“You’re emigrating to Perth?” I was speechless – after all it is the other side of the world. This was the news my dear friend announced last year. I realised that I was experiencing what many people around the country were feeling as their friends and family shipped out to find a new and better life abroad. On the bright side I had the premise for a new novel – all I had to do now was go there. But this was one trip that I wasn’t getting to take on my own – my husband, 11 year old son and eight year old daughter had never been to Australia and said they were coming too.
With the Emirates one-stop route through Dubai, Perth has never been so accessible for the Irish traveller. The style and service on the luxury airline are reminders of air travel of the past with all the technological advances of the present day. Economy passengers can enjoy private entertainment systems – the kids played computer games and I had the luxury of watching back to back episodes of Downtown Abbey for ten hours from Dubai. My son cleaned the plate after his dish of cannelloni on the flight and asked if he could stay on board a little longer!
The great thing about travelling to a place where you are meeting locals is that you are immediately told of ‘the best places’ to go. I like my luxury and culture, the kids like action – my husband likes his sport so we filled our two week visit with a mix for all.
Something worth considering before taking that trip, Perth is one of the most expensive cities in Australia and open wallet surgery may be in order after your return. A side order of chips in the gastro pub The Rose and Crown, Guildford will set you back 10 dollars at lunchtime and a sirloin steak 39 dollars– that’s the guts of forty euros. Portions however are big and we learned to share mains.
After two days with our friends in the hills of Kalamunda, we took an apartment at a basic apartment complex in South Perth which was close to a busy highway but an excellent location for sightseeing. The Broadwater Apartments had a good swimming pool which was a must for our children as temperatures in February frequently reach the high thirties and forties. However we were right beside the ferry from South Perth to the CBD (Central Business District) which was the most desirable way to commute to the city centre. Cost was less than a dollar each way and a pleasurable trip whether taken in the daytime or as the sun sets with the lights of the city skyscrapers and the famous Bell Tower sparkling ahead.
South Perth hosts the restaurant with the loveliest view from ground level. Cocos is the Aussie equivalent of the Unicorn in Dublin where the media and press people like to hang out for late lunches on a Friday afternoon. As the city lights up the al fresco tables set under large umbrellas are romantic and atmospheric – even with the kids.
South Perth is home to the zoo and it was marvellous for the kids to see the variety of marsupials on offer – much more compact and child oriented than its European counterparts, Perth Zoo had a fabulous carousel and interactive play areas as we paraded the grounds. We learned about numbats, Tazmanian devils and our favourite were the Quokkas. These cat sized marsupials resemble mini kangaroos with rat like tails and faces – they are abundant on a small island called Rottnest which is a forty minute ferry ride from Freemantle. Once an aborigine prison and reformatory site, Rottnest Island is now a haven for families and stag parties that invade the island in the summer season.
A subplot thickened at the back of my mind and I told my family Rottnest was our next stop. The ferry wasn’t cheap and the limited accommodation is good but because most trippers stay for only the day sleeping over is pricey too. We stayed at the Rottnest Lodge hotel which is part of the Karma resorts chain. It was weirdly colonial set amongst delightful stores and the famous Rottnest bakery – a pasty from there is a must. Don’t be perturbed as you step out of the hotel pool to find a Quokka basking on your beach bag or sniffing around your cocktail. My daughter loved them so much she wanted to bring one home – even after I explained that they carry over one hundred strains of salmonella poisoning. The kids (and dads) favourite was the inflatable waterpark at the edge of the beach – set amongst the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, I was happy to rest on the powder soft sand and watch.
We ate sumptuously at Aristos restaurant – garlic mussels to die for and scampi and fish that melted in our mouths. The kids had a large playground right beside the deck where we ate and as night fell the trees lit up with tiny white fairy lights that mingled with the perfect starry sky above our heads.
Next morning we woke like the famous five would have on Kirrin Island – we were ready for adventure. We hired bicycles and got a map and started our trek to Porcupine Bay where the snorkelling is extra special – it didn’t disappoint and rounded off our visit to the island perfectly.
But we had to get back to the mainland and our ferry dropped us at Fremantle, home of the fabulous markets revamped in the seventies and now hosting over 150 unique stalls. The kids devoured the ice-cream because it was another scorcher – the summers have become hotter and longer in Perth which did limit what we could do with comfort.
We stayed in Fremantle for a couple of days where Cicerellos fish and chip shop has been part of the harbour since 1903 and such a landmark I decided it had to go into a scene in my book. We weren’t disappointed and took a ride on the ferris wheel afterwards. The Gallery Suites on High Street are not cheap but offer excellent accommodation with swimming pool, hot tub and a central location in Fremantle. We stayed there two nights because I was ready for a bit of culture and history in the midst of all this swimming and action adventure. Fremantle prison tour takes the best part of two hours and we were shown the inmates accommodation in great detail. There was an exhibition of art by current inmates in the gallery and I found it incredibly spooky – my guide later informed that certain parts of the prison are allegedly haunted which didn’t make me feel any better. But you could pick up a fine piece of art for anything from sixty bucks and the aborigine art was particularly well executed, if you will pardon the expression.
North of Perth the waters around Scarborough can be treacherous but the beach is raked everyday and the sand white and grainy. We passed the exclusive shire of Peppermint Grove on our way there and with such a wonderful name I stole it for the title of my novel. Close by is Cottesloe Beach, the home of the iconic Indiana Tearooms which was the setting for actor, Heath Legers memorial service. Not as pricey as I expected either but you do have to book in advance and the view won’t disappoint. We settled for a takeaway from the chipper downstairs and ate them on the grass with the countless local families who do this as part of the lifestyle in Perth.
You can’t leave Perth without having a picnic in Kings Park. The kids adored the distractions around the Anzac memorial and any evening in summer you will find hundreds of families enjoy a picnic around the garden of remembrance lit by the eternal flame for Australian soldiers who have died in the world wars.
We were packing in a lot but there was more and a lunch at the Swan Valley was an adult indulgence but the kids behaved impeccably. You can sample the local wines and pick your favourite to accompany lunch. The vineyards hold host to rock concerts and events in the summer.
Our friends insisted we had to the action north of the coastline and the purpose-built Hillary’s, Boat Harbour. Filled with delicious shops and restaurants it hosts a waterpark and sheltered beach and the award wining number one bar in Australia. One of the best attractions is the Aquarium where the kids were able touch pet turtles, urchins and baby sharks.
Our friends hosted barbeques (aka barbies) and insisted we couldn’t go home without seeing Lake Leschenaultia. We were glad they did because as we drove through Kalamunda National Park we saw our first kangaroo hopping around in the wild. The excitement was palpable and waiting for us at the lake was an abundance of unusual birds, reptiles and marsupials living as nature intended. But the two weeks had flown and we were just about ready for home when my daughter admitted that she missed Penneys – you don’t go to Perth for the shopping or fashion. This didn’t bother my son and husband however, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming on to our Emirates Boeing 777 as we left our dear friends behind. The bittersweet taste of emigration had certainly given me food for thought and the theme and setting for my book. And the best part of all was revisiting the special time that we spent with our friends as I wrote it.
Michelle Jackson’s fifth novel, 5 Peppermint Grove, set in Perth, Western Australia is now available on Amazon.com