The next day in Bunbury it was raining and we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We still had four days until we had to return the van, and we were very close to Perth already. So we decided to go full speed ahead and nip past Perth and up to the Pinnacles Desert.
It was afternoon by the time we left Bunbury, which meant we hit Perth around four in the afternoon. So of course there was traffic. However, we spent the first half of it just admiring Perth. It had been a while since we had seen tall buildings! Eventually we crept out of the city, but we knew we weren’t going to make it all the way up to the Pinnacles before sunset.
So we hit the coastal road and drove up toward Lancelin. First we stopped in Lodge Point, just a few kilometers before Lancelin, thinking it might be cheaper to stay at the park there. Then we were informed (like this was totally normal) that a site would be $38!
We weren’t having that, so we kept driving to Lancelin. It was another small, quiet town, and it took us a bit before we found a park. The office was closed, with a price of $28 listed on the door. We were happy to take that over $38! We were about to just wander in and sort it out in the morning, when the owner came up and told us it was $27. Sure, we said. Then when we went in to pay he said, “Ah, well, $25 should be fine, if you’ve got the correct amount.” We hadn’t done or said a thing! So we happily gave him exact change and saved ourselves a pretty penny over if we’d stopped in Lodge Point!
And while the park was nothing to write home about, it was right on the beach (well, on the other side of a sand dune from the beach). We could climb up the sand dune right next to our site and get sweeping views over the sea on one side, and miles of sand dunes on the other side. It was quite impressive indeed.
The next morning we took off down the newly opened (as of last month, I think!) Indian Ocean Drive toward Cervantes. The road was so new that even some of the scenic lookout turn-offs and pull over points weren’t open yet.
We did drive off down a side road at one point, as it was labeled as being a wilderness reserve or something. As we drove we first spotted huge piles of junk (refrigerators, steel, etc.) and then at the end of the road there were tons of shacks set up everywhere. There was a sign saying something about settlements and feel free to wander around. Oscar and I were very weirded out by the whole thing, and to be quite honest we were wondering if we’d just accidentally discovered some secret Aboriginal resettlement slum the Australian government was implementing.
However, it took just a few minutes of internet research to find that apparently the shacks were built by people from Lancelin and around as “weekend homes” or places to stay when they went down to the dunes to fish, drive around on the dunes, etc. So no exposé after all. Though I still think it’s a little weird.
Then we were back on the road and we soon arrived at the Pinnacles Desert. We paid our national park fee and decided to do the walk through the Pinnacles (though you can drive along a designated path instead if you wish). All in all, the Pinnacles are cool and are fun to take pictures with, but it’s not something worth crossing Australia for on its own. I was hoping for another emu sighting, but to no avail. We did see a few pink and gray gullahs, though, which looked a little out of place but they seem to be happy just about anywhere.
The wind was extremely strong, which kept it from being too hot but also made it unpleasant to spend more than 45 minutes to an hour out walking around. After we were sufficiently pleased with our Pinnacles experience, we were happy to leave. The day was still young, though, so we drove up to Cervantes. There were a few things to see and do there (including one of the only places in the world with stromatolites, the world’s oldest known living organism, though I’ve heard they’re not really much to see), but it was all down unsealed roads and we just didn’t want to risk the condition of our van right before turning it in.
So we continued further on to Jurien Bay, considering staying there for the night. Again, though, the town looked pretty bland (again the jetty was the one thing that looked interesting and it was under construction), and the weather was turning cold and gray. For no especially good reason we decided to start driving back toward Perth.
Three hours later we stopped at the cheapest caravan park we could find in the vicinity of the city, near the Swan Valley. We were happy because the nearby CBD had free wifi (and a mall!) and there were lots of wineries and gourmet food shops around. We took the next day to enjoy just those things: wandering the mall, sampling more delicious chocolate at the Margaret River Chocolate Co. of Swan Valley, and visiting a winery.
Our last night with the van we stayed at another cheap park in Kingsley, which our Perthie (Perthite? Perthian?) friend Lauren laughed at us for. It was probably even funnier because we stayed at a place called “Cherokee Village” with random Native American imagery and names thrown about everywhere. A pretty fitting end to our slightly bizarre trip across Australia.
And so the next day we set about doing all the things you hate to have to do at the end of every trip. We dropped off our bags at Lauren’s house (our savior), filled up the tank, cleaned the car ($17 for a car wash! But it would have been $100+ fee if the van went back unclean/showing signs of off-roading). We were nervous returning the van, imagining them picking out every little nick or piece of dirt that might have appeared and charging us for it. Thankfully, the guy pretty much just glanced at the van, told us everything was fine, and sent us on our way scotch free. Woo hoo!
Walking out of the shop, our GPS in pedestrian mode, felt extremely weird though. We had no real idea of where we were, not even a map, only the GPS which knew Lauren’s address and would hopefully get us there in one piece. So we walked. And because Perth is so lovely, we arrived at her house in no time (even with a pit stop at Subway!).
From that moment things just flew by. Before the day was over we’d already looked at an apartment and decided to rent it. Lauren had driven us around the area near it and pointed out all the good places for this and that, and we already felt like a part of Perth. I have to say, knowing someone (even if it’s someone you only just met traveling in South America the year before, and especially if it’s someone crazy awesome like Lauren) really makes a difference when you’re first arriving somewhere new. We were confident to go with the apartment because we knew we were getting a good deal for a nice place in a great location. We didn’t have to wonder too much about our decision.
And the next day went much the same. Lauren took us downtown and showed us around the city center. She took us to Cottesloe Beach and explained Sunday Sessions (everyone goes down to the beach and drinks beer in all the bars across the street from the beach) and showed us the good places to eat, grabbing some fish and chips. She was so full of information and stories, we could immediately feel that we were going to have a great time in our new city.
We’ve met people here and there who’ve said, “Why are you going to Perth? There’s nothing to do there!” Well for one thing, it is a city. And a capital city at that. They do get music festivals and events do go on. But for me, it’s not about that stuff. We lived in Sydney for five months and we didn’t go to half of the big festivals and events that went on. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up or even ever really live in a big city, but for me what makes a place great is the friends you have and the things you do with them. You can go to the bar or a quiz night or out to dinner with your friends anywhere (or if you’re here, to the beach too!), and so it’s the people that really matter.
So why Perth? Because it’s a place you can actually get to know the people! So far everyone we’ve met, from Lauren and her roommate to our new apartment-mates, has been so incredibly friendly, helpful and welcoming, I can’t imagine not loving it here.