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!