Perth, Australia - Day 1
We normally arrive at new destinations between 6 – 8:00am, but today, our sail-in to Perth/ Fremantle commenced at 2:30pm with the boarding of our compulsory harbor pilot, and we were docked by 4:00pm. As we approached the northwestern coast of Australia, it somewhat reminded me of the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale seaboard with its stretching beaches of white sand and beautiful turquoise water. The only missing element was the proliferation of high-rise hotels – there are a few, but otherwise pristine beachfront. There were a number a windsurfers visible from the ship along with many other sun worshipers – we later learned that Perth is not only the most remote capital in the world, but also home to more great white sharks than any other place on earth. While we spent some time strolling the beach, our water activities were limited to a few toes in the water…that’s it!
Bell Tower - Downtown
Perth War Memorial
We were off the ship by 4:30, docked securely in the port of Fremantle. It has a strong local identity, but has nonetheless been absorbed into Perth’s urban sprawl. In 1987, the port was the site of the unsuccessful defense of what was, for a brief period, one of Australia’s prized possessions – the America’s Cup yachting trophy. Fremantle has since been substantially revamped and is now filled with outdoor cafes, old buildings, (but well-kept) lively markets, and is saturated with a very laidback artsy ambience.
The railway station (similar to Adelaide) was within one block of the pier, so we paid a reasonable fare of $4 each for a trip into Perth – a 30 minute journey with 15 stops along the way. The suburbs we traversed in route were unlike what you typically see adjacent to train tracks – they were all beautiful – no graffiti-laden buildings, no accumulations of trash, no homeless people in search of their next meal. Each stop & the sights in-between were most impressive. The final leg of our trip was an underground tunnel. When we emerged, there before us was the city of Perth with its towering, glistening skyline – it was like seeing the Land of Oz after Dorothy opens the door – absolutely breathtaking! The locals knew I was a tourist because I immediately started snapping pictures before the train came to a complete stop! Arriving shortly after 5pm, the railway station was packed with commuters, including well-behaved school kids. Traffic was horrendous, sidewalks were elbow-to-elbow! We immediately headed toward the Swan River to try to escape the hordes of people, with plans to return to city-center later in the evening. Perth’s city-center is fairly compact, situated on a sweep of the Swan River, which borders the city-center to the south and east, linking Perth to Fremantle. Total population is about 1.3 million. The western end of Perth rises to the awesome King’s Park which overlooks the city, then extends to cosmopolitan Subiaco. Further west, suburbs extend as far as Scarborough and Cottesloe beaches on the Indian Ocean. After a beautiful walk on the boardwalk enjoying a cool breeze off the river, we headed back into town only to find deserted sidewalks at 7:00pm – the multitudes of people & traffic were completely gone, almost to the point of bizarre! We were both quite thirsty and had a hard time just finding a place to have a cold beer – the city itself was totally padlocked! In many respects, it was nice being able to roam at will, taking photos without the prods of people. The only signs of humanity were the street sweepers and occasionally, a few other passengers from our ship. Again, a beautiful walk, and we eventually found a small pub in the process of closing, but willing to sell us a couple cold drinks.
Surprisingly, the trains run 24X7 – we were back on the tracks at 8:30 and by 9:00, we were back at the pier boarding our ship. We decided to try the free internet inside the ship terminal but to no avail – there were dozens of other passengers with the same ambition and transmissions absolutely crawled. While snacks were available in the Lido restaurant, we once again ordered room service and enjoyed club sandwiches with fries. By 10:30, lights-out.
The following morning, we boarded our scheduled tour bus. We visited the city of Fremantle and spent a good amount of time at the beach. The balance of our tour consisted primarily of revisiting those sites that we saw the afternoon & evening prior in Perth – we didn’t realize we were in for a repeat, but it was still very enjoyable. The only difference was our return trip to the ship, as we boarded a ferry boat for an excursion down the famed Swan River - about 90 minutes… very scenic, very beautiful. We were dropped at a dock close to our ship, but rather than re-board immediately, we decided to have one last meal in Australia. Low and behold, just down the street was none other than Hungry Jacks – it’s the Australian version of Burger King, complete with Whoppers on the menu!!
In retrospect and as I reflect on our Australian experience, Sydney remains our number one destination choice. While Perth is certainly beautiful and has many desirable attributes, our trophy goes to Sydney. The primary point of differentiation – the city itself is always vibrant with activity of some sort – it never seems to go to sleep. Combined with our trip from last year, we’ve now visited the lion’s share of the ‘land down under’ – it’s clean, modern, rich with history, and populated with proud, very gracious & most genuine, friendly people. The only downside throughout is the cost of living, but it’s all relative. With minimum wage ranging from $14 to $20 per hour (depending on the State) it’s not that much different from our home in Phoenix. It’s still a shock to go to McDonald’s and pay $21 for a meal that Cheryl and I would pay $8 for at home – or Starbuck’s…my triple vente mocha in Phoenix is $5.25 – Australia = $11.50! That’s bloody expensive, mate!!
Two items in closing. First, more pictures of Perth will be posted soon. Second, (and son Brendon will like this)…I’ve started to update the Captain’s Log (CLICK HERE). It’s very interesting to get the perspective from the ‘man driving’ as we travel from port to port. Captain Mercer does an excellent job with his blog, and I’ll do my best to try to keep up with him – I hope you enjoy him as much as we do.