My house-sitting gig in Bunbury ended last Thursday. Before leaving though, I wanted to go on a special excursion. Since my winery and food tour in Margaret River had been cancelled due to some people withdrawing at the last minute, I decided to book a “Swim with the dolphins” tour. I can do winery tours at home and in many places around the world I reasoned. Having the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, on the other hand, is a little more unusual.

Busy dolphins

On Tuesday morning, at the ungodly hour of 5:45 am, I forced myself out of bed. Instead of the clear skies I had grown accustomed to expect, clouds now hovered above, and the air was definitely chilly. This was not a morning I would have chosen to go snorkeling in the Bay. We were supposed to wear wet suits, but I still wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic. On top of that, I had to bike the 6 kms to the Dolphin Discovery Centre, because I was a little too early for the city buses.

I made it by 7:30 however. We had a group of 11 people, all from Europe (except for me). This was my first time wearing a wet suit, and I must say I am not a fan. It kept me fairly warm on the boat ride out. However, once wet, extricating myself from the limb-sucking rubber was almost impossible without help!

We were out on the water for almost three hours, and saw plenty of dolphins. The first group had a young baby with them, and for this reason, our guide told us that we couldn’t enter the water. The second group we saw had only adults, so we finally got in. And we waited for the dolphins to come to us. They didn’t. Apparently, they had better things to do that day than interact with tourists. We bobbed around in the water for 20-30 minutes. The wet suit kept me warm, but there was no visibility under water, so all I could see was…green. Boring. We spent our time swimming back toward the boat as the current kept pushing us away.

The last dolphins we saw were moving quite fast, apparently on some important errand, and our guide decided that there was no point going in again. We were told that 90% of the time there is interaction between the dolphins and the swimmers, but apparently we were part of the unlucky 10%. 🙁

Cost of this little fiasco: $149. It occurred to me afterwards that if I had been on a dolphin sighting cruise, and not a dolphin swimming cruise, I would have been quite satisfied. But my expectation was to get in and swim with them, so I felt disappointed.

After a full day of getting ready to leave and cleaning the house on Wednesday, I finally took the train back to Perth on Thursday afternoon, after bidding farewell to Julie and John who had just returned from their trip. I never got to say proper goodbyes to Melissa and her girls. Just like the dolphins, they were too busy with their lives and went to bed the night before without a word. By the time I got up on Thursday, they were gone again.

What’s wrong with this town?

I arrived in Perth around 5:00 pm and decided to wait out the evening rush hour by having an early dinner downtown. I figured finding food in downtown Perth shouldn’t be difficult. I even had a couple of restaurant names scrawled on a piece of paper.

Coming out of the air-conditioned station, the hot air hit me full on. Bunbury had been hot; Perth was hotter. Carrying all my bags it didn’t take me long to start sweating. But it felt good to be in a large city again. It felt “lively”. For the next 20 minutes that is.

The first restaurant I looked up turned out to be in a mall and it was closed. The second place was a coffee shop that was just about to close (at 5:30??). The third place, a Japanese restaurant with a sushi happy-hour from 3 to 6 pm actually closed at 6 pm and wouldn’t let me in. They directed me to their other outlet 5 minutes walk away. Geez. This felt like one of those American town centres that shuts down as soon as the office workers leave. I didn’t expect this. Now I was sweaty, hungry and grumpy.

The Japanese place was air-conditioned with relaxing jazz music so this is where I ate despite the somewhat pricey sushi (no happy-hour here). It came around on a conveyor belt, which can be rather dangerous for the wallet if you’re not keeping track. I had five of the little dishes, a green ice tea and black sesame ice-cream for dessert, and my bill was almost $34. It’s a good thing that all taxes are included in prices here, and that tipping is not customary.

Around 7 pm I took the local bus to my accommodation, a room in a private house that I had reserved through AirBnB. Emanuel and his wife Mirasol were the friendliest and gentlest hosts I’ve had so far in all of my AirBnB experiences. I felt bad that I was so busy exploring the city and writing, and didn’t have much time to interact with them. (I know, I’m a bad dolphin!)

I had a small room with a single bed and shared the bathroom with my hosts. I could help myself to some food for breakfast which meant I didn’t have to leave the house on an empty stomach. I could even use their kitchen to cook if I was so inclined. The cost per night: $50, probably about a third of the price of the cheapest hotel in this expensive city. A 20-minute bus ride took me to Perth’s CBD (Central Business District).

A day in Perth

On Friday, I spent the whole day in Perth. I started with a pastry and a cappuccino, of course. I wanted to join an 11:00 am free walking tour, but it was cancelled due to the heat. A high of 38C was expected that day. Ouch.

So I went to the Tourist Office instead, and got loads of brochures and information. It turned out that I was just in time for the twice-weekly bell ringing demonstration at the Bell Tower. As you can see in the photos, this is a very modern tower which was built in 2000. It is one of only three places in the world to have a collection of 18 bells. The lady giving the demo, interestingly, had a humped back. I wonder if that’s a hazard of the job? We were allowed to chime a bell, a much gentler movement than actually ringing a bell (which involves a 360-degree rotation of the bell in one direction, and then the other). It’s still hard work!

I had a so-so lunch on the Swan River waterfront. After checking out a few more streets in the CBD, I made my way to King’s Park, a huge urban park on the west side of downtown, and one of Perth’s main attractions.

In King’s Park I visited parts of the Botanical Gardens (free) which consist mostly of Western Australian plants and trees (not a lot of flowers) and walked the Law Path for beautiful views over the Swan River and city. I had a refreshing ginger beer at the restaurant. I couldn’t have a real beer without food I was told, because it was past 5 PM. I think this was a restriction from their liquor permit, but still seemed a little strict. I would have liked to stay longer to see the city lights coming on, but the last bus leaving the park was at 6:41.

Are you starting to see a trend here? That’s right: this town shuts down early. I started thinking that maybe Perth was a little too clean and tame even for my taste. Perth the good? Is that what Toronto was like in the 70’s? Yes it is a pretty city, with a nice setting on a river, but it’s not very exciting. And it’s expensive even by first world standards.

Fortunately, the tourist’s wallet gets some relief from the free CAT bus system. Those are four free bus lines that let you ride around the city centre as much as you want all day long. Several of the main attractions can be reached that way, saving you the need to buy an expensive hop on-hop off bus ticket. See here for other things you can do for free in Perth.

Another nice thing about Perth, are the stringent anti-smoking laws. You can’t smoke indoors of course, but neither can you on outdoor patios. In fact I saw very few people smoking at all.

A day in Fremantle

On Saturday morning I took a boat cruise to Fremantle, a town about 35 kilometres to the southwest of Perth, along the ocean. Its main attractions are the wealth of British colonial buildings that have been beautifully restored, and the Fremantle Prison. It also offers some markets, shops, and a quaint (if small) Fisherman Harbour.

The cruise ($27 one-way) lasted an hour and 15 minutes and had a commentary, but the skipper’s accent was so strong that I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying over the PA system. Nevertheless the watery views were pleasant, with expensive mansions lining the shores, and lots of sailboats in the water.

I had brunch in Fremantle, checked out the markets, then did a tour of the Fremantle Prison called “Great Escapes”. The Fremantle Prison is the only world heritage listed building in Western Australia. It was built by convict labour between 1852 and 1859, as was a lot of the town’s infrastructure in fact. It served as a prison until as recently as 1991, and death penalty was only abolished in 1984! Interesting stuff, but after almost two hours, I was longing for something a little cheerier.

I wandered around the historical centre a little more before making my way to the Fisherman’s Harbour for some Fish & Chips. For a short while, it almost looked like it was going to rain. I even felt some “spray” but not sure if it was coming from above or below. Then the clouds cleared up and gave me a a clear view of the Indian Ocean and beach as I made my way to the train station for the return trip.

Preparing to move on

After two full days of walking and exploration, my feet felt quite tired. I spent Sunday morning doing laundry and writing. Around 2 PM I headed back downtown for one last look around. The pedestrian malls were hopping with people shopping, eating and watching a few buskers. But once again, by 6 PM the place was mostly dead and starting to fill up with weirdos and undesirables.

I took a CAT bus and checked out some nice gardens called the Queen’s Gardens before heading back to King’s Park to see the city lights come on. The last bus on Sunday is at 7:15, so this gave me a little more time to see the town turn dark.

And finally on Monday morning, I took bus 37 in the opposite direction, to the airport this time. After two relatively cool days (highs of “only” 26C), Monday felt like it was going to be a scorcher again.

I’ll talk to you next from Bali, Indonesia. A place I’ve wanted to return to since 1995!

Tags: