Australia - Perth

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, March 4, 2006

Day 1

With a long day ahead of us we arose at 9am, had breakfast and said goodbye to the staff at Il Palazzo before returning our car to the hire company and getting dropped off at the airport.

Slightly apprehensive that our carry-on luggage (a jam packed rucksack each, snorkeling equipment and a full cool bag!) would raise an eyebrow or even worse a fine, we managed to check-in with no problems. We then had an hours wait before the first leg of our flight which took us to Melbourne airport. The flight took three and a half hours and was thankfully both smooth and uneventful. (PIC)

Melbourne may appear to be a strange detour en route to Perth but the five hour stopover there ensured that we got our flights over $100 cheaper than any other. We toyed with the idea of catching the shuttle bus into the centre of Melbourne for a few hours but by the time we found it and then had waited for the next one, the hours journey in and back would have meant we would only have had about two hours there. Besides which the bus was a whopping $30 each and we would have had to lug around all the aforementioned hand luggage. We stayed put in the airport lounge instead.

Buying one coffee enabled us to lay claim to the comfy sofas for four hours and sit next to the giant windows looking out over the runway and the sunset (PIC). We took advantage of the spare time to ring around even more campervan companies and hotels in search of a room for that night, eventually finding an empty room in 'One World' backpackers for one night. Everywhere in Perth seemed to be booked out.

Eventually we boarded the last leg of the journey to Perth at 8pm (Melbourne time) and settled into our seats for another three and a half hour flight. We managed to grab a couple of hours sleep before landing in Perth at 9:30pm (Perth time). The cute sniffer dog in arrivals was obviously not trained on teabags as he gave us a wide berth and instead concentrated on other unsavouries like a couple of old ladies with stashes of sweets.

With our bags popping out first (a miracle given that they had changed planes at Melbourne!) we made for the taxi queue outside and onto the hostel in the centre of Perth. We checked in, paid our money, dumped our bags and were asleep by 10:30pm Perth time...12:30 Cairns time.

Day 2

Making sure we didn't miss out on the free breakfast at the hostel we got up at 9:30 and savoured the coffee and hot toast (what do you expect for $50 a night - room and breakfast). The lad who had checked us in the night before (Joel) was actually a backpacker himself (29 and from Coventry) who had already travelled the west coast so we spent some time picking his brains for ideas and 'must see' destinations along the way.

Needing to look for a room for the following nights (One World, like everywhere else was full and could not accommodate us) we left our bags at the hostel reception and checked out a nearby hostel that 'One World' recommended to us; Governor Robinson's, which was a newly renovated colonial cottage with polished wooden floors and high ceilings (PICS). At only $60 a night for a double room we booked up for two nights. It was at this point that we were informed that it was a bank holiday weekend which was why everywhere was full and also why we would not get any joy with campervan companies the following day - they were all closed for the long weekend.

Room secured we took the free bus into town (Perth has an excellent free public transport system) to orientate ourselves (PICS) and stock up on some food shopping. The CBD of Perth has some lovely old English features and even has an area named 'London Court' (PICS). It wasn't quite like being at home but there was definitely something reminiscent about it.

Utilising the free bus once again we returned to One World to collect our luggage before jumping in a taxi and heading over to Governor Robinson's. Settling in for the evening we relaxed, made dinner and had a brief spell on the internet before getting to bed at midnight.

Day 3

Safe in the knowledge that we had another night in Governor's and everything in the city was closed for Labour day, we had a relaxed morning getting up at 10:30 and enjoying a leisurely breakfast before strolling into and around the CBD once again.

We wandered down to the Swan River which runs along the South of Perth (PIC) and provides a picturesque stroll along its banks taking in the clear blue skies, sunshine and on this occasion a local little league baseball tournament.

On the edge of the Swan River and dominating Perths waterfront are the Swan Bells which include the twelve royal bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields originating in London's Trafalgar Square, donated to Perth in 1988 to mark Australia's Bi-centenary. The Bell's are constructed within a stunning modern piece of architecture claiming to be the worlds biggest musical instrument (PIC). With Perth being in the middle of a heat wave (approx 38c) the building offered some refuge in the form of its monster air conditioning.

With limited choice for things to do (other than bake in the heat) we decided to seek further refuge in the form of the local cinema and watched Jarhead.

Back at the hostel we continued our search for further accommodation as Governor Robinson's was full the following night and we had not progressed in finding a campervan which would put an end to our need for hostel accommodation. With a couple of possibilities lined up to look at the following day we made our way to bed at 11:30pm.

Day 4 - 13 Van hunt

For brevity's sake we have again opted to condense a few days tedium into one entry aptly named; Van hunt, just to give you a clue of how we spent those four days.

Our accommodation for this period was the centrally based Hotel Northbridge; a 4.5 star boutique hotel of which we were staying in the 'budget lodge' section (PICS) - not quite as luxurious as their award winning penthouse and spa rooms but it had all the amenities we needed with air con, TV and fridge in the room for $50 a night.

A lot of the time was spent on the phone, firstly to hire companies and then individual sellers. The initial idea of hiring a campervan to drive the West coast had become an expensive prospect with the advertised '$29 a day' prices suddenly soaring to more like $100 a day by the time they had explained the offer price was for low season (which is whenever you DON'T want the van) and then adding the daily rate to reduce the extortionate excess. All in all the best price we could find was going to end up costing roughly $2500 (1000 GBP) for a small ill-equipped van for four weeks.

One method of reducing the hire cost is to undertake a relocation for the hire company (which we had heard plenty about from other travellers), unfortunately these are few and far between and virtually non-existent from Perth to Darwin at this time of year.

With these two options exhausted we considered the 'Hop-on, Hop-off' bus which was just as quickly discounted as it does not start until April. Next was the Greyhound but this was also going to cost in the region of $800 each just for the ticket and we would then have the ongoing expense and rigmarole of finding accommodation at each stop and transport or day trips to major sites.

All other avenues explored and rejected we were left with buying a campervan of our own. And so begins the tale of two cities, 20 vans, 150 phone calls and a couple of RAC visits.

Trawling through countless backpacker advertisements in internet cafes, hostels, auto trader and Quokka (their version of Free ads) we narrowed our search to around 20 vans. As is the way with these things nearly half of those had already sold or on further consideration were too expensive (e.g the $10k kitted out van we dallied with the idea of working in Perth for a month in order to afford!) leaving us with 7 to look at.

You could classify these remaining vans into two distinct groups; ones with a pop-top and ones without, the latter consisting of a double bed laid out in the back with storage underneath. Those in the second category were quickly dismissed as every day tasks such as cooking, washing and accessing ANYTHING would quickly become a chore. Call us grand but we also came to the mutual decision that we would like a couple of luxuries (basic amenities by any other standards!) like a sink, cooker and fridge. A toilet and shower would be nice too but we weren't getting our hopes up as they were reserved for the bigger, more expensive models in the $10k range.

Our criteria for mod cons and gizmos immediately narrowed our search to 4;
1) Katya's was a '76 lime green Bedford van in need of care and attention.
2) Matt's was a '78 pastel yellow Toyota Hiace with its fair share of rust.
3) Mike's was an '81 royal blue Nissan E20 with a rough sounding engine.
4) Jalal's was an '82 simple cream Toyota Hiace in excellent condition for its age.

So obviously our first choice was....Katya's green machine. Yes, its true. Our decision was based almost solely on price, their starting prices as being;

1) Katya's '76 lime green Bedford van $2800
2) Matt's '78 pastel yellow Toyota Hiace $3600
3) Mike's '81 royal blue Nissan E20 $4000
4) Jalal's '82 simple cream Toyota Hiace $6800

Katya, Matt and Mike were also all in a rush to sell as they were all backpackers leaving the area and had foolishly booked flights. It was suddenly a buyers market and we had time to spare so we made the following offers;

1) Katya's '76 lime green Bedford van $1300
2) Matt's '78 pastel yellow Toyota Hiace $2500
3) Mike's '81 royal blue Nissan E20 $3200

With our remarkable $1300 offer (can you believe a campervan for less than 600 GBP!?) on Katya's van accepted we set about booking it in for an RAC inspection. The inspection revealed one or two more serious problems than we were prepared to pay for as it would cost in the region of $1500.

Katya's van out of the running we were about to book Mike's van in for an inspection (at $200 a pop you need to be seriously considering buying the vehicle) when we clapped our eyes on Jalal's van. Jalal is a fifty-something retired traveller/hippy who now spends half his time in Sri Lanka so no longer uses the van. He had bought the van from its first owners; an elderly couple who were members of a campervan club and had carefully driven and looked after the van for 23 years.

Needless to say the van was in immaculate condition compared to any of the backpacker owned ones we had previously seen and benefited from an owner who knew and could advise where everything was, how everything worked and provide the paperwork for all the work that had been done on it. A bit of a contrast from Mike who tried to persuade us to keep the van in his name to avoid the expense of registration and couldn't tell us how to operate the cooker or link up the power at a campsite because he hadn't used either!?!

Keeping the RAC appointment, we told Mike 'thanks but no thanks' and booked Jalal's van in instead. Unlike Katya's, Jalal's van came back with a glowing report. There were a few minor things highlighted as 'observations - not needing urgent action' but we opted to buy the van anyway (at $6000!) and have a service done along with a few of the more pressing repairs. We were sure we would be able to make our money back on the van and now with our new plan to drive ALL the way to Melbourne instead of just Darwin we figured it would be worth the investment if not for piece of mind alone. Even if we were only to get $3500 when we sold it the entire trip would have only cost about $2000 all in for the two of us.

The following days were spent frantically shopping (mainly in the pretty town of Freemantle where we bought the van from)(PICS) for bedding, cups, plates, pots & pans and the much sort after toilet and shower....portable chemical toilet and outdoor 'plug into the lighter' type shower but a toilet and shower nonetheless!

Now the van was packed out with all the mod cons and toys we had on our wish list; CD player, MP3 adaptor, fan, toilet, shower, cooker, fridge, sink, wardrobe, double bed, microwave, lights, kettle, power sockets etc etc we decided on an appropriate name; Gizmo.

We were up and running and ready to get on the road for our first night in Gizmo. All of this had obviously taken its toll on Andrew! (PIC).

We spent our first night (Day 9 in Perth) in a lay by next to Freemantle beach (PIC). We wanted to stay local to check everything worked alright before we got on the road in the outback where it would be a lot harder to source anything we had forgotten or find a mechanic.

The following night was spent inland in Toodyay Campsite (PIC) (where they also happened to have a swimming pool!) in order to check all the campsite power connections and microwave etc worked properly.

Satisfied that everything worked and that we could cope without the amenities (and cost) of a campsite we spent the following nights at Scarborough and Trigg beach respectively, both on the sunset coast (PICS).

Day 14

Having stayed at Trigg Beach for a second night we woke at a reasonably early hour with the Galaah chorus echoing in our ears (PICS). We managed to get back to sleep after it and eventually arose at around 8:30am. After breakfast and packing up the van we headed back into the centre of Perth to pick up our Insurance documents from the RAC headquarters and then popped along to an internet cafe where we had been several days earlier and left our photo cd in one of their machines. Luckily it was still on top of the same machine - Phew!!

We decided that we should see a few more of Perths tourist attractions before we headed south so we made our way to the Perth Mint (PIC), Australia's oldest operating mint and one of the oldest in the world. It was set up to manufacture coins, bullion and other collectables around the time of the gold rush in Western Australia.

With lunch time quickly approaching, and our stomachs signaling that it was time to feed, our first stop in the mint was the tea garden where we indulged in high tea; finger sandwiches, cakes and tea and coffee - all of which were sumptuous, delicious and unbelievably fresh, just not enough!!

With our growling bellies silenced we had a look around the exhibition / shop where gold artifacts and small pieces of gold ore were available for purchase ($10 for a grain up to $15,000 for a piece smaller than a tennis ball). We then joined an organised tour ($10 (4 GBP) each) which gave us a bit of history about the place, the couple of famous Irishmen (PICS) who discovered the main gold field in Western Australia and the huge amounts of gold that they simply plucked off the surface of the ground when they accidentally stumbled across it over 100 years ago.

The next stop on the tour was the vault, where loads of ore samples were displayed and a bar of pure gold was available to be picked up. It was smaller than a housebrick yet it weighed 12kg and was worth about $200,000 - unfortunately it was encased in a plastic box and had cameras all around - would have made for a much more comfortable tour of the world had it not been so carefully guarded!

The final part of the excellent mint tour was the foundry, where they originally produced gold bars to be sent all over the world. The foundry has now been relocated nearer to the airport to facilitate the shipping of the 1 tonne of gold they produce each day! The tour guide pulled a crucible of molten gold out of a furnace and proceeded to pour it into a bar mould, within a minute the 1300 degree liquid had reduced to 800 degrees and was rock solid. A further quenching and it was shining brightly and cold to the touch - not that we were allowed anywhere near it.

There was one other place we wanted to see in Perth, the Kings Park. A huge parkland area on the west side of the city, which guidebooks say 'no visit to Perth is complete without seeing'. The area was very peaceful and stunningly set, with sprawling grasslands and treelined pathways throughout.

We found our way to a lookout where we clambered to the top and took in the views over Perth and the Swan River (PICS). There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get out of the park as one large area was being closed down to set up for a concert that night - Il Divo we later discovered - not that we would have tried to get any last-minute tickets! The accumulating audience somewhat older than us.

With our mission complete; seeing what we wanted to in Perth, we headed south back towards Freemantle, our base for the night as we began our tour of the South West. We took the opportunity of a nearby supermarket and stocked up on essentials before driving to Mosman beach to set up camp for the night.

After a freshly cooked and prepared fish supper we made our way to bed at 11pm.
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