We packed up the car and headed south along the Kwinana Freeway out of Perth. Heading towards Mandurah, my aunt gave me a pronunciation lesson: it’s not pronounced “Mandurah”, it’s pronounced “man-drah”.
Eventually we left Perth’s suburbia behind us. Farmland and forest predominated, with the occasional huge billboard, including for something you don’t see advertised so much in the eastern states: the mining industry.
We had to slow down for an accident scene at Myalup. Lots of emergency vehicles on the scene – checking online news a little later, we found it had occurred an hour or two earlier. It didn’t look too good on the road — thankfully not fatal.
Otherwise of note when driving: I noticed plenty of stretches of 110 kmh limits, even on two-lane non-divided roads, which as far as I know is not something we see in Victoria. Also notable was that most Western Australians indicate left when leaving a roundabout — even small suburban ones. Interesting. My aunt said that there have been extensive publicity campaigns to encourage it, so most people do.
We made a pit stop at Bunbury, noting the striking checked lighthouse, then continued on to Busselton, which sounds like it should be a twin to Richard Scarry’s Busytown.
Busselton has an extra long jetty which goes almost 2km out from the foreshore. It’s another one of those biggest/longest/tallest in the southern hemisphere things — in case, the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. It’s long enough that there’s a (rubber-tyred) train you can ride out there, if you can’t be bothered walking. We walked.
Near the end of the jetty is an underwater observatory, which we’d intended on visiting, but it was closed for the day due to the water being too murky to see anything. While this was disappointing, at least they said so up-front, rather than taking our money and then having us stare at cloudy water.
After the jetty we found a fish and chips place in the town to chow down some lunch, before jumping back in the car.
As we headed south and neared Margaret River, there were more and more wineries; practically every turn-off had a sign pointing to several.
We passed initially through Margaret River, and on through Augusta to Cape Leeuwin, which is the south-western most point of Australia, in the Cape Naturaliste national park (which, let’s be honest, sounds like a nudist colony, but isn’t).
At Cape Leeuwin there’s a lighthouse dating back to 1895, and we did the tour of it, which involves climbing up all 176 steps to the top. Our tour guide, Bruce, must have been used to the cold and/or made of stronger stuff, as he was in short sleeves — the rest of us were wrapped up as warmly as possible, but still found it exceptionally cold in the strong winds at the top.
There was a great view from the top of the lighthouse, and it was a fascinating sight. The two oceans — the Indian and the Southern — meet there, and Bruce noted that you can actually see the currents of each splashing against each other.
Nearby we found an old water wheel, also built in 1895, once used to bring water to the lighthouse, but has since become encrusted in limestone.
We headed back to Margaret River to find our accommodation. It was now dark, and the pitch-black roads out towards Prevelly Beach where we were staying didn’t make it too easy. On the way we did notice a sign pointing to Isaac’s Ridge — in passing it a few times the next day, Isaac didn’t seem interested in exploring it, but apparently it leads to a resort which sadly burnt down last November — in fact there was a fair bit of obvious fire damage to trees in the local area.
Eventually we got to our serviced apartment near the beach, having (by my rough calculations, with help from Professor Google) covered 348km in the drive from Perth.
After a rest we headed back to Margaret River for dinner in the Settlers Tavern, where (once we’d solved some issues with the password) we availed ourselves of the free wifi, and had a delicious dinner to boot — a good ending to a long day.
After running some errands, we were dropped at Cannington Station, which unlike some of the others we’d used, is unstaffed. A small group of smoking teenagers was hanging around the station, but they didn’t get in the way of the actual passengers. I bought tickets for the kids, and pretty soon the train arrived, and zoomed us into town.
Happily the weather was much nicer than the previous evening, allowing us to explore the mall and surrounding streets a bit. Then we wandered back towards the station and caught a CAT bus for a bit of a tour of central Perth.
After a ride around on the CAT bus (which went from relatively empty to very very full quite rapidly) we jumped off and looked through some of the streets and arcades. It was getting on for lunchtime so we stopped in a food court and after the customary walk around the perimeter, opted for burritos from a Mexican outlet — very tasty.
Heading vaguely towards the river, we dropped into a Woolworths supermarket. The boys were intrigued by advertising for Masters (apparently a cousin of Big M, also sporting the M logo), and in particular a flavour which I don’t believe has graced Victoria: Spearmint milk. We picked up a couple of cartons for them to glug down, and the did so. Their reaction? It’s like toothpaste… but milky. And not in a good way.
We walked via Esplanade station to the Bell tower, an odd-looking modern landmark by the river, where we’d agreed to meet my aunt.
While waiting, two cars full of oddly dressed people with wigs and make-up pulled up and asked to have their photos taken in front of the Bell Tower. Evidently they were on some kind of scavenger hunt… or they were the strangest-looking tourists ever to frequent the Perth waterfront.
My aunt arrived in her car and we jumped in. First she took us to look around the University of Western Australia main campus. Some very impressive buildings which make it look like it was built earlier than 1911 when it was actually founded.
After that we headed north towards Whiteman Park, which is in Perth’s outer suburbs. Its distinguishing feature is that it has a narrow gauge railway (with a diesel train) and an old Melbourne tram. Both were running, and while my aunt settled down for a read of a newspaper, myself and the boys took a joyride on each.
The old W-class tram got up to a fair speed — probably faster than Melbourne’s ones do these days — and amusingly had to stop at one stage and ding at a family of ducks crossing the track.
Elsewhere in the park were amusement rides, a playground, and a small transport museum called “Revolutions” (which we elected not to look inside, as we needed to move on). I had actually thought there might be a tram museum, but it looks like the workshop is not open for tours. Perhaps there were some on display in Revolutions.
Given that WA’s trams all operated on narrow gauge (like most of the trains still do) and Melbourne’s were standard gauge, I assume there’s nowhere to see actual Western Australian trams in service, which seems a shame from a heritage point of view.
After the park, we headed back to the car and headed west towards the beach for a quick stop off at the Joondalup campus of Edith Cowan University. My aunt wanted to show us the spectacular architecture — and indeed it was, in quite a different way to the UWA campus we’d seen earlier.
Then we headed north… well out of Perth itself, and via a road which my aunt told us is not on any GPS (Military Road; it wasn’t in Google Maps on my mobile either, though I can see it in the main web version) to the Gingin Observatory for the 6pm stargazing session. They started with a presentation, which was cut short when it was flagged that cloud was starting to come across. At that point we headed out to the observation area to look through the various telescopes they had set up.
With the lights off, it was pitch black, and only after a few minutes of becoming accustomed to the dark could we fumble our way around. Some of the views through the telescopes were very interesting — obviously it was possible to see things simply not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps most inspiring was Saturn; its rings visible through the telescope.
They also showed us Alpha Centauri — our nearest neighbour, and one of the Southern Cross pointers. Through the telescope we could see that it was in fact not one star: you can see two (though there are actually three.)
The observatory session ended about 7:30, and we drove through the dark back into Perth. Perhaps we’d underestimated the time it would take to get back — by the time we got to our intended dinner location it had shut for the night. Instead we found a Japanese restaurant to sit and eat and ponder the stars we’d seen.
Then back to base camp for a good night’s rest — in the morning we’d be heading south towards Margaret River.
So I thought I’d compare Perth’s SmartRider against Melbourne’s Myki card.
Short term ticket options
This issue is critical for tourists and other occasional users of the system, who may have no wish to buy a reusable card. Judging from the initial response to Myki’s withdrawal of short term ticket options, I suspect there’s something of a pyschological barrier to buying a Smartcard for a small amount of travel — even if it costs as little as $3 (for a concession).
Perth: No problems here; paper tickets (printed by vending machines which appear to be the same hardware as Myki’s vending machines) are widely available. They are more expensive than travelling on SmartRider, and at gated stations require you to line up for visual inspection — thus another encouragement for regular users to switch to smartcards.
Melbourne: Once Myki is completely rolled-out, there’ll be no paper/short term ticket option. This is already a reality at all unstaffed railway stations, and is already causing complaints, particularly for concession users who don’t yet have a Myki, because you can only buy a concession Myki from a human (eg at a staffed station or retail outlet).
Perth wins on this point.
Perth: Before our trip, I’d checked up in advance. The web site implied I could get a full fare one for me, and that the kids, as interstate students, would be eligible for a concession fares via a tertiary Smartrider. This is because only WA students are eligible for the extra-discounted 50 cent fare available to primary/secondary SmartRider holders:
Interstate primary or secondary students may purchase a Tertiary SmartRider. Interstate students are not entitled to the 50 cent student fare.
The weakness of Smartrider is the availability. You can’t buy them from machines; you buy them over-the-counter from a relatively small number of stations, or from retail outlets. In the case of Fremantle, it’s a retailer in the station, who reckoned we couldn’t get any kind of non-full-fare card at all without paperwork stamped by the kids’ school.
I wasn’t going to get into a debate with the lady, so we just got paper tickets for the kids — fortunately they are easily available from the station vending machines in Perth.
Melbourne: adult cards are available from any station vending machine, plus hundreds of retailers, and station booking offices. Concessions are only available from retailers or station booking offices (which is causing problems for some people, given the lack of a short term ticket option). Buying a concession doesn’t require paperwork, though if you encounter inspectors, you may have to prove your eligibility.
Myki cards are cheaper than SmartRider cards; $6 for an adult Myki vs $10 for a SmartRider.
Even leaving aside the confusion over concession SmartRiders, Myki wins the points here for much wider availability.
Both systems allow “set and forget” auto load — in SmartRider’s case this gets you an additional discount on your fares.
Both systems also let you load credit via BPay. Myki also has options for credit card top-up online, which SmartRider doesn’t appear to have.
Perth: you can add value to your card on any bus or ferry, but at railway stations it’s a lot more restrictive — in fact you can only add value onto your card at 18 stations. There are also 4 “TransPerth Info Centres”, and about 60 retail outlets.
SmartRider is somewhat restrictive in the topup amounts. There’s a minimum of $10 on buses and ferries (which makes sense to prevent delays, especially on buses), but this also applies at station topup machines and retail outlets.
Melbourne: eventually it’s expected you’ll be able to top-up a Myki on a bus, but not on a tram. You can top-up at any railway station, and at about 800 retail outlets.
Myki retail outlets do impose some limits on top-ups (generally $1 according to the web site), and it’s not clear what rules will apply on buses (regional buses have the same lower limit, but this results in delays as some people top-up their Myki with their fare amount every day). For station machines it needs to be at least $1 — I know of some people who when passing, if there’s no queue, simply dump all their coins in. A good way to get rid of change.
Despite no tram top-up option, Myki wins on this.
Touch on/off speed
SmartRider wins this hands down. I found it consistently lightning fast.
In contrast Myki is patchy — sometimes fast (but I’ve never seen it as fast as SmartRider) and sometimes painfully slow.
With SmartRider I was able to walk through the gate without breaking step. Try that with Myki, even with the new gates, and you’d collide with the paddles.
SmartRider continues to use the terminology “tag on, tag off” — Myki originally used “scan on, scan off”, but moved to “touch on, touch off” in part due to slow response times.
I dare say if Myki was as fast as SmartRider, there’d have been less need to remove touch-off from trams… which would mean City Saver fares could have been kept (and indeed more flexibility with regard to future fare structures could have been maintained).
I suspect it’s in part because Myki devices are built on top of a general-purpose operating system (Windows CE)… I get the sense that many Smartcard devices in other cities are pretty much custom designs, without the overhead of that same kind of general-purpose operating system slowing them down.
Fare structure and discounts
The fare structure is somewhat independent of the ticketing system, but of course do influence each other.
Melbourne is two zones with overlaps, though some outer-suburban areas such as the farthest reaches of the Mornington Peninsula will become the new Zone 3 and zone 4. More zones will cover most of the rest of Victoria.
The old 2-hour and daily fares (“Myki Money”) still apply, with Weekend/public holiday discounts/caps. To get the further discounted weekly, monthly to yearly (28-365) “Pass” options, you have to buy these in advance.
Perth has nine zones, but this also covers some surrounding areas, for instance Mandurah which is about 70 km from the CBD (a bit further than Pakenham is from Melbourne’s CBD, is zone 7. Zones they don’t seem to have overlaps, which probably doesn’t matter given the larger number of them, and makes the system a bit easier to understand. With more zones, the cost increment for crossing a zone is much smaller — as little as 80 cents (cash fare) — which probably reduces the issues with Melbourne’s zone 1 — lots of people drive to the zone boundary to get a much cheaper fare.
A fare is 2 hours if it covers up to 4 zones; for more zones it’s 3 hours. A daily cap of $11 applies. There are no weekly or monthly discounts or caps, and there appear to be no off-peak or weekend/holiday discounts.
When buying a cash/paper ticket from a ticket machine, you tell it how many zones you want. The resultant ticket has the originating station and the number of zones. It’s not crystal clear to me how you are prevented travelling in both directions from there — I guess not many people take advantage of it.
SmartRider gives you a 15% discount on the cash fare, but switching to auto top-up makes it a 25% discount.
Melbourne: Many would know that Myki has been troubleprone, and is still not fully rolled out. The cost is huge ($1.5 billion over ten years, including running costs — about two-thirds of it is the start up and installation).
Perth: SmartRider is also not without its problems. The system was cheaper to rollout (apparently $35 million, presumably excluding running costs), but the public transport network is smaller, and there are much fewer vending/top-up machines around the system, as well as a much smaller network of retail agents. With a little research, one might be able to come up with a “per device” figure comparing the two systems.
I got the impression that fewer Perth railway stations are staffed, and even at those that were, the staff won’t sell you tickets — though they did offer to help me with the machines.
I also noticed that on a SmartRider add value machine, the card is inserted into the machine, which avoids the Myki problem of it sitting in a cradle on the front of the machine, and the possibility of it being removed before the transaction is complete — and also the issue of transactions not being cancelled properly.
Myki is actually better in a number of ways. It’s significantly cheaper and easier to get a card, and to top it up once you’ve got it, and these factors are undoubtedly important.
But SmartRider is better on a couple of really critical areas: on speed of touching/tagging and on the availability of short term paper tickets for those who don’t have a card.
An ideal system, I suppose, would have the wider availability of Myki, but the high-speed response times and short term ticket options of SmartRider.
We were dropped off in Fremantle at the Prison, where we’d booked for the Tunnels Tour. The Tunnels Tour, perhaps unlike more conventional prison tours, involved getting a safety briefing and an alcohol test, and then we donned gumboots, coveralls, helmets and safety harnesses and headed down a 20 metre shaft to tunnels underneath the prison.
Tristan, our somewhat sardonic tour guide, with a mix of informative history and bad jokes, led us through the tunnels, including wading through a fair bit of water. We were lucky enough to be in a group of just 5, which I think made for a more enjoyable tour.
Shaft inside Fremantle prison (and my very handsome safety gear)
Then came the boats. 1-2 to a boat, we paddled around the more water-flooded tunnels of the prison, ducking under supports, hearing more about the history.
Altogether it was an amazing experience, and although we were able to get a photo at the top in our gear, alas no cameras were allowed to be taken down. I can’t recommend this tour enough.
Afterwards we plodded around Fremantle, looking through the market and making a stop at Timezone — an establishment that’s a little hard to find in Melbourne nowadays. Despite it not yet being WA school holidays, central Freo was pretty busy, with plenty of tourists. Every so often a CAT bus (Central Area Transit, the free loop buses, operating two routes, the blue and the red) would come through. Notable on the day was that the “Blue CAT” was very clearly red.
Fremantle “blue” CAT bus
Old Fremantle Tramways building
View from Cicerrelos restaurant, Fremantle
After a stop at the post office for some stamps, we headed down to Cicerello’s on the water for fish and chips. Well, they claim to have the best fish and chips in the state, so we thought we’d better try it. While the restaurant is almost the antithesis of a local fish and chips shop — it quite obviously set up to handle huge crowds — the food was pretty good, though I suspect Flaked Out back home in Bentleigh would give them a run for their money.
We took a turn on the ferris wheel nearby, checking out the views over the ocean and over the town.
View from ferris wheel, Fremantle
A familiar sight from the ferris wheel, Fremantle
Then we caught a CAT bus back to Freo railway station, sorted out train tickets (more about this later) and caught a train into Perth.
The train got quite crowded thanks in part to after-school loads, but we’d got seats since we’d boarded at the start of the line. Perth station was pretty busy — they were obviously doing some major works on and around some of the platforms, and a sign proclaimed it was part of Perth City Link — involving putting the inner section of the Fremantle line underground.
Fremantle railway station
Perth railway station
It was raining, so we only had a short walk around, mostly undercover in the shopping centres adjoining the station.
We did look inside the Perth ABC Shop, where I found a discounted $5 copy of The Plank (the 1967 version) on DVD — it caught my eye because Eric Sykes had passed-away a couple of days before, and I bought it for us to watch when we got home. (Much of it hasn’t dated very much — the glaring exception being the scene with the girl hitch-hiking with two men in a van.)
Then we headed down into “Perth Underground”, the underground section of the station to catch a Mandurah line train to where we were getting picked-up. Due to the aforementioned station works, it was quite a long way from the main part of the station to the underground bit — in fact we discovered the next day it may have been quicker to go in via the other entrance, in the Murray Street mall.
It was rush hour by this time, and the trains to Mandurah and Joondalup seemed to be departing every few minutes, many of them quite crowded. Great to see a railway line completed only in 2007 so busy. We zoomed past the cars on the freeway and quickly got to Murdoch.
Mandurah line train departs Murdoch station
Due in part to the multiple car parks at Murdoch station, and thus the multiple pickup areas, there was some confusion about precisely where to meet my aunt, which resulted in a delay getting back — it probably would have been quicker just to catch a bus — if we’d known which one to catch. But no matter — eventually we got there, put our feet up, had dinner, watched Micallef and headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.
(Scroll down to skip the words and get to the pics)
Before we left I prepared by cancelling the newspaper (oddly, by phone is actually better than online; the deadlines are more relaxed), pre-purchased a Skybus ticket (you can print it yourself; very handy), and totally failed to even start packing before departure day.
Thursday 5th July
We got out of the house a little later than planned, caught a train into the city, then (thanks to the Skybus pre-purchase) straight onto a bus to the airport. On the way I checked-in with my mobile phone; the concept of checking-in when you’re not actually at the airport is still a concept that I find somewhat intruiging.
When we actually got to the airport, the AirportAutoQantasCheckinMachine wouldn’t let us check-in our suitcase because we were running late; given it’s not too large and we had no sharp objects in it, a Qantas person recommended just taking it through with our hand luggage. A queue at security didn’t help, and the screens indicating “Flight closed” caused me to panic a bit, but we made it the gate with… oh, a minute or two to spare.
One of the runways was being dug up or vacuumed or something, causing a delay taking off. After that the flight when smoothly; entertainment was some news (including a long Higgs Boson Particle story, which caused me to remark “Yay science!”), an episode of Big Bang Theory and some Brit movie starring Harriet Jones MP, Professor McGonagall, and Bill Nighy.
There appeared to be an entire footy team (or at least, some young-uns from some WA AFL training academy) on the flight; they were pretty subdued, some of them watching videos of footy matches on their laptops (that’d be yawn-o-rama for me) though they did perk up/get a little noisier towards the end of the flight.
We landed in Perth pretty much on time, and met my aunt outside.
Into the car for a whirlwind tour of Perth, we headed initially into the Swan Valley, to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory (the branch that’s not actually in Margaret River, but in Perth) to have some hot chocolate and a snack and watch a continuous series of tourist buses rolling in.
Grape vines… and a distinctive suburban Perth bus shelter, Swan Valley
From there we headed past central Perth to Kings Park, a quite amazing open space overlooking the CBD and had a walk around.
We took a look at the war memorial (smaller than Melbourne’s Shrine, but with a view — at least from ground level — more spectacular), and a walk with views across the Swan River. Peak hour was just getting underway, and we watched the traffic slowly moving along the Kiwana Freeway, overtaken regularly by trains heading out along the new Mandurah railway line. Nice.
My aunt pointed out the honour avenues around the park, with trees planted in memory of those fallen on the front line in WW1. Even more sobering was the list of more recently fallen soldiers.
Then we headed south for a bit to look at the ritzy riverside suburb of Mosman Park, and also at Cottesloe beach – where we arrived just in time to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean.
On the Swan River at Mosman Beach
Sunset from Cottesloe Beach
Perth skyline, from south of the river
This was followed by another riverside stop at South Perth, for views of the city. My aunt remarked that there are only half-a-dozen actual skyscrapers in Perth, though it looked like a few more to me.
After that we headed to her house, where she made us very welcome, cranked up the wifi, and cooked a huge meal for us to celebrate our arrival in WA.