The capital of Western Australia was a very modern and flashy city with lots of green. It was also the oldest town along the west coast. City planners had left many green spaces for parks which made the city look and feel much more livable.
During our second stint in Perth we stayed with a very nice couple, their cat and their dog whom we found through Couchsurfing. They lived a bit further out and so we also got to enjoy the great Perth Metro system.
Old and new buildings in Perth
On our first day we went to the Perth Mint. The well-known institute has been stamping coins for over a hundred years and is still operating (at least partially) within the original buildings. We opted for the extended tour package which included a tasty cream tea in the onsite café. Our guide Greg was very passionate and funny. We heard stories about the gold rushes which eventually lead to the establishment of the mint for purifying and coining the gold. An interesting fact is that all of the worlds 25 biggest nuggets were found in Western Australia. Inside the museum we saw the biggest gold coin on earth. In a competition with the Canadian mint the Aussies had won by producing a 1000kg 1 Dollar coin of pure gold! The gold alone is currently worth over AUD$ 64,000,000!
The biggest gold coin in the world
Nearby was the original smelting room. Used right up until 1993 for purifying gold, it is now used to show visitors how a gold bar is cast. They have been using the same 6kg for years; melting and casting it 4 times a day. After the big production was moved elsewhere and 14 of the 15 furnaces removed, the walls and ceiling were cleaned and the furnaces broken up. All the resulting debris yielded gold worth around 400,000 Australian dollar. The museum shows off some nuggets, prospecting equipment and artifacts with touchscreens telling more information. Show cases display special coins produced there and windows allow visitors to watch employees minting coins.
An old fire engine in the rescue services museum
Not far from the mint we stumbled across the heritage and education centre of the emergency services housed in the old main fire brigade station. On the bottom floor we learned much about the history of fire brigades and ambulances in Western Australia and looked at some old equipment and engines. The free museum was well set up and we enjoyed it a lot. We skipped the upstairs bit where boards explained what to do in case of a hurricane or tsunami.
St. Mary’s cathedral
The weather was glorious the next day and so we opted to go on a daytrip to Fremantle. The harbour town is home to some of the best naval museums in the southern hemisphere, nice beaches and one of Australia’s biggest harbours. Getting the train there is easy and cheap and it drops you right next to the centre and only 10min walk away from the main attraction (for most people): the maritime museum. Over three floors the museum takes visitors through the maritime history of Australia with examples of traditional boats of different eras and cultures. Fishing and whaling covers a surprisingly large area with a many fishing devices such as nets, rods and harpoons as well as products of the industry. Australia also has a rich history in sailing and racing. Their biggest success was the victory against the USA, ‘abducting’ the prestigious America’s Cup for the first time in over 150 years. Sadly they failed to defend it just a few years later…
This yacht was sailed around the world five times by one Aussie
Three hours later we had enough of ships and needed a break. As a port town, Fremantle also serves up a good sea food selection. One of the famous places to get it is Kailis; a family business founded by an Italian immigrant. Their restaurant is right on the edge of the leisure and fishing harbour which grants nice views. We got a portion of traditional fish and chips ehich was really tasty, but we had to be very wary of the many seagulls only waiting for the glimpse of an opportunity.
Fremantle fishing harbour
After a walk around the harbour we stopped at a small brewery for a hop juice sampling. We played a round of guessing game, guessing the names of the brews. Sadly we only got 3 out of 10 right. Since we also only liked 2 of them, we decided not to order more but head to the Shipwreck Galleries instead. This museum tells the stories of famous ships that got wrecked along the coast; mostly due to coral reefs and bad navigation. The most famous of them were the Batavia and the Zuytdork, both Dutch merchant ships. One room told the impressive history of the S.S. Xantho. Fitted with a very unusual engine (a trunk steam engine), it sank in the 1870s. When divers discovered the wreck in 1975, it was decided to rescue the engine. Over the course of 20 years archeologists removed two tonnes of crustacians, sediments and rocks, dismantled and re-assembled the entire engine. It was amazing to watch the documentary about how they still discovered grease in the bearings and in how good a state it was under the concretion cover. The result of their painstaking work (apart from all the improvement of restoration knowledge) was an engine that could be turned over by hand with a bit of a lever.
The restored steam engine
By the end of this exhibition we were totally shipped and museumed out and wandered around the town back towards the train station. Fremantle’s centre has maintained its traditional buildings and a bit of an English sea side town flair. In the evening our hosts held a small bbq with some friends so we got to meet even more Aussies.
The some of the original hull of the Batavia
Don’t park on double yellow lines
On our last day in Perth we took it easy and went to explore Kings Park. This huge park/green area lies on top of mount Eliza overlooking the wide Swan river. The part closest to the river has been set up as a lovely park with different walking options, little streams and themed garden sections. One area shows of a selection of critically endangered plants. It is a beautiful area to hang out and wander around on a sunny day. Even though we only saw roughly a quarter of the entire park, it took us half the day.
On our way back we happened to walk past His Majesty’s Theatre and spontaneously decided to see what was on. Five minutes later we came back out with two tickets for ‘Swanlake’ with the St Petersburg ballet plus special guests from the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. We then had just enough time to collect our backpacks from our hosts, grab a Chinese dinner and return to the theatre. This was the most underdressed either of us has ever turned up to this sort of evening entertainment (this was in fact Matthias’ first ballet show), but there’s not much to be done about this when you are a backpacker. The show was great and impressively accurate in terms of dancing and we had a very enjoyable evening. Once we were reunited with our bags we trotted to the bus station and got to the airport on the last bus. We ended up on the same benches as the previous time, but got less sleep. Morning came round faster than expected and we were on our way to the other side of the continent.