The nice thing about going to Western Australia from Malaysia is that the flight is only 5 ½ hours. We always dreamt about someday going to Australia but From Canada, this means a thirty-something hour journey, not to mention the cost of such a trip. We got a red-eye out of Kuala Lumpur and landed in Perth in time for breakfast.
Perth, the capital of Western Australia is the sunniest city in Australia and the weather is pleasant all year round. Temperatures can reach a high of 32 degrees or a low of 14 degrees (during winter), making it a perfect place for outdoor ventures. Of the eight days we were there, half of them had a mix of showers and sun throughout the day. The temperatures were in the high teens or low 20s during the day, and dropped to about 15 degrees Celsius at night. It was a refreshing break to be out of the stifling heat and humidity of Malaysia, but it was still shorts and sandals weather most days. Our hotel for the first two nights was on Scarborough Beach just north of Perth. Every morning the kite surfers in wet suits would appear about 8am and play in the crashing surf of the Indian Ocean for most of the day. One morning four brave swimmers took to the ocean for a dip. The beach is patrolled and groomed daily and although the signs said ‘no swimming’ no one bothered the surfers or swimmers that were there.
We had a latte and hot chocolate in the Dome Restaurant attached to the hotel. It was a beautiful sunny day outside with pounding surf. Twenty minutes later when we looked out, it was pouring rain with hurricane-like gusts of wind. Another twenty minutes later it was sunny again. It reminded me of what the locals say about Halifax – if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.
From our hotel room on the 16th floor we could almost see the city of Fremantle through the haze down the coast. We strolled through the shops and markets and found a nice Italian café for breakfast. We walked by the Fremantle Prison, the largest and most intact convict built prison in Australia that was in continuous use as a gaol until 1991. On the way back to the Rendezvous Hotel, we stopped at Cottesloe Beach, with it’s shops and postcard perfect beach. They have the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted here. Fremantle being on the coast is the port for Perth, which is about 10 km inland on the Swan River. For the drive into Perth not knowing where to go first, I set the GPS for Kings Park. Kings Park is a 1000-acre park in the centre of the city and was amazing for it’s botanical gardens and views of the Swan River, downtown Perth and South Perth. There is a huge 750-year old boab tree that was transported 3200 kilometres from northern Western Australia and transplanted in Kings Park. We spent some time walking the streets downtown and shopping at the Hay Street and Murray Street Malls. A sad fact about Perth is that the stores and malls close at 5pm making
The cars in Western Australia are mainly Japanese, with Hyundai and Ford also well represented. I wondered about the lack of Chevrolet vehicles until I noticed several familiar model names such as Cruz, Astro, Caprice and Celebrity. Although they are GM vehicles they carry the Holden badge and icon. Apparently these General Motors vehicles are built in Australia under the Holden name. In the week we were here I only saw one or two convertibles, maybe 6 Mercedes Benz, a couple of BMWs and several Volvos. There are also lots of 4-wheel drive vehicles as many people go off-roading on the dunes and beaches. The half-car, half truck vehicles like the Chevy El Camino and the Ford Ranchero, which used to be sold in North America 30 or more years ago, are very popular in Western Australia.
Many North American grocery items are stocked in stores here although Kellogg’s Rice Krispies are called Rice Bubbles, but they still have the snap, crackle and pop. Woolworth stores are here too, but they are grocery only. When I went to the Coles store expecting to find books, I discovered another grocery store. It seems that nowhere else has the selection of books, and music that North America has. I bought one large hard cover photography book in a used bookstore for $18 Australian (conversion is close to the Canadian dollar). The book used up about a fifth of my allotted checked baggage weight with Air Asia. Overall prices tend to be higher than Canada or London. They do not have foreign workers here, and store workers and labourers are well paid.
We drove south from Perth for about 200 kilometres to the town of Bunbury. A lady at the tourist information told me that Bunbury was Western Australia’s second largest city, which is quite surprising as it has the feel of a small town. Bunbury has a nice ‘city centre’ with lots of shops and many restaurants. The waterfront is a nice area with shops, and of course the incredible views of the Indian Ocean. The Catholic Cathedral stands high on Boulters Hill overlooking the city of Bunbury. It opened last year six years after its predecessor was destroyed by a tornado. The new church is designed to stand for 300 years.
Just south of Bunbury is the small town of Busselton which lays claim to the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere which stretches 1.8 kilometres out into Geographe Bay. A small tourist train runs the length of the jetty to take patrons to an underwater observatory at the end of the dock. We made two trips to the jetty with the intention of visiting the observatory but both times it was closed due to poor visibility underwater. The visibility above water wasn’t too great either on our second attempt as we got caught in a downpour. It didn’t take long for the sun to reappear and we found a nice cafe, right next to a round-about where we had some lunch. Most intersections are round-abouts with very few traffic lights employed.
From Busselton we headed south again destined for the winery area of Margaret River. From Dunsborough we drove out to the picturesque point in Geographe Bay known as Eagle Bay. This is a whale-watching area and I watched the surf break on some rocks about 100 metres
from shore. When I got back into the car, Arlene said she thought that was not rocks but a whale! I didn’t think it was a whale because it wasn’t moving and the fact that it was so close to shore, but I took a photo of it anyway. After zooming in and looking at the photo, I do think we saw a whale. Arlene thought it had even spouted. There are many wineries in the Margaret River region and we visited several of them. It’s a good thing I’m the driver since I’m not a wine-taster. We also dropped in at a brewery, a couple of chocolate factories, an olive oil and soap outlet and a sheep shearing shed. There are kangaroo crossing signs along the roads, similar to the deer crossing warnings in the Ottawa Valley, but the only kangaroos we saw were unfortunate ones that had met with cars. We finally arrived in the village of Margaret River just before dusk and walked the streets looking for an interesting place for dinner. With the surfer and clothing boutiques, the open-air cafes and pubs, and lots of people about, the town has the feel of a Vermont ski village after a day on the slopes.
We drove about an hour to the Bunbury suburb of Dalyellup, which is now home for my cousin, Marty, his wife Robyn and boys Harrison and Aiden, where we stayed for four days. Marty, a teacher, is the son of my first cousin Judy from Belleville, and he has lived in Western Australia for 13 years. They made us feel at home in their spacious home, and their boys aged 7 and 5 also felt comfortable around us, and before too long Arlene was playing games and reading to them. Their retriever, Trudeau also welcomed us into their home. Trudeau who is very much like Kane back in Canada although 5 years younger, kept coming around for petting and teasing us by pretending to give us the tennis ball but then backing away. Saturday morning was a soccer day for the boys, and we went with Marty and Aiden to his game in Harvey, while Robyn took Harrison to his game in another location. This sure brings back memories of our kids’ soccer days. Marty took us to the Harvey Dam where a beautiful community park is located, to the estuary looking for dolphins and to Gnomeville, an unofficial, ever-expanding area where people have placed gnomes of every kind along the paths, on rocks and even in the trees. One evening Marty suggested we watch an Australian movie called Red Dog. I’m not usually keen on movies where the main star is an animal, but I have to say this flick was an excellent choice and I would certainly recommend it, even if you’re not a big fan of pets.
Monday morning we headed back to Perth to our hotel near the airport. On the way there we took a side trip into the sleepy village of Yarloop. Time has stood still for Yarloop as I’m sure not much has changed here in the last hundred years. It is situated between two north-south expressways, on the Perth to Bunbury rail line. The train only stops if there is a passenger getting on or off, which probably doesn’t happen too often. This is definitely off the beaten path. With only a few dozen homes in the village, some of the older folks gather at the post office to chat and watch the trains go through. Once in Perth we took one last drive downtown looking for a vegetarian restaurant for Arlene. After coming from Yarloop this was indeed a bustling city. As it was rush hour with stores still open, we couldn’t even find a place to park. Eventually we found a pizza joint with parking space. Later at the hotel we watched a movie and packed for the return flight to KL. Arlene doesn’t get a lot of vacation days and many of her days off, are due to working on weekends, so this was a very satisfying and fun-filled eight days in Western Australia.
The return flight left at 6:50 am so we were able to see the ruggedness and isolation of northern Western Australia in the daylight as we flew north across the continent.