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Convenient bottom left hand corner of a continent.

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A recent survey listed Australia's South West one of the world's top 10 regions for 2010. This is the writer's pick of the attractions of the continent’s convenient bottom left hand corner, easily reached from Perth. They include whale watching from dry land, an exciting tree top walk, one of the world’s biggest windfarms turned tourist attraction, and swimming with dolphins.

Gold standard

Lonely Planet listed Australia’s compact bottom left hand corner, with its gorgeous scenery, intriguing nature, and lots of good food and wine among its top 10 regions to visit in 2010. Perth, the nearest major city, is the place to start, and to take these two stand out trips. The Mint, one of the world''s oldest still operating from its original site, began as a branch of Britain''s Royal Mint, turning local gold into sovereigns for the Empire. Now, for the first time, it can be visited. I also recommend the Kings Park Indigenous Heritage Tour. An Aboriginal guide explains his people''s ancient links to what is now a green public space in the heart of a busy city.

Dolphin dip

Australia is a land of vast distances. The Indian Pacific train takes three days over the 2720 miles between Perth and Sydney. Compared to that, the trip to the SW region is a doddle. The Australind [correct] train is the green option, and the easiest way to travel – 2 ½ hours for the 109 miles from Perth to Bunbury, set on a glorious peninsula in the blue Indian Ocean. Bunbury''s Dolphin Discovery Centre lets visitors swim with some of the 90 dolphins that live in the Bay. Another way to explore the region is to follow one of the circular flower routes, such as the Southern Wonders Wildflower Trail, from Perth. Some of the best displays of wild flowers on the continent are here, with many unique species.

City of the South

The mighty 625 mile long Bibbulmun Track, starting near Perth, is the leisurely way to reach Albany. Broken up into convenient sections, it ends in a wonderful wiggle along the south coast. Most people travel by road (four and a half hours) to this handsome old city, which sits in a rugged coast of wild beauty on the great Southern Ocean. A much easier walk is Albany’s Amity Trail. It leads past 50 or so historic buildings, dating from the early 1800s. Then see the Brig Amity - a replica of the ship that brought the town its first convict settlers from Sydney. Best of the spectacular geological formations close by is the Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park. The sea surges under this huge span of granite with elemental ferocity.

Whale watch.

It''s hard to believe now, but the last boat put out of Albany to hunt whales as recently as 1978. In Australia, as in many other places, the sudden switch from killing whales to watching them is one of the most gratifying changes in our relationship with the wild world. This stretch of south coast is one of the best places on the planet to see migrating whales from dry land. There are many vantage points where you can settle back with a picnic and spot humpback and southern right whales passing by, often with their young, to and from their feeding waters in Antarctica.
The “Ocean Giants Lookout Kit” lists the best viewing locations. Albany, Augusta and Dunsborough are the best places for whale watching cruises .

Blowing in the wind

The southern hemisphere’s biggest wind farm, 240 feet above the seething Southern Ocean just south of Albany, is also one of the few in the world to work as a genuine tourist attraction. Visitors may stroll the boardwalks that weave between a dozen massive turbines and watch the gently swishing, 110 feet long blades turn the nearby city of Albany a brighter shade of green. A blot on a magnificent stretch of coastline? The local council didn’t think so – and they have lived with the windfarm since 2001. They have unanimously approved (2009) six more giant German-made turbines on the site.
It will then provide 80% of Albany’s power, enough for 24,000 houses. This area, Sandpatch, is also one of the places where you can whale watch from dry land.

Look down on nature

Australia’s diverse and wonderfully eccentric wildlife is one of its big attractions. In such a huge country, you may have to travel a long way to find it. But in the compact south west this often crazy mix of nature is much easier to reach. In the 24 national parks and other reserves experts help visitors encounter the black-glove wallaby, the quenda, Gilbert''s Potoroo, the numbat, the woylie, the chuditch and the brush tailed phascogale. Some creatures are easier to spot: the western grey kangaroo likes golf courses. One exhilarating way to see nature is on one very soaring stroill in the woods. The Valley of the Giants’ Tree Top Walk is just east of Walpole. A suspended walkway, 120 feet above the forest floor, takes visitors into the canopy of towering red tingle trees, unique to this area.

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