The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Amazing Albany

Middleton Beach jetty, Albany

 

A little place called Albany is where the Amazing Aussie Adventure all started.

Albany has the distinguished honour of not just being where I lived for the first few months on arriving down under. Albany us also the first place in Australia that I visited: Perth airport doesn’t count.

Right on the south west coast, Albany is the edge of Australia where it once joined to Antarctica — and parts of it still look like it.

Albany feels more like a town than a city, to me — maybe because of the preserved old colonial architecture, and a lack of highrise office buildings. It also has a population roughly equivalent to my home town in the UK, although here — like all of Australia — it’s on a much bigger scale.

Something in the water in Albany

Because it’s right on the Southern ocean, the water in Albany can be colder than swimming in Perth, where you’re swimming in the warm currents of the Indian ocean.

There’s lots of good beaches in Albany. Duh, it’s Western Australia — of course it’s going to be awesome. But they aren’t just good for swimming, they’re also good for whales. Albany is known around Australia as a place for whale watching: the humpback whales migrate in from June, and when the humpbacks leave, the southern right whales come for a few months. Sometimes, I’m told, there are even blue whales.

At the right time of year, you can stand on the beach in the early evening sunshine and watch whales happily splashing their tails in the water a short way off the shore.

The edge of the earth

Natural bridge, Albany

In Albany, you can stand on a rock, stare out to sea, and the next landmass out there is the endlessness of the Antarctic continent.

The pounding southern ocean has formed the coast into vast cliffs, and in one place a huge, granite natural bridge — where the waves crash underneath.

You shouldn’t ever try and walk across the natural bridge (maybe it should be renamed the natural bridge of death), other than the risk of a gust of wind blowing you over the side, or slipping on a wet rock, there is also the danger from king waves knocking you off.

It’s much more interesting to look at than climb on, anyway.

Albany: scenic city

Amazing AlbanyOther than the rocky outcrops of Antarctica, and the marine visitors, and the beaches (of course, the beaches, always the beaches), Albany is just plain scenic.

The boardwalk at Middleton Beach on a fine day is a favourite walk for me.

Even if there are no whales to spot off the shore (though you’ll often see cars parked on the hill in the lookout spots, with people staring out, just in case) there’s lots to stop to take in.

If you’re feeling energetic you can also take a walk at the Albany windfarm, taking in as much or as little of the Bibbulmum track as you’re comfortable doing — where there’s hills and lookout points and wooden steps leading down to the water’s edge.

Albany is one of those places that’s a must-see in Western Australia.

As a footnote, a little piece of trivia I recently picked up is that Albany is apparently one of the best places in Australia for viewing the southern lights, the Aurora Australis. For someone that loves space like I do this is quite exciting, and promises many more trips on the future.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Beach life

Greens Pool, Western Australia

I wrote a few weeks ago about swimming outdoors at Serpentine Falls, and how it was the only time I’ve been wild swimming other than at Highgate Ponds in London.

Swimming is something I enjoy a lot. I like the meditative calm of just pushing through the water, thinking quietly, and the variety of being able to pick up the pace if I feel the need: and being non-impact, it’s much better suited to me than running.

Naturally, on this amazing Aussie adventure of mine I have embraced with open arms the many opportunities for swimming in the ocean.

Admittedly, I am still a little nervous venturing into the ocean in the knowledge that there’s so many things that can kill you. This is not helped by the government-fuelled hysteria over sharks. This isn’t a place for a full-scale rant about the WA shark cull, but the fact is that sharks still kill fewer people than careless drivers. Sharks are an easy target, however, and have been a figure of fear ever since Jaws.

Green’s Pool

My first opportunity to get into the ocean in Australia was at Greens Pool, in William Bay National Park. The “pool” has almost completely calm waters because the bay is sheltered from the waves of the Great Southern Ocean by large, round boulders. When I was told we were going to Greens Pool I didn’t immediately make the connection that this “pool” was the ocean: in the UK if you told me we were going to visit a pool, I’d just presume it was a particularly good swimming pool. In Australia, if you’re going swimming anywhere it’s safe to presume it will be outside.

Greens Pool was a great way to get in the ocean in Australia, with a gradual slope into clear waters and no waves. It’s also fairly typical of beaches on the Southern ocean, because the water is freezing cold. Being English, I’m not unused to cold water, although I can’t remember the last time I went in the ocean in the UK without a wetsuit (because the last few times were surf-related).

Albany, WA

Middleton beach, Albany, WAI’ve been spending a lot of time in Albany, on the southern coast of WA, an area famous for its whales.

There’s also a choice of beaches, and on a warm afternoon, one of the last of the summer, we went swimming at Middleton beach. The last time I came to Middleton Beach it was October, and a humpback whale was merrily splashing in the water a short distance off the beach. This time, there were no whales, and although it was not quite as cold as Greens Pool, and even though it’s protected by King George Sound, it was noticeably cold.

The beach has a floating pontoon in the summer months — I guess for jumping and diving — and we made use of it for that. What the two beaches had in common were their calm waters, ideal for leisurely swimming, and hot days combined with cold waters.

Perth’s beaches

Recently, I visited two Perth beaches: Cottesloe and Scarborough, though I only swam at the latter of the two. Cottesloe is Perth’s most popular beach, but despite temperatures in the high 30s on Friday, by Saturday they had dropped 10 degrees — the multitude of visitors to the beach were there for Sculpture by the Sea.

A short drive along the coast from Cottesloe is Scarborough beach. Unlike Middleton beach and Greens Pool in the south of WA that are on the Southern ocean, Perth’s beaches are Indian ocean — bringing with it warmer waters.

Scarborough is a popular surfing beach, and it was easy to see why on this particular day.

Scarborough beach, Perth

Scarborough is a long, beautiful beach, with sand banks and rolling waves. With a strong swell there was less swimming to be done, and more diving into the waves, and avoiding being knocked off your feet.

I’ll be returning to Scarborough beach in the near future for several days of surfing lessons: watch this space.