The National Anzac Centre in Albany is one of Australia's must-see cultural institutions and offers a compelling reason to make the journey to Western Australia's remote south coast. And there's plenty more in store for visitors. Here's a checklist of ten amazing things to do.
Albany is one of Australia’s best kept holiday secrets.
This unassuming city of just over 30,000 people sits on Western Australia’s southern coastline and makes a great base for exploring the wider region. Accessible by road (just over four hours) or air (one hour) from Perth, Albany has an intriguing history to uncover and a cosmopolitan cafe and dining scene. The city also offers plenty of options for revelling in the spectacular great outdoors.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Albany.
1. Explore the local cultural scene
Albany may be reasonably remote, but it harbours a thriving arts scene. Visit in September and October to follow the annual Southern Art and Craft Trail, which incorporates close to a hundred arts venues, artist studios, artisan workshops and more. Meet the artists and take part in a variety of activities and events.
Throughout the year, the Vancouver Arts Centre and gallery is well worth a visit. The heritage building is home to a number of local arts and crafts groups, and hosts touring exhibitions. It’s open to the public Monday to Saturday.
Albany Entertainment Centre, located on the foreshore of Princess Royal Harbour, is the premier performing arts centre for the region. It boasts a magnificent 618 seat proscenium arch theatre that presents a broad range of events throughout the year. The building stands on the land where European settlers were first welcomed by the traditional owners — the Noongar people. Check the website for what’s on during your visit.
2. Pay your respects at the National Anzac Centre
The state-of-the-art National Anzac Centre overlooks the waters of King George Sound — the departure point for the 41,000 service personnel who left Australia by ship for the battlefields of World War I. Many would never return. The centre honours their memory, and a visit here is an emotive and thought-provoking experience. You’ll need most of the day to do it justice.
3. Step back in time
Albany is recognised as the first permanent European settlement in Australia’s west. 1826 saw settlers set foot in the region for the first time, and as you stroll down Albany’s main street today, you’ll find many wonderful heritage-listed buildings dating back to the mid 1800s. Climb aboard the full size replica of the Brig Amity — the ship the first European settlers sailed on from Sydney and across the Great Australian Bight. Right next door, the Museum of the Great Southern is a fabulous introduction to Albany’s history. Next door to that is the Albany Convict Gaol — the first built in WA.
4. Visit the Albany Whaling Station
It’s hard for anyone today to appreciate the scale of the global whaling industry at its peak in the mid to late 1800s. Learn about the history of whaling in Australia by visiting Albany Whaling Station, which is set around the remains of the original whale processing factory and a restored whale chasing ship. It’s the only museum of its kind in the world and the site of the country’s last whaling station — which operated from 1952 until its closure in 1978.
5. Do a whale watching cruise
If you happen to be in town during the whale migration season (late May to early October), do yourself a favour and book a whale watching tour with Albany Whale Tours. Given the region’s whaling heritage, it completes the circle to see these beautiful, now-protected creatures up close. Best of all is the fact that if you don’t spot any whales, Albany Whale Tours will provide a free return tour until you do!
6. Eat out…a lot!
From traditional pub fare to cool cafe dining, Albany offers a fun and funky dining scene. For a fabulous breakfast option, head to Gourmandise & Co — a rustic French-style café serving wholesome fresh food. As you walk in the door, the aromas will excite your taste buds.
When lunchtime rolls around, visit Ocean and Paddock for fresh and delicious locally caught fish and chips. The portions are huge and will certainly keep you going until dinner.
Pub grub is always a popular option for dinner and the White Star Hotel, situated on Stirling Terrace (just off York Street) won’t disappoint. Think generous portions at reasonable prices.
Six Degrees restaurant and bar serves a good range of beers on tap, along with a menu of Australian and international dishes. For something different, why not try the Escobar Pork Sammich (no, that’s not misspelt) — a burger with crispy and sticky pulled pork, sweet potato, onion and chilisalsa crioli, topped with special ‘gringo chips with aioli’. Delicious!
Another dining gem well worth seeking out is Parisian-inspired Liberte. The Vietnamese, French and Australian fusion menu is amazing, and the cocktail menu is seriously good fun.
7. Shop at the weekend markets
Most people love a good market and Albany boasts two. The Albany Farmers Market takes place every Saturday morning, while the Albany Boatshed Markets are held every Sunday morning. Both sell loads of fresh local produce — from organic beef and lamb to the most amazing deliciously sweet strawberries and a multitude of other fruits and vegies. Meet local producers and shop for a picnic or picking platter to enjoy later in the day.
8. Breathe in the scent of sandalwood
Situated just ten minutes’ drive from the centre of Albany, The Sandalwood Shop is the largest sandalwood oil distillery in the world. Visitors can learn about the distilling process, bliss out in the wellness centre, or enjoy a bite to eat in the onsite cafe. With a wide variety of perfumed products available from the factory store, you’re sure to leave with a purchase or two.
9. Hit the beach
Leave some time to relax and enjoy the pristine stretches of white sand and sparkling turquoise waters that are the hallmarks of the beaches around Albany. Middleton Beach is the closest option to town. It’s Albany’s most popular swimming and surf beach, and offers great views out to King George Sound. If you’re into cycling, you can enjoy a bike ride along the shared use pathway from Middleton Beach to Emu Point. It’s an easy 8-kilometre return trip that follows the coast. Stop in at the Emu Point Cafe for a coffee break.
Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve has a very informative Visitor Information Centre, which will give you the heads up on the great walking trail to Little Beach. At the southern end, make sure you take the bush track over the opposite headland to Waterfall Beach. It’s a hidden gem. There’s a small waterfall that gushes down the rock crevasses to the beach.
9. Soak up the blowy coastal vistas
Hold on to your hat as you visit the spectacular but very breezy Gap and Natural Bridge at Torndirrup National Park. The viewing platform, forty metres above the roaring Southern Ocean, provides spectacular views of these majestic granite rock formations.
Albany is known to be quite windy, and you’ll usually find the Albany Wind Farm — just a 12-kilometre drive from the city centre — in full spin. A well-planned walking trail takes you quite close to the enormous wind turbines. There are spectacular coastal views on offer, so make sure you take your camera.
10. Try some top local drops
Heading back towards town on Frenchman Bay Road, there’s a pitstop opportunity that’s guaranteed to warm the cockles after a chilly visit to Torndirrup or the Wind Farm. The boutique Great Southern Distilling Company produces a premium small batch Limeburners single malt whisky, alongside vodka, gin and brandy. A behind-the-scenes tour is offered daily and includes three tastings as part of the deal. Alternatively, just drop in for a guided tasting at your leisure. The distillery also showcases a range of local beers and wines.
Looking for a great spot to wind down at the end of a hard day of sightseeing? There’s no putting on of airs and graces when you visit Albany’s family owned Wilson Brewing Company, but you will get to try some top notch locally brewed beers. Enjoy a tasting paddle in the rustic taproom (but beware, each glass is 200 millilitres). If you’re lucky they may even be serving steaming hot fresh yabbies (freshwater crayfish), which go down a treat with a cold one.