Posts in the “Australia” category...
At a little after 9am on an already-warm, late Summer morning in 2003, the half-mile long, stainless steel-clad Indian Pacific pulled into East Perth railway station, almost four days after it had set out on its transcontinental journey from
A waiting Ford Falcon taxi cruised from the station towards the city centre, windows open to the fresh air and brilliant blue sky outside. It drew up outside the Sheraton Perth Hotel 10 minutes later, and a surprisingly memorable stay at this otherwise unassuming outpost of the Starwood chain began.
The preparations for this 2009 stay, arguably, began a couple of weeks after we’d checked out in 2003 when, out of the blue, a letter arrived from the hotel’s General Manager.
He’d read that standard comment card that most hotels leave propped on a pillow and was writing to thank me for completing it. Far from a standard response however, it picked up on the specific detail that I’d written down.
His attention came as no great surprise by then, as everything we’d seen in the hotel under his command had borne the hallmarks of a superbly-run operation and, as we’d just seen in
So, once again, why would we stay anywhere else?
In the intervening years, a new General Manager has arrived and a massive refurbishment of the public areas and the redevelopment of a new Executive Wing has taken place. And yet, somehow, the Sheraton seems still to be the Cinderella Five Star hotel in the city – not quite as central as the Parmelia Hilton (though central Perth is almost purely commercial and shuts up shop at tea-time), not as dripping with resort amenities as the InterContinental Burswood and not as design-led as the Outram. The rather stark, early 70s architecture doesn’t necessarily inspire the aesthete either, and it does little to disguise the fact that this is a large hotel with almost 400 guestrooms.
Nevertheless, and despite the changes, the hotel still seemed to have that instantly comfortable feeling; a definite retreat from the outside world but with a purposeful hum that so often promises good service.
The hotel’s location is far from inconvenient however, not least as it rests on the airport side of the immediate City Centre. So, even earlier than our arrival 6 years ago, we draw up outside to find a doorman ready and waiting to take our bags and park the car, and a friendly Receptionist inside to handle registration.
It’s a delight to discover that we are able to check in to our room immediately – one of the newly refurbished Executive examples – and our bags are brought up moments after we slump onto the fabulous Sweet Sleeper bed. You may note the reference to the singularity of the bed, for this was genuinely the only, and extremely minor, glitch during our entire stay. The room had been booked as a Twin, so a quick call to Housekeeping had two staff up to separate the zip-link King and remake it as two singles. Job done in a matter of minutes and no inconvenience whatsoever.
There’s also a personal welcome, in the form of a letter from the new General Manager, waiting for us in the room and complimentary bottled water to rehydrate.
And late that night, when MCC and FCC finally checked in, we found that they’d been assigned the adjacent room to ours too, which was very much appreciated.
The prospect of a shower and a freshen up neatly prompted an exploration of the bathroom which in another example of attention to detail, was an accessible wetroom for GCC. The majority of bathrooms in the Executive Wing rooms, however, have a separate shower cubicle along with a bath which looks through an internal window back into the bedroom – which was the set-up in MCC and FCC‘s room.
The décor is bang-up-to-date, with a slight retro feel and a definite nod to the colours of the Australian bush and outback. It’s warm, welcoming, calming and comfortable.
In 2003, the Executive Club was little more than a couple of guest rooms, knocked together. It was intimate and cosy, helped enormously by a delightful staff who were friendly, interesting and hugely helpful in suggesting things to do in
The ‘new’ Executive Club is in a completely different part of the hotel and is, by comparison, vast. There are distinct lounging and dining areas, newspapers, magazines, PCs and plasmas. Breakfast is significantly more than a mere continental affair, with hot selections daily and a wide spread of pastries, cereals, juices, fruits, cheese and cold meats. The only slight issue is the coffee machine which, as a bean-to-cup job, takes a while and can end up with a bit of a queue. The huge mugs don’t speed the process of filling either.
Weekend afternoons see an Afternoon Tea service, but otherwise it is evening time when the lounge comes alive again, with a range of hot canapés and cold nibbles to choose from and all of which are regularly replenished. The bar offers a wide variety of bottled beers, spirits, soft drinks and, unsurprisingly, an excellent presentation of superb Western Australian wines, including a sparkler.
Compared to the former facility, well, the new one is just completely different and yet, pleasingly, the staff all seemed to just go that extra step, every time. Can I get you another beer? Would you like to try a different one? It’s from here or there and is made this way. Whether on holiday or on business, that little bit of additional, personal interaction backed by knowledge and experience, is invaluable.
The lobby houses the hotel’s main bar, which is not a bad place from which to people-watch – although it’s a little away from the principal flow of guests from the main entrance. Next to the bar is the highly-rated fine dining restaurant, Origins, and there’s also a useful gift and convenience shop in the lobby. Concierge holds complimentary copies of local and national newspapers.
The main hotel restaurant,
Below ground level, spa treatment rooms have recently been added, adjacent to the well-equipped gym. The pool is almost hidden though and barely seems to warrant a mention in any of the in-room information. The inquisitive will find it, outside and accessed through a door between Origins and the Bar. It’s far from expansive and is out of the sun for most of the day, but it’s fine for a refreshing splash.
Throughout our stay, and indeed in all our dealings pre-arrival too, we were treated to warm, friendly, professional and efficient service from every single staff member. Even the ubiquity of guests’ white
Final Verdict for the Sheraton
by Continental Club on May 1, 2009 | Leave a comment
Some say that
Some say that
And some say that
This city is in what might best be described as a ‘most-favoured’ position. The
The CBD skyline is a forest of shimmering towers, cheek by jowl with the gentrified and restored colonial splendour of
Nevertheless, some also say that
It’s a short and pleasant walk across Langley Park from the Sheraton to the
– which is strikingly illuminated at night:
The most notable and slightly odd attraction is the ‘Swan Bells’ – a bell tower built for the Millennium celebrations to house the bells which formerly hung in London’s St Martin In The Fields church. The story of how these cast behemoths come to be in
Barrack Street jetty also serves as the embarkation point for ferries to South Perth and to Fremantle and then on to
The 20 kilometre cruise to ‘Freo’ is a pleasant way to pick up on some of the history of
As Fremantle is approached, some of the port’s ocean-going vessels are moored slightly upstream and the cruise boat passes up-close for a fisheye view of these leviathans of the sea.
Fremantle itself was, until relatively recently, something of a no-go area – derelict docks and wharves surrounding the modern port facilities and attracting some less than welcoming characters. Preparations for the
Today, there’s a well-developed arts scene, thriving nightlife and cafés galore along the so-called Cappuccino Strip and down to the harbour side. Markets have taken over empty wharf sheds and the
During WWII, Fremantle was the second largest Allied submarine base in the pacific, and the more modern exhibit of HMAS Ovens commemorates this.
The former prison is also a museum, as is the Round House – the oldest surviving building in
Whilst Freo can easily occupy a day of any trip, a visit to Rottnest demands that length of time at the very least. Long since the weekend escape of choice for city-dwellers on the mainland, Rottnest is a car-free playground named after the native marsupials found on the island. Likened to a rat, they’re actually Quokkas and are abundant to this day. Of course and as with all things Australian, the commutation ‘Rotto’ is most likely to be heard when locals refer to the 11km long island, which lies 18km offshore.
Hungry sharks notwithstanding, there’s an annual swimming race out to the island, but the boat from
Back in the City, both the
Also in the city, cricket fans may be drawn to the WACA – the Western Australian Cricket Association’s ground but, for many, the principal city attraction is King’s Park. These thousand acres of native bushland, lawns and botanic gardens are a jewel in the city’s crown, but in high Summer some of their appeal is lost as the heat makes sauntering aimlessly around a park, not always abundant in its provision of shade, a bit of an ordeal. That’s supposing that it hasn’t been closed due to fire risk, of course, which is even less attractive.
Where King’s Park meets the
Head West from the City towards the coast again, through prosperous locales awash with boutiques and art shops, coffee shops and galleries, and the seaside suburb of Cottesloe is one of the must-visits on any itinerary.
The immediate beachfront is a surfer’s paradise, with cafés, restaurants and fish and chip shops lining the inland side of the road, or occasionally resting on the beach-back dunes. A little inland, by Cottesloe railway station, is what might very well be the World’s best corner shop: The Boatshed. Split into three areas; meat, fish and ‘everything else’, the displays of bounteous provender are simply stunning. Whether it’s the freshest seafood, the crispest salads, the most exotic bakery and patisserie or just an apple, the place is stunning.
Some might say that if you’re in
by Continental Club on May 1, 2009 | Leave a comment
The most popular day trip from Perth, after Rottnest, is to the Nambung National Park, about a two and a half hour drive North of the city. Nambung is the ‘official’ name for what most tourists are looking for when they’re vainly scanning maps and signs looking for The Pinnacles, a frankly quite freaky patch of desert just inland from the coast near the tiny fishing town of Cervantes.
In fact, the Pinnacles are just about the only things at all between Perth and Cervantes, so hiding them behind a bit of modern-day geographic political correctness seems a bit daft.
Nevertheless and despite the lack of anything of note on the drive, and the regular concerns that you might have missed the turning, the Pinnacles are indeed worth the expedition.
Try to find out how these curious pillars of rock, some tiny, some as big as a bus, were formed though, and you’ll be as confused as you were trying to find the place. For many years the various theories, from the wild and wacky to the potentially practical, were lumped together under the pragmatic response to the question: we don’t really know.
In recent years however, a swanky new visitors’ centre has been built (to justify the park entrance fee, it would seem) with all sorts of interpretive exhibits. When those exhibits have exhausted every possible description of everything else in the area other than the very things everyone has come to see (and, as we’ve already established, there is nothing else to see) their attention is turned finally to these damn nuisance rocks and a couple of fantastical new theories are mixed in with the old ones, as a sort of resigned attempt at giving the building a reason for being. That over with, visitors are spat out into a taterama in the hope of hauling a bit more loot from their wallets and purses.
Which, as I say, is a bit of a shame, because these rocks are quite the thing. Even better in the exposed desert heat, they appear to have prehistorically arranged themselves most conveniently to allow one to view them at close quarter without leaving one’s air-conditioned Toyota.
It’s a gentle cruise through the custard-coloured sands, stopping occasionally if the fancy to climb a few steps to a viewpoint takes you, and then continuing in a grand loop to return to the car park for the cash-extraction facility.
Regressing back along the park access road, there are a couple of side roads to some typically stunning Indian Ocean beaches. One such is Hangover Bay but be warned: there are no facilities whatsoever other than a BBQ, so bring your coolbox and your picnic and enjoy splendid isolation amid white sands and crashing surf.
The aforementioned town of Cervantes is home to a tiny number of shops and a general dealer, a bar, a motel and a campground. The beach is very nearly as stunning as that at Hangover, if a little busier with trailers and fishing boats which launch directly from the sands.
If there’s little to see in Cervantes, then at least it’s likely to be new to the first-time visitor – unlike the road back to Perth which, as we now know, has absolutely nothing beside it and has already been viewed on the outward journey. On the return leg then, a couple of lengthy CDs or a well-loaded iPod are essential.
by Continental Club on May 1, 2009 | Leave a comment
To the South of Perth and beyond Fremantle, the majority of visitors head for the World-renowned Margaret River wine region in the far bottom left-hand corner of
First among them is Mandurah, a seaside town of rapidly increasing scale and importance.
Formerly a small, country trading post and then weekend coastal retreat from Perth, Mandurah has in recent years been the scene of rampant property development, particularly on the banks of newly-canalised inland waterways. It lends the town, in parts, a distinctly Floridian feel, with sleek motorcruisers moored at the foot of lawned gardens which glide down from sparkling villas and townhouses.
When this development began, and indeed for sometime afterward, access to this millionaire’s lifestyle came relatively cheap, as the 70km distance from
All that began to change with the coming of the railway from
The design of the railway itself is worthy of note. Despite some serious industrial relations issues during construction, the route was completed in a little over three and a half years, the work having started in February 2004.
It’s an almost text-book example of intelligent urban transport planning. Firstly and before construction even began, the route was revised to take a more direct and therefore profitable alignment, albeit at greater up-front cost. For a significant distance, the tracks run between the carriageways of the
The stations are located at major intersections, with access to them gained from the flyovers above. These flyovers also host bus stations which laterally link the surrounding residential and commercial districts to the rail line. This system is, to a certain extent, replicated in some of the
For the visitor, most of the attractions are subtle at best – apartments converted from former grain silos for example, or a beachside café that was slowly developed from the unlikely starting blocks of a public toilet and a kiosk. More stunning is the beach that this latter watering-hole directly overlooks.
Next along the road is Busselton, far more of a tourist destination in itself than either Mandurah or Bunbury. Chief amongst its attractions is its jetty which, in true Antipodean size-matters fashion, asserts the claim to being the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. It formerly also supported a rail line which would ferry freight, then passengers, to the pier end, but these days it’s an exposed walk in the fiery sun.
Of course, the only place in Busselton from which you can’t see the jetty is from the jetty itself, so there’s another reason to enjoy the beachside cafés and parks, or the sands themselves. The iconic sheds at the jetty wharf lose something through the hanging of modern signs on the outside of them, but it’s a pleasant enough vista nonetheless.
Beyond Busselton, the state becomes increasingly rural and sparsely populated. Conversely, the concentration of the renowned vineyards, wineries and olive groves increases. Of the vineyards, one of the newest and most interesting is that of the Saracen Estates.
Firstly, it should be noted that there’s a distinction between a vineyard, where grapes are grown, and a winery where they’re made into wine. It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many folks rock up at a vineyard expecting to see the whole process in front of them, and instead find merely lines and lines of bushes.
Secondly, when deciding which vineyards/wineries to visit, try and check which reputation you’re basing that decision on. The best wines come from the best winery, but that says nothing about whether that winery’s restaurant happens to be any good, of course.
And thirdly, for the inexperienced in such matters, just enjoy. Tastings are rarely stingy and if you don’t like something then say so. Firstly, the staff have probably heard it before but, if they haven’t, they need feedback to guide future tastings.
So, for a mid-morning visit with coffee and a tasting, Saracen is an excellent choice. Indeed, not only is the estate a vineyard and winery, it’s also home to the Duckstein Brewery as well as a stunning new café, restaurant and tasting complex, overlooking their lake and landscaped bush.
There’s plenty of room for a larger party to do their own thing, the highlight being the tastings of course, which are undertaken at either a bar or, for the weak of feet, a fireside lounge area. Top pick on this occasion was the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (SBS), which suited a sunny Australian late morning perfectly.
Long time visitors to the region lament that the town of
The fist-time visitor is unlikely to think so however and, by comparison to say Ambleside or Windermere in England’s Lake District, Margaret River remains a sleepy backwater – albeit one under vivid blue skies and Antipodean sun.
Just outside the town, quite apart from the myriad vineyards and wineries, are superb surf beaches and expansive woodland, along with several hundred caves within the
Clinging to the cliffside of
On the other side of the cape is the
In the latter case, don’t even think about looking in an estate agent’s window. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. There’s one more beach along this little hook of land jutting out into the ocean. This large, North-facing, perfect crescent of white, gently-shelving sand and crystal clear waters is Bunker Bay and, ever so helpfully, there’s a hotel right behind the dunes.
Bumper stickers. They’re not the first thing that spring to mind a few minutes after checking in to a ‘stunning 5-star Resort’, yet somehow they did on this occasion.
‘Don’t follow us, we’re lost too’ or ‘My other hotel is a Youth Hostel’ – you know the kind of pithy messages – and if the Quay West Resort had been fitted with bumpers, then they would have been sticker city.
Now, just in case the CEO of Mirvac Hotels & Resorts is reading this and finds him or herself dangerously close to a cliff edge or bridge parapet, let me preface what follows by making clear that Bunker Bay is a stunningly-situated, intelligently-designed resort which succeeds in blending into the surrounding environment remarkably sympathetically.
Indeed, it lives up to Mirvac’s well-earned reputation as a property developer of imagination, creativity and quality.
Unfortunately, Bunker Bay is let down badly by under-resourced recruitment and training, and a marketing department who have either never actually visited it, or never visited a real five star hotel or more worryingly, probably both. Brochured hyperbole is one thing. The reality is quite different.
Let me also say that by far and away the majority of the staff members were absolutely delightful. I’d suggest, however, that they waste at least 20% of their time apologising to guests for the interminable waits for service.
This is a ‘5-star Resort’ with no door staff and no porters. Of particular note to this party, it’s a car-free ‘5-star Resort’ with only one (permanently unavailable) wheelchair. Most Tescos have half a dozen, minimum. It’s a ‘5-star Resort’ with no beach service and the cheapest, mostly broken beach chairs and umbrellas that you’ve ever seen. Worse still, it’s a ‘5-star Resort’ where the guests themselves have to haul the beach paraphernalia backwards and forwards between sand and room.
It’s a ‘5-star Resort’ where the in-room broadband doesn’t work and the unreliable lobby WiFi service is supplied by a third party operator whose helpline is strictly office hours only.
It’s also a ‘5-star Resort’ where each individual room or villa is owned by an investor – a fairly common system Down Under – which makes the general levels of care and cleaning (or lack thereof) not just a matter of commercial concern for the hotel operator, but an enormous issue (I’d suggest) for the poor soul whose funds are tied up in what they must hope will be an appreciating asset.
You’d be certain then that I’d have made my feelings known pretty quickly – especially over the stained rugs and house of horror cobwebs festooning the vaulted villa ceiling, the broken bathroom blind or the dust and detritus in the cupboards.
Well, you’d be wrong, and I’ll tell you why.
Firstly, lots of these realisations built only slowly, over a number of days. The cleanliness issue, having become sensitised to it and looked up at the windows of all the other villas and, probably worse still, the main resort building – was clearly a feature of the entire property. A cursory glance of the housekeepers’ golf-buggies proved that they were equipped to no-more than dust, wipe and tidy.
So secondly, and in addition to the cleaning problem, it was obvious that a conversation with management (should there be any available as the hotel was running without an Operations Manager at the time) about staffing levels, training and resort facilities, not to mention their over-enthusiastic marketing, might be met with platitudes, but practically-speaking, not a lot else.
Thirdly, this was a holiday, a planned de-stress with a party in tow who would not take to being de-camped again too comfortably.
Better then, under the circumstances, to make the best of the situation and enjoy the many positives of the hotel and its location – of which there were many. Therefore, overall, the balance was tipped back in favour of Bunker Bay – the fourth reason for just going with the flow.
The hotel itself is a collection of cleverly designed studios, villas and rooms, arranged in staggered terraces and standalone groups to make the best of bush, garden and ornamental lake views, while retaining the maximum privacy.
It’s cleverly done, very much in the layout style of European Center Parcs or Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge in Canada – only better.
The villas have one, two or three bedrooms and some of the two-bedroomed ones can be further augmented through interconnection with an adjacent studio or room.
They’re equipped to a very high standard, with full kitchens and laundries, lounge and dining area, spa-style bathrooms with free-standing baths and walk in wetroom showers. Each villa has a furnished terrace and the beds are comfortable, even if the linens are again a far-cry from ‘5-star’.
The guest accommodation is linked to the car parks by way of pedestrianised pathways, again very much in the Center Parcs and JPL mould, with golf-buggies the only means of assisted transport. It’s these carts that will fetch and bring your luggage, if necessary, but don’t expect a rapid response.
The main hotel facilities are located around the central resort building, which houses the lobby and Reception, the bar and small library, a couple of function rooms and the hotel’s restaurant – the evocatively named ‘Other Side of The Moon’.
On the landward side of the resort building is a spa and tennis court, and on the seaward side a gym and the small swimming pool. The indoor areas are all beautifully designed; cool, light and airy, but look closely and the dust and cobwebs are plainly visible.
Breakfast is served in the ‘Other Side of The Moon’, a fairly chaotic buffet whose daily variations smacked rather more of having run out of certain components, as opposed to merely keeping things interesting and rotating the offerings. The staff clearly have no concept of the meaning of the words ‘background music’ either, as the sound system pumped out a sometimes bizarre mix of ABBA and Beethoven at factory level. There was no respite out on the terrace either, where the volume appeared even higher, but it mattered not whether seated inside or out; the clanking of the door between the two was an incessant additional percussion.
The breakfast was at least fulsome in quantity if not quality or variety, but it remained no invitation to risk lunch or dinner, so all our dining was self-catered or off-site, and the hotel lost out on significant incremental on-spend.
The gym was similarly uninviting, a goldfish bowl looked in upon from the poolside terrace. This area was usually very busy with young families who either hadn’t found the beach, couldn’t be bothered to look for the beach or considered the man-made water feature safer for their charges than that which nature had crafted. In the latter case, fair comment, I suppose.
But: that beach! A short boardwalk leads from the villas, past the ornamental lake, through some gum trees and over the small dunes. It’s no more than a couple of hundred metres from anywhere on the resort property to having your toes in the warm white sand.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. Iridescent blue sea, lapping fringes of snow-white surf, cobalt sky and pristine, bleached sand. Couples and families dotted along with acres of space each to enjoy and an almost ever-present breeze to cool the brow. The word ‘paradise’ is far too banal to be used to describe this place, and insane jealousy too mild a reaction toward those lucky enough to live in the houses tucked into the wooded hillsides at the far Western end of the bay.
So, Bunker Bay is about long, sunny days on the sand, reading, watching and drinking in the view. It’s swimming in the warm, shallow, crystal-clear waters. And it’s about long walks at sunrise and sunset to remember that it’s the simplest things in life that often have the most profound effect on our souls. As one of the over-worked staff said of the place: ‘I never want to leave.’
Given then that the hotel itself offers little in the way of incentive to dine at the restaurant, and there is no on-property shopping, it’s to Dunsborough that guests much venture to stock up, eat out or takeaway. In all respects, the town is well-equipped to meet these needs.
A new shopping centre houses an expansive supermarket, with a suitably comprehensive (for this wine-growing region) bottle shop next door. There’s a well-regarded fish and chip shop – Squid Lips – and a chicken rotisserie. The Big Pig pizza shop on the other side of the main road offers a wide menu and prompt, good-value service and there are a couple of decent cafés, bars and restaurants to tempt; the only problem being that the drive back to Bunker Bay will require at least one abstainer from the local ferments, and therefore self-catering or takeaway seemed to win out for us every time.
Best of all, an early evening return from town will almost certainly reward the careful and observant traveller with a mob or two of marsupials along the way.
In all honesty, then, Bunker Bay has to be one of the most fabulous places that I’ve ever been to, despite the disappointments of the hotel itself. In fact, given the choice of anywhere in the World to get on an aeroplane to right now, this would be top of the list. I just can’t help feeling that I’d be even keener to go back with a Quay West name badge and a pair of size 11 boots on, to kick the place up its backside to the level of excellence that it’s so clearly capable of.
Final Verdict for the Quay West Resort, Bunker Bay: 6.0/10. The property has the potential to be a strong 8.5 or 9.0, but cleanliness, dining, staffing and service levels are all unworthy of its stunning location and intelligent design. I would return without hesitation, but having already cancelled a flexible rate and locking in a much cheaper pre-pay one, I’d only make the trip if both the standards had clearly improved and the rates moderated to reflect the risk that they might not. Disappointing.