Perth is kind of like Vegemite - you either love it or you hate it.
The city is often the receiver of either rave reviews or disappointing memories for travelers and I know I have heard all opinions from friends over the years. Never letting a bad review stand in the way of me making up my own opinion about a place, I refused to make a judgement before seeing it with my own eyes. After a week in Adelaide - read my city guide here - I hopped on a quick flight over to experience my first taste of Western Australia and to finally start my West Coast adventure. I arrived at the airport and caught a bus straight to my new hostel which had come highly recommended by friends all across social media and was clearly the hot favourite.
Not the easiest hostel to get to, there was a real lack of information at the airport regarding shuttle buses, routes and schedules - eventually I managed to find a helpful bus driver who told me I would need two buses to reach the hostel. It turned into a bit of a mission but I made it finally. I was a bit disappointed by the "friendly" staff who barely acknowledged my presence and seemed very bored by their job - not the best welcome to a new city and hostel. I was sent up to my room which was pretty aged and a bit dirty. I'm definitely not a snob when it comes to hostels but this building felt less like a hostel with atmosphere and vibe, it felt more like an old building used for school trips. You could tell this was a city hostel with many people just passing through for a day or two or others who were working and had no time to meet travelers. I don't want to be totally negative about the hostel - I'm sure it must have been great at points for so many of my friends to rave about it - but I personally found the crowd staying there when I passed through to be quite antisocial and not very friendly to newcomers. It was not my kind of hostel. However, it is in a fantastic location for exploring the city by bus and on foot, Highgate is a great area for nightlife, food and entertainment.
King's Park is a highlight of visiting Perth and one not to be missed, these beautiful gardens are backed by the Botanic Gardens and sit high on a hill overlooking the city. Providing you with a spectacular panoramic view of the city, the park is best at sunset when you can really appreciate the beauty of Perth. You can access the park by bus or road, or you can take the more challenging way - Jacob's Ladder - a set of steep steps leading up to the park often full of fitness fanatics who run up and down for hours. Take a picnic, water and your camera for a lovely afternoon.
I stumbled across Hilary's Boat Harbour on my wanderings around the city and had the loveliest time down there enjoying a drink overlooking the water while I planned some of my travels. There are lots of places to eat and drink down there and also a range of attractions and entertainment for the whole family, including access to trips on charter/fishing boats or over to Rottnest Island. Fancy keeping it simple - why not take a stroll along the boardwalk in the sunshine?
Northbridge is just a short walk from Highgate - where I stayed - and the main city. It's a fabulous neighbourhood full of quirky places to eat and drink throughout the day and into the evening. I found a great little vegan restaurant called Flora and Fauna, which served the best range of brunches and juices I have found in a long time. Although I didn't get to go out while in the city - too much work on unfortunately - I've heard the nightlife is very good in this area as well.
Take in the views across the harbour and if the weather is good for you, why not grab a book and relax in the parks near Elizabeth Quay? It's a perfect place to take a time-out or grab some lunch to take down there and sit in the sunshine before going for a stroll among the amusements and across the bridge for great city views.
I like to keep fit and one of my favourite ways to explore a new city is on foot - whether by walking all day long or by heading out for a morning run. I discovered the absolutely beautiful Hyde Park not far from my hostel in just this way, think golden, brown, autumn leaves falling from the trees and benches overlooking a lake - heaven right in the middle of the city.
Everyone says "you HAVE to go to Cottosloe Beach" and so, I did. But I couldn't help being a little disappointed. Yes it was beautiful and yes it was bathed in sunshine when I went. But in my opinion, it didn't even compare to having the whole of City Beach to yourself, or walking the endless sands of Scarborough watching dogs and surfers frolic in the waves. Definitely get yourself out to the beaches - they are Perth's sparkling gem - but don't always listen to what everyone says.
Fremantle is the place that really stole my heart and I'll be posting in much more detail about life there, but even for those just visiting for a day there is lots to do. There are weekend markets for food and goodies, live music and entertainment in the streets, a brewery for beer and cider tastings, beaches, history and culture to explore. Just watch out - it's easy to get stuck here!
While I was staying in Fremantle, my hostel organised a day trip around the wineries and local producers of Swan Valley. It was a fantastic day of free tastings and luxury food and drink and is definitely worth a visit if youre staying in the area. It's a great day on a budget because so many of the tastings are either free or cost just a few dollars - perfect for budget-conscious travelers or backpackers.
My favourite day in Perth by far was the one I spent walking all over the city exploring - it's a good city to explore on foot and especially if you're into fitness like myself. I set myself the challenge of walking as far as possible and took on Jacob's Ladder - one for the fitness fanatics - as well as walking over 15km across the city and King's Park then back to my hostel. It was a lovely day to walk in the sunshine and I would recommend exploring the city this way. I also loved my time at the beaches near the city - these were really very beautiful and a strong reminder that Perth's real charm is outside of the city. Now while Perth may not be my favourite city by far - I really did love my time in Fremantle and traveling up the coast so don't worry if you're not a fan - there is a version of Perth to suit all of us.
Have you been to Perth? What was your favourite part? What else did you do when you visited?
One of my favourite things about being in Charleville was the incredible, enveloping darkness that I noticed from the very first moment I pulled up in town. Living in Darwin CBD, I never really experienced the darkness of the outback, I was always surrounded by streetlights and only ever really noticed the darkness when I went running alone at night. But nothing compares to standing out in the street in Charleville alone after dark, there are barely any streetlights and you can't even see your hand in front of your face. I've never experienced a darkness like it. It's unnerving at first, and then you start to adapt, you get used to walking the same paths without any lights, you start to make out familiar shapes. One of my favourite times to be outside was when I would arrive home late, either from a friend's house or the pub, and I would hop out of the car at my place. As they pulled away I would always stop for a second to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, then I would look up at a sight that would always take my breath away. The stars here are the brightest, the clearest, and the easily the most beautiful I have ever seen. I cursed the fact that I didn't have a good enough camera to capture their beauty on several occasions, but was certain that even the best cameras in the world would not do justice to the sight.I was lucky enough to have a great friend - one of many - while I was in town, someone who kept me sane on more than one occasion and made me feel so welcome from the beginning. He loved the stars and had his own telescope, so we went out a few times while I was in town and parked up in a field in the middle of nowhere to get away from the lights and take a closer look. Those nights spent lying in the back of a truck watching as one arm of the Milky Way moved across the night sky were easily my favourite time in the town. Spending nights losing count of all the shooting stars we spotted and zooming in on different constellations - those are the moments I know I'll remember the most from my time in Charleville. Even better, it was great to be with someone who knew about the stars and could tell me about them. I remember the first time we went out and I managed to capture the amazing picture of the moon through the telescope - I couldn't believe how beautiful it looked that night and I'm glad I appreciated it then because another time when we went out at the full moon it was so bright it outshone so many of the stars in the night sky.While I was in Charleville, what was probably one of the most random coincidences I have ever experienced happened. An English friend I met while in Thailand and travelled with through Laos suddenly showed up in town. It turned out the solar power company he worked for sent him all over the country, he had just been in New South Wales the previous week and now he had turned up in my tiny outback town! I couldn't have been more surprised to suddenly hear from him, especially when he dropped the bombshell that he was in town with his friend and colleague, JP. It came at a perfect time - the halfway point through my three months and I was struggling to stay sane in this town. Seeing Paul and getting to catch up with a fellow backpacker was just the tonic I needed to show me why I was here doing this three months - so I could spend another year with people like him. Of course, we had to celebrate being reunited and how better than with steaks and wine?! We had a fantastic weekend together catching up, we went swimming at the river and even squeezed in a visit to the town's Cosmos Centre and Observatory.The three of us went along on our final night together ready for a night of stargazing - we weren't disappointed. After we were shown a short movie about the observatory and how it was created, we headed straight out to a specially-built building with a retractable roof. It was very impressive and obviously had a lot invested into the creation of such a structure, especially considering it was housing several telescopes worth millions. The guides were fantastic - they talked to us throughout, answering any questions and telling us all about what we were seeing and lots of other information that helped us to understand the scale of what we were seeing. We focused on the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius HR 2491 which is also known as the Dog Star, before taking a look at The Great Orion Nebula in the sword of Orion, both beautiful and completely different to look at. We also took a look at open cluster M41, a binary star system called Almaak with orange and blue stars, before finishing with the second largest globular cluster in the night sky - Tuncana 47. Now this won't mean much to most of you - but I can tell you it was a pretty spectacular collection of stars and a real range. They were beautiful. The only thing I was a bit disappointed by was at that point all the planets were below the horizon so we didn't get to see any, sadly they only started to appear as I left so I missed them completely. But to be honest, the stars were just that stunning that I wasn't really that bothered. If you happen to find yourself passing through Charleville, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Observatory - it's truly out of this world.
Where is the best place you've stargazed? Have you randomly bumped into a travelling friend in the middle of nowhere?
My first day in the town turned out to be an interesting one, the whole town had turned out for the Charleville Cup, a horse racing championship that took place on the same day as the Melbourne Cup. It gave me a real taste of life in the outback as I had the opportunity to meet pretty much the whole town and to see everyone dressed up to the nines. Coming from rural England, it was interesting to see the huge similarities and contrasts between that and rural Australia. Thinking back now, I was very lucky to arrive in time for the event because most of the people I met that day turned out to be some of the best friends I have made in the town. I'm so glad that I did meet them straight away because I think otherwise I could have had a bit of a lonely time in the town and might have struggled to meet as many people. I was amazed to meet a whole gang of English girls but it was great to hear some familiar accents among all the broad Queensland drawls, definitely comforting to know that there were some people who understood how nuts it is for an English girl to find herself living and working in the outback like this. The day was filled with horse-racing, fashion shows, betting and drinking, and was a great welcome to the town, I think better than any day I have been here, that one really summed up what my life would be like for the next three months.I'll be honest and say it took a few weeks to really adapt to the slower pace of life in Charleville after the last few months in Darwin, it took me a little while to realise there would be a lot more empty time spent here. Instead of spending my nights dancing my heart out and partying, I would exchange for a life of lazy mornings spent sleeping in, afternoon workouts at the gym followed by quiet nights in front of the TV. It was a shock to the system and to start with I couldn't cope with how bored I was, it seemed such a waste of time to relax but once I got over the shock I realised it was exactly what my body needed. I started to really enjoy having a break and pushing myself at the gym to get healthy and fit again - I'm probably now in the best shape I have been since travelling because I've been determined to get fit. I've taken the time to do other things I enjoy like cooking in a real kitchen, instead of a pathetic hostel offering, I've been reading and lazing by the pool. I've still missed a lot about my old life but knowing it was just for a short time gave me the motivation to make the most of it instead of fighting against it.Don't think for a second that means there is nothing to do in Charleville - it's just different. One of our favourite things to do was to get out of the town and head to the Ward, a part of the Warrego River where you can swim. On weekends you'll go there and often see groups who take boats and jet skis up there - I never thought I'd be seeing people riding jet skis in the outback that's for sure! It's lovely and I remember the first time I went up there, we stayed floating around in the muddy water at sunset, chatting away while I watched kangaroos hopping up the banks of the river while horses drank further downstream. I went several times after that and one friend even made me jump off the bridge - I lost my sunglasses but totally worth it! For some it might be a muddy river with huge fish that jump out of the water, but for me it was a taste of the real Australia - a side that even many Australian haven't seen for themselves. I got to see how these people had grown up and to experience, if only for a little while, how they live. That's what travelling is all about, experiencing other cultures, other ways of living, and throwing yourself in the deep end to experience it for yourself.Don't worry, I wasn't totally sober and devoid of nights out for the last three months, we still went out every weekend for drinks at the pub or parties at the Bowls Club or one of the houses in town. There was something going on most weekends if you knew the right people and luckily I did, it meant I always had something to look forward to each week and that the weekends flew by! The nightlife may not have been particularly buzzing, but there was a good crowd to have a few drinks with and laugh a lot with each time so we had plenty of fun. I did also get to experience some pretty entertaining nights including a Bachelor and Bachelorette Auction to raise money for a sports team - everyone was hilariously drunk and bidding on the brave would who had got up on stage. There were also great parties over Christmas including the annual Boxing Day party which had a huge turnout and was a great night filled with dancing and lots of drinking games. And of course, just a week ago I was celebrating Australia Day with a barbecue, pool party and drinks with friends - so I'd say I've done pretty well over the last few months.
Have you spent time in the outback? Where did you find yourself? How was your experience?
After two weeks of being boring Lucy, eating rubbish noodles and working every hour I could get, I'd had three glorious pay checks which had put me back in the green. I was so happy to not be clinging to every dollar for dear life any longer - don't get me wrong, I was still living like a seriously poor backpacker but I could afford to eat and sleep, and even treat myself to the odd $5 bottle of wine. The beautiful thing was that I had a whole gang of friends around me who were all in the same position - some had been lucky enough to find work straight away - others were working for the hostel in exchange for a tuppence and free accommodation, others were just living off nothing while they applied for every job going. I was the lucky one. But as the weeks went by, everyone managed to find jobs - some of them just casual and others full time and permanent. As that happened, our priorities changed. We had a big group of new friends and we all wanted to celebrate. The hot weather made everyone feel the good holiday vibes and even though we were all working crazy hours we were determined not to let it stand in the way of having a good time. As one of my friends said: "We left the UK so we wouldn't be those people who are living for the weekend, I'm sick of living for the weekend, I want to live for every single day." I guess it's the party animal in me, but luckily I was surrounded by people with exactly the same attitude to life as my own. They wanted to have the best time, to grab every moment with both hands. They wanted to spend their evenings laughing hysterically with new friends, dancing all night and creating memories, then finishing the nights when the sun was rising with our feet in the sand as friends for life.Darwin is a great city for nightlife - it lacks all of the formality and rules of Sydney and Melbourne and attracts a totally different and totally wild crowd. Everyone is friendly as hell and game for anything, it was outback nightlife and we loved it. From acoustic live jam sessions at a little bar called Nirvana on a Tuesday night to crazy Friday nights and $5 drinks at Throb, the gay club down the street. I spent way too much time in Monsoons considering I worked there, but I think most people who go to Darwin can say the same, and Thursday nights were never fun unless I was at Ladies Night! And don't forget Wisdoms, which was just a few doors down, and had great live music on, plus it was great for an early evening drink. Or if you fancy something a bit classier, there's always cocktails and wine at Rorkes, a 1920's inspired bar and restaurant through the town centre, plus there's loads more down by the waterfront. The only place I wasn't so impressed by was Lost Arc (also known as Discovery), I know others who had a good night out there but I never really felt the music or the bar was that much fun.Regardless, there is something for everyone and we spent our weeks rolling around every venue in town with the infamous Sunday Sesh kicking off at Shenanigans (fondly known as Shags) the Irish bar, which would be packed every Sunday with live music, before everyone headed off to Hotel Darwin at closing time for more bad behaviour. Sunday Sesh was the biggest event of the week in Darwin - it never mattered how hungover you were from the night before, everyone who wasn't working made it out and partied like they didn't have work the next day. For us, we started to create our own Sunday Sesh at the hostel - we had so many friends at our hostel that in the end it made more sense to all chip in $10 to buy everything we needed for a huge BBQ and beers. We had a pool and everyone we wanted to hang out with, a bit of food and way too much glitter and excitement - some of the best Sunday's I have ever had have started out as a BBQ at the hostel and ended up as a naked pool party. There so many stories from my three months at that hostel, so much cheeky behaviour and so many laughs, I think I'll have to write a book one day of all that went on with the Dingo Mooners.Of all of these nights, there are some that really stand out in my memory - some of them somewhat hazy - but all of those are the parties that didn't take us to any of these venues. Darwin was rave central while I was there and luckily I made friends with all the right people who just happened to know the people who were sitting up these wild parties on Mindil Beach, out at abandoned quarries in the bush and even on the esplanade. The great thing about the Northern Territory is that there is a little bit more freedom, I can totally understand why raves can be harmful at home because they damage land, property and disrupt the wildlife in our smaller country. But up here there is nothing but desert, dust and open space, it's perfect for parties out under the stars and that's the best kind of party to me. Plus those organising the parties were so responsible and organised clean-ups as well which really impressed me. Even the police were happy that the parties were not bothering anyone so they would keep an eye in case if things got out of hand but they never once shut down a party that I was at. There was at least two months when there were raves every weekend, alternating venues between Mindil Beach and the quarry - both were amazing and featured great DJs, some local and others travelling through. And just before we all left, a special rave was held on the esplanade as a goodbye to everyone who had partied hard all dry season, just as the rains were due to arrive.Whether you agree with the idea of hundreds of youths raving from sunset to sunrise or not, I won't deny the memories I made there will last forever, and that many of the friends I went with will without a doubt be friends for life. Even now, thinking back, every second of those nights puts a big smile on my face. As far as I'm concerned, getting to dance to great music and watching the sun rise over Mindil Beach as dolphins played in the waves and a horse rode through the surf is more than just special. We saw the real magic of the Northern Territory in those nights, from the red dust that covered us from head to toe as we made our way home the next day to the reflection of the stars in our eyes the night before. I'll always remember the night we all lay on a sandbank at the quarry exhausted from dancing our hearts out, without realising how close we were to the airport when suddenly a plane flew overhead, looking almost close enough to touch. Or that perfect sky filled with fire as the sun rose above us the morning after, and the long walk we faced through the bush that morning when it took us three hours to get a taxi and get home, but the jokes that kept our spirits up and the memories that remain. Darwin, you were something special alright.
Have you been to Darwin? Which is your favourite bar? What did you think of the nightlife?