As published in Just Urbane (June/July Issue): Pullman Bunker Bay Resort has Luxury, Landscapes and Culture

Beautiful by day and by night

For the June/July issue of Just Urbane I contributed a story about one of Western Australia’s best and most loved resorts, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort. Below is a pdf of the story published in Just Urbane:

Writing about resorts is always interesting.  I’ve just realised how much has changed for me in recent years when I’m looking for a resort.  Firstly, they’re usually overseas.

In the Age of Coronavirus I’ve had to look closer to home for the resort experience and I found one that is not only in my backyard but has developed a reputation for more than luxury, it is being acknowledged for including the history of Indigenous people in their story in an environment that feels like the resort is part of the local bushland.  It’s not about keeping the bush out; it’s about fitting in with the land how it’s always been.

Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is just over three hours drive from Perth and sits at the top of one of the greatest wine growing areas anywhere on Earth; the Margaret River Region.  These days it’s also world renowned for it’s other produce, including everything from cheese to truffles and steaks to ice-cream. There’s also world class surfing and fishing that can be experienced on a coastline that is both rugged and beautiful and if getting wet isn’t your thing, you can trek the coastline along the Cape to Cape Walk, an unforgettable journey through national parks alongside coves and cliffs for a distance of around 120 kilometres.

Hang on.  This is meant to be a story about a resort.  Well I promise you it is but it’s nice to know that you’ll be staying in a region that should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves good wine, great food, amazing adventures and awesome scenery.

But let’s get back to the resort and just relax, maybe planning a few short trips around the region but also taking the time to adjust to the time you’re in, resort time. 

It’s almost underwhelming when you arrive.  It’s not that it’s not sophisticated.  It’s just not grand.  You know when you arrive at the big resorts and there are long, wide steps leading up to the huge atrium style space for the reception and the concierge area and there’s also a community of staff to open doors, take your bags, offer you a refreshing drink and maybe there’s even a local cultural performance going on, or local musicians? That’s not the Pullman Bunker Bay way.  There’s lots of natural stone, a water feature, a simple driveway and an entrance that leads to a small reception counter.

But as I smile at the receptionist, I get distracted.  Peripherally my vision is being pulled to the left and my mind is telling me to forget about checking in and to check out the view.

This is why Pullman Bunker Bay Resort exists.  Bunker Bay.

Nestled just to the east of Cape Naturaliste, this small bay is extraordinary for being a sanctuary of shelter from the wild winds that batter nearby Cape Naturaliste to such an extent that a limestone lighthouse has been there for over a hundred years, warning ships from its rocky shores.

Bunker Bay is an aquatic paradise but probably not for those who seek the thrill of surfing.  There’s a lot of surf to be found in the region but this little bay is for those who want to dip a toe in the water, maybe do some paddling or snorkelling but whatever it is you choose to do your heart rate won’t take much of a jolt as this peaceful stretch of perfect sand and water immerse and calm you.

The resort is slightly elevated above the beach and the restaurant and pool have a view of Bunker Bay that is probably the only frustrating aspect of the resort.  I don’t know which way to look.

Is this enough blue for you?

This is a resort that provides meals that source produce locally and present it in a style that will make you regret leaving your phone in your room.  The view needs photos.  The food needs photos.  I need to lie down.

Ideal, comfortable and despite what’s outside, I don’t want to leave it

The resort has a community feel about it as you walk around.  There are no hallways or corridors, just open paths and vegetation between small blocks of earthy toned rooms that feature massive floor to high ceiling windows that allow the light and colours of blue sky and green trees to pour in throughout the day before being replaced by the brilliant starlight of a night sky that you only see when you’re away from the city.

So what has really changed for me in what I look for in a resort has probably been connected to the growing age and expectations of my children but it’s also linked to what we all have to learn when we start travelling widely again; thinking about out footprints and the footprints of the airlines, accommodation and travel services and experiences we all use. 

Beyond good sustainability and waste management, I’m looking for opportunities to engage with local culture as part of my luxury experience.  I want local art in the rooms that are available to purchase to support local communities, I want to contribute in a way that’s more than just coming to the area and staying, eating and drinking for a few days.  I want to meet local people and learn why their world is even more amazing than the most instagramable drone photo of yet another beach.

Pullman Bunker Bay does this.  I came home with local art, I came home having met local Indigenous Elders and having participated in a tour of the resort that opened my eyes not just to the worlds longest surviving culture but to what the plants outside my room could do for my health, why the coastal plants down by the beach were so delicious, how to find frogs on trees and lizards in rocks, how to speak local language and why the six seasons of the Wadandi people make so much more sense than our western understanding of the weather in Australia. 

This is a resort that is more than a base while you tour the Margaret River Region.  It’s more than a family vacation or honeymoon destination.  This is a resort that is like the best teacher you ever had.  Remember those teachers who inspired you and made you forget to look at the classroom clock and as you made your way home at the end of the day you were thinking about what you had learned in that lesson?  That’s what Pullman Bunker Bay Resort does for you.  Sure, you’ll swim in the pool, play at the beach, and groan with delight at the end of every meal but somewhere along the way you will also learn something about a beautiful culture and a remarkable landscape.  Best lesson I’ve had in a long time. 

Escape Plan

Covid-19:  While vaccination programs continue to roll out across the world and Australia has a program in place to vaccinate its population by the end of 2021 international travel is still not likely to resume until 2022. Check regularly with police, health and customs authorities before travelling.

Getting There:  From Perth, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is an easy drive of just over three hours, all of it on good highway roads with regular service stations and the regional cities of Bunbury and Busselton along the way. 

Visit the following websites for more information:

www.pullmanbunkerbayresort.com.au

www.margaretriver.com

www.westernaustralia.com

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Aboriginal Tourism around Perth and a bit further.

Beyond stories, Aboriginal tourism is about tangible opportunities to feel ochre on your face, touch kangaroo skins, dance and have some fun.

For ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I thought that we should do something to be a part of NAIDOC Week, which celebrates the culture and contribution of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. Below is a link to our discussion about Aboriginal tourism experiences in Perth and down the road.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/saturdaybreakfast/naidoc-hidden-treasures/13449400

I thought we’d look at just a few of the immersive experiences that are available to learn and understand more about Aboriginal culture and just to enjoy and have fun.

As a local, it’s a great time to be exploring tourism opportunities.  Without the international tourists crowding the scene our world is our oyster and our world has the oldest and most remarkable living culture in the world. 

Whether you’re after education or entertainment the opportunities to immerse yourself in an Aboriginal Tour and Experience aren’t just limited to the great red dirt northern expanses of the state, they’re right here in your backyard and in your neighbour’s backyard.

They’re even increasingly around where you’ve always walked and cycled or gone to the footy.  Keep a look out for signage, statues and sculptures at your favourite spots, particularly for interpretive signs giving new life and understanding about where we live and who has lived here before us.

Here are a few of my favourite Aboriginal Tours and Experiences that are here in Perth and just a couple that are a little bit down the road.

All of them are accredited tour operators and are members of the WA Indigenous Tourism Operators Council who have the coolest corporate values you’ll find; 1) Connection to Country 2) Welcome to Country 3) Have Corroborees … to share and learn!

No buzz words.  They’re real words.

Let’s start in Mandurah and welcome you to Mandjoogoordap Dreaming. Anyone who has taken the Freeway and Forrest Highway down south has seen the longest name sign Main Roads has ever had to install.  The ‘Mandjoo’ means ‘meeting place’ and the ‘goordap’ means ‘of the heart’.  George at Mandjoogoordap Dreaming will teach you how to make bush twine and forage for bush tucker and learn the bushcraft of the region during walks along the Mandurah foreshore and estuary and a little bit on a bus for little legs and older legs.

Let’s keep going a bit further down the road but only as far Bunker Bay just to the west of Dunsborough.  Pullman Bunker Bay have partnered with local Elders to give guests the opportunity to do a Six Seasons Tour by exploring the gardens at the resort.  When I did the tour with my kids, Elder Nina Webb showed them the plants that could be eaten, used for medicine, and showed me what ones just look good as a bouquet for.  We found frogs behind leaves and lizards on rocks. 

This is one tour that showcases not just the flora and fauna but also the culture and language of the local Wardandi people and are showing how to work alongside a modern hospitality experience to include some authentic culture in your resort getaway.

Wardandi Elder Nina Webb takes resort guests at Pullman Bunker Bay on a tour of what is right before their eyes … and opens them!

We’ll stay south for another experience but head east to Kojonup to the Kodja Place.  It’s with great sadness that my friend and local legend Jack Cox passed away in March and I wish to thank his family for letting me mention his name today.  Jack used to greet visitors with a bush tea that was actually bought at the Kojonup IGA and he used to tell international visitors that he needed their help to find lost sheep in the gardens surrounding Kodja Place. The Kodja Place will continue to tell stories about his remarkable life and his family who lived in the area.  If you are putting together a bucket list of Western Australian cultural travel experiences, make sure the Kodja Place in Kojonup is on it because it’s a complete tapestry of stories from Noongar life to settler life in the area.

On our way back up to Perth let’s stop near Narrogin and go into Dryandra to meet my friends Ross Storey and Marcelle Riley.  As part of the Narrogin Noongar Ranger Tours and Experiences these guys tell beautiful stories through the use of dollmaking and in bush walks. I grew up with Ross and if you’ve ever wondered if anyone can talk more than me then just listen Ross talk about his country.

Ross Storey, based in Narrogin and telling stories about the Wheatbelt
Ross makes sure that all ages can participate, learn and have a lot of fun

Back in Perth let’s look at some tours that will be so immersive you’ll no longer see the land around you as a city landscape, you’ll see and feel the land the way it was.  Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences will walk you around the city, the river, and even on Wadjemup and get you singing songs, touching kangaroo skins, using tapping sticks and smelling ochre and crushed leaves in your fingers.  This is storytelling with knowledge, passion and fun and have you smiling all the way home.

Deadly Diva Experiences for Women is an experience I wish they’d let me participate in.  Tahn tells campfire stories and does wildflower walkabouts and it’s all for the ladies. It’s inspiring and intriguing and let’s use my favourite word of the day … immersive.  She is now looking at a once a year tour for the curious fellas so watch this space very carefully.

Get up to Kings Park as a family and participate in the Kings Park special events program that focuses on local Aboriginal culture and takes kids into the world of Kings Park before roads and playgrounds.

Finally, get to the Yagan Square Nyumbi where at 5:30pm every Friday you watch and participate in a smoking ceremony and dance.  The performers change each week.  Some Fridays it’s an Elders group and other times it’s the kids getting up and sharing stories with an audience that includes tourists, office workers and passers-by who never walk by when they see what’s going on. They also love a photo at the end of the performance and some of those kids will give you some cheeky feedback on your own dancing skills.

These are experiences for our community to be proud of and enjoy. Aboriginal tours and experiences are hidden treasures because they’re immersive and substantial on so many levels but most importantly, you can discover, learn, and have fun while you’re doing it.

As Published in Have a Go News newspaper … let’s go where the air is rarefied!

Have a Go News is a Western Australian newspaper with a hardcopy circulation of over 80,000 each month and a very strong online presence.

Click on the link below and hopefully you’ll be whisked away to the July issue of Have a Go News. Scroll through to page 40 and you can read my published story about hot air ballooning in the Avon Valley.

Have a Go News (July 2021)
Mist. And cold. Very cold.

There’s a reason that songs are written about being in the air. 

‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘99 Red Balloon’s, ‘Up, Up and Away’ and ‘Danger Zone’ are just a few classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Hidden Treasures is going on a special adventure beyond Perth this weekend.  We’re going further than we’ve travelled before, past Guildford and Midland that we’ve explored before and up and over the hills and out to the Avon Valley.

Our hidden treasure can only be discovered in the darkness but is soon revealed by the dawn of a new day. 

Let’s go hot air ballooning!

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Arriving at the Northam Airport I’m the first to arrive and there is nobody at the airport except for the resident cat.  It’s so cold that the cat jumps into my car. 

As other people start to arrive and huddle around the coffee making facilities, I’m taken by news articles on the wall that describe the history of hot air ballooning in the world. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s true, in 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster went riding in a hot air balloon in France. 

I had thought that the airport would be our take off point but Damien, our chief pilot, has been letting go of weather balloons and squinting at the night sky like an old sea captain. For this morning’s flight with Windward Balloon Adventures we must head west of Northam.

These guys have all the permissions required from the shire and farmers to access properties, so long as we remember to close the gates.

Still in complete darkness, our pilots inflate the balloons as they lie on the ground and the roar and brightness of the gas burners is a bit like those aerobatic displays of jet planes whooshing over your head. 

After a final briefing we climb into our basket and just like that, we’re away. No seatbelts. No worries.

I’ve done some wonderful air related activities in my life from the fastest and longest zipline in the world with my daughter Matilda down the side of a mountain in South Africa, to twice jumping out of aeroplanes, flying a beautiful Tiger Moth over Perth and the seaplane to Rottnest, and even trekking up mountains and being above clouds.

When I jumped out of an aeroplane I thought about the words of John Magee, a World War II Spitfire pilot who wrote a poem called High Flight with the first line, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” and the last line, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God”.

Astronaut Michael Collins died recently, and he once remarked that he wondered what John Magee would have been inspired to write if he could have been in orbit above the Earth. 

As we ascend from the paddock that becomes a mist shrouded valley beneath, I looked to the east and had author Douglas Adams’ words in my head, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats and there is the possibility of magic.  Creation holds its breath.”

I can tell you I held my breath and it was amazing.  In so many of life’s travels and adventures it’s been the sights that are the most awesome but what was so immersively different about a hot air balloon experience is that sound becomes part of the canvas before you.

There is the possibility of magic ….

It’s mostly silent apart from the whoosh of the gas burners every so often to get some altitude. Looking down and around you’re suddenly struck by the sounds of parrots having an early morning squabble in the trees over who’s sitting on the best branch, sheep all going baa as they move across a paddock far below and even a dog barking from somewhere. 

There are other balloons to help with the perspective of what we’re all a part of this morning.  They drift along as we drift along and we rise and fall and our hearts sing with the joy of witnessing to a new day in a beautiful part of the world.

As we continue to drift, we travel over bushland with granite outcrops beginning to be warmed by the early rays of the sun and kangaroos jumping through the trees and in the distance on hills to the west we can see the shadow of our balloon and directly below us the reflection of the balloon is crystal clear in the river below.

We land in a harvester scarred paddock with a gentle bump and everyone helps roll up the balloon into a bag that is much easier to manage than any sleeping bag.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia to Beverley, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Northam has the Avon River running through it and the champagne breakfast after the ballooning is held in a café overlooking the river, complete with white swans and suspension bridge.  During a champagne toast we are all welcomed to the club of Balloonatics.

Hot air ballooning in Northam is a hidden treasure because maybe Northam doesn’t seem far enough for a big adventure.  Also, ballooning may be somewhere on the bucket list but it gets pushed down the list because of the need to get up early. Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

You don’t have to be religious to feel inspired by creation taking it’s first breath for the day
Coffee and Have a Go News newspaper … a perfect start to your morning (especially on page 40)

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: The World of the WAFL is full of History, Heritage and Hotdogs.

I asked Ro to dress like a Champion but she wore her Swan Districts gear

From Mandurah to Joondalup, Freo to Basso and a fair bit in between, there are footy grounds with enough heritage and heart to bring out your tribal colours, wave a scarf, admire some silverware and photos of yesterday’s champions and watch close up, todays champions of men and womens footy, and listen to their coaches support and spray them at quarter and three quarter time.

Wherever you live in the metropolitan area, there’s a WAFL ground near you.  Click on the link below to listen to our ABC Perth Hidden Treasures story on WAFL grounds around Perth:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/saturdaybreakfast/wafl-hidden-treasures/13430668

All of the WAFL grounds offer spectators the opportunity to get over the boundary fence at quarter time breaks and have a kick to kick or listen to the coaches and players as they huddle around the magnet board at quarter and three quarter time. 

Listen to a winning coach speech to his winning team

It’s these moments that make WAFL truly special.  Getting on to the ground.  Kicking a footy.  Getting close to the teams. Seeing up close the mouth guards being rinsed, the smell of liniment getting rubbed into legs that are fit and strong … but not quite as big as Ron Bouchers.  And high level coaches instructing high level players. And big wins.

Celebrate the wins

Mandurah has a redeveloped arena that is next door to the main shopping centre in Mandurah and highlights one of the characteristics of WAFL grounds, they’re accessible and central to the community they represent.

Clint Wheeldon fondly remembers when Rushton Park used to truly have that country footy feel with cars parked the oval.  When he was on air for the ABC covering a game he’d give a shout out to the cars and they’d honk their horns and flash their lights.  The lights thing didn’t work well for radio but he said it was lots of fun.

Up the road in Freo are two grounds that embody the rivalry between WAFL clubs.  While East Fremantle fans love their Shark Park with its acres of grassy banks and its low stands with plank seating that is more splinter than plank, Fremantle Oval is completely different. 

South Fremantle is a great club and Fremantle Oval is a great ground

The mightiest football team in the world, the South Fremantle Bulldogs, has allowed the Italian influence in Fremantle to literally pave the spectator terraces in concrete to follow many an Italian homeowners gardening creed that there are no weeds in concrete.

Concrete terraces and seagulls? It could only be footy in Freo!

Despite the concrete terraces, there is the beauty of some of Perth’s grandest old fig trees, the wall of Fremantle Jail just behind the scoreboard and a contender for the best stand in Perth the Victoria Pavilion, built in 1897.

Up Stirling Highway you’ll find the transformed Claremont Oval which in the Covid environment is the easiest way to get a resort experience in Perth.  The fully redeveloped ground is only lacking a swim up bar to complete the picture.  Much of the seating is sumptuous and there are even sofas and proper coffee tables with proper coasters!

Nusa Dua in Claremont

Just up the road is the dual tenanted Leederville Oval, home to Subiaco and East Perth.  As a venue for the 1962 Empire Games it’s grandstand reflects this era and if you like the look down spectator experience like major stadiums, this won’t cost you anymore to sit in than the gate entry price of $15 – with complimentary Footy Budget.

Joondalup is one of the pioneer grounds in Perth to make the transition from footy oval to multi sports complex, incorporating a swimming complex, gym and other sports while still retaining that great hallmark of WAFL grounds, the grass embankment.

Lathlain is another ground that has retained and redeveloped.  There’s still a van with a loud generator making hot chips and big hotdogs but there’s also the sophistication and dominant architecture of the West Coast Eagles complex that is alongside the oval. It’s got the big stand from the same era as Leederville Ovals and has a great view of the game and you can sit close to the commentators and hear how they’re seeing the game unfold.  

Love a Lathlain Oval hotdog

 I guess now we’ve got to make the long trek out to Bassendean and have a look at Bassendean Oval.  While it’s true that Swan Districts got a hat-trick of flags in the 80’s I don’t know if there’s much else to say about them.   

They do have a spectacular grass embankment and two stands that put the grand in grandstand.  The ground is a great hub for local kids with a skate park adjacent to the oval and on the my last visit there were two kids playing with a footy near the goals and taking turns pretending to be their favourite player as they kicked for goal. 

Putting the ‘Grand’ in ‘Grandstand is the Bill Walker Stand at Bassendean Oval

Best ground that resembles a resort: Claremont – sofas, seating and service like a Nusa Dua resort

Best Gates: Bassendean Oval

Best Grass: Bassendean Oval

Best Stand: Victoria Pavilion, Fremantle Oval

Best Trees: Fremantle Oval

Best Ground Announcer: Leederville Oval “Describing children as ‘kiddies and young un’s’ and saying ‘please’ when advising spectators to get off the ground and to ‘please remember to help your kiddies gently over the fence’. 

Honk your horns for WAFL grounds! WAFL grounds are hidden treasures that are well and truly in the open throughout suburban Perth.  They’re accessible, good value and are a great way to connect with your community and watch good footy. Thank you to all the WAFL clubs who let me be a part of their game day experience.  They’ve got heritage and heart and even if you’re not a member of your local club, you’re always welcome.

The rough, tough Bulldogs! Southerners forever more!

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures has landed safely in the Avon Valley

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia to Beverley, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Toodyay is a great place to begin an Avon Valley daytrip.

Two great museums are in Toodyay. The Connors Mill has working displays, steam engines, and the Ballardong Noongar connection is well exhibited and the Newcastle Gaol tells the tragic story of Dorrizzi brothers and also has some interesting history on Moondyne Joe who is described as not quite a bushranger but more than a horse thief.

The Bilya Walk Trail 6-kilometre Aboriginal Interpretive Art Walk tracks alongside the Avon River, showcasing how local Noongar people lived in the location.

The Toodyay bakery is the perfect spot to enjoy a pastie and vanilla slice (with white icing) on a balcony that overlooks the main street.

The Toodyay Bakery has a balcony to watch the world go by in the main street below

Enjoy stocking up on Christmas decorations at the biggest Christmas Shop in the whole world that is open all year.

Enjoy a walk through Pelham Reserve which has 6km’s of walking tracks with a lookout of the town and valley. Kangaroos and emus will be constantly crossing your path and the surrounding bush is one of the states best locations for Everlasting displays.

The fabulous Tea House Tables has regular events in a bush setting, where you will sit around mosaic tables and quietly sip tea in one hand and noisily scoff homemade cakes in the other. I wonder if they make mock chicken sandwiches?

Driving down to York there is the famous Motor Museum which is like a Peters Drumstick – a classic that’s hard to stray from. Let the smell of old oil fill your nostrils and reminisce about driving in the days of caressing your vehicles choke every morning to get it started!

Make sure you have a wander of the streets and find the Wara Art Trail. These Japanese inspired sculptures of braided wheat straw on wooden frames, including a bilby, numbat and western swamp tortoise are a great example of inspirational regional art projects.

York Wara art trail Bilby

In Northam, get there early enough in the morning and you can become a member of the balloonatic club with Damien the hot air balloon pilot who’s like an old sea captain, squinting at the night sky, checking the stars and the wind to find the safest place to take off and land.

The iconic Avon Descent starts in Northam and is part of the River Festival every August to celebrate this 124-kilometre epic and iconic race.

The Northam Wheat Silo was the first silo in Australia to have a giant mural painted on it and the flour mill mural pays tribute to the only wild white swans in Australia.

Before you leave Northam, make sure you take a walk on the suspension bridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Australia.

Motoring down to little Beverley there’s the very impressive East End Gallery. With over ninety artists there is local clothing, jewellery, paintings, sculptures and most of it is for sale! The kids will love the owl and the pussy cat in a very real pea green boat.

There’s also lots of rusty stuff at the back of the East End Gallery. It is the workshop for a sculptural artist called Michael Sofoulis and he has collected all the rusty metal for a million miles around!  Old bicycles, horseshoes of all sizes no matter what size your horse’s feet are, bits of gates, bits of cars, bits of sheds and fences.

Rusty stuff from miles around at the East End Gallery in Beverley

Beverley also has a Heritage and Mural Trail of chickens, kangaroos, sheep and more on Vincent Street, the main street of little Beverley.

Before you leave Beverley make sure you take a look at the very real vampire!

The Avon Valley is a hidden treasure because it’s a day on the road that won’t exhaust you.

The Avon Valley is a bit like the Margaret River Region.  There is the main road and there are the back roads. 

And there are pies and pasties for everyone in every town. And vanilla slices!

Sitting in the main street of regional towns is a great pastime

How to Turn a Pinnacles Weekender into a Cut-Down Day Trip, as published by the West Australian.

As published in the West Australian weekend travel supplement, West Travel.

So Chris Parry has packed the car and the kids, and headed north. Not really north. But still north.

In an article some time ago, Travel Editor for the West Australian, Stephen Scourfield, showed how to do the Pinnacles area as a weekender. Now for the cut-down version, designed to tick the box on a great experience and demonstrate great parenting by me.

School holidays should be relaxing but the pressure as a parent to deliver new experiences and encounters can become a quest. “Not another playground!” was the despairing exclamation the night before. Inspired by Stephen’s article, I thought I could do a version that would be cheaper and maybe leave the kids exhausted the next day (and on the following day there was cricket on the TV).

Stephen had left home at 10.30am on Saturday. Scratch that. Get up at sparrows, wrap some toast in some Alfoil for the kids and hit the road.

The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park is about 250km north of Perth and a trip is made all the more enjoyable since the 2010 opening of the Indian Ocean Drive. Trying to enjoy a northbound day trip on the heavily trucked inland Brand Highway is near impossible.

How good is the Indian Ocean Drive? If you ever spin a bottle to work out what direction you’re going to head for a day trip out of Perth, make sure the bottle points north. Indian Ocean Drive offers a great driving experience. It is scenic which is enough to tick the boxes of all the occupants in my car.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary, we are experiencing the wonder of the Pinnacles just after he has left home. It’s a summer’s day and by 10.45am it’s warm but the Kids’ Driving Songs CD still hasn’t melted on the dashboard from my apparent carelessness. Yes we still like a good compact disc in the domain of my car.

While Stephen is still on Wanneroo Road, I have paid my $12 entry per vehicle and begun the 4km Pinnacles loop in my seldom-tested four-wheel drive.

Here’s a photography and driving tip in one: you don’t need a 4WD for the Pinnacles loop but your photos will look better with a rugged vehicle to match the landscape.

As Stephen explains, the Pinnacles are “limestone pillars thought to represent the remains of a forest covered by moving sand dunes and petrified”. Alternative suggestions for their creation include the raw material for the limestone coming from seashells that broke down over time into lime-rich sands and then a bit of research adds some descriptions none of us are going to remember, such as “vegetation forming acidic layers of soil and humus” and “precipitation of indurated calcrete with subsequent erosion of the aelolianite”.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre has now taken it under my advisement that my kids’ explanation deserves a display board. According to them, the Pinnacles were formed in ancient times by a group of children competing in a sand castle competition.

All of the children coincidently built the same style of structure that we now know as the Pinnacles. To celebrate this coincidence, it was decided not to smash the sand castles at the end of the day and let them stay there forever.

While we’re at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre, I reckon on Stephen’s trip you would probably be somewhere around Seabird, a small community 100km north of Perth. The Seabird community of the 1960s rejected the proposed name of Chalon and chose the name Seabird after a schooner of that name wrecked nearby in 1874.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre is a very well articulated display of history and local flora and fauna. While the displays of snakes and lizards easily impress, it is noticeable how intrigued people are by the display of sandgropers. All I’ve ever known about this elusive insect is that it is the colloquialism for West Australians.

The sandgroper is subterranean and occurs widely across Australia in sandy soils. In WA it was available in the 1970s as a soft toy to raise money for Telethon.

After stocking up on some cold drinks, snacks and other essential items, such as glow-in-the-dark tshirts at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre shop, we make our back to the now suitably dusty 4WD and back on to Indian Ocean Drive, but only for a minute.

Spying a track on the coast side of the road, I pull into it and we make our way along a suitably narrow, sandy track, a genuine air of concern in the car. Surrounded by scrub with just a narrow band of white sand ahead of us, we round a bend and there’s a vehicle in trouble, spinning sand like a sprinting sandgroper.

With the owner pulling the shirt off his back and kicking his floor mats under the back wheels I ask if he needs some help. I realise immediately it’s the wrong question to ask of a man in trouble being watched by his girlfriend. No man in trouble wants help. I should have said, “I’ve got some gear in the back. Do you wanna use it?” It’s too late. He’s committed to refusing my help. We look at each other, both of us understanding what I must do. Slowly I get back in the car and complete a 15-point turn. As slowly and as quietly as possible, I drive off back the way we came.

The silence in the car doesn’t last long. An even smaller track leads off to a massive sand dune that is crying out to be explored. We leave the car and climb this monster of bright, white sand, surrounded entirely by bush. I remember the kids just running, falling and laughing but my favourite memory is of my boy running off into the distance, at least 150m away, on his own, flat-strap and barefoot.

Back in the car, we continue the drive south, taking in the recommended scenic lookouts until we arrive in Lancelin. At the Endeavour Tavern we grab a massive wooden table outside in the beer garden and order some equally massive pizzas to fill it — and somehow make some space for drinks. The kids run off to explore the expansive lawns and roll down the grassy slope, occasionally colliding with like-minded happy kids.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary he has checked into the Pinnacles Edge Resort, enjoying his exploration of the surroundings and looking forward to a luxurious evening before taking in more of the area’s sites tomorrow.

At about the time Stephen is slipping easily into the comforts of good service and good food, I’m making my way back down Indian Ocean Drive.

I will be home in a couple of hours, having provided my family with more stories to tell and more adventures to remember, and all done in just one day.

Any angle of a Pinnacle is a good angle but it’s the light you want to wait for. I didn’t have time for that though.

Come And Find A Stunning Display In Your Backyard, as published in the West Australian

As published in the West Australian Saturday edition travel supplement, West Travel:

The Lesmurdie Falls, on the edge of the Darling Escarpment, is one of the best and most easily accessible natural features surrounding Perth.

Remarkably, from entering the Northbridge Tunnel to arriving at Lesmurdie Falls National Park was little more than 30 minutes for my two-car convoy.

The park is small, covering only 56ha, with steep granite terrain that is densely vegetated.

The picnic facilities provide good shade and plenty of room to spread out. Within minutes of settling down, the scurry of movement in the bushes causes great excitement for the kids as moments later two quendas emerge to make enquiries as to our catering. While our group of seven had packed an ample supply of chicken, bread rolls, sausage rolls and salads, we had neglected to bring our friendly arthropods the earthworms and fungi which are the preferred diet of the quenda.

They’re an inquisitive little mammal, quokka-like in their lack of fear in securing the various ‘accidentally’ dropped pieces of food that kept landing between the feet of the kids. Under threat from habitat loss and introduced predators, these quendas are finding ways to survive the best way they can. My species is responsible for introducing the quenda to cats and foxes, so I don’t feel too bad about slipping them a few bits of bread.

The options for bushwalking are extensive throughout the park. During our picnic, there is a constant stream of hikers with tubes in their mouths from their back mounted water bladders, accompanied by the scrape of barely lifted trekking poles as they reach their rest point.

Talking to a few people – after they get their breath back – it’s apparent that many are in training for various legs of the Bibbulmun Track. As a trekker of self-proclaimed renown, I offer my sage advice; “Keep your nose over your toes and with your new boots, wear them in , don’t wear them out.”

From the carpark and adjacent picnic facilities, the Lesmurdie Falls are an easy 10-minute walk away. The path is excellent and capable of accommodating fast kids and slow adults in both directions.

As you approach the Lesmurdie Falls from the carpark and picnic area, you hear the waterfall before you see it. The cascade is a stunning display. It’s white and foamy, splashing and falling over 50m to the bottom of the chasm, flanked by granite cliffs. In the distance and on the flat ground out to the west lies Perth.

If you continue past the viewing platforms you can keep walking down the path to the bottom of the falls or off into the bush for further destinations. The paths continue to be broad, free from trip hazards and have well spaced intervals on the steps. Even carrying tired or just lazy kids is relatively easy. Relatively.

While the park surrounding the falls is the responsibility of the government parks authority, the Lesmurdie community is closely involved in its management. A small group of locals, Friends of Upper Lesmurdie Falls, have set themselves the task of removing weeds growing in the eastern end of the park and are planting native flora sourced from local seed stock.

There’s good shade, public toilets, picnic areas, large viewing platforms, information boards and well-signed and maintained trails with the opportunity to walk for minutes, hours or days.

Lesmurdie National Park is on the edge of the city, but on the other side of the hill is the rest of Australia.

ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures: Midland … the end of line and loving it.

The Amazing Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast, getting Perth up and about every weekend

Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast is getting Perth up and about every weekend and being a part of her show is exciting and a lot of fun. Our program Hidden Treasures is making a habit of discovering places that have always been there but maybe you just haven’t stopped there before.

Midland was originally proclaimed and named as Midland Junction in 1891 because it is the junction of major roads leading to Perth from the north and east.

Midland is the suburb where many adventures begin as travellers head east on Great Eastern Highway, or north on the Great Northern Highway, and it’s where travellers to Perth give a big sigh and say, “We’ve made it.”

Midland is the end of the line.  Literally.  The eastern metropolitan train line starts from Perth and finishes in Midland. Although I reckon that most Midland locals are adamant that the train line actually starts in Midland and finishes in Perth, making Perth the end of the line.

It’s the railway that is as connected to the community and history of Midland as a carriage on the tracks. 

I once had a conversation with the Sultan of Johor about his favourite town in Johor, called Muar.  He wanted Muar to be like Melacca, just up the road to the north.

I said ‘I’ve been to Melacca. I’ve been to Muar. They are both great.  Why do you want Muar to be like another town just up the road?  Why would you go to the trouble of becoming like something else that you then have to compete with anyway? Be yourself.  Be known for your history and build on that.’

I thought it was pretty good advice and so did he.

Midland is a bit like Muar. It’s not the best house in the street but it’s got really good residents who are really proud of showing off what they’ve got. Up the road there’s the historical glitz and glamour of Guildford, off to the north there’s the Swan Valley vineyards to sozzle your senses and over the back fence to the east are the hills of the escarpment, overlooking Midland.

Like so many of our Hidden Treasures, it’s not that you have to dig deep to find the treasure, you just have to know where to look.

Let’s stick with the history bit first, move through what you can do now, eat out of an old lunchbox and finish with a sport that’s huge in Midland and America.

For history, anyone who has driven out that way would know about the Midland Town Hall. 

Midland Town Hall

It’s impressive and always feels like you’re going to drive into it as you head along Great Eastern Highway which takes a gentle curve to the right as you drive past this great building is Midlands most recognisable building. Just like the road in front of it, it’s got a gorgeous curve to it that makes it not just impressive as Federation architecture but it’s charming and elegant.  With the addition of the clock atop its dome serving as a memorial to local men who lost their lives in war, it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice made by those men and their loss to the community.

After a Mayoral Ball to mark completion of renovations, it’s now a popular cabaret venue and hall for hire (which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds).

The Midland Railway Workshops were the burning, molten metal heart of Midland.  You could hear the work being done for nearly a hundred years by a workforce that came from all over Perth but mostly came from the surrounding streets of Midland.  These days, a walk through and around the sheds is remarkable. 

Midland Railway Sheds

They are towering buildings with big industrial doors and windows and while they’re industrial buildings they are beautiful, magnificent and inspiring.  In the years ahead they may become spaces for sport, for the arts, for movie studios, for many things but for now just get out there and enjoy exploring these big buildings that built trains and rolling stock are also a photographers dream in any light.

Midland Railway Sheds

Trillion Trees partners with the ABC tv series Fight for Planet A and the nursery grows more than 200,000 seedlings each year and is a great oasis to wander around and purchase some native plants from volunteers from a range of diverse backgrounds and employment training programs. They’re also working with local schools, including Woodbridge Primary School and Moorditj Noongar College, teaching the kids about cultural ecology.

The Midland Junction Arts Centre is the cultural heart of Midland provides workshops for all ages, has three galleries, workspaces for artists and want-to-be artists and works really hard to engage the community in creative ways.  A huge range of workshops are available including after school ceramics for the kids, life drawing for the adults and tactile tours for participants with disability to experience the arts through discussion and touch.

Blue Beautiful Exhibition at the Midland Junction Arts Centre (Yes you can have a slushy! Beat that Banksy!)

The Robot Bun Factory is an example of the quirky cafes springing up all over Midland, some selling records and bric-a-brac, others selling local art but when a café gets you coming back you know it’s not just about the robots and free board games, it’s about bao buns served in 1950’s style tin lunch boxes and a local crew doing their best to put a funky pin in the map of Midland.

There’s always action at the Robot Bun Factory Cafe

The Midland Farmers Markets are one of the oldest markets with the freshest fruit and vege produce alongside live music and pickles, cakes and jams. The next one is tomorrow and its out the front of the City of Swan offices on Market Square.

While Guildford has the antique shops, Midland has second hand shops and charity shops that are a rummagers delight and my teenage daughter Matilda’s obsession as she searches high and low for clothes or diligently and silently flicks her way through boxes of old records.

Watch some baseball or teeball at Charlie Hodder Baseball Field.  Baseball has a rich history going back to the 1940s and a rich competition that is great fun to watch in the stands with a hot dog.

Photo courtesy of the Swan District Baseball Club

Midland is a hidden treasure because it’s not trying to be like something else.  Surrounded by glamourous neighbours, it has dug its heels in and supported by a rich rail history, they are building a community and attracting visitors for the art and culture, fresh produce, funky cafes, collections of charity shops and sport you might have only seen before in the movies and on tv.

Digital Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism: Global Strategic Management Forum 2020, Universiti Teknologi Mara

Digital Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism: Global Strategic Management Forum 2020, Universiti Teknologi Mara Malaysia

Presenting for the Universiti Teknologi Mara was a great opportunity to speak about the history of content marketing, the importance of collaboration, future technology and how to demonstrate your degree of uniqueness and of course, discuss the impact of Covid-19 now and in the future.

The forum placed a great emphasis on learning how to collaborate by consulting, involving and informing a broader network and how digital marketers in the future will require good engagement skills to build authentic and genuine relationships.

A lot has changed in the past twenty years and even more has changed in the past year. The more we work together the better our marketing will be and the better our hospitality experiences will be for our clients.

ABC Saturday Breakfast: From the Porongurups to Rotto, Tassy gin to South Australian cuttlefish and the wonders of Malacca.

A recent conversation with the ever bubbly Andrea Gibbs on ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast explored some destinations that took us around Western Australia, over the border to some of my favourite states and finally overseas to a destination that’s just so cool to say and even better to experience.

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Firstly, with ABC Producer Molly Schmidt firmly twisting my arm, we explored her hometown and holiday hangout, the Porongurups and Albany.  Then we ventured across the coastline with some descriptions of Elephant Rocks, Greens Pool, a bit of beach driving at Peaceful Bay and the discovery of giants in the forests around Walpole.

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ABOVE: WALPOLE TREETOP WALK

Then we had a chat about new ways to see new destinations and Rottnest is a great example of this.  This familiar destination is a rite of passage for Western Australians and a bucket list item for most tourists to the state.  With the new seaplane service taking off from the Swan River in front of the city you’re on Rotto in 20 minutes and can explore this incredible island, both on land and beneath the waves, before making your way back on one of the many ferry services available.

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ABOVE: SWAN RIVER SEAPLANES TAKE OFF ON WATER AND LAND ON … LAND.

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ABOVE: THE BASIN AT ROTTNEST ISLAND, MORE THAN A FAVOURITE, IT’S A RITE OF PASSAGE.

Next we took a trip to Tasmania and Andrea got very excited by my descriptions of the more than 20 gin distilleries to be found on the island and various DIY gin courses that are available.  We then came back to the mainland and to our great neighbour, South Australia.  There’s so much to see and there’s more to see than amazing wineries.  There’s some cage diving with Great White Sharks and a slightly more sedate wildlife encounter at Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf you’ll find the opportunity to snorkel with giant cuttlefish.

To finish our travel tour we hopped on a plane to Malaysia and visited Malacca.  I love just saying it. Malacca.  The Straits of Malacca have been an important sea trading route for centuries and led to an influence in this gorgeous town of food, culture and architecture in the styles of the Portugese, Dutch and British.  Interestingly, as well as having world heritage significance, funky hidden bars, evening river cruises and smiling faces everywhere, it is also one of the first large towns anywhere in the world to ban smoking in public.  Malacca.  Say it with me.  Malacca.

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ABOVE: AN EVENING CRUISE IN MALACCA

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ABOVE: MALACCA, OR MELAKA.

Travel discussions can lead you down a rabbit hole of inspiration.  This year try and think a little bit about trying to benefit the destination you’re going to.  Consider, for example, amazing destinations like South Australia who need our help as tourists to recover from the bushfires, particularly on Kangaroo Island.  In Western Australia, try a road trip to a country town you haven’t visited before or find a new way to visit a familiar destination, like a seaplane ride to Rotto.

Enjoy your travels, don’t be put off travelling, just try and contribute with your travelling.