Sitting down for a virtual painting class of the state’s Bungle Bungles is an inspiring way to keep Western Australia on travel wishlists.
As I (and many others) have mentioned before during this strange pandemic period, virtual everything has become the norm – including me making a terrarium via an online session courtesy of the lovely people at Destination Canada, cooking along with a Sani Resort chef in Greece, and testing cyder with its maker, live from The Newt in Somerset.
But I think my latest session surpassed all previous online explorations – I made an actual painting. Of Western Australia’s Bungle Bungles. Even saying those words makes you feel instantly happier. And it was all part of a couple of hours of immersion in the state, to make sure the destination stays front of mind.
Me and the DPD (Amazon/Hermes/Royal Mail) people are good buddies these days, thanks to numerous of my own orders over the last year and deliveries from across the world of travel – but the latest box that was dropped off for me was especially exciting.
Inside, there were a couple of small paintbrushes, a set of acrylic paints, mixing palette, two blank canvases and even a beret – along with a little can of sparkling rosé. All carefully put together by Brush and Bubbles, a creative events business which puts on fun art classes – and has of course now flipped to offering these virtually.
Having unpacked the box, cleared some desk space, got some water handy and lots of kitchen roll, I logged on for the session, which was hosted by Western Australia with a romp around the state to see what was new in the world of luxury, eco and experiential travel.
Since the launch of Qantas’ direct flight to Perth in 2018, the UK has been tracking as the biggest international segment for the state, both in numbers and spend, so tourism will no doubt have been missing us for over a year now. Of course, domestic travel is ticking along nicely, a Tasman bubble is on the way, and the country’s tourism sector continues to innovate.
Big news for the state capital is the opening of the spectacular new WA Museum Boola Bardip, which launched as part of the Perth Cultural Centre in November.
The A$400 million project is designed to be a gateway to understanding and exploring the state using hi-tech and innovative display methods, and woven throughout the museum are the stories and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The new museum is four times bigger than the previous WA Museum, and the project includes the restoration of heritage buildings, alongside striking new buildings and museum content such as a much-loved 24-metre blue whale skeleton. With the opening of the new museum and the new rooftop at The Art Gallery, the Perth Cultural precinct is established as the focal point for the arts in the city.
The state has been experiencing a decade-long “room boom”, with 49 new or redeveloped hotels having opened in and around Perth since 2012 across the spectrum, including at the luxury end, the Ritz-Carlton, which opened just before the pandemic.
Further afield for something more low-key and unique with a historic twist, try Warders Freemantle, a conversion of limestone cottages formerly home to prison warders that opened in November next to the Freemantle Markets.
Beautiful little Rottnest Island – a place where I saw the island’s famous quokkas and plenty of other wildlife along with flour-white beaches – now has its first boutique luxury accommodation offering, Samphire Rottnest. Named after the native samphire plants found on the island, there are 80 rooms set within the natural habitat of the A Class Reserve on Thomson Bay.
In the Coral Coast region, there’s a new marine safari to try, seen as a first for the state. West Aussie Adventures is responsible for the new all-inclusive Fly-in Fly-out North West Big 5 Marine Eco Safari, an 11-day small group tour with flights and private airline charters included.
The itinerary features encounters with Monkey Mia’s famed dolphins in Shark Bay, exploring Unesco World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth, hiking through gorges and waterholes of Karijini National Park, and the ultimate glamping experience at Eco Beach Resort in Broome.
While it might not be possible for Brits this year, given Australia’s borders remain closed to us for now, other nautical news includes Scenic Eclipse’s first summer season in the Kimberley, one of the world’s last wilderness areas.
Stunning and remote, it’s mainly visited by small and expedition ships and Scenic Eclipse’s new programme features two 11-day Kimberley Discovery Voyages operating between Darwin and Broome, with departures from June 19 to August 8, 2021.
If clients can hang on a while, a new project at Ningaloo Lighthouse designed by Kerry Hill Architects is expected to complete in 2023; this A$85 million eco-focused resort will be able to accommodate up to 550 guests across a mix of eco tents, villas, hotel rooms and caravan sites.
Still on the eco-luxury theme, Sal Salis, on the shores of Ningaloo Reef in the Cape Range national park, is fresh from an upgrade and additions to the wilderness camp include a new lodge area featuring local art, while new luxury vehicles and golf buggies ferry guests around and from one of 15 wilderness tents.
And in the Margaret River region, Marriott International is planning the first five-star resort for the popular wine-tasting region. Due to open in 2023, the 120-room Westin Margaret River Resort & Spa will be on the southern headland of Gnarabup Beach with views over the Indian Ocean.
In the mean time, new eco-friendly accommodation offerings in the area include Barn Hives in Yallingup, architecturally designed, self-sustainable luxury eco-pods next to Barnyard 1978 restaurant. Petit Eco Cabin is a one-off, architecturally-designed timber cabin in woodland overlooking the organic vineyards of Windows Estate winery, while Margaret River Heartland – a fourth-generation farm in the heart of the region – is now offering ‘off-the-grid’ accommodation in a weatherboard cottage or ‘glampavan’.
It’s also now possible to gain easier access to the incredible Abrolhos Islands, a chain of 122 Indian Ocean islands and associated coral reefs.
Since being established as a national park in 2019, the islands have received A$10 million funding to support sustainable tourism development, including significant infrastructure improvements. Accessing one of the state’s most unique marine environments, located 60-kilometres off the coast of Geraldton, will soon be made easier thanks to the construction of two new jetties at East Wallabi and Beacon Islands, which are expected to be completed this year.
In addition, Abrolhos Adventures – operating from Geraldton – has introduced a new vessel to its fleet. Offering all-inclusive sightseeing day tours to the Abrolhos Islands, the new vessel reaches the islands in 80 minutes, as opposed to previous 2.5-hours on other vessels.
Speaking of the state’s natural wonders - it’s amazing to think an enormous geological feature could lay undiscovered by the mainstream until 1983, but such was the case with the Bungle Bungles.
Already known to Aboriginal locals for thousands of years, the beehive-striped Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu national park has become now one of the state’s most iconic natural must-dos.
And from studying images of it and following the tutorial during the session, it was easy to imagine how it must feel to be in its magical presence (even if my painting doesn’t quite do it justice, pictured above).
It’s also worth remembering that if Western Australia was a country, it would be in the world’s top 10 for size, yet with a population of just 2.5 million. So if the trends are correct, and people will seek to steer clear of the masses in beautifully natural locations, then this state could well end up painting a very positive picture for your clients.