Who Says Perth Is Boring?

I remember the very first time I wanted to take a trip to Perth. Almost everyone I knew who had been there told me “Perth is boring!” and that “There’s nothing to do there!” Boy, am I glad my stubborn-self decided to go ahead with the trip anyway despite all the negative reviews.

I ended up having the best road trip ever and fell head over heels with this ‘boring’ part of Australia. Needless to say, I have been back for several more road trips since and I’ll be visiting Perth again for the sixth time this June.

Perth City

Image credit: Mark Ireland

To begin with, Perth city itself is not very big. But even if you stay within the city itself, there are plenty of things to do. The shopping areas including Watertown (previously known as Harbour Town), the white sandy beaches, wildlife parks and many other attractions are certainly worthy of your visit to Perth. My favourite would be Caversham Wildlife Park. Here, you can take selfies with the kangaroos basking in the sun and cute koalas munching on eucalyptus leaves – a real treat for city dwellers like us.

Along the way from Rottnest to Perth 

You can easily head out to Freemantle or take a day trip to Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island is rugged and raw, different from the tropical islands we are used to in Asia. All the above could easily fit into a 3- to 5-day trip.

But if you do have longer than that, to have an even more awesome time, take a road trip along its coastal roads. I promise you will return for more.

Road-trip to the South

Perth, Western Australia (WA), is the nearest destination in Down Under from Singapore. The flight there will take you just a little more than four hours.

Once you are in Perth, you can choose to do a road trip down to the South, or up to the North or a combination of both, if you have the time. My advice is if you have limited number of days, head to the South as the North would require longer drives to the towns and the places of interest you want to explore are further apart. So save the North for when you have at least 10 days or more. Anything lesser than that, I think it makes more sense to explore the South. The route provides for ideal driving time of between 2–3 hours to each stopover town – very manageable for even the most anxious first-time visitors.

Western Australia is made of many small towns, each with its own landscape and characteristics. You will also find very different accommodation in each town and this is what makes the journey interesting. You can stay by a river in one, and right smack on the beach in another, or be surrounded by vineyards in one and high up on the meadows in another. The accommodations to stop for the night are plenty and it is easy to find one that suits your needs and budget.

Penguin Island | Image credit: Leo Suarez

Begin your journey to the South towards Rockingham. You can do a short stop here to enjoy the coastal views of this seaside town and take pictures on the white sandy beaches. During the summer months, this is also where you stop to take a tour to Penguin Island.

 

Mandurah | Image credit: Eren A. 

Mandurah

From here, head to Mandurah which is about 40 minutes away. The second largest town in WA, Mandurah makes a good stopover for the night. A picturesque waterfront town, this is also where you can catch amazing sunsets and enjoy watersports like jet skiing. The sailing boats that dot the waterfront add to its beauty. The next day, you can go on a cruise from the Dolphin Quay and more often than not, the Mandurah dolphins will make their appearance. If you venture out to the Yalgorup National Park, you can see the amazing Thrombolite living fossils. Besides exploring the waterways and national parks, you can head out for a bushwalk along the trails through the Jarrah Forests. Due to its geography and location, Mandurah’s accommodations offer one of the most scenic views. This is why I highly recommend you stay one night here for your road trip.

Busselton Jetty | Image credit: 周小樹

The next town to drive to is Busselton. Here, you will find the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, stretching almost two kilometres out to sea. You can choose to take a slow walk right to the end, or if you are a bit of a lazybones like me, hop onto the jetty train. If you are there during the summer months, it is worth paying to go down the Underwater Observatory, a viewing gallery that is eight metres below the water surface. Through the glass-panelled gallery, you can see some of the 300 different species of marine life in Geographe Bay.

My favourite stop for accommodation is just a few minutes from the jetty, at a small beachside residential area called Peppermint Grove Beach. You can select from several self-serviced apartments through Stays.au. The houses are so close to the sea that you could be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves crashing, and the view is simply to die for.

Road along Margaret River | Image credit: Gord McKenna

From this point, continue along the coastal road to Margaret River. Margaret River is famous for its wine region. Contrary to what most travel sites say, I personally do not find much excitement in Margaret River. It is probably a haven for wine lovers; free wine-tasting every few minutes is surely a wine lover’s idea of a perfect day. I usually do not stay the night here and just make a few photo-stops along the way. Yallingup is probably my favourite area in Margaret River because of the breathtaking beaches. The vast white sands make for incredible pictures and are an awesome sight in itself.

There is an amazing little town called Denmark that I stay at instead before heading to Albany. Not many tourists would have this in their itinerary but it is worth not giving this town a miss. Denmark is a coastal town located on Wilson Inlet in the Great Southern region of WA. This is where you find Green Pools and Elephant Rocks, two spectacular sights you must see if you are in the area. Green Pools is just on the other side of Denmark going towards Walpole in the William Bay National Park. You will find lovely calm, crystal clear water here with big granite rocks to jump off. It is a nice natural lagoon protected from the waves so it’s very safe for kids as well. It’s a bit of a hike down the track to get to but well worth the effort. Together with Elephant Rocks, Green Pools is a hidden gem in WA.

Cable Beach, Torndirrup National Park | Image credit: Lawrence Murray

The Gap

The final stop that would complete a 10-day trip nicely is Albany. It is the biggest town along the Southern Region. You should allocate at least two nights here as there are countless things to do and sights to see here. The main draw in Albany is Torndirrup National Park. Located 10 kilometres south of Albany, this 3,906-hectare national park is one of the most visited in Western Australia. All park roads are suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles. There are some awesome viewpoints of cool landscapes but the coolest to me are The Gap, The Blowholes and the Natural Bridge. The Gap is a natural rock formation carved by the waves of the Great Southern Ocean crashing against the granite coastline forming a spectacular sheer drop of almost 25 metres. The Blowholes are crevasses in the granite stretching down to sea level far below. With each wave, the holes blow air and water up the channel, a stunning visual proof of the surging power of the ocean. Depending on the size of the waves and direction of approach to the sea cliffs, the Blowholes may or may not be blowing. When they do, the noise is quite impressive and this attraction should not be missed, especially on a day when the waves are high. The Natural Bridge is a granite formation that looks just like a giant rock bridge! This ‘bridge’ is caused by the gradual wearing away of the granite rock by the Great Southern Ocean. It gives you epic views of the great Southern Ocean.

From Albany, you can take the new highway straight to Perth City. With a couple of coffee stops, this 420 kilometres journey should not take you longer than five hours.

Besides countless chocolate and toffee factories, vineyards, fruit plantations, berry farms and treetop walks along the way, the round trip drive takes you past unreal viewpoints of untrodden beaches and landscapes. You will find yourself making plenty of stops to get that awesome selfie or to check out the viewpoints and beaches. And I have not even started talking about the road trip to the North.

So, do you still think Perth is boring?

 

 

First published on Tripzilla on Feb 13, 2017

Who Says Perth Is Boring?

 

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Iceland Too Expensive? Here’s How to Travel There on a Tight Budget

How To Travel Iceland on a BudgetIt is no exaggeration when I say that Iceland is a miracle of nature and its beauty is unmatched.

Iceland’s landscapes are shaped by the forces of nature. What you travel for hours to see in other popular scenic destinations like Switzerland, Scotland or Norway, you get to see as soon as you leave Iceland’s airport, Keflavik. After my first trip in summer of 2015, I fell deeply in love with the place and as soon as I came home, I booked a ticket to return in December that same year.

For most, the first thing that would come to mind about this island is the ice and the cold, and how expensive it would be to strike this destination off one’s bucket list. So how can we travel Iceland for two weeks with about SG$3K (US$2.1K) without having to rough it out? It all comes down to planning. After three trips in less than two years, I can tell you that it need not cost you an arm and a leg to see this breathtaking country.

Flight

Like any other trips, your flight is one of the biggest ticket items. Planning for your travels months or even a year ahead can really save you a lot of money.

There is no direct flight to Iceland. You can get to Iceland from any European cities or the UK. So, the trick is to find the cheapest flight from Singapore to Europe or UK. From there, you can choose from several airlines like Icelandair or other budget ones like WOW Air, Easyjet and SAS. The tickets to Iceland via these airlines could cost as low as SG$60–70, depending on when and where you are flying from. The best season to visit when costs are at its lowest would be between November to March.

My first trip there was via Edinburgh, Scotland; my second was via Helsinki, and my third was via Amsterdam. For all my trips, my flights from Singapore to the European/UK city cost me between SG$900–1100 and they were on my preferred airlines, not the cheapest that was available at that time (refer to the table below). So, if you have no preference for which airlines, you could get your tickets for even cheaper than that.

The other option is to just book yourself on Finnair which connects Singapore to Iceland with a transit in Helsinki. Do look out for sale periods as prices can be significantly lower.

Accommodation

The next big ticket item would be your accommodation. There is a whole range of accommodation to suit your needs and budget in Iceland, from hostels to big chain hotels. There are also varying types of apartments including those with cooking facility. This is a good option if you want to save money on your meals as the cost of food in Iceland can quickly add up. There are commercially listed apartments as well as those privately-owned ones on Airbnb. The more you have in your travelling party, the less your accommodation will cost you – basic math.

Hostels cost about US$26–33 per night, and if you are a member of Hosteling International (HI), you get US$5 off. If you are planning on staying in hostels, the US$28 annual membership can easily pay for itself after a couple of nights stay. Most hostels in Iceland are part of the HI group. You can get a membership at any hostel or online before you go.

For my trips, we chose to stay in apartments so we could cook most of our meals.

Food & Expenses

I personally find the most expensive thing in Iceland is the food. A simple meal could easily set you back about US$30 per person. A regular sandwich with a drink would cost you about US$17.

The cheaper option is, of course, to cook your meals in your apartment or buy the many ready-to-eat meals at the supermarkets. Do your grocery shopping at BONUS as they have the cheapest prices (you can find a few outlets in the city and in most other locations around Iceland). You can get whatever you need from there. Avoid 10/11 as they are easily the most expensive and their prices can be as high as two or three times more than BONUS.

One of the things that many tourists are not aware of is that water in Iceland is perfectly safe for drinking and there is no reason to buy bottled water. A bottle of water costs about US$3, so bring your own water bottle with you and refill from any tap. It will save you a lot of money.

Note: Beyond the city of Reykjavik, supermarkets are harder to find. Make sure you stock up on supplies and pack some food for your trip when you are going out of town.

Transport 

The first transportation you would need is to get you from Keflavik Airport to the city, Reykjavik. Do not take taxis as the cost is exorbitant. There are private bus companies that would take you to the city for a lot lesser. They have very visible booths by the terminal exit. If you want to book ahead of your arrival, you can do this online. Though this is slightly pricier than the public bus, it is certainly more convenient. They even have an option to drop you at your accommodation for a little extra charge.

Note that if you opt to be taken to your accommodation that is located in the Old Town, you will be switching to a smaller mini-bus/shuttle at the main terminal because the roads there are too narrow for the big buses; a small inconvenience for a huge saving.

Here are the rates and links to their websites:

FLYBUS (one-way)
To Reykjavik BSI Terminal: EUR 20 (ISK 2500)
To your Hotel: EUR 24 (ISK 3000)

GRAYLINE (one-way)
To Grayline Terminal: EUR 15
To your Hotel: EUR 17

There are also other companies like Reykjavik Sightseeing who could take you straight to your hotel without stopping or switching vehicles because they use a smaller shuttle all the way for ISK 2990 (EUR 24).

Note: ISK refers to Icelandic Króna and 100 ISK ~ S$1.24

Car rental 

If you are planning a self-drive road trip during your visit, an obvious need would be car rental.  They cost between US$40–70 per day but of course, you need to also factor in the cost of petrol and insurance.

Besides ice-caving, glacier walks and whale-watching, almost all other famous sights in Iceland are free, and you can easily visit them on a do-it-yourself self-drive tour.

However, I have to say that while this is generally fine for summer months, it may not be a good idea during winter. Iceland roads are unlike any other. As many have repeatedly mentioned, “driving in Iceland has nothing to do with driving wherever you are from”. The varied and rugged terrains make travelling in a regular car a challenge, if not a risk. According to the locals, sometimes even with GPS, some tourists end up in ditches or get stuck somewhere isolated and in the long dark hours of winter, which can be frightening. But if you still decide to drive, please get a 4×4 regardless of what the rental company tells you.

Note: Iceland’s weather can change very quickly. Do check for updates on road conditions at Road.is every few hours, especially in winter since roads may be icy or closed.

Also Read: The Ultimate 10 Day Iceland Road Trip Itinerary

Tours & Activities

While there are enough activities and sightseeing to fill your time within and around Reykjavik itself, the best part of Iceland is what lies beyond the city.

If you can’t drive and you don’t want to wrap your head around bus timings, you can join a group tour or a private tour with a local guide. Even though we have a valid driving license, we opted for the latter. We chose a local guide, Arctic Shots Iceland and had such an amazing experience with them on all the three times we were there. You can check them out here.

The advantage of going with these private guides is that they can customise the tour to your preference and take you to places that most tourists may not be aware exist. More so if you want to try catch the Northern Lights. Chasing the Northern Lights is an experience in itself. Due to the vast and rugged terrains of Iceland, it is best to go with an experienced guide to ensure your best chance at seeing this mind-boggling phenomenon. Besides, these locals who have been hunting the Northern Lights for years can help you find the best spots for potential viewing.

What my trip to Iceland cost me (I still have all my trip itineraries & costings so the figures are based on those):

ITEM Cost Per Person in SG$
1 Flight from SIN to EUROPE/UKFlew by:

Trip #1: Swiss Airline
Trip #2: Qatar Airways
Trip #3: Qatar Airways

$980
2 Flight from Europe/UK to IcelandTrip #1: Easyjet
Trip #2: Icelandair
Trip #3: Icelandair
$160
3 Accommodations for 14 days $840
4 Airport transfers (to accommodation via Flybus Plus) $45
5 Cash for food & other expenses $1000
TOTAL $3025

The type or tours you want to get on and how many, is within your control, depending on your budget. We budgeted about $1000 for our private tours. If you want to save on this further, you may want to go for the group tours as this will naturally be cheaper.

First published on Tripzilla on Feb 6, 2017
How to Travel Iceland on a Budget