WA, all the way!

The amazing Urban Orchard outside Perth’s art gallery. Nice crop of broccoli!

In August, a lovely lady at Air New Zealand called Brigitte sent me an email. “Hi Lynda,” she wrote. “In September we’ll take a group of writers to Perth to see the wildflowers and I thought you may be keen to come along.” She thought right. By the time I’d read the itinerary – wildflowers, hot air ballooning, a 4WD discovery tour of Margaret River and two nights at Cape Lodge, voted Australia’s Best Boutique Hotel by Luxury Travel magazine – I was champing at the bit! (With one small boy and another on the way, the prospect of a media junket – sorry, working holiday – was bliss. To be frank, Air New Zealand could have offered a tiki tour of Palmerston North’s public parks and I wouldn’t have been any less excited at the thought of five days of freedom from deadlines, dishes and dirty nappies.)

We departed on a frosty Auckland morning and arrived in Perth as the red sun slunk behind the city’s Phoenix palms. The next morning, the mercury hit 25°C by 10am; it peaked at 29°C! Not bad for September.

We spent our first day trekking through native bush, spotting fair dinkum Aussie species with common names like pepper and salt, bacon and eggs and kangaroo paws. Our eagerness to step off the beaten track to admire donkey orchids and mouse ears, however, retreated rapidly upon the sighting of our first tiger snake.

In Margaret River, we hooked up with Sean Blocksidge from the Margaret River Discovery Co., who runs “the tour for people who don’t do tours”. People like Judy Bailey. When she turned up with her film crew for a quick paddle, Sean was mortified to discover that his canoes had been set adrift by boozed-up Aussie yobbos. He had to strip down to his daks and dive in to retrieve them.

Though we didn’t get to see Sean in his smalls, he did show us a satisfying selection of humpback whales, emus and scary looking, stumpy-tailed shingleback lizards. Sean told a cracker yarn too, like the time a group of Japanese tourists started fizzing at the bung at their first kangaroo sighting. “Kangaroo! Kangaroo!” they exclaimed as their cameras clicked. Sean didn’t have the heart to tell them it was just a brown dog doing its business in the bush.

Speaking of business, we flew up front, on lie-flat beds with marshmallow-soft memory foam mattresses, ruining me for cattle class forever. The nosh – would madam like an entrée of five-spiced chicken breast salad with fresh papaya salsa and sesame ginger dressing, followed by miso braised beef short rib with mustard potato mash and green olive tarragon salsa? – was top-notch too, but the beverage service left, literally, a lot to be desired. If I was asked once, I was asked a dozen times if I’d like a free glass of champagne. And (almost) every time, I thought of Lucas’ little brother, half-formed inside me, sighed, and declined. It was, let me tell you, a special kind of torture!

A pop quiz!

Small (and not so small) plants from Perth

I’m in Perth, admiring Western Australia’s wildflowers, posing beside century-old grass trees (I think the species pictured here is Xanthorrhoea acanthostachys) and saying no to endless offers of free champagne. (It’s a tough life, I tell you, being pregnant on an all-expenses paid media jaunt. How many non-alcoholic cocktails can a girl take?)

I’m here on a tour with Air New Zealand, and yesterday we spent the day trekking through some of the city’s off-the-beaten-track wildflower areas. Now when I think of wildflowers, I usually think of the cheerful annual meadows we sow at home, but Western Australia’s wildflowers are quite different. They have evolved in some of the most inhospitable situations: hot, dry, dusty soils lacking in fertility. I was ready to wilt after a few hours admiring these rugged blooms; how they survive is a miracle, especially when you factor in all those kangaroos waiting to nibble off their tender new foliage.

Our guide yesterday was Eddy Wajon, author of the Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia. Eddy’s nuts about wildflowers. He can spot a hairy yellow pea or a hidden featherflower at a hundred paces, which made him the perfect chap to have on hand as we explored the urban bush.

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a botanical boffin, but aside from the ubiquitous kangaroo paw and several banksias, I don’t think I recognised a single species all day.

So, now for a quiz: the first person who can match the names and numbers of the plants pictured (click on the photo to enlarge if need be) win will a copy of my new book, Back to the Land. And to get you started, No 1. is Anigozanthos manglesii, the Mangles kangaroo paw. You can buy a hybrid version of this groovy plant in garden centres as Anigozanthos ‘Bush Dance’.

The other nine are (in jumbled order):
Mouse ears (Calothamnus rupestris)
Pink enamel orchid (Elythranthera emarginata)
Dunsborough donkey orchid (Diuris aff. amplissima)
Grey cottonheads (Conostylis candicans)
Prickly dryandra (Dryandra falcata)
Blue devils (Eryngium pinnatifolium – this one should be a doddle!)
Some tiny fluffy-headed thing (my notes failed me high, which could be because we’d just spotted a snake slithering past)
A native carnivorous sundew (Drosera)
Star of Bethlehem (Calectasia narragara)

Start Googling! I’m off to explore the city of Perth before we fly off here for two nights of pure luxury. As I said, it’s a tough life…