Australian railway adventure!

By | Category: Travel destinations

Well what better way to depart from the shivering cold of a mid-winter English morning than to take a flight to Australia aboard one of Qantas Airway’s brand new Airbus A380-800 super-jumbo jets.

This particular aircraft only came in to service all but a few days ago so. The cabin crew are still removing the wrapping paper and discovering gadgets and spaces that they never knew existed. Without doubt this behemoth of an aircraft is something to wonder at.

Taller than a 747 with wings so large that as we took off we completely blotted out the sun and London was plunged in to darkness. It’s a marvel and tribute to man’s ability to create and innovate. This particular aircraft is the third of twenty order by the airline who in turn are also the third company to get them in to the air, Singapore and Emirates were ahead of Qantas but sadly I have to report that the ever so patriotic – BA haven’t order even one. Instead they are following a different strategy and hoping that the boys at Boeing have got it right with their faster 350 seater replacement for the aging 747.

Who will be right in the end will only unfold in the years to come but with a world recession plunging us in to doom and gloom for the foreseeable future my monies on Airbus with this ultra fuel efficient mass people carrier. The Qantas version has been planned to take around 400 people travelling Economy together with the First Class knobs up front but hey, that’s only the lower deck, upstairs there’s seating for another hundred or so Super Economy plus a huge space for Business Class. If one ever wins the lottery then a trip in First Class is a must as these filthy rich so and so’s each have a small suite!

Other nice feature of this aircraft is the self-service bars, the huge amount of open space, wider isles and more spacious seating. If that were not enough then those folks who come prepared with expensive noise reducing headphones eat your hearts out because this baby is quiet compared to anything else I have flown on. All in all it’s a great flying experience and especially for those avid screen watchers and guess what?

They’ve even stuck a camera in the top of the tail fin so that you can actually watch the whole shooting match take off and fly. Well having enjoyed lunch I’m about to sit back in my more spacious seat and inspect the interior areas of my eyelids for a few hours – good night!

Singapore Sling
Despite all the modern technology making up lost time is something yet to be mastered by modern air travel. Oh for the quick flip of a switch to engage warp drive – no such luck as despite all the creature comforts of the A380 it’s still a bum numbing 12 plus hours to Singapore. We arrived as we left some 50 minutes late so any hope of spending an hour at Singapore’s lovely Changi Airport to rediscover those two appendages that are called legs evaporated in to a mad dash from one gate to another in order to make the onward connection to Perth.

Here reality came crashing in as we watched our luggage being subjected to the Singapore Sling as it was crashed and bashed from one aircraft to the next. We were bundled in to a rather aging Airbus A320 which was packed to standing room only – well that’s what it felt like and needless to say my hopes of another emergency row seat were quickly dismissed as I shoehorned myself in to one of the few isle seats left. The chap in front is vertically challenged so I’m counting on him not reclining his seat or he might find himself projected forward at a greater rate than this aircraft is flying at!

Some five hours later we at last saw land again and within minutes were on our ‘finals’ for the long awaited arrival in to Perth which welcomed us with clear blue skies and a nice notch-up on the old temperature gauge to around 32C.

The Australian Customs Control is not quite in the same league as US Customs and Boarder Control but they come a close second – absolute chaos, endless ques and a strange system of picking out a number of individuals at random, thankfully me included, who were quickly ushered to the exit door having not had any checks at all. With two passengers missing we were unable to get away from the terminal for another half-hour after I at last traced two lost looking souls who looked like they were in need of their Tour Manager.

A quick drive around this lovely city and we decamped at our hotel for the next three days and a very welcome cool drink awaited us all. The Crowne Plaza is a very nicely located mid-sized hotel that overlooks an area called Langley Field now a wide expanse of flat grassed area that separates us from the Swan River over which we have fine views.

Langley Field by the way was Perth’s original airport and I think it still sees the odd aircraft landing during the Red Bull Air Race series that visits the city once a year. Nowadays it’s a public recreation area so joggers, cyclists, youngsters playing cricket and those wishing to soak up the sun abound. Having decided that my waistline needs some urgent attention I skip dinner and settle for some fresh fruit and a sandwich followed by a long walk as the last of the days sun disappeared behind the hills to the east of the city.

Perth & Fremantle
Great Australian Rail Adventure – Its day three and the jet lag has almost disappeared although a few folks were apparently still in their pits at around 11am this morning.

Most were up and about enjoying the early morning sun and foraging for food in local deli’s and breakfast bars. For me it’s a morning to get as many of the tour task tick boxes filled, planning and logistics are ‘key’ in this job and assumption is the downfall of many.

Having been rudely awakend at around 06.30 this morning by one of our agents who despite only living in Sydney was clearly unaware that even in Australia there are a few time zones I decided that trying to get back to sleep would be an impossibility. With issues despatched in short time I thought I had better try out the gym before any of the regulars see me and start laughing. Well I had the place to myself for around 30 minutes thank goodness because the excessive moans and growns would have spoilt anyone else’s planned exercising. Having cycled what felt like a complete circuit of the earth and then rowed across the Indian Ocean I stumbled back to my room wondering what all that was in aid for before eventually falling into a most welcome cool shower.

Having regained some degree of composure the rest of the early morning was spent sadly not enjoying the sun but closeted within my room doing more work. I did manage a most welcome walk through Langley Park passing the huge circus that hit town last week and is here for around a month. It’s the world famous Circ du Soliou (probably spelt that all wrong) not from France this one, but one of their other operations this time all the way from Canada. I had the pleasure of being treated to see them at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago and the show was one of the best I have ever seen. Needless to say it’s playing to packed house down under.

I gather my flock at lunchtime and we head off to Barrack Quay in order to catch our afternoon cruise of the Swan River and head down to the lovely city of Fremantle. This 90 minute cruise is possibly one of the best ways to see Perth which like most other Australian cities has been located in a fantastic setting. The city was founded in 1829 by one Captain James Stirling as a political centre of the free settler Swan River Colony. The name Swan River simply comes from the Black Swans that were discovered here and the name Free Settler comes from the fact that this entire area was initially settled by non-convicts unlike settlements like Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Today its home to some 1.6 million people which leaves around 500,000 other folks to occupy the rest of the State of Western Australia in to which one could fit almost the whole of northern Europe. To put Perth’s location in perspective it is the world most isolated capital and is in fact nearer to Singapore than it is to Australia’s federal capital, Canberra. Much of the city’s wealth has come from mining, petroleum and agriculture but of course one should not forget that the Swan Valley is also home to the oldest vineyards in Australia producing some of the world’s greatest wines.

Perth viewThe journey by river enables one to view at close range some of Western Australia’s wealth because this is where those who have just too much of the folding stuff build gob-smacking edifices called homes. Virtually the entire length of the river banks is dotted with these ‘architectural statements’ of just how much money one has and construction prices range from the more modest $5 million to the obscene $32 million!

Our river cruise terminates in the wonderful port of Fremantle, one of my most favourite spots on Australia’s western seaboard. In the days when most people travel by ship this would be the first place they would see when reaching Western Australia and the place has somehow managed to retain all the character of those heady pioneer and emigrant days. Without doubt it has managed to retain more Victorian and Georgian architecture than any other city yet has successfully developed in to a thriving modern port.

The city is best explored by foot because there are numerous small side streets and old market areas to explore plus an excellent Maritime Museum. There’s even more for boat enthusiasts this place is just like Cowes with endless marinas and millions of dollars of watercraft. Of course the place was put firmly on the map when it hosted Australia’s defence of the Americas Cup in 1987 although if I recall correctly that was not a successful series for the holders. If one is planning to visit these parts then do set a whole day aside to visit Fremantle which can be reached as we did by river, train or bus from Perth, go one better and make it a one-night stop as the quayside restaurants serve some of the greatest seafood on the planet and a few of the establishments even own their own fishing fleets – how much fresher can you get?

Our return leg home takes in one of Perth’s greatest attractions, Kings Park. Set high on a bluff to the west of the city the park affords not only some of the most breathtaking views of the city itself but contains some of Western Australia’s most beautiful tress and plants. Home to both the Botanic Gardens and Perth’s wonderful War Memorial a visit here has to be on top of everyone’s agenda not to visit it is to miss out on one of the states jewels in the crown.

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