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News from Downunder 2004 - Part 1

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Perth - 'Capital' of Western Australia

We began our holiday to Australia by flying out via Singapore to Perth with Qantas. It was a good flight and we are impressed with Qantas which compares well with any of the long haul airlines we have used so far with good service and food, although not such a good selection of wine as with Air New Zealand.

We stayed with Di, an old friend going back to college days who emigrated to Australia over 20 years ago. She lives in a suburb of Perth close to the Canning River and has been entertaining us in style, showing us round and giving us an early insight into Australia and the way of life which we would otherwise have missed. We have had in Oz speak 'a ball'.

The first day we were fairly shattered after the flight so activities were restricted to a short walk alongside the Canning River to get our bearings and blow the cobwebs away. We got to know Di's poodle, Honey, who enjoys short walks. Our first impressions were very favourable. The riverside teamed with bird life and we saw Pelicans, Egrets and Ibis along the bank. We had our first warnings about the more dangerous side as we were advised not to walk into the reeds, or even too close, as there are often snakes close to water. The trees were alive with various parrots including the strangely named 28 and there were many bushes and plants we had only seen in zoological gardens before, such as a wide range of Eucalypti and bottle brushes which were a mass of red flowers looking exactly like their name. We ate in and drank the bottle of Champagne we had brought with us to celebrate our anniversary and our arrival in Australia.

Kings Park: The following day continued our introduction to the flora and fauna with a trip to the Kings Park which had a magnificent view down onto the river and Central Business District of Perth, the only area with high rise buildings restricted to a single street. The park was large with an amazing variety of wildlife and plant life and included a new aerial walkway at treetop level. The various gazebos and other shelters are popular sites for weddings and one was taking place. One highlight was seeing one of the Blue Tongue lizards, which Pete nearly trod on whilst it was basking on the path - it was nearly a foot long and stayed around long enough for us to see the bright blue tongue which gives it it's name.

Fremantle: In the afternoon we headed south the short distance to Fremantle, a delightful town and port. We went through the market in E shed to sample our first Australian ice-cream - it will take an extended period of serious research before we can say how they compare to those in New Zealand but first impressions are that it will be an enjoyable period. We then walked the short distance to the Maritime Museum which is in a new custom built building of a most interesting shape. The museum was well worth the visit and introduced us to more of the Australian way of life as well as giving us insight into pearl diving - very appropriate as we had just finished the celebration of our Pearl Wedding Anniversary. The only problem with the museum was that the labels were somewhat obscure and rarely seemed to correspond to the layout of the exhibits making it somewhat of a detective job to match up everything. We walked round the central area, streets full of pavement cafes bars and our first introductions to Simmo's ice-cream, an amazing variety of flavours and very high quality - where else would one get a whisky, prune and mascarpone ice cream complemented by a second scoop of coffee crunch? All the cafes seemed to be very full and we enquired why of Di - Poets day in WA (West Australia) she replied. Poet's day? Yes POETS day - Piss Off Early Tomorrows Saturday! We are starting learning the Oz sense of humour.

We took the opportunity to stock up with coffee at the Dome coffee shop which provided a thick guide on their coffees and how to make good coffee. After a quick look at the jail, which runs candlelit trips some evenings we ended up in the excellent Sala Thai restaurant that certainly showed the quality of food available in Australia at a very reasonable price to the UK.

Swan River Wineries

Having had an introduction to the flora, fauna and food it was time to investigate the wine so the following day we all headed to the Swan River to sample the local wines and have a vineyard lunch. We tasted wines in several wineries - most of the wineries make a nominal charge of a couple of dollars refunded if you purchase.

Sandalford: We started at one of the larger vineyards which is on the tourist route and was full of coach parties, even so they found time to spend with us and we were impressed with the surroundings and variety of wines, including Verdelho, although we were less impressed with the wines themselves - Di had warned us that neither she or several of her previous visitors including Phil had been very keen on the wines despite the impressive list of awards they had won.

Little River Vineyard: It was then on to some of her favourite smaller vineyards which were a very different story. We had lunch at the Little River Vineyard where we had some exceptionally good pizzas cooked in a wood oven followed by some equally good sweets, tarte tatin and creme brulee. The convention was to sample the wines whilst the food was being prepared and the wines were equally impressive and the discussion very frank and honest from the manager. We were very impressed by the Brut de Brut sparkling and bought several bottles at a very favourable price as Di was a 'friend' of the vineyard and on their mailing lists. It was a difficult choice between the newly released Shiraz and Cabernet-Sauvignon/Merlot - both were very good and we bough both and well as a bottle of the Shiraz with lunch.

Henley Park vineyard: It was then on to Henley Park vineyard, a small family vineyard owned and run by a Dane who exports most of his small production of about 6000 cases to Denmark. Again the wines were very good and we bought a late picked Muscat which was full of flavour and with plenty of acidity to balance the residual sugar - even Di who hates sweet wines approved of our choice. The Chardonnay was also first class and merited a purchase but perhaps the highlight was their Tawny Port. It was made from 4 Portuguese grape varieties and was almost indistinguishable from a good late bottled vintage Port from Portugal.

Mann Winery: The last stop was an equally interesting small vineyard, the Mann Winery, run single handed by Dorham Mann who only produces some very excellent Method Champenoise from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cygne Blanc grapes. The Cabernet sauvignon style showed a faint pink colour from the red grapes with a delicate yet complex flavour. The Cygne Blanc is a new White Cabernet variety bred and developed in his own Swan valley property. Every activity in the vineyard and winery is done by hand by Dorham including hand rotating all the bottles and hand disgorgement without even freezing - quite an achievement even with a small production. Many of the vines are very old with thick stems and trained very low and close to the ground, perhaps the thickest stems we have ever seen on vines. Dorham Mann graduated at the famous Roseworthy College and he has a picture of the graduates of 1963 on the wall. All had or still retain influential positions in the Australian wine scene - he was at Sandalford for many years before 'retiring' to keep up production of his own favourite wine in small quantities. It goes without saying we stocked up.

The next day was quiet with a long walk alongside the river and its wetlands again with a wide range of wildlife. There were pelicans soaring like vultures overhead and Ibises gliding in to land. We saw the long beaked local magpies and the tiny doves smaller than a starling in pale grey and iridescent blues. Various honey eaters and wattle birds along with many others fluttered round the bushes whilst Willy Wagtails hopped around the ground. The temperatures have been steadily rising and the wind dropping so it now feels very hot after England, although probably only 25 degrees, with tomorrow forecast to reach 29. We did little the rest of the day other than catch up the jet lag and Pete finally fixed Di's computer which turned on every time the telephone rang - in the end he opened the case and cut a few wires!

In the evening the neighbours came round bearing bottles and we opened a few of our prizes from the wine trip to the Swan valley - all as good as we remembered as far as we could remember by the end of the evening!

Margaret River

It was now time to head south for a couple of days with Di to stay in the Margaret River area, another major winemaking area about 300 kms south of Perth. It was our first experience of the scale and landscape of Western Australia. The countryside most of the way looked as if it had been flattened under a huge roller and accidentally displayed in widescreen - even the house roofs had a shallow angle. The scale is difficult to comprehend, the 300 kms to Margaret River is hardly visible on a large scale map of Australia.

Western Australia only produced about 3% of Australia's total production in 2001 but more than 20% of the 'premium' wines and the figures have increased since then. The vineyard scales are again huge - most wineries in the Margaret River have 300-400 acres of grapes (1 square km or more). Shiraz is a major player in the reds with excellent Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet Sauvignon blends with Shiraz, and Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes Malbec in the French style. The Classic White here is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon although both can be very good in their own right. Chardonnay is equally popular and there are a number of less well known white grapes such a Verdelho.

The Margaret River region is very well set up for Wine Enthusiasts and Tourists - almost every Winery has a 'cellar door' and many of the wineries and cellar doors have impressive architecture. The staff are generally very friendly and knowledgeable and one can get free tastings of between 8 and 10 wines - sometimes there may be a charge for their reserve wines if you do not eat or buy which is very fair if you are sampling small scale productions of wines costing between $50 and $75. Overall we must have visited nearly 10 wineries and between us tasted some 50 wines from the regions South of Perth to complement those we tried earlier in the Swan Valley. Our notes of the more memorable wineries, wines and restaurants follow.

Capel Vale: Our first stop on the journey South was at Capel Vale whose wine we had tried at the Thai restaurant in Fremantle. They had a stunning winery with views over the vines, excellent wines and a promising looking restaurant. We tasted a number of wines and bought their Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, a popular blend in Western Australia and their Chardonnay. Capel Vale wines come from vineyards in a number of the regions south of Perth and their winery is the first of the major player you reach, well worth a stop on the way to Margaret Rivers. We took the opportunity to buy a book on Australian Wine by Hardy, one of the famous Hardy family in their shop. It was on offer at $35 and serves as both an excellent introduction and has detailed write-ups of most of the vineyards with many excellent pictures.

Tuart forest: We then diverted from the main road south on a loop road through the Tuart forests. Tuart Gums are one of a wide range of Eucalypts found in Australia and it was interesting to see this massive and increasingly rare variety. The areas where they grow are a very good delineator of the best winegrowing Terroir.

Margaret River Cheese Company: We then stopped to stock up with Cheese at the two outlets for the Margaret River Cheese Company, both had tastings of a variety of cheeses and we also bought some of the largest anchovy stuffed olives we had ever seen. Olives are being increasingly planted in the Margaret River area and premium olive oils pressed, as in many other wine making areas round the world.

We checked into our accommodation just outside of Margaret Rivers town - Di had stayed there earlier in the year with Miles, Felicity and Phil. We had a spacious unit in extensive grounds. We had our first sighting of the tiny blue 'fairy wrens' on our arrival. They are a feature of the area and the males are the most unbelievable iridescent blue colour, like that of a kingfisher but more so.

Cape Mentelle: We dragged ourselves away to continue our education at Cape Mentelle winery. Cape Mentelle was well known to us as they set up the Cloudy Bay vineyard in New Zealand and we had already tried their wines at Cloudy Bay and by the bottle. We ended up buying a bottle of their Wallcliffe 2001 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc which was quite different to their, and others, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends. We were also more impressed with their reds than in previous tastings although their reputation tends to mean you pay a premium price.

Xanadu: We continued to Xanadu where we were last to arrive and got a very personal treatment including a taste of the 1996 Semillon Reserve which was brought in for the staff to try. It was memorable and certainly shows the potential of the Semillon to produce a superb wine capable of developing for 10 or more years.

We dropped into town on the way back and although Simmo's had closed to Pete's regret the butcher and fish shop was open and we purchased some Dhufish and Groper to barbeque. I should note that West Australia has excellent fishing and their fish should not be missed. It was a lovely evening - the start of spring in Australia - and we sat out eating the huge olives with an avocado dip and a bottle of the Little River Brut de Brut sparkling before Pete fired up the barbeque for the Groper and Dhufish which were marinating in the spiced anchovy oil from the olives. It was complemented by a bottle of the Capel Vale 2004 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. We are becoming increasingly impressed by Australian wines as we confirm our tasting impressions with the bottles we selected and bought. The trials however led to a late and leisurely start the following day!

Palandri: The first stop was at Palandri, which has a most impressive 'cellar door'. It is a new enterprise started in 1998 and the first 1500 tons of grapes were crushed in the brand new plant little more than 3 months after it was bare pasture and they now have built up to have over 350 acres of their own vineyard with most of the 5000 tons a year being crushed from their own grapes. We arrived at a transition time when they were rationalising their range of wines and are doing away completely with their middle 'Aurora' range of varietals leaving the basic 'Baldivis' range alongside the premium 'Palandri' label. Pete actually preferred the Aurora Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2003 to the upmarket Palandri 2004. The Palandri Cabinet Sauvignon 2002 was memorable for the taste of blackcurrants; one could have mistaken it for our own Courts of the Morning 2000 Blackcurrant. Unusually they were sampling a reserve wine and the Reserve 2000 Cabinet Sauvignon had the most amazing bouquet. None of the wines had that little extra that tempted us to buy but considering the youth of the enterprise it will be one to watch in the future.

Rivendell: Rivendell is named after the location of 'the last civilised house' in the Lord of the Rings. The winery is set in marvellous gardens which Di had brought us to see. We walked round before returning to sample the wines which pleasantly surprised us. The 2004 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and the 'The Cabernets' 2001 stood out. Pauline came close to buying the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 'Clearskin' which was excellent value and drinkable now at $12. 'Clearskin' was a new and very Australian term to us - it refers to value or second wines usually only available from the cellar door which are sold bare-bottle unlabelled or with a very basic label. The star of the show was the 2002 Noble Semillon which was a delightful Sauterne style wine made from naturally botrytis infected grapes. Pete rated it as arguably the best Southern hemisphere sticky he had tried and insisted on a half bottle to complete the conversion of the others. It is unfortunate the current owners are moving to pastures new after building up the enterprise for 20 years but they assured us that the new owners intended to continue the traditions with only the addition of some timeshare accommodation on the site.

Driftwood: Di strongly recommended that our next stop should be Driftwood both to taste ad for lunch. It turned out to be an exceptionally good choice. If you only have time to have one winery restaurant meal and one tasting/purchasing session in the Margaret River region (perhaps even in Western Australia) you would not go wrong in choosing Driftwood. The restaurant is set high up with magnificent views out over the vineyards and the classic style amphitheatre they have created for evening concerts. The food could well be the best we have had in the Southern Hemisphere.

Before eating we sampled the wines and found them consistently excellent and would have bought any of them other than perhaps the basic unblended Semillon. One that stood out was the cane cut Semillon - the cane cutting refers to a technique which was new to us of almost severing the canes as the grapes were finally ripening which dries them out increasing the sugar content and marvellously concentrating the flavour far beyond a conventional late picked grape. We would have indulged if we had not already got a sticky from Rivendell - we regretted it later as a comparative tasting would have been very interesting and instructive. The Driftwood tawny port was another less usual but very interesting experience - Pauline's notes just read " Toffee Toffee Toffee!! ". We found that Di and Phil had already bought and destroyed a bottle earlier in the year when he visited.

We started with a small home baked loaf with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip into with one of their mixed 'trial' plates both of which merited photographs as did both of our main courses! Pauline's rack of venison was pink and succulent and melted in the mouth. Pete's . We never made the sweets but from observing other peoples they also looked excellent. When we came to leave there was much discussion on what to buy and we finally settled on a bottle of the Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon which was not only excellent drinking but also very good value and we also bought a bottle of the sparkling blind based on the excellence of everything else we had tried. When we tried it our only regret was that we had only bought one bottle - Pegasus move over!

Margaret River Venison: The next stop was not a winery but the Margaret River Venison farm shop about 15 minutes down the road - our objective was to obtain some of the Venison salami which had formed part of the mixed starter at Driftwood. It turned out be their Spanish Chorizo made with venison and a small amount of pork as venison does not have any fat. We sampled other salamis and were duly seduced into a selection for supper.

Vasse Felix: By now the afternoon was drawing to an end but we noticed that Vasse Felix, another winery on our list to visit stayed open a little later to 1700 so we dropped in. They pioneered the now classic blend of Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc for which Margaret River is now famous. They also have a stunning restaurant and the wines we tried were very acceptable to use the classic English understatement. We also purchased a book of stunning West Australia pictures by Christian Fletcher who it then turned out was a friend of Di - we hope she will be able to arrange for him to sign it for us. Many of the wineries have quite large associated shopping areas.

The gentleman who provided our tasting was obviously of English extraction and turned out to originate from Hampshire close to Winchester and was a fund of information. One of the wines we tried was a late picked Verdelho which was rather bland for our taste but was interesting because they claim Verdelho was the first grape variety planted in Western Australian back around 1840 in the Swan Valley. It was originally used to produce a fortified wine - now it is more often blended with Chenin Blanc to create a 'White Burgundy' style wine, a blend we have yet to try in Australia. The late picked Verdelho we tried was recommended for drinking with 'fusion-style' cooking, another Oz term we had to get explained - it refers to highly spiced food based on a melding of Thai, Asian and Oriental styles of cooking.

The highlight was a rare privilege to try the Heytesbury - named after a Wiltshire village close to where Di used to live where the proprietor's owners used to live. It is the their ultimate wine made solely with the brief of Vasse Felix and the Margaret River's founding Vigneron, Dr Tom Cullity, "to make the best possible wine" The wine is made from the fruit of the original and still unirrigated vines Tom planted 35 years ago when the area was started. The 2001 blend was 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Shiraz, 6% Malbec and 2% Merlot fermented and matured for 18 months in selected French oak Barriques for 18 months. It was dark as ink and already ripe rich and powerful - although concentrated it was already harmonious and very drinkable but will clearly improve for another ten years cellaring. Tempting but it was $65 a bottle so we retrained ourselves as our stock was already getting to a silly level so we restricted our purchases to a magnum of their Shiraz as a thank you for Di's neighbours who had provided a Dog sitting service at short notice.

Eagles Heritage: We had a change the following morning and visited Eagles Heritage, a raptor centre which specialises in rehabilitation, endangered species breeding and education. The visit included a flying and handling display after which we walked round a large number of cages. The highlight was not the raptors but our first close sighting of kangaroos. There were quite a number in the bush amongst the cages including a couple with Joeys in their pouches that were being groomed and on occasion hopped out. Kangaroos are very common but mostly come out at dusk so we were fortunate to be in the bush where they were resting during the day. Our impression is that they are as common as rabbits in the UK and are seen at similar times and places.

Leeuwin Estate: On our way to lunch at Di's favourite Voyager Estate restaurant we stopped to see the Leeuwin Estate winery which was one of the five founding wineries in the Margaret River region. The famous Robert Mondavi identified the area where the vineyard was set up and mentored the Horgan family as they transformed their cattle farm into one of the most successful boutique vineyards in the area. A nursery was planted in 1974 and the main vineyards planted over the following five years - they now have over 375 acres of immaculate tended vines. The pursuit for excellence now extends to a beautiful of the winery overlooking a large meadow surrounded by majestic stands of Karri trees. This natural amphitheatre seating up to 7000 is the site for alfresco concerts featuring famous performers such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the London Philharmonic Orchestra - we understand they can be booked out for up to four years ahead. We, not surprisingly, took the opportunity to sample a few of the wines including the privilege of a comparison of their premium chardonnay and their world famous 'art series' chardonnay - we can understand why they have such a high reputation. We looked at the menu and would have been tempted if Di had not been adamant about continuing to Voyager Estate.

Voyager Estate: Yesterday I wrote very favourably about Driftwood - today we found a real challenger for the title of best place for a single winery visit and meal in the Perth area. The vineyard goes back to 1978 but the present owner bought several adjoining properties in 1991 and has been steadily extending the facilities. His new buildings are in the South African Cape Dutch style with white-rendered finishes and elegant gables with impeccably laid out drives, lawns and formal gardens with thousands of roses and merited a walk round before we proceeded to the tasting and restaurant.

We had an excellently informed tasting and once more were privileged to try not only their full range of premium wines but also two of their Reserves including a 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the best parcels of the oldest vines planted in 1978 on the Voyager Estate. They are initially aged in 50% new and 50% 1 and 2 year old French Oak. At this point the best ten barrels are selected and blended before replacing into 2 year old barrels for further year. The wines are fined and minimally filtered before a further 3 years bottle aging before release. It was our first opportunity to try an Australian wine of outstanding quality and ready for drinking although it will probably merit another 10 years maturing.. Pauline had a glass with lunch which confirmed our first impressions - Stunning.

The lunch which followed the tasting was again excellent and merited several pictures. The mixed plate we had for starters was arguably even better than the one we had the previous day at Driftwood. Pauline's lamb was pink and tender and she could not choose between the two days. Pete's duck was again cooked to perfection in the French style and presented on black rice but lost out slightly to the Asian style of his duck at Driftwood. The wines with lunch redressed any differences in the food and taking into account the grounds the choice of which to visit is too close to call - we will need to return to both next visit! Di stocked up with her favourite wine, the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, now the 2004 before we left.

Canal Rocks and Busselton Jetty: We had so far not seen the sea on our visit and we stopped off at on our journey back to Perth and then at Busselton which claims the longest wooden jetty in the Southern hemisphere. It stretches in a gentle curve for 1850 metres and has a small train running to the end. It is built in wood and has fantastic underwater life along its length. We arrived too late to merit a walk to the end but walked a short distance at 1730 when train had completed its last run and the charging booth closed and took a few pictures. It was then the long haul back to Perth keeping a careful eye open for Roos at the roadside - they have a habit of leaping out in front of cars, especially at dusk.

Back to Perth

AQWA: Thursday was once more a light day and we took a lift with Di who was going to a Psychic Fair at Hillary's Boat Harbour which gave us a nice view of the coast - the winds were high and you could understand why it was called Shipwreck coast when one saw the waves breaking on the reef half a kilometre offshore. We then spent time in AQWA the AQuarium of Western Australia which was expensive but very interesting. The centrepiece was one of the walkthrough aquariums similar to that at Kelly Tarltan's in Auckland where you either walk or slowly travel on a moving carpet through a transparent tunnel looping through a huge aquarium full of sharks, stingrays, turtles and limestone reefs teeming with life. The more conventional tanks were the best we had seen looking as if a section had been taken from reefs covered in corals, sponges etc and with a wide variety of fish and other diverse life from each area of the Western Australian Coastlines. One of the most unusual was the leafy sea dragon - with luck Pauline has a picture of one. Combined with displays of seals and pools of Rays our hour and a half was barely sufficient before we had to leave to meet up again with Di and her friend.

Public transport in Perth: So far we had not been into downtown Perth so it seemed to be time to investigate. The Perth area has excellent public transport so we decide to take a bus rather than borrow Di's car and have all the problems of parking. Timetable etc were available on the internet - you just entered your address and where you wanted and it supplied timetables and maps of how to get to and from the bus stops. We found you can buy a family ticket which for $7.50 gave unlimited travel into and round Perth. In the central area all public transport is free and there are three Central Area Transport (CAT) buses running on circular routes every 7 minutes. The drivers were very helpful and it actually worked very well.

The centre of Perth was in some ways similar to most big cities but we did notice some major differences. We went in with the intentions of investigating a change to a local mobile provider so we were not roaming from NZ and to check on how to back up the pictures from the camera to CD. In the UK and NZ it seems almost every other shop in town is a photo shop or a phone shop. In Australia that is not the case - we found only one photo shop which could take a Compact Flash card and transfer to CD and we had to ask for directions to a Vodafone shop (there are two in the centre of a city serving nearly 2 million). We also eventually found Telstra and Optus shops neither of which could provide what we wanted.

Another objective was to get information on accommodation in Adelaide and here again we suffered surprising setbacks initially. We expected the big central information office to have such information but no - Australia is divided into states and they are arguably even more separated and parochial than the countries in Europe. The information office seemed astounded that we should expect information on any other part of Australia but eventually sent us to the Southern Australia office in a different part of town where we collected some of the information we required. There are even borders to control movement of most fresh food between states which could make our camper van session quite interesting as we move between 4 states on the eastern side. What was even more surprising was that the information office staff had no idea what the restrictions were and how they were implemented - they clearly never cross borders other than perhaps by air themselves.

Other than 'logistic' activities we toured round on the CATs, went to the waterfront and admired the futuristic bell tower and looked into the Cathedral before returning by bus.

An up-side-down world: The next day was a complete contrast with a visit to York, an old gold and railway town a hundred kilometre drive from Perth, in fact it was the first inland settlement in Western Australia. The trip out gave interesting insights on the back-to-front world Downunder as we left Perth and travelled into the wheat belt. The predominant trees in Western Australia and the rest of Australia are Eucalypts of many shapes and sizes which constitute 95% of the forests. Eucalypts shed their leaves in summer to save water and grow them again for the winter. We could see the evidence of forest fires which are very common - in Australian many trees do not have fertile seeds which germinate unless the are ravaged by bush fires. The part of the wheat belt we reached was also very different to what we expected; it was still undulating countryside with many trees still in the small fields with crops covering parts of the area only - a nightmare to harvest. It was the start of spring in Australia but already some of the crops had been harvested and straw was lying in the fields in complex patterns where the combines had cut round the trees and avoided poor ground. Crops are grown over the cooler winter - nothing grows in the dry summer.

York: York was interesting to and we must have spent nearly three hours there including a visit to an old 4 story 19th century flour mill with a timber skeleton of massive Jarrah beams and posts and nearly half a million bricks made by convicts. It is now the site of a factory and showroom for Jah Roc who produce magnificent furniture from local hardwoods such as Jarrah, much of it salvaged from old bridges, sheds and wheat silos along with fallen logs salvaged from the floor of local Jarrah, Marri and Karri forests many featuring fascinating shapes and gains you would never find in 'milled' timber. We were very taken with some of their exhibits and what could be done with the locals woods - even the basics in the toilets were from solid hardwood! They also had examples of local Orbicular granite with the most fascinating patterns which will interest Adrian.

Matilda Bay Restaurant: In the evening Di took us out for one of the best meals we have ever had which completed our conversion to fans of Western Australia. We went to Matilda Bay Restaurant on the waterside next to the Royal Perth Yacht Club, one time holder of the America's Cup. We arrived just as a most fantastic sunset peaked. Matilda Bay used to be the site of the big seaplane base with Catalinas, sadly departed. The restaurant had two big wedding receptions on yet still the service was good, fast, efficient and friendly - a good indication at the start were the crisp linen napkins which were laid onto ones lap, service one so rarely gets (other than the QE2) these days. Pete's calves liver with proscuttio was huge and that was a starter whilst Pauline had the local soft-shell crab in tempura batter with all sorts of accompaniments.

For mains, Pete sampled the mixed sea food plate which included the local Moreton Bay Bugs which are closest to a small crayfish, local soft-shell crab in tempura batter, scallops in their shells, mussels, a local shellfish like a clam, tiger prawns, squid, salmon and sauces to die for - it filled a huge dish. Pauline had the mixed game plate of kangaroo, camel and home smoked quail with a fresh fried quail's egg on root vegetables with a peppery blackcurrant sauce. We are still discussing which was best. Everything had been so perfect Pete and Di could not resist sweets although Pauline had fallen by the wayside. Pete had a lemon curd tart with homemade ice-cream and fruit compote. The tart was more like a cooked cheesecake filled with lemon curd and perfectly complemented by the little pot of compote and ice-cream. I can think of individual courses to compare but never three such courses at one time, even in France. If you visit Perth it is a must - not cheap and you need to book several days ahead, but an unforgettable experience.

Not surprisingly the following day was one for recovery - Pete spent a period on Di's exercise machine which discovers all sorts of muscles he did not know existed then we all went out for a long walk along the shore of the Swan River opposite where we ate last night and looking over the stretch of water used by the Catalina flying boats which kept the last link open to Ceylon when the Japanese were approaching Australia during the last world war. It looked as if half the inhabitants of Perth were doing the Australian thing and having there Sunday barbeque by the shore - again it is all back-to-front as the rush was because it was one of the last opportunities before summer started and it got to hot to go out! We watched Ibises fishing in the shallow waters and looked back at some magnificent properties which have been built along the shoreline, all smoked glass and swimming pools. We also stopped to look at Point Walter which has long and narrow sandspit stretching out half way across the river but only a few metres wide. The drive reminds me of another oddity in Australia - all the drivers keep to the speed limit are they are actively enforced in Western Australia, fines are instant, punitive and start at $75 for 1 kph over the speed limit, by 5 kph over the fine is up to $150.

Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia: We then stopped at the Aviation Heritage Museum of Western Australia which has one of the largest collections in the southern hemisphere - Di used to be a volunteer guide there. They have two large hangers and a magnificent display of 30 military and civilian aircraft, aircraft engines, models display boards etc. Highlights are a Lancaster, one of the last marks of Spitfire the Mk 22, and an Anson of great interest to us as we have a propeller from the Cheetah engine fitted to the Anson. The also have a DH Vampire, a Canberra, and several locally built aircraft we had never heard of such as the Wirraway trainer loosely based on the Harvard and a Wackett as well as early gliders such as the Slingsby Gull. Our hour and a half was far too short to do justice to the displays.

Fremantle: The last evening we went into Fremantle and had a beer looking over the harbour at'Little Creatures' which used to be a crocodile farm but has now been converted into a micro-brewery with bars and restaurants mingling with the tanks and machinery - a most unusual sight. We ate at Han's, an Asian restaurant that is another favourite of Di's - excellent food at a very reasonable price in basic surroundings. Three of us ate a huge meal with 4 starter selections and 3 main dishes plus fried and plain rice for $61 including corkage on our bottles of BYO (bring Your Own) wine - less than we could eat a single course in our usual pub in the UK.

Pete was driving so could not sample the last of the wines we had collected until we were back. Western Australia is very keen on spot drink tests and often sets a bus up in the middle lane of the freeway to test everybody - Di said she used to get stopped on that stretch in the evenings about every three weeks and one evening she was breathalised 3 times in a single trip. Once back he got the chance to try the end of the Cape Menton Wallcliffe 2001, a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc from selected parcels from their vineyard laid down in 1972 and unusual in that it is lightly oaked - excellent, we will keep our eyes open in case we can get another bottle. The red was the Driftwood Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon which further confirmed our views on Driftwood probably being the best overall vineyard we visited - Di, a Shiraz fan, rated it as one of the best she had ever had. Overall an excellent way to end a superb time in Perth and West Australia.

Well that ends Perth and West Australia, this is being written as we are waiting to leave for the airport for our flight to Adelaide. The saga continues in Adelaide and South Australia

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