Although we had just returned from a trip to New Zealand in January we were off on another big trip already. Our ability to travel is determined by when Shannon has time off from school. For Chinese New Year she gets a week and a half off and that is when she does her interim trip. That's a trip she does with a group from her school, usually about a week, for which she receives course credit. She gets to choose from a number of possible trips all over the world. While she would be gone, Sandy and I decided to take a trip ourselves. This time we settled on Western Australia. It looked like an interesting place to visit. It is (relatively) close to Singapore, easy to reach and not too expensive. And it would be the middle of summer there. After we started planning our trip Shannon signed up for her school trip and ended up with - Western Australia. To maximize the time we would have for our trip, we even booked the same flights from Singapore to Perth and back. Sandy told Shannon it would be ok if she pretended that she didn't know us when we were on the plane and she was with her friends from school. Personally I thought they would all want to sit with us so I could tell them some of my favorite old jokes.
Western Australia is a big place - about a million square miles. That's almost four times the size of Texas. And it is pretty empty. There are only about two million people who live there and 1.5 million live in the Perth metropolitan area. Perth is one of the most isolated cities on earth. It is over 1300 miles to Adelaide, which is the nearest city of a million people. It has a beautiful physical setting along a wide stretch of the Swan River, which looks more like a lake than a river. There is parkland along both sides of the river and a very large natural area, Kings Park, right next to the Central Business District. Just a few miles downriver is the port of Fremantle which also looked to be an interesting town But we decided that we would only spend a day or so exploring Perth. Then we would rent a car and drive down to do some exploring along the southern and western coasts. And just a very small part of the coasts. Western Australia is a very big place.
We flew out of Singapore on a Saturday morning and had a five hour flight to Perth. We expected it to be very hot as it would be the height of summer there, very sunny and quite far south. But when we got there the temperature was very pleasant. Perth is only about five miles from the ocean and often gets a cooling breeze off the water - known locally as "The Fremantle Doctor". We took a taxi into the city where we were staying at a Hilton Hotel right in the Central Business District. By the time we had checked in and gotten settled it was late afternoon so we went for an exploratory walk. We found the shopping area where Hays and Murray Streets are closed off as pedestrian malls. Everything there was closed up though and almost no one was around. We did find a pub/restaurant that was open and had a pretty good dinner. After that we walked down to the Barrack Street Jetties on the river where the ferries dock. From there you can take a ferry across the river (kind of silly since there is a bridge a quarter of a mile away), down to Fremantle, upriver to visit local wineries, out to the Rottnest Island (several miles off the coast in the Indian Ocean) or just for a scenic wine or dinner cruise. But we didn't have time for any of those on this trip. There were a few restaurants and bars at the jetty and they were packed. There must have been 500 people on the patios of two places that overlooked the river. Everyone there seemed to be really dressed up - I guess folks in Perth think it is a big deal to go out on Saturday night. We walked some along the river and then retired to our hotel for the evening.
On our one full day in Perth we decided to visit the zoo. Although small the Perth Zoo was supposed to have a very nice setup with quite a collection of unique Australian animals. I convinced Sandy that it didn't look far on the map and that we could walk across the bridge to South Perth and all the way to the zoo. After some (very minor) navigation challenges we got on the bridge and had a great view from there of the riverfront and the city. On the other side we found the zoo without any trouble.
The zoo was disappointing. The setup of the displays was nice but the animals always seemed to be gone or in hiding. There was a whole section where you were supposed to be able to walk through the area with different species of kangaroos roaming loose but there wasn't a single kangaroo there. And other animals like the dingos and the wombats were hiding and sleeping during the heat of the afternoon. We did get up quite close to see several koalas. We also saw a wallaby and a number of smaller Australian mammals. But it wasn't even as good as the section in the Singapore Zoo dedicated to Australian animals. And it was quite expensive too.
We were done with the zoo in early afternoon and decided to take a bus back. The bus stop was right across the street, the timetable said a bus was due in ten minutes, and some locals were already waiting there. But after waiting 45 minutes with no sign of any bus, Sandy saw a taxi drop someone off. She was able to grab it to give us a ride downtown. We had learned that the restaurants were mainly located just west of the shopping area so we started cruising for a place to have lunch. We found a pub/restaurant that tried to be a mini-Hard Rock Cafe and their hamburgers were ok. But they didn't have tshirts! If we could get the HRC franchise for Perth we would blow them away.
After lunch we went to the shopping district and it was quite a difference. While the shops were open in the afternoon the place was jammed. Most of the people seemed to be locals and there were especially a lot of young people. There was even a real live demonstration. About twenty to thirty people, most looked to be college age, were marching with signs and yelling anti-Scientology slogans. One guy came up to me and wanted to give me some reading materials "to explain the threat that Scientology's falsehoods posed to me". I politely assured him that Scientology didn't really pose a threat to me. It was very nostalgic though. Just like back in 1972 when I was in college.
I did find a few souvenir shops so I got a chance to do some serious tshirt shopping after my disappointment at lunch. We also found a really nice place that we returned to later in the evening for dinner. They had good pizza and local wines and patio seating outside. The weather was really perfect and it was a great evening to be sitting out.
Our last excitement of the day came after dinner when we tried to arrange for a rental car for the next morning. We tried to call but all of the car rental places in Perth closed at 5 pm, even at the airport. I guess we were in the boonies. But Sandy was able to go online and make a reservation for us to pick up a car at the airport the next morning. So we were up early to grab a taxi to the airport to get our car. After checking in at the desk in the terminal, it took us about half an hour to find find it. This was after two people had given us directions too. For some reason they had an extra lot for rental cars hidden way past and behind the terminal. No signs either. Kind of funny that in such a tiny airport it would be so hard to find the rental cars. But I guess not that many travelers fly to Perth. But now we had our car, our maps, and were off to drive to the Great Southern.