Any fine day in winter is too precious to be wasted, especially on a day off. So, undeterred by a dysfunctional camera, the lack of a car, and my growing pile of laundry, I decided to spend my Friday exploring one of my adopted city's most famous landmarks - King's Park. Between going outlet window shopping in the city despite not having much cash versus gorging on photo-ops despite not having a proper camera, there really was no contest.
Armed with my trusty folding umbrella, the Perth guidebook I brought from home, and the bus and train schedules, I was all set. My inner wanderlust was looking forward to a great day drinking in some serious natural beauty in the gargantuan sprawl of genuine bushland and manicured gardens that remains outstanding in this city where parks and open spaces seem to be a dime a dozen. At over 400 acres, it is reputed to be the third biggest inner-city park in the world.
Even without a car, King's Park is quite accessible by public transport. There are buses you can catch around the city that can take you straight into the park - Bus 37 - and all hop-on-and-hop-off guided bus tours will also take you around. But for people with a limited budget and no aversion to walking, the Red CAT bus - one of three bus services going around the central business district which you can ride for free and can catch right outside the Perth Underground train station - works just fine. Just get off at the Havelock Street stop and follow signs pointing the way.
Which is what I did. But as I was walking down Havelock Street, my fine day suddenly took a turn for the worse - and I had to scramble for my umbrella to keep from being drenched by a cold winter shower. Undeterred and commited - there was no point in turning back now when almost half the day was gone - I plodded on, my lesson on fickle winter weather and having a sense of humor when traveling well learned. The bone-deep chill of walking in the winter rain was quickly forgotten, though, when I found myself under the canopy of Fraser Avenue's magnificent lemon scented gums as I walked into the park.
From its perch high above the city on the western side of town, the park offers magnificent views of the Perth CBD skyline, the mighty Swan and Canning Rivers, and all the way the hills of Perth in the horizon. Bemoaning the loss of my camera, I took a couple of photos with my camera phone for posterity. I even got a nice old gentleman, who was decked in full raingear with his wife in a matching set, to take my picture against the backdrop of Perth city in the distance.
Under the shelter of my little umbrella, I oohed and ahed over the lush greenery, the magnificent old jarrahs and breathed deeply of the smell of rain and the hint of eucalyptus. I followed the walkway and marveled at the strange, exotic looking plants whose names I didn't know but were pockets prettiness that warranted a picture. The wide open spaces were nearly all mine with the exception of a smattering of fellow tourists.
There are volunteer guides who take interested visitors around the park at certain times daily for free - anyone can get a brochure with the schedules in the park tourist information center. There are different kinds of walks - some which go through the botanic gardens, others going as far as the heart of the park's bushland - lasting about an hour to two hours depending. The kinds they offer also vary on the season, with more lengthier walks offered in the spring and summer when the park is alive with people.
I wanted to the visitors' center with the intention of joining a group doing the walk on the scheduled time - only to find myself all alone in front of the sign announcing the guided walk schedules. Apparently everyone else must have known about the weather forecast and were sane enough to stay in the warm indoors instead. Torn between cutting my losses while the rain had ceased temporarily and sticking to my guns, I was forced into a decision when the guide for the afternoon - a lovely lady named Inge, who must have been about 65 at the least because she says she has memories of what Perth looked like 50 years ago when she first came over - asked me if I wanted to go on the guided walk. Unwilling to deprive her of her solitary audience, I agreed and was glad that I did.
Inge took me around the botanic gardens and told me many interesting tidbits about the highly specialized native flora of Australia planted through the garden. Australian plants have had to develop unique survival tactics in order to exist in the continent's poor soil and harsh conditions, and my inner nerd really enjoyed hearing all the interesting factoids about them. There were also many pockets of prettiness that just begged for a picture - like this one, at the Water Garden section of the walk.
One of this guided walks' highlights was going on an elevated walkway about 60 meters above the ground, which cuts through the trees and lets you see the canopy at eye level rather than from the ground. The vantage point is amazing, and it literally offers a gorgeous bird's eye view of part of the park.
There are certain tree-lined streets within the park which have been made into Honour Walks. All the trees along these streets have been planted for or dedicated to young Australian soldiers who have died in both World War I and II. There are small plaques in front of each tree in remembrance. I think it's a wonderful kind of living memorial that goes on after you have passed. I would love to have someone plant a tree in memory of me when I am gone, too.
There's a section of the botanic garden dedicated to the memory of the pioneer women of Western Australia. (Did you know that WA was the second place in the world where women were allowed to vote?) In the paved walk going through it, there are inscriptions and replicas of sculptures made by prominent Australian artists that represent what women have given to their society over the past two hundred years and more. Among all of them, this one was my favorite.
My guided walk with Inge lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, and at the end of it, I knew one thing for sure - I am definitely going to be back. Inge says the best time to go will be in spring, when all the wildflowers are in bloom and everything is gorgeous and even greener.
Anyone who comes to Perth should not miss a visit to King's Park. A day spent under the wide, vividly blue sky, surrounded by open spaces in this oasis of green in the heart of the city is just what one needs to refresh the spirit and make one realize just what a wonderful world it is we live in. Seriously. Rain or no rain.