FROM the wharf below, a lone bagpiper played a rousing welcome to herald our arrival in quaint and quirky Albany on Western Australia’s south coast. But passengers aboard Classic International Cruises’ Athena soon realised the city’s Scottish heritage is far from its only charm.
For starters, Albany boasts a dramatic granite coastline, pristine white-sand beaches such as Middleton Beach with its popular boardwalk, and the sheltered waters and small islands of King George Sound.
Lookouts including Mt Melville on Princess Royal Drive offer the best vantage points to see nature at its ferocious best.
The city’s surf breaks are less crowded than Margaret River to the north, while nature lovers also come for the southern right and humpback whale-watching (between July and October), snorkelling, fishing, diving (the 133m former guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth rests on the ocean floor just offshore), bird-watching, wildflower tours, paragliding, rock climbing in the Porongurup Ranges, and the Bibbulmun Track – one of the world’s great long distance walk trails, stretching nearly 1000km from Kalamunda in the Perth Hills.
Fifteen minutes drive from Albany, Torndirrup National Park –WA’s first gazette and most visited national park – has a lion’s share of the area’s spectacular coastline, including The Gap – with its 24-metre drop to the ocean, the aptly named Natural Bridge and noisy but impressive blowholes. But there’s more to Albany than meets the eye.
The winery trail is gaining a reputation for quality drops and the Saturday morning farmers’ market was voted best in Australia.
At Mt Romance The Sandalwood Factory, the anti-ageing and medicinal benefits of WA’s native sandalwood are being taken a step further than the Santal Signature Spa and retail showroom with a new therapy treatment. Sandalwood has been used in ancient cultures for ceremonial purposes, in the perfume market for its unique scent, and in aromatherapy for its ability to stimulate the pineal gland and improve mood and “happy” endorphin levels.
The Cone, The Gong and The Bowl aims to refresh, recharge and replenish energy levels as a maximum of 10 people recline in a cone-shaped meditation space with special lighting and acoustics. As they gently inhale sandalwood oil and are taken through a series of deep breathing and relaxation exercises, they progress into sound therapy using five orchestral gongs which send sound waves resonating through the body to create a meditative-like state.
Participants say the therapy helps alleviate stress levels, calm and clear the mind and promote relaxation and sleep.
The thriving multicultural city of 34,000 people is also historically significant, being the first colony in Western Australia to be settled by Europeans in 1826. Many of the 50 historical buildings have been reborn as art galleries, restaurants and museums and are best viewed on the 30-minute self-guided walk called the Amity Trail or on the Heritage Walk Trail.
You can revisit the area’s past at Albany Convict Gaol, jump onboard an old whaling boat and tour the site of Australia’s last operating whaling station (Cheynes Beach Whaling Station) at Whale World, or gain an insight into the life of an early settler or convict on the replica ship, Brig Amity.
The Light Horse Memorial Statue on Mt Clarence features a statue of an Australian mounted soldier assisting a New Zealand soldier whose horse has been wounded.
At this serene lookout atop Princess Royal Harbour, visitors can contemplate how thousands of fine young men must have felt when taking their last look at Australia and heading off to war. From October to December, 1914, more than 30,000 Australian and 12,000 New Zealand troops and their 2000 horses and supplies bound for Gallipoli left from Albany – chosen as the departure point for Anzacs because of its important coal and port facilities.
Visitors from all over the world will help the city commemorate the centenary of the assembly and departure of the Anzac troops in November 2014. Just a little further on at Mt Adelaide is Princess Royal Fortress or “The Forts”, built in the 19th Century to offer strategic protection for King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour. Military history buffs can while away hours in Albany Barracks, the Australian War Memorial Gallery, the Australian Light Horse Museum and Military Heritage Centre.
The firing of the 9lb cannon in the artillery field at 1.10pm and 4.10pm daily is a must-see. Count the 11 seconds from lighting the fuse and cover your ears for the big boom
It’s no wonder that, with all these attractions, this city proudly wears the moniker of “Amazing Albany”.
GOOD TO KNOW about Albany
Albany Visitors Centre and Booking Service, Old Railway Station, Proudlove Parade. Bookings: (08) 9841 9377. Information: (08) 9841 9290. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Amazing Albany and Albany Tourist.
Mount Romance The Sandalwood Factory is on the corner of Down Rd and Albany Highway, 15km north of Albany. Bookings are essential on (08) 9845 6888. Visit Mount Romance.
Athena cruises from Perth and Adelaide next summer from $450 pp for two nights. A five-night cruise from Perth to Albany and Esperance is priced from $1095 per person, twin-share. Children under 18 travel free on several cruises, paying only taxes. Book through travel agents. See Classic International Cruises.
‘Visitors from all over the world will help the city commemorate the centenary of the assembly and departure of the Anzac troops in November 2014.’
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