Dogs down south – a great road trip with Betty the Boxer aboard

Helen Ganska and Betty the Boxer chat to a cockatoo at West Cape Howe in Mt Barker
Helen Ganska and Betty the Boxer chat to a cockatoo at West Cape Howe in Mt Barker

Betty the Boxer Dog was out cold on the backseat of the Mazda for most of the five-hour drive to Albany for a working holiday.

She’s comfortable with the car and, apart from demanding the rear window be opened from time to time so she could sniff the southern air, our journey from Perth to Albany was easy.

A stop for lunch at West Cape Howe, on the Muir Hwy just out of town at Mt Barker was a comfortable stop with Betty checking out the sculptures and us sharing a platter and a pizza.

We had a bunch of meetings lined up and the plan was for Betty to join us wherever possible, and where it wasn’t, we’d leave her in the Airbnbs my wife Helen had booked for us in Albany and Denmark.

While Helen had put in a fair bit of effort into track down pet-friendly places there were some shortcomings in our expectations of what makes for dog-friendly and those of the house owners.

We’d scheduled the trip until after the end of school holidays to give us a wider spread of options, but when you drill down into pet-friendly places, there are lots of dos and don’ts, rules about what rooms the dog was allowed in and not.

Both the houses we stayed in Albany and Denmark met the bill in most ways, but in Albany we had an email from the owner the day before we arrived saying the dog couldn’t stay in the house on her own.

She had to be confined to the laundry or outside deck. Betty is very spoiled and at home has the run of the house, knows her place on her special blanket and is perfectly behaved.

It turned out that contrary to our understanding from the descriptions on Airbnb, neither house had secure yards and both seemed to overlook that in their property descriptions. We know now to look a bit closer at the rules next time we travel with Betty.

But our issues with house rules were minor and we were made very welcome in both southern towns.

Middleton dog beach, just along from the also dog-friendly Hybla Tavern, was a wide-open beach where Betty could splash and chase seaweed and rollick with other dogs.

Betty on the beach at Middleton Beach
Betty on the beach at Middleton Beach

All around Albany’s splendid coastline are dozens of isolated beaches, many of which were good for dogs, although we were a little underwhelmed by Misery Beach (not dog friendly), which had just been voted Australia’s best beach.

In its defence we were there on a dreary day which perhaps didn’t show it off to the best, but there were many other beaches, at least as spectacular in our eyes, including Mutton Bird Island with its Mutton Bird East beach, Cosy Corner between Albany and Denmark, with its long white sandy beach – and a delightful campsite that was full of caravans and tents when we                     were there.

Denmark Lights Beach was the best beach we visited for exercising the dog. A big carpark, toilets and easy steps down to beautiful beaches with rock pools and white sand, got a big thumbs up from us.

Helen takes Betty for a run on Lights Beach.
Helen takes Betty for a run on Lights Beach

Betty did play second fiddle on a couple of occasions when we headed out for meetings and more fine dining at restaurants like Pepper & Salt in Denmark where the spicy food flavours were fantastic, with scallops, prawns, beef and lamb on the menu.

It was a strange evening though with a bushfire bearing down on Denmark; smoke billowing over the hill and Betty waiting in the car in case we had to beat a hasty retreat from Denmark in the face of the fire.

We’d had lunch the day before our visit at The Dam, where grilled tiger prawns with spicy nam jim sauce, and tzatziki with flatbread overlooking the huge dam made for a restful respite. This venue is dog-friendly, but we had a meeting after lunch and didn’t think it was very professional having our fur baby there, 

After lunch we were treated to an amazing tour of Raintree farm with owner Steve Birkbeck who took us through fields of cannabis (not the variety you smoke) used in the distillery for gin, vodka and the base for the exquisite perfumes Raintree makes, through groves of oak trees where truffles are hiding between the roots and majestic karri trees and lush fields with grazing cows which Steve claims create the best beef in the district.

Visitors to the region’s big food and wine festival, Taste Great Southern, in May, will have an opportunity to sample Raintree’s produce with a long table dinner among the oak trees.

Because of the fire, both Raintree and Pepper & Salt had to be evacuated not long after we visited them, but thankfully neither suffered damage.

In Albany we also had another stunning, dog-free dinner at Majuba Bistro with colleague Richard Campbell from Taste Great Southern, sharing wonderful bouillabaisse, sizzling garlic prawns and spaghetti with crab.

We did opt for takeaway on a couple of occasions with fish and chips in Albany on one night and a real highlight of the trip, curries from Albany Indian Tandoori Restaurant – simply stunning.

Breakfasts and fabulous coffee were also a highlight, including a slap-up full breakfast at the beautiful Emu Point Café, just a short walk away from a dog beach where Betty could roam free on the wide sandy expanses.

Our best breakfasts were at Ravens in Denmark where Betty tucked herself under the table on the big veranda and we treated ourselves to fabulous chimichurri while waitstaff made all of us, particularly Betty, very welcome.

Betty also proved popular at the Lake House Denmark where we shared a vineyard platter in the garden and chatted to owner Leanne Rogers about their forthcoming cooking masterclass with cook Jordan Bruno as part of Taste Great Southern.

On our way to the Lake House we stopped off with Betty for a lovely glass of Chardonnay and a bowl of water for the dog at the picturesque Single File Wines, followed by an intriguing chat at the rustic Denmark Heritage Cider tasting room with owner Stuart Douglass.

Boston Brewery in Denmark was also dog friendly, where Betty could find a spot under the veranda table while we shared sticky Korean fried pork belly with fresh chili; cauliflower florets, pomegranate, crunchy shallots, vegan mayo, mixed herbs and cashew dust; and beef burger with all the trimmings.

We were due to spend another day in Denmark, but by this stage the Denmark fire was getting scary and emergency services were asking residents to leave, so it was time to pack Betty back into the backseat and head for home.