Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Perth Wrap-Up

Day 10 of Western Australia was a quickie as our flight was mid-afternoon.  We started with breakfast at one of the local chain restaurants:  Dome.

Dome was a cross between Starbucks and IHOP.  Use your imagination.  Next we went for a walk around the CBD.  We planned on going to see the Swan Bells, but the admission fee was a bit exorbitant.  Instead, we settled for a lucky shag…

We went back to Kings Park to see the other side of it (the park is massive and we only saw a small bit the previous day).  We did one of the bushland walks and then climbed up the appropriately-named DNA Tower.

We were on our way to the airport when we decided to pop into another local chain restaurant that we had seen everywhere in the region:  Chicken Treat.

Chicken Treat was reminiscent of KFC.  Well, reminiscent of KFC according to Cade and Karen.  I’ve never been to KFC because I’m not poor.  But I have an idea in my head of what KFC must be like and I think Chicken Treat was probably a small step or two up.

Western Australia makes an amazing vacation destination.  I loved pretty much everything about it.  In some ways it reminded me of the Pacific Northwest.  The small towns along the southern coast were a bit dreary and rainy, with lots of greenery – just like small towns you’d encounter in rural Washington or British Columbia.  Perth was laid out similar to Portland or Seattle or Vancouver – not quite a grid system but it was easily navigable.  The little neighbourhoods tucked away in random parts of the city also reminded me of that region.  Obviously, the hot sunny weather in Perth is a bit better than the weather you’d find in Portland or Seattle or Vancouver…

Perth seems a bit more American than Sydney does – which is strange since Perth is as far away as you can get from the United States without being stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  The mall we went to on the first day felt very American – maybe because of all the fat people.  All of the local tacky chain restaurants felt very American.  Perth actually has a visible population of African people – which seems American in an odd way.  You’d be hard pressed to find a person of African descent in Sydney , but you didn’t have to look too hard in Perth (maybe because Perth is a lot closer to Africa?)  Overall, there was just something about it that seemed a bit more like home than Sydney does.

It’s hard to compare a city of 1.7 million people to one with 4.5 million people, but I’m going to take a stab at it.  Compared to Sydney, Perth is laid-out better and has less traffic.  The beaches are WAY better than Sydney beaches – they are bigger, longer, and less crowded, the sand is whiter, and the water is clearer.  The neighborhoods are just as nice as Sydney’s, and there are plenty of good brunch places.  What surprised me the most was the gay scene in Perth.  Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting too much, but we all had an absolute blast out on the town.  The first club we went too was massive – two big dance floors (one indoors, one outdoors) each with their own DJ playing different types of music.  It was crowded but not to the point where it became uncomfortable, and more importantly, it wasn’t pretentious.  Sydney bars (gay or straight) are generally either too crowded or too pretentious – or both.  The second club we went to wasn’t as awesome as the first, but it was still a breath of fresh air compared to the clubs in Sydney.

I wouldn’t mind living in Perth one day… but not until someone opens up a decent Mexican restaurant there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Finding The G Spot

Day 9 of Western Australia began with brunch in a cute neighbourhood called Subiaco, followed by a trip to Kings Park –a massive park that sits next to the Perth CBD.  The park contains botanical gardens, grasslands, and native bushland, along with various war monuments and some sweet views of the city and the Swan River.  The park is the oldest park in Australia to be established for public use, and (according to Wikipedia) it’s the largest inner-city park in the world at over four square kilometers (Central Park in Manhattan is a bit smaller).

View of the city:

View of the Swan River:

War Memorial:

The Botanical Gardens were particularly interesting because they brought in plants from all over Western Australia and divided them into sections based on location within the state.  Keep in mind that Western Australia is massive – it’s roughly the size of Alaska, Texas, and California combined.  It’s bigger than Sudan, Greenland, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico.  The variety of plants they had was particularly impressive.  You can even climb some of them...

Notice the Boab tree in the left side of the below picture.  It has a fat trunk for storing water with skinny branches on top.  It’s related to trees in Africa and Madagascar – a remnant of the time when Australia was connected to those regions.

I also learned about the Dwellingup Mallee – a species of tree with only one specimen left.  Click the photo to enlarge and read the caption:

After our adventures at Kings Park, we headed off to Scarborough Beach for some sun and a swim.  I thought Cottesloe was incredible, but I was in for a treat with Scarborough.  It was a long, white sand beach that stretched as far as we could see.

The water was particularly rough at Scarborough because a cyclone (hurricane) was out in the Indian Ocean heading toward Australia and churning up the water.  We didn’t realize the extent of the effect on the coastline until later on that afternoon when we drove back down to Cottesloe.  What was a big, beautiful white sand beach the day before, turned into this:

The rough seas had washed away most of the beach that we had swum at yesterday.  Crazy!  I imagine that a similar thing happened at Scarborough Beach, but we didn’t notice because we didn’t have the before and after views to compare.  Scarborough was a big beach when we were there, but it’s probably much bigger on a normal day.  I want to go back and see.

Karen really wanted to watch the sunset from Cottesloe, but the cyclone’s clouds were disrupting our plans.

So we went back to the hotel and Karen found the G spot instead.

It was in the elevator the whole time.  Who knew?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beaches & Boxing Kangaroos

Our first full day in Perth started out with brunch at a delicious restaurant in a cute neighborhood called Leederville.  “Sayers” was the name of the place and it was chosen by an acquaintance of mine from college who happens to live in Perth.  Her and her husband met us there for brunch, and let me tell you this:  she picked it good.  The place was utterly delicious and there were cute gays everywhere.  You know brunch spots are good when the gays are there en masse.  Looking around at the crowd you’d swear you were in Sydney or Melbourne (or San Francisco maybe?)   But this wasn’t some big cosmopolitan city.  This was Perth.

This is a good place.  And it was about to get better.

Our next stop was Cottesloe Beach – one of the two most famous beaches in Perth.  Cottlesloe was a long, white sand beach much larger than the cove beaches that we have here in Sydney.  The sand was whiter, the water was clearer, and the temperature was a bit warmer than the Pacific waters on the eastern side of the country.  Sydney just can’t compete with this:

We met up with our British backpacker friend again and headed up to an area called Hillarys – a man-made harbour complete with a marina, restaurants, aquarium, and a shopping mall.  Hillarys wasn’t anything too exciting, though the kangaroo-emu-koala merry-go-round was a neat find.  I sorta wished I was a kid again.

The best part about going up to Hillarys was that we inadvertently ended up near Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park – a big cemetery on the outskirts of Perth.  Pinnaroo is known for its large semi-wild kangaroo population.  It was late in the day when we arrived and the roos were all just coming out to feed as dusk set in.  And they were everywhere!

They were hopping!

And lounging!

And looking absolutely adorable!

And this one you can tell has a little joey in her pouch!

And this one was letting it all hang out… oh my… look at the balls on that one.  Insane.

There was a little scuffle between two of the roos – boxing perhaps? – but then they saw me and were just too intrigued to carry on.

I can confidently say that this was the best trip to a cemetery – ever!

Our day ended with a little fun back in Northbridge, the bar and club district in Perth.  The gay bars were surprisingly good – not overcrowded or pretentious like Sydney gay bars.  Who knew?  Oh, and guess who brought their camera with them???

Not me.

But Karen did.

Ugh.  Why is there a straight couple kissing the background?  That’s offensive and an abomination in the eyes of the lord.

Somebody had a little vodka…

Actually, we all had a little vodka… enough to prompt me to drunk dial several friends in the States at 4am Perth time.  Receiving a drunk dial from the farthest possible city from the United States is a massive honour.  It’s like the Oscars of drunk dialing.

Or something like that.  I'm going to stop talking now.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cattle, Prison, & The Perth CBD

We left Rottnest Island on the first ferry on the morning of Day 7.  We arrived back in Fremantle and the first thing we saw was this funny looking ship:

Cade explained that this ship is a livestock carrier and would most likely be carrying cattle from Australia to Japan.  I researched this type of ship and the web revealed that this is quite common and that these some of these ships can carry up to 25,000 cattle or 120,000 sheep.  Further research revealed that these are quite controversial.  Animal rights groups aren’t a huge fan, especially after the 2009 sinking of a livestock carrier in the Mediterranean Sea – killing a few dozen people and over 28,000 animals on board.  All I can think is:  can you imagine how badly those ships must smell?

We decided to do a little more exploring before heading 30 minutes up to Perth.  Karen went to check out the Fremantle Markets, but Cade and I decided to do something a little criminal… so we visited the Fremantle Prison.  The prison was built by convicts in the 1850’s.  Ironically, the prison that the convicts built served as their own jail.  Seems somewhat cruel, eh?

Notice how the ceiling colour changes in the below photo?  This was the result of a riot where the inmates tried to burn the prison to the ground.

There were plenty of hangings inside the prison:

And can you imagine LIVING in this room?  With no toilet?

Each room had a bucket, and everyday you’d bring your bucket to the yard to get cleaned out and then you’d pick up another bucket before you went back to your cell.  It wasn’t your same bucket – oh no.  It was whatever bucket you grabbed.  If that’s not reason enough to live within the law, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the inmates just absolutely LOVED baby Jesus so they had a church right in the prison.  Or maybe the church was there so the criminals could pray for forgiveness and/or indoor plumbing?

The most amazing thing about this prison:  even after they stopped operating this prison as a jail for convicts, they still kept the prison operational.  For many, many years, Fremantle Prison was THE maximum security prison for Western Australia.  They finally shut it down in… ready for this?


That’s right.  Even in 1991, there were inmates taking craps in buckets.  And I thought it couldn’t get worse than a port-o-potty.

Then it was off to Perth for some business.  Insurance business.  My co-workers in our Perth office gave us a tour of our digs there and then treated us to a few rounds of beer at a pub in their building.  How nice!  I hope our Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland offices are as welcoming.  After that, we did a little exploring of the CBD.  The city was small – much smaller than Sydney – but laid out well.  Traffic was completely tolerable and it had everything you could need in a city:  restaurants, bars, a shopping mall complete with department stores, and a scenic waterfront.  There was some very Australian public art displays:

As well as some nicely manicured little parks:

The Swan Bells adorned the waterfront:

And the skyline really matched… the sky.

This is a pretty place.  And it only got better the next day…

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meet the Quokkas!

If you know me, you know that I don’t like animals.  In fact, I don’t like most living things.  Trees are ok.  I can handle some domesticated cats, and I generally find penguins to be cute.  Occasionally I’m able to handle those pesky human beings as well.  But on Day 6 of our Western Australia adventure, this Grinch’s heart grew three times the size.

It was off to Rottnest Island for us.  Rottnest Island lies 18 kilometers off the coast of Western Australia, near Fremantle.  It was a quick 30 minute ferry ride.  You can still see Perth and Cottesloe Beach from the Island:

The island is protected with no permanent residents and no private land ownership.  Cars are not allowed with the exception of a few service vehicles and a bus or two that circle the island.  Bicycles are the main mode of transport to get you from beach to lookout point, to another beach and yet another lookout point, and then back into “town” – a small collection of buildings with a smattering of dining options, a shop or two, and a small museum devoted to the island.  There are several lodging options but most of them are very expensive so we opted for the hostel – which had been converted from old army barracks.  Amazingly, the barracks were infinitely nicer than the hostel from Hell in Fremantle the night before.

We started at a beach near a pretty lighthouse…

Then hopped on our bicycles to head around the island…

To another beach…

And a random pier…

Through the bushland interior of the island…

To Ricey Beach – which was completely empty and 100% ours when we arrived!

How can it get better than that?  I’ll tell you how.  Along the way, we meet these little creatures at various stops we made:

Humans – meet the quokkas!  Quokkas are small marsupials (basically mini-kangaroos) that live mainly on Rottnest Island, a few other offshore islands, and a very small mainland area in the southwest corner of the country.  Many Australians – especially the majority on the East Coast – have never even heard of these creatures.  Quokkas are free from predation on Rottnest – no introduced foxes or feral cats exist.  The island is actually called “Rottnest Island” because the Dutch explorers who first discovered the island thought the quokkas were large rats.  “Rottnest” is derived from the Dutch words for “rat’s nest”.  I’ll admit, these little creatures do appear a bit rat-like (look at those ratty tails), but they are utterly adorable.  They are extremely docile and human-friendly.  Our first quokka encounter came around midday.  We got off our bikes and I took a little video.  This guy is probably used to humans giving him food, but we weren’t falling for it.  He sorta walks around like a rat, but watch until the very end… he hops off just like a little wallaby!

Later on that night we enjoyed a lovely dinner on of the little harbours that Rottnest has to offer.

And under our table… was a quokka… eating a French fry!!!

How totally cute!  Move over penguins:  there’s a new favourite animal in town!  We saw more and more quokkas as the evening progressed.  They are mainly nocturnal and come out starting at dusk.  When we returned to our barracks, we found this:

A quokka invasion!

Thank god they aren't actually rats.  I would have immediately swum back to Perth.