“Everything in Australia can kill you,” Richard, our tour guide for our adventure day said. “Well, that’s not quite true. Still, if you’re walking around this desert and you see a snake, do not move.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“What?” he asked rhetorically since I know he heard my question. I repeated it nonetheless. Richard’s response was just a look, the one that a recalcitrant child gets from an exasperated parent after the child asks “why” for the seventeenth time.
“Now, if you see a really big spider, like one the size of my hand,” Richard continued, unwilling to give me an answer for fear of legitimizing my question, “then you want to run like hell.”
“What if I see a snake and a big spider at the same time? Do I stand still or run?” I asked thinking it a reasonably intelligent question. Richard’s suggestion that I pick them both up and see which one killed me first was unsatisfying.
Jessica and I were making our first trip to Australia using Perth as our base, at least, I thought it was our first trip to Australia until some folks at the airport welcomed us back apparently taking Jessica’s blond hair the wrong way. Perth is one of the remotest cities in the world meaning that it is close to nothing and, while Perth isn’t exactly an island, it kind of feels like one. It takes three-and-a-half hours to fly to Melbourne, over four hours to Brisbane and nearly five to Sydney. I mean, you really have to want to go to Perth. You’re not just going to happen upon it.
Perth’s two million people are spread over an area that is 60 kilometers across and 120 long. The dispersion of the population explains the lack of downtown skyscrapers the likes of which one sees in cities of comparable size and, while the office buildings in the central business district empty promptly at 5:00, the bars of the city coincidentally fill up at that hour. Perthers (Perthites? Perthsters? Perthlings?) seem to really love going to bars and, as a consequence of their passion, there are some pretty interesting places to hang out on a Western Australia evening. Some of the cooler refuges for the beer/wine/cocktail swilling crowd are modern day versions of speakeasies. Each has its theme and vibe and Jessica and I felt compelled (solely by our duty-bound obligation to bring you, our dear readers, the best available information) to try a lot of them.
Among our favorites is The Aviary, partly because it was within rolling distance from our AirBnB apartment and partly because the wait staff was so friendly. The rooftop bar sits atop the Murray Street Mall entrance to the Perth underground station and grants the customers a grand view of the mall and its denizens. Another of our favorite places is in the Northbridge part of the city just a few minutes’ walk from the CBD. The place is called The Bird. Like the neighborhood in which it is located, The Bird is a hip, happening place with entertainment, assorted cocktails and local wines. The people watching at both The Bird and at Varnish, another of our faves where they serve a succulent wallaby dish, is well worth the time you will spend at these establishments.
We found Perthinators (Perthkins? Perthians? Pertholytes?) to be extraordinarily kind, friendly and honest. I rigorously tested the last of these attributes on two separate occasions by dropping a large amount of cash and walking away from it. Actually, it wasn’t really a test and, in fact, I had no idea I had left wads of Australian currency lying, in one case in a hotel elevator and in the other on a city street. On the first occasion, the cash was found by a hotel employee who turned in at the front desk. (Thanks again, Ricky!) On the second, a passerby noticed the escapee bills drop to the ground and he ran after me waving them apparently to convince me that it was he who wanted to give me money and not the more traditional other way around. The niceness of the people of Perth was constantly on display from the fact that you could not stop on the street for more than ten seconds with a map unfolded without getting multiple offers of help from a local. Even if you merely looked confused for a moment, someone would likely check in with you to see if you needed directions, medical care or a winning lottery ticket. A woman who waited on us at a restaurant tried (unsuccessfully) to return the $3 tip we left for her. “You don’t have to tip here,” she told us. These Perthlanders (Perthists? Perthagoreans? Perthese?) are okay by me.
So, what to do in Perth. First, just wander around the city at your leisure. Walking is the best way but there are free buses that service the central business district. (Information on this CAT bus service can be found at www.lookatwa.com.au.) It’s just a twenty-minute walk (up hill all the way) from the Murray Street Mall in the CBD to Kings Park, a four square kilometer public park that includes an impressive botanical garden and touts itself as being larger than New York’s Central Park. Peter, a citizen of senior status, attended to us at the Kings Park visitor center and provided us with a map and a route, noting with some prejudice that we may run across a section of the park that is not quite up to his standards. “They had some kind of rock ‘n roll concert here last night,” he said as though he had just accidentally swallowed a fly. Peter’s map and advice did come in handy, though, since Kings Park is so big and getting lost in it for generations is a distinct possibility.
Take a leisurely walk along the Murray Street Mall and through one of the many cut-throughs to the Hay Street Mall and gaze at the small shops featuring things that you can have in exchange for some Australian dollars or for the temporary loss of custody of your credit card. The little alleyways that connect the two streets are homes to some of the city’s most interesting bars as well. It’s worth spending a couple of hours there if only for the people watching and the beer chugging.
You can also stroll around Elizabeth Quay, the redeveloped harbor area of Perth where ferries come and go to and from such places as Fremantle, Rottesnest Island, and tours head up the Swan River. Jessica and I did one such tour. It began with a wonderful breakfast at Isle of Voyage, a beautifully-set restaurant on the Quay and proceeded to a three-hour boat ride up the river during which we tasted four of the Swan Valley’s wines. At noon, we disembarked the boat and embarked a van that would take us to visit three of the area’s wineries, one of its breweries and a chocolate factory. Our very informative guides were provided by Out and About Tours (www.outandabouttours.com.au) who did a wonderful job of getting us from one glass of wine to the next without incident.
It’s only a half-hour train trip from Perth to Fremantle, a seaside town that will charm you with an abundance of charminess. Its quaint architecture, variety of cuisines (most of which consist of either raw food or granola) and easy walkability makes this port city a perfect day trip. Highlights include the Fremantle Prison, a place of no small irony since the inmates built the prison, The Fremantle Market full of local products, and the Round House, the oldest building still standing in Western Australia. (For the record, I did not come up with that “oldest building still standing in Western Australia” because I know, as I’m sure you know, that if there were an older building that was not still standing, nobody really cares, right? Like, if a building isn’t still standing, is it really a building?)
Jessica gets along with adventure much better than I do. In fact, if you are a faithful reader of this blog (bless your heart!) then you probably already know that adventure and I, especially when adventure includes nature, which it almost always does, just don’t connect on any level. So, when Jessica suggested that we do a Western Australian version of an adventure day, I considered breaking a small and relatively unimportant bone in order to get out of it but instead I contacted Richard of Travel Western Australia and booked the Pinnacles Magic full-day tour. As far as adventure days go, this one was not even half as bad as it could have been. There was no hiking through jungles, trekking up steep mountain slopes, zip-lining in a rain forest or using animals as transportation. We visited Yanchep National Park and watched koalas cavort in the eucalyptus trees. Actually, koalas don’t cavort at all. They eat and sleep, we were told by Richard, and that’s pretty much a life in the life of a koala. After a quick lunch of cheese and smoked kangaroo sandwiches, I took a go at playing the didgeridoo. Richard claimed that the noised I created from blowing into the hollow branch started an early migration of wildebeests in southern Africa but I think he was just jealous. I was the only person in our group of sixteen people who declined the opportunity to sand board down a massive sand dune. I don’t regret the decision. We drove on to Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, a really breathtaking, even for me, spectacle of nature. The theory goes that the rocks that stand in the desert sand like, respectively, soldiers, pillories, dead presidents and phalluses, are stalagmites. The eerie site of these formations coupled with the deep yellow of the sand and the dense blue of the sky make this one of the most unique places in the world. Our final stop on the tour was back in Yanchep. It was early evening and time for the kangaroos to come out to eat and play. Sure enough, when we arrived back at the park, nearly forty roos greeted us. Although Australians are underwhelmed at the sight of the jovial marsupials, considering them to be responsible for high auto insurance premiums, we were seriously taken by their antics. It was a wonderful way to top off the day, even if it was kind of a nature thing. These happy, frolicking and delicious creatures hopped around giving the humans with smartphones no notice. Nor did we deserve any.
Seriously, though, (no, really, seriously), if you do make the trip to Perth, you will be doing yourself a big favor by spending a day with Richard and checking out his website at www.twatours.com.au. I had the very good fortune of riding in the front of the van with Richard for the day (Jessica preferred to sit alone for some reason) and learning some very interesting things about Western Australia such as that the state of Western Australia takes up nearly one-third of the entire country and that although the Aboriginal population makes up only 2.5% of the total, native Australians account for nearly 32% of the detainees in criminal detention and that the kangaroos lying on the side of the roads throughout the area are not dead, just sleeping. (That last bit of information from Richard was slightly inaccurate since the roos along the side of the roads are indeed dead.)
In addition to these photos of our Western Australia trip, check out the really good ones (because I’m not in them) at Jessica’s blog, www.jessicacoup.com/Australia.
This entry was posted in Australia, Continents, Food & Wine, Travel Tips