I would not recommend sightseeing in the dark. Case in point: Kalgoorlie. A late train and early winter sunsets combined for a completely underwhelming tour of this otherwise fascinating city, and it’s mega huge hole, the Super Pit. It’s too bad Great Southern Rail lures its passengers on a bus to view the dark, mostly unlit streets of Kalgoorlie for the abominable price of $30. That said, if you can actually get there in the daylight, or have a day to spend in the area, I would still recommend it. Even though only lit by massive work lights waaaaaay down in the bottom of the mine, the Super Pits dimensions made the machinery that is 4 times larger than normal size look like Tonka trucks – very cool.
Another poor night’s sleep on the train, and Day 3 started with . . . TREES! and HILLS! The Avon river valley, east of Perth, reminded me of England/Ireland with its shady trees on rolling hills. The river was flowing cool and fast, a mere 3 degrees in the early morning!
The train arrived on time to East Perth station on Saturday morning, and it was time for our merry little band of backpackers on Car R to break up. Numbers exchanged, we went our separate ways and I met up with Carmel, a good friend of Mom and Dad’s who lives in South Perth with her husband Glen. A quick shower and a much-needed cup of tea, and off we went. Carmel is the perfect host – obviously proud of her stunningly beautiful city and full of knowledge to boot. From her suburban home we headed straight to Kings Park, where the 360 views of the city in the bright winter sunshine were a boost to my sea-loving soul – even though Perth is on a river.
From there it was a whirlwind trip around the city suburbs. We had a coffee in Claremont, and took a quick browse through one of Perth’s most elite shopping malls. Drove through Peppermint Grove, the most expensive suburb, to wonder at the houses and then on to Cottesloe Beach for a stroll in the sand next to the Indian Ocean. Heading north, we followed the beach highway, stopping again at Swanbourne, City Beach and Scarborough – the scenery was just breathtaking. High dunes giving way to white sandy beaches, the deep, azure blue winter sky, dark green ocean scrub, white foamy waves crashing on the shore and a warm salty breeze blowing my hair: heaven.
I didn’t want to leave the sea, but my exhaustion had finally kicked in, and it was time for a late afternoon nanna nap if I had any hope of making the most of my only weekend night in Perth. After a fantastic dinner at Tiger Lil’s right in the city centre with Carmel, Glen and Aaron (Carmel’s son), Aaron and I headed off to a couple of bars before ending up at Ambar, a nightclub known for drawing in international DJ’s: cue dance party, and very late bedtime.
Sunday morning I went to church with Carmel and Glen to say a prayer and light a candle for my Nonna, who passed away at the end of July. She was 93, with 4 children, 11 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren and lived a pretty great life. Even though I knew when I left that she wouldn’t be there when I got back, it was still quite a shock, and really difficult to deal with so far away from home. Henry and his family were amazing and supportive, but the decision to stay in Australia and carry on with this trip was a hard one. Nonna would have wanted me to stay though, she always loved hearing my stories of the places I’d gone, so hopefully I’m still doing her proud.
In the afternoon I headed down to the city/suburb of Freemantle, or ‘Freeo’ as the locals and wannabe locals call it. The day was fantastic and fine again, but it took me a while to get going . . . about 12 hours of sleep over three nights combined with a hangover wasn’t doing my any favours, but I bought a tasty electrolyte-replenishing beverage and literally gave myself a pep talk: out loud. Yes, well and truly, it went something like “Come on Michelle, you can do this. Stop being such a sorry traveller and get your ass in gear and see this city. You’ve done this hundreds of times before and you can do it again; get on your horse and go and see some shit!” If you haven’t figured out by reading previous posts of this blog, you now really know that I am crazy.
So off I went, on a tip from the nice girl at the Maritime Museum, who told me that the Shipwreck Galleries were free. I started wandering down in that general direction, and got side-tracked by the Round House, the oldest standing building in Western Australia and was originally a prison. There is a tunnel underneath it that goes from the city of Freemantle to the sea, and was used by whalers to convey goods to and from the boats, without having to go over or around the limestone cliffs. The Shipwreck Galleries were amazing, and I would highly recommend this by-donation museum. There were thousands of artefacts that have been excavated by underwater archaeologists on display, with really well-presented information about the original ships and the techniques used to hoist the finds from the sea floor.
By mid-afternoon, John, an Irish backpacker from the train had arrived and together we set off for the famous Freemantle markets to take a quick look around. Built in 1897, they are an institution and not to be missed. Also not to be missed is the Freemantle Prison. Built in 7 years by convicts from 1852-9, it is the only convict-built prison in Australia, and was in use until 1991. Our tour guide, Andrew, was incredibly knowledgeable and the 75 minutes of his undivided attention were well worth the entry fee. The tour took us on nearly every floor of the prison, and we heard multiple stories from its storied past. Perhaps most shocking was that the prison itself was built without internal plumbing – even up until it’s close in 1991, prisoners were issued a metal bucket to use as their toilet from lock-down to wake-up.
After our tour, we met up with Hope, an American girl who was also on the train. The three of us really did have the best intentions to get to Little Creatures, a pub on the waterfront with heaps of draft beers, but we got sidetracked by a used bookstore – a pretty great end to a fantastic day.