A Road Trip Through the Wheatbelt: Perth to Albany
Take the inland route on your Perth to Albany road trip to discover historical sights, a boutique hotel and classic country towns.
The straight-line route to Albany is one that I’ve taken many times over the years, eager to get to the Southern Ocean coast. At just over 415km, from Perth to Albany, it takes just four and a half hours, and while there’s plenty of stops along the way, easing you into the road trip frame of mind, taking your time, adding in detours and building in an overnight stop gives you the time to discover the Great Southern’s inland charms.
Out of Perth, you’re into the expansive Wheatbelt region, with its drive through towns; it’s easy to take your foot off the gas and coast through, getting a mere glimpse of these communities. But stopping, whether planned or on the spur of the moment is what road trips are about.
At Williams a small town 161km southeast of Perth we make a stop at The Woolshed (https://www.thewilliamswoolshed.com.au/). Open 7 days a week from 8am to 4pm there’s a mix of shops selling local goods and a cafe that’s doing brisk trade with more than the standard roadhouse menu. Grab a sausage roll or a toastie by all means but the options across their breakfast and lunch menu offer everything from eggs Benedict to a classic Aussie burger.
Just an hour down the road, Kodja Place (http://kodjaplace.com.au/) is a meeting of Australian history. Jack Cox, an Aboriginal Cultural Custodian, walks us through the interpretive displays that tell the story of the region, from Aboriginal life on the reserve – a tin shack recreated with interactive displays – to the agricultural life of settlers, and how cultures met. In the Australian Rose Maze you follow not just a path but the story of three women – Yoondi, Elizabeth and Maria – their stories told on plaques throughout the maze; the twists and turns, hardships and joys of living in the Wheatbelt all laid out.
Katanning is just 30 minutes east of Kojonup, at the heart of the Great Southern; a town forged out of the regions history of settlement. Gazetted formally in 1896, it was first developed by the Western Australian Land Company who built the Great Southern Railway. As the town grew so did its industry. The Premier Roller Flour Mill was at the heart of the town for decades, it’s proprietor Frederick Piesse, a visionary entrepreneur who did more than mill flour – producing electricity (Katanning having the first electric street lights in WA) and one of the States early wine producers.
With the shifting of fortunes the mill laid empty and derelict for decades. Now with the opening of The Premier Mill Hotel (https://premiermillhotel.com/) it’s reborn, offering a luxury boutique experience that tempts a few nights stay. The bold but respectful design by Michael Patroni, of Perth’s spaceagency (who also worked on aspects of Perth’s celebrated State Buildings development) draws out the buildings heritage.
From Katanning it’s possible to detour out to Lake Dumbleyung, where Donald Campbell broke the water speed record on the last day of 1964 (http://dumbleyungbluebird.com.au/). In the calm of what is now a salt lake it’s a strange thought, imagining Bluebird careering across the lake, hitting 444.71 km/h, the eyes of the world on the Great Southern.
At Pingrup an hour east of Katanning we pick up the PUBLIC Silo Trail (https://www.publicsilotrail.com/) where three 25 metre high works are painted on iconic silo structures. Evoca 1 is a Miami based artist who is just one who worked on the wider trail. It’s a stop that will have you eager to explore and tick off more Great Southern silos in Newdegate, Ravensthorpe, Albany and Katanning and Merredin.
The Store Café 6343, also at Pingrup stands out amongst my travels through country WA; a community venture in this town of a few hundred people, offering great coffee and a surprisingly contemporary menu prepared by local cooks.
Mount Barker and Stirling Range National Park
From Katanning or Pingrup the drive to Albany is around 2 hours. From Katanning you can opt to drive the highway through Mount Barker, stopping at wineries like Plantagenet Wines (http://www.plantagenetwines.com/) and Gilberts Wines (https://www.gilbertwines.com.au/), but taking a route through the Stirling Range National Park is my preferred route.
After expansive country of swaying wheat, the rising peaks of Bluff Knoll, Mount Trio and Mount Magog offer not just contrast but the chance to lace up your boots and take to the bushwalks and climbs. Shrub and heathland is a rich and bio diverse habitat for birdlife. In season (October, November) wildflowers are abundant. Closer still to Albany the Porongurup National Park is equally impressive with its granite domes. It’s always advisable to check the level of difficulty of paths and climbs, (https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/stirling-range).