ROAD TRIP: part 1 ALBANY WA

Albany coastline

I have a postcard, returned to me when my parents passed. It’s addressed to them from me in the early 1970’s. I had bought myself an old VW Kombi van in London and I was travelling Europe in it with two of my younger siblings.

In the postcard, I describe heading from Innsbruck across the mountains to explore Italy. And how we’d suddenly changed our minds ‘on the spot ‘at a crossroads, heading instead for what was then Yugoslavia. “Which way – left or right?” A instant travel decision. The freedom of youth!

Many many decades later, I still find joy in instant travel decisions. They tend to work out rather well for me.

Like last week when I looked at M.J – the bloke previously known as hubby – and said ‘let’s head to Albany.’ An hour later, accommodation was booked via the Internet, bags and food supplies packed, the car fuelled up and, at first light the next morning, our road trip was on its way to Western Australia’s South coast and Albany, the first European settlement in this State.


An Albany beach

I haven’t divorced hubby, by the way. I’m not sure why I’ve been referring to him like that in my blogs to date. Such a lame name for my very supportive travel partner. So from now on, he’s M.J.

Albany is a port city in the Great Southern region, about four hours drive from our home. So we weren’t going far, though there are lots of interesting spots to stop at en route that make the journey longer.

We’ve visited Albany more times than I can remember. It always offers something new and there’s always joy in returning there. The climate and topography are quite different than the South West region where I live – colder, more hilly – even mountains in the distance.

The Stirling Ranges only an hour’s drive north of Albany

Albany was originally settled by Europeans in 1826 as a military outpost for the New South Wales colony because the Brits feared the French might plant a flag and claim the region now known as Western Australia. Mon Dieu! My school girl French language lessons would not have gone to waste if the French explorers hovering around the WA coast had known what a great wine producing area it was destined to become! Missed opportunity big time!

Pelicans view the tourist in Albany

Albany has another association, more poignant, with France through World War 1. Its magnificent harbour was chosen as a meeting point for Australian and New Zealand ships to sail on together carrying the first ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops to the World War 1 conflict. It was wildflower season, and after a short stop-over, the 30,000 troops, along with the Medical corp and Nursing service, re-boarded their ships festooned with wildflowers given to them by locals. They departed for their first major battle at Gallipoli in Turkey, and for the survivors onto the Western Front in France. For many, Albany would be their last sighting of Australia – never to return.

At 6.25AM on the morning of November 1, in bright sunlight, with the harbour glassily smooth, the Minotaur and Sydney up-anchored and moved out between the sun-bathed hills to sea. Charles Bean, War Correspondent aboard.

Australia’s WW1 horses are honoured alongside troops at the National ANZAC Centre in Albany

Also aboard the 12 kilometre long convoy were about 8000 horses – all but one ‘Sandy’ – would never be returned to Australia. ‘Sandy’ is another story – you can easily look it up online.

https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/19/one-came-home

Today, Albany is home to Australia’s National ANZAC centre, high on a hill overlooking King George Sound where the troop ships gathered. Even if you’ve been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, I highly recommend visiting the Albany centre. It’s worth the ticket price. Make sure you have your tissues!

The Anzac Centre overlooks Albany’s King George Sound
I photographed this ANZAC PARADE in Albany’s main street in 2014

Although Albany is a city, it has a country town feel. Many buildings date back to the 1800’s and early 1900’s when it was the first European settlement in Western Australia. It features wonderful fine white sand beaches, harbour vistas, great surfing, bushwalks, birdlife, and fabulous local food produce and wine. It’s a big crop growing area. Loads of sheep. And cattle – lots of cattle in the surrounding countryside!

Albany High School students return from a surfing lesson

M.J. (remember – the bloke previously known as Hubby) always packs his fishing gear when we go to Albany. Ocean, inlet and river fishing are all on offer. I spotted this advertisement below some years ago in Albany!

Personally, Albany is not a place for me to visit in Winter. Much too chilly, sitting on the edge of the Southern Ocean. Next stop Antarctica! However, it has a lovely mild summer, and spring and autumn bring special joys. It’s also got great cafes, pubs and a vibrant arts community.

Have I mentioned the stunning GAP bridge at Albany – or the old whaling station that you can tour? Or the fact that plenty of whales can be seen close to the shore in season? So much to say about Albany. Don’t miss it if you are in WA!

For more on this region, check out my July 30th 2021 story: ‘Yes, WA DOES HAVE MOUNTAINS!

As usual – I have shot all the photos above .

Watch out for Part 2 of this road trip story – DENMARK – in the coming week. No, I didn’t divert to the airport and fly to Scandinavia! I’m talking about Denmark, the sleepy little hip town, 40 minutes west of Albany.

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Accommodation in Albany: A big range of hotels, furnished holiday apartments, excellent caravan parks with up market chalets, and bed and breakfast homes. Note that there is a very heavy demand for Albany accommodation in school holidays.

We have stayed previously many times at the Emu Point Caravan Park – first rate and right by the beach! It has grassed camping and caravan sites, extremely good outdoor kitchens and other facilities, and a variety of immaculately clean chalets. On this occasion, we stayed at the Pelican self contained Apartments, five minutes walk from Middleton Beach. Also excellent.

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