Perth on your RTW



It’s cheaper to get to than the rest of Australia: OK not by much, but flights to Perth tend to be £50 to £100 cheaper than flights to other Australian cities. Also you can now fly direct.

The beaches: Think Sydney’s the only Aussie city with good beaches? Well think again. Perth is pressed up against the Indian Ocean, and a line of gorgeous sandy beaches stretches up the west of the city. Scarborough and Cottesloe are the most popular, but there’s not exactly a shortage.

Fremantle: It’s very hard not to like Fremantle, which is technically a separate city surrounded by Perth, but to all intents and purposes it’s a coastal suburb. It’s one with tremendous charm, dotted with colonial-era buildings, seemingly endless strips of cafés and far more than its fair share of microbrewers. 
If you can do just one thing while there, make it a tour of the Old Fremantle Prison, which offers up gory tales of prison life and a heart-stopping moment at the gallows where murderers were once hanged.

Rottnest Island: A short ferry ride offshore from Fremantle, Rotto is justifiable Perth’s favourite day out. An island of little beaches, old World War II forts and blissful cycling/ walking tracks, it’s a marvellous place to spend a sunny day. It’s also the best place in the world to see quokkas, the extraordinarily cute little marsupials who hop around the island trying to snaffle picnics.

King’s Park: The gargantuan green space that sprawls to the west of Perth city centre is one the finest urban parks in the world. King’s Park offers tremendous views out over the city and the Swan River, while the salmon-tinged gum trees lining the main road into it have an unimpeachable majesty. Whether you want to stroll in forest, sunbathe on the grass or visit the Botanic Gardens, there are few finer spots in Australia.

Cuddle a wombat: The Caversham Wildlife Park in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs is home to Big Bubs, a portly wombat who’s happy to sit there with her handler while tourists come up and make a fuss over her. Try doing it without declaring you want a wombat to take home as a pet. It’s impossible.

Wine and boats: Perth is built around the Swan River, and you’d have to be a warped individual not to enjoy a boat ride up and down it. The best cruises head upriver to the Swan Valley, which is handily lined with wineries. So you sit on a boat, go to a few vineyards for sampling, then come back on the boat with a ruddy-cheeked smile on your face. As days out go, that’s not too bad…

You can get Perth included as a stopover on your RTW here

 

Wombats

 

David Whitley attempts to conquer the rapids in Kangaroo Valley, hoping he can add a wombat to his collection of goannas.

 

 

You have to admire the Australian attitude towards health and safety at times. Sat in a car park by the castle-like Hampden Bridge, I’m told that I shouldn’t take anything valuable in the kayak with me. “The bit at the back isn’t 100% waterproof,” I’m instructed. But what on earth should I do with my car keys? “Leave ‘em on top of the back tyre. No-one will nick it round here.”

 

It’s fitting that this advice comes from a man who’s about to rent me his kayak, let me head downriver for a few kilometres, battle the odd rapid and meet him at a camping ground at the other end. Anywhere else, I’d be asked if I’d used a kayak before, given some level of instruction and gently babied through the rapids by an experience guide. In Kangaroo Valley (a couple of hours south of Sydney), I’m allowed to pay when I return, and just go and enjoy myself.

 

Pushing off into the Kangaroo River, it becomes immediately clear what an excellent idea this is. The current will probably take me all the way to the designated meeting point without me lifting a finger. The paddle quickly becomes an object reserved for making sure I’m facing the right direction and the occasional guilt-prompted sliver of tokenistic exercise.

 

The river is just beautiful. Trees clamber up the steep hills to either side, and large boulders make incursions from the banks. They’re worth paying closer attention to. While there may not be any kangaroos living by the river, there are plenty of enormous lizards. I double-take as I see my first one – a chunky great goanna, sat with his head up in meerkat-ish alertness, basking in the sun’s warmth. I’m consumed with glee, thinking I’ve seen something special. It quickly turns out that I haven’t. There’s a big goanna on pretty much every rock as I paddle slowly downstream. There are some slightly - but not much – smaller lizards scuttling along the banks and there’s even the odd snake taking a swim in the water.

 

I appear to have entered a reptile wonderland, but the creature I’m really interested in is being rather elusive. Wombats – the tank-like furry pig-bears with a penchant for shuffling about and generally looking extremely clumsy – are nocturnal creatures. If you spot them during the day, they’re probably poorly or dead by the side of the road. But, from the river, the traces of them are easily identifiable. Wombats are the biggest burrowing animals on the planet, and their holes make sizable dents in the river bank. There are scores of them, tunnelled into the earth, and I keep pulling over to see if I can catch a glimpse of a wombat inside. On several occasions I think I may have got a peek at one having a sleep, but I’m never quite certain. I wish they’d come and swim alongside the kayak rather than the snakes...

 

Of course, it all gets rather more interesting when I hit the rapids. They’re only baby rapids but the water’s still flowing pretty fast, and there are all manner of rocks to crash into and scrape the bottom of the kayak along. It comes as something of a jolt. I’m going to have to paddle and steer hard to avoid coming a cropper. I splash away frantically, trying to forge some sort of safe course without clattering into an enormous boulder. It just about works, but that I’ve been allowed to tackle this through trial and error is astonishing.

 

It’s quite the experience, however. Sun out, wildlife on the banks, and a spot of adrenalin rolled into the tranquillity – I’d be hard-pushed to find a more perfect way to spend the morning.

 

 

 

By David Whitley

 

Gold Coast

 

David Whitley reins in his prejudices about frightful commoners, and throws himself into Australia’s mass tourism hotspot.

There are many ways to see the Gold Coast, in fact it’s doubtful that any method of milking the tourist dollar or yen has not yet been stumbled upon, but the Aquaduck has to be the most bizarre. A former military amphibious assault vehicle, it has been dressed up to look like a cartoon duck. It’s the size of a bus, it travels on both land and water, and most importantly, it quacks. Which if you speak duck is extremely handy, as with the motor running and the wind howling through the back, you’ve got no hope of hearing what’s going on in any other language.

It’s the sort of thing that inherently belongs on the Gold Coast, Australia’s primary domestic holiday destination. It stands for many different things to many different people, but one thing it is not is boring. Strapped in, we make our way through the streets of Surfers Paradise, the main hub of this packed coastal strip. In a way, they characterise what the stereotypical Gold Coast is all about. Cheap and nasty souvenir shops line up directly opposite icons of ostentatious wealth such as Louis Vuitton, whilst a wooden kangaroo and emu dart around the tackiest clock face in the world.

 

 

It’s not until the somewhat surreal tour gets to the beach that you start to realise that you should really look beyond crowded skyline though. No matter how many high-rises there are around it, no matter how much neon you rig up, you can’t take away the fact that is a stunning stretch of sand. The name Surfers Paradise is not some ironic twist along the lines of redheads being called Blue or gangly basketball players dubbed Shorty. As sunbathers dot around on the shore, wetsuit-clad wave enthusiasts pack the ocean, crashing down on break after break. Surfing is almost a way of life here, and it’s no coincidence that many of the world’s best come from this south-eastern corner of Queensland.

It’s easy to forget amongst the glittering and glaring tourist attractions that it was the simple things that made this part of Queensland the nation’s primary holiday strip. Turn a blind eye to the development, and you’ve got a beautiful place. The Gold Coast, believe it or not, is more bio-diverse than Kakadu National Park. The rainforests of the hinterland, the meeting of tropical and sub-tropical waters in the sea; it all mixes for a heady cocktail.

Of course, the development is there though, and it’s impossible to pretend that the natural beauty isn’t somewhat sullied by it. While to the left you’ve got a truly gorgeous beach and lilting palms, to your right there is a constant stream of ugly motels and apartments. It’s testament to Mother Nature that these are just a mild blot rather than a complete ruination.

Before reaching the boat ramp which will take this trip onto a whole different plane, we pass Seaworld, the giant theme aquarium. Fittingly, there is a sign on the roundabout next to it informing us all that we should all save as much water as we can, because we’re in a drought, you know. Seaworld is a Gold Coast institution, and is one of many theme parks that help make the area a family favourite. It’s a cross between a fairground, theatre and aquarium, with everything from performing seals and the chance to swim with dolphins to rides that encourage the regurgitation of popcorn. It’s extremely Americanised, but the kids don’t care when the sea lions are pulling off their tricks.

As we head past, we reach the water. Apparently there is only one way to safely enter the water, and make the Duck swim rather than waddle; that is at full pelt. Revved up, the ex-army vehicle charges down the ramp, creating the sort of spray not seen since Luciano Pavarotti attempted the high dive. We are sailing though, and the waterways of the Gold Coast add another, often overlooked, aspect to it. The snaking converted swamps here are nine times longer than the canals of Venice. Again, the reaching for the sky on every spare bit of land can’t disguise the natural wonders here, and all around are intriguing contrasts. The pretty to the ugly, the rich to the poor, the frenetic to the lazy. A towering, gold-plated hotel sits in front of a grubby college building; a powerboat rushes past a balcony on which an orange woman lies reading a gossip magazine; glimmering sunshine over the water meets the dark clouds hanging over the land.

A combination of awe and pure jealousy flashes across the passengers’ faces as we pass the homes of the squillionaires. The sort of money on show is astounding; every home-owner here could probably own their own fleet of Aquaducks, should they so desire. Moored outside every home is a yacht. They’re all gleaming white, of course, and probably have their own postcodes. It all makes you want to dig out your keys, lean over the side and scratch away with malevolent glee.

The flashy one-upmanship knows no bounds, though, and amongst all the barely-used status vessels stands a shimmering silver helicopter, perched on top of a jetty converted into a helipad. The owner probably employs three full-time staff members to keep it clean, let alone pilot it. It’s not just a playground for the millionaires, however. Amongst all the elitist grumbling about tack, overdevelopment, spoiling nature and being rampantly commercial, there is no denying that kids love the Gold Coast. There is so much here for them to do, whether we care to approve of the activities or not.

Whilst the commentary is inaudible and the Aquaduck tour nothing more than a quick flit around town with a clever gimmick, children don’t see with that level of cynicism. Called up by the captain, a small lad can’t disguise his joy as he’s given the chance to steer the daft cartoon bus/boat under the bridge and towards the up ramp. This is really what it’s all about, just going with the fun, no matter how forced it feels.

The sheer array of attractions available, enticing or not, becomes clear as we return to dry land. Space simulators, the tallest residential building in the world, shopping centres, water slides, you name it. Flashing and bleeping away out of the window is a horrific-looking beast called a Vomatron, in which people are thrown through the air as if strapped to a windmill sail. Someone else is leaping from a high platform attached to a bungy rope, others bounding to the heavens on an industrial-sized trampoline. There’s crazy croquet, Egyptian-themed mini golf, and all manner of big screens you can shoot at with plastic guns. Should you have that child-like energy and deep pocketed parents, you never have to stop. Riding a duck around town is one option in a thousand, and that, as they say, is entertainment.

 

 

 

By David Whitley

The Cool Street Art of Newtown

 

 

On a wall in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Newtown is a vast mural, featuring the face of Dr Martin Luther King Junior above his famous words, “I have a dream.”

To the left is a painting of the world as seen from space, while beneath is the black, red and gold design of the Aboriginal flag.

On a wall facing the mural is a more recent piece of Aboriginal art. The text here expands on Dr King’s statement by adding, “We have the Dreaming.”

“It’s great to see the conversation the different parts of the mural are having with each other,” says Lily, our guide on Culture Scouts’ Sydney Street Art tour, and an artist herself.

Newtown has long been a hotbed of street art, from the political statements of the 1980s to the more playful murals of the present day.

We see a fine example of the latter as we move to Fintan Magee’s mural which stretches down the side of a commercial building, featuring a woman trying to listen to herself via two cans connected by tangled string. There may not be an obvious message here (something about not knowing your true self, perhaps?), but it’s a dynamic piece of art.

It becomes clear that much of today’s street art is legal, some the product of a local council scheme which matches building owners with artists who can decorate their external walls.

We see some great examples in a car park, with one wall covered with the faces of angel statues from a cemetery; and another with a reclining woman surrounded by cats. Local legend says this real-life cat lady was Charles Dickens’ inspiration for the character of the reclusive Miss Havisham in his novel Great Expectations.

 

 

 

As Lily points out, these pieces show different painting methods used by artists – one having been mapped precisely on a computer first, the other created on the spot with a spray can.

It’s at this point we notice a commercial piece of street art, an image painted by a corporation to promote its products, and we tut accordingly. It couldn’t be more different in intent to what we find on the interior walls of a nearby private car park: illegal tags and some impressive edgy murals.

This kind of art is painted by crews late at night, says Lily, and they sometimes sabotage the work of their rivals.

Art is everywhere as we walk onward: animals rendered in a traditional Aboriginal style; a black and white mural blending nature and geometry; and the message “LOVE IS THE ANSWER” which was painted at the top of a wall by an artist hanging from its roof.

At the far end of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, formerly a cemetery, is a big mural of three blue-skinned women titled Wyrd Sisters, presumably inspired by Shakespeare’s witches.

On Albermarle Street, Lily is keen to show us a vibrant work by an all-female crew, featuring three colourful women on a suburban brick wall. On a nearby pub is a blokey counterpoint, a large painting of former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, shirtless and holding a beer.

There’s plenty more to see, including an art-strewn street just around the corner from a police station. But before we go for a beer at hip local brewery Young Henrys, the last word is spoken by a soaring mural on King Street. It depicts a couple piled on each other’s backs, trying to grasp a home which is floating up out of reach.

As an artistic statement on the gentrification of Newtown and its resulting stratospheric house prices, it can’t be beaten.

Tour: The Sydney Street Art Tour costs $59 (and includes a craft beer).

Accommodation: The Novotel Sydney Central near Central Station is an easy train ride from Newtown

Tim Richards was hosted by Culture Scouts and Accor Hotels.

You can get Sydney included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world

 

Published by Stuart Lodge

 

 

It’s not so grim up north

  

The kestrel soars on the updraft, slightly frantic wings betraying a sense of cool. Suddenly it dives down, presumably having spotted a skink on the rocks. Bad luck and RIP, little lizard.

Theoretically, we’re standing on the Long Reef headland looking for whales. They migrate up the coast in June and July, coming back between August and October. But in the absence of the big boys, it becomes clear how much wildlife there is, sneaking into the gaps between the flash seaside houses of Sydney’s northern beaches.

For most visitors to Sydney, there is no real call to head north of the harbour. Perhaps the ferry to Manly, then back again in the evening. Or an afternoon outing to Taronga Zoo. Beyond such tickboxes, there’s little apparent reason to venture upwards. It’s not just visitors either – the harbour provides such a natural barrier that those living south of it tend to regard northern Sydney residents as “living overseas�?.

Damien McClellan, who runs Eco Treasures Tours, is Northern Beaches born-and-bred, however. And he makes a living of showing off the bits that many people don’t bother to go to. The beaches themselves are clankingly obvious – anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see they’re better than the more lauded ones in the eastern suburbs – but it’s what’s in-between that proves to be more interesting.

 

 

The Long Reef headland is a mini-nature reserve, and an excellent indication of how the coast works around here. It is not one of the more dramatic headlands – it offers a relatively gentle, tapered slope down to the crashing Tasman Sea. Brown sediment in the water shows how the rock is weathered away. It’s a gradual, relatively smooth process, due to the type of rock. The big sandstone cliffs on other headlands work differently – they’re cut away at from underneath and eventually the overhangs crash into the water.

“The indigenous people of the area divided the year up into seven seasons,�? says Damien, reaching for the wattle plant. “When it flowers in September, for example, it usually coincides with mullet fish running. It’s a good indicator of a change of season - and plentiful food.�?

Looking down towards Dee Why beach, Damien explains how the rhythms of nature affect the entrance to the small lagoon lying behind it. “Small waves gradually build up sand and close the gap. Then a storm comes along and knocks it down again.�?

He’s a man who spends a lot of time studying waves. Surfing is his real love, and the Northern Beaches has a strong surfing scene. Narrabeen is arguably the most beloved hotspot, but the best breaks can vary from day to day.

The surest sign of dedication is when someone prefers to surf. Logic would dictate that the summer months and warmer water are the best bet, but McLellan spends more time on his board in the winter. The prevailing winds are more conducive to consistent breaks, and if that means donning a wetsuit, so be it.

Being close to the sea is a fundamental part of Northern Beaches life. The inconveniences of getting into the city are happily traded off for the chance to hear the waves crashing. The further up the coast you go, the more detached from the rest of Sydney it feels. There are fewer commuters and more self-employed businesspeople working from home. The houses, some bought by rich blow-ins, others passed down through the family from the days where this was a cheap place to live, get ever more spectacular.

It all ends at Palm Beach, better known to international audiences as Summer Bay, the fictional setting of Home And Away. The gloriously long stretch of sand goes up to the lighthouse on the Barrenjoey Headland, while the Bouddi National Park on the Central Coast can be found on the horizon.

The place has a smug contentment about it, the knowledge that it’s about as far from hardship as it’s possible to get without entering the world of private helicopters and superyachts. Novice surfers attack the waves at the relatively tame southern end of the beach, dozens of dogs walk their owners and residents with seemingly not much to perturb them graze on flat whites and eggs benedict.

It is at the same time very separate from Sydney and the absolute embodiment of it. If you’ve got the money, the Northern Beaches have the dream. Well, unless you’re a soon-to-be devoured skink, anyway.

 

 by David Whitley