Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Why I'm in love with Perth and the Golden Outback

I vaguely recall my first visit to Perth more than 5 years ago. My husband and I were there on Australia Day and spent an entire afternoon with patriotic Australians whose bodies were draped in varying fashion with the Australian flag. We felt the celebratory mood and saw a public concert in a park. I remember enjoying a cuppa in Fremantle. Then there was Northbridge aka Chinatown, where we had large portions of chicken rice and sweet sour chicken. Nice city but rather slow-paced and laid back, we thought. Metaphorically, there were no sparks and cupid failed to strike. I liked Perth enough but wasn't in love with it. 

Fast forward to May 2014. After a second visit (without the hubby as I was there for work and had more time to explore), here's why I'm in love with Perth and the outback.

1. Elizabeth Quay - Perth's Marina Bay

Change is in the air. A leisurely walk around Perth's central business district hints at a soon-to-be-transformed Elizabeth Quay. No doubt that sleepy Perth is playing catch-up to Sydney. At the centre of a big bold plan to "revamp" the city, Elizabeth Quay's revitalisation will embrace the Swan River. Redevelopment is expected to include an inlet connected by 1.5km of continuous boardwalks and promenades, public spaces, new hotels and residences.  A bridge will connect the inlet to an island featuring winding paths, kiosk, children's playground and spectacular views back to the city. When completed, Elizabeth Quay is expected to attract more visitors and be a place where people gather by the river to work, live and celebrate occasions, big and small.  

Elizabeth Quay now (inset: redevelopment plan) viewed from the top of The Bell Tower in Perth

In many ways, Singapore has done with Marina Bay what Perth plans to do with Elizabeth Quay. Sitting on land reclaimed from the sea, Marina Bay has a 3.5km waterfront promenade, a city skyline carefully sculpted by urban planners, accessibility to public transport, parks and gardens. Marina Bay is as popular with photo buffs as it is with joggers, families, retirees and curious tourists. Now a 360-hectare extension to the adjacent Central Business District, Marina Bay is a vibrant and happening place whose food outlets, restaurants and retail shops are patronised by tourists as well as residents of the nearby upmarket condominiums and corporate types from the CBD. Open air spaces pop up as venues for theatres, carnivals, walkathons and marathons. Since 2008, thousands of Formula One grand prix fans have converged each year to watch the evening race on a street circuit that meanders through the area.

Just as I watched Marina Bay gradually transform into my fave place to chill, I look forward to delighting in the magic that Elizabeth Quay promises on my next visit.
My Segway adventure by the Swan River. What a blast! Our guide has a wicked sense of humour, the sun is out and there is a cool breeze. We booked our ride through Segway Tours WA in Perth

2. Good Food 

With every conceivable cuisine I'd want readily available in Singapore, I wasn't exactly expecting out-of-this-world food. I'd assumed we were having Chinese food when my host suggested dinner in Northbridge, aka Perth's Chinatown.
Laid-back and casual ambience at The Old Crow on Newcastle Street in Northbridge, aka Perth's Chinatown. Converted from a family-owned cottage, it serves modern Australian cuisine.

I'm so glad we went to The Old Crow instead, a relative newcomer set up by Australian chef owners. I now find myself reminding friends going to Perth to eat there at least once. The food's good, the ambience nice  and the prices won't leave a hole in your wallet or purse.

When in Perth, Fremantle is a must-stop especially for the fresh seafood and salads, good coffee and people-watching. And, as we drove through Albany and the Wheatbelt region down south,  the brakes were off as I let go and indulged in delicious southern food made from fresh produce along the way.

Finger-licking good, crispy brussel sprouts with chilli jam, pine nuts and buttermilk is on the menu at The Old Crow. Guaranteed to convert die-hard non-fans of the vegetable!
More good bites from Little Creatures Brewery, like the chilli clams (above) and kangaroo "satay" (below). The brewery is set inside a converted boat shed right on Fishing Boat Harbour in Fremantle.

3. The Irresistible Outback

Perth city may be poised to beat to a faster tune with its international hotel chains, department stores, outlet shopping, cafes, restaurants and pubs converted from heritage buildings, parks and street action. Yet it's the rugged Golden Outback that beckons with wide open spaces, pink lakes and gusty winds as you drive along the wheatbelt region through Albany in the southwest and the smaller towns. Calling out for attention, there's the cemetery dedicated to man's best friend in the town of Corrigin, wildlife and wild flowers, vineyards, breweries, historic towns, gigantic trees light years older than us, and of course, motels and farmhouse accommodation, and the amazing natural wonder that is Wave Rock, believed to have formed over 2,700 million years ago and today the site of many a wedding and fashion photo-shoot. 

Wave Rock'n and surf'n at Wave Rock in Hyden with Sheenagh Collins, proprietor of Wave Rock Management, Wave Rock Caravan Park & Resort, Hyden Hotel (where we stayed), Wildflower Shoppe and The Lace Place. The youthful 60-year-old is often teased and casually referred to as Hyden's resident "sheriff" and "mayor". As long as you're anywhere in Hyden, if you're lost, it's usually Sheenagh who the police call to help find you.
Forget about going all the way to the Dead Sea to float in some salt water. You can do just as well in the natural salt pond at Wave Rock in Hyden, with its resident population of 150. The pond was "accidentally" created by Sheenagh Collins' late husband, who had it dug so he could eventually do some windsurfing! Leave Wave Rock without taking a dip - and you'll live to regret it!

What a thrill, catching the powerful waves leaping high at The Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park in Albany. There are interesting rock formations and waves that rush in and out with such force along the sheer cliff top. It offers great views of the rugged coastline and whales can often be seen in winter.
Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk is a forest preserve located between Denmark and Walpole in the south west. At one point as we walk 40 metres high through the canopy of the tingle forest, we spotted 400-year-old giant trees that have stood the test of time.
A popular spot for photo-taking at The Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk

 If you're a beer drinker, Australia's south west has plenty for you to sample. After exploring The Valley of the Giants, sample any of the core or seasonal beers from Boston Brewery's boutique brewhouse. In Albany, White Star restaurant also serves Albany-style beers brewed on the premises, not forgetting delicious food that defies labelling.
Farmstay choices on the outskirts of Perth are aplenty. Laurelville Manor near York offers luxury country house accommodation with great garden views. At AUS$250 and above per night, you get to stay in this charming room, meals included.
As we drive through the central Wheatbelt region south east of Perth, Corrigin Dog Cemetery  which stands isolated, beckons canine lovers to stop for a look. Established in 1974, it is a tribute to man's best friend. There are over 80 dogs buried in the cemetery. Make time to read some of the headstones, which are made and maintained by a local resident.

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