The Peel region has grown up and is now a play­ground for the en­tire fam­ily.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY BRAD ELBOROUGH

The Peel region has grown up and is now a play­ground for the en­tire fam­ily.

Iwas stand­ing on a spot that I had stood on many times be­fore, yet nothing looked fa­mil­iar. If I had been blind­folded when driven there, I would not have even known I was in Mandurah when it was un­veiled. The water that is the heart and soul of this coastal des­ti­na­tion was still there, but the fore­shore that sur­rounded it was so dif­fer­ent.

Mandurah was once dubbed ‘God’s wait­ing room’.

It’s where a lot of older peo­ple would re­tire to; West­ern Australia’s ver­sion of Florida. It was also an easy and af­ford­able get­away for my par­ents to or­gan­ise when

I was a kid. There wasn’t much to do there, so en­ter­tain­ing us meant let­ting us run around the car­a­van park we were stay­ing in.

How times have changed. From this spot, I could now see sev­eral new restau­rants, a new ma­rina that was home to a hotel and apart­ments and multi-mil­lion-dol­lar homes lin­ing a new sub­urb built on canals. Even the fore­shore it­self had re­ceived a sig­nif­i­cant facelift.

Mandurah has grown up and is still ma­tur­ing. There are still build­ing sites work­ing to­wards the fin­ished prod­uct. Peo­ple mov­ing there now are look­ing at start­ing new lives, not end­ing them. The fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture are be­ing devel­oped or planned to ac­com­mo­date them.

To think the For­rest High­way was devel­oped (and opened in 1990) to re­duce a road trip from Perth to West­ern Australia’s South-West by about 30 min­utes. While it brought Mar­garet River and Bus­sel­ton a lit­tle bit closer, the new road by­passes Mandurah and the Peel region.

Back then, would-be-tourists were not miss­ing out on much. But that was then. Over a three-month pe­riod, I managed to fit in three very dif­fer­ent vis­its to the new Mandurah and the Peel region that it be­longs to.

With the guys

The cat­a­lyst behind the boys’ week­end was a game of golf. A group of 20 of us, who have known each other since we were teenagers, now play golf in­fre­quently – and gen­er­ally badly. It’s a very so­cial af­fair, where hand­i­caps for most are a lack of abil­ity for the sport.

The Mandurah trip has re­cently be­come an an­nual event. The Peel region has some ter­rific golf cour­ses. We’ve played the Links course at Port Kennedy, where the guys who could man­age the wind com­ing off the ocean dom­i­nated.

Se­cret Har­bour Golf Course was designed by Gra­ham

Marsh, who must have been good at hit­ting out from small (yet of­ten deep) bunkers. I’m not.

This time, it was Meadow Springs. While the course was too good for me, it was still an en­joy­able day on the fair­ways… ok, in the rough. The course is spec­tac­u­lar. If I wasn’t play­ing golf I could have en­joyed the walk through the bush­lands and among the mas­sive trees that line the fair­ways. Some lo­cals were do­ing just that.

Next year, we’re plan­ning on tack­ling The Cut. It’s ranked number one in the state and among the top 25 cour­ses in the country. I’ll need a les­son or three be­fore I at­tempt that one though.

Our group took the op­por­tu­nity to get an early peek, al­beit from afar at the ad­ja­cent Pyra­mids Res­tau­rant; a full-ser­vice à la carte venue. The ac­com­mo­da­tion of­fer­ing has also changed a bit over the years. We stayed at the very mod­ern and com­fort­able Dol­phin Quay Apart­ment Hotel. Its two-bed­room apart­ments were per­fect; even more so for a longer stay. Down­stairs were a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent restau­rants, but the Oceanic Bar & Grill with a sim­ple, yet mostly classic menu, was pop­u­lar with our group.

I threw a cou­ple of brochures on the table show­ing ac­tiv­i­ties such as cy­cling the Munda Biddi Trail, ca­noe­ing the Mur­ray River and climb­ing high above the ground on a Tree Ad­ven­ture in Dwellingup. The next “golf” trip is going to be ex­tended by a day, or two.

With the kids

Mandurah is close enough to visit for a week­end, or for a day trip from Perth, even with kids in the back of the car.

This prox­im­ity al­lowed me to book a Mandurah Dol­phin Tours cruise around the canals. I’d par­tic­i­pated in one of these tours a year ear­lier, but this one was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. The pre­vi­ous tour ran dur­ing the day and was set up to show­case the beau­ti­ful homes that have been built along the Mandurah canals. I couldn’t help but imag­ine my­self sit­ting on nearly ev­ery back porch, look­ing out for the res­i­dent dol­phins and wav­ing at those us­ing the wa­ter­ways for leisure, or trans­port. And as many of the own­ers were over­seas on business or plea­sure any­way, would they re­ally mind if I did?

And I’d be hold­ing a glass of wine; one from a local award-win­ning cel­lar, of course.

This lat­est cruise, however, left at night. The kids were a bit wired be­cause we’d ar­rived in Mandurah early and had time to stop at Nino’s for a fish and chips din­ner. The Dol­phin Quay Ma­rina wasn’t there when I was a kid, al­though fish and chips on the fore­shore have al­ways been a pop­u­lar of­fer­ing.

Be­fore the cruise we paid a visit to the Peel Zoo and the Lake Clifton Throm­bo­lites. Vis­it­ing the lat­ter took us about 30 min­utes out of our way, but it was worth it

– and was fun lis­ten­ing to the kids trying to pro­nounce them. This de­tour not only let us stretch our legs for an hour or so, but pro­vided a look at the bizarre lime­stone-like struc­tures that are grow­ing in the water. These things are alive, which freaked the young­sters out a lit­tle. Be­cause of that, they were more in­ter­ested in view­ing them from the board­walk than from in the water.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have vis­ited Mandurah and ex­tended my vis­its into other ar­eas of the

Peel region. But the Zoo had never made it on to my itin­er­ary. I’m dis­ap­pointed it has taken so long. The Zoo is fam­ily owned and run. There were sev­eral kids run­ning around help­ing out. This isn’t a zoo in the vein of Perth Zoo. There are no ele­phants, rhino, li­ons, or the like. But you’ll find koalas, emus and kan­ga­roos. You can get close to some of them in the pet­ting area, or by tak­ing a stroll through the walk-in aviary.

The Tas­ma­nian devil ap­peared the most pop­u­lar. Most of the an­i­mals could be seen in the en­clo­sures, which was enough for the kids to give the venue a big tick.

They were a bit ner­vous when going to the toi­let though, as the res­i­dent pea­cocks were perched above the toi­let door, putting to test the ur­gency ‘to go’ of ev­ery­one in our party.

Back at the al fresco din­ing area at the Ma­rina, where our cruise was leav­ing from, the kids could just get a glimpse of the glow from the Christ­mas lights that were com­ing from the canals. That was the ma­jor rea­son for book­ing this cruise.

Each year, from early De­cem­ber, a cou­ple of cruise com­pa­nies run tours through the canals after dark to show­case the Christ­mas lights on dis­play. The local home own­ers go out of their way to light up their man­sion. It’s al­most like a com­pe­ti­tion. It’s cer­tainly a com­pe­ti­tion to get a spot on a boat, so make sure you book your seats early.

The cruise goes for just over an hour. Again, it was dif­fi­cult to fo­cus solely on the lights and blow-up San­tas. These houses looked a lot dif­fer­ent at night than they did when I was on the same tour dur­ing day­light. But they were no less im­pres­sive. It wasn’t hard to imag­ine my­self as the owner of each of the dwellings and the water toys parked out front of many of them.

With the wife

I was look­ing for some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for date night and the Hotham Val­ley Rail­way Res­tau­rant Train seemed to fit the bill. It runs from Dwellingup Sta­tion ev­ery Satur­day night. This is an ac­tual lo­co­mo­tive train, well main­tained, ser­viced and run by the lov­ing vol­un­teers. They also pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to ride trains on other days.

These vol­un­teers know their stuff. They know ev­ery­thing about the his­tory of Dwellingup and its tim­ber in­dus­try and about ev­ery wooden sleeper and spike lay­ing along the track. They also serve a five-course meal while you’re mov­ing.

Mandurah’s din­ing op­tions have grown sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years. There was a time when all you could get to sat­isfy your hunger was a pie, chicken from Red Rooster, or fish and chips.

Among those who have dis­cov­ered how live­able Mandurah is are chefs from Perth and in­ter­state. Now, there are venues such as Silk Thai and Warung Ade In­done­sian Res­tau­rant of­fer­ing in­ter­na­tional fare.

Seafood is still on the menu and Red­manna Water­front Res­tau­rant and Oys­ter Bar do it as well as any­one. Flics Kitchen, DPM Café and the well-known Mill­brook Win­ery, in Jar­rah­dale are also worth a try.

The menu on board the train is very dif­fer­ent to those; very traditional. We were served pump­kin soup, fish, roast beef, ap­ple pie and a cheese plate, fin­ished with tea or cof­fee.

As we drove back to Perth, join­ing cars on the free­way that were mak­ing use of the by­pass, we wished we were able to stay the night. •

Above, from top: Mandurah is Australia’s dol­phin cap­i­tal; The Cut is a must-play golf course for all golf en­thu­si­asts vis­it­ing Perth and the Mandurah area.

Open­ing im­age: The man­sions along the Mandurah canals light up at Christ­mas time, © Ste­wart Scott Clip Me­dia Motion. Above: The view from the Red­manna Water­front Res­tau­rant is as good as the food, © Red Manna Res­tau­rant.

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