The first settlement in Western Australia was founded in 1826 at a safe anchorage shielded from the inhospitable Southern Ocean.
Albany is on a perfect natural harbour, discovered in 1791 by Captain George Vancouver and resting in the embrace of the Torndirrup Peninsula.
For seven months of the year humpbacks, southern right and blue whales migrate past Albany, and in times past this fuelled a lucrative whaling industry.
Albany was also the last sight of the Australian mainland for many soldiers and nurses shipping off to the First World War, and the thought-provoking Anzac Centre opened a century after the start of the conflict.
Jaw-dropping seascapes abound all along the Albany coast, where granite formations are buffeted by the ocean waves.
1. Whale Watching
Where whales were once hunted they are now a prime attraction for Albany.
The Great Southern Region enjoys the longest whale migration season anywhere in Australia.
This continues from May to December, during which southern right whales, humpback whales and blue whales journey from the Southern Ocean up the coast of Western Australia to breeding grounds off the north Kimberley coast.
As we’ll discover, southern right whales and humpback whales can often be seen from the shore.
But if you’re craving up-close views and expert insights you have to join a tour.
Check out the eco-certified King George Sound Whale Watching Tour on GetYourGuide.com, taking you out for 2.5 hours.
Typically you’ll sight a whale within seven minutes of leaving the marina, and will get so close you won’t need binoculars.
2. National Anzac Centre
At the elevated Prince Royal Fortress in Albany is a stirring modern museum commemorating the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) of the First World War.
During this conflict, Albany was the last port of call for troopships on the way to the fronts, and so has a special status in the Anzac legend.
The museum, in a statement building with a panoramic view, opened in 2014 and relates the experiences of 32 people, from nurses to infantry.
The deeply researched displays call on footage, audio recordings, photographs, diary entries, and lots of documents, taking you on a journey from pre-war life to WWI recruitment, engagement at the Western Front, the Middle East and Gallipoli, and then post-war life.
3. Albany’s Historic Whaling Station
The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company was in business until pretty recently, catching its last whale in 1978. Their station, on the Torndirrup Peninsula was built in the 1950s, and over the next 25 years processed 14,695 sperm whales and 1,136 humpbacks.
With this industry now happily consigned to the past you can visit the last intact whaling station in the country, and the only complete attraction of its kind in the world.
Enthusiastic and clued-up guides will give you a 40-minute tour of the processing factory and converted whale oil tanks, explaining the day-to-day at the station.
You’ll then be free to peruse historic footage, marine animal art and all sorts of whaling artefacts and skeletons that make clear just how large these creatures are.
You’ll also get to board the whale chaser ship Cheynes IV, visit the Regional Wildflower Garden and the Australian Wildlife Park, keeping a small collection of native animals.
4. Middleton Beach
Albany’s favourite place for a swim is a five-kilometre curve of white sand, traced by the low dunes of the Middleton Reserve and some low-key holiday developments.
Middleton Beach is on a very gradual slope and the waves break a long way out.
Lounging on the sand you’ll take in magnificent views, back across King George Sound to Gull Rock and Torndirrup National Park, and the islands of Frenchman Bay.
At the more sheltered southern end is Ellen Cove, equipped with a jetty and pontoon for swimmers.
And fringing this portion of the beach is a tiered grassy area for picnics in the shade.
This is also a useful spot from which to see humpback and southern right whales during their migration, sometimes coming to within 20 metres of the beach.
5. Emu Point
Where King George Sounds retreats into the large enclosed bay of Oyster Harbour lies Emu Point.
Both the name of a suburb and a little cape culminating in a rocky groyne, Emu Point is loved by families for its sheltered beach and grassy foreshore.
These can be found on the north side, on Oyster Harbour, where the transparent water is like a lagoon and perfect for younger swimmers.
A short distance out there’s a pontoon with ropes marking out lanes if you want to get some laps in.
On the shore is a crescent of white sand trimmed by a sandy terrace where you can relax in the shade of trees.
Close by are picnic tables and a cafe, while the Emu Point Boat Sheds to the west cater to vessels up to 20 metres long.
Emu Point also has a number of resident pelicans, which you’ll see waddling around and diving for fish.
6. The Gap and Natural Bridge
On the invigorating ocean side of the Torndirrup Peninsula are two striking granite formations almost side by side and made accessible by lookouts and walkways.
The Natural Bridge is a sizeable arch hollowed out by the relentless power of the Southern Ocean waves, which slam against the promontory and rumble into the recess.
Then a few steps to the south you’ve got The Gap, where a granite channel with smooth, sheer walls has been worn from the rock.
At the lookout you can watch the ocean boiling below, and the mist will cause a rainbow if the sun is in the right place.
The water is as dangerous as it looks so keep an eye out for warning signs.
7. Albany Wind Farm
Roughly three quarters of Albany’s electricity is renewable, and this is down to the 12 mammoth turbines facing the Southern Ocean at a height of 80 metres on the Torndirrup Peninsula.
Measuring 100 metres from top to bottom, the turbines have become a tourist attraction, not least because of their scenic position at the edge of a wind-swept escarpment with the Southern Ocean thundering below.
Boardwalks and the Sand Patch Coastal Platform give you clear ocean vistas, magical at sunset, and with a high likelihood of seeing whales between May and December.
8. Greens Pool
Set a course for this beach around 45 minutes west of Albany proper.
At Greens Pool the Southern Ocean is stopped in its tracks by a wall of granite boulders, creating a big pool of transparent water, around 550 metres long and 300 metres wide.
The beach is on a smooth gradient, so less assured swimmers will have no trouble.
In fact the water at Greens Pool is so safe that there’s a swim school every summer, which is remarkable when you witness just how powerful the Southern Ocean is on the neighbouring Mazzoletti Beach.
Pack a snorkel because there’s wonderful marine life visible among the rocks.
9. Little Beach
Yet another place of immeasurable beauty sits about 35 kilometres east of Albany proper in the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve.
Between two headlands and with no sign of civilisation is a crescent of glowing white sand, punctuated in the middle by a pair of big granite boulders.
Although not fully shielded from the ocean surf, Little Beach has low waves and mesmerising turquoise waters that call out to you.
This incredible location is on the four-kilometre Two Peoples Bay Heritage Trail, which begins at the reserve’s visitor centre and gives you awesome vistas up to North Point across the majestic expanse of Two Peoples Bay.
10. Brig Amity Replica
On Princess Royal Harbour at Peace Park is a replica of the famous 148-ton brig that was vital to the European exploration and settlement of Australia in the first half of the 19th century.
The original Brig Amity was launched in New Brunswick, Canada in 1816, and from the 1820s onwards helped bring people (including convicts), livestock and supplies to colonies, before being wrecked off Tasmania in 1845. The ship arrived in what is now Albany in 1826, following a tough six-week voyage from Sydney, dropping off a small contingent of soldiers and assorted convicted tradesmen.
Within a few years they had an established a port, dubbed Albany in 1831. The replica was built in the 1970s using details researched by a local historian, as well as techniques and materials almost identical to the shipyard that built the first Amity.
For a small fee you can go aboard, explore the decks with an audio tour and get a feel for how people endured those endless journeys.
11. Museum of the Great Southern
At the site of that first settlement by Princess Royal Harbour is a museum that looks at the region’s indigenous history, natural history and European settlement.
Here you’ll learn the stories of the Menang and Noongar people, finding out about traditional life and seeing where they fished and cooked.
This also happens to be the place that was first pronounced Western Australia in 1826. There are absorbing insights about seafaring over the last 200 years, as well as the incredible biodiversity of the southern seas.
The museum’s grounds are flush with nature too, harbouring a host of bird species, King’s skinks and various types of frogs.
12. Albany Convict Gaol & Museum
You can delve further into Albany’s early days at a preserved gaol founded in 1852 for convicts brought to Albany as skilled labourers.
Many convicts sentenced to transportation in England between 1850 and 1868 found themselves here for a time.
Rehabilitation was a key ethos, and once convicts had gained their Ticket of Leave they were often recruited for projects like building the town jetty and the road to Perth.
The gaol became a public prison in 1873 and was expanded with women’s cells and larger warden’s quarters a couple of years later.
By the 1940s the facility, then a police lock-up, was declared unfit for prisoners, but it would be another half century before it was restored and opened as a museum.
You can take a look around any day of the week, and will see some enthralling details like Aboriginal cell art carved from timber as long ago as the 1870s.
13. Princess Royal Fortress Military Museum
During the 19th century Princess Royal Harbour was such a strategic asset that the decision was taken to fortify it to help protect intercontinental trade routes.
At the Summit of Mount Adelaide, this fortress was completed in 1893 and remained armed until 1956. The fortress now hosts the National Anzac Centre, but there’s more to take in.
You can explore pre-federation heritage buildings and military structures like the underground magazine, caretaker’s cottage, barracks, batteries and repository store, together with collections of artillery and torpedoes.
The Ellam-Innes Collection holds a trove of objects relating to the 11th Battalion and 10th Light Horse regiments.
In the grounds you’ll get fantastic views of Princess Royal Harbour, Oyster Harbour, Middleton Beach and King George Sound.
14. Chainsaw Sculpture Drive
You can squeeze in a more outlandish attraction a few minutes into Albany’s hinterland in the Walmsley suburb.
There, off Mercer Road, resident Darrel Radcliffe has created a drive-through sculpture park populated by intricate creations carved with a chainsaw.
Radcliffe’s material of choice is jarrah wood, which is dense, durable and often used for flooring and cabinets.
Among the many works there’s a wooden chainsaw embedded in a tree, a dragonfly, grandfather clock, violin, pouring bucket, a family of turtles, a bear, an octopus and numerous human figures.
A box can be found along the drive for donations.
15. Dog Rock
On Middleton Road, linking Albany with Middleton Beach there’s a curious-looking granite boulder.
Seen from the west side, on St Werberghs Lane, this looks like the head of a dog in profile, angled upwards and evoking a scent hound of some kind.
In recognition, a collar has been painted around the “neck” at the base.
The rock has a long-held significance, possibly as an ancient boundary marker, and is known among the Noongar People as “Yacka” (wild dog tamed). Plans to demolish the rock to widen the road in the 1920s were met with fierce protests and an angry exchange at a council meeting.