SW Day 2 – tall trees

Somewhat more busy today. The usual “you’re on a tour – get up” early rise for breakfast and into the bus for a quick squizz around Augusta. A replica of one of the early ships is stood on chocks not far from the hostel. This tiny thing was sailed from Canada to the UK and then to the east coast of Oz before bringing a boatload of people from there to Augusta. Impressive for a ship so small.

The Gap and Natural Bridge a few miles out of town are worth a visit. The overcast windy weather made these formations all the more spectacular as waves pounded off, under and over them. We didn’t stop for too long as the schedule was quite busy.

Our next brief stop was Demark (seriously) for a leg stretch, then another pitstop to walk along a beautiful stretch of coastline as the weather continued to blast us with windchill. It didn’t stop some people (not in our tour group) from having a swim, though. Nutters.

Bob gave us another pitstop at the Bartholemews Meadery. Here they make a gazillion things, including wine, from honey. I was particularly taken with the spicy wine which is best drunk warm. Shame my rucksack’s full to bursting or I’d have been tempted!

To burn off the alcohol, we headed into the Valley of the Giants. In here is a tree-top walk, a series of suspended walkways taking you up into the forest canopy some 40m above the ground. Not for the faint hearted (and well done to one of the Swiss girls sho does have a problem with heights for managing it), the walkways and support columns all wobble quite a bit. An amazing view, though I’m sure it would be better in sunnier weather when the birds weren’t in hiding.

Lunch was next in a little layby surrounded by greedy magpies. Then we headed for the really tall trees…

In the forests around the South West there are strategically placed trees chosen for their height. These monsters are usually over 60m tall and have tree houses perched on the top so that non-height-fearing watchers could keep an eye out for forest fires. To get to the top of them one has to clamber up a load of metal stakes hammered into the tree in a spiral. There’s a chicken wire cage around the steps, but it looks flimsy – and there’s no protection from slipping through the large gaps between the spikes.

There’s no sign up anywhere saying that anyone’s fallen through and died, so I assume they haven’t. I know I didn’t. Scared the bejabbers out of me, though. I found that a good way to ensure you don’t look down is to get an Australian woman with a great bum to go up ahead of you. Of course, this doesn’t help on the way down.

Last stop of the day was our cottage in the forest outside of Pemberton. A large shack outside housed a barbequeue and an open fire where we sat and drank beer – and ate food – until late in the evening.

SW Day 1 – to Augusta

A stupidly early rise to catch the bus for the trip and thanks again to Mel and Matt for driving me into Perth. I would have caught the train but as it was a public holiday, the first one would have got me into the city over 30 minutes too late!

On the bus, I ws introduced to Bob the driver and the two Swiss girls I’d met on Kangaroo Island! Small world, indeed. The mix on the bus this trip was: 2 x English, 1 x American, 2 x Aussie (one tourist, one driver), 2 x Swiss, 1 x Japanese and 1 x Malaysian.

Because of the public holiday, traffic and so on Bob announced that we’d be doing the tour “backwards”. So instead of having a busy first day and the last day being a long haul drive back to Perth, we’d be getting the driving out of the way first. This suited everyone as we were all knackered from lack of sleep. What I saw of the scenery between naps was pleasant enough and Bob was great to talk to at the rest stops. Sadly, the weather sucked, so the places we stopped at looked stormy rather than lush or idilic. This actually appealed to Bob as he always sees places bathed in sunshine, so it made a change to see them grey and rough.

We really only had a couple of stops for the loo and lunch on the way to Albany so there’s not a lot to report. The hostel was great, though. Empty other than ourselves and a small handful of other people, but it just struck me as somewhere that would be huge fun with a larger group.

After dinner we headed for the London bar along the road as they dished out “Buy One Get One Free” beer vouchers at the hostel. Several pints later I was curled up and not snoring despite what the others in the dorm may say.

Fremantle and footie

Quite a hectic day once we all got of our collective backsides and left the house. We started by popping into Perth centre for some shopping. I decided to spend a decent amount of money on some walking boots and the ones I got seem pretty good. Much better soles for walking on rocks than the $40 trainers I’ve been making do with recently. They get punctured the first time you walk anywhere off the pavement.

We then went to Fremantle Prison, one of 42 National Heritage sites in Australia. The prison only closed down in 1991 so it’s not in bad nick (pun intended). There are four tours available – a general walk around, one concentrating on escape attempts, another taking in the tunnels and a night-time torchlight tour. These vary from 1 1/2 hours upwards and you can buy tickets for more than one at a time to save money. You don’t have to take the tours on the same day, just purchase the tickets. You have two weeks to use them.

Regular tours set off every thirty minutes with around twenty people in them and cost $16. The tunnels tour is nearer 2 1/2 hours. We just did the regular one and it was pretty entertaining. Our guide showed us round most of the main buildings from the “check in” through the exercise yards, various different cells, chapel, gallows room, administration offices and kitchens.

Disabled access is good throughout, though the chapel is up some stairs which you can’t get up with a wheelchair. Instead, there is a guidebook which the staff provide to those who can’t manage the steps showing all the areas they can’t see along with all the information and trivia dished out up there.

There is a series of cells in one of the blocks which have been done out in various standards to show how the living conditions changed from decade to decade. Painting adorn some walls and were allowed in the last few months of the prison’s active life. One cell has several pieces of work as the prisoner incarcerated there was adjudged to be high risk and the painting therapeutic for him.

A replica of the frame used to tie prisoners up while they were whipped has been erected in one of the yards. Punishment was with the cat o’ nine tails as that’s what was used on the ships that brought the convicts over. The “cat” changed as the years went by. Early ones had metal shot at the end of the tails which gouged and ripped flesh. Later versions just had knotted leather which cut the skin on the back, but didn’t pull lumps out. How nice.

Laden with information on prison life, we drove (very slowly and carefully and making sure we paid the parking charges in full) to the Roundhouse, the oldest standing building in Western Australia. It was opened in 1831 and served as a very small and basic prison until the main jail was built in 1850. There was a wedding taking place on the lawn outside in the sunshine. Nice place for it!

In Fremantle itself we took a wander down the streets. One main one was closed off and designated a Smoke Free zone so that crowds could surround the numerous street entertainers without breathing filth in. A sign of how much better Oz is than home is the fact that people paid attention to the signs. Not one ciggy anywhere.

I had the most delicious gelato double-cone (wild berry and passion fruit) and a half pint of Emu at the bar in the Fremantle Market. This is a great little watering hole – and “little” is very descriptive. Live bands play all the time, essentially just busking within the bar, and the beer is good – and very reasonably priced.

Mel and Matt dropped me off at the Oval for the West Coast vs Collingwood game. One of Matt’s old work colleagues had scored a handful of free tickets and I’d somehow managed to be gifted one of them. I was wearing my usual Newcastle top so was effectively a Collingwood fan as they also play in black and white stripes. The thing is, in Oz, supporting Collingwood is tantamount to being a ManUre supporter at home. They’re the team everyone who knows nbthing about the sport support, and none of the fans come from their region. Having said that, Collingwood haven’t won anything in as long as Newcastle United so there the similarity ends.

The game was a lot tighter than the Adelaide / Essendon one I saw last week with West Coast just pipping Collingwood by 12 points at the end, coming from a deficite at half time. Pretty entertaining though I’m still not 100% on some of the rules. During the first half, clouds rolled in over the stadium so heavy and black they looked like an oil fire. This illusion was added to by the deepest red sunset I have ever seen – the light only just peeking through some holes in the cloud. Stunning.

Another difference with the football here is that a season ticket (or “membership”) offers a significant saving over buying individual tickets. My season ticket at home barely saved me a tenner on match-by-match purchase. In addition, it includes travel to and from home games on public transport. Newcastle offer this in the form of an addition pass which – surprise – costs money. I don’t know what other clubs offer.

This is apparently common with many event tickets in the Perth area – festivals, concerts and other sporting events. My single match ticket has “includes public transport to/from match” on the front of it. So a ticket which probably cost less than $30 included anything up to $8 worth of transport as well. Superb.

Using said ticket I made my way to the Carlisle hotel where I’d actually first met Mel. She was out with one of her brothers, her b/f, one of her friends and the usual crowd of regulars, some of whom I met last time. Stella was on special at $5 a pint so I made the most of that and enjoyed a few bevvies before heading “home” and… staying up till 4:30am on the internet.

Some things never change, even when I’m travelling.


Two things to get excited about: I’ve managed to score a free ticket for the Eagles vs Magpies (Perth vs Collingwood) game for tomorrow courtesy of Mel’s boyfriend. Thanks, Matt! Hopefully I’ll make it there in time to see the whole game this time…

I’ve also just spotted an update to the Graspop Festival lineup – and Papa Roach are playing. Whoop!

Today’s been pretty cool as well. The Aussies do – it’s a stereotype, but it’s true – use anything as an excuse for a barbequeue. It’s Easter weekend and I’ve been off to one in a lovely local park with Mel, Jacqui and the family. Along with Mel’s two brothers, I discovered that carrying a puppy around does attract women. Sadly, they always seem to be under 13 or over 50… Bugger.

The troop have taxi’d off to another BBQ at a house elsewhere for the evening, but I’ve cried off as I have a ton of work to do on this walk. Plus, only getting four hours’ sleep last night has knocked me for six! One of the kittens is hyperactive and decided to spend the night playing with any part of me that was sticking out of the bed covers. Cute, but exhausting!


Well, I’m safely ensconced at Mel’s house with free interwebnet and a handy nearby rail link to the city centre. I have a little schitzu squished up next to my thigh and the “untouchable” cat keeps trying to sit on my lap. The new labrador pup keeps trying to chew the laptop cable. I’ve not had much to do the last couple of days, so I decided to make up for not frequenting the cinemas in recent weeks.

I’ve seen five films in two days.

Mind you, I’ve not paid more than $10 a ticket for any of them. Got to love cheap cinemas. Although the $5 one in Canberra’s still the cheapest I’ve seen outside of Asia.

OK, upcoming plans first and film reviews second. Check out the schedule down the right hand column as I’ve pretty much decided where I’m going and what I’m doing. My only slight problem is getting a Vietnamese visa somewhere quickly enough to ensure I have it to make the flight on the date I want. I don’t have time here to mail my passport off (especially over Easter), and I only plan on 2 days in Singapore which may not be enough time to get the passport done in person – so I don’t want to book a flight in advance. Grr.

Possible solution: fly to Laos first and sort the passport there while I explore Vientiane; or to Cambodia and have it organised in Phnom Penh. I guess I better start checking out flight prices from Singapore.

As far as the next week or so go, though, it’s all busy. Tomorrow I’m being treated to a BBQ in the park near the city and I’ll spend a good couple of hours walking around the place. There are some nice statues and monuments in there from what I’ve been told.

Over the weekend I’m spending one day with Mel – who’s going to take me round Fremantle – and one day with her mum Jacqui – who’s going to take me round north Perth.

Monday morning will see me jump onto another bus for a 3-day trip around the SW corner, getting back late on Wednesday. I’ll then have Thursday daytime to recover before the Slayer gig that evening and my flight to Darwin on Friday 13th (which is also my mum’s birthday).

Back in Darwin I’m really looking forward to seeing my old bunkie Esther, the still-21-year-old Sharna and my French island-travelling-companion Delphine. Should make for a good few days before the Singapore flight.

I also think I’m firming dates up for the round-Europe trip around The Walk. Having spent a good few hours in Borders going through the Lonely Planet books, I’m getting a hankering to check out some of the Eastern European countries. I may do these between Prague and Italy. Just a night in Bratislava another in Sarajevo and so on.

Talking of Borders, I very nearly bought Europe on a Shoestring as they’re doing 20% off all the Lonely Planet books at the moment. The thing is, I did the maths and with the discount the book’s barely a pound cheaper than the full UK cover price! Books over here are not cheap. I’ll dig out a second hand one somewhere…

OK, films. I’ll rattle through these quickly as they’re not really travel-related! I hopped between the local Hoyts (big chain) and the Palace (local old-fashioned art-deco cinema with as much legroom as a Bangladeshi bus). Both charge $9 before 5pm on weekdays, and the Palace is still only $10 after that and at weekends.

Meet the Robinsons was well worth the money. It’s also the first time since I was a kid that I can remember seeing a Mickey Mouse cartoon before the main feature. Said film was great on both kiddie and adult levels with a huge amount of thought gone into the little details. The “bad guy” is like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‘ Sheriff of Nottingham taken to extremes.

The Good Shepherd was overlong, convoluted and rather dull. If it had been around 45 minutes shorter, I’d have enjoyed it. Maybe.

TMNT was pretty good. Some outstanding fight scenes and cracking dialogue. Eastman and Laird have a lot to be thanked for. The fully-CGI work has given what was a floundering franchise a new lease of life. I’m just wondering if it has the title TMHT in the UK?

300 was fairly enjoyable. Storywise a little thin, but visually stunning. Not as awe-inspiring as Sin City (from the same brain-pan), but that’s not surprising considering how superb that was. What is surprising is that despite the grim effects and violence, some of the dialogue had the audience laughing out loud (in a good way).

Finally Babel which I appreciate has been out for ages. Not bad for an arty effort, but one or two things never really made any sense. Having hung around in a couple of Islamic countries over the last few months I was pleased that I recognised a few of the phrases used during the Moroccan sequences!

Less films, more Perth from now on. I promise.