We arrived in Perth from Margaret River late in the afternoon and on first impressions, it was the city of our dreams. For one thing, the sun was out and it wasn’t freezing, like all of WA’s south-west coast. We drove through what the GPS called ‘the city’ but it was mostly river, lush gardens and big trees with the occasional bit of concrete. They had even relegated all of the corporate mafioso to one street, so BHP and One Steel and Rio Tinto sat knee-to-knee on George Street, with no room for mansprawling.
We drove to City Beach (yes the city has its own beach!) passing through what we assumed was Subiaco from the regularity of yoga studios and organic grocers.
We watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean for the first time and had a few beers at a beachside restaurant Odyssea, feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves and Perth in general. While we were waiting to find out the address of our Perth hosts, we ordered something to eat. Unfortunately it never arrived due the forgetfulness of the waiter (we’ve all been there) so we moved across the way to the next restaurant in hope that they might smash it out a bit faster at Clancy’s Fish Bar. There must be an intense rivalry between the two restaurants as the waiter made a point of warning us, with some serious eye lash fluttering, not to venture on to the neighbours, as we would come back with ours tails between our legs like the last customers that refused the five minute wait for a table.
‘Fine’, we said, exhausted by this point, ‘just bring us the tasty fish’. So like most speciality seafood restaurants you find in coastal cities, they brought us their finest frozen muck. Seriously, how do these places get away with it? They imply that you’re getting the freshest of the fresh ‘catch of the day’ and then serve you the fishy equivalent of a bag of frozen mixed veg. How very dare they!
Moving on, we headed to the northern suburbs to meet our Perth hosts (friends of Gareth’s that allowed us to park in their driveway and watch the Olympics on their television). Everyone was very welcoming, especially the black labrador Whoopi, and we settled down to partake in the Olympic tradition of criticising the technique of every athlete that graced the screen, despite being total John Snows (knowing nothing).
A day in friendly Fremantle
The next day at the suggestion of our hosts, we headed into Fremantle to check out the market and much-praised chill nautical vibes. Unlike other Australian cities, Fremantle has a lot of Victorian and Edwardian buildings left including the market building which first held markets in 1897. You can still walk the cobbled passages designed for horse and cart.
After the market, we wandered down to the Fremantle Arts Centre for a coffee. This site first opened (and locked) its doors in 1864 as the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot and the buildings are a great example of Australian Gothic architecture. Stop laughing Brits. It now has custody of Perth’s young artistic minds, so let’s hope the convict ghosts show them what suffering really is.
We also checked out the Round House, another convict prison on Bathers Beach in Fremantle and the oldest surviving building in WA. It was 12 sided (dodecahedroned?) and had a tunnel connected to the port for bringing up goods and hiding a whole lot of dodgy business. It reminded Gareth of the caves in Cornwall used by smugglers and pirates.
Meandering further down the beach to the marina, we found the Little Creatures brewery. How convenient! The sun was out, after a week of blerg, so we celebrated with a tasting paddle of beer and cider. We didn’t let the fact that we knew exactly what the Little Creatures range tasted like, affect our mood of discovery and adventure. The best part ? It was free!
We explored the old docks and warehouses, patronising their cruddy markets, which consisted of the lowest strata of souvenirs – poorly printed stubby holders and hats extolling the worst Australian stereotypes, including bumper stickers that said weird stuff like ‘Wife in Boot’ – a bit unsavoury in a country where domestic violence is the leading cause of death for women. But then again we hear they’re selling little, painted barrel souvenirs in Snowtown South Australia, as a souvenir of the ‘bodies in the barrels’ murders. Aussies are sick puppies.
Hoping for a nice seafood dinner, we headed to the Cott & Co fish bar at the Cottesloe Beach Hotel. Everything was beyond our expectations delicious and there was no deep-fried hake in sight. We started with smoked trout rillette and scallop ceviche and then shared seared swordfish on a Milanese risotto – furtive plate licking was very necessary. Dessert was a mandarin and grand marnier creme caramel, heavy on the booze. We were in heaven, Gareth was so happy he even drank white wine.
We thought we’d dressed up by wearing our cleanest t-shirts and sneakers rather than thongs. But we were outshone by Perth’s rich young set, sitting a few tables away. Looking no older than 22, they sat in a self-assured bubble tucking into poached marron and sipping Aperol spritz. Their tanned arms were skinny enough to fit bangles over the elbow, but strong enough to carry big leather designer bags. It was a Saturday night, so this was technically their ‘pre drinks’ . No sitting around a mate’s house, drinking a box of wine for these kids.
Sunday and Monday were spent doing dull tasks like getting the camera fixed and refilling gas bottles so we won’t regale you with that stale activity. While in an outdoors store we did realise that the Cobb cooker we inherited from the French backpackers was worth over $250. This reminded us that we should probably give that thing a go.
Accustomed to waking at first light – about 630 in the morning, Shelley had trouble adjusting her vanlife habits to the big city. Struggling to unlock the front door of her hosts and afraid of attracting big woofs from the black lab, she walked over the highway to McDonalds to wee. Gareth thinks this is hilarious but that’s because he can sleep till 11 and chuck a piss over a fence as required. A warning to all lady backpackers, camper queens and vanlife hopefuls – it’s not all ocean breeze, Indian blankets and dreamcatchers, you will have to squat at some stage. Watch out for splash back.
Riding around Rottnest Island
On Tuesday it was time to visit Rottnest Island (they have a Tightarse Tuesday special on ferry tickets). Rottnest Island/ Wadjemup (or ‘Rotty’ as the Perth tribe call it) is about 45 minutes away by ferry from Fremantle and was used by white folks from 1838 to detain indigenous people. Today the main drawcard is quokkas.
Quokkas are adorable small marsupials, like wallabies but with cuter heads. They are endemic to the island and have become very tame over the years as people continued to feed and pat them. We thought that we would have to be quite lucky to spot one, but it ended up being like wildlife watching for dummies. They hang out on the side of the road waiting to found by tourists. As we cycled around the island on our hired bikes we found them easily enough – wherever the was a pile of swiftly dropped bikes and a crowd of bendy people, there were quokkas.
They were very cute but it was difficult to get any alone time with the furry darlings, so we kept our interactions platonic and continued our cycle tour, attempting to circumnavigate the island (about 25 km) before our ferry out at 2pm. We did pretty well, with Gaz showing off half-remembered BMX cycling tricks as we sped downhill (hence the row of black teeth). There were beautiful beaches around most corners and a big ole lighthouse to explore as well. As we climbed to the top we heard a few stories from the volunteer lighthouse man – like the time the original lighthouse was sued by an American ship that ran aground because the kerosene light wasn’t strong enough to be visible. After that and a few other shipwrecks they made a bigger, better one.
We spotted our first osprey nest while traversing the island. This may not sound so incredible, but should you ever see one, you will definitely be impressed. This one stood just offshore on a precarious turret of cliff face. The nest itself was easily two metres tall and made of a collection of sticks, bones and rope.
We’ll miss you Perth!
Leaving Perth in the late afternoon, we said farewell but not goodbye; this is definitely a place you could stay a while and no doubt rivals Melbourne for ‘most liveable city in the world’. Thanks for having us A + B!
Highs: The osprey nest was really high!
Lows: Slept through Ursain Bolt’s 100 metre sprint