At the southernmost point of Western Australia, the port city of Albany has been quietly minding its own business while the world reels and changes.
Here, boats peel out of Princess Middle Harbour before the sun rises, and the local farmers' market runs every Saturday. If you're up early enough, you can see the ambos mingle with the bakers and dog-walkers as coffee shops on the harbourfront hum to life.
It's a destination worth a visit; culinary tastemakers, growers and leading restaurateurs are deserving of attention, and with the state open to the rest of Australia once more, it is worth looking past Perth for adventure.
Susan McCabe, who was a broadacre farmer for 17 years and now runs the popular Busy Blue Bus Tours around the region, says it's the combination of a great climate and excellent granitic soils that sets the area apart.
"The food scene here is maturing and the variety of options are increasing as recognition is given to Great Southern wines, the local Akoya oyster, the fabulous fresh vegetables and the space and time to be creative on the granite-crusted edge of the nation," McCabe says.
Richard Campbell, director of the Taste Great Southern food festival, which runs annually in May, reckons it's the freshness and the uniqueness of the food that people remember.
The experience they'll have, no matter what event they attend, will be unlike what they've had anywhere else.Richard Campbell
"It's worth the drive," he says. "The experience they'll have, no matter what event they attend, will be unlike what they've had anywhere else."
Princess Royal Harbour is peppered with cafes, including Haz Beanz and Kate's Place, and from sun-up they're pumping out steaming flat whites for local earlybirds.
If it's a Saturday (and don't we all hope it's a Saturday), the Albany Farmers' Market is a must. From 8am, stallholders sell their direct-from-farm produce from tarpaulined stalls. Velvety Mallee and Murri honey from WA Bush Honey comes in four sizes, and Touchwood Mushrooms' mycologist Graham Upson is well stocked with plump shiitakes and mushroom elixirs.
Handasydes – a local strawberry farm that offers pick-your-own adventures when seasonal – sells strawberries in many guises: fresh, freeze-dried, in "dust" form, or covered in chocolate.
Breakfast yearnings can be sated with the transcendent croissants and assorted baked goods at Bred Co. The team mill their own flour from locally grown wheat, so you may want to stock up on pain au chocolat and cinnamon (or lemon myrtle) scrolls.
It's very easy to walk off a meal in Albany, flush as it is with natural gorgeousness and four national parks within a 40-minute drive. To get your steps up (and your history hit) a bit closer to town, consider a few laps around the Albany Historic District; the Museum of the Great Southern taps into the Anzac story, the rich agricultural journey, and the sacred Noongar heritage in the area. Albany is also where the Bibbulmun Track (a 1000-kilometre walking track) and Munda Biddi biking trail meet, right near the visitors centre, if you're inclined to traipse a bit of it.
Saunter to Torndirrup National Park for an awe-inspiring glimpse of the crystal-clear Southern Ocean, or to the beach voted best in the country: the secluded white-sand Misery Beach inside the park. While you're in the area, stop off at the Historic Whaling Station, where the town's history as the last whale-processing facility in Australia – and the world – is protected and investigated.
They also do a seafood lunch overlooking the ocean, with the Whalers Galley offering generous serves of grilled local fish and fried prawns on its patio. The Regional Wildflower Garden, attached to the Whaling Station, is perfect for a picnic, if you've brought treasures from the farmers' market.
Or skip lunch and go straight to afternoon drinks. Albany's brewery/distillery scene is rich, thanks in part to its proximity to the WA wheatbelt (and thus a plentiful supply of grain) and in part to its collection of passionate creatives. This is felt keenly at Wilson Brewing Company, run by wife-and-husband team Jessica and Matt Wilson. They'll be producing 2 million litres of beer on site by the middle of 2023, and stock a range of highly drinkable pours on tap and canned.
Limeburners cellar door is around the corner, too, where whisky is produced and sold and Great Southern Distilling Company's Giniversity botanical gin is matched with Fever-Tree tonic, with a view over Princess Royal Harbour. If you're keen for a drive, head over to Oranje Tractor, where Pamela Lincoln and Murray Gomm are conquering net-zero while producing punchy vermouth and tasting platters to match.
You can also get local Giniversity barrel-aged gin in a pre-dinner cocktail at Liberte, an eclectic bistro in the London Hotel serving French Vietnamese-inspired dishes. Make sure you order the marron banh xeo and crispy fried whiting served with tamarind mayo.
If you can't get a table (it gets busy), try Loft 22 – a tapas bar by the water serving WA grilled scallops with 'nduja butter, and Queensland blue pumpkin curry – or restaurant-bar Garrison, on the hill shared with the National Anzac Centre, where local produce – including raw Akoya oysters, which grow in the chilly waters of Oyster Harbour – shines. (The attached war museum is worth a visit; you'll assume the identity of an actual service man or woman at the start of your tour and follow them through history.)
After dinner, call it a night at newly opened harbourside hotel Hilton Garden Inn. Spacious but tightly functional rooms include window seats that overlook the water, and a mini-fridge in which to keep your market snacks.
But before you turn in, grab a bevvie in the lobby bar and enjoy some live music from local musicians, who give it all they've got.
Haz Beanz, 5d Toll Place, Albany
Kate's Place, 42 Stirling Terrace, Albany
Albany Farmers Market, Collie Street, Albany
Handasydes, 382 Chester Pass Road, Walmsley
Bred Co., Shop 1, 15 Albany Highway, Albany
The Museum of the Great Southern, Residency Road, Albany
Whalers Galley (at the Historic Whaling Station), 81 Whaling Station Road, Torndirrup
Wilson Brewing Company, 47768 South Coast Highway, Albany
Limeburners / Great Southern Distilling Company, 252 Frenchman Bay Road, Albany
Oranje Tractor, 198 Link Road, Marbelup
Liberte, 162 Stirling Terrace, Albany
Loft 22, 100 York Street, Albany
Garrison (at the National Anzac Centre), 7 Forts Road, Mount Clarence
Hilton Garden Inn Albany, 3 Toll Place, Albany
Riley Wilson visited Albany with support from the Hilton Garden Inn and Tourism WA.