Early morning escape in Albany
A fisherman casts at Emu Point with a pelican in waiting / Picture: Alistair McGuinness

As our car enters the town, a signpost declares that we are in "Amazing Albany". It is certainly amazingly hot but it's still cooler than the stifling streets of Perth.

The camp site is filled with holidaymakers who, like us, have fled south in search of respite from the Christmas heatwave.

My family has never experienced a summer holiday in Albany, so a Christmas camping trip has been planned in order to experience this historic and diverse part of the Great Southern.

After setting up, we make contact with our temporary neighbours and are invited for sundowners by a family of four from Perth. There is something about camping that seems to reconnect people.

With no TV, children use their imaginations rather than the remote control and make friends instantly. Adults seem to make more effort too. As we share drinks, the children play in the nearby park and fishermen amble past on the way to the nearby beach.

Just after 6.30am the following morning I crawl out of our camper trailer in shorts and vest. I'm convinced I am an early riser but find excited children are already playing in the park, serenaded by dads holding their first coffee of the day. The faint smell of sizzling bacon lingers in the warm breeze as I weave through the rows of multicoloured tents towards the nearby dunes and Middleton Beach beyond.

The beach is deserted but out in King George Sound two container ships sit against the horizon. The sand squeaks underfoot as I walk along the lonely shore. Locals say the squeak is special because it shows how pristine the golden sands are. I turn left, passing two small natural coves where early bathers frolic in the calm waters.

I leave my Crocs on the beach and edge into the water so that it laps gently at my knees. It isn't as chilly as I had expected the Southern Ocean would be; maybe the return to camping has toughened me up.

I leave the cove and head to Emu Point for my first glimpse of Oyster Harbour, a wide turquoise inlet surrounded by an amphitheatre of wooded hills.

The water glistens in the early morning light and pelicans appear from nowhere, gliding inches from the flat water before skidding to a stop in the shallows. The tide is out, allowing two fishermen to walk out into the bay. They are 200m offshore but barely knee-deep. They are not alone; a pelican paddles close by, eager to share their catch of the day.

By now it is 7.30am and Emu Point Cafe has opened. Perched at the end of a quiet road, it has panoramic views of the expansive inlet and sits tantalisingly close to the sands which won an award for cleanest beach in WAin 2011.

Early morning cyclists appear, followed by power walkers and an unshaven camper who ambles in for a newspaper and coffee. I sip a cappuccino and gaze over the water to the two fishermen and the optimistic pelican.

The first paddleboarder arrives at 8am, skimming across the flat water towards the floating jetty, and is joined by a lone swimmer as the sun gains strength, climbing steadily in the clear blue sky.

The manicured park is still relatively quiet but the mercury is rising and the nearby tents will soon be too hot for lie-ins.

Soon, the early morning ambience will be lost. My cooked breakfast is delivered with a smile and I take one more look at the bay as it awakens.

I have only been in Albany one night and it already feels amazing.

Alistair McGuinness

The West Australian

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