We take a road trip along dramatic coastlines to tall timber country
Some of our fondest memories of the south west region of WA were made during our time spent between Albany and Walpole. This part of the country is absolutely stunning- with the amazingly tall timbers of the Karri Forests and the ruggedness of the coastline making it a desired area to visit by many.
This 120km road trip starts at the city of Albany, a city with so much significant and interesting history. Albany is WA’s oldest continuous European settlement. ‘The Amity’ (brig) arrived in King George Sound under the command of Major Edmund Lockyer in 1826. It is noted that ‘The Amity’ arrived with a total of 23 convicts along with a military crew to help establish a settlement to fend off any attempt by the French to lay claim to the west.
‘The Amity’ was a very important brig used for many notable exploration voyages in Australia but unfortunately met its fate when it ran aground on a sandbar near Gun Carriage Island north of Tasmania in 1845. As a part of Albany’s 150th anniversary celebrations a full-sized replica of ‘The Amity’ was constructed and is now located on Princess Royal Drive overlooking the Princess Royal Harbour. Guided tours of the brig are conducted most days.
Albany was also the first deep-water port in WA which was used as the first stop by English mail vessels into Australia, long before Perth was ever considered to be the capital city and long before Perth got its own suitable sea port. Because of Albany’s perfect location along the southern ocean and the facilities of the sea port, in the early days Albany was home to large whaling fleet. The whaling industry supplied many locals with jobs and kept the town’s economy thriving for quite some time. The whaling station in Albany was the last operating whaling station in the southern hemisphere before it closed its doors in 1978. It has now been converted into an informative museum for visitors and is one of the most popular attractions to visit in the city. A major draw card for the museum is that it features one of the ‘Cheynes’ whale chasers that was used for whaling in the area.
The ANZAC history of Albany was something I was never aware of and I personally enjoyed learning about when we visited. In 1914 when our ANZAC fleet left Australian shores bound for Gallipoli, the last place they saw was Albany where they had gathered in the harbour to depart in convoy. For this very reason the ‘Albany ANZAC Peace Park’ and the ‘Pier of Remembrance’ will feature significantly during the planned centenary commemorations for 2014. We couldn’t help but feel a little emotional standing in the very spot that our diggers last visited before setting off to fight for our country.
During our visit to Albany it wasn’t all learning though, we got in plenty of sightseeing, shopping and enjoyed some of the best fish and chips at Middleton Beach. If you enjoy scenic drives, venturing out to Emu Point and a trip up to the Mount Clarence Memorial on Apex Drive are well worth the effort. You may find yourself travelling along Middleton Street and even come across ‘Dog Rock’. The uncanny resemblance to the shape of a dog’s head quite obviously gives this huge rock its name. There are a few legends as to how the rock formed or appeared which are interesting to hear if you ask around town.
Other interesting things to check out in and around Albany are the old Convict Gaol and Strawberry Hill Farm (the oldest farm in WA and now run by the national trust).
We took a trip out to Torndirrup Peninsula to see the Albany Wind Farm where 18 wind turbines stand and help produce as much as 80% of Albany’s power. We were lucky to even spot a few seals from the headlands but unfortunately our camera battery was flat so we didn’t get any photos. The nearby Torndirrup National Park was also worth a visit. This park is home to some of the most stunning coastlines and rock formations in the world including ‘The Gap’ and ‘The Natural Bridge’, a granite archway carved by thousands of years worth of wave action.
If you are planning on visiting Albany (which I really think you should), try and be there for the Saturday morning Farmers Markets. This market is a fine example of a farmers market that is true to its name. Real farmers selling real produce direct from their farms. Everything is here, from the usual fresh fruit and vegetables to ham, bacon, cheeses and even milk direct from the cow without all the processing. We stocked up on local olives, a few homemade jams and a treat of organic beef which cooked up great on the BBQ.
Moving on from Albany heading west, our next planned visit was Denmark. The amazing rock formations of this coastline continue to impress us and here in Denmark they go to a whole other level of awesome! Elephant Rocks as they are known are a mass of huge rounded boulders that resemble a herd of elephants frolicking in the water. The best place to witness this sight is from above at the headland but a walk up close along Elephant Cove is a must too. The talcum-like sands of the beach and the bluey-green waters make it a great place for a swim or even just a laze around in the sun.
The Elephant Rocks are located within the William Bay National Park, Denmark’s most popular tourist hotspot. Within the park are many other great places to visit such as Greens Pools and Madfish Bay- perhaps a walk across the sand bar to Madfish Island for a safe spot for the kids to swim. Snorkelling is very popular around the island too and so is exploring. There are plenty of opportunities to seek out your own private beach to enjoy some time out all to yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about the coastline, the Denmark River which provides a fantastic river bank that passes through the middle of town is popular for picnics and a spot of fishing. Getting away from the water is easy to with plenty of scenic self-drive tours through old farming land, through karri forests and past many wineries. In fact Denmark reminded us a little of the Margaret River region but not quite as fancy and with its own charm. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we liked it here so much.
I really want to suggest a place just west of Denmark that is a ‘must’. The Toffee Factory! We had heard people raving about this place on our travels, talking about the giant ice cream cones and delicious toffees. We also heard people saying that they got ‘a bit on the side’ there too. We thought we must check it out for ourselves. I am happy to report that we got ourselves ‘a bit on the side’ as well. The quirky signs and garden displays that greet you on the driveway in and the simple fact that their range of gourmet sauces, preserves, chutneys and dressings is fittingly called ‘a bit on the side’ is testament to the cheeky sense of humour of the owners.
This place is an ideal spot to stop if you have a sweet tooth with a great range of brittles, toffees and sauces on offer. They also have a range of old fashioned ciders where they have added their own twist. Check their website for a broader look at what they specialise in.
We finish up this road trip at the lovely little town of Walpole. This town is really one for the adventurers whether it being the bushwalkers, 4×4 enthusiast or kayakers and canoeists. We setup camp in one of the many National Park Campgrounds which was a perfect spot to base ourselves for a few days whilst we explored the area.
For me, the highlight during our stay here was the challenging 4×4 trek out to Hush Hush Bay and Lost Beach. The tracks out here are strictly 4×4 only and many locals are seen heading out this way for some fishing. Although some of the tracks are challenging, they were fun to drive and even my partner Jane had a go and learnt some useful sand driving techniques from yours truly.
Jane was mostly looking forward to the seeing the giant Tingle trees and walking the Tree Top walk through the valley of the giants. A whole day was spent here perusing the Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre, learning the history of the area and of course braving the 40m height of the 600m long walkway as we browsed through the thick canopies of the giant red tingle trees, some with trunks over 20m in diameter. The walk through the treetops was relaxing at first before we reached the highest point. All was well until the walkway began to sway a little, which was a little scary at times. We were assured that a bit of sway is normal and part of its design to flex. It was such an amazing experience and the views were spectacular.
Autumn and Spring are probably the best times of the year to visit as the south is known for getting quite cool and the Summer months a bit too warm for venturing into the bush too far.
Honestly, I have missed so many other great places to visit along this stretch of South West coast but I couldn’t possible name them all here. I suggest you allow at least a few days at each town and use the links at the end of this article to browse other great spots to help plan your itinerary.
A great website to check out is www.australiassouthwest.com for more information on this great region.
Our Top Ten ‘Must Do’ List
Visit the whaling museum in Albany
Enjoy some fish and chips at Middleton Beach or Emu Point
Visit The Gap and The Natural Bridge and stop by the wind farm
Take a trip to Elephant Rocks
Indulge in some toffee at The Toffee Factory (and maybe some cider)
Take a 4×4 trip to Hush Hush Bay
Stroll along Mandalay Beach at sunset
Do the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk
Enjoy a picnic or BBQ lunch at Peaceful Bay
Get a photo taken under the giant tingle tree