Sand, Sun, Sizzling Temps and Exceptionally Beautiful People
My first visit to Australia was as a tag-along on my spouse’s business trip. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. Of course, I figured kangaroos would be running amuck like cottontail rabbits (in the vein of first-time Texas visitors who expect to see cowboys herding cattle through downtown Dallas). I assumed the natives would be similar to Americans. I was in for a surprise.
We stopped first in Perth (three legs and 28-hours from DFW). The land mass of Australia equals that of the United States but Australia has only six states. Perth, the capital of the state of Western Australia, sits on the Indian Ocean at the country’s southwestern edge and is the world’s most isolated continental capital city.
We checked into in a beach hotel because it was convenient to my husband’s appointments. If you think early fall in Australia might be cool and pleasant, think again. The beach was beautiful, but the heat was searing (and I’m from Texas where we lived fried most of time).
Since we spent two days dining and strolling the beach area, I got a good look at the locals (all depressingly youthful and fit). I’m not exaggerating when I say the young women were all 15s. A 10 in Dallas would be a 5 there. Remember Australian actress Margot Robbie, who portrayed Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in “Wolf of Wall Street?” Well, she has about a zillion look-alike sisters, and they’re all hanging out at Scarborough Beach. (The men on the other hand were just your typical big, goofy guys with Maori tattoos all over their visible body parts. A lot of the women are tattooed too, which is a shame since most are goddesses and require no inky embellishments.)
From the beach, it’s a $30 cab ride to the center of Perth, where I found unimpressive shopping (I didn’t know to go to the upscale shops on King Street). After that, I figured out how to ride the city bus between my hotel and downtown for $4 one way. We also used Uber several times in the downtown area. The courteous drivers gave us cold bottled water and mints and got us safely to our destinations. Download the appropriate app to your iPhone before you board your plane.
Perth’s public transportation is nice and clean and absent of intimidating weirdos. I loved a sign on a bus interior that said: “Students riding for a discounted rate are expected to give their seat to an adult when crowded.” Post that inside a Dallas bus and it will have graffiti all over it in about 10 minutes.
That’s one thing about Australians — they follow the rules, unlike Americans who do what feels good at the moment. Whenever we got in a car with an Australian driver, the engine wasn’t turned on until everyone had their seatbelts securely in place. Apparently, drivers transporting non-belted passengers can get a huge fine, and police actually enforce the law.
Places to Visit
Downtown Perth’s Northbridge neighborhood is home to pubs, clubs, shops, galleries and scores of restaurants. It’s also where visitors will find the Perth Cultural Centre, and several noteworthy museums.
The State Library of Western Australia is located in the Centre and offers occasional film screenings, exhibitions and the chance to do research if you have a project in mind. The gift shop sells fascinating history books and educational children’s toys. I picked up a book about Aboriginal people and how they were severely mistreated by early Australian immigrants right up until the ’70s.
A few steps away is the Western Australian Museum, housed in the city’s colonial prison, to showcase the state’s social and natural history. During my visit, “The History of the World in 100 Objects” was the special exhibit on display. Put together by Neil MacGregor, British Museum director, it individually examines artworks and tools from two million years ago until today. It was interesting to look at the assorted objects and think, “So why did MacGregor choose that? I wouldn’t have chosen that thing. What does he know that I don’t know?” Answer: Probably a lot.
There is a simple little café behind the Western Australian Museum that has sandwiches, salads and pastries. A shabby chic, outdoor courtyard is a lovely place to sit and enjoy your meal. Beware of pigeons who might descend on you and try to steal scraps from your plate.
Things I missed that you might want to see:
Perth’s Bibbulmun Track is one of the world’s best long distance walking trails. Healthy go-getters can walk 620 miles from the Perth Hills to the historic town of Albany on the south coast, passing through forests and circumventing boulders across scenic Western Australia. You can take a day trip or make the entire trek while staying at the 49 campsites along the way. Warning: the campsites are rustic but have sleeping shelters, tent sites and even pit toilets. Learn more.
For Nature Lovers:
The Perth Zoo houses 1,200 animals about five minutes from the city center. Australian wildlife is so unique that a visit minus local critters would be a major waste, in my opinion. Of course, the zoo has African and Asian animals too, and visitors can book an “Eye to Eye” encounter that puts them up close and personal with some of the inhabitants. The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year.
For History and Culture Buffs with patience:
The Katta Djinoong, the “First Peoples of Western Australia” gallery, is housed with the Western Australian Museum. It recognizes the country’s indigenous community and features exhibits highlighting their unique culture and heritage. Unfortunately, it’s closed for a facelift until 2020.
You can’t discuss any travel destination without talking money. Australia’s basic unit of currency is the Australian dollar, which is made up of 100 cents. Paper notes include $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills. Coins come in amounts of $2, $1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5cs, which are a variety of sizes that have no rhyme or reason. No one bothers with one and two cent coins, and all cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents. As for tipping, no one expects it. Apparently, service employees in Australia are paid an adequate wage, or so the natives say. If you go to some super chichi place and want to leave the waitperson a little extra (10%), good for you. But no one will chase you to your car if you don’t. As in many parts of the world, tipping was imported to Australia by American tourists, so if you’re in a big tourist area, you may be expected to give gratuities to waiters, taxi drivers, bellmen and anyone providing room service. Of course, the Australians actually wish Americans would quit doing that.