One to Grow On

February 9, 2010

Southwest Corner of a Big Ol’ Continent

Filed under: Australia, children, homeschooling, travel — midway2go @ 12:32 am

I have to admit, Perth has always intrigued me. It’s a city of over a million people, the capital of the largest state in Australia (Western Australia, probably one of the largest states in the world) but it’s so far from anywhere. I don’t know by what measure, but it’s said to be the most remote big city in the world.  

Well, aside from waiting more than an hour for the airport shuttle and then being overcharged, I liked Perth right away. It’s big, but really bright, with a huge park in the middle and blue water everywhere you look. The Swan River, which is massive, runs right through it, emptying into the Indian Ocean.  We spent a dreamy afternoon in Cottesloe, a little town with beautiful cottages and great cafes and an almost perfect stretch of beach.  Remote or not, it’s no mystery why people want to live here.   

 We took the commuter train from Perth to Fremantle, a cool town twenty minutes south, packed with bookshops and cafes and neat old buildings lined up in the vibrant center. We stayed in a hostel which was run by very friendly people and had great facilities but was also something like a half-way house. Lots of folks were living there while they worked; still others seemed to be living there while they considered maybe working at some point in the future. At any time of day they could be seen smoking and drinking in the tiny courtyard. I felt a little like my kids and I were crashing an ongoing dorm party. We stayed only 3 days, and split.  

We had been looking forward to Perth for AQWA, the Aquarium of Western Australia. Rory and Nora list it as one of their top 5 things we’ve done on this whole trip, but they are awfully partial to aquariums to start with. The place is set up to cover the coastline of Western Australia, from the tropical waters and estuaries of the north near Darwin to the coral reefs of Ningaloo National Park to the rough, cold waters of the southwestern corner where the Great Southern seas meet the Indian Ocean. There were crocodiles, a huge open tank with sting rays, and a whole wing called “Deadly Encounters,” where we spooked ourselves looking at stonefish, ringed octopi, and the super-venomous sea snakes. Did you know that there is a shell that can kill you? Yikes. We loved that part and had to go through it twice.  

No doubt the highlight of the aquarium was the Tunnel of Doom. That’s just what I call it. I can’t remember what they called it, but Rory and Nora squealed and bounced and oohed and writhed in delight BOTH trips through. We stood (well, I stood- they raced back and forth) on a moving sidewalk and passed through a tube inside an enormous tank. All around us swam sea turtles, giant rays, sharks, any number of fish. I can say that’s as close as I ever want to be to any shark, I don’t care how harmless it’s supposed to be. Rory and Nora thought it was heaven. A big, toothy, predatory heaven. Hmmmmm…  

We rented a car (bigger than the tiny red thing) and headed south. I had my heart set on four weeks languidly exploring the shore north up to Broome, but time schedules and the vicious unfairness of airline ticket change fees kept us closer to Perth. We cruised down to the Margaret River area, driving south on a road that paralleled the ocean but never revealed it. Why would anyone plan a road that way? I think we got spoiled for sweeping ocean views and stunning cliff-side driving in New Zealand. This road passed through a few towns and some scrubby looking farm land. Around Margaret River we turned off, heading across the peninsula. We drove past vineyard after vineyard, and then suddenly I spied a sign for Flinder’s Bay Vineyard, a label Brandon and I used to buy as a treat at Earthfare in Greensboro. We loved it, but they stopped carrying it, and it was one we always looked for in wine shops back home. And here it was! Here I was! At the source! I slammed on brakes and turned right around. We went in, hoping to have our photo taken in front of the sign for Brandon, and the lady there couldn’t have been nicer. I told her our story, and she gave me a poster of wine labels from the region to send to Brandon in lieu of a bottle of wine, which is on the no-no list for deployments. I’m sure he’ll love the poster just as much. I’m sure. Really. And it was very kind of her.  

We were determined to see kangaroosthe wild, and we did! They have the good sense to stay tucked away quietly under trees for the heat of the day, but as dusk came on we spied them nibbling on the edges of fields and lazing in groups under the gum trees. We watched this mom and joey for a long time, until we finally scared them off. The next day an emu crosssed the road in front of us. An emu! I nearly wrecked out of sheer delight. Let me tell you, that is one big bird.  

We spent the night on the coast on the tip of Australia. The next day we visited the lighthouse there, where the two oceans, Indian and the southern reaches of the Pacific, meet. It was breathtaking and very, very windy.  

Stay tuned: Musings on trees! Lots of pictures! Not as dull as it sounds!  

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