We decided to fly to Australia for our family summer vacation; well it was not summer in Australia though. Think of Australia, and Sydney and Melbourne the ‘international cities’ pop up by default. As with all my travel, while visiting a country for the first time, I always want to do something totally different. The so-called “cities” everyone knows about were off the radar for me. When I zoomed out of the map of Australia and went further West, I spotted only one place and nothing else far away on either side. Curiously zoomed in to check and it was ‘Perth’. A small tip on Indian Ocean and far west on the Australian island, Perth seems to be the only city in the massive state of Western Australia and the closest city (Adelaide) by road is 2,500 kilometers away. If you look at the west of Perth, there’s the ocean and then far far away is Africa. That’s why they call it the world’s most isolated city. The locals proudly say that most people in Perth have never driven to another city. This is where we landed to begin our Australia trip.
The plan was to stay in Perth CBD (Central Business District), rent a car and do a road trip to explore the city. Perth has good public transport system for those who prefer not to drive, but be prepared to spend loads of time and money traveling to places of interest. Next morning, we set out to Caversham Wildlife Park, which is a 30-min drive from Perth and located inside Whiteman Park. The park showcases the largest collection of native wildlife in WA and is famous for Kangaroo feeding and photo sessions with Koala. The entry to Whiteman Park is free with plenty of parking. If you prefer to keep walking to a minimum, then car park # 8 is most suitable. Caversham is open daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm with last entry at 4.30 pm and there is an entry fee to visit. A minimum of 3 hours is mandatory to enjoy all the activities within the park. We reached there by 9 am to beat the crowd and heat.
Quokka, the worlds most cheerful animal at Caversham
There are two activities in the park that are time bound so ensure you cover them on priority. Firstly, the photo session with Koala where you queue up and get very close to Koala in presence of the ranger. Also keep in mind that Koalas sleep for 20-22 hours so grab your photo session on the first opportunity. Secondly, penguin feeding that happens only twice a day and lasts barely 5 minutes. Inquire the timing when you buy your entry tickets and be at the spot prior. The park is extensive and navigating around takes time even with the excellently depicted map.
Koala and Baby Penguins at Caversham Park
Hand-feeding Kangaroos is another major all-day attraction at the park. There are hundreds of Kangaroos and you can feed as many as you like. They are fed pellets formulated for grazers so please do not feed them any other food. This was an amazing experience and we spent almost half an hour in their enclosure. Watching the juveniles jumping in and out of their mothers pouch was so heartwarming. They are attention seekers and flock around while you are feeding a loner and you are expected to feed them as well. Interacting with them is safe as they are friendly and harmless.
Its a treat to be with Kangaroos and feed them
You can also catch the half-hour Farm Show (check timings) that gives you a glimpse of Australian farm life. The experience includes a stockman on horseback with a whip, sheep shearing, milking a cow, feeding lambs and also learning how to crack a stock whip.
The park is abounding with animals and birds including gigantic flightless ones, mammals and reptiles; Australian wildlife is unique to the rest of the world. The famous reptile world includes poisonous frogs, serpents and lizards. The only Marsupials we are familiar with are Kangaroos but Australia has several others in this category like Wallaby, Quokka, Koala, Wombat, Bettong, etc. There are about 200 species and more than 2,000 head of animals, birds and reptiles, all Australian natives, in the park.
Short Beaked Echidna, covered in fur and spines with a specialized tongue to catch insect prey at a great speed
About 50 kilometers further north from Caversham is Yanchep National Park, which is open 24 hours. It is convenient to combine both Caversham and Yanchep in one day. Yanchep is home to western grey kangaroos that are found in abundance in their natural habitat. The best time to visit the park is early or late in the day to find these Kangaroos roaming around everywhere. Usually, they take shelter behind the bushes to beat the heat during daytime. We reached there late afternoon after Caversham and found hundreds of Kangaroos around. Luckily, there were only few tourists making our experience exclusive and memorable. While they are shy unlike those in Caversham, they do give you ample opportunity to capture them on camera without being rushed.
Western Grey Kangaroos in their natural habitat
There are about 15-20 Koalas in their natural habitat, mostly sleeping. When awake, they are seen on Eucalyptus trees busy chomping on the leaves. While eucalyptus leaves is their main food, they have their preferences and eat leaves of 3-4 selective species out of 700 odds available, these are considered to be the poisonous ones. After the photo ops with Koala in Caversham, this was a different experience to see them sleeping just few feet away from you.
Sleeping Koala on a Eucalyptus tree in its natural habitat
The park also has a lake where you can sight numerous native birds. It has about nine walking trails and more than 400 limestone caves. There are guided tours that depart from the visitor center that closes at 5 pm. There is a park entry fee to be paid per car and not per person. If you arrive early or late in the day then mostly the fee collection booth will be unmanned. You then must pay the fee using an envelope placed at the booth and insert it in the drop box, and beware, cameras are watching you.
Australian holidays are incomplete without engaging in an adventure activity. Do not miss Rockingham if you are in Perth. Penguin Island is a popular tourist destination that can be accessed by a private ferry. There is also an adventure cruise to watch Dolphins, Penguins and Sea Lions. However, we found the tour "Swim with Wild Dolphins" more exciting and adventurous. We drove to Yacht Club Jetty in Rockingham reaching by 7.30 am. Our boat was being prepared. It was a small boat accommodating 10-15 passengers for a half-day activity including lunch. We went quite far into Indian Ocean and after about an hour found a big group of Dolphins swimming alongside our boat. The crew gave us a brief about what to expect and split the tourists into groups of 5. Time to zip up our wetsuit and gear up with the mask and snorkel. Each group is led by a dedicated guide who navigates us using an aqua scooter to match the speed of Dolphins. This is the easiest snorkeling ever; just float face down and enjoy the Dolphin extravagance below. These intelligent, fascinating animals are social and sometimes come close to check you out. This is an experience of wild Dolphins in their natural habitat, so no feeding or tricks are performed. We enjoyed multiple snorkel trips with our guide and had many close Dolphin encounters, considered a rarity. It was an exhilarating experience that will stay with us forever. As with all water-related activities, it can get cancelled at the last moment if the weather plays spoilsport. Always schedule the must do activities for the initial days of your arrival in Perth, having the option to reschedule, if necessary. I carried my GoPro and captured my experience from the best spot in the sequence, right next to the guide.
Swim with wild Dolphins in the middle of Atlantic Ocean near Rockingham
From here, we headed to Mandurah that is about 30 kilometers further south from Rockingham. It is a coastal city with an estuary that is home to abundant wildlife and water birds. It is a spectacular playground for river cruises, fishing etc., but we were mainly interested in the scenic drives surrounding the city. We first hit the visitor center and acquired the necessary information and then took a stroll on pathways with beautiful views of the river, before beginning our road journey further south on Old Coast Road. A striking location on the way is Lake Clifton situated inside Yalgorup National Park. It is a home to Thrombolites, considered to be 2,000 years old and open a unique window into our distant past. The rock-like structures off the beach and below the surface of water are extremely rare and alive and are found in a handful places across the globe. Scientists believe these living fossils dating back 570 million years are one of the first forms of life on earth. Due to their fragile nature, a boardwalk has been built to protect them from damage. There are observation points with information kiosks to learn more about these formations.
Millions of years old living rock structure of Thrombolites at Lake Clifton
Our round trip of almost 200 kilometers around Mandurah was filled with panoramic views of the countryside and some villages dominated by dairy and farming. Now, it was time to explore Perth CBD. The famous Perth mint, the first in Australia, set up during the gold rush, is obviously on the radar of every numismatists and I was no exception. While my family indulged in retail therapy, I took a guided tour of the mint. It was a bit pricey but I didn't want to miss out. The tour was 1.5 hours from start to finish and yes, they show the actual process of minting a gold coin. It is an exciting place for history buffs.
Perth Mint: Worlds largest 99.99% pure gold coin weighing 1 Tonne
We took a long walk along Swan River in the evening to unwind. It leads to Elizabeth Quay, a vibrant destination for all ages. A stroll around beautifully lit up Quay is quite interesting as you pass several artistic structures along the water. You can choose to go for a short river cruise around CBD. There are many other attractions like Kings Park, Art Gallery, Aviation Museum, Cathedral and Optus stadium if you have more time to explore. You get the best view of Perth from Kings Park viewpoint especially in the late evening when all the buildings and bridges are lit. You also have a plethora of restaurants to choose from.
Panoramic view of Elizabeth Quay at Perth CBD
We had an extra day in Perth so we visited the much-hyped uptown of Freemantle, which I consider a marketing gimmick, nothing else. The old prison lacks the charm and they have a list of guided tours starting from AU$ 22 up to AU$ 72 per person, which is overpriced. After this, we skipped tourist spots that were heavily branded in magazines and leaflets. Instead we went on another road trip around Perth, this time to Mundaring Dam and returned via Kalamunda, Bickley and Carmel. We saw some of the posh old style houses on the hills outside of Perth. The zigzag road back to Perth was a nice drive.
It was time to say goodbye to Perth and move to the second leg of our trip, North Queensland, home to the worlds oldest rainforest.