We hit the outskirts of Perth – four lane freeway, Nova FM, traffic and rain – it almost felt like we were home! The caravan park we stayed at had a huge duck pond with ducks, geese, birds and even a rabbit and a playground all across the road from us – much to the delight of Miss6.

After getting ourselves set up we took a drive to the beach to check out Hillary’s and possible ferry to Rottnest Island before we headed to the supermarket for some groceries and then some fuel – it was the first time since we’d left Melbourne we found fuel for under a dollar.

It felt like it had been go,go,go for a while now and we were all tired so I let us have a sleep in the next day before making a big batch of hot porridge for brekki – a treat (yes we love porridge) that we haven’t had the weather for in ages. We hopped in the car and took a drive to ‘Caravan Land’ and visited the Jayco Toyshop (and yes, it felt like a campers toy shop where you could easily stay and spend a fortune there!) for some new awning brackets and fridge knobs before it was off to Fremantle to check out the Prison where we hoped to do a Tunnels Tour beneath the prison grounds.

The tour was only open to people over 12 (Miss6 was more disappointed than we were at hearing this) so we did the ‘Doing Time’ tour. Our tour guide, Moira, was a very animated guide providing informative and funny commentary throughout the tour and the kids and I loved it. She took us through the prison and gave us a detailed history of it as a convict settlement first and then prison. The heritage listed buildings were eerily beautiful with a dark and interesting history.

It began to pour when we left and there was a huge double rainbow cutting across the dark grey sky above as we got to the front gate. We drove from there to the older couple home who we’d met at Lake Argyle and then again along the Gibb – they’d invited us over for a roast dinner. This was the first time in over three months that the three of us had stepped foot inside a house!

It was a lovely evening sharing stories about our adventures and we felt very grateful that we’d much such wonderful friends who welcomed us into their home for the night. We had to get up early the next morning to take my car into Toyota – apparently the weird smell I’d had Geraldton look at was an oil leak and rather than wait around a few days there for a part I’d booked it into Toyota in Perth for them to repair.

We dropped the car off and hopped onto a bus into the city and got off at Kings Park. The first playground we found was built with wood and other natural materials and included sculptures of local wildlife carved with a chainsaw into large logs. The kids were having a ball playing chasy through the tunnels and maze and up and over the logs and wobbly bridges. They were using the umbrellas as laser guns and I was reminded again how my ‘don’t ever buy kids guns’ theory doesn’t always have the effect you’d planned.

We walked a few kilometres further into the park and came across a nature play zone. It was a huge area that encouraged kids to get back to nature, get dirty and climb trees – we loved it! The kids walked along big logs over creeks, built cubbies with branches and swung from ropes and climbed trees. It would be great to see more of this type of play area without having to worry about people suing councils for minor injuries while getting out and active in nature.

We hopped on another bus and headed into the heart of the city where we checked out London Court (which felt a bit like going to meet Hagrid for some wizard shopping) and grabbed some lunch. We headed to Elizabeth Quay to wait for the ferry across to Perth South and the Zoo. While we waited I got a call from Toyota – it wasn’t just a seal that needed replacing, the leak was coming from a part that shouldn’t normally need replacing and as such, there were no new parts available in Australia and I’d have to wait 21 days for a part from Japan! I nearly had a heart attack at this news before quickly gathering my senses and thinking of my options (trade the car for a new one, leave it here to get repaired and hire another car to take me home and put my car on the train back to Melbourne, wait it out 21 days in Perth though we were due back in Melbourne in 18 days OR the preferred option – find a second hand part and get it fixed now). The guys at Toyota went on a hunt for the part second hand for me while I took the kids to the Zoo.

At the prospect of having to fork out a few thousand dollars to repair the car (more than I’ve ever spent on my trusty vehicle) I thought I’d ask the Zoo if they recognised a Zoos Victoria Membership through some sort of recipricol arrangement – turns out they do and I managed to save myself $60 in entry fees! The kids and I walked around the Asian and African displays (we didn’t have time for the whole Zoo and figured we’d seen a lot of the Australian wildlife first hand on this trip).

Miss6 absolutely loved the Elephants and was disappointed that we’d missed their feeding and drawing time but we were all pretty rapt that we were at the Lion enclosure just as the male lion stood up to stretch his legs and give us a roar. While we checked out the Orangutans Toyota called me back to say they’d found a part and could have my car finished by Thursday afternoon – an additional two days on our original stay in Perth but a lot better than 21 days. They were also happy to loan me a car for the next few days until mine was ready so we left the zoo and hopped back onto the ferry in time for the last bus to go past Toyota before they closed.

It felt a little weird (and nice) to be getting into a (new) clean RAV with nothing but us passengers and our belongings for the day, rather than being filled with half our worldly possessions and half the Gibb River road dust (or an accumulation of that and every other dirt road we’ve driven on). The next morning we all slept in again and obviously needed it as Master14 didn’t get up until 10.30! I put on a huge pot of potato and leak soup in the thermo pot, did a couple of loads of washing and then hopped in the car to take the kids to Mandurah for lunch and the afternoon.

While it was still chilly, the rain had held off and the sun was out so we managed to sit outside along the wharf to enjoy some lunch and milkshakes at one of the cafes. After lunch we had a wonder around and the kids window shopped at the indoor markets while I tried for a 30 minute massage – my back has been getting worse and giving me headaches so I wanted to keep those at bay until we get home. I was only a few minutes into the massage when Miss6 knocked on the door and came in – she helped the massuer by giving my calf muscles a good rub while my neck and shoulders got some attention. It wasn’t the best massage (they rarely are) and I realised that if there’s only one thing to look forward to when I get back to Melbourne, it’s a bloody good massage from Janine to fix my aches and pains!

After the massage we went to the playground, had a go on some of the outdoor gym equipment, walked along the little pier and back over the bridge before we took a scenic drive around town and headed back to Gwelup, enjoying some lovely sunset views as we drove along the coast. The phone rang at 8.30 the next morning – it was Toyota to say that my car was ready if I wanted to pick it up and head off for the journey home. If I’d known they were going to finish the car so early I wouldn’t have booked the Thursday night accommodation already and would’ve got up early to have everything packed up ready to leave.

I asked if I could pick the car up later in the afternoon and they were fine with that so the kids and I drove into the city and I took them to the Zoo again (since that was free and my repairs were costing me a small fortune, we’d ditched the idea of a ferry to Rottnest Island and opted for the Zoo again). This time we were there in time to feed the penguins, pat a snake, walk with a keeper through the primates area and be at the amphitheatre in plenty of time to watch the Elephants get fed and play some games.

The two female Elephants did some exercise, had their feet and mouth checked, drew some pictures with chalk and ate some hay while we got to watch and learn more about this gentle giant. We left the Zoo with a very happy couple of kids and headed back to Toyota for a car swap.

On the way back to the caravan park we decided to stop at Hillary’s again where we hoped that the Chocolataire shop didn’t have quite the queue it had on the weekend when we visited. We sat down and enjoyed some hot chocolates and hot churros with salted caramel sauce and strawberries as a late afternoon tea. We thought we’d go for a swim in the pool back at the caravan park but when we got back it was pouring so even the 30 degree temperature of the pool didn’t persuade us to go outdoors and instead we stayed in the van listening to the rain on the roof and hoping it would stop in time for us to pack up in the morning.

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