Sitting on the rugged southern coast of Western Australia, four-and-a-half hour’s drive from Perth, Albany is a city where you can actually escape the rat race. It’s fringed by green seas, tall forests and national parks, and offers lots of natural adventures, from fishing and diving to walking and whale-watching. It’s also steeped in the fascinating stories of its Aboriginal owners and later convicts, sailors and whalers. Discover Albany at the southern end of the wildflower-carpeted Bibbulmun Track or get here on the South-West, Beaches and Goldfields Drive.

Perched on Princess Royal Harbour, on the edge of dramatic King George Sound, Albany has a cityscape like few others.  Enjoy the ocean vistas from Torndirrup National Park, just past town, where the jagged granite coastline was once part of Antarctica. Walk to the top of Stony Hill you can see over Albany and its waterways and as far north as Stirling Range National Park. The park is also home to wind-weathered rock formations such as Natural Bridge and the Gap, which sits above a dizzying 24-metre ocean drop.

More spectacular views are on offer from the summits of Mount Clarence and Mount Melville, which tower on either side of the city. Afterwards, check out the eco-friendly wind farm, trawl the farmers markets for sustainable produce and see the huge granite outcrop of Dog Rock. Go snorkeling or swimming or wander the scenic boardwalk at sheltered Middleton Beach. A little further along is Emu Point, where you can feed pelicans, picnic or enjoy a leisurely restaurant lunch.

Offshore, Albany’s coastline offers divine fishing, diving and whale-watching. Cast your line from the beach or join a fishing charter to catch species such as salmon, herring, King George whiting, pilchard, leatherjacket, tuna, snapper and shark. You can haul in lots of colourful fish around the purpose-sunk ship the HMAS Perth, also a popular spot for scuba diving.

Between late May and October, majestic southern right and humpback whales glide past Albany on their annual migration. Spot them from the beaches and headlands or get up close on a cruise. From July, you can see whales mating and calving in the vast, green seas of King George Sound, alongside sea lions, dolphins and sea birds. Today whale-watching has replaced the city’s once thriving but destructive whaling industry. Learn more at Albany’s interactive whale museum, which was once a whaling station.

Travel further back into Albany’s fascinating history on the replica of the Brig Amity, the ship which brought the first settlers and convicts to Western Australia. This British army expedition stepped ashore in Albany on Christmas Day 1826, and went on to forge peaceful relations with the Aboriginal Mineng people who lived around King George Sound. Much of this goodwill was thanks to Major Lockyer, who rescued local Aboriginal women from slavery and apprehended their kidnappers. Learn more about Lockyer and other local historic figures on the Amity Trail, which winds past old convict jails and taverns, whaling ships and settlers’ cottages.

Once you’ve had your fill of local heritage, explore the national parks outside of town.  In West Cape Howe National Park you can stroll through forest, heathland and white beaches on the most southern point of Western Australia. Hang-gliders and para-gliders launch from platforms built into the hill above Shelley Beach. Discover endangered plants, animals and birds in West Gull National Park, just east of Albany, or head north to the clean white beaches of Two People Bay National Park. The noisy scrub bird, declared extinct in 1962, was rediscovered here recently

You can hike to Albany on the Bibbulmun Track, which stretches almost 1,000km from Kalamunda, past towering forests, tranquil farmland and wild beaches. Alternatively, soak up the scenery on the South-West, Beaches and Goldfields Drive, an eight day loop from Perth through the state’s south-west.

However you get here, you’ll love this rare city, with its dramatic history and many natural escapes.