One of the things Perth is rightly very proud of is Kings Park, 1,003 acres of park and bush overlooking the city and the vantage point for the quintessential postcard shot of Perth's skyscrapper skyline. Pride of place overlooking the city goes to the WA State War Memorial but there is also an impressive 17 acre gardens including an elevated walkway constructed using lottery funding.
Perth Skyline from Kings Park
The State War Memorial in Kings Park overlooking Perth
Me by the WA State War Memorial in Kings Park overlooking Perth
Perth, like Sydney likes its beaches along the ocean when it gets hot and the most famous of these is Cottesloe Beach. When we went there it was the first weekend of the annual Sculpture by the Sea outdoor sculpture exhibition that began on Sydney's Bondi Beach back in 1997 and has also been held at Perth's Cottesloe Beach since 2005. Wierd and wonderful modern sculptures were dotted along the beach and its immediate surroundings. I must admit for me I am not sure they all worked but it was a good excuse to have a look around.
Sculpture of a lobster on Cottesloe Beach
Skeleton on a ladder by the Pavilion on Cottesloe Beach
Crocodile sculpture on Cottesloe Beach
Admiring a sculpture hanging between the trees with the poles of the Bali Bombing Memorial on the beach in the background
However one thing I definately wanted to see while in Perth was a wild kangaroo; not as easy as it sounds and as we drove up to Mundaring Weir in the Perth Hills 24 miles outside of Perth there was no guarantee we would succeed. At first all we saw was a couple of kangaroos foraging in someone's front garden but they soon disappeared before we could get a decent photo, it looked like I was going to leave Perth empty handed. Then, just like the quokkas on Rottnest Island we were surrounded by a mob of about a dozen kangaroos just as we were about to give up! We celebrated with a drink afterwards at the local pub.
A couple of Kangaroos foraging in a front garden
Kangaroos foraging in the Forest
Me with a couple wild kangaroos behind me
One final photo of a wild kangaroo
Mundaring Weir Hotel
Having been lucky with the quokka on Rottnest Island and the kangaroos at Mundaring Weir I thought we would also tick off the camel ride I missed in Oman with a visit to Camel Farm at Calamunda.
Few people realise it but there are actually more camels in Australia than Egypt and Saudi Arabia combined! Camels were brought to Australia as pack animals in the 19th Century and when with the advent of trucks and trains they were no longer needed they were set free and thrived! Being bred as pack animals rather than for racing as happens in the Middle East they also tend to be larger than their Arab cousins. Anyhow after a short trek through the forest on the back of a camel called Wasim I had another tick in the box.
Me on a camel trekking through the Perth Hills
Camels waiting their turn at Calamunda
Nearby there was also an Emu in an enclosure but he looked grumpy so we did not get too close!
Fremantle Port (affectionately known as "'Freo" to the locals) sits at the mouth of the Swan River about 25 minutes west of Perth. It has retained its old buildings and charm and apart from the Port Authority Building itself doesn't have the skyscrapers found in Perth. A lot of migrants arrived from Europe through Fremantle including my cousins from Ireland and there are several statues of migrants around the port area. Fremantle is also home to the eye catching West Australian Maritime Museum opened in 2002 with the old museum now used as a Shipwreck Gallery. Amongst the new museum's displays is the Australia II which was the first non-American yacht to win the Americas Cup and brought the competition to Fremantle in 1987.
Fremantle Port Authority Building and the Leeuwin II Sail Training Ship
Migrant Statue near the Fremantle E-Sheds
The West Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle
Sama Biasa - an Indonesian Fishing Boat confiscated for fishing in Australian waters
The 1983 Americas Cup winning yacht Australia II
On a slipway alongside the museum there is the Oberon class submarine HMAS Ovens. It was originally commissioned in 1969 and was operational for 26 years before being handed over as a museum ship. It was a fascinating tour and left with the impression that if needed she was maintained in such good condition that she could be put to sea again.
Forward Torpedo Room within HMAS Ovens
Looking up inside the Coning Tower within HMAS Ovens
HMAS Ovens Engine Room
A couple of minutes along the sea front is an odd 12 sided stone prison called the Round House, built in 1830-31 and the oldest surviving building in Western Australia. It where the first hangings in WA took place and was also used for holding aborigines before they were taken to Rottnest. In front of the Round House there is a signal canon once used for ships in the harbour to set their time and still fired daily at 1pm and underneath there is the Whalers Tunnel carved through the sandstone and used to access the beach where whales were once landed and processed.
The Round House in Fremantle
The courtyard within the Round House
Me by the 1pm Signal Gun near the Round House
The Round House and Whalers' Tunnel
Away from the coast is Freo's biggest tourist attraction and Western Australia's only World Heritage Site - Freemantle Prison. Built in the 1850s based on Pentonville Prison in London, it was in use right up until 1991 when a prison riot and fire exposed how out-dated it was (modern fire appliances couldn't get in the main gate).
Fremantle Prison Main Block
Inside one of the division wings at Fremantle Prison
Exercise Yard at Fremantle Prison
As we were guided through the different parts of the prison - the different prison wings ("divisions"), exercise yards, solitary confinement block and the hanging room and the associated prison stories and superstitions - it felt like being on the location of a film set and I kept thinking of Shawshanks Redemption.
The Chapel at Fremantle Prison - note the 6th commandment reads "Thou shalt do no murder" rather than the more usual "Thou shalt not kill"
Prison superstition - 6 and 16 missing from a wall because they look like a hangman's noose
The Hanging Room at Fremantle Prison
I escaped! Me outside Fremantle Prison Main Gate
Our final stop in Freo was the Little Creatures Micro Brewery on the Esplanade. The beer tasted great and I could happily have spent hours getting quite merry on it but we needed to get back to Perth.
Pretty much Number 1 on my list of places to visit in New Zealand was the Hobbiton Movie Set and Air New Zealand conveniently had The Hobbit as their inflight movie on the way over from Perth. First stop was the local town of Matamata with its hobbit hole inspired tourist information centre and "Welcome to Hobbiton" sign in the Main Street. We then drove up to the movie set itself which occupies a few acres on a large 1250 acre sheep farm originally identified by the film producers when they flew over it in a helicopter.
The tourist information centre in the local town Matamata is built like a hobbit hole
Me sat in a Gandalf shaped seat on the main street in Matamata, the nearest town to the movie set
The tour began with a walk down Gandalf's Cutting to the first of 37 hobbit holes on the set. At the start of the Lord of the Rings they made Frodo look smaller riding beside Gandalf in the cart down this cutting by using a 12 year old boy as his double. We then passed the Scarecrow that Bilbo runs past when he announces that he is "going to have an adventure" at the start of The Hobbit.
Gandalf's Cutting on the way down into Hobbiton
Hobbit Hole by Gandalf's Cutting
A scarecrow guarding a field in Hobbiton
We then began our climb upto Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo lived, stopping on the way to have our photo taken in a hobbit hole. All of the hobbit holes on the set are actually only a few feet deep as all the internal shots are taken at movie stages elsewhere.
Me in the doorway of a Hobbit Hole
Classic view up to Bag End from the Party Field
The exception is Bag End itself which is the largest and highest of all the hobbit holes but even Bag End is only a room deep. The views everywhere were amazing, so much so it didn't feel like a movie set at all. Indeed when the Lord of the Rings was completed in 1997 they began demolishing the set almost immediately to return the land to the farmer as promised only to get a call from him asking them to stop urgently as he was already getting inundated with calls from tourists asking to be shown around.
Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live
Me stood by the front gate of Bag End
The view across to the Green Dragon and Mill from Bag End
The road sign at the bottom of the hill up to Bag End
The set was partly rebuilt and made more permanent for the Hobbit so it should now last 50 years as a tourist attraction. We carried on down the hill past Frodo's friend Samwise Gamgee's hobbit hole and passed over the bridge to the Green Dragon Pub.
Samwise Gamgee's Hobbit Hole
The bridge into Hobbiton between the Mill and the Green Dragon
The Green Dragon
Inside the Green Dragon is a full functional pub serving free beer specially brewed for it in Auckland and I quite liked the dark ale. There was a carving of a Green Dragon above the bar as well as a hobbit inspired food menu although I didn't see anyone order anything!
Inside the Green Dragon Pub
Anyone fancy a Beer?
Bar Menu and Carved Dragon above the Bar in the Green Dragon
Me at the road sign leaving Hobbiton
Pretty awesome but the day was by no means over, we then drove on for another hour to Rotorua - New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. Rotorua itself with its pervasive eggy sulphur smell sits beside a volcano's crater lake with the cone forming Mokola Island. Like Taupo a bit further south that I was drive through a couple times later in the week, it has vents of steam that seem to appear randomly out of the ground all over the town.
Lake Rotorua and Mokola Island (note the steam venting from the water in the foreground)
Black Swans, Paddle Boat and Float Planes on Lake Rotorua
Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens
Rotorua's Rachel Spring
However what we had really come to Rotorua to see was the famous Pohutu Geyser at Te Puia, a Maori Cultural Centre close to the town. After a chicken and kumara sweet potato hangi lunch (hangi is an underground pit used for traditional Maori cooking) and unexpectedly seeing a live pair of Kiwi's strutting around in the darkness of a Kiwi House (they are nocturnal, the ones I saw were larger than I expected coming up to my thigh in height and surprisingly fast if ungainly on their feet) we walked down to the geothermal valley. Our first stop was the Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool, plopping and bubbling away beside the path on the way to the geysers.
The Ngamokaiakoko Mud Pool at Te Puia
Close up of the plopping mud
Danger! Active steam vents, be careful where you sit!
The geysers themselves are only a short distance away with a large purpose built viewing bridge close by. The largest and most famous of them is the Pohutu Geyser that erupts 2 to 3 times an hour and can reach heights of up to 90 feet (30 metres). I managed to catch it erupting several times while I was there and at one point got quite wet from the spray when the wind unexpectedly changed direction! Just below Puhutu is the slightly less active and predictable Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser but even it obliged by erupting a couple of times while I was there.
The Pohutu Geyser erupting
The Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser just below Pohutu is thinking of erupting to
Me in front of the erupting Pohutu Geyser
I also took the opportunity to see another Maori Cultural Performance at the Rotowhio Marae that forms part of Te Puia. This time the dance troupe was larger but we were also subjected to Wero (Challenge) as a precursor to the Pohiri (Greeting Ceremony). One of our group was selected as our " Chief" and then one of the Maori warriors approached him and lay down a stick as a gift to see whether we came in war or peace. On picking up and accepting the gift we then all moved slowly towards the Marae's meeting house being careful not to overtake our chief while the rest of the Pohiri Welcoming Ceremony was performed on the steps of their meeting house in front of us. When then went inside and watched the cultural performance including the famous Poi and Haka but for me the highlight was definitely the Pohiri we were subjected to outside!
Before entering the Marae we were subjected to a welcoming ceremony
The Pohiri (Welcoming Ceremony) in full swing, be careful not to cross the line!
The Ladies of the Maori Dance Troupe do the Poi
Male Maori Dancer performing the Haka (War Dance) - you wouldn't want to upset him...