For the two weeks that I have been incommunicado, I have been down under. That is, to put it painly, I have been in Australia escaping work, winter and related woes. So this is going to be a bit of a travel piece.

The run up to this holiday was extreme stress. Because all this leave is sort-of illicit considering I have only just joined, I worked till 4 pm on the day of my flight out (scheduled at 8 pm) which meant that I had to wake up at 6 am, get suitcase together, cab it to the Airport Express station in Central and check in at 8 am, then take the MTR to office where I click-clack on the computer like a headless chicken in an attempt to set up my life work-wise for when I get back so I am not stressed out about it for the two weeks I am away, then run down in my lunch hour and get my arms waxed (which was impossible to do earlier because of cold and feverishness that had not quite gone but I was not going to sunny Oz with hairy armpits) only to finally leave around 2 pm for an interview cunningly scheduled at IFC (above Airport Express station), conduct interview for two hours (went brilliantly, thankfully interviewee was lovely, interesting and not a snob) and then race down to Airport Express station at 5 pm where I finally let out a sigh of relief and proceeded on my holiday.

After that it was pretty seamless. Our first destination was Perth where my cousin was getting married and where a part of my large family would be gathering. Many people are surprised when I said that I was going to Perth as it is not a destination that first comes to mind when one says one is going to Australia. But the Lonely Planet says that Perth has really becoming interesting over the past five years and so does our office travel editor who I asked belatedly for to-do suggestions. Anyway, my family lives there so I don’t have a choice.

But to liven it up, V and I decided to hire a car and drive around Western Australia for a couple of days. This was pretty ambitious because it involved:
1) Landing in Perth and hanging around the airport for two hours.
2) Not using those two hours to visit my family in Perth because that would mean eating lunch there and falling asleep thereby losing precious time.
3) Instead getting a cell phone connection at the airport and calling up family to explain this. Did not go down well. (“You are on Australian soil finally but we cannot see you!” was classic quote from aunt)
4) Taking possession of the car and driving it, having not driven at all in Hong Kong. (This one was V’s as I cannot be trusted or interested to drive)
5) Staying awake while driving down endless unpopulated highways in the blazing sun.
But we did it. We landed, we drove, we arrived.

And Margaret River our first destination was beautiful. It is wine country – a pretty touristy town – and the chalet we had booked was perfect. The only thing is that in these small Aussie towns – and even in the big ones – all the shops close at 4 pm. I’m serious. It’s so odd. The pubs are open though and spilling over and they wonder why they have an alcohol abuse problem. Or do they?

Anyway, we were very efficient and booked ourselves a whole day of activities the next day. First up was a winery tour which meant that we went to four different kinds of wineries (big, boutique, eccentric, and I forget the last one) and tried not to get buzzed. We tasted lovely merlots (my favourite), chilli desert wines and even a wonderful chenin blanc (I am not a fan of white). We met one very drunk winery owner who hit on the 13-year-old beautiful Swedish girl who could not drink but really looked 18. Very entertaining he was and fun to be hit on also, albeit by sleazy older type.

On the way we made fairly pointless stops to chocolate factory, brewery and venison store (where we bought venison chorizo while a bit unclear as to what venison actually was. I always thought it was a variation of veal but I think it’s deer, poor dears).

In the afternoon we were booked on a kangaroo safari. This tour is run by a guy called Neil McLeod who owns a few acres of farmland where roos run freely. McLeod, who is an amazing character to meet, ran tours up north until he decided to move back to Margaret River where he was born. He restored an old Bentley truck which he uses for the roo tours. On ours, just be coincidence, was another Indian family – God, there are Indians everywhere – and an eccentric Irish lady called Diane. Our tour consisted of not only watching roos in their native habitat but also a bit of education on the Aussie bushland. For example, we saw a 6000 year old balga tree; it’s age can be ascertained from its height because these trees are known to grow only about a centimetre a year.

McLeod also made us tea in an old billy and treated us to lemon cake. We then drove up to his farm where we met some horses. I really really love horses and have decided for the hundredth time that I must learn how to ride.

Highlight of that trip was probably spotting kangas mating.
Me: Ooooh ooh look they’re fighting.
(Everyone turns to look, then silence)
Me (sheepishly): Um, ok they’re not fighting, they’re um.
Diance (coyly to father of Indian 8-year-old and 5-year-old): You’ll have to teach them the facts of life now.
Me (while Indian father looks embarrassed): I think I need to learn the facts of life.

Came back to the chalet exhausted, sampled some Margaret River wine and got woozy.

Next day, drove down south to Pemberton which is a forest area. We stopped off in one of the forest areas and started following a trail to something called Beedelbup Falls. The falls turned out to be a trickle, smaller than the ones I can see from my window in Hong Kong. It never ceases to amaze me how countries market these small sights while India which has tremendous stuff to offer cannot manage to package it properly. More worth it was the Gloucester Tree, a 60 m high karri tree that we impulsively started climbing and then I began to panic halfway up. But since there were a ton of people above us, I ended up having to keep climbing and finally got to the top where – I admit it – I felt a great sense of achievement. Next step bungee jumping I guess.

Pemberton is an even smaller town than Margaret River so everything shuts even earlier. We had a hard time finding a café that was open but I guess this kind of thing is good for the soul. In the evening, we watched the town Christmas carols, just sat on the grass with the whole town and watched a group of old men belting it out. But it was nice even though I was sulking over something, I can’t remember what.

Oh yes, now I remember. We drove through this forest and stopped at a pool which is safe for swimming. The water was cold but the sun was out and so it was actually perfect for swimming. Only I didn’t have my swimmers on and so I was all set to strip to my undies but V was just not game. Finally, I got pissed at his lack of spontaneity and stomped back to the car in a huff.

The next day we started the drive back to Perth. This was a proper road-trip type drive unlike our drive down there. We stopped at a number of little towns which was fun. These included Greenbushes which has a big mine, Bunbury where we made a failed attempt to go dolphin swimming, Mandurah where we had a lovely lunch and took a canal cruise on which we spotted dolphins and numerous amazing vacation homes and Freemantle which is a lovely old town.

And then we were in Perth.

To be continued.