Western Australia is a land of superlatives and extremes, so take your time
Like many world-traveling professionals there are a few cities now that I’ve lived in that can easily be called home, but when that inadvertent question comes up here in Saigon— “Where are you from?”—I have to always answer “Perth”, the city I was born in and spent my misguided youth growing up. Perth is Australia’s fourth largest city and is often touted as being the most isolated city on earth because the closest cities, of a million or more inhabitants, are Adelaide, Australia to the east or Jakarta, Indonesia to the north.
Locals in Perth have a laid back attitude to life that can sometimes frustrate outsiders who come to live and work there. Working in Perth they might grumble about the difficulties of making sales or increasing business. To which the local will look at them thoughtfully and ask with a big grin, “You do know what the ‘W.A.’ in Western Australia really stands for, don’t you?”
A puzzled look and a moment of silence.
“You’ve got to Wait Awhile in W.A. before things happen, mate.”
I am returning to the city to see family and friends and have a well- needed rest after a full three years away. Time had certainly allowed Perth to accomplish some surprising new changes. Perth is a mining town whose economy rides booms and busts depending on the commodity prices of rare metals and minerals. So, thanks to money the state received from the high resource prices during China’s rapid economic development in the early 2000s many large-scale infrastructure projects have now been completed in Perth. The AUD$1.36 billion city link urban renewal project has sunk the train station and bus port below ground then above ground added the Perth Arena and Yagan square linking Perth city center with the Northbridge entertainment area. The square is named after the warrior Yagan of the local indigenous Noongar people of the region. A number of good friends I caught up with during my stay suggested we meet at this trendy new location. Enjoying lunch of Oknomiyaki and a draft beer of Sapporo downstairs at the Hiss & Smoke Japanese restaurant, then another afternoon of Summer Pale Ale and a bowl of potato wedges upstairs at the Shy John Brewery.
Perth International airport has been upgraded for AUD$250 million and a new AUD$1.2 billion children’s hospital built in Nedlands. Though the most striking upgrade is by far the foreshore construction of the AUD$440 million, Elizabeth Quay and the brand new 60 thousand seat capacity AUD$1.6 billion, Optus stadium all located on the Swan River. Those swans the river is named after grace the flag and crest of W.A. and aren’t the European white ones people normally think of, but are a lesser known black variety that populate the waterways around the state.
Aussie rules football is ubiquitous to Australia. The game itself is played with an oblong ball on an oval pitch of no fixed dimensions. Trying to take a running bounce of an oblong ball every 15 meters is no mean feat. Much rivalry exists between the two W.A. national teams, the Fremantle Dockers and The West Coast Eagles. This year the Eagles beat Collingwood to take home the country’s “premiership” trophy, which is always played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Victoria.
Cape to Cave to Wine
Further up the Swan River is the fertile Swan Valley, a fantastic spot for a day tour to visit wineries, restaurants and tourist attractions. In W.A. you will never see a koala in the wild because it is only native to the east coast of Australia. So drop in to Caversham Wildlife Park if you still want to see one of Australia’s most iconic marsupials and some other unique critters. The suburb of Guildford is the site of the first British settlement in Perth and hosts many older heritage buildings such as the still operational Guildford Town Post Office and old telephone exchange building built in 1898. Over the road are the heritage listed Guilford Hotel (Pub) and Tindale house, for many years a Devonshire tearoom that has now been converted into a Vietnamese fine dining restaurant, showing the changing international palates of Perth residents.
W.A. has become world famous in the wind surfing and surfing communities. Heading a few hours north of Perth is Lancelin, a small fishing town that catches fish and rock lobsters for the Asian market and attracts professional wind surfers for the Lancelin Ocean Classic. Sand dunes just outside the town have also become a fun place to partake in sand boarding. Nearby is the Pinnicles Nambung National Park, a large expanse of limestone rock formations that stick out of the shifting sands and almost look like an alien moonscape.
The Southwest region is where Perth’s locals often go to escape the heat, consisting of some 23, 970 square km, it produces many world famous gourmet quality products such as fine wines olive oil, truffles, Wagyu beef, dairy products and even chocolates. Over the summer Christmas holidays, Perth can be as hot as 40-45 degrees Celsius, at the same time it is often a much milder 25-30 degrees Celsius down in towns like Margaret River. In 1967, Vasse Felix was the first established winery in the Margaret River region and helped pave the way for the hundreds of wineries now in existence there. The region in a relatively short few decades has become well-known for producing light fragrant Riesling and Chardonnay as well as full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. The Margaret River Chocolate factory is a favorite spot on the wine region tour with three locations; one is its namesake Margaret River, one in the Swan Valley and a retail outlet in Perth on Murray Street. Famous with tourists and locals for the endless spoonful of milk, dark and white chocolate chips that are given out as free samples.
The “Cape to Cape” bush walk is a 123km walk from the lighthouses of Cape Naturalists near Dunsborough to Cape Leeuwin near Augusta. It is a scenic coastal trail along sweeping limestone cliffs and through changing wildflower floral landscapes. The whole walk takes a few days or small sections of the trail can be enjoyed for a few hours near the lighthouses, be on the look out for migrating humpback whales in the Geographe Bay. If you prefer to drive, the old Caves Road winds through tall majestic Karri & Jarrah tree forests and stops at a number of limestone caves, with names like Mammoth Cave owing to its mammoth sized cavern, Jewel Cave because of its jewel like rock formations and Lake Cave due to the surreal lake inside the cavern. If you hear laughing in the forest, it may be the Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree above you.
Visiting the Hamelin Bay Winery in Karridale, not far from the end of Caves Road between Margaret River and Augusta, there is a magnificent view from the winery’s restaurant on the hill looking down over the vineyards to black swans frolicking on the tree-lined lake in the valley below. The winery’s chef prepared Thai style seafood noodles paired with a glass of Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, a silver medalist wine at the Perth Royal Show, and the chicken schnitzel paired with their 2017 Rampant Red wine, gold trophy winner at the Royal Melbourne Show. Each year every major city in Australia holds a Royal Show, an agricultural fair to judge and exhibit Australia’s finest livestock and produce. Prestigious wine competitions are held at these Royal Shows and Hamelin Bay Winery has achieved a number of awards at various Royal Shows across Australia.
In W.A. you need to wait awhile to achieve your professional goals, but as a traveler it’s a great place to stay awhile and experience a relaxing stress-free holiday of breathtakingly extraordinary natural scenery, clean pollution- free air and easy carefree living. Tours can be arranged or hire a car or camper van to drive around the state at your own leisure.