Friday, 28 February 2014

The Unpublished 18: Bars of Perth

I visited Perth, Western Australia in late 2011 on the Indian Pacific train, and researched this article about the city's bars while I was there. However, due to a change of editor it was never published. So here it is now, for your drinking pleasure...

Lava Flow, Tropical Itch, Shrunken Head or Easter Island Iced Tea?

I’m sitting in a Perth bar, mulling over its odd but interesting drinks menu. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s one I’m glad to have.

When I lived in Perth in the '90s, it was a sunny, open-air kind of place, much given to backyard barbecues, early morning beach visits, and ice-cream licking expeditions among the boutiques of portside Fremantle.

What it didn’t have was a sophisticated bar scene; about the classiest drink you could order then was a microbrew from a pub with its own vats out the back.

Things have changed, however, with the coming of modern, sophisticated venues like those of the sinful cities of the “Eastern States” (as locals call the rest of the country). Here’s a selection.

Hula Bula Bar
12 Victoria Ave
08 9225 4457,

This downstairs Tiki-themed bar is the one with the fascinating menu, and is hidden among the office buildings of the CBD’s eastern end.

It’s a riot of colour. The small front bar is jammed with wooden masks, bamboo, fake foliage, leopard print upholstery, and a long cabinet full of rum bottles and Tiki mugs.

On a Saturday evening it’s busy with cheerful groups of friends milling around the limited floor space, the occasional duo attempting a dance to the retro-themed music that's the soundscape to this celebration of kitsch.

The drinks menu, in small colourful flipbooks scattered around the venue, features a lot of rum-based cocktails. If you ask them nicely, the bar staff will serve them in grotesquely visaged Tiki mugs.

The Tiki style sprang from the impressions of US soldiers returning from South Pacific service in World War II, moulding islander traditions into an eccentric and entertaining thematic mish-mash. As the American military left behind the “cargo cult” in places such as Vanuatu, the islands gave the USA Tiki decor in return.

It’s so ludicrous that it seems absurd rather than culturally insensitive, an amusing relic from the past. That’s certainly the sense of my Don’s Zombie cocktail, following a 1934 recipe which blends four types of rum producing “a complex blend of sweet, sour and spice” ($22). It’s accompanied on the list by the novelties I mentioned earlier. You can always settle for the classic Mai Tai if the jolliness is getting hard to bear.

Though if you don’t have a sense of humour, there’s no point in visiting the Hula Bula. It keeps on (just) the right side of the line between theme and gimmick, and is infused with a palpable sense of fun about its over-the-top decor. Right down to the small rubber zombie figure bobbing around in my cocktail.

Wolf Lane
Wolf Lane (rear of 321 Murray St)
08 9322 4671,

This bar’s name derives from the alleyway it’s on, itself named after 19th century expat American architect William Wolfe. The bar is inside a big corner venue which suggests a former warehouse, with windows along both sides.

It’s been given a glamorous contemporary makeover, its scuffed timber floorboards supporting sharply geometrical white sofas and armchairs in white and green, and black circular stools. At one end, a clutch of seats are positioned by an open window, perfectly placed to catch a dose of the Fremantle Doctor, the city’s ever-reliable afternoon sea breeze off the Indian Ocean.

The flat-capped guy who serves me is pretty mellow at this quiet early end of the night, asking if I’d prefer a spicier version of the charcuterie board and chatting about my long journey from Sydney aboard the Indian Pacific, before recommending a glass of shiraz from the wine list.

The charcuterie selection (pictured above, $24) is great, a generous and tasty mix of meats, cheese and pickled vegetables; and this shiraz is coping nicely with the spice. As the sunlight slowly fades and the ceiling fans turn against the summer warmth, I’m chilling nicely.

Devilles Pad
3 Aberdeen Street
08 9225 6669,

Past two gyrating animated devils, the inner doors open onto what Austin Powers would call a “swinging shindig” - a packed, split-level space bathed in red light and dotted with crimson lamps held in braziers. There’s a cavern effect to the ceiling, with garish streamers dangling like stalactites.

A mish-mash of bar, restaurant and nightclub, Devilles has been styled as a classic Las Vegas showroom. It serves meals till 10pm, tables are scattered along the level above the dance floor, and go-go girls occasionally burst into motion on the stage (pictured above) between retro numbers such as My Boy Lollipop.

Cocktails are mainly reinvented classics such as the Satanique Sling ($18). More interestingly, Devilles has a variety of absinthe behind the bar. This also pops up in the Horny Devil ($18), an absinthe-based punch.

It could be cheesy - well it is - but it’s also enormous fun, a tongue-in-cheek retro space which looks like something from a Shag print. Inspired by its silliness, the crowd is a good-natured bunch. One women sees me making notes by red lamplight and asks if I’m a poet. “I love writers!” she gushes, before sweeping on.

It’s always nice to be appreciated. I’m smiling along with the positive vibe in the room, a mix of laidback good times and the energy generated by a mining boom; a strange invigorating blend that’s uniquely Perth.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.

The Unpublished is a series of travel articles which were written by me for other publications, but never published for random reasons. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished label below, then scroll down.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Lost in Hawaii

Last Monday, I joined a group of journalists for a movie locations tour of Oahu.

With us in the bus was Randy Spangler, veteran location scout who started in the business with the original Hawaii Five-O TV series. As you can imagine, he had plenty of stories about the TV shows and movies he'd worked for over the years.

As we headed up the east coast of the island, Randy pointed out various places that had been used for location shoots.

The most significant place was the Kualoa Ranch, a working farm which doubles as a popular tourist attraction with tours, and activities such as horseriding.

Numerous TV programs and films have been shot there, including such big guns as Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Lost. Some of the memorable locations have been marked for the benefit of visitors, such as this tree trunk behind which characters hid from velociraptors:

Driving on, we had lunch at the beachside restaurant at Turtle Bay Resort, on an attractive stretch of coastline near the northernmost tip of the island. And it was here we had a minor mishap.

The group was escorted on a couple of golf buggies into the furthermost reaches of the property, a jungle-like expanse where scenes from Lost and the recent Hunger Games sequel had been filmed.

However, a few days of rain had created unusually muddy ground, and as a result one buggy became stuck. You can see me carefully escaping through the mud in this pic taken by a colleague:

It turned out though, that our muddy halt had a silver lining. Taking charge, Randy led us on a trek to escape the jungle, via a nearby less muddy route.

This was fun. Here we were, lost in the area where they filmed Lost. Would we escape? Could this be turned into the basis of a hit reality TV series?

Actually, it was an easy walk. The first thing we saw was this beach, which Randy said had been used as a location in Hunger Games 2:

A Chinese colleague on the trip, Kylie, was equal to the task, getting into the Hunger Games spirit:

Turning inland, we encountered this amazing huge banyan tree, which had been used as a location in both Lost and Pirates of the Caribbean, among other productions:

Finally we reached in a gap in the fence and headed out to the highway, where the bus would pick us up:

And there we found this, a local fruit market which looked as if it had been plucked from the roadside of some Southeast Asian country:

It's a tribute to Hawaii's multicultural nature that I often found myself remarking on its striking diversity of peoples and influences as I travelled around; and how elements of Oahu would suddenly remind me of other places.

I guess it's a diversity which lends itself well to film and TV.

And, to tell the truth, it felt good to be Lost. Just for a bit.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Walking Honolulu

I arrived in Hawaii on Wednesday, a day or so ahead of a media tour of the island of Oahu. With time to kill the next day, and with the weather not too humid, I decided to walk from my hotel in the Waikiki area to the 'Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu.

According to Google Maps the route was only four kilometres (about 2.5 miles), though everyone I mentioned my walk to later sound amazed at the concept - Honolulu is one of those cities where everyone drives everywhere.

It was an interesting route, a cross-section of different ages and uses of the Hawaiian capital.

Starting from the clustered hotel area and marina you can see in the photo below, I crossed the Ala Wai Canal and walked the length of Ala Moana Park, a long stretch of green between the water and a busy road:

Google Maps then dog-legged me through twists and turns, until I saw this impressive building and realised I was on the edge of Kaka'ako, the industrial area which is gradually being transformed to residential:

And yes, that wall really is flat. It features the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, and the legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku.

Kaka'ako is peppered with street art of this kind, most as commissions for the annual Pow Wow Hawaii Festival which was on while I was visiting.

Walking along a stretch of Queen Street lacking sidewalks and lined with single-story automotive workshops, I dodged cars while seeking out murals. I even caught a few in the process of being painted:

Finally, crossing Cooke Street, I was propelled abruptly into another aspect of the city: Historic Honolulu.

I passed an early 19th century church, with fascinating graveyard attached; a Hawaiian king's tomb; and the very attractive Honolulu City Hall in the Spanish Colonial Revival style I'd previously associated with California:

Then I reached my goal: the 'Iolani Palace, built for King Kalakaua between 1879 and 1882 in a style uniquely known as American Florentine:

Only two monarchs ruled here. Just over a decade later, in 1893, Queen Lili'uokalani was overthrown in a coup; and Hawaii was annexed by the USA in 1898.

Nowadays it's a museum which can be visited on tours. Despite its demoted status, however, it remains the only former royal palace on US soil.

I liked this part of Honolulu, with its grand architecture and sense of "What if" history. It was an interesting contrast with the high-rise pleasure zone of Waikiki, and the grit of Kaka'ako.

Then I caught a bus back to my hotel, and had a Mai Tai.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

Friday, 7 February 2014

To Melbourne Airport the Cheap-Arse Way (2014 Update)

[NOTE: For the latest information, see my 2015 update to this blog post by clicking here]

It's time for another update to this blog's most popular post, how to get from the city centre to Melbourne Airport cheaply on regular public transport. 

Since the 2013 update some key factors have changed, including the airport bus stop location and elements of the ticketing system. So read on...

The cost of getting to and from airports throughout the Western world can be outrageously expensive, and Melbourne is not immune to this problem.

However... there is a way of getting to and from Melbourne Airport cheaply, though various vested interests would rather you didn't learn what I'm about to tell you.

So draw your chairs closer, lean in and discover how to save a tidy bit of cash.

For the cheap-arses among us, there is a much cheaper way into the city centre than the 20 minute $18 Skybus journey, though of course it takes longer (about 60 to 70 minutes, depending on connections).

This is how it works...

To Melbourne Airport

From any station in Melbourne's central business district, catch a train along the Craigieburn line and get out at Broadmeadows Station (timetable here).

Step straight out through the station building to the bus bay which is just to the right as you clear the building. Here you catch the 901 bus to Melbourne Airport, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

The bus terminates at a regular suburban bus stop at the airport. Though it was previously located in an inconvenient spot about 500 metres south of the international terminal, it's now been moved to a better location on Departure Drive just past Terminal 1, used by Qantas and Jetstar.

This has reversed the previous situation, whereby the bus was handy for Tigerair services from Terminal 4. The bus stop is now a 600 metre walk north of Terminal 4, though less of a walk for international flights (Terminal 2) and Virgin Australia flights (Terminal 3). It's obviously very handy for Qantas and Jetstar flights.

Why it isn't possible to have more than one bus stop in operation at the airport, god knows, but that's a discussion for another day.

From Melbourne Airport

You need a Myki smartcard to travel on Melbourne's public transport, and to get hold of one of these at the airport you have two choices.

The easiest option is to buy a card directly from the 901 bus driver, who can also add credit to the card. The card costs $6 to purchase, and on top of that a two-hour fare from the airport to the city centre (and onwards to anywhere in Melbourne within the time limit) is $6.06.

All buses should now be equipped for this transaction, but if you strike a bus where it isn't set up or the equipment isn't working, there's a second option.

You can instead buy a Myki Visitor Pack from the Skybus ticket booths at the airport. Skybus is the premium every-ten-minutes airport bus which heads to the city for $18, so this approach seems a little unintuitive.

However, you can get the pack from Skybus. The $14 purchase price includes the standard $6 purchase price for the card, plus $8 of travel credit on standard public transport (ie not Skybus itself). That's more than enough to get to the city centre on a regular bus, then travel onwards to anywhere in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

The visitor pack also includes discount vouchers to major Melbourne attractions and a decorative Myki card wallet, so that may add to the incentive to pick one up.

The regular bus stop is opposite Terminal 1. It's not right next to the terminal's kerb, but in one of the traffic islands further out - look for the orange-and-white sign. Here you board the 901 bus to Frankston, which leaves every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (timetable here).

"Touch on" the card (as the jargon goes) against a Myki reader on board, and take a seat.

When the bus reaches Broadmeadows Station, touch off the card, get out and walk into the station, touching on the card again. Take the underpass to Platform 1. From here a train will take you straight to the city centre (timetable here).


The Myki fare between the airport and city centre in either direction is $6.06, which is automatically subtracted from the card balance when you touch off along the route.

Note that this $6.06 is a two-hour fare covering both of Melbourne's fare zones, so it has the advantage of being able to be used on all public transport for the duration of the two hours. Hence you could transfer to another train, a bus or a tram when you reach the city centre.

On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays the Myki fare is capped at $6 for unlimited all-day travel across Melbourne, making the airport trip a few cents cheaper.

Give me credit

The catch is that you must buy a Myki card for that non-refundable $6 purchase price; though of course you’ll be able to keep using it during your stay in Melbourne, and retain it for use on any future visits.

To top up the card's credit, the easiest way is to step into any of the million or so 7-Eleven outlets in the city centre and ask the person behind the counter to do it.

If you're only sightseeing in the inner city, budget $7.16 per weekday (the capped daily fare for Zone 1) and $6 per weekend day or public holiday. If you like, the 7-Eleven staffer can alternatively add a pass to the card covering all Zone 1 travel over seven days for $35.80.

Going a-Broady

Another good thing about the 901+train option, is that it gets you straight into the "being in Melbourne" vibe – you can eavesdrop on some entertaining conversations on the train to/from Broady, which has a reputation for being one of Melbourne's tougher suburbs.

Don't let that put you off catching the train to/from Broadmeadows though, as it's a staffed station. Do exercise reasonable vigilance however, especially if travelling after dark.

Another catch is that the train+bus option isn't really suitable for people with large amounts of luggage; but if travelling with reasonably small and portable gear, go for it.

So happy flying - and enjoy the cheap ride to/from Melbourne Airport.