Flying above Australia, you first see the endless, reddish, rocky landscape of the desert below. You can almost feel the dust and the heat that must live in that kind of environment. Then, as if you blinked and missed something, the water of the Indian Ocean comes into view, and the sprawling city of Perth sits between the deep blue water and the desert. The roofs of the houses are almost all a red-brown colour, just like the desert, spreading out for miles. Already things feel different from the Asian countries we had visited so far. The buildings are taller, there is more glass, less crumbling concrete and tin roofs. The trees look more like the trees at home, though there are still palm trees which seem so out of place to me. The city delivers this stark contrast with its immaculate cleanliness, cars staying in their own lanes, and the relative quiet that seems almost eery after one month in Asia.
On our way out of the airport, we met two other backpackers who were looking for a hostel. We all took a bus into the city centre, from which we tried to make our way to the place we had booked. One of them was actually a youtuber that makes travel videos, one of which I had watched before coming on our trip! Driving on the bus through the suburbs and industrial areas I couldn’t help but feel out of place- I missed the calm chaos of the streets I had walked only a day before. Once in the city, we found ourselves turned around in the metropolis of the two-storey downtown. High-end shops and restaurants and businesswomen and men dressed in perfect clothing surrounded us as the four of us sweaty backpackers trudged through the foreign work day routine. Multiple people asked us if we needed directions, and in their friendly Australian way they directed us toward our hostel. One man pointed us the right way, then called after us a minute later. “Follow me”he said, “I have a treat for you”. Of course we were a little unsure, but the four of us followed him into a huge glass building, where he scanned a key card and we waited for an elevator. We got on, and he told us we were in for a surprise. We got off the elevator into an entire floor that was completely empty and lined with windows. We were on the 50th floor of the tallest building in Perth. Below us lay the entire city, stretching out in all directions- the ocean one way, royal blue, and the city sprawl the other. Ferries came to and from the main land, and people walked like ants on the streets below. The man who had brought us up there ended up being the maintenance guy for the building, and he gave us a bird’s eye overview of the city and tips on what to do during our time in Perth.
Once we had found our hostel, we walked to King’s Park- a huge park in the middle of the city taking up 20 hectors. We met up with a friend from work who is currently travelling Australia, and two of her friends. We began buy walking through the botanical gardens- the flowers of Australia lining the gravel path as we meandered through the forest. The path followed the curve of the ocean, and as we walked we were given different views of the sea and the city. We walked for hours- through gravel, sand, grass and cement sidewalks. The park was stunningly well kept, and we hardly saw anyone else on our journey through the greenery. Finally we looped back to where we had started, and we got a bus back into the city centre to buy groceries from Cole’s. Realizing all we could afford in the city would be to make our own food, we took full advantage of the hostel kitchen and the free breakfast while we were there. I have never eaten so many peanut butter sandwiches on white bread in my life.
On our first full day we went to visit Penguin Island- a small island just off the coast of Perth that thousands of “little penguins”- the world’s smallest breed of penguin- call home. We took a train- much like the metro- out of the city, with the ocean and skyline behind us. We transferred to a bus that took us to Penguin Road- a quiet street lined with summer homes. We walked to the ticket centre and got 2 ferry tickets for the 5 minute ride to Penguin Island. We paid more to go see the rescue penguin feeding, as the penguins spend most of their days out at sea looking for food, and its not likely that you’ll see them in the wild. The water was a crystal clear turquoise, the sun reflecting the different layers of the water- light, medium and dark blue. On the island we went in to a small building with a pool in the centre, where a dozen tiny, adorable penguins slept, waddled and swam around. During the feeding they dove through the water, incredibly quick to get to their fish.
Afterward we walked around the island, realizing that is was much more a bird island than it was penguin. The boardwalk was covered in bird crap, and we were surrounded on all sides and above by birds of all kinds, mainly seagulls. You could say birds aren’t my favourite animal. The island was covered in dense grass and bushes, where the penguins supposedly make lay their eggs into borrows. We found a stretch of beach with the biggest waves, and made our way into the water. It was as cold as it was clear, and the temperature was quite a shock from the previous warm Thailand ocean. I swam out into the waves and did some snorkelling, a reef below with different coloured plants and fish swirling around. The cool water felt magical as I floated and swam through it, letting it cool me off and remind me just how lucky I was to be there. We continued walking around the island and saw pelicans, their beaks bellowing on the bottom, float majestically through the air above. We took the crowded ferry back to the main land, and made our way back to our hostel.
That evening, after it got dark, we took a bus to King’s Park. We got off to late, and ended up walking back along the highway bordering the the park to get to the entrance. Once inside, we walked along the main road. On our left the city centre stood, towering above the ocean that stretched out from the buildings. The city sparkled with the stars against the black backdrop, casting golden light onto the dark water below. The walk home led us past hundreds of people out on a Friday night; dressed up for events, stumbling down the road, enjoying the beautiful weather the evening offered. I missed the city then, and the luxuries of home. Though I wouldn’t give up any pat of this trip, I had forgotten how much I love city life.
On our second day we had a beach day. We took another train out to Leighton beach, where we had to walk down the highway in the blistering heat trying to find the beach. Once we got to the water we ran straight in- icy and refreshing, we floated in its ebbing support until we had cooled off. The beach was full of people of all ages, and the bright blue water gleamed in the sunshine. The waves were pretty big, and kids rode them to the shore on boogey boards. We attempted this without boards or much luck, and after getting pummelled into the sand on the ocean floor by a big one, we called it a day. We got back on the train, heading back the way we came, and I got off at Cottesloe, where I walked down a long residential street to the end where Cottesloe beach stood. It was even more packed here, and I was getting exhausted from the heat of the day. The water was intensely refreshing once again, and so cold I even began shivering in the 35C heat outside. Young people swam and played in the waves, and after a little while longer in the searing sun, we were happy to take our sunburnt bodies back to the city.
That evening, we headed out into the setting sun, casting golden shadows over the city. The buildings took on the colour of the sunset, and I smiled in the beauty of this faraway city. Bars and restaurants lined the streets, lighting it up and pumping out music, and the seemingly out of place Christmas lights glittered above the streets. We went for dinner, which was so expensive we tried not to think about it, and I desperately missed the prices of Southeast Asia.
On our third day, we decided to explore the city at our own pace, starting in the area our hostel was in called Northbridge. It was a Sunday and the streets were quiet, most shops closed for they or opening later. The buildings offered some shade on another impossibly hot, cloudless day. A jazz band played outside a cafe, and we walked until we came to a courtyard that led up to a bridge over the highway below. Something was happening everywhere- a rooftop party one way, a carnival on the street below. The city centre has multiple roads for pedestrians only, wide walkways lined with high-end, two-story shops. The mix of buildings struck me the most. European-looking brick churches sit next to dark glass skyscrapers, while old fashioned taxi cars drive by.
In the evening we walked down to Elizabeth Quay, on the water, where people were gathering for a concert that night and to watch the sun set over the water. A bridge arced across the water, and we walked across, taking in the skyline glistening in golden anticipation of the setting sun. Once over the bridge, I found a vegetarian restaurant that served East Indian food buffet style by donation. Finally a price that matched our budget. A huge line formed outside, and we were greeted by a kind man who handed up huge metal plates for food. I ate more rice and dahl than I should have, and we ate out on the balcony watching the sun fade beyond the water. It was dark when we left, and the bridge was now lit up- different colours continuously fading into one another. We walked back across, this time the skyline sparkling with city lights, the sky dark but still sprinkled with stars.
On our last day, I woke up early and walked into the city for groceries for the day of travel ahead of us. It was Monday morning and I was enveloped by the work rush. Coffee stands with lines of people, the train station bustling with people coming into the city, people walking with purpose with their headphones in. I inhaled the hustle and bustle, knowing that it would be a very different kind of busy back in Bali. The city made home seem all that much closer, and I couldn’t help feeling excited to go back. I’ve been through so many waves on this trip- one day missing home, the next never wanting to leave. There is a feeling that is unique to travel- completely ungrounded from the life you left behind, but still and centred in a completely different way, a deeper way. Closer to truth.
Walking through the crowds of people on their way to work, I realized how insane life can make us be. How we can get up in the morning and do the same thing every single day, and follow the exact same paths as everyone else, just because this is what we are told to do, told to be. To me, travelling to Australia isn’t like travelling to Asia, or another place with such a different culture and style of life. What Australia taught me wasn’t patience or kindness or the capacity of love, but exactly this- you can’t learn anything within your comfort one. So often we say we don’t like something or don’t feel completely comfortable somewhere, and therefore we shouldn’t be doing that thing or be in that place. In reality, there is nowhere else we should be. When things are easy nothing changes. We don’t evolve, we don’t become. I can’t wait to return to Australia, and hopefully get to see much more of it. But nothing can compare to the lessons and the beauty of a place that stretches you and tests you. I am far more grateful for the days I felt helpless and alone and had to dig within myself to keep going, than for the days when things felt easy. Those are the rewards we reap for continuing even when we aren’t sure what we are moving toward. For just getting up and continuing to live against the grain because something in our hearts is whispering for us to go there, to keep moving, to trust in the fact that whatever is happening will be something we can get through. I’m not going to say I believe that everything happens for a reason- as tempting as that belief may be- but I do believe that we are given situations that we can choose to handle with grace and trust, and take lessons from them, not negativity or self pity. All we can do is show up and be open to grow.