Perth is close enough to home for the occasional tourist, and yet it packs a diverse range of experiences.
IN front of me was a plate of scrumptious poached eggs on toasted ciabatta, with crisp bacon, chipolata sausages, grilled tomato and a serving of hash browns on the side. In the distance, seagulls squawked and the water lapped the shore in a leisurely way.
Framed by clear blue skies, the Boatshed Restaurant boasts a panoramic 180° view of the city of Perth, Western Australia (WA). This eatery in South Perth is set on the bank of the Swan River, which is named after the black swans of the area.
While the swans were nowhere in sight, we did see a pair of strange seabirds, locally referred to as “shags”, that stood akimbo in a bid to air-dry their wings. Springtime in the capital of WA is cooling and serene.
As a holiday destination, Perth is nowhere near as popular as the likes of Melbourne, the Gold Coast or Sydney, but it has its own charms.
Animal lovers get to hand-feed red kangaroos at the Caversham Wildlife Park in Swan Valley, Perth
I first became acquainted with the city eight years ago when I spent almost a year there to complete my degree at Murdoch University. Coming back as a tourist, I realised that the place had so much more to offer than it had been credited for.
Apart from obligatory visits to the regal London Court on Hay Street, Fremantle Markets and Kings Park, I also took the opportunity to go on my first trip to WA’s renowned wine and food region, Margaret River.
Located three hours from the city, the idyllic town is accessible via car rentals or by the TransWa bus (Transwa.wa.gov.au). The scenic journey took me past quiet towns and farmland. En route, I was lucky enough to have spotted a woolly alpaca among the sheep. Resembling small llamas, alpacas are bred for the fibre they produce but have also recently begun to take on the surprising role of “sheep flock guardians” – there have been instances of male alpacas fending off multiple predator attacks.
I also came across signs to Busselton and dropped in for a look at the 1.8km-long Busselton Jetty, the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. For A$29.50 (RM92), you can hop on a red jetty train for a ride down the length of the dock to the Underwater Observatory. Here, you get to descend 8m to the ocean floor for a look at the forest of majestic man-made reefs, home to over 300 marine species.
The train, however, may not operate on certain days when strong wind and rain is expected.
A sensory experience
In the heart of Margaret River lies Cowaramup, which locals refer to as “Cowtown”. While its name really means “place of the Cowara bird” in the Aboriginal language, the tranquil village is more cow-themed than not.
It even comes complete with an amusing “golden cow on a stick” statue.
The Australis Margaret River Hotel proved to be a comfortable two-night stay with its spacious chalet-like rooms overlooking lush bushland. After checking in, I was taken on a laidback foodie’s wine tour, organised by Harvest Tours.
The first stop was at Yahava KoffeeWorks, for a sensory coffee-tasting experience at the tasting bench, covering single origins, all-day blends, and the rich and bold. Yahava, pronounced “Ja-ha-va”, offers fresh, roast-to-order coffee and a selection of souvenirs for java addicts.
Next up was Settlers Ridge, where I discovered a selection of wines that claimed to reduce headaches, hangovers and allergic reactions. Really? The winery’s 100% organically certified concoctions are said to be ideal for health-conscious wine lovers and are actually asthma- and allergy-friendly (as endorsed by the WA Asthma Foundation).
The Settlers Ridge tagline promises, “All of the pleasure … none of the pain.”
The prices, too, won’t burn a hole in your pocket – a bottle of 2011 Chenin Sauvignon Blanc starts at A$18.50 (RM58).
Following this was a stop at Margaret River Providore, voted one of Australia’s Top 100 Gourmet Experiences by the Australian Traveller Magazine. From Aromatic Seafood Risotto to Onion and Thyme Marmalade and Fresh Strawberry Jam, this rammed-earth shop and tasting centre offers a wide range of homemade jams, preserves and sauces, most of which are available for tasting.
All of the ingredients come fresh from the organic olive grove, orchard and vegetable gardens out back. I couldn’t resist buying a jar of tangy Roasted Tomato Mustard, decadently infused with crunchy mustard seeds for A$14.95 (RM47).
A staffer working at the Margaret River Providore orchard and vegetable gardens
I was given a scrumptious sampling of the day’s menu, comprising Chilli and Lemon Olives, Beetroot and Orange Relish with Marinated Feta, Dukkah with Garlic-infused Olive Oil, Classic Lamb Curry, Pepper Steak-seasoned Potato Bites and a slice of Chocolate Cake with Blood Orange-infused Olive Oil.
More wine-tasting followed at the Woody Nook Wines, before lunch was served at the winery’s rustic Nookery Café. The cosy atmosphere it exudes gives one the feeling of dining at home away from home. Its heady selection of mains, from pasta and meat to freshly-caught seafood, are pure comfort food without being too heavy.
Before the itinerary came to an end, Harvest Tours made one last stop: the Silk Road Silk Worm farm.
Here, you are allowed to see and touch live silkworms in various stages of growth. The farm grows mulberry trees and cultivates silkworms (which snack on mulberry leaves) to produce home-grown Australian silk. The silk cocoons are, however, sent to Cambodia for the final process of turning the raw ingredient into commercial silk products.
According to our friendly guide Jamie Batrick-Nolan, hopping on a foodie’s wine tour of Margaret River is always more advisable than driving around on your own because then you wouldn’t be able to indulge. It’s against the law for drivers to have more than two glasses of wine.
What’s more, the entire tour, inclusive of lunch, is priced at A$125 (RM392), which is good value for money.
If you have an extra A$45 (RM141) to spare, I’d say you should cap your evening with a Sunset Kangaroo Safari Tour guided by Neil McLeod, who drives a mean 1962 4WD Bedford truck to take you upclose and personal with the western grey kangaroo.
After going on a photo-clicking frenzy, McLeod’s guests get to enjoy a hot cup of “billy” tea or coffee, plus home-baked orange cake by McLeod’s wife, Coralie, at the soothing Dudley Creek in the family-owned land.
Ups and downs
Back in Perth, I was roped into going on a full-day Pinnacles, Koalas and Sand Boarding 4WD adventure tour organised by Pinnacle Tours.
The 12-hour tour was a tiring one, beginning with a rushed visit to the Caversham Wildlife Park in Swan Valley. The busload of about 30 tourists were only given 25 minutes here, which was barely enough time for everyone to have a turn at petting the koalas, hand-feeding the red kangaroos and grabbing a snapshot with the cuddly wombat.
Thankfully, lunch, at the Lobster Shack in the lobster fishing town of Cervantes, more than made up for it. Their lip-smacking dish of sizzling hot Western Rock Lobster and Fries is highly recommended.
After this stop, we were off to the famed Pinnacles Desert to see the age-old limestone formations housed within the Nambung National Park. While many speak excitedly of the Pinnacles in their visits to Perth, I wouldn’t call it the star of the tour. Lancelin, where you could sandboard, tops it.
As it were, we were confronted by vast sand dunes that seemed to come out of nowhere – that was when the bus that we’d been travelling in began to showcase its 4WD abilities, taking us on a thrilling roller-coaster ride through the mounds of fine, white sand.
When we pulled to a stop, everyone was given a chance to try sandboarding, which is essentially like snowboarding, except on sand.
It was an experience to behold – adults smothered in sand and giggling like schoolchildren as they struggled up steep sand dunes to have another go.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of release as my board sped down the hill.
If you’re not willing to fork out A$215 (RM674) for a full-day tour, you can always consider driving on you own to Lancelin, which is just 90 minutes away from Perth.
While any Malaysian would consider Perth a good place to study at, the city is an even greater place for a holiday.
Moreover, it shares the same time zone as Kuala Lumpur and is less than six hours away by flight. To up your comfort levels while flying there, you could opt for AirAsia X’s Premium Flatbed seats – the roomy seats, priority facilities and business class-like service will have you coming back for more. – Lee Mei Li
The writer’s trip was sponsored by AirAsia X and Tourism Western Australia. AirAsia X flies nine times weekly from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Australia.
The good life
Tags: Australia, Australian Traveller Magazine, Australis Margaret River Hotel, Boatshed Restaurant, Busselton Jetty, Caversham Wildlife Park, Cowaramup, Lancelin, Margaret River, Margaret River Providore, Nambung National Park, Perth, Pinnacles Desert, Settlers Ridge, Silk Road Silk Worm Farm, South Perth, Swan River, Swan Valley, TransWa Bus, Underwater Observatory, Woody Nook Wines, Yahava KoffeeWorks