I've been waiting a long time to write about Fremantle, it's hard to sometimes find the words to describe a place that you feel in your heart. But this cute little port town really did become an unexpected home from home for me. It's ironic really, that I travelled to the other side of the world to set up camp somewhere just like home - a little port town by the ocean steeped in history and quirky culture. But perhaps the home we find is in the people we meet and the way that we feel rather than the place itself. After finding Perth a tad impersonal, Freo couldn't have been more different as it welcomed me with open arms. Read my Perth city guide here.
A good friend of mine drove me from the city to Freo one sunny afternoon, and even as we pulled in amongst the old fashioned buildings and smelt the sea air, I knew this was a place I would love. Walking into my hostel and seeing the family style tables across the courtyard and the group who were keen to invite me in to join them - it was just the kind of place I love to make my home. I was staying at Pirates Backpackers on Essex Street, right in the centre of Freo - it was just a minute's walk from the weekend markets and the harbour, close to the beaches and the shops. I'll be reviewing the hostel in an upcoming post - so watch out if you're looking for hostel recommendations.
It was the first place I had been in a long time where I felt I could really relax - Melbourne was full of working and living life to the max, Adelaide was a blur. Fremantle had a slower pace of life and because I wasn't planning to work, I could really relax and enjoy it, joining in with hostel life and having time to dedicate to my writing. I had a cafe I would go to for breakfast and coffee while I wrote my articles, I would go running each morning around the harbour and to the beaches. I could spend my nights laughing, playing cards and drinking with friends, or go to watch the sun set with a cute boy I met, or even hit the bars. The world was my oyster and I really enjoyed every second, especially those spent with the amazing group of friends I made while I was there, and the wonderful guy I met. I think I had been missing something from my life the previous few months and it was those incredible traveller personalities that really bring something new and exciting to the table. Freo brought that all rushing back into my life and was the perfect way to kick off my amazing Western Australia trip with the best people.
I might love to treat myself every now and again, but I'll always be a backpacker at heart and I'll always find ways to explore a new place on a budget. After all, the money you save on activities can always be put towards that next flight, an epic night out or a once-in-a-lifetime experience - I know what I'd prefer to spend it on. When I was in Freo, I knew the money I had saved working in Melbourne was to go towards my epic Western Australia road trip and had to pay for a road trip covering over 1,000km from Perth to Darwin for up to two months, and then setting up a new life in Darwin. So although I wanted to enjoy my life, I was very conscious that I had been waiting my whole two years in Australia to experience this trip and that I wanted to live it to the max. This meant cutting corners where I could to enjoy myself for a few weeks in Fremantle beforehand - here are my top 10 free & cheap experiences you don't want to miss when you visit:
Without a doubt the best way to spend your weekend in Fremantle - running Friday, Saturday & Sunday in the market hall at the top of Essex Street - look no further for cheap, delicious food, live entertainment and fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. Offering a huge range of street food stalls from all over the world, including the delicious bao buns, the gozlemes and paella, plus fresh teas and juices - it's the perfect place to pick up a cheap meal ($10-15) as you walk around the stalls. Make sure you walk around the fruit and veg stalls and pick up all the free tasters for your daily dose of vitamins, then head back to the market on Sunday afternoon to get your heavily reduced fresh foods shop. I used to buy all my fruits and veggies there for just $7 for 7 items - perfect for a backpacker budget.
You'll see them all over Freo, whether it's live music, comedy, magic or something crazy that you can't take your eyes off. There's plenty going on around the markets at the weekends, but even during the week you'll often see performers take to the streets to entertain the crowds. I was gutted to miss the Street Arts Festival by a few weeks, it filled the streets with live entertainment and attracted thousands of visitors. Or why not grab a guitar or a ukulele and hit the streets yourself? I saw plenty of travellers doing just that to earn a few extra dollars and to have fun with their friends - if you've got a talent, why not use it?
My hostel was great for group activities, the owner made sure there was something going on every night from movie nights to pizza and wine evenings, marshmallows on a log fire, paddle boarding or volleyball afternoons and even wine tours - see my Swan Valley review here. It was great and brought the whole hostel together for some fun afternoons and evenings, it even inspired us to hold our own group evenings like the family dinner one woman decided to cook for the whole hostel. On Sunday's we would drink for free at Left Bank bar thanks to a hostel organised trip. I got to go on a full day's wine tour with tastings & travel included for just $30. Another day, I went paddle boarding for the afternoon for just $10 and had a great time with the group. It's always worth seeing what is going on in your hostel.
I didn't realise until some Canadian girls moved into my dorm that you can borrow bikes for free from Little Creatures Brewery (which is just across the park from my hostel). All you need is a passport ID and a credit card for them to keep on file, there is no charge unless you don't return the bike. We borrowed three cute little bikes for the afternoon and biked all the way from Fremantle to Cottesloe Beach where we sunbathed and relax all afternoon, diving into the waves to cool off in the sunshine, before heading back to Freo. It was a great afternoon and completely free - well worth looking into if you fancy getting out of the town with so many great beaches right on your doorstep.
Perth is known for it's beautiful beaches and I was lucky enough to catch the last few sunbathing days before the weather changed. While I was there I made it my business to explore as many beaches as I could, from the tiny Bathers Beach and South Beach which I went running between every morning. To the vast empty beauty of Scarborough Beach and City Beach - City Beach was actually my favourite by far because we had the whole place to ourselves when we went. And the famous Cottesloe Beach, which sadly was covered in smelly seaweed when I was there, but was still a great place to watch the surfers and enjoy the sunshine.
There are so many great historical sites in Fremantle and you can easily spend a day, or two, exploring these for a bit of culture and heritage. Why not check out Fremantle's Roundhouse for great views across the harbour, then explore The Shipwreck Galleries and Western Australia's Maritime Museum for a glimpse int the town's past. Don't miss a look at the war memorial and then head over to Fremantle Gaol for a wander around - you have to pay for entry to the tours, but you can have a good look at a gallery and the courtyard for free.
Probably one of the priciest things on this list depending on where you go, but much like having fish and chips on Brighton Beach in England, it's something you just have to do. You'll be fending off manic seagulls but the freshly caught fish and chips is well worth it, especially overlooking the water at sunset. There are plenty of places to choose from so enjoy.
One of my favourite experiences while I was in Fremantle, visiting the Little Creatures Brewery is definitely something to try. It's a lovely bar to sit and have a drink and food in, or take a free tour at 1, 2 or 3pm each day. Tastings are available for around $20 and give you an opportunity to taste each of their craft beers and a cider - a pretty good way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Whether you fancy a laid-back breakfast with friends or want somewhere peaceful to work, look no further than Moore & Moore cafe. The food is fantastic and well-priced and they have a lovely sheltered courtyard with heaters for when the weather isn't great. The wifi is really good for those who need to work, and it's a nice relaxing atmosphere, often with live music in the background.
Always one of my favourite things to do - pick up some cheep wine and snacks, get a group of mates together and head to South Beach or Bathers Beach and end the day on a high. There really is nothing better than watching a beautiful sunset with people who mean the world to you.
What are your favourite free activities when visiting a new place? Have you been to Fremantle - can you add any suggestions to this list?
I love wine. Whether it's a nice hearty glass of red with my dinner, a crisp white on a summer's day or a glass of bubbles with the girls - I love wine and any excuse to drink it. So you can imagine I was the first to sign up when the owner of my hostel decided to organise a day of touring the vineyards and independent producers of Swan Valley, just outside Fremantle, Perth. I had only been in Western Australia a week or two and already I was loving life over there - check out my city guide to Perth - and especially since I had moved over to the lovely Fremantle - check out my Fremantle post here. It was great to be travelling again and to be able to just enjoy life, to say yes to everything instead of always thinking about money and working. This wine tour was the perfect excuse to escape life's worries for the day and to truly indulge.
Known as Perth's "Valley of Taste" and boasting over 40 wineries, Western Australia's oldest wine region has plenty to offer visitors. This exciting fusion of wine, food, beer , cider, cheese and much more has plenty to keep the whole family busy against a stunning backdrop of Perth's countryside. While families and those on holiday can easily organise to join a tour or hire a car to take the day trip, us backpackers were on a tighter budget and found a perfect way to cut corners. Our hostel owner organised for a group of us to join him for the day in this van - we were all charged just $30 for him to drive us between the very best of the wineries and food producers for talks and tastings at each. Bearing in mind that most of the tastings were free and I only spent a further $10 for the whole day, yet went home pretty tipsy and with a belly-full of rich chocolates, cheeses and much more. I'd say that was a bargain trip.
Something that really matters to me, is that Swan Valley is the first and only Humane Food Region in Australia. This initiative is a regional commitment to supporting the welfare of animals and producing high quality, healthier, tastier food. It's nice to know that when you go along and visit the area, that you are not endorsing the mistreatment or the farming of animals, and that you are only tasting the finest quality chocolates, cheeses, olive oils and much more.
There is so much to do in Swan Valley, but I'm going to focus on the huge 32km Food and Wine Trail that is made up of more than 150 wineries, restaurants, cafes, breweries, distilleries, art galleries, farm gates and a host of other attractions. Whether you're visiting independently or booking one of the tours available from the area's visitor's centre, this is a perfect way to start exploring the area.
One of Western Australia's oldest, largest and most distinguished producers of premium wine, Sandalford is definitely worth a visit as it was by far the best wine tasting of the day. The tasting did cost $5, but it was one of only two we had to pay extra for, and quite frankly it was worth every penny. The women who hosted our tasting was fantastic and taught us all so much about wine, particular red wine which is something I'm becoming a lot more interested in lately. She was keen to answer any questions we had and told us a lot of extra information about the estate including the high profile events and weddings that had been hosted there over the years. The estate itself is worth a good look, the cellars are at the centre of vast, stunning grounds around a lake - the perfect spot for a wedding.
TOP TIP: When you go along to wine tastings - even if you just want to get drunk - it works in your favour to really chat to the people who work at the vineyards. The more interested you are in their products, the more they will share with you. We got to try the most expensive wine the company produces for free because we were so interested in learning about Sandalford.
My other favourite winery of the day, Windy Creek is a third generation family-run business that has been running in Swan Valley since 1937. They have a delicious selection of wines and ports including some award-winning ones that will get your tastebuds tingling. While you're there, don't forget to try their fantastic range of cheeses and homemade jams, marmalades and relishes. Again, these are on offer against a stunning backdrop of rose gardens and endless vineyards - a perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon. There is also a small charge for the tastings at Windy Creek, but it is well worth the price.
For those who have a sweet tooth, you'll want to make sure you pop into Margaret River Chocolate Company to indulge in the huge selection of free tasters. As you walk in the door there are huge barrels of white, milk and dark chocolate buttons to munch on and you take in the walls of chocolate delights on offer. Everything sold from behind the counter on the left side is also available for tasting and it's worth trying a few before you decide which ones you want to take home, there are some unusual and delicious treats that might tempt your fancy including some award-winning options.
You'll be amazed at the uses for honey when you pop by House of Honey and see the shelves adorned with the countless types of honey and food products, beauty and skincare items, candles, gifts and much more. I was particularly excited to try the different types of honey -many of these I had never seen before and many boasted incredible healing qualities and health benefits. Plus the skincare range was amazing, the lotions smelt amazing and you could feel how good they were for your skin. There are also several meads and liqueurs are available for tasting and a cafe with honey products and more on sale.
This was a real highlight of the day - I'm a bit of a cheese fiend so I was keen to try the different cheeses and chutneys available. With a huge collection of 80 artisanal cheeses from Australia and around the world, these guys know their stuff when it comes to cheese and the staff were keen to chat and tell you all about the different cheeses. This was the one place where we all ended up buying some delicious cheeses to snack on and take home with us - I picked up some feta that had been marinated in garlic and herbs after we tasted it and I couldn't get enough. It's also a lovely place to stick around for lunch or a drink - there is a huge outside section that overlooks the woods and fields.
These are not all of the places we visited during the wine tour - but they are the highlights of the day and I would definitely recommend popping in if you visit Swan Valley.
Have you been to Swan Valley? What were your highlights? Where is the best place you have done a wine tour?
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?