Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wedge and Leederville

We’ve had a fairly quiet week this week, mostly based in Perth with lots of beach time and revisiting Scarborough, Trigg and Cottesloe beaches. The weather has been glorious, albeit very windy thanks to “The Doctor”.

The highlight was freedom camping in Wedge at the weekend. Now, I need to be a little bit secretive as Wedge is somewhere only locals, or people in the know, know about so I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a stunning area of sand dunes and sand bar just off the highway north of Perth.

Just moments after turning off the highway – and accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles – is a stunning beach, or rather a sand bar, of white sand with clear, turquoise water on both sides and connected to Wedge Island at the end (so called because of the wedge shape of the island, I presume)

There are no facilities like toilets, showers, or electricity and just the supplies you take with you, including drinking water. Camping is not technically allowed but the rangers apparently turn a blind eye so long as you’re tucked out of the way in between the sand dunes.

Kev and I got to try out Gemma and Sean’s roof tent, for the luxury camping experience! It is not only more comfortable than a traditional tent, but its being raised off the ground means any animals or snakes can’t get in (not that we saw any!) It’s also much easier to put up – just a case of unfolding it and extending the ladder.

Jess and Darragh also came with us and are probably the most organised campers I have met. They have ALL the gear and all the best gadgets, including a portable camping Nespresso machine and camping chairs with back support. It was quite an impressive experience as camping for me has always been a very minimal experience, making do with as little gear as possible. It just goes to show how comfortable camping can be if you’re prepared (and have a big 4X4 to pack all your stuff into!)

Making the most of the well stocked camp, I made pancakes on the beach for everyone. 

In the night we had the most impressive view of the stars, being so far away from the glow of the city and street lights and in the morning, when we woke up, we saw emu tracks alongside our vehicles, so we were truly in the middle of nature.

Emu tracks
Speaking of nature, Darragh told me that he was watching out for sharks whilst I was in the sea swimming – apparently, this is the place you’re likely to get sharks of the coast of West Australia! Fortunately, no sharks made an appearance, though I did make sure I swam close to the shore for the rest of the trip!

I think it’s easy to forget how many dangerous creatures there are in Australia – you don’t see much by way of spiders and snakes etc, but there are apparently scorpions in the sand dunes, red back spiders hiding under the edges of wheelie bins – a reminder to always shake your towel before using it if it’s been hanging outside, or to check your shoes for spiders before putting them on. I do hope we see out our time in Australia without encountering any of the above creepie-crawlies, or bigger dangerous animals!

Back from Wegde and with Kev’s birthday on the horizon, we went out for dinner with Gemma and Sean in nearby suburb, Leederville, where there’s a trendy street (a bit like Upper Street in London) packed full with restaurants, cafes, bars and interesting boutiques.

During the summer they run the ‘Leederville Food Safari’ where you get your starter, main course and coffee and dessert in three different establishments and a tuk-tuk transports you between the restaurants. 

We had a delicious Asian theme starter and main and ended up in a coffee shop for coffee and cake. Absolutely stuffed, we could barely finish our dessert – especially Kev who opted for a smoothie/milkshake instead of a coffee – but it was delicious and a fun experience. 

We even found a bottle of wine by a wine makers called Kerrigan (and Berry) so we thought we’d better give it a try – very nice it was too!

For Kev’s actual birthday we are off to Margaret River for the next few days. A few hours south of Perth, Margaret River is another wine-producing region and we are very much looking forward to visiting some more wineries. I’ll update you when we’re back in Perth.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fremantle to Kalbarri

We started off the week with another trip to Fremantle – Gemma and Sean had some complimentary tickets for a twilight cruise around Freo on a sailing boat which they kindly gave to us, so we made the most of the fine weather – albeit a bit chilly on the water – and enjoyed a glass of Champagne as the sunset over the harbour.

We were offered a bed for the night at Gemma and Sean’s friends’, Jess and Darragh, though we didn’t actually get to meet them on this occasion – with us being out and them having already gone to bed when we got back. Still, we have a camping trip with them planned for the weekend so we’ll actually get to meet them properly soon! 

After our night in Freo, we started the long drive north, with a few stops along the way to see the sights and break up the journey. 

Our first point of interest was the Pinnacles Dessert; a collection of hundreds of limestone formations in the middle of the desert in Nambung National Park. They look a bit like termite mounds and their formation still remains disputed.

Driving to the Pinnacles the scenery is pretty spectacular – blue skies and seas, white sand dunes, yellow desert roads and scrubby desert plants and bushes. 
There are road signs warning us to watch out for emus, kangaroos and echidnas, but despite the warning we were still shocked to see two emus walk across the freeway in front of the car! 

Four hours north of Perth, we spent our first night at a campsite in Jurien Bay, a pretty beach resort along the Turquoise Coast – it’s easy to see how the west coast of Australia got this name!

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast of pancakes cooked in the camp kitchen, we set off north, aiming for Kalbarri – stunning cliffs and national park situated eight hours outside Perth.

We had a quick stopover in Port Denion for a lunch of our favourite Australian camp food Indonesian flavoured ‘mee goreng’ noodles, cereal bars and jam sandwiches (for both posterity and budgetary reasons – we pretty much lived off these when we were last in Australia in 2010 and the exchange rate was so bad it was all we could afford. Fortunately this time the exchange rate isn’t so bad, but we still enjoyed our lunch for old time’s sake!)

Originally we had planned to do a quick stopover in Kalbarri and continue north to Monkey Mia and Coral Bay, but with limited time and not wanting to spend all our time in the car, we decided to make Kalbarri our home for the next three days. On balance, it was so beautiful there we really didn’t need to continue north to see more natural beauty.

We camped at a site right by the river and enjoyed watching the pelicans at sunset every night. It hasn’t got too hot yet – especially with the pretty persistent cool wind that hasn’t stopped blowing since we’ve been here! However, the breeze was a welcome relief during the day. A bit like in Perth, the wind dies down over night and picks up in the afternoon – which is great for the temperature, but not so great when you’re trying to pitch a tent in the afternoon!

There are so many natural sights to see here – certainly too many for our short stay, but we made the most of the ones closest to us. We started on the coast with Kalbarri cliffs: Pot Alley, Red Bluff, Mushroom Rock and the Blue Holes – all within a ten-minute drive from our campsite and breathtakingly beautiful! The rough seas stirred up by the strong winds certainly made an impressive backdrop to the red sandstone cliffs.

Now in possession of a head net (apparently, it’s fly season, which explains why the flies are so annoying right now!) we decided to head in land and check out some of the natural wonders and gorges in the interior of Kalbarri National Park.

To get there we had to drive along twenty kilometres of unsealed road – probably something that our car hire place would rather we didn’t do and which was rather painstaking – but it was worth the effort.

It was considerably hotter in the park – it’s often said to be ten degrees hotter inland versus on the coast, so we decided against doing a long walking trail. Instead we headed to the closest of the sights, ‘a natural arch in the sandstone called ‘Nature’s Window’.

Heading back to the coast in search of cooler temperatures, we booked on to a quad bike tour on Wagoe Beach, which took us along the shore line and up into the sand dunes.

It’s a stunning beach with reef directly on the shore line before a steep drop off, meaning as the big waves hit the shore they were forced against the reef and upwards into a huge plume of spray and foam. It was unusual to see such big waves that didn’t then continue up the beach – just up into the air! The waves were also particularly big today due to the swell created by the strong winds.

The strong winds also whipped up a bit of a sandstorm, meaning we had quite a blasting on the quad bikes – I think we all finished the tour looking younger having had a good sand exfoliation along the way!

Heading back down south we stopped at the ‘Pink Lake’, or ‘Hutt Lagoon’ to give it its official name. According to Wikipedia, "The salt lake gets it pink hue from the carotenoid-producing algae ‘Dunaliella salina’ which is a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A.” Interesting stuff and a very pretty lake!

Our final stop on our way south back towards Perth, was at Lake Thetis, famous for its stromatolites – and again I’m going to rely on the internet for a definition: 

“A stromatolite (literally, ‘layered rock’) is a solid structure created by single-celled microbes called cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

The stromatolites at Lake Thetis are thought to be 3,500 years old.

Right, that’s quite enough geological phenomena for one blog post! We are now back in Perth and will spend a couple of days enjoying the home comforts of living in a house, as opposed to under canvas, before we head off on our next camping adventure – wild camping in Wedge Island.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Our first week in Perth has been a busy one. We’re staying with Gemma (my sister in law), her husband, Sean, baby Arlo and Franki the dog (who seems to turn people who aren’t ‘dog people’ into dog lovers! Even Kev took her out for a walk!

Off to a rainy start, we headed into Perth city centre. Perth is a modern and compact city but you really need a car to get around. However, as our hire car was to be collected in a couple of days we waited for the bus. Between the raindrops we wandered around the centre, harbour – and Kings Park when the rain finally decided to stop. Here’s a photo of Perth’s iconic skyline as seen from Kings Park.

The following day the sun came out and despite being a bit chilly, we headed to Scarborough Beach for a walk. Miles of golden sands, good surf – not dissimilar to Cornwall! 

Apparently, the wind (known as ‘the Doctor’) blows in from Fremantle and picks up every afternoon in Perth, making Perth’s beaches a prime spot for kite surfing. 
I also discovered the lifeguards here use a clever app to tell them where the rip currents are! It’s is probably worth me downloading it too as despite knowing the theory, I never can spot them.

We made the most of the weekend spending some time with Gemma and Sean. On Saturday we went to nearby town, Fremantle, for their annual ‘Beerfest’ craft beer festival on Saturday, for some local brews, food stalls and live music. 

Fremantle (known as ‘Freo’ to the locals) is a lovely little town: a living port, arty and colourful with a sociable heart and is popular with tourists and locals alike – lots of great restaurants, pubs and cafes along the main street, which is also known as the ‘Cappuccino Strip’.

On Sunday we went to Swan Valley to do some wine tasting. Swan Valley is just fifteen minutes down the road from Gemma and Sean’s place and consists of more than 150 wineries, breweries, coffee, cheese and chocolate producers offering free tastings – therefore a great way to spend a day! Fortunately for us, Sean offered to be the designated driver for the day so we could enjoy the wines. 

We visited a variety of wine producers, ranging from small independent wineries that only sell from the cellar door, to international brands that are available back home in UK supermarkets. We went to an Italian wine producer, a French one – and lots of good Aussie wine makers, producing a broad range of wines from spicy, complex reds to oaky, buttery whites, dessert wines, sparkling varieties and everything in between.

A boozy weekend indeed, but when in Rome (or Perth)…

With Gemma and Sean back at work on Monday, and the temperature set to hit thirty-eight degrees, Kev and I set off to Adventure World, a water park-cum-theme park with roller coasters for adrenaline highs and water slides to cool off. This was also the perfect opportunity for Kev (who only likes water slides, but not roller coasters), and me (who loves roller coasters AND water parks) to enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled day out together. 

However, it was so hot that the ground heated up and walking between the water slides was like walking on hot coals – and we had no choice but to endure this, given that we weren’t allowed to wear flip flops on the slides. Still, it was worth it! 
Going on a Monday during school term time also meant there were no queues and had plenty of opportunities to cool off on such a hot day.

The fine weather continued into Tuesday so we took the ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island (or ‘Rotto’ as the locals call it!) On the 45 minute ferry crossing we were lucky enough to spot three humpback whales, about to start their migration south to Antarctica. The boat cut the engines so we could stop and watch them for a few minutes.

Being a small island, there are no cars on Rottnest, so the best way to explore the island is by bicycle. We hired bikes and were set on covering the full 24km circuit, but the flies were so annoying we ended up spending more time on the beach where there were no bugs. A lot of people were cycling with head nets on, so I think this is something we definitely need to add to our travel kits as I’m sure this won’t be the first time we’ll encounter this!

The beaches on Rotto are stunning – mostly deserted, secluded bays with coral reefs, white sand and beautiful turquoise water. It actually reminded me a bit of the beaches on the Isles of Scilly.

Rottnest is also home to a colony of quokkas, friendly marsupials that are quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. They are inquisitive little creatures and are found all over the island, even in the main town, where they will walk (or perhaps hop is a better description) over to you to say hello, sniff you out (probably seeing if you have any food for them, though feeding them is forbidden) and are for the most part, tame.

Next up we’re heading north on a camping/road trip. I’ll write the next post when we’re back in Perth in a week.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Hong Kong and Macau

The first stop on our trip was Hong Kong, beginning with a twelve-hour overnight flight – and perfectly timed just as the weather got cold in London.

Hong Kong is a contrast of high-end establishments, glittering light and flashing neon signs against a grubbier, seedier side. Rich tourists and hard-up locals making their living and living side by side in an incredibly busy city where space is of a real premium. Steep hills and narrow winding streets, also contrast with big main roads organised into blocks.

Being a new destination for us, we turned to the traveller reviews on Trip Advisor and to choose our accommodation and we thought we had found ourselves a real bargain in Kowloon, just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour. Whilst we couldn’t fault the room (especially for the location and the price), we ended up in a guest house in the Chungking Mansions – a complex of guest houses on top of a shopping mall selling cheap Indian food, sim cards and money exchangers – and one so notorious that its reputation precedes it – and the film ‘Chungking Express’ has been made to tell the story of its shady history.

Our guide book even gives the Chungking Mansions a special mention – and I quote: 

“This grim and squalid collection of guesthouses, flops and fleapits amid the glitter of Nathan Road has become the stuff of legend over the years, resisting attempts to knock it down…” 
Oh dear – shame we didn’t read this before booking a place to stay!

After checking in, we took a stroll down to the harbour just as the light show was beginning and the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island were beginning to switch on their neon lights as dusk fell. It was pretty to watch but impossible to do justice with a camera.

The following day we took the tram up to Victoria Peak and hiked back down. It was a hazy day but the altitude of the Peak still afforded us some great views down on to the city below. We also got our first mosquito bites – I think being a city I wasn’t expecting to get bitten, however out on the hiking trails the bugs were out in force!

On our walk to the tram station we overheard gibbons in distance and detoured via the botanical gardens and zoo – also home to lemurs, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, tortoises and birds. An impressive park built into the hillside and free entry too.

For a view of the Kowloon side of the harbour we took the Star Ferry back across to the mainland. 

Hong Kong is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, to experience the city but also for its proximity to Macau, home to the world’s highest bungy jump – a long-standing activity on my wish list and the world’s highest at 233 metres. So, after a couple of days in Hong Kong we took the ferry over to Macau. An hour across the water to the “Vegas of the East” – and it’s easy to see the comparison when looking at the fancy resorts and casinos, many of which the same chains as in Las Vegas.

Our first stop was the Macau Tower – home of the world’s highest bungy jump and AJ Hackett’s latest venture. The height of the jump and the location on top of a sky scraper led to them developing an innovative, new bungy cord to better control the descent, rebound and proximity to the tower, with tethering cables on either side of the harness to ensure the jumper does not swing into the side of the building in the event of high winds! (Note - this is definitely more of a precaution than an actual risk as when jumping it feels like you’re a long way from the tower!)

Before even reaching the bungy platform, the lift rushes you up to the observation deck at a rate of 61 floors in less than 60 seconds with glimpses of the skyline flashing through glass panels in the lift as you get ever higher. The lift alone is not for the faint hearted, the speed of the ascent almost feeling like a bungy jump in reverse and certainly not suitable for anyone who doesn’t like heights – with this in mind, Kev decided to stay on the ground floor and watch from below!

With stunning views out over the Macau skyline this jump was certainly a new experience for me, however the jump itself felt rather tame and really ‘controlled’ so definitely not the most thrilling, despite being the highest.  However I’m very happy to have ticked it off my bucket list!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to the ‘freestyle’ jump (i.e. running jump, somersault or handstand and flip off the platform) as they won’t let you do this on your ‘first jump’ and my budget didn’t allow for more than one jump but I have definitely set these as my future bungy goals!

Macau itself is an old Portuguese colony with much of the Portuguese influence remaining – like the mosaic streets akin to those in Cascais and the custard tarts sold in bakeries across the old town. The street names are in Portuguese and the colours and architecture are very much reminiscent of Lisbon, albeit a twelve-hour flight away on the Chinese mainland!

No visit to Hong Kong would be complete without mentioning the food! We tried to eat local food as much as possible (well, as long as there was enough English translation on the menu enough to be able to order from it). We ate delicious dim sum (the steamed shrimp and truffled mushroom dumplings, wontons and sweet barbecued pork buns were our favourites) and tried out the street food at Temple Street night market, but didn’t fancy any of the dried seafood or congee (savoury rice porridge).

Temple Street Market is also home to market stalls selling souvenirs and fake goods, a street full of fortune tellers – including a ‘bird teller’ who has a bird in a cage that will pick out a fortune card in exchange for some seeds; tarot readers, palmists and fortune tellers who claim to be able to read your face! We didn’t have a reading done, but it made for interesting viewing nevertheless.

We met up with Jackie and Julie (two of my Pentland colleagues based in Hong Kong) for brunch before heading off for the airport and it was great to catch up – even if Jackie had lost her voice so some of the conversations were a bit like a game of charades!

Next stop is Perth in Western Australia – I’ll blog again once there.