A month in Australia Part 2

| February 27, 2013

In the second part of John Henwood’s blog on his tailor-made holiday to Australia, he tells us about the beaches of Port Macquerie, their Indian-Pacific railway journey, horse-racing in Perth and the wine lodges of Margaret River.

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Our next destination was back in New South Wales – Port Macquarie, but getting there was problematic. We looked at trains, but there was not a service to suit. It was too far to drive on our timetable and there is no flight from Cairns to Port Macquarie. Eventually, we opted to fly south to Sydney and then north again to our destination.

Port Macquarie is reputed to have the best climate in Australia. Of course, tastes differ, but we were blessed with brilliant sunshine moderated by gentle sea breezes for the duration of our stay. It’s not a typical tourist town, indeed the town itself is not particularly attractive, but its amenities are great. The beaches are marvellous and, with reasonable care, safe. The most popular are well patrolled and guarded. Facilities include stainless steel, gas fired, barbecues available to all at no charge. Every beach, however small, has clean lavatories and the sand is kept clean and generally litter free. Port Macquarie offers many good scenic walks and a short drive away there are attractions like Billabong wildlife park, Timbertown and even a koala rescue centre. We stayed with family and it didn’t take long to slip into their Aussie way, which is all about the quality of life; as they are fond of saying, “No worries”.

Too soon it was time to move on and another Qantas flight to Sydney and transfer to the main railway station to board the famed Indian Pacific. One of the world’s great railway journeys, it is named for the fact that it connects the Indian and Pacific oceans, a continent apart. The journey is an epic one, three days and nights, including mile after seemingly endless mile through the Nullarbor (from the Latin – no trees) where the train arrows on 300 miles (480km) of track without the semblance of a bend. Stops at Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook and Kalgoorlie all provided tours of varying degrees of interest. Adelaide is a charming small city of water and green parks where the best of traditional architecture sits comfortably alongside inspirational modern structures. By contrast, the desert town (perhaps that should be deserted town) of Cook has a population of four. Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie exist solely for mining and the former has a touching and well-done memorial to every miner who died there since the first pickaxe bit into the ground in the 19th century.

The train itself is comfortable with an attentive crew and excellent food. The accommodation is cramped but adequate, including private facilities and bunk beds, which convert easily to a sofa. It’s a good way for someone who doesn’t relax easily to cross the country. One quickly comes to terms with the confinement and the windows provide more interest than a TV screen. The journey passed quickly and very enjoyably and then we were in Perth.

The Aussies were playing the third in a test series against India at the WACA – and winning – so the crowd at Ascot races was smaller than usual. As a turf enthusiast, I enjoyed my afternoon of racing, which takes place on some of the best and plushest turf I've seen anywhere; even the viewing lawns felt like carpets. The prize money is better by far for an average fixture than in Britain and the sport is highly competitive. It’s cheap to get in and with food and drink no more expensive than elsewhere it’s a good value day out.

We explored Perth and, on the other side of the Swan river, Freemantle, by boat. Freemantle has considerable charm and has retained a good deal of its Victorian architecture, including a central market, which is fun to explore. Perth itself is much more 21st century, but without losing its considerable charm. It just feels more like a small town than a big city.

We rented a car and headed south to the wine region of which Margaret River is the centre. Here, we found lush foliage – a great green garden – populated by a thousand different kinds of birds, truly an ornithologist’s paradise. We stayed at the Cape Lodge near Yallingup, just north of Margaret River. Reputed to be home of one of the world’s best restaurants, we would not care to dispute the claim – it is simply superb. As is the accommodation and service. Cape Lodge has its own vineyard that produces just enough for the hotel’s guests, but the wine menu is not restricted to home grown. Having pottered around this lovely area and discovered some stunningly beautiful, almost deserted, beaches we headed south aiming for Albany. It’s a really marvellous drive, different, but equally as entrancing as the famed Pacific coast drive from San Diego to Los Angeles.

Albany is charming if slightly careworn. The centre of this former whaling town looks a bit tired, but on the waterfront there is new investment and one senses a real purpose to inject new life. We stayed at the Rocks, an upscale B&B in the restored summer home of a former governor. The accommodation is excellent and the views wonderful. Nearby Frenchman’s Bay is the sort of perfect beach that one sees in brochures, but seldom in reality. The whaling station has been converted into a museum with added attractions, but more exciting are nature’s wonders, including a nearby natural bridge carved by the Indian Ocean.

We took the freeway back to Perth. Few freeways are a single lane in each direction, but this one needs no more; from leaving Albany to within about 30 km of Perth, a journey of over four hours, we saw perhaps a couple of dozen other vehicles – ah the joys of the open road.

And so our Aussie adventure came to an end. Four truly fabulous weeks. Of course, there were disappointments and irritations along the way, but not so many as to mar what was a holiday that will live long and very happily in the memory. We’d seen in the New Year overlooking Sydney harbour and the fireworks spectacular, marvelled at the natural wonder that is Uluru, snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, experienced one of the great railway journeys and wandered the wine lands of Western Australia, during which we touched the big five of Australia’s seven states. If spared, we’ll be back.

View Cox & Kings' holidays to Australia.

A month in Australia - Part 1.

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