Friday, August 14, 2015

Perth and the Margaret River region

Western Australian Museum - Maritime

As we get ready for the big trip home (yes, our assignment is coming to an end) we felt strongly that we should not leave the country without having visited the western coast. 

All of our lovely meanderings have been on the east coast – from as far south as Tasmania, to all the way up north - (practically the northern tip of Australia), with great times spent in between those two points. Preparing for a short get-away to the state of Western Australia (WA), we talked to colleagues about the pros and cons of Perth. They spoke to us of a ‘country town’, not to be confused with a big city, and we were somehow left with the impression that it would be less cosmopolitan than the foodie city of Melbourne. However this was far from the case. We only had two nights in Perth, and on both occasions were treated to a really exceptional quality of sophistication in the cooking. 

First sight - the Indian Ocean
One of the big draws for me for going to WA was the Indian Ocean, and while my husband had never seen it, I used to swim in it all the time when we lived in Mauritius I have burned into my retinal memory the image from the movie Tracks, when she first emerges from the desert to wade into the Indian Ocean (btw if you have not seen that movie, I highly recommend it. It is the true story of a woman who walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with just her camels). 
Truthfully, while Perth is a lovely town, there is not a ton of things to do there. We went to the WA Museum, which has several branches and a wonderful show on Aboriginal artists. We also went on both days down to Fremantle, the hipper beach area of Perth. While there we visited the Number 1 TripAdvisor rated destination: the FremantlePrison. Sound like an odd thing to do? We agree. An interesting twist is that this prison was operational until the 1990s. 

Convicts' area
The original quarters for the ‘convicts’ – yes, the ones that were shipped there in boats – were quite appalling, and the tour details all types of things such as the fact that they had to plaster the walls at some point to cut down on the population of fleas and other blood-sucking vermin that lived in the walls and came out to feed on the prisoners. Our tour guide seemed delighted to share with us the fact that they did not have toilets, and each prisoner was given a bucket … and no he was not referring to the old times when the ‘convicts’ were there. Anyway, we found the tour bizarre and somewhat depressing, and seeing the gallows as the grand finale for the tour was just a bit too much for me. 
Busselton Jetty - with tracks visible

We headed out early in the morning for our drive down to the Margaret River region, which is about 3 hours south of Perth.  Along the way we stopped at the famed Busselton jetty. How could we resist stopping to visit the “longest jetty in the southern hemisphere”. Well, yes, it is long. Very long. So long that they hook tourists into paying to sit on a little train to ride out to the end of the jetty. We felt that sort of defeated the purpose, so we walked … almost to the end of it. And then deciding that once you have walked one kilometer of it, the next kilometer really just looks the same, we turned around. We had a nice, but very overpriced, lunch at one of the two restaurants next to the jetty. With hindsight I would have skipped the stop at Busselton and headed straight down to Yalingup, which is where we were staying, since it is so much more interesting and beautiful.
Yallingup - most western view in AU


We booked at the Windmills Break. They were offering a nice package that included lodging and breakfast, which turned out to be terrific. I expect that these types of deals are only available in the ‘winter’ months, since in the other seasons they tell us that they “have more people down there than they have places to put them”. Since the winter weather consists of days mostly in the high 60s or low 70s, we were fine with that. 

The Margaret River area is just plain gorgeous. A wine country that is still very undeveloped with wild calla lilies growing in lush abundance and great mobs of kangaroos lolling around in the fields during the day. We saw mobs of both big reds and western greys. 
'Roos' - big reds
There are so many wonderful things to do in the Margaret River region, I will only attempt a short list. The Caves are a must .... we went to Lake Cave, which has a free floating table structure (see image below) that weighs a couple of tons. It is at least 1.5 million years old and is one of two table structures in the world (the other one is in a cave in France that is not open to the public). Our guide told us that Jewel Cave (not to be confused with the Jewel Cave that is in the US) is petitioning to be the 8th wonder of the world. Not sure they stand much of a chance, but it must be a special place.
Lake Cave free floating table structure
Of course there are the wineries (we had a fabulous lunch at Will's Domain) restaurants (I highly recommend Cape Lodge for dinner) and the beaches, which are jaw-dropping beautiful.
One of the courses at Wills Domain

Meelup Beach - Indian Ocean