Viva la Vida: Rottnest Island and Perth

Saturday 8th February
My first impressions of Perth had been favourable as it seemed that the CBD was quite a small compared to Sydney and Melbourne which meant that everything was within walking distance. Despite the relatively small size it still seemed to be fairly lively. Before I could explore properly however I had to do my usual post tour chores.

I woke up early to make sure I could use the washing machine and realised that two of the white shirts will be forever dusty coloured as will a pair of shorts. As usual the time slipped by and I still hasn’t sorted half of what I had planned by the time I headed out to get a early dinner having skipped lunch.

I found a South East Asia restaurant which had a deal for one more minute so quickly got my order in. It seemed busy with people from that continent so I figured it would be ok and despite the low cost it turned out to be a good sized tasty meal. I went back to the hostel and sorted a few more things before heading back out to watch the Liverpool vs Arsenal match with Quentin.

We headed to a sports bar that we’d seen on the Friday night. They had a programme featuring an interview between Patrick Vierra and Roy Keane which would have been interesting to hear but they had loud club music on instead. We had a quick game of pool and like in Noosa the end of the Que was a mess. I’d started off strong but Quentin fought back and both of us wasted an opportunity to win before I was left with an easy pot to continue my undefeated record.

The music continued during the game and whilst the bar became busier we’d been there early enough to get some seats. In my head I was thinking it was going to be a slow game but it was anything but. Liverpool scored from a corner inside 2 minutes and then Arsenal should have equalised. The miss proved costly because in the space of 10 crazy minutes Liverpool scored 3 more. Each goal was met by delight from Quentin and the other Liverpool fans in the bar, if there were any Arsenal fans they were doing a good job at not showing it. The match ended 5.1 and It had been my first live match in 3 months.

I woke up in the middle of the night and saw Watford were leading Leicester 2.1. The match should have been over but I kept hitting refresh and just as I had that hope maybe we had held on the score suddenly changed to 2.2. At the same moment i got a message from my dad. Thankfully I’m having a good time over here which makes me feel detached from the football and all philosophical. I sighed turned on my side, went back to sleep.

Sunday 9th February
When I’d decided I was going to Australia one of my priorities was to see the Quokkas on Rottnest Island as I’d seen an article describing them as the world’s happiest animal as a result of their cute faces. Quokkas are effectively miniature kangaroos, even smaller than Wallabies but bigger than a rat. Originally when the Dutch first discovered the island they were mistaken for rats and that is why it was given the name “Rat-nest Island”. Rottnest was also part of the mainland until about 6500 years ago when rising sea levels caused it to become detached.

I arrived at Barrack Street jetty and met up with Sandrine. We had different plans of things to do on the island but it was still great to spend time with a familiar face on the crossing which was quite long. The journey to Rottnest also effectively included a cruise up to Fremantle and on the way we were given a commentary. We passed a few landmarks including Kings Park and a number of houses belonging to millionaires. We arrived in Fremantle to pick up more passengers and my first impressions of the port weren’t what I expected as there were lots of big tankers and it looked a bit more industrial than I had expected.

We arrived on Rottnest and Sandrine and i temporarily went our separate way. As I mentioned in an earlier blog my intention had been to cycle around the island however instead I’d booked a small bus tour and planned to spend the rest time doing the various walks. As is my way I wasn’t planning on taking it easy and as I only had a day my intention was to squeeze in a lot in the short space of time available.

The bus was slightly late leaving and we started by driving past Settlement train station and the railway which goes to the gunnery on Oliver Hill before driving up to the Kingston Barracks. We then headed to the coast where we passed the Shark ship wreck and Porpoise Bay before stopping in Parker point loop?. We carried on towards the ??? Lighthouse and on the way passed Little Salmon Bay where a reef stops big waves and encourages tropical fish making it popular with snorkeling.

Before we reached the lighthouse we saw a Sea Eagle sitting on a nest on a rock just off the coast before also seeing our first Quokka sitting under a tree. The guide tried to assure us we’d see others in the town but I didn’t want to take any chances and wanted to see them in the wild. When we stopped to get a picture I was surprised that i was one off the few that got off. It was slightly larger than I had expected, perhaps the size of a baby wallaby and it didn’t seem to be overwhelmed by people taking photos.

We arrived at Wadjemup Lighthouse which was built in 1896 and rotates every 7.5 seconds. It was a clear day and from the hill it was just about possible to see the Gun on Oliver Hill which if fired could reach the WACA cricket ground. Rottnest Island is 7.3 sq miles and the hill gave a good perspective of its size. There was another Quokka under a tree which surprised the guide because apparently they didn’t normally go to that area and he’d have expected to see snakes instead.

We carried on to the West End crossing Narrow neck, the narrowest point of the island in the process and passing Rocky bay where there was a memorial to Roland Smith. We also saw a number of trees growing sideways because of the strong winds and because they were trying to escape the salt water of the sea. Finally we passed the site of the shipwreck of the Kiya Marue which sunk in 1984 carrying tuna which was apparently popular with the local dolphins.

We eventually arrived at Cape Viamingh in the west end. It was a very nice location and the water was various different shades of blue and turquoise but I have to admit it’s starting to become difficult to find different ways to describe the various coastal rock formations. I don’t at all mean to down play the view it’s just however unfortunately there wasn’t any wildlife e.g lizards, birds or dolphins to add to the scene.

Next we headed up the North Coast on our way back to the information centre where we passed more bays and a salt lake. Salt mining was one of the first industries on the island and the salt mining process has apparently made the salt lakes saltier than the sea.

We arrived back at the information centre and after getting a pie from the bakery I went for a quick walk to the Vlamingh Lookout. I think i had expected to see the islands unspoiled scenery so i found the lookout slightly underwhelming as it really only provided a view of the salt lake below. I more by chance stumbled upon the Aboriginal burial ground (previously a campsite) though for cultural reasons all the graves appear unmarked so only the families know where to pay their respects to individuals. I then made my way back to the information centre and waited to join one of the free tours to learn about the history of the islands settlement.

The walk was quite interesting and was quite moving. A number of times in New Zealand and Australia I’ve felt rather ashamed to be from the UK and to hear of the way early settlers just abused the local population. Here it was no different, Aboriginals from all across Australia were imprisoned on Rottnest and put in small cells many of them dying due to the relative cold of the island compared to areas they usually inhabited. We also visited the oldest intact street scape in Australia still in regular use, the oldest building on the island, Buckingham Palace (Lomas Cottage) and the boat shed which contained a replica of the original pilot ship and the original small dinghy boat.

I still had a bit of time to spare so I decided to do a walk around the salt lake as the guide told me that would be an almost guaranteed place to see Quokkas in their natural habitat. There had been a tour to this area but I was lucky that they had gone so I had the area to myself. I did the whole loop without seeing anything despite looking in shrubs and I was beginning to give up when I turned around and saw two in the distance that I had initially mistook for a tree stump. Filled with a bit more confidence I perhaps became a bit more observant and realised there was one that was about a foot away. I managed to get the pictures I had hoped to before I tried to move to a  new position and I accidentally startled it which meant it hopped away kangaroo style over my foot and in to the bushes. I don’t seem to be scared of the Quokkas so I don’t know how they were mistaken for rats which I do have a phobia of.

I made my way back to the town and brought an ice cream at Simmos the same chain I’d been to a few days before and sampled some of the other flavours I’d missed out on including a berry yogurt and a boysenberry flavour. It started melting on my way back to the jetty and I had to eat it quickly before I met up with Sandrine and we caught the ferry back to Perth.

We had all arranged to meet up with Steffi for her birthday and once we had docked we phoned up to find out the plans. Steffi, Gaby and Patricia were in Kings Park but by the time Sandrine and I were ready they were leaving to spend the evening at the YHA bar. Eventually we all met up and after singing birthday to Steffi chilled out as a group for one final time. Quentin, Marco and Gaby had hired a car to travel the west coast up to Exmouth and convinced Steffi to do join them. Eventually it was time to say goodbye again and as quite a few of us would be on the West Coast over the following week we said we’d keep in contact in the hope we’d pass each other.

Monday 10th February
My plan for the day was to explore Perth and if I had time to also make the 30 minute train journey to Fremantle. I also wanted to take my disposable camera to be developed and to buy more suncream.

After getting the chores out of the way I made my way to the Western Australian Art Museum as I had seen in my Lonely Planet guide there was a free walking tour around the Indigenous Art Gallery. It was very interesting to see the different styles of art and to hear the reasons behind them. One in particular was “Greetings from Rottnest” which showed all the happy tourists above ground and the buried Aboriginals under the ground and forgotten. It felt particularly relevant after my day on Rottnest the day before.

Next i headed across the road to the Western Australian Museum. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the level of information on display at museums and that is why I try to join the free tours but there weren’t any available here. I didn’t want to spend to long at the museum, i really just wanted to check out a few of the key exhibits and as a few of the rooms were closed I was told it would take about an hour.

I could have spent longer if I’d read all the displays but I took in just enough to appreciate what I was seeing. This included a display on meteorite remains from those that have have fallen over Western Australia over the past 30 years. I have to admit it surprised me that some had crashed in to the earth in my lifetime and some of the craters shown in the photographs looked quite large. I also saw a mummified skeleton of the Tylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) which is now believed to be extinct.

The main display I went to was on the Aboriginal population and again it was interesting to know more about past treatments, misguided historic attempts to resolve tensions between the two different cultures and more recent attempts at reconciliation. Some of the stats seemed quite horrific one of which was that Aboriginals have a life expectancy 20 years younger than white Australians. I hope that the country can find a solution that works for both groups but I am sure there is no quick fix.

Leaving the museum I headed back to collect my photographs some of which I was happy with but I couldn’t help but feel it may have just been more economical to get a digital underwater camera. I then made my way to the bus stop so that I could catch the free bus to Kings Park, the location of the cities Botanical Gardens. The journey was quicker than I expected and after having a snack I waited at the visitor centre for one of the free walks around the botanical garden.

The guide was very informative and we saw lots of different species and I appreciated it more than I would have done if I’d wondered around aimlessly not being sure what I was looking at but unfortunately most of the facts have still been forgotten. I remember we saw different Banska?? Trees, and a type of Gum tree which had once been mistaken for a type of Eucalyptus tree. We also did the walk way which took us through the canopy but it was much lower and smaller than the Valley of the Giants. It was quite impressive how they had managed to grow such a wide variety of trees, shrubs and plants, some endangered, in such a compact area especially as some of these are clearly struggling in their natural environments.

I had a bit of time to wonder around by myself and I went to the lookout where there was a nice view of the city below. I decided that as it was getting towards late afternoon I’d head over to Fremantle to treat myself to a few beers at a microbrewery. After wondering down the main road and seeing a number of plaques commemorating the planting of the trees in 1929 to celebrate the states centenary I reached the bus stop and luckily didn’t have to wait that long. I arrived back in the city walked up to the station where again I was lucky and didn’t have to wait long for a train to Fremantle.

I had planned to look at the view but the start of the journey was a bit like the outskirts of London Euston and I suppose that’s what should be expected of a line from the suburbs in to a main city. Instead I did what I do best on a train and inadvertently fell asleep – luckily Fremantle was the end of the line so there was no risk of me ending up back in Adelaide.

I arrived in “Freo” and made it to the visitor centre as they were closing up however the lady kindly still gave me a few tips of what historical sites to look out for as the maps I had picked up were to overwhelming. I made my way back through the town and headed towards the Roundhouse. This was a prison, the first permanent building in the Swan River Colony and it is the oldest building in Western Australia. There was also a hole dug in the cliff by whalers to give them access to the beach as well as a statue to commemorate Bon Scott from ACDC.

I carried on along the harbour and walked passed one fish and chip restaurant claiming to have been voted number one and another called Cicerellos Which claimed to be ‘still the best in Western Australia’. I eventually found the ‘Little Creatures’ microbrewery and sat outside with a refreshing pale ale whilst I tried to figure out what I wanted to eat. Little Creatures did a pizza but I was at the harbour and the fish and chip restaurants had planted a seed in my brain/stomach.

Eventually due to ridiculously slow service my decision was made and after finishing my drink I left for fish and chips. I didn’t go to both restaurants so I can’t compare which was telling the truth but I was happy enough with my choice. Once I was done I meandered back to the station where luckily a train was just about to leave.

I have one more night in Perth before going to Darwin and if I have time I might go back to Kings Park as I’ve been told it is nice to see the city lit up but during the past 3 days I felt I’d done everything I wanted and I’d certainly got a good flavour of the city. Perhaps for some it would have been nice to have spent longer and not been in such

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