The approach into Western Australia’s Great Southern region is a mix of weathered scrub bordered by the rugged peaks of the Stirling Ranges hovering in the distance. This idyllic scene has been a fixture on the landscape for over one million years, but is a world away from how our ANZAC troops left the region to fight for Australia’s future.
The 25th April 2015 marks the ANZAC centenary and the 1st November 2014 marks 100 years since the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand troops sailed from Albany to meet their fate. Over 40,000 men and 17,000 horses sailed on 54 ships in two convoys with ships carrying up to four times as many men than what they were designed to transport, and since many of the men had never been at sea before they suffered chronic sea-sickness and serious illnesses. It was a heart-wrenching sight as the ships set sail from the King George Sound for Gallipoli and the Western Front.
Today there is little sign of turmoil as holiday-makers flock to the Great Southern for adventure, culture, food, wine and relaxation. History is never forgotten though. Via Albany Highway and about 150km north of Albany in Kojonup, Kodja Place tells “The Real Australian Story” with poignant exhibitions, stories and art works depicting the life of WA’s settlers, indigenous community and migrants.
Return to Albany Highway for approximately 100km to Mount Barker, the top of the Great Southern Triangle, which extends 54km south-west to Denmark and 50kms south to Albany. A renowned wine district, responsibly sample the region’s outstanding Riesling, Chardonnay and Shiraz varieties at wineries like West Cape Howe Wines, Plantaganet Wines, Galafrey and Alkoomi.
Bushwalking and nature loving enthusiasts will be drawn to the Porongurup National Park and Stirling Ranges (the only place to receive snowfall in the state) best reached from either Mt Barker or Kendenup (the town north of Mt Barker). Both mountain ranges have charming villages to refuel your vehicle and body with eateries, galleries, accommodation, general stores and petrol stations.
Continue for approximately 50km to the end of Albany Highway and turn right onto the South Coast Highway towards Denmark and its sky-scraping karri forests, untouched landscapes, acclaimed wines, fresh produce and the kind of coast which seems too breathtaking to be real. Follow the signs to Scotsdale Road and Mt Shadforth’s scenic drives while stopping for photos over Wilson Inlet, Nullaki Peninsula and the Southern Ocean. Don’t miss the sweet marron and lamb at Old Kent River Vineyard or a long lunch inspired by Fijian flavours at Pepper and Salt (both on the South Coast Highway), or opt for a cheese platter and wine tasting at Singlefile Wines on Walter Road, just off Scotsdale Road. Stand at WA’s most southerly point in West Cape Howe National Park and then head to William Bay National Park for the pinch-yourself stunning Greens Pool and Elephant Rock. If staying in Denmark, connect with the land in the eco-certified Karma Chalets, the self-contained Pelicans at Denmark or hexagonal The Combe with unsurpassed views over Wilson inlet.
Head east on South Coast Highway for 53kms to Albany and along the way stop for lunch at Oranje Tractor Wines for organic wines wonderfully accompanied by their soups, platters and salads, where the ingredients are freshly plucked from the gardens. After lunch float away at Mt Romance, located a few minutes north of Albany airport, with The Cone, the Gong and the Bowl experience where you lie beneath the 16-sided cone as the gong and the aroma of sandalwood washes over you.
On arrival into Albany head up to Mt Clarence and the Princess Royal Fortress, built in 1893 as the first federal defence of Australia. Climb the gum-tree lined Avenue of Honour on Apex Drive to the top of Mt Clarence for the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial which is a replica of the statue erected at Suez in 1932. Overlooking the Ataturk Channel, named in honour of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, stands a statue of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk also bearing his name. A steel walkway leads up to where Rector Padre White stood in 1930 and held the first ever observance of a dawn parade on ANZAC Day. Albany continues to honour its heroes, especially during the centenary celebrations from 30 October until 2 November 2014.
Home to WA’s first European settlement, King George Sound is the ideal launch point for boating with Albany Whale Tours. At Albany Waterfront Marina, board a sail boat to experience a smidgeon of what our troops must have felt as they sailed off for the high seas. Situated on the southern coast of King George Sound, the site of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station decommissioned in 1978 and now named Discovery Bay, the museum is a chilling reminder of our dark whaling history. Take Frenchman Bay Road to Torndirrup National Park and be in awe of the power of the Southern Ocean and its spectacular rock formations of The Gap and Natural Bridge. Pay particular attention to your safety as the 300 metre climb over rocks can be slippery with the spray from the surging and unpredictable waves.
Get a comfortable night’s sleep at the Dog Rock Motel and while there enjoy the hotel restaurant, and one of Albany’s finest Lime 303, or try the cosy Beach House at Bayside renowned for their hearty breakfasts. Before hitting the road, stock up on supplies and refuel in Albany for the journey east along the Southern Coast Hwy towards Hopetoun approximately 340 kilometres away. Enjoy the remoteness of this region known as the Great South West Edge, recognised for its biodiversity while passing coastal headlands, inlets, mountains, valleys and wildflowers.
The Fitzgerald River National Park lies between the townships of Hopetoun and Bremer Bay, and spanning over 330,000 hectares and home to over 1,800 plant species and wildlife, the opportunities are endless for photography, bushwalking, sand-duning, canoeing, fishing and camping. Snorkel at Barrens Beach, whale-watch from Point Ann or go house-boating on the Hamersley Inlet. For impressive seascape and mountains views hike up to Beacon Hill while the sweeping vistas of the Fitzgerald River National Park and Hamersley Inlet can be captured from Sepucralis Hill Lookout.
Lay your head at the Wellstead Museum, Cottages and Restaurant or the Quaalup Homestead, both in Bremer Bay. Assuming star-gazes can sleep of course as the Southern Cross points its way across the Southern Ocean, beckoning for further adventures.
Where: Denmark to Hopetoun lies within the Great Southern region and is best reached via Albany Hwy, which is 360km south of Perth.
When: The region can be enjoyed over several days and year round with summer temperatures reaching 32 degrees and winters dropping to below 10 degrees. The wildflower season runs from August to November and blooms from Mt Barker all the way down to the coast spanning from Walpole to Bremer Bay. Whale-watching occurs from late May to early October.
Distance: Denmark – Hopetoun: 389km, Perth – Denmark: 420km via Albany Hwy, Perth – Albany: 414km, and Perth – Hopetoun: 589km
Driving time: Denmark to Hopetoun is approximately 4 hours
Don’t miss: 1st November National ANZAC Centre officially opens with a state-of-the-art and interactive museum honouring and showcasing our heroic troops.
Originally published in Horizons RAC Magazine September 2014