Ellen Cove to Albany Port
Start - Middleton Beach
Finish - Stirling Terrace, Albany
Length - 6.1km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Pavement, Gravel Side Trips
Vertical Climb - 125m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - Occasional Signs
Date Hiked - 27th September 2019
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - The start of the trail is located at Middelton Beach on the other side of Mount Adelaide from Albany. To get there take Stirling Drive and follow the signs around the hill on Marine Drive until you reach Middleton Beach. There is plenty of parking available.
The Hike - With a few days to relax and enjoy Albany after finishing the Bibbulmun Track, I really wanted to get out an explore a couple of walks closer to town. This was partly forced upon me by car issues (not the first time this has happened on a trip to Albany) but the Ellen Cove to Albany Port walk was one I had been wanting to do for a while now. The drive along Marine Drive is a very nice one so a walk trail following the same route but closer to the water must be even better. As Middleton Beach was on the other side of the hills from where I was staying, I walked up and over Mount Adelaide, taking in a loop trail there before picking my way down the steep roads that contained some very interesting houses built on the foothill of Mount Adelaide. This area is one I have great memories of from my childhood as we used to holiday a lot in Albany and Middleton Beach was a popular spot. While the area has been in a holding pattern since The Esplanade Hotel was demolished, hopefully it returns to its former glory as it really is a pleasant place for a holiday.
I stopped in for a morning coffee and snack at Bay Merchants to refuel before heading down to Middleton Beach to start the walk. If there's one thing that stirs up a bit of nostalgia, it's the sight of the Middleton Beach pine trees and that view looking out to King George Sound. While I was on the Mount Adelaide Nature Trail I noticed the clouds to the north starting to grey up a bit but in a stormy kind of way. By the time I'd finished my coffee they were really noticeable but given the sun was still shining on Middelton Beach, the stark contrast created a very cool effect. The turquoise waters of the south coast I had enjoyed seeing over the past few days took on a different feel with dark clouds looming in the distance and I have to say that I was absolutely loving it. That view looking over to Gull Rock National Park looks so much more ominous when there is a bit of weather about and one day I'll get over there to explore the area (I've had many trips there thwarted over the years). There was a bit of activity near Three Anchors and the beach volleyball courts that was nice to see and I could see a few people going in both directions along the start of the Ellen Cove Boardwalk. A nice memory I have from here is waking up early on an Easter trip and heading out to photograph the sunrise over the water, a unique experience in WA. The Noongar people called this Binalup meaning the place of first light and I'm sure they enjoyed many amazing sunrises over the millennia.
This whole little corner of Albany is really cool with a cafe, jetty, roped off swimming area, a stepped terrace for picnics and the boardwalk leading up to better views of King George Sound. Walking above the jetty, it was looking stunning with the turquoise cove still lit up with bright sunshine and the clouds rolling in to the north. With time on my hands I decided to head down the stairs for a visit. The shark net means the chances of seeing some bigger marine creatures from the jetty is nil but is was still nice to walk out over the water and take some photos. The water did look much better from up on the boardwalk entry so I returned to take more photos when two girls ran past me and jumped right into the water fully clothed. A bit odd but a group of other youths soon arrived all dressed up and I believe this was some sort of scavenger hunt where you had to do certain things and take a photo. Some good harmless fun but the two girls were the only ones that braved the water and jumped in. Moving on I headed onto the boardwalk and up the side of the hill. The turquoise theme continued with a bench to the side painted in the same colour as the water that was donated by the Albany Weavers. The sense of community was strong in this area and with roots dating back to the late 1800s when the first Esplanade Hotel was built and you can feel the history as you explore the area.
Rising up the hill, the views just keep getting better and better with a lookout to the left providing one of the best opportunities for uninterrupted views across King George Sound and a look back to Middleton Beach and Emu Point. Arrive at the right time from May through to November and you might be lucky enough to spot some whales down below. Along here I spotted the first of many locals of the reptile variety that were out enjoying the sun with a number of King Skinks on the path. As soon as you approach they scurry off but some were easily noticed at distance and if you approached quietly, they stayed still long enough to pose for photos. Heading into the Peppermint Tree and Eucalyptus lined path, the views disappear momentarily and the path is now a familiar bike lane style pavement. A little stone pavilion type building can be found here, very handy if you get some fickle Albany weather and there was some nice Native Geranium to provide something pretty to look at while the views weren't available. The views returned pretty quickly as the trail starts heading south and the full vista of King George Sound was on display. Albany is not short on great views but this has to be one of the most iconic with Michaelmas and Breaksea Island off on the horizon and Flinders Peninsula to the right providing some pretty dramatic terrain bordering the water.
The great wildflowers continued along here and with the sun shining to the areas looking south and east, I was having a great time photographing everything. The climbing wasn't over as the trail continued to rise and here was my first encounter with what became a symbol of the post-Bibbulmun hiking I did, the Pelican. I noticed one flying from left to right and followed it with my camera until it was in the right position, looking like it was about to fly head first into Flinders Peninsula. It was a funny moment when I looked at the shot afterwards and saw that I'd captured it although a zoom lens would have been great on this hike. I spotted many more King Skinks along here but they were too fast or too far away to photograph. Most of the time I only noticed them because of the rustle near my feet. Making for some great photos were a series of Showy Dryandras, a golden orange Banksia flower that thankfully lined the trail on the ocean side. Having these beauties in the foreground with the water in the background made for some very nice shots and they reminded me a lot of the Couch Honeypots I'd taken a liking to over my time hiking between North Bannister and Dwellingup earlier in the month.
With the trail starting to descend, at the crest of the hill you could see down towards the granite rocks where Point King Lighthouse is hidden. As I was admiring the views, I noticed more Pelicans beginning to take flight so watched them for a while. Sure enough they took off and started coming closer to where I was. I was lucky enough to get one with Gull Rock National Park in the background and for such a heavy looking bird, they look almost effortless in flight when they are gliding along. Very happy to have captured that moment I moved on and found some more great looking Banksia flowers, this time some red Scarlet Banksia sitting to the right of the trail. A pretty looking flower, they certainly fit the rugged and harsh coastal landscape and when in full bloom, provide a delicate dash of colour that is great to see. At the bottom of the hill I noticed a trail heading down to the water and decided to follow it, eventually reaching a piece of public art built in 1998 called "Avenue". At first glance it looks like an old piece of crumbling infrastructure on the edge of the water but I soon figured out it wasn't that at all and admired this lovely addition to the landscape. Described on a hard to read plaque next to the path as "Resembling an avenue of branch like organic form. It is a work that involves more space than material air and light moving through the form is an important aspect". Read into that what you will but I quite enjoy it and I would love to come down here at sunrise and watch photograph it then.
Rejoining the path I soon found another little side trail that I followed to an old bunker type building. This is one of many bunkers and shelters plastered all over the hills here, built to protect and defend the harbour in the 1900s. This was has sadly been graffiti'd quite a lot but a more artistic piece of two frogs livened up the rest of the moronic tags. I followed the trail back and it wasn't long before I reached the side trail for something I was quite keen to explore, the Point King Lighthouse. Spotting another King Skink on the way down, I thought that was very appropriate and soon I was face to face with the old limestone lighthouse building. Not a conventional circular tower style lighthouse, this subtle building is set up on the granite rocks with a 5m high tower attached the lighthouse keeper residence serving as the platform for the beacon. The limestone ruins of the keepers house is all that remains these days but it still serves as a nice reminder of the history of the spot. Operating for 54 years between 1857 and 1911, there was amazingly only three lighthouse keepers during its entire life. This would have been one of the better lighthouse existences back in the day because it's relatively close to town and even without roads, a simple trail would have had you in town in less than an hour.
With no one around I was free to explore and photograph the ruins at my own leisure so I did just that. It's a beautiful old stone building with the triangular roof structures providing an interesting geometry to the place. Its position on the rocks is perfect for photography with King George Sound in the background and a lot of interesting compositions to use, capturing different elements of the building. You are free to wander in and explore the ruins although be careful not to damage the building further by climbing up the walls. Restoration works were scheduled to begin in the late 90s but were never started so considering that, the walls still look fantastic. The puzzle like pattern to the outside is wonderfully photogenic, especially against the bright blue skies that were shining. Positioned at the entrance to Princess Royal Harbour, you can see the port from the ruins and it a nice juxtaposition of the old lighthouse that guided the way and the new ships that are all fitted with modern GPS. The footprint of the building isn't very large by modern standards but back in the day it would have been perfectly fine, even with lighthouse supplies taking up some space. I would have to have lived there and operated the lighthouse as I like the solitude and it seems like a very romantic lifestyle.
Further down from the lighthouse building is a cool section of granite to explore that is yet another highlight of this section. Having hiked around the famous Bay of Fires in Tasmania earlier in the year, it was really hard to distinguish between the two locations when it was just rocks and sky. The rock type is essentially the same (granite) and the orange lichen that grows on the boulders creates a very striking effect. With perfect blue skies and some very extreme shapes being forced over time thanks to wind, rain and waves, it was a delight to explore this area. Given the great weather I wasn't really worried about the waves but if it's a typical moody Albany day then be careful not to get swept out into the water by a rogue wave. After wandering around the granite boulders for a while I headed back to the lighthouse to capture more photos and have a look inside. There are so many angles and windows to get creative with and I could have spent a lot longer there. I really enjoyed seeing the fireplaces and imagining sitting there in a winter storm (when the roof was still on) enjoying a hot beverage or two as it battered the lighthouse.
With many photos in the bag I dragged myself away from the lighthouse and headed back up to the main path leading towards the port. Getting closer to Princess Royal Harbour, the views start to change with the granite dome of Point Possession a major feature and the sheltered harbour feeling a lot less wild than the views out towards King George Sound. The lovely features dotted along the trail don't stop as there is a little gazebo perched on the south side of the trail to give you even more views overlooking the water. To the right you come across an interesting statue given the rest of the historic monuments around Albany. The Atatürk Monument is a statue dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and a very nice gesture representing the healing of a relationship after Gallipoli (modern Turkey was formed after WWI when it was still the Ottoman Empire). The statue isn't the only memorial this the man with the entrance into Princess Royal Harbour being called the Atatürk Channel. It certainly adds another element to the walk and it was fun to research this man afterwards as I was interested in the reasoning behind the statue given the other Anzac memorials in the area. The final war link on the walk comes a little further on when you spot one of the bunkers and gun mounts used to protect the harbour just in case the war came to Albany's doorstep.
Officially the walk ends as you reach the end of the two lane bike path but it's a weird location to leave a car (plus the logistics of a car swap) so I will keep the walk going all the way into Albany. This part isn't the most thrilling as you walk along Brunswick Rd but it has some moments including the large silver fuel tanks of the Caltex station. They are very reminiscent of a photo I took of the old tanks near Port Beach when I first got a camera back in my university days (they no longer exist and I don't have that photo anymore). Further along there are more silos that are used for the grain that comes into the port from all over the South West. I engaged turbo mode along this stretch as I could feel myself getting burnt (stupidly didn't bring my sunscreen) and I was keen to get into town and grab something for lunch. The final walk into town is really pleasant with lots of cool old houses to admire and the picturesque buildings along Stirling Drive. The UWA building is a favourite of mine and the pavilion overlooking the harbour looks really pretty next to the palm tree. Grabbing some sushi for lunch I kept walking to my accommodation, finishing a very enjoyable loop walk around Albany. Enjoying a rest in the warm afternoon air, this would be the first half of what was a spectacular day of hiking.