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Down Under West Coast Edition

These Australian  blog-posts are dedicated to my dearest friend, Adele Evans (Affleck), who died suddenly in September 2012.  Just two weeks in to our Aussie trip, we returned to Perth from our Albany and Denmark visit to be confronted by this awful, awful news.   Adele, I miss you dreadfully; still in my Outlook inbox are your messages sent to me, saying how much you were looking forward to reading and hearing all about our adventures in Aus.  I see you reading this, my dearest friend, with Paula parrot, your African Grey on one shoulder, shredding your ear-ring, Timmie, your yellow cockatiel on your other shoulder, whispering sweet nothings to you and Clarence, our moggie, curled up on your lap, knowing that you will protect him from those horrid raccoons.    We know how much you enjoyed our blogs in Tajikistan.  The images of cockatoos and galahs are especially for you; to me,  they are my constant reminder of the way you lived your life – full-on, with maximum  ’plumage’ and joie de vivre.    Until we meet again, my friend......
Ubiquitous and beautiful, the Galah
 With a country as vast as Australia, it’s difficult to know where to begin....   and this was one of our quandaries when we decided to visit ‘down under’.  Most visitors start and finish on the East Coast; Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef are the iconic ‘must sees’.   But we opted for another plan and again, tried to say off the beaten track.  As we would be starting (and possibly ending)  in Perth, we decided that we’d concentrate on the great unknown of Western Australia and leave all the other bits of the country to the rest of the world and maybe, another time. 

Galahs having a party

A bedouin displaced... visiting The Pinnacles
The big attraction of Perth  was spending time with Hazel and CK.  Hazel and I go WAAAY back, to boarding school days in Chandernagore (W Bengal),  when we were locked up from the real world, ‘doing time’ behind the locked doors of a convent.   So, having survived being chewed alive by Canadian mosquitoes the size of helicopters,  the ten-day canoe marathon of the Bowron Lakes and  ten months of excruciatingly mind-numbing treatment in Rotterdam, we boarded our plane in anticipation of two months of discovering the unknown in WA.
L to R  Christine, Hazel and Maria, picknicking just outside Perth
Apparently there are just five places in the world that boast the ‘perfect Mediterranean- style-climate’.  They are  (of course), our very own Southern California ,  Chile’s Central region,  The South of France,  The Cape Floristic region of South Africa and TADA!!! -  South West Australia.  So, we were swapping the warmth of our back-yard for another perfect location..... Perth in November is – parky.   Not really similar to the balmy evenings of San Pedro’s coast.   But we were not there just for the Aussie spring.   

View from H & Cs penthouse apartment looking out on King's Park
 a couple of fitness freaks
(CK and Jelte taking part in a charity bike race)
Perth is a curious city.  Jelte likens it to OC  (Orange County, for those of you not familiar with US West Coast slang)  but on steroids.   Our wonderful hosts had found themselves a spectacular penthouse apartment a mere spit away from Kings Park.   Two hours after we arrived we were hiking in this incredible 1000 acre park, (larger than NYC’s Central Park),  being introduced to kookaburras,  galahs, black cockatoos and a host of other ‘down under’ fauna and flora.   And with its wide open spaces and challenging climbs,  from 5am through midnight you will find fitness freaks pushing themselves to the limits of endurance...not dissimilar to the fitness fanatics of SoCal.
Millbrooke Winery, just outside Perth
Wildflower season in Kings Park
In short, this joint is  seriously muscle-bound.   And given the extraordinary amount of sunshine that has  to be endured, it’s hardly surprising.  Bikers, joggers, swimmers, rowers, yoga aficionados, poseurs.  They are all flaunting it.  But, in spite of its ‘addiction to steroids’, the place  still has a laid-back feel to it, perhaps because it truly is the end of the earth.    It takes one the better part of a week to understand how to ensure a decent cup of coffee (hugely important to Jelte)  – the secret is to order your ‘shot’ with milk on the side.   Oh!  And, do remember to secure yourself a mortgage before you set foot in this part of the country.  It’s not just the locals that are on steroids;  the prices are too, as are rents, salaries just about anything that needs to be swapped for moolah.  
Central Park Rio Tinto Aboriginal Art Exhibition
The City boasts incredible views of the Swanee (river) and is stunningly beautiful.  It’s compact enough to  walk most of the downtown area, with lots of attractions as distractions along the way.  Where we were located, we were able to stroll into the CBD (central business district) and surrounding area and get our daily fix of exercise with a few cups of coffee thrown in for good measure.
Smiles on our faces after wine tasting and a gourmet lunch at a Margaret River winery
In the space of two weeks  we had checked out the ‘funky’ old town of Freemantle and  its history of colonization of WA dating back to 1829 (or ‘Freo’ – the Aussies  have a facility for  vernacular diminutives) and Margaret River with its vast vineyards and restaurants that would make a Frenchman weep with joy.   Hazel and CK had also planned a trip for us to Albany and Denmark.  From the perspective of tourism professionals,  what has been achieved here in this part of South Western Australia is a template for perfect product presentation. 
Jelte, Hazel and CK outside the Cabana, Denmark
Hazel and Jelte on the Natural Bridge, Albany
Elephant Beach, Albany
When we visit a new destination, Jelte and I always try to identify the principal ‘essence’ of the place.  Western Australia’s ‘essence’ we believe, is its wealth of nature, particularly its abundance of marine life.   Never in all our wildest imaginations did we imagine we would have such close encounters with marine life; but that comes later...  Back to South Western Australia.
Tree-Top Walk Walpole
Tree-Top Walk, Walpole
Hazel, being her usual efficient self, had found us a wonderful New Mexico type  stay (incongruous in Aus, we know)  at the Cabana, a part of the Chimes properties in Denmark for a long weekend. We drove down from Perth, stopping  for  lunch  and a bit of wine tasting in Margaret River.   The weather was definitely spring-like and there was a chill wind blowing.   One could spend eons in WA just getting acquainted with its varieties of truly excellent wine.  The ambiance at these wineries are quietly sophisticated – as are the prices!!   
Benedictine Monastery, New Norcia
View of the CBD from H and CK's apartment
One of the big challenges in WA is accommodation in the season.  We were visiting at the start ofthe flower season as well as school holidays.  I suppose, owing to its isolation from the rest of the world, there is a severe dearth of accommodation available.  Like many destinations, WA’s season is limited to those months when the weather is bearable (winter and spring).  In the summer months, when it is bone dry and baking hot, and only the ‘roos (Aus dim!!) are sitting under the shade of the occasional tree, most establishments shut up shop.  This is even more apparent in the North of the State where temperatures touch the high forties.    So it is pretty much a seller’s market with VERY modest accommodation being offered at obscenely high rates – and that’s if you are smart enough to book early. 
Enjoying the view of the Indian Ocean

Whale World Albany

Greens Pool, Albany
The Tree Tops walk in Walpole was – elevating - in every sense of the word.  We spent a year in Tajikistan, helping the local Pamiri community work on the promotion of their tourism product.  And we could not help but wish that we had just a fraction of the development and promotional funds that Western Australia has so cleverly put to maximum advantage.   Being a tourist in this part of the country is truly a pleasant experience with nothing overblown or ‘Disneyesque’.   The Whale World Museum in Albany was a reminder of the butchery we humans practiced on the marine world.  The beaches in  Walpole and Denmark are breathtakingly beautiful, which, at this time of year, we could only walk and ‘ooh’ and’ aah’ at the  blindingly beautiful different shades of blues and greens.  Yeah; swimsuits were left at home in Perth.
In preparation for our visit, I read Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Sunburned Country’.  Frankly, nothing can really prepare one for  the Aussie Experience.  Even with us, visiting from the huge state of California, we were unprepared for the emptiness of this incredibly masculine country.   One thing his book did prepare us for though, was the apparent absence of Australia’s beautiful indigenous people,  Aboriginals.  We cannot recall meeting even one in the first month of our trip.   It was only when we travelled way ‘up North’ that we found that in a few places, they were actually taking an active role in familiarizing tourists with their homeland. 

Still don't know what this tree is
We planned to spend two months in WA, before continuing on to India.  Although we knew that we wanted to travel as far north as possible, before we arrived, we were not clear about how we would make this trip.  Fly or drive?  Two weeks in to our Aus experience we made our decision – we would do the typical tourist ‘thing’ and hire a camper van.  So, three weeks of road travel was on the cards........
Birds (?) on the beach; this an emu btw 
Before we start part two of our Aus Ad, a quick intro to Aus diminutives:  Roo,:kangaroo, Barbie:  Barbecue,  footy:  football, arvo: afternoon,  sunnies: sunglasses, rego: registration,  servo: service station,  brekkie: breakfast,  cuppa: cup of tea.  There is a dictionary for Aus dims...... over 5000 exist, currently!!


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