Great Southern Land Down Under
May 24, 2013 | BY Claire Hanson
Navigation of the Great Southern region of Western Australia is not just for the intrepid. We follow Claire Hanson's insider trail for the hottest bespoke itineraries and exclusive travel tips
Deciphering the secret complexities of a previously untravelled-to location can be frustrating when you only want the best, not the rest. Luxury travel success hinges on tapping into local knowledge and inside information to unearth the enigmas and surprises that locals keep to themselves.
The deep south of Western Australia is one such place where inside knowledge can turn an ordinary road trip into an extraordinary journey you’ll never forget.
When to visit
Natural beauty and urbane sophistication collide year-round in Albany and Denmark, the two largest tourist hotspots of the region. Locals say the best time of year to visit is between December and May, the warmer months. But winter overlooking the sparkling King George Sound in front of a crackling fire served up with a robust local red is nothing to sniff at (it’s just the tonic for tired minds). And while balmy summer days spent strolling velvety beaches soothe jangled city nerves, spring is a riot of wildflowers, and autumn vacations can be spent exploring, geocaching and bushwalking.
Indulge in vineyard-fresh comfort food in the Great Southern during winter
Albany and Denmark have the best of life in spades, from chi-chi coffee houses and global-standard cultural festivals to tweet-worthy feasts of just-caught oysters on the jetty and paper-wrapped fried squid on the beach. Crisp, fresh air. The still night. Days that last forever...
Albany oysters, fresh from the Southern Ocean
If cultural tourism is your thing, visit the Great Southern in February or March to catch the two most significant festivals of the region: Taste Great Southern (for gastronomes, gourmands and oenophiles) and the Great Southern Festival (for culture vultures).
Taste Great Southern is a festive celebration of the region featuring vineyard events, culinary conversations and a long list of seductive food and wine-related events. Check out the programme and plan your visit to the region during February and March.
Southern Ocean prawns at the Taste Great Southern festival
FLY: Book a flight south from Perth to Albany. It takes under an hour with Skywest, which flies daily to and from the newly upgraded Albany Airport. Private charter jets are also available for hire. Car hire is available at Albany airport.
DRIVE: Albany is a 4.5 hour, 416km drive south from Perth, straight down Albany Highway. Hire a car at Perth Airport and hit the road. Driving through some of the state’s most beautiful countryside, you’ll pass forests, working farms and vineyards.
Or book to stay at
Where to Go and What to Do
The Great Southern region of Western Australia is where the city meets the sea, where the beach meets the mountains, and where metro-style indulgence meets country gentility. Base yourself in Albany or Denmark and discover the region’s hidden adventures.
If it’s adrenalin-rushing activities and full-throttle, extreme thrill-seeking adventures you’re after, the Great Southern is your gig. Blow your mind and get the heart thumping with walking, cycling, hiking and riding trails, rowing, kayaking, bodyboarding, surfing, kite surfing, reef and wreck diving and fishing charters.
CLIMB: Adventure seekers look no further. Extreme sports and escapades are part of the journey, and it’s not just for the uber-fit. Take rock-climbing: some Porongurup Ranges climbs can be explored by the inexperienced, while the spirited climber may venture further to the Stirling Ranges.
Hot ticket - the Castle Rock Granite Skywalk
DRIVE: If your kind of adventure involves the comfort of a 4WD cabin or tour bus, this region takes some beating. Offroaders are especially spoilt for choice with day-trip tracks through national parks and along vast stretches of coastline.
SURF: Surfing and body boarding conditions vary, with some beaches only suitable for the experienced. Board hire is available as are surf coaching lessons for adults and children of all experience levels. Windsurfers are in paradise with Princess Royal Harbour and adjacent coastline offering the state’s best wind and kite surfing hotspots.
FLY: Australia’s most established paragliding facilities call Albany home. Fly like a bird above the ocean panorama in the safe hands of a paraglider instructor. Licensed courses are available year-round. Go thermalling, ridge soaring and top landing in what will be the flight of your life.
For a bird’s eye view from the comfort of a seat, spend the best hour of your life soaring over spectacular scenery in a spanking new Robinson R44 helicopter. Customised scenic helicopter flights stop at your favourite winery and provide incredible views of rugged coastline. Scenic Cessna charter flights wow with day trips taking in whales, coastline, restaurants and sightseeing.
A bird’s eye view of whales calving off Albany
DIVE: Dive charters to the wrecks and reefs of King George Sound such as the HMAS Perth and Cheynes III are available daily. Book a night dive and discover the bone yard – a former dumping ground for whale bones during whaling days.
WATCH: Whale-watch from June to October and experience frolicking whales from whale-watching charter boats and land-based lookouts. Spot Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales as they mate and calve.
Whale watch from Albany – Photo: Andrew Halsall
ANGLE: Beach and rock fishing offer rich rewards. Most fishing spots are accessible by 2WD vehicles, followed by a short walk. Fishing charters are also available.
SWING: Three bowling clubs and three golf courses mean there’s no excuse not to practice your swing. Albany Golf Club is rated as one of Australia’s best, overlooking Middleton Beach. Some courses offer children’s golf clubs for hire and mini golf can be enjoyed at Middleton Beach.
SAIL: Soak up the sun on-board a luxury yacht for hire. Check out the spanking new Albany Marina from Princess Royal Harbour, fast becoming a destination of choice for international yachties. Take a leisurely cruise on the waters surrounding Albany, spot seabirds and marine life and gain your recreational skipper’s ticket while you’re at it.
CHILL: If you take your adventure plans with a chill pill, yoga will rate highly on your itinerary. Albany and Denmark boasts yoga rooms, lessons and classes to rival any global destination. Channel your inner calm with yoga, wellness, massage and reflexology overlooking the dramatic coastline of the Southern Ocean. Re-energise, luxuriate and follow your zen at a day spa for a nurturing escape from everyday life with a spa package, massage, organic treatments and beauty therapy.
One degree of separation
Gourmands seeking a sensory reawakening will find themselves in gastronomic heaven with winery trails, farm gate-fresh local produce and nationally awarded farmer’s markets. Journey through fields of gold, vineyards of green and oceans of blue as you feast your way around the region. You’ll discover why you’re only one degree of separation from your food source.
Sharp, clean air blasts straight from the Southern Ocean. Produce is so fresh you can count the minutes since it was harvested. Chefs cite devotion to sustainable agricultural methods and a commitment to time-honoured cooking techniques passed down through generations. A strictly seasonal approach to dining room menus sees the Great Southern’s food scene brimming with product so fresh it begs to be devoured, now.
Chances are you’ll meet the chef who might also happen to be the owner of the establishment you are dining at. Produce will have been delivered that day (while you’re there if you’re lucky) and you’ll probably be eating it within hours of its harvest.
From farm gate to plate - barbecued marron
Dine at a Great Southern vineyard’s cellar door and you’re just as likely to meet the very person who tends the vines and the vegetable garden supplying the delights on your plate. Alternatively, hire a private chef to do the work for you.
You won't be able to resist stacking boxes full to the brim with produce as you trawl local providores, cellar doors and gourmet outlets across the region. Your pantry will groan with satisfaction when you stock it full of wine, fruit, vegetables, fresh and cured meats, fish and seafood sauces, pickles, jams, chutneys, accompaniments, chocolate, oils, breads and cheeses, spices and coffee. You’ll find wine unavailable elsewhere. Acquire now and reap the rewards later.
Cellar door-hop your way around the Great Southern region
Local produce is on sale at farm gates in and around the Great Southern. Take home moorish delights including honey, berries, asparagus, fruit, vegetables, eggs and olive oil.
Paddock to plate - pick fresh raspberries from farms near Albany
Visit Albany’s two fresh markets, ranked among Australia’s best, for garden-fresh vegetables, just-caught fish, creamy goats’ cheese, crusty piping-hot pastries and concert-worthy musical entertainment. Both markets provide an incredible array of mouth-wateringly sensational local gourmet produce, year-round. The Albany Farmer’s Market runs every Saturday from 8am – noon, while the Albany Boatshed Markets runs every Sunday from 10am – 1pm. They are the start of your epicurean and viticultural journey around the Great Southern.
Love at First Bite: Where to eat
Producing internationally recognised wine of excellence comes naturally in the Great Southern wine region. Book a driver and plan your foray around the region’s celebrated cellar doors. Taste outstanding varietal styles including: shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
Producing 37 percent of wine grapes produced in Western Australia, the region boasts cellar doors galore, but plan ahead as seasonal opening times can vary. And don’t forget your spirit – or should we say spirits. A visit to Albany’s internationally acclaimed artisanal spirits distillery – the Great Southern Distilling Company - for a quaff of single malt is one for the bucket list.
Stock up on Great Southern wine varieties, including pinot noir and riesling
Test drive the highly awarded Limeburners Single Malt at the Great Southern Distillery
Beauty Rich and Rare
Think Albany and star-quality musicians and fine wine at artisanal pubs and breweries spring to mind. Think bespoke boutiques, galleries and stores to-die-for, as well as international acts at the architecturally award-winning Albany Entertainment Centre. If it’s cultural nirvana you’re looking for, you’ve found it.
The Great Southern Festival hits town in February and March each year. The only regional festival of its kind in Australia with such international depth and duration, it is wildly successful and recently celebrated it’s tenth year, with events of global acclaim held in theatres, at wineries and in a variety of regional settings.
Every February and March, the Great Southern Festival showcases global arts performances across the region
Albany’s emerging indigenous art scene offers an insight into an 18,000 year-old culture. Many significant Indigenous cultural sites chronicle the fascinating culture that pre-dated European settlement. Discover ancient stone fish traps built 7,500 years ago by Noongar people at Albany’s Oyster Harbour: they used tidal movements to catch fish.
Central to the success of many accomplished Indigenous visual artists in the region, Mungart Boodja is an Albany-based gallery facilitating the production of Indigenous art. Noongar artists are now exploding into the contemporary art world as a jewel in the Indigenous arts market, just waiting to be unearthed. Now is the time to invest in Noongar art.
Lest We Forget
History is alive and kicking in Albany, the oldest permanently settled town in Western Australia, and it’s not just for bookworms and academics. Go back to the future for an insight into centuries-old local indigenous culture. Discover why European explorers fell in love with Albany in the 17th century. Explore majestic buildings, shipwrecks, convict relics, ANZAC memorials, museums, forts, ports and evidence of the city’s whaling and agricultural industries.
Albany recently launched the stunning ANZAC Peace Park on its foreshore in recognition of the significance of the city’s role in the ANZAC legend. The park will play a significant role in the hosting of commemorative events for the Centenary of ANZAC in 2014, attracting thousands of international visitors.
Toast the Coast
If luxury eco-tourism is your thing, wind down while you contemplate rugged coastline and picturesque headlands, pristine national parks and the untouched wonders of nature from the safety of a guided tour. Those without a 4WD are catered for by eco-tour operators, enabling you to take in the coast, the wilderness and the region’s biodiversity in a safe environment.
The Denmark coastline
A walk among the giants of the southern forests is not to be underestimated. Just west of Denmark the Treetop Walk is 600 metres of gentle gradient 40 metres above the tingle forest. Take a picnic hamper and make yourself at home with 400-year old giants. Squeeze in an hour’s snorkelling afterwards, then hit the Denmark winery which astonishes with fabulous cellar doors and premium restaurants.
This is what life is about. Shrugging off the everyday. Booking a flight, loving the journey and uncovering the best of life in the Great Southern. Visit and you’ll tell and re-tell the story for years.
Eco Hot Spots
- Porongurup Ranges for magisterial rocks and tall timber
- Stirling Ranges for stunning cliff faces and bushwalking and the Granite Skywalk
- West Cape Howe National Park for beaches and orchids
- Mt Lindesay National Park for wildflowers and sweeping views
- William Bay National Park for incredible coastline
- Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks for a spot of calm snorkelling
- Springdale Beach for cycling and picnicking
- Mandalay Beach for shipwreck spotting and fishing
- Walpole and Nornalup Inlets for serious angling
- Torbay Inlet and Cosy Corner for 4WD-ing and camping
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