Heading to Albany for the West Travel Club Albany Maritime Festival Gala Dinner and weekend?
There’s plenty of things to see and do along the way, so we have compiled some suggestions for those who have chosen the self-drive option to attend.
Our Drive Guide starts from the Albany Highway junction in Armadale — so set your trip meter and stop to explore the towns and points of interest along the way.
About the highway
As the name suggests, Albany Highway links Perth with Albany. It starts at the causeway in Victoria Park and finishes 405km south in Albany. Along the way, it passes through the southern Wheatbelt and the Great Southern region.
The total distance from the Albany Highway junction at Armadale is 381km if you don’t make any detours. The journey can be done comfortably in four to five hours but why not make a day of it and enjoy the sights along the way?
On the road
Only minutes after turning on to Albany Highway in Armadale, I’m up on the Darling Scarp driving through the Jarrahdale State Forest. I’ve left the city behind, and breathe a little easier as I’m driving through the lungs of Perth.
Jarrah trees are unique to WA. They became one of our first major export resources after the first trees were logged in the 1840s. Jarrah’s strength, durability and attractive appearance made it a highly sought after commodity throughout the British Empire.
Mt Cooke 46km from Armadale
It may be a little early to stop to stretch the legs but if you feel the need, the Bibbulmun Track crosses the Albany Highway in this area. You can stop at Sullivan Rock for a look around or continue a bit further along the highway to the turn-off to Mt Cooke, where there’s a moderately challenging 9.7km loop trail to the summit. (Maybe come back another day to do that.) Mt Cooke is one of the highest points on the Darling Scarp (582m) and was named after WA’s first government astronomer, William Earnest Cooke.
North Bannister 66km from Armadale
North Bannister is where you can take the first of several detours. Just after the Threeways Roadhouse, you can do a loop out to Dryandra by turning left towards Wandering and return to the Albany Highway via Williams. The 107km loop will add an extra 41km to your journey but it’s a pleasant drive and well worth it.
Dryandra is the largest remnant of original vegetation in the western Wheatbelt and is home to 24 mammal, 98 bird and 41 reptile species, including WA’s animal emblem, the numbat. It is also a great place to view wildflowers during winter and spring. Dryandra Woodland National Park was created in January 2022.
Bannister 78km from Armadale
Fuel, coffee or a picnic? If you feel the need for a stop, I’d chose the Riverside Roadhouse at Bannister over the one at North Bannister.
The Riverside Roadhouse is right alongside the highway and was originally the site of the coach house and police station. The small town is named after Thomas Bannister who, in the settler era, discovered the nearby Bannister River which is a tributary of the Hotham River. It has an excellent bakery with lots of goodies including gourmet pies and sausage rolls, cakes and a range of bread. Outside, at the northern end of the roadhouse, there’s a nice shady picnic area where you can sit and enjoy your food in the company of two alpacas.
Williams 106km from Armadale
This is perhaps the best known ‘first stop’ for anyone travelling from Perth to Albany and there are several good reasons for this.
Williams is an important centre for the wool, cattle and grains industry so there are plenty of options to refuel and entertain travellers.
There are three service stations — one at each end of town plus one in the middle. All three serve food but most travellers passing through gravitate to the Williams Woolshed on the left after the first roadhouse when travelling south. It has a great cafe, and a drive-through coffee option. Inside there’s a chance to partake in a bit of retail therapy at the shops which sell a nice range of wool products. The cafe/restaurant is at the rear of the complex. It’s a large space with plenty of tables and outside there’s an alfresco dining area with a playground.
The main town area is in Brooking Street, which runs off Albany Highway near the Post Office. This is where you’ll find most of the town’s shops including the Chatterbox Cafe. It has a cool vibe with a nice shady courtyard and heaps of interesting art on display.
There’s also a heritage trail in Williams which takes visitors past some of town’s historic buildings. It features 11 sites alongside Albany Highway and includes the Old Williams Cemetery, the Williams Hotel and Flour Mill.
EV drivers can recharge at three Tesla fast chargers near the Woolshed.
Arthur River 170km from Armadale
Arthur River mainly serves as a fuel stop for travellers, but it is well worth stopping to check out the historic buildings which are open to tourists. You’ll see them just after the roadhouse when heading south.
The town originally served as hub to support pastoralists who had been granted grazing leases in the area in the 1850s. It gradually developed into a thriving little town. Remnants of the original settlement including the tiny post office and St Paul’s Church are interesting and picturesque places to explore. Behind the Arthur River Hall there’s a picnic area and children’s playground.
Kojonup 227km from Armadale
Kojonup is a little over half way and the best place to stop for lunch in my opinion. Like Williams, Kojonup is an important hub for the surrounding area, so there are plenty of fuel options for both vehicles and their occupants.
If you just want to stop for a quick bite, the Kojonup Bakery or the 124 Deli and Restaurant, on the right as you pass through town heading south, are good options. The green facade of the Kojonup Bakery is hard to miss and the 124 Deli and Restaurant is a little further along on the same side of the road.
Every country town worth its salt has a big thing. Kojonup’s is a giant wool wagon loaded with bales of wool. It’s located in a small park on the right hand side at the bottom of the hill as you pass through town heading south.
The wagon celebrates the importance of the wool industry to the town which really kicked off around the middle of the 19th century. The early economy of the town was initially dependent on cutting and transporting sandalwood and kangaroo hunting.
If you choose, you can enjoy your lunch from the bakery or 124 Deli at the excellent park. It has picnic tables, a large new children’s playground and nice clean toilet facilities.
But don’t miss a visit to The Kodja Place. It’s right across the road from the wool wagon. You will need to allow at least an hour to do this place justice. The facility opened in 2002 and it’s not only the town’s visitor centre, it’s an arts and culture hub.
The Story Place tells the story of Kojonup’s Noongar and settler communities and their shared history. You can take a self-guided tour or join Noongar elder Billy Riley, who spent six years on the Kojonup Aboriginal Reserve as a child, on a guided tour of the museum which includes a replica of the tin sheds where many Aboriginal kids like Billy grew up.
Outside there’s an amazing maze with more than 2000 Australian bred heritage roses. Three women’s storylines are woven through the maze. Yoondi tells the Noongar story, Maria tells the Italian migrant story and Elizabeth tells the British settlers story.
And when you are done, you can enjoy a nice lunch at the Black Cockatoo Cafe and browse the gift shop for some local souvenirs.
The Kodja Place is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm. Billy is there most days but if you want make sure, you can book a cultural tour with him by phone on 9831 0500 or visit kodjaplace.com.au.
Cranbrook 294km from Armadale
Around Cranbrook, travellers get the first look at the spectacular Stirling Range National Park.
The Stirling Range was formed over millions of years by weathering and erosion and is widely regarded as a biodiversity hotspot of world importance. ‘The Stirlings’ rise up from the surrounding plains. The range has some of WA’s highest peaks, including Bluff Knoll which tops out at 1095m. The Stirling Range has many excellent walks and is famous for its staggering range of wildflowers. More than 1500 species can be found there and many of them are endemic to the area.
You can do a detour from Cranbrook through the Stirling Range National Park and onwards to Albany. The option is 144km compared with 91km for the direct route from Cranbrook to Albany.
The Stirling Range Drive winds through the heart of the park and offers ever-changing views of rugged peaks. This 42km drive, on mostly unsealed roads graded for two-wheel drive, stretches from the Western Lookout near Red Gum Spring to the Eastern Lookout below Bluff Knoll.
Mt Barker 330km from Armadale
You’re now entering the Great Southern Wine Region and while Mt Barker is a very pleasant and interesting town to stop at in its own right, the wineries make this the perfect last stop on the journey to Albany.
Plantagenet Wines is one of the more famous ones and it is located right alongside Albany Highway. The cellar door is open for business daily from 10am to 4.30pm and the cafe is open Friday to Sunday from 11.30am to 3pm. The lovely grassed alfresco area out in front of the winery is a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or a coffee.
The Mount Barker Old Police Station Museum, also right alongside Albany Highway when you enter town, is an excellent museum showcasing the region’s rich history. The original police station was built by convict labour in 1868 and opened as a museum in 1968. The beautifully restored buildings are surrounded by pretty gardens. It is open Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 2pm.
From Mt Barker, you could take a detour to Porongurup National Park. A visit to the recently improved Granite Sky Walk at Castle Rock is a challenge not to be missed and the park itself is a fascinating place to explore. The towering granite peaks were formed more than one billion years ago when Australia and Antarctica collided to form Gondwana. The beautiful Karri forests are great for picnics and there are several nice wineries in the area as well.
The Porongurup detour is 71km compared with 51km if you go direct from Mt Barker to Albany.
Allow at least one hour and 30 minutes for the return walk and climb up to the Granite Sky Walk.
Albany 381km from Armadale
Congratulations, you have made it to WA’s oldest European settlement. We hope you had a pleasant and stimulating journey. Proceed to the Hilton Garden Inn alongside the Albany Entertainment Centre on the foreshore, check in, relax and prepare for a busy weekend with the West Travel Club team.