I first travelled around Australia 3 years ago, and I loved it. The multitude of beautiful beaches, spectacular weather, limitless fun to be had on road trips, and the magic of Uluru made this one of my favourite countries back then. However, apart from driving through the outback to Uluru, I did what most British backpackers do when in Australia; drank my way down the East Coast. And boy was it fun!
As with many countries, the backpacker scene here is so much fun and the tourist activities so exhilarating that it's hard to break out of the comfortable but expensive, goon-flavoured backpacker bubble. So, feeling slightly too old to compete with today's young backpackers anyway, I headed out West to explore this vast half of this huge island, in search of an authentic Australian experience.
Arriving into Perth, even at 10.30pm, the first thing you'll notice is the warm, dry smell of the air. It smells of thousands of years of scorched red earth, but it's not unpleasant, rather it's like a warm invitation banner. The second thing you'll notice is that Perth has money, lots of it. There are more self-made millionaires here than in any other city on earth, and contemporary mansions line the streets, parks, beaches and the mighty Swan river like lines of terracotta soldiers. The Western suburbs, where I stayed with actual Australians, are spacious, clean - if slightly sterile, and have miles upon miles of deserted beach, save for the sharks of course. All in all, Perth seems like a less-chaotic, less-populated version of Australia's post-card city, Sydney, but all this does come at a price, a very large one. Don't expect to pay anything less than 10 dollars for a pint!
However, my reason for venturing out West wasn't for a city break. It was to explore, to get out into the wild and experience modern Australian life in this most ancient of lands. So, surfboards attached, beach cricket bat stowed, and copious amounts of suncream applied, we hit the road, due south.
Margaret River, lying about 300km south of Perth, is like a tourist-free version of one of my favourite spots in Australia, Byron Bay. Of course there are the colonies of surfers and pods of ageing Australian holiday-makers, but Margaret River maintains that lived-in feel that the East coast lacks. But it was the area surrounding this country town that we'd come for. This is wine-making country, and Aussies, not normally known for their dignified activities, are doing it very well indeed, thank you very much.
The wines are exquisite, the vineyards are beautiful, and the beaches remain empty. And although there is considerable money in this region too, the atmosphere is far the elitist ambiance propagated in French vineyards. We visited at least 6 top-quality vineyards, and despite looking like we couldn't have afforded a bottle between us, we were encouraged to sample as many delicious concoctions as possible. In addition to wineries, this region boasts some of Australia's finest restaurants, chocolate factories and organic specialty farms, all providing free tasting too!
Feeling full, warm and wonderfully fuzzy, we headed off to a beach to cool off, and found ourselves swimming with a majestic eagle ray in the shallow, crystal clear waters. It was a perfect end to a great 4 days.
This is a region of Australia that most tourists, and many of my Australian friends, have never visited, and in my opinion they are missing out. Western Australia offers everything that the East offers and more, without the throngs of tourists and rowdy British backpackers, of which I was once one. This trip had almost convinced me that Australians are in fact much more refined than generally acknowledged, until a man at a festival shouted, 'Oi, have me jocks ya c***s!' and then proceeded to throw his underwear at us. I guess some things will never change!