Mount Clarence Heritage Trail
Directions - From the centre of Albany drive to Stirling Terrace and follow that until it becomes Brunswick Rd. Follow the signs to the National Anzac Centre. At the roundabout, take the first left (Apex Drive) and follow that all the way to the end.
The Hike - The tale of this hike starts off in Denmark and moves into the depths of the Stirling Range before finishing on top of the City of Albany overlooking the vast expanse of King George Sound and beyond. Having finished Mount Magog, my next destination was Denmark to meet Donovan and Alissa from The Long Way's Better before Donovan and I would tackle the Stirling Ridge Walk the next day. Alissa's parents had graciously put me up for the night but as I was locating their place my car started to play up, losing speed up hills and generally feeling like it had no power.
Hoping it was just a dodgy batch of fuel I drove to Bluff Knoll with the issue still there. When we returned to the car it was running very rough and it was a mission and a half just to limp it back to Denmark (in the fading light of sunset with emus and kangaroos running all over the roads). Long story short, I had to limp it home to Perth as the mechanic in Albany couldn't fix it and my hiking plans were shot to bits. My planned 21 hike road trip was reduced to doing what I could that didn't involve driving long distances or up and down hills. This is how I came to add this hike to my list as I needed something to do while the mechanic in Albany was looking at my car all day. So...the Mount Clarence Heritage Trail. Albany is sandwiched between two granite domes, Mount Melville to the west and Mount Clarence to the east and both provide some excellent views of the surrounding area. Mount Clarence is the best known as it is home to the National Anzac Centre (an excellent experience) and some of the best views found in Albany from several strategic lookouts (literally). The area is also home to a small network of trails that cater to both hikers and mountain bikers. As I had not brought my mountain bike and I had a whole day to explore Albany, I decided that would tackle the Mount Clarence Heritage Trail to provide yet another Albany experience to the website.
With no car I was relying on my two pins to get around so decided to grab some breakfast first before hitting the trails. Donovan recommended Gormandise & Co on Stirling Terrace and I was not disappointed with my coffee and Pain au chocolat. I took the long way up to the start point, following the road you would take if you drove and in the warm morning sunshine I was enjoying the gentle stroll past old style homes and pleasant gardens. A cruise ship was docked in the harbour so there were plenty of people being ferried up and down the road to the Anzac Centre including an old converted fire engine that is meant for hen’s parties and the like. I loved that the town felt alive that day and everyone was getting out and about to explore the beautiful locations that Albany has to offer. Apex Drive is also called the Avenue of Honour and leads all the way up to Desert Mounted Corps Memorial, the finishing point for the 3.2km loop. Like the National Anzac Centre it is a very humbling experience to read all the information boards that line the road and also the plaques under the trees that are dedicated to fallen soldiers.
The walk from town is not a short one and will add another 7km on to your day if you choose to go this way. I found out there is a shorter way of getting there by going to the end of Hill St and following the trail back up to the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial. Finally starting the trail (sorry it took so long to get to this point), I noticed that it is meant to be a dual use trail between walkers and mountain bikers but there was a sign stating that it was closed to mountain bikers. Wandering down the narrow path lined with pleasant wildflowers everywhere I couldn't help but wonder how a mountain biker would stop if a walker appeared on the trail or conversely how a walker would be able to get out of the way in time if they heard a bike coming. Luckily I didn't have those issues today but kept an ear out for any rumblings just in case. The forest section does not last too long and then you arrive at a set of stairs leading down to a 4x4 track. I met a couple of women there who looked lost and my suspicions were confirmed when they asked me if I knew how to get to the Anzac Centre.
I pointed them in the right direction and continued on my way, following the large water pipes along the sandy Hill St. This is where you can take a shortcut back to town once you have finished as it turns into a normal asphalt road at the gates. Pointing you in the right direction is one of the excellent orange trail markers that dot the landscape around Mount Clarence. None of the updated markers are labelled as the "Mount Clarence Heritage Trail" but the map and trail notes I was following (thanks Amazing Albany) state which trail to follow at any particular time. Thankfully the 4x4 track didn't last and ahead of me was a brilliant single track path that follows a rock wall acting as a water channel. The combination of green grass, wildflowers and overhanging forest gave this a very backcountry English lane feel to it and I enjoyed this stretch quite a bit. Much like the Caldyanup Trail that skirts the base of Mt Frankland, the Circuit Trail in this direction does a similar thing. You pass old buildings and get the occasional glimpse of suburbia but for the most part you are in nice green forest with wildflowers everywhere (if you visit in spring like I did).
About half way through you start to see granite formations hidden in the bush that remind you that Mount Clarence is right there and you will have to do a small amount of uphill walking to get up there. Before that though I had to get past an obstacle I had never seen on a trail before, an angry beehive. It was situated on the inside of a sharp turn so simply running through became a bit harder than I anticipated given the apex of the corner was right where the main activity was. Lucky for me the path kept going straight so if I made it over to that side then the angle wouldn't be as bad. I made it through with my life intact and continued up the hill where you get some rather close up views of someone's backyard before hitting a 4x4 track that would take you all the up to the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial. The walk laid out by Amazing Albany didn't go back this way, instead it turned the circle route into an angry Pac man looking shape, taking you back into the bush to explore the granite sections of Mount Clarence.
This is a very smart move as you get to see some great views of Middleton Beach, King George Sound and on a clear day you can make out the Porongurups and Stirling Range to the north. A few park benches can be found up here to aid you in your quiet contemplation of life or you can simply blank your mind and enjoy the scenery. The trail notes have you follow a couple of different trail names to get you back to the finish point but it is fairly easy to navigate your way around the granite. A communications building is your marker for entering the viewing platform near the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial and this is where you will get the best views of Albany and Princess Harbour. A short stroll down the walkway is the memorial itself where the annual Anzac Day service is held. The statue that is found there was originally erected in Egypt in 1932 but damaged in the Suez Crisis in 1956. The statue is a copy but the masonry holding it up was transported to Albany to use for the memorial. After you have finished reading all about the history of the memorial then descend the stairs to the car park and you are finished.