Australia’s southwest corner offers some of the most underrated holiday destinations in the country. Make the journey down to Albany and you will be rewarded with spectacular coastline, cosmopolitan cuisine, and a rich history to explore…
Albany is one of Australia’s hidden travel gems.
This charming harbour city sits on the remote southern coast of Western Australia, approximately 450 kilometres south-east of Perth. It’s nestled on the foreshores of Princess Royal Harbour, King George Sound and Oyster Harbour, and has something for everyone to enjoy. Whether it’s the fabulous beaches, the gourmet cafes and restaurants or the many historic buildings and museums around town, there’s plenty to love about this destination.
Here are eight great things to do in Albany.
Explore Albany’s amazing history
You may be surprised to learn how much history Albany has for a small city. It was founded when the first European settlers arrived in Albany in 1826 on the Brig Amity, making it the oldest permanently settled area in the state. Almost 100 years later, ANZAC troops left the shores of Albany in 1914 on their way to the battlefields of World War I. In the second half of the 20th Century, Albany operated Australia’s last whaling station.
The Museum of the Great Southern is a wonderful starting point to get more of Albany’s backstory. The museum is a cluster of several historical buildings which house a variety of temporary exhibitions. In the Residency building there’s a permanent exhibition on the social history of both Indigenous and European settlement of the region.
Do time in the old convict gaol
Right next door to the museum is the Albany Convict Goal — the first lock-up built in WA. It’s a realistic depiction of life behind bars in colonial times, with mannequins demonstrating the many hardships the prisoners endured. The solitary confinement cell is small and dark, and it comes as no surprise to learn that many of the prisoners incarcerated there suffered incredible psychological problems. It’s an eerie feeling seeing messages and drawings left by prisoners on the walls of their cells more than a hundred years ago.
Climb aboard the Amity
Further on you’ll come to the Brig Amity — a full size replica of the vessel which arrived with the first European settlers. Climb on board and take a self-guided audio tour of what life was like for the early colonists as they sailed from Sydney, across the Great Australian Bight, and on to their new lives in the distant west. Going below deck, you realise how cramped the quarters must have been. Kids will love this experience.
Indulge in the flavours of France
After all that stepping back in time, reward yourself with a restorative latte at the rustic French café Gourmandise & Co. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a provincial French patisserie. As you enter, your senses are greeted with the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked croissants. Gourmandise is open for breakfast, brunch or lunch. The choice of delicious quiches is amazing and the rotating plat du jour menu will have you coming back for more. This place is so yummy, you won’t want to leave!
Learn about the history of whaling in Australia
It’s hard to imagine it now, but whaling was once one of the world’s most important industries. Australia played a key role and you can learn more at the Albany Whaling Station. Operating from 1952 to 1978, this was the country’s last whaling operation.
The museum, the only one of its kind in the world, is built around the remains of the original whale processing factory and includes a fully restored whale chasing ship. Take an informative guided tour, then spend time viewing the 3D videos, old photographs, the whale oil silos and the various pieces of whaling equipment. The whale skeletons on display make you realise the enormous size of these beautiful creatures of the sea — which are now, thankfully, largely protected.
Visit the Albany wind farm
Located just a short 12-kilometre drive from the city, the Albany Wind Farm is set on cliffs that fall way down into the roaring waves of the Southern Ocean. From a distance the huge turbines look like something out of a sci-fi movie (War of the Worlds comes to mind).
Visitors are welcome. The well-planned walking trail has informative interpretive boards about the Indigenous owners and native wildlife of the area, and about the operation of the wind farm itself. Head up to the viewing platforms, which offer breathtaking views of the rugged coastline. The facility is well worth a visit, and the best part is that it’s free!
See Strawberry Hill – Western Australia’s first farm
Set amongst beautiful gardens filled with native and European plants and trees is ‘The Old Farm’ — also known as Strawberry Hill. It was the first farm established in Western Australia. The two restored homes (the main residence and servants’ quarters) give you a real understanding of what was involved in running a farm back in 1827.
The main house is full of character and history. The property was originally established as a government farm. In 1833 it was sold to a private owner, who lived there with his wife and ten children. In its time, the house was the social hub for the gentry of the area. The only downside is that there are no strawberries for sale at Strawberry Hill!
Pay your respects at the National Anzac Centre
War history is not for everyone, but the National Anzac Centre in Albany is an incredible memorial to the brave men and women who became our ANZACs. In 1914, 41,000 men and women departed Australia from King George Sound, destined for the battlefields of World War I. The National Anzac Centre is filled with history and it certainly deserves a visit.
Walk alongside a soldier through a self-guided audio and video tour which has been sensitively curated. Take a short stroll to Convoy Lookout and read descriptions of the ships in the ANZAC fleet. When you reach the lookout overlooking the sound and imagine the huge fleet of ships leaving to go to war, it’s extremely emotive.
Enjoy an aromatic morning at the Mount Romance sandalwood factory
For something a little different, take the 12-kilometre drive to Mount Romance sandalwood factory — just north of the Albany airport. Western Australia is renowned for its native sandalwood and Mount Romance pioneered the distillation of Australian sandalwood oil. Follow the aromatic smell to what is apparently the largest sandalwood oil distillery in the world.
Tours are conducted between 10am and 3pm, and give you a hands-on experience. You can touch and feel samples of sandalwood, and smell the pure sandalwood oil that is used internationally in the luxury perfume industry. It’s hard to leave without purchasing a souvenir — whether it’s a fragrant candle, some soap, perfume or incense sticks.
Need a place to stay?
Conveniently located on the approach into Albany from Perth, the Quality Apartments Banksia Gardens offers contemporary accommodation just a stone’s throw from the magnificent Mount Melville Parklands. Climb to the lookout for sweeping views of the city and coastline.
Guests can walk to the city centre in just ten minutes or take advantage of local cafes and eateries. Accommodation options include spa suites and one, two and three-bedroom apartments with separate living, kitchen and laundry areas.
About the writer
Dixie Lamers is a Coffs Harbour-based freelance writer and travel blogger. When Dixie is not writing about travel, you will find her enjoying an Aussie caravanning lifestyle.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia