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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Western Australia.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Western Australia.
The quokkas are everywhere on Rottnest Island, and so is their pellet-sized poop. Crushed and smooshed by the various vehicles and footfall, some have even flattened under the weight of tourists laid out, sun-tanning on the green. The poop, that is, not the adorable creatures.
A few months before this trip, two men were charged with abusing a quokka that they’d caught. On camera, one of them was seen kicking and flinging the terrified animal about. But it’s not a recent thing. The ’70s and the ’80s were filled with stories of “quokka soccer”, according to the guide on the bus tour. During the years when Rottnest was used as a prison for Aboriginal men under the racist colonial administration, qnokkas were game meat for consumption. Our ride around the island, relatively shielded from the blazing sun outside, revealed several quokkas hiding under the shade of low shrubbery And the tourists hunting them for an Instagram picture.
Beautiful as the island is, all sparkling azure seas and stark landscape of brushes across the land, it all gets pretty depressing after a bit of history and seeing the thin, patchy fur of the quokkas caused by tourists feeding them junk for a selfie. On the ferry ride to Fremantle, I chat with an older lady who regales me with stories of her travels, changing my earlier impression of the island. She’s been visiting Rottnest since 1965 and has choice words for the quokka abusers: “Ten minutes in a pen with dingoes as sentence. Good luck!”
The island is best experienced over a couple of days, according to her, and as far away from the day-trippers as possible. Perhaps another time.
Perth is the place you go to retire. Or so the Singaporean cliche goes. We landed in the capital of Western Australia at the tail-end of the Easter holidays, with shops shuttered and streets empty. Three days later, in Fremantle, it is no different. A quiet city greets us on our ferry from Rottnest, a ghost town of shops already closing up for the day and people going home. It is the third biggest port after Melbourne and Sydney, but doesn’t quite feel like it. We’re a long way from Singapore, five days by boat, to be specific.
The capital has its charms, of course. Perth city with its beautiful, colourful graffiti that lifts up the drab, squat buildings. Peeling posters advertising delights, which you could never publicly advertise in Singapore, are plastered on buildings sandwiched by Asian restaurants of different cultures.
The crisp, fresh air of King’s Park and the moderate bustle of Elizabeth Quay reveal more of the city’s inhabitants of the Swan Valley, including a lavish encampment for the rich by the river aptly dubbed Tuscany on the Swan. Settled in 1829, Fremantle is touted as the “best preserved 19th-century port streetscape in the world” by the tourism board of Western Australia.
Historic buildings housing trendy gigantic H&M in an old post office in Perth City, are practically de rigueur in Perth.
And Fremantle, in particular, has that aplenty. We have a hearty breakfast, the start of many more of this Australian institution, at Moore & Moore cafe, which operates out of the 177-year-old Moore building. A promenade through the streets to meet our ride reveals many more of the quirky bookstores and the cool eateries that populate the city, with plaques proudly carried on the building’s facade explaining its history.
We finally meet Gloria Mischewski of Perth Luxury Tours, our driver for the rest of the trip. Jovial and utterly hilarious, this Kiwi grandmother has many years of expert driving all over Western Australia. It’s a long drive, about three hours, to our stay for the next two nights in Margaret River. Western Australia is massive, and the best way to really experience it is to be on the road with several pit-stops along the way.
Our first outside Perth is the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre. A purely non-profit, it’s been devoted to dolphin research and conservation since 1994. It is in the process of refurbishment, to better serve the needs of the community with a larger venue and more space for visitor education about the pods of over 200 wild bottlenose dolphins living in and around Koombana Bay. Set to be completed by 2018, the centre, nonetheless, continues to operate as usual with the high-light of its activities being a cruise.
Barely a moment out at sea, and we spot a mother and her calf swimming away from us. The day is bright, sunny and beautiful, and soon enough, we spot more dolphins frolicking in the sea. A group of (human) father and sons stands on a rock wall fishing for salmon, attracting much attention from the seagulls, the dolphins and the humans aboard the viewing vessel. A little while later, we sight the spectacle that we’ve all been unknowingly looking for: dolphins surfing. Not on boards, of course; they ride the waves, leaping out and into the surf as the surge propels them forward. They’re hamming it up for the spectators in rapt attention with our cameras out. There’s a small boat with tourists having a little swim out at sea, and one dolphin appears fixated on a man who’d earlier jumped off the boat to greet the dolphins. Man and cetacean curiously inspect each other at a respectful, safe distance.
Many miles later, we are back on the road again to Busselton. Its historic jetty is the main attraction here. Built in 1853, it is the longest wooden pier in the world, stretching almost 2KM out into the waters of Geographe Bay.
We have a quick lunch and I taste kangaroo for the first time at The Goose. I’m not sure I like its gamey nature, but after crocodile in Zimbabwe, it’s certainly not the worst meat that I’ve ever tasted, and at least, it’s definitely the healthiest, according to a range of experts.
A train ride takes you to the Underwater Observatory, with sights of the endless blues of the seas and charming seagull resting points along the length of the jetty. It is Australia’s greatest artificial reef with a diversity of more than 300 species of marine life that you can observe from the Observatory. Lucky ones spot a sea lion amongst the colourful corals curiously peeking into a window at the human gawkers. A pod of dolphins bids us farewell with a couple of leaps as we ride the train back to firm ground.
The sun is setting as we make our way to Margaret River town. A blaze of oranges, reds and purples peeks out through gaps in the dense forest as dusk starts to take over. The beauty of the scene prompts our guide in Margaret River, Brianna Delaporte of Australia’s South West tourism, to do a detour just to catch the sunset.
We make it just in time to Grace- town’s North Point where we watch the skies in silence. “Look! There are so many dolphins surfing!” An enthusiastic member of the team gesticulates excitedly at the sea where a group of surfers is riding the last waves of the day. Perhaps it is the magnificence of the scene—or the long day that we’ve had—for in a fit of beauty-drunk exhilaration one could possibly mistake humans riding boards as dolphins. If you squint enough, anyway.
The Wardandi people consider this area a sacred site, where the gifts of their creator god Ward an in the form of whales would come to shore during the right season. It’s not difficult to imagine why; the breath-taking environment inspires respect.
You know that feeling you get on a Saturday morning? A happy, hopeful sort of feeling, when you’ve woken up after a great night out and know that another one awaits, followed by yet another day of blissful languor? Fremantle gives you the Saturday feeling. Even Perth, small as it is, has a bit of a frenetic pace, but this, this is your happy place. Freo, as the locals call it, is every bit as cool as it sounds. Located just about 30 minutes away from Perth, there’s something about this harbour city that puts you instantly at ease. Maybe it’s the friendly faces, the cheerful art on its walls, or the lively atmosphere in pretty much every café you peek into…
Famous for all the wrong reasons, Fremantle Prison is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built by convicts, for convicts, it was decommissioned as a maximum security prison pretty recently (in 1991), a fact that makes a visit to this institution all the more foreboding. And once you learn more about the facility, that feeling only intensifies. Sign up for one of the tours to get a glimpse into the life of a convict. On the Doing Time tour, which is both eye-opening and entertaining, with the guide acting as the jail warden, you’re taken through the entire drill, right from what happens when a prisoner first enters the jail, until execution. Over a period of 140 years, various forms of punishment were used on convicts, including whipping, flogging, solitary confinement, and hangings, and you can see exactly how and where it was done.
Take in the laidback vibe of this town with a stroll down the streets. Gape at the handsome Edwardian and Victorian architecture with pastel-hued buildings lining the Cappuccino Strip (South Terrace), which gets its name from the number of cafés and baristas here, and soak in the young, friendly vibe owing to the famed University of Notre Dame Australia that calls Freo home. Pop into old-school bookstores that stock both dog-eared seconds and fresh new tomes that are not necessarily neatly arranged in bookshelves, but rather piled on tables or on the floor. Potter about the pretty Fremantle Arts Centre , which was also one of the buildings built by the inmates of Fremantle Prison, or shop at one of the several stores lining High Street to find cool hipster products that have been around since before the term became annoying. If you’re here on a weekend, and you should be, spend the morning at the Fremantle Markets, where you can chat with local farmers, sample fresh produce, including sweet potato fries and kangaroo meat hot off the grill, pick up quirky knick-knacks or vintage finds, and just enjoy the cheerful atmosphere with buskers and happy chatter.
Fremantle is home to some great bars and restaurants and, while you will, no doubt, find your favourite, the one place you must head to is Little Creatures Brewery, which lives up to all the hype. This iconic brewery does a fantastic selection of craft beers, including ciders and IPAs as well as seasonal brews, and sharing plates like oysters and lemon, aioli frites, flatbreads and pizza, and serves the all up in a fittingly boisterous environment. The brewery is also known for its delicious breakfast options, featuring fresh fruit, eggs, smoked ham, bacon and more. There’s outdoor seating on picnic tables and benches surrounded by plants, as well as indoor seating in a typical brewery atmosphere amid shiny barrels, warm lighting and great music. There’s a more relaxed lounge around the corner, Creatures NextDoor that offers beautiful views of the Fishing Boat Harbour, if you want to dial down the crazy.
Sitting on the edge of the Indian Ocean, Freo boasts quite a maritime history. A great place to learn about it is at the Western Australian Shipwrecks Museum. There are various galleries dedicated to notable shipwrecks, but the star of the show lies in the Batavia Gallery, home to the enormous reconstructed skeleton of the Dutch merchant ship, Batavia, which has you bending backwards to take it all in. Believed to be hauled up in the 1970s, experts have managed to restore much of the captain’s cabin too. You can also observe other relics from this and many other ships that succumbed to the seas. The museum is in a 1850s Commissariat building, set by the breezy Fishing Boat Harbour, which is a good place for an evening stroll. Pick up some fish and chips from one of the many eateries here and stroll down the boardwalk that takes you to the seaside where you can meet oldies in floppy hats fishing on the rocks.
Perth might be overshadowed by its big brothers on the east coast, but it holds its own all right. Big enough to be cosmopolitan but small enough to still count as charming, the city’s a bagful of surprises. Whether it’s crystal-clear beaches, tranquil parks, plenty of culture, edgy arts or a fun night out – the city offers an interesting mix of it all.
The expansive King’s Park is not only the green lung of the city, but also a great lookout point. Plonk down on the grassy slopes and take in views of Swan River and the city, or just sprawl back and watch fluffy clouds float by. Being a botanic garden, expect a tonne of biodiversity peppered across the bazillion zones here. Wander around aimlessly, stopping to peer at the little signboards that will tell you something interesting about every tree here – sort of like a living museum of horticulture. If you really want to get under the skin (er, bark) of the plants here, the park offers a number of guided walks, some of which are free. Make sure you meet the wise old (over 700 years) boab tree (a type of baobab tree), Gija Jumulu (Gija are the indigenous people of Western Australia, and ‘jumulu’ means boab in their language), who travelled 3,200km from Warmun in Kimberley to this park. Incidentally, most of the boabs in this park have been transported from various other locations. The park regularly hosts several events, too, from screening movies under the stars, live performances, theatre, and more.
Come weekends, it feels like most of the city is hanging out at the Perth Cultural Centre – a lively, creative space in Northbridge, home to a whole bunch of cool places like the Art Gallery of WA, which is a great place to learn about the mesmerising indigenous art, and The Wetland, a freshwater pond that doubles as an ‘outdoor classroom’ for kids, as well as a scenic spot for events with a stage and steps on which to sit and sip on a lemonade from one of the food carts nearby. The Art Gallery of WA is not much to look at from the outside, but step in and you realise what an incredible arts platform it is (00-61-8-9492-6622; www.artgallery.wa.gov.au; 10am – 5pm Wed – Mon; free). Pop into any of the rooms and you’ll find something that will catch your eye. Exhibits range from interactive, to installation and indigenous art, and there’s always a special event or activity lined up to keep you engaged. Free guided tours take place daily, except on Tuesdays. Apart from this, the centre hosts several regular events – check out the events page on Perth Cultural Centre’s website for what’s on when you visit (00-61-8-655-70700; www.mra. wa.gov.au/projects-and-places/perth-cultural-centre; between Perth city train station and Northbridge, bounded by Roe, Beaufort, Francis and William Sts).
Perth is blessed with great weather. Great beaches. A great art scene. Great open spaces. But more than anything, it’s blessed with a great location, with Margaret River on one side and Swan Valley on the other. While Margaret River isn’t exactly next door (a couple of hundred kilometres away), Swan Valley is about 20 minutes away. This means two things: chocolate tastings and wine trails.
Book a tour to this region swathed in vineyards, which is wildly popular among locals for hen parties (wine, chocolate, cheese tastings – it’s a no-brainer). Some of the country’s oldest vineyards call this region their home and you’ll find award-winning vintners here. A tour of this region lets you taste wines at a couple of vineyards supplemented with copious tastings of cheese, chocolate, honey and coffee – basically it’s a day of indulgence and excess, depending on the tour you pick. Oh, and don’t worry about the squealing hens – it all fades after a couple of glasses of crisp chardonnay.
Ordinarily the words ‘cuddly’ and ‘rodent’ don’t belong together, but, on Rottnest Island, they do. Quokkas are actually marsupials, but they look like large rats with permanent smiles affixed to their faces. This is probably why a Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, named this island ‘Rat’s Nest’, thanks to these adorable critters. Apart from attempting goofy selfies with quokkas, there’s much else to do on Rottnest, a short ferry ride from Perth. Take a 90-minute bus tour of the entire island, which is just 11km in length, or pedal around exploring at your own pace, hop aboard a Segway or take in the sights from a scenic flight or jump off the flight in a tandem skydive.
Surrounded as the island is by all that gorgeous blue water, you can also snorkel, surf, kayak or do some stand-up paddleboarding by renting gear at Pedal & Flipper. As there are no cars on the island, your only options to get around are by bus or bicycle, which you should book before arrival. You can book activities through Rottnest Island’s official website (Visitor Centre: 00-61-8-9372-9730; www.rottnestisland.com; Thomson Bay, Near Main Jetty; 7.30am – 5pm Sat – Thur, till 7pm Fri; check website for packages). We travelled with Rottnest Express, one of two ferry operators on the island, which arranges for the mentioned activities and equipment hire, as well as day-tour packages in various combinations.
The Kimberley, in the far north-west of Australia, is one of the emptiest places on Earth. It is possible to drive for days without seeing any sign of human habitation. Yet here, on a sensational stretch of dramatic coastline, stands this unique wilderness lodge. It is so sequestered that the only way to get here is by helicopter or air taxi (or perhaps private yacht). People come for the isolation – in few places can the nights appear darker or starrier – but also for the deep, tranquil comfort of the 20 smart villas which seem to float like a lovely little armada on the coastal dunes. All the bathrooms are outdoors for long showers beneath a yellow tropical sun in the clear Australian sky. Some of the cabins look out on the snaking Berkeley River, others have views of the TimorSea.
And this sea is for looking at, not for swimming in, because the glittering water teems with bull sharks and saltwater crocodiles. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Go fishing off the two is lands called, mysteriously, Aunt and Uncle. Or take a guided boat tour down the river – the best way to see the wild Kimberley and all that lives here: ghost gums and bottle shaped boab trees, brahminy kites, jabiru birds with beaks like screwdrivers. The hotel chef can make up a fabulous lunch box filled with salads and focacciato take along and enjoy with a cold beer beneath the Casuarina Falls. And if you are desperate for a dip, there is a beautiful swimming hole (without crocs) at the far end of the first creek on the right.
In the last twenty years, Australia’s sophisticated wine industry has given a cosmopolitan veneer to this remote and beautiful corner of the world, with its dazzling landscape of stunning surf beaches, manicured vines, and awesome forests.
Prestigious wines produced by the Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Cullens, and the venerable Leeuwin Estate are world renowned. The latter hosts the Leeuwin Estate alfresco concerts, a heralded summer event in January attracting world-class performers and ever-growing crowds. Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, the Margaret Valley area is also graced with the annual spring wildflower season in September and October, when the countryside is filled to the horizon with a kaleidoscope of color. More than 1,000 wildflower species have been identified, including almost 70 species of orchid.
Happily, Cape Lodge, one of Australia’s most tasteful and relaxing country retreats, is located right in the middle of the region. The Dutch Cape – inspired main house is surrounded by rolling lawns and magnificent gardens, and overlooks a lovely lake, where guests can swim or paddle about in a canoe.
Morning wake-up calls come from a chorus of kookaburras – so no one misses the gourmet breakfasts in the sun-drenched glass conservatory. It’s a short drive to Margaret River, a delightful town full of antiques stores and crafts shops. Local restaurants with young and innovative chefs make this a culinary comer of Australia to be reckoned with.
You may feel a sense of discovery, as if you are the first to arrive, when you reach this million-acre working cattle ranch in the middle of Kimberly, just a dot on the map of massive, sparsely populated Western Australia.
El Questro Station is the ultimate outback experience, in a wonderful five-star incarnation. Saunter on over and offer to join the cowboys mustering 1,000 head of Brahman cattle in the bush, explore one of the property’s many tropical gorges or remote water holes, or go on horse, camel, foot, or four-wheel-drive treks with resident rangers, who will introduce you to the station’s thermal springs, waterfalls, and religious rock art.
At pricey Homestead cabins, cantilevered over the Chamberlain River, you can cast your line from your private veranda and hope for a record-breaking barramundi, Australia’s premier sport fish. Each airy suite is tastefully decorated with Asian and tropical Australian artifacts, a sign that you are closer to Indonesia than to Sydney.
Those whose wallets dictate Foster’s instead of Champagne can choose one of the station’s four less-expensive accommodation options, right down to bare-bones camping sites under the stars.
The Australians take their beaches seriously, so when they claim that Cable Beach is the continent’s most beautiful, take notice. Large and lustrous South Sea pearls (from the world’s biggest pearl oysters) put Broome on the map in the early 1900s, but today it’s the epic 14-mile beach, almost half a mile wide when the tide is out, that draws connoisseurs.
The Indian Ocean’s waters are crystal clear, and pearly shells mingle with the sun- bleached sand, making it gleam and shimmer. In the small frontier town of Broome, the spirit of the pearling era is still evident among the Japanese, Chinese, Malay, and Aboriginal population.
The pearling masters’ indigenous architecture of wooden latticework screens, corrugated-iron bungalows, and colonial verandas is reflected in the luxurious Cable Beach Club, the only hotel adjacent to the beach. It’s a long way from anywhere, and most guests come starved for the laid-back atmosphere, though everyone should be able to shake off their torpor long enough to take a sunset camel ride along the beach.