Wednesday, 19 December 2012

19 December 2012 – 6 January 2013, Perth WA

We generally try to book into a caravan park for at least some of the school holidays, primarily so the girls have plenty of other kids to play with. However when I rang the parks in Perth, those still with vacancies were asking $50-60 per day, so we ended up back at the no-frills Advent Campground, which is a caravan park managed by the Seventh Day Adventists and a far more reasonable $42.  As it’s no frills, there was no pool, and as it turned out, very few caravans with kids! 
The park also has a number of cabins and fortunately, a 10 year old girl, Shania, was spending the holidays with her dad there.  Shania was literally the only other child who came into the campground in the 3 weeks we were there.  She and Elizabeth and Kate became firm friends and spent plenty of time together.

With Shania at Advent Campground, Perth, Xmas 2012
Another reason for aiming for Perth during the holidays is that cities tend to have a lot going on for kids during school holidays.  Apart from Christmas Festivals including Carols by Candlelight, most museums also have holiday programs and a visit to any pool or playground will have plenty of other kids around. 
We attended a Nativity Play in the city which was fabulous.  It included real camels, donkeys, goats and chicken and did a pretty safe representation of the nativity story.  The singing and acting was top class and we all enjoyed it.  It was held in the Murray Street Mall and walking back to the bus we were able to see all the Christmas lights and decorations.

Carols by Candlelight however was disappointing.  It cost $25 entry, which we’ve never come across before.  It was a fundraiser for Apex but I couldn’t help think that many of the families Apex might help with their fundraising efforts wouldn’t be able to afford to attend.  For our $25 we also received those plastic candles and a very polished glossy song book and again, I couldn’t help think that money could have been saved on a less glossy production.  Still, a huge crowd gathered at the Supreme Court Gardens but somehow it didn’t have the usual Christmassy atmosphere for some reason.
Kate and I with our $25 plastic candles!
Kate turned 9 on the 22nd December and we made an elaborate flower basket cake and spent the afternoon at Bayswater Waves Aquatic Centre which included a wave pool and large slide and LOTS of other kids.

Perth was having a head wave when I made this flower basket cake and the icing wasn't able
to hold the weight of the lollies.  It didn't even occur to me to turn on the air-conditioner in the van! 
We had arranged to have a Christmas Day picnic lunch at King’s Part with John and Julie, friends we first met at Ningaloo NP near Exmouth. King’s Park proved a great location as it was a hot day but we managed to have a breeze, although it was too hot to play much cricket.  At one point an Indian man and about 6 Indian women came up to us and took photos of our picnic table and then photos with us.  I asked the man if this was different to how they celebrated Christmas and he replied that they don’t celebrate Christmas in his religion!!  Oh.  After John and Julie left we walked across Federation Walk, a tree top walkway in the park.  King’s Park is somewhere I think we’d spend a lot of time if we were Perth locals.  

Christmas Day 2012 with John and Julie at King's Park, Perth. 
We didn't go hungry!

During the Christmas period we also visited the Museum of Western Australia.  There was an exhibition of wedding dresses from the Royal Albert Museum in London which I dragged everyone into.  They all enjoyed it, even Larry!  Maybe it was the fact that it was 40C outside that made them appreciate the dresses?

Dinosaur in the entrance of the Western Australia Art Gallery -
promoting the wedding dress exhibition
200 hundred years of wedding dresses

Kate loved this Christmas tree made
from books at the state library
We also called into the State Library.  Now this was interesting.  It’s a big building and there wasn’t a book to be seen on the ground floor. There were just library computers and people on their own computers, a coffee shop, a bookshop and a check-out counter.  So, as you do in a library, I went looking for the books!  The second floor housed the kids’ area and a research/archive area.  Finally on the third floor I located books and periodicals, but no-where near as many as you would expect for the city’s main library.   Apparently e-borrowing has taken off in a big way.  Basically, you have to be a member of the library and, using special software, you can borrow an electronic book for up to 4 weeks like a regular book.  After that time, if you haven’t renewed the book, it disappears from your computer.  Simple as that. The books are not able to be copied.  I expect this is the way of the future for other libraries eventually.

In the same area is the Western Australia Art Gallery.  We were running out of time so only had a brief time to check it out but it looked good.  We found this interesting coffee cup sculpture in the art gallery coffee shop and another interesting, if not bizarre, green street sculpture nearby.
Marilyn Munroe made from upturned coffee cups

Not sure what this is meant to be, maybe just a funky green sculpture!
A fantastic floating ring of stones in the WA Art Gallery
 Perth has excellent public transport, including three free CAT buses which follow routes that connect to the city.  When we tired of walking, we would jump on a CAT to cool down and see the sights a bit further afield.  A great idea which must cut down on the amount of traffic in the CBD as many workers also use the free service to commute to work if they live in one of the many inner city suburbs. 
A popular water feature in the centre of the CBD
We also did a day trip into Fremantle which was full of old buildings, lots of people, pubs, coffee shops and busy markets. There are two very good museums in Fremantle and the gaol, but it was so hot I didn’t dare mention visiting any of them and we were all starting to get 'museumed out'.
Probably our favourite Perth activity was the Swan Bells, a bicentennial project located on the Swan River.  We attended during bell ringing practice so got to see the bells in action.  Larry and I had seen bell ringers when we lived in London but Elizabeth and Kate had no idea how the bells were operated.  The tower includes bells from Saint Martins in the Field church in London which were about to be melted down and recast.  A Perth bellringer, living in London at the time, heard about it and instead began a campaign to have the bells gifted to Perth as a bicentennial gift.  In return, Western Australia provided the metal needed for new bells at Saint Martins.   The bells sounded great.  We were told that the bell tower itself was very controversial during construction, but it seems to be accepted now as something quite unique and iconic to Perth.

Swan bell tower

The bells during ringing (see the upturned bells)

On the whole, we really liked Perth.  It is very spread out but the public transport is cheap and efficient.  We also couldn’t get over how clean the city was.  Either the city has a very effective maintenance and cleaning department, or Perth residents are more litter-conscious than their other capital city counterparts. The coast line is gorgeous and there are lots of distinct suburbs each with their own feel and Perth has a pretty active cultural scene.  House prices would be a downside but on the whole, we could definitely live here if need be!
Travellers Tip: Caravan parks are quite expensive for families (quotes ranged from $58-68 during peak period). Advent Campground Maida Vale was $42 for 4.  Very basic, no frills, but easy access to bus or short drive to Midlands Train Station.  Pick up a copy of the Let’s Go Kids booklet for discount vouchers to various attractions.  Fabulous Family Rider ticket cost $11.00 for unlimited travel on bus, train and ferry. Likewise, the free CAT buses within the city area will get you everywhere and are good for a free tour of the inner suburbs.  Oddly however, you cannot get a public ferry to Fremantle from Perth.  Bayswater Waves Aquatic Centre is excellent value, less than $11 for all of us.  Wave pool operates for 10 minutes every hour and there is a large twisting waterslide.  AQWA is good, but expensive at $75 family.  If you’ve been to the Townsville, Mooloolaba, Sydney or Melbourne aquariums, give it a miss.  Having said that, it was much better value than the underwater observatory at Busselton. King’s park is really too large to cycle in and there are not many bicycle paths.  There are two large playgrounds depending upon the age of your kids.  Great place to visit if it is hot.  Swan Bells ($35 family) excellent, but time your visit for when the bells are actually ringing (details on their website).




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