Perth & Southwest (Australia)

WA (aka Western Australia) is the definition of an off the beaten path destination.  The beaches and national parks have a fraction of the visitors of the East Coast.  We loved driving around the wide open undeveloped space.  It seems in most other parts of the world, open space is an invitation to build on.  In Western Australia they have left the open land alone and that is what made the entire western region so beautiful.  Perth, the capital of WA is one of the most isolated major cities in the world.  Perth is closer to Bali than it is to Sydney.  It is so close to Bali, it could be considered a suburb of Perth.

Long before I ever visited Australia, WA was where I wanted to visit the most.  It didn’t work out on my previous trips to Oz, but I was thrilled to get an opportunity to visit this time around. We had a month allocated to Western Australia.  An executive decision needed to be made whether to head north or south of Perth. We pulled the trigger and headed south.  The deciding factor was shorter driving distances between major sights in this vast land.  Looking back on this decision, we could have covered both directions during our 30 days but the climate going north would have been oppressively hot, humid and possibly rainy.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

FREMANTLE / PERTH –
When locals in Western Australia’s capital of Perth want to kick back on the weekend, they head to Fremantle – or ‘Freo’ as it’s called.  We are big ‘kick back’ Flashpackers and wanted to stay away from the more crowded downtown area of Perth, so we elected to base ourselves in Freo for our first 4 nights on arrival.  A fantastic choice by us savvy Flashpackers to bring in the New Year.  We both enjoyed our initial stay in our centrally located Fremantle Airbnb so much, we did a repeat visit for the last 5 nights on our Western Australia swing.

Freo’s laidback atmosphere has attracted musicians, artists and writers, giving the place a bohemian hippy vibe.  To put it simply, life is just so damn pleasant and relaxed in Fremantle. Just wander around on foot (no car is needed) and take in all the relaxed goodness.  We walked and biked along the waterfront promenade and thru this historic colorful town.   checked out the streetside musicians, relaxed in the outdoor parks and had our pick of choice neighborhood beaches to chill on.  Prior to our visit, I had not known that the Fremantle/Perth area is home to such good beaches.  The popular Cottesloe and Scarbrough Beaches just north of Freo and the lively South Beach, south of Freo are the big local hangouts.  I was told, South Beach was once used as a training ground for racehorses.  If you are looking for a more remote beach feeling, you can grab some beachside fish n’ chips from one of the many ubiquitous shacks and relax anywhere along the white sandy beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline between Cottesloe and Port Beach.

We enjoyed all the ethnic food and ate our asses off at the Fremantle Weekend Market.  We took a really cool guided tour of the Fremantle Prison but, unfortunately never got to see Andy Dufresne.  And of course, we made it out to the local racetrack in Perth (Ascot) to wager and win on the ponies.  A short ferry/train away is the Perth city centre where you can relax and exercise in one of the world’s largest and most impressive city parks I have been to….King’s Park.  In King’s Park, you can take in an outdoor movie on the grass sitting on a beanbag, under the stars.

 

ROTTNEST ISLAND –
Rottnest is a small island off the coast of Western Australia.  The departure point is Fremantle or Perth and the ferry takes about 40 minutes.  Rottnest has a permanent population of about 100 people and annual visitors of 500,000.  Rottnest actually functioned as an internment and prisoner of war camp during both World War I and World War II.  One of the main reasons tourists come to Rottnest is to see a Quokka.  These quokkas are found only on a few islands off the Western Australian coast.  Quokkas are small marsupials, about the size of a domestic cat. Flashpacking Barbie thought they looked like cute little fur balls.  I, on the other hand, thought they basically look like oversized rats.  Barbie was determined to feed the quokkas and that is precisely what she did with my apple that I had earmarked for the beach.  After the quokkas, Rottnest is probably most famous for its beaches – and there are 63 of them, The Basin being our fav.  We hired bikes and spent the day cycling from beach to beach in blissful car-free freedom.  Automobiles are banned on Rottnest and in the Big Doug book of travel, one of the travel equations read, “No automobiles on an island = A great place”.

 

For the next three (3) weeks, the following are the towns in the Margaret River region, that we visited heading south after our time in Perth:

BUSSELTON –
We only stayed in this town as we could not find accommodation in our choice location (Dunsborough) as it was peak vacation time for Aussie families.  Busselton was close to all the areas of interest we wanted to visit in the Cape Naturaliste area so we plunked our butts down here.  It served as a cost effective base for just 2 nights, but the town is basically a big zippo.  To quote thy ole Kingpin, “It’s one boring mother fucking town”.

DUNSBOROUGH –
It’s a nice upscale town, and closest to all the very awesome beaches (Bunker Bay, Meelup Beach, Scott’s Beach) in the Northern Cape.  Dunsborough would be the best place to stay if visiting the upper Cape.

YALLINGUP –
The ocean on this side of the Cape is a bit rougher than the land protected Cape beaches of Bunker Bay and Meelup.  A visit to the scenic Canal Rocks is a must and you can follow it up with a swim and cool out session in nearby, excellent Scott’s Beach.  We also visited the Yallingup Shearing Shed which was real fun.  We got the opportunity to shear the wool off of the sheep and feed the lamb (check out video below).  After the feeding, I politely and compassionately explained to the lamb that we will be eating their chops for dinner.  As for the sheep, I had no idea they had no upper teeth, are harmless and do not bite humans. Consequently, BFD got real brave and began moving these sheep around with authority (check out video).

 

MARGARET RIVER –
Heading further south landed us in Margaret River, the main tourist hub.  It was a real good place to base.  Margaret River serves as a locals retreat on the weekends/holidays and rightfully so.  The Margaret River region is known for its hundreds of wineries spread throughout the countryside.  If you are a wine drinker and enjoy getting sloppy, this will be your haven.  With more than six microbreweries, the Margaret River area is also developing a great craft beer scene.

Our attraction to the Margaret River area is the plethora of wild coastal beaches that skirt the coastline and they are indeed awesome.  These are not your normal tourist beaches with restaurants and shops lining the adjacent roads.  The beaches are are backed up to natural sand dunes, rolling hills and cliffs in their natural setting.  The water is so clear and the sand is pure white.  When you catch these beaches on a sunny day, the color of the water is spectacular. (Our favs Gas Bay Beach, Scott’s Beach, Hamelin Bay and the popular surfer beaches Redgate Beach and Surfers Point).

The small town of Margaret River is active with good energy.  There are a bunch of bakeries and coffee houses on the main drag that helped start our day all zooted up on caffeine prior to heading off to the beaches.  Margaret River has some great restaurants which we visited for lunch.  But for dinner, we mostly stuck to Barbie’s home cooking and our daily dose of lamb chops which we ate every single night.  We just simply couldn’t pass on the freshest tasting, juiciest Australian lamb on planet earth.  Amazingly, we never tired of it. You can even purchase the chops directly from the nearby farms.  It doesn’t get any fresher than that.  We saw the lamb grazing along the roads on the green fields we drive down every day.  Australia has the largest population of sheep/lambs in the world and significantly more than New Zealand.  Not only is the lamb over the top tasty, the prices for the lamb chops are about 1/4 the price as back in the states.

 

DENMARK –
A 3.5 hr. drive southeast from Margaret River took us to the small relaxed town of Denmark on the South coast of Oz.  We broke up the drive with lunch in Pemberton and visited the very cool Valley of the Giant Tree Top walk.  They built these impressive steel elevated platforms so you can walk along the top of the tree canopy where the trees were freaking massive.  In Denmark, we basically chilled at Waterfall Beach and The Green Poils.  We ate lamb and hung with the furry Alpacas at the local animal park.  We also watched some wild kangaroos, “doing the right thing” and banging each other in the open field.

ALBANY –
Spelled the same way, but in no way, shape or form similar to the gloomy & depressing capital of New York.  This Albany is home to some great Nature Reserves and National Parks that are home to some of the best beaches/coves in Australia.  Little Beach @ Two People’s Nature Reserve will have to go down as the best beach in Australia. (just check out the video below to see this masterpiece).  Misery Beach was a hidden gem and The Gap, both inside Torndirrup National Park are absolute ‘must sees’.

The beaches in Western Australia were first rate and some of the best in the world.  This bold statement coming from the ultimate beach guru.  Many of the beaches are unspoiled nature as they lie on protected national parks or nature reserves.  This means only low impact recreational facilities are nearby and there will never be grand tourism developments lining the beaches which has spoiled so many of the Southeast Asian beaches.

Being the nice guy that I am, I will release the complete beach lowdown for Southeastern Australia.  Hopefully, you can carve out some time and visit some of these masterpieces.  The weather is volatile here so, just make sure to visit on a sunny day and during the Australian summer months (December- February).

PERTH CITY / ROTTNEST ISLAND BEACHES –
South Beach, Fremantle –
Cottesloe, Perth – good city beach
The Basin, Rottnest Island – a fav
Scarborough Beach, Perth

CAPE NATURALISTE BEACHES –
Bunker Bay Beach – a fav
Meelup Beach – a fav
Busselton Beach – big El Zippo

LEEUWIN-NATURALISTE BEACHES –
(All easily reached from Margaret River)
Gas Bay Beach – a fav
Scott’s Beach – a fav
Gnarabup Beach –
Yallingup Beach –
Hamelin Bay – swim with the sting rays
Redgate Beach – surf beach
Surfers Point – surf beach

DENMARK BEACHES –
Waterfall Beach
Green Pools Beach

ALBANY BEACHES –
Little Beach @ 2 People’s Bay Nature Reserve – tremendous
Misery Beach @ Torndirrup National Park – solid
Middleton Beach

THRU THE BINOCS –
One of the things I will miss about Australia are the nicknames they have for things.
Being known worldwide as Big Fucking Doug, it took awhile to get used to these wimpy nicknames.

Sunnies = sunglasses
Breaky = breakfast
Telly = television
Toastie = sandwich
Lollies = candy
Eskie or Chllly Bin = cooler
Nappies = napkins
Mossies = mosquitos
Pokies = slot machines
Binos = binoculars
Mannie = manager
Tramping = hiking
Barbie = bbq
Roos = kangaroos

The other thing that I will miss and what they do really well in Australia besides meat pies, is their french fries….known as chips here.  Seemed like every meal comes with chips.  The Aussies got the formula down and they are consistently great.  Semi crispy on the outside, soft and mushy like mashed potatoes on the inside, just like the Lord of the Fries would want it.

Our 3 month visa stay in Australia is up.  Everyday life in Australia was just so damn pleasant.  The people are out of this world friendly, everything works properly and everything is so clean.  Barbie and I both fell in love with this country and all the wildlife that constantly surrounded us. (Check out the video below of the kangaroos hanging in the fields alongside the road).  Australia is such an easy country to navigate around for novice travelers.  Even if you have your head up your ass, you will easily find your way around.

Australia is expensive…..one of the top 10 most expensive places to visit in the world.  However, with the US dollar so much stronger now than years ago, travel within Australia has become significantly more affordable.  Many Australians do not travel locally due the high expense.  Oddly, the locals prefer to go to Asia where it is so much cheaper than traveling within their own country.  I found that food and beverage are the most pricey items here.  Therefore, getting an Airbnb with a kitchen to cook your own meals will save a shitload of moolah.  We spent 3 months living here and had the opportunity to live like a ‘’local”.  And while doing so, we came to the realization that it does not have to be expensive.  And, if feel you are getting hosed, then you are just not going to the right places.  The big cities are all about cafe culture, beer gardens, and entertainment, which can get quite expensive.  Alcohol is very expensive, so most Melbournians have pre-drink parties before going out.  Fortunately, we did not get sucked into eating at the many way overpriced restaurants.  There were plenty of cheap or mostly free entertainment options in all the major cities.  In addition to saving money, we also had a better experience.  If you rock up in Melbourne and head straight for the Central Business District for example, you are sure to get your ass handed to you, feel sorely disappointed and ripped off.

I found it refreshing seeing so few American brands in the supermarkets and no American chain stores here, with the sole exception of Micky D’s.  Australia has their own stuff and their very own way of life.  Thankfully, Australian cable TV aired none of the hate filled and depressing 24 hr. American news stations from back home.  Didn’t miss them a bit as there’s nothing to see there, but everything to see, here.

Australia is a BIG place, so do your research prior to coming.  If you plan to visit, just make sure you allow enough time.  It is such a big country to cover and loaded with so many great places to visit.  During our 3 month stay here in Oz, we were only able to cover about 50% of the spots on our target list.  I guess that just means that we have to go back.  We are now off to neighboring New Zealand for an extended stint and will be covering both the North and South islands.  Hopefully, we can make it through our 2 months here without a major earthquake as their is seemingly one of varying degree every week.  It is the optimal time to visit New Zealand as it’s also summer now. Just like Australia being in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of America.

G’Day Mate!

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