Last Sunday I was in the land of night markets, Buddhist temples, buzzing scooters, golden faces, and a sing-song language. One taxi, three planes, and four airports later, I had arrived somewhere completely different: Perth, Australia. Tall people, white faces, English (finally), grassy lawns, and roads that looked clean enough to picnic on. The only thing in common with my previous location was the weather: sunny, dry, and warm.

But my journey wasn’t over yet. My final destination of Bunbury, 180 kilometres to the south, required an inter-terminal bus, a city bus, and a 2.5 hour train journey. Fortunately I had enough time in Perth to grab a cappuccino and a breakfast burrito. This is when I started suffering from acute sticker shock: $4.20 for the cappuccino, and they wanted $3.20 for a small bottle of water! (Fortunately I found a $1 bottle of water at a pharmacy nearby.)

The train ride was pleasant; the landscape all yellow grass and droopy green trees, a few cows and horses here and there (but no kangaroos). My chatty seatmate said that it hadn’t rained here since December. My plan to have a nap evaporated thanks to the screaming kid in the next car.

The house

At noon on Tuesday, the train pulled into Bunbury Passenger Terminal and Julie was there to meet me and drive me to her house. My 3-week house and cat-sitting assignment (once again found through didn’t start until Thursday but I needed time to familiarize myself with the property… and the family. Unlike regular house-sitting assignments, there is a twist to this one: Julie’s daughter Melissa and her two grand-daughters (Tayla and Ashley) had just moved into the house due to some unexpected circumstances, and we were all to share the place with Snuggles the cat.

I will have more photos of the property in my next post, but all you need to know for now is that it’s a big house, with a big backyard, located only 300 metres from the Indian Ocean! In fact, part of every day’s routine involves going down to the beach in the late afternoon and frolicking in the waves. Well, they frolic while I take pictures. We’re not in the tropics here, and although it’s high summer, I find the water a little cold for my taste.

The town

Seven minutes away by local bus is downtown Bunbury. I went exploring a bit on Wednesday. Since it’s a town of only 35000 people, the centre is quite compact. It has a “cappuccino strip” along the main street (that’s what tourist brochures call it) and water on three sides. It also has plenty of shops offering cakes, candies, beer, ice cream, etc. And the region an hour to the south is home to 150 wineries and more food specialty shops! Not a bad place to spend three weeks.

After Julie and her husband John left on Thursday, I moved into the master bedroom. The attached master bathroom is as big as the room itself. Together, they’re about the size of my Toronto apartment. The room also has its own outdoor patio.

Birthday’s indulgence

Friday was my birthday and turned out to be a pretty good day. I accompanied Melissa to the local market where she filled a cart with fruits and vegetables (she’s a bit of a health nut). Then she dropped me off into the town centre where I joined a free walking and tasting tour offered by the tourist office.

Between information tidbits about the history and architecture of Bunbury, we sampled olives and olive oil, gelato, craft beer, and taffy. Unfortunately, advertising that it was my birthday didn’t get me extra treats. The owner of the gelato shop offered a kiss but I said I would really prefer more gelato! At Mash Brewing, I tried a sample of something called “snakebite”, a beer cocktail made from pale lager, apple cider, and grenadine.

I had breakfast for lunch at Bean Café. Australians really know how to do breakfasts. I ordered a “vegetarian breakfast stack” that consisted of potato patties (they call it rosti but it isn’t Swiss rosti) piled high with avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, and a poached egg. Then I bought myself an Australian SIM card, a bus pass, and got extra Australian cash from the ATM. I stopped for a cup of gelato. And for good measure, I bought a bottle of Australian chardonnay before catching the bus home. Most of the 7-minute ride is on Ocean Road, right by the ocean. In the afternoon, the water is bright blue with some aquamarine along the shallower areas.

That evening, we prepared pizzas, and had them with the wine. And for dessert, Melissa had bought a mud cake (chocolate cake) that we topped with whipped cream and gobbled down. And then we walked to the beach just in time to catch the sunset at 7:00 PM. All in all, one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time. 🙂

Saturday also involved some sightseeing (at least for me). We started with a visit to the Dolphin Beach, home to a colony of around 200 wild dolphins. Most mornings around 9 AM, a few of them come near the beach to greet the expectant visitors. That morning there was only one dolphin, but he did indeed come very close to the beach (see photo). By 10:00 the sun was burning hot already and we left.

And you know what? It was still my birthday out there in North America. (Bunbury is 13 hours ahead of Toronto.)

Day trip to Margaret River

In the late morning, we took off again for a little day trip to the Busselton-Margaret River area, about an hour south of Bunbury. This region is known for its wineries and gourmet food shops. We started with a Fish & Chips lunch at Clancy’s Fish Pub in Dunsborough, followed by a visit to the Swings and Roundabouts winery. Melissa picked it impulsively upon seeing the sign by the side of the road. It turned out to be a very good choice. Not only was the winery small and uncrowded, but the friendly guy behind the bar poured as many free samples as you wanted. I tried five: two whites, a rosé, a red, and a dessert wine. I ended up buying a bottle of Chenin Blanc, and the luscious dessert wine.

We got a little lost on the way to The Margaret River Chocolate Co. but found it eventually and had some free samples. Truffles cost $1.95 each so I only bought two. On the other hand, I purchased a jar of unprocessed honey to eat at home.

That rounded up another bright sunny day in Southwestern Australia.

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