Cheynes Beach Whaling Company has been converted into Whale World museum offering an insight into Albany’s gruesome industry. Former whale oil tanks now house theatres and photo galleries while rusting blocks and iron chains on the flensing deck (where whales were hauled ashore and slaughtered) remain intact at Whale World. Standing within the jawbone of a 22m Pygmy Blue Whale that washed ashore gives some perspective on the mammoth size of these magnificent creatures. Short on time, I wished I could have stayed longer to really absorb the exhibits and read many of the historical signposts. Utilising disused land adjacent to the former Albany Whaling Station, Discovery Bay Tourism Experience will open in 2014 showcasing Australian indigenous wildlife amidst native gardens with sweeping views over the bay. It’s a refreshing relief after the confronting relics at Whale World.

Percy the dancing pelican, Albany2. Kalgan River Cruise

Board the Kalgan Queen at Emu Point Boat Harbour for a fascinating sheltered water cruise on Oyster Harbour, motoring upstream into tree-lined Kalgan River. Along the way meet Percy the dancing pelican, sting rays, sea eagles and ospreys before sampling wine at Montgomery’s Hill Wines on the riverbank. Pass the time idly chatting or hearing stories of old timers who resided in the district peppered with a splash of old fashioned story-telling along with a dash of home-grown bush poetry.

3. Mt Romance Sandalwood

The leading producer of Indian and Australian sandalwood which has been utilised for eons in traditional medicine and healing, Mt Romance Sandalwood forms base notes of Chanel No 5 amongst other international fragrances. Linger long enough to take time out with a Gong Master during a calming session of relaxation and meditation utilising soothing vibrations and aromas. The place just smells nice! Making it well worth a visit just to inhale raw earthy sandalwood. I brought home a bottle of (suitably named) Larrikin after shave as a gift for my  boyfriend at the time. Suffice to say this after shave is a bit of a chick magnet. It probably should be renamed Larrikin and Lust. Control yourself ladies puhleeease…

Single File Vineyard Albany4. Wine

Overshadowed by better known Margaret River to the north, cool climate vines are thriving in the Albany & Denmark region. Pinot Noir and Riesling are snapping up awards at wine shows across the country. Deservedly so. Keep an eye out for Singlefile Wines 2013 Riesling and Fume Blanc (linger here over a heavenly cheese platter while watching resident geese waddle down to the lake in single file) along with the Lake House Premium Reserve Range, Ironwood Estate Wines and Wignalls Wines.

5. Food

Kissed by a pure clean Southern Ocean breeze gusting ashore unpolluted after departing Antarctica, the south coast is home to fine lifestyle farmers and graziers. The weekly Saturday Farmers Market, where real farmers sell real food, showcases some of the best. Such as Yard 86 Dairy selling glass bottled milk so fresh ‘it was still inside the cow 8 hours prior’. I could have guzzled the entire bottle on the spot but I waited until I was back in my hotel room, milk moustache and all. Just. Freshpict seasonal succulent strawberries the size of mandarins and superb sough dough breads (seldom seen in country WA) from Royale’s Bakery were other temptations. Other producers worth spending your dollars on, whom you won’t find at the markets, include Torbay Olive Oils and the Old Marron Farm (order the share platter for delicious freshwater yabbies and marron)

6. Lookout Trail

With a coastline and countryside dotted with dramatic rock formations, Albany’s Lookout Trail is slowly developing across a handful of stunning elevated platforms. None of them are suitable for the feint-hearted. Nor those inclined to vertigo. The upper lookout of Granite Skywalk wraps around the summit of Castle Rock while the lower lookout is not quite so vertigo-inducing. Both offer views over the Porongurup National Park and beyond to farmlands and the coast. In 2014 a cantilevered platform will replace the existing teeny lookout in Torndirrup National Park overlooking coastal icons The Gap and Natural Bridge. Other worthy lookouts are Padre White Lookout and the Wind farm at Sand patch Beach

7. ANZAC history

The birthplace of the Dawn Service tradition (and consequently the ANZAC spirit), after army chaplain Padre Arthur White held a private Requiem Mass for battle dead on 25 April 1930 before observing boatmen below laying a wreath in in King George Sound. 16 years earlier troops left Albany aboard 38 ships escorted by six warships  bound for the Great War, eventually landing at Gallipoli. Many never set foot upon Australian soil again. Today Princess Royal Fortress Military Museum stands atop Mt Adelaide with commanding views over Albany, King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour. A state of the art interpretive Anzac History Centre is under construction to honour the 100 year commemoration on 14 Nov 2014.

8. West Cape Howe

Jutting out into the wild swells of the Southern Ocean, the dramatic dolerite cliffs of West Cape Howe National Park lie at the southernmost tip of Western Australia. Seafarer’s know to keep their distance from this imposing shore so that the only way to visit is by 4WD tracks traversing the national park. Popular with thrill seeking rock climbers, a much less adrenalin-inducing option is with multi award winning eco tour operators Out of Sight Tours. Perch above the cliffs while enjoying lunch or hike the cliff top spotting kangaroos, wildflowers and the odd skink lizard with Doctor Dave Out of Sight Tours. You’ll probably catch some of his abundant enthusiasm for this pretty special part of the world. If you don’t come away rejuvenated, well you’re probably best staying at home anyway.

Albany beaches9. Stunning Beaches

Yeah, there’s beaches all over the world. Then there are south coast WA beaches. The Great Southern coast is blessed with some of Australia’s finest beaches. Sure, being exposed to the Southern Ocean, it can get a little windy (!), and let’s face it, at latitude 35 degrees south, the climate is far from balmy so don’t expect to spend too much time in a bikini. A wetsuit would be handy if you intend spending extended hours in the cleanest salt water you’ll ever likely swim in. But that doesn’t prevent Albany’s coastline making regular red carpet appearances on Best Beach Lists. Little Beach in Two Peoples Bay is all white sand, turquoise water bookended by honey hued granite boulders. Splendid doesn’t come close to describing it. Cosy Corner has been popular with campers for eons, so too Waychinicup Inlet (perfect for kayakers). Cheyne and Shelley Beaches tick all the boxes also, as does Nanarup Beach for surfers.

10. Stay a While

Little Beach, Albany West AustraliaArchitecturally miserable, nevertheless, the aptly named Dog Rock Motel (there’s an enormous boulder out the front shaped like a Labrador’s head sniffing the breeze) has undergone a major internal refurbishment and is the best digs in town. Don’t expect modern city luxury however – rooms are largish but still strongly reflect their heritage of a country motel. Country hospitality however is in abundance at check in. In-house restaurant Lime 303 is a Gold Plate Award winner. However, if you aspire to a rock star lifestyle (uh helllooo yes please), a la Lady Gaga (who wrote a few songs while in residence), Maitraya Luxury Private Retreat stands atop the cliff on 500 acres of land, complete with its own airstrip, football oval and cricket pitch, a lake, ocean lagoon and sweeping beach with lavish cottages and houses dotted across the estate. There’s a heated indoor pool bathed in sunshine thanks to glass walls that capture the warmth of the adjacent conservatory. Blow the budget and live a little. More Info: Albany Visitor Information

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Travel Boating Lifestyle is managed by Fiona Harper

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters on which we live, work and travel. As people who seek meaning and knowledge through storytelling, we recognise that the First Peoples of this land have been doing so for over 60,000 years. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.