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The coastal scenery around Albany Western Australia is spectacular: thunderous waves crashing against dark grey cliffs, desolate granite hilltops and islands, windswept heathland, heavenly white-sand beaches, and one of Australia's great natural harbours.
Albany was Western Australia's first settlement, and has a fascinating, often sad and violent, history - featuring stories of explorers, exhiled convicts, whalers from all around the world, the clash between the white settlers and the Aborigines, and the millenia-long history of Aboriginal culture in the area before white settlement.
The combination of a dramatic landscape and geology, stunningly beautiful beaches, haunting history and the ever-changing moods of the wild Great Southern Ocean make Albany one of Western Australia's travel highlights.
Getting to Know Albany Town
Driving into Albany, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just a big, hard-working port town with not a whole lot to interest travellers beyond the town centre, with its grand buildings from the colonial era and sprawling harbour.
The main street leads down-hill to the shores of Princess Royal Harbour - a round bay of deep, calm water that's almost completely closed to the ocean but for a narrow channel opening out into King George Sound.
King George Sound, a huge east facing bay, about 110km2 in area, is where you'll really begin to appreciate the atmospheric beauty of the Albany coastline.
Its peninsulas, headlands and islands make for dramatic views from several places around town, including Mount Melville and Middleton Beach, Albany's main beach.
The bays and beaches within the Sound are somewhat protected from the largest of ocean swells by the Torndirrup Peninsula, which forms the southern boundary. In winter and spring whales seek shelter in the Sound, for a rest on their long journey between Antarctic and tropical waters. It's not uncommon to see whales frolicking within just a few hundred metres of the shoreline.
Whales are present in the waters off Albany between June and October. They often rest in the sheltered waters of King George Sound, which means that sightings of whales from the shore are frequent during the season. Sometimes they even come right in close to shore at Middleton Beach, or enter Princess Royal Harbour.
Your best chance of seeing the whales is to go on a whale watching tour. You're almost guaranteed to see whales this way, and get much closer to them, too. These tours head out every day (weather permitting) throughout the season. Outside the whale watching the season they offer day and sunset cruises of the waters off Albany.
Whales and the whaling industry have coloured Albany's history since even before the town was settled. Australia's last whaling station was located on the shores of King George Sound at the end of Frenchman Bay Road.
The old whaling station has since been converted into a museum all about whales and Albany's whaling history, called Whale World.
Here's a view through a porthole of the Cheynes IV, an old whaling ship that is now part of the Whale World museum:
The Ruggedly Beautiful Coast of Albany Western Australia
Albany beaches and coves that are sheltered by the massive granite headlands are exquisitely beautiful and calm, with crystal clear, bright turquoise water and sand the colour and texture of talcum powder.
The calm beaches of King George Sound are a short drive from the town centre and are just wonderful for swimming in summer.
Further out of town, about half an hour's drive east, is Two Peoples Bay, which is home to Albany's most exquisitely beautiful beach, called Little Beach.
Then there are the Albany beaches exposed to the bleak weather and massive waves of the Great Southern Ocean - Nanurup Beach and Sand Patch to name a few - that are good for surfing and long walks.
A holiday in Albany Western Australia is not complete without exploring the spectacular coastline of Torndirrup National Park, which has some of Albany's most dramatic (and easily accessible) coastal scenery.
The southern side of the Torndirrup Peninsula is wild and rugged, with tall cliffs plunging down into a turbulent sea. Accessible points along the coast in the national park include The Gap and the Natural Bridge, The Albany Blowhole and Jimmy Newell's Harbour.
There are also some beautiful beaches there - including Cable Beach and Salmon Holes on the wild south coast, and Goode Beach, Fisheries Beach, Frenchman Bay and Misery Beach on the calm King George Sound side of the peninsula.