Monday, April 09, 2007

Beautiful Perth

Perth, in Western Australia, is one of the most isolated cities in the world. I'm planning to stay with Tony and Marcia, who I met in Peru and again in Patagonia, and who have kindly offered not only to let me stay with them but also as Tony is not working, to hang out with me and show me Perth! Marvellous! Tony picks me up from the airport, and drives me around. I expected the city to be very linear and flat against the coast, but in fact it's quite hilly and deep, with lots of park space and conservation areas of bush. The town is booming at the moment, as mining, iron ore etc, from around here is driving the massive expansion of China, especially Shanghai. All over there are new smart houses being built, especially in the prime beach-side spots.

Tony heads through the centre of town, along the main thoroughfare, lined with skyscrapers, then climbs up to King's Park, an enormous green space with good lookouts overlooking the centre and the Swan River, which empties in Freemantle Harbour and the Indian Ocean. Freemantle, south of here, is the main port of Perth, and the oldest part of the city. We head along Perth's clean and uncongested roads to the cemetary. This is the resting place of Bon Scott, of AC/DC fame - cans of beer and Scotch bottles surround the grave.

Rock on, Bon

Next back to business, specifically the Little Creatures pub which Tony has shares in.

It's a large trendy industrial brewpub, with large benches, pipes lining the brickwork, and big aluminium vats on one side where the brewing magic occurs. The toilets look out over the factory floor through tinted windows. Out to the back, where we hop on to a bench facing a small quay with boats and yachts tied up.

There's an extra beer here since Tony last visited, and so we have a Pale Ale, Roger's Brown, Bright Ale and a Pilsner to sample. We work our way through them before settling on the Rogers, the mildest, as the drink of choice. The beers are bottled and sold all over the place, and according to Q there is a pub with their beer on tap in Sydney.

Nibbles were supplied by us ordering kangaroo!

Boing boing boing chop

Haven't seen any of the things, but apparently they are everywhere. But I have eaten one! Small chunks of meat on skewers, satay-style. Yum! As Tony points out, Australia is one of the few countries in the world that eat their national symbol. Marcia turns up later with her very nice friend, Anna, who has recently returned from 7 or 8 years of living in London. As Tony points out, Aussies all go to the UK to work for a few years, but they always without fail, come home. Brits coming to Australia to work for a couple of years never want to go home!

A couple of bottles of sauvignon blanc and some pizza later, we head off feeling somewhat light-headed, via Anna's house to pick up some pillows (Tony and Marcia came home a few days ago so are not completely organised yet!

Tony and Marcia's house

Back at the ranch, I meet Ned, the beautiful golden retriever who slobbers a lot and shows his affection more through licking his lips than wagging his tail.

The Nedster

Tony opens a bottle of red wine and walks me through some of the best Australian bands, possibly a mistake, as a short few hours later, Marcia wakes us up. Time to go to Rotto!

Rottness Island
Rotto, as those in the know call it, is an island [GPS: 31.99556S, 115.54095E] that one can just about see about 11 km off the WA coast, which has previously been used as a prison and a military base. The name comes from the Dutch for "Rats' Nest", so called because when the Dutch arrived here in 1696 they thought the island was covered in large rats. These rats are infact "Quokkas", a cute small marsupial unique to the island, like a cross between a wallaby and a cat. They're very stupid, pottering about the place without a care in the world, so it's just as well they don't have any natural predators on the island. A fox would have a field-day here.

There are all sorts of measures to keep them from getting into trouble, like "Quokka Blocker" saloon-doors about two feet high on the entrance to shops. It is the symbol of the island, so the pub is the Quokka Arms, newspaper Quokka Times etc.

So, we say goodbye to Ned, always difficult when he gives you the "look"!

Then take the 7:30am (!) ferry over to the island from Freemantle, the other side of Perth. Neither of us are feeling great after the couple of beverages the night before, especially with a reasonable swell which the boat surfs along. A pie and coffee for breakfast at the bakery sorts us out though, and we head off on our bicycles.

The island is quite well organised, with good paved roads running all the way round, no cars, a single bus looping round, toilet facilities periodically and lots of informative signs. However, the main draw of the island is that it is dotted with small but very beautiful beaches, all round. It's always possible to find a small sandy bay for yourself to enjoy in peace.

Pottering round, it's hot, but okay as there is a nice breeze. Temperature's probably in the early 30s, as it is for most of my time in Perth.

Here'll do

We swim at the Basin and another beach on the south side, snorkling a bit, there is plenty to look at, some reasonable size fish but our attempts to catch them "bear style" fail miserably.

The water is cool but oh so refreshing, and spectrum of beautiful blues, from turquoise through deep ocean blue. From some of the island, as one paddles about, it is just about possible to make out the towers of the CBD in the distance, filled with suited and booted workers wasting their life away, and of course poor Marcia and Anna. This is the life!

What Tony does when he says he's "working from home"

Time for a spot of lunch, adequately catered for with fish and chips at Geordie Bay general store.

After we amble round at a leisurely pace to the second lighthouse of the island, Bathurst Lighthouse, built after a disaster on the island when the other one wasn't spotted.

By now it's mid-afternoon, so we drop the bikes and head to the Quokka Arms for a quick beer before the ferry back. Tony says that usually there are Quokkas all over the place by this time, but today they're being especially lazy and are not entertaining us.

The ferry back is much less bile-inducing than the way out, and so we arrive back feeling good, albeit slightly tired.

After popping home for a shower and to dump the bike, we miss the sunset, or rather enjoy it en route to the OBH, the Ocean Beach Hotel, a bar with a lovely view of the sea. Again, the Little Creatures Pale Ale is on tap, so Tony and I settle down on that before the ladies join us, when we head over the road to the Blue Duck restaurant. I commit an Australian faux-pas by ordering a bottle of the Wairau River Pinos Gris from (gasp) New Zealand, to frowns all round, though reluctantly all agreed it was good. I've been there, they're nice people so I'm happy to buy their wine!

Food was oysters to share, Tony having the Pear and Parsnip (or am I imagining that?) soup, which sounds awful but was apparently quite good! Then fish of the day, which was nicely done, though I confess I can't remember what fish it was! A local one!

Tony and Marcia have had enough by this stage, but Anna kindly takes me to a pleasant bar at Subiaco Hotel, in the trendy Subiaco area, apparently one of Perth's most stylish and cosmopolitan suburbs. Incidentally I like the dress codes they enforce in bars and restaurants in Perth - the general statement made, even in quite swanky places, is that shoes must be worn. How the London bouncers would be straight out of a job here! Anyway, the vibe is good, though it's beginning to quieten off as we arrive, and after a bottle of Madfish *Australian* wine, we call it a night as we're one of the last left. Overall, as Marcia pointed out, I've done quite well considering that it has been mid-week here. Perhaps we've been in all of the best (or only!) good bars in the city, but I am impressed!

Have rod, will fish
Next morning, it's one of my rites of passage as a man... Tony is taking me to the Fishing and Tackle shop! I need help, and I'm not ashamed to ask for it. These guys have a wall six metres across just with hooks, floor to ceiling. I have no idea what I'm doing. A nice chap guides me to a rod, the Ugly Stik graphite 4 piece, which is not telescopic, but does break into four pieces, making it more beefy. Compliment that with a Daiwa Spitfire 2500i reel loaded up with a 4kg line and we're ready to go. We grab a box of hooks and sinkers, and some whitebait, as recommended, for bait and we're off to satisfy our hunter gatherer instincts.

We head down to the dog beach at Brighton, feeling guilty that we don't have the lovely but oh-so-dim Ned with us. Over dunes to a beautiful golden beach with turquoise water.

Bit busy today

The plan is to fish, then perhaps have a swim, but the water is just too nice to ignore, so we switch - swim first then fish. Into the beautiful blue water, through some swell, not enough to be unpleasant, but just enough to enjoy an occasional body surf. The water's a perfect temperature. We can see dozens of dolphins slightly further out, doing some fishing themselves. As Tony points out, you always feel safe when there are dolphins about, as they will protect you from any sharks that come in close to shore.

We decide there's precious little fishing at this beach, so drive along to Hilary's Boat Harbour, where there are rocks that we can sit on and cast lines from. There are plenty of fish about, we can see them! We find a comfy spot, then I unpack my rod, removing plastic, tags, stickers etc. What a newbie! Oh well, we all have to start somewhere. I fidget about with my kit, and am eventually in a position to attach hook and sinker, which Tony does for me (the first time). Bait attached, and we're all ready.

Fumble fumble

I cast my rod, but it all goes wrong, tangled fishing wire everywhere. I haven't quite worked out this reel system. I mess around, trying to untangle and sort it out, meanwhile my hooks flail about down below. Of course they get jammed. The embarrassment. My first attempt with my own rod and I don't even get into the water! In the end I reluctantly cut the line. Tony suggests just the one hook for starters might be more economical. I hang my head low and agree.

Now things start to work though. I soon get my casting technique going, and to my pride Tony admires a throw, though of course the next time I completely fluff it as the bale flips over prematurely and I nearly gouge my own eye out. Anyway, the whitebait we are using as bait are certainly being enjoyed by the fish down there, but they're obviously not stupid enough to bite the hook. Time and time again we throw our lines down, only to bring them back up seconds later empty.


And rest..

Of course, the mission today is to catch a "WA dhu fish", a local fish that apparently is a rite of passage for anglers around here. The lovely Anna has promised to come to the BBQ tonight if we catch one. Tony laughs at me at and tells me there is absolutely no chance of catching one on-shore. I try anyway. Then the goal drops to catch something, anything. Then the goal becomes "bring your line back with the bait still attached". We resort to playing with the crabs which creep about on the rocks next to us, at least they grab and hold our bait for a few seconds before letting go, more action than the fish are providing.

Tony gets the closest to catching something, bringing a fish up to the surface, but the little bugger gets away at the last minute. People wander by and ask "caught anything, mate?". I learn that "nah, just feeding 'em" is the correct response to this question. In the end though, it's not about the results, it's about the taking part. We're in a beautiful spot, looking back across the bay, the weather's perfect, and the conversation is good. All that's missing are a couple of beers and life would be complete.

What life's all about

Fishing lesson 1 over, we go shopping for the bbq that Tony and Marcia are hosting for me and my friends I met in Egypt tonight. All is prepared, and we wait, enjoying a few beers. Eventually I call, and find out they're not coming. Oops. Slightly awkward, though Tony and Marcia are very nice about it. I suppose it does mean more food for us, and even Ned shares in the feast, enjoying a few tasty sausages that are left over at the end.

Marvellously late start the next day, some breakfast, bit of breakfast TV. There is outrage here about a sudden rise in the price of petrol. It's the long Easter weekend, and everyone is going somewhere, and when Australians go somewhere, they have to drive some to get there. 1,000km is fairly normal, and a 10% rise in the price of fuel is going to make a significant difference in cost. What is amazing is that this is a fairly regular thing, and apparently they always drop it back down after the weekend! The breakfast show TV presenter suggests it is clearly collusion between oil companies, and just before the show cuts to an ad-break, leans in to the camera and says "Am I allowed to use the word B**STARDS!?" It'd never happen on Breakfast with Frost!

Next day. Back to the Dog Beach.

Today it's back to the dog beach, this time with a dog, our Ned. Tony has to lift him leg by leg into the car. He angles him towards me, then once we get going tells me that Ned has been known to spew in the car before. Nice! Out and on to the beach. Ned is a quite nervous soul. He's a beautiful dog, and was bred as a show dog, but just doesn't have the temperament for show-grounds. He has a good time sniffing about with the other dogs as Tony and I enjoy the Perth surf, me for the last time (this trip). It's ridiculous that this is just a dog beach. You can see from the photos how nice WA beaches are. Maybe it's not as fun when the weather is bad, though thunderstorms are apparently beautiful to watch out at sea.

Tony takes Ned for a swim. Ned doesn't like swimming, and it's no great surprise, as he hasn't yet worked out that it's best to keep one's mouth above the water when in the sea.

Hasn't quite got the hang of swimming without diving gear

After the sea Ned gets hosed off.

With the inevitable shake that follows

Followed by mad dog syndrome to ensure coat is nice and dirty again! Hurrah!

That done, we meet Marcia for a last lunch for me on the grass up in King's Park, looking down over the lovely city that has been my home for the last few days. It's been lovely, thanks to the gorgeous Marcia and especially Tony, for giving up so much time and being such marvellous hosts.

Goodbye Perth, and thank you Tony and Marcia!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Toooo slow to open comment page!

Tony, Marcia & their dog.
Looks nice!