Discoveries Down Under Part 1 – Perth And Rottnest Island WA
Brian and I were beyond excited with our three weeks planned trip to Australia, not only because it was a dream trip for us, but also because we were about to reconnect with Brian’s long lost Scottish relatives on a three weeks trip that would take us to Perth, Brisbane, Caloundra, Hamilton Island, Airlie Beach and finally to Sydney.
Bleary eyed after a long flight from London to Perth via Dubai with Qantas Airways, we landed in Perth at an unsociable 2 am local time and we were delighted to come out of arrivals straight into the welcoming arms of lovely Yvonne, who kept herself awake with copious amounts of strong coffee to greet us so warmly on our very first trip Down Under….Welcome to Australia!!!
We were in Perth from Saturday 4th of February to Thursday 9th 2017 staying at Brian’s cousin’s spacious modern house in the lovely neighbourhood of Mullaloo, only a few metres from a beautiful white sandy beach which we took full advantage of during our stay, enjoying some nice long walks along the sea front, watching the kite surfers make the most of Perth’s reputation of being one of the windiest cities in Australia. On our first full day in WA we felt like waking up from hibernation, since the dark and damp British winter had taken its toll on us and we were in desperate need of light.
We were surprised to see so many kids on a Sunday morning having group swimming lessons or leaning to be sea rescuers. The local beach was a lively hub of activities and looked like all the kids were having so much fun. It dawned on us how different their lifestyle is with the great sunny weather they are able to make the most of the many outdoor activities available.
During the next few days our hosts gave us a taste of life in Western Australia, we met their 2 daughters, Lexie and Maddie and got to hang out with them and catch a glimpse of their routines and every day lives. John even cooked us our very first Aussie barbecue.
Australia is full of amazing wild life and although part of me knew that our cousins would not have a kangaroo or two living in their back garden, or that we would not see them skipping down a back street in the Perth suburbs, I still did keep my eyes peeled just in case and in the hope that one would see the bouncy little creatures around the next bend on the road. To rescue the situation and placate our disappointment, John come up with the goods. He took us to the peacefully green nearby Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park, and there among memorial plaques and flowers we found these interesting Marsupials hanging out in groups and carrying their babies inside their front pouches. There were whole families of ‘roos of all sizes and shapes . I am not sure what it is about these implausibly bouncy creatures that makes me giddy with joy, but I think they are just such cool animals. They did not seem to mind us being there and taking photos, as long as we did not get too close.
Seeing a cuddly Koala was also top of my list, but again an elusive little creature that is difficult to spot in the wild, according to the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) these cute Marsupials (they also carry their young in a pouch) are in danger of becoming extinct, since their natural habitat has been destroyed in many areas of Australia. Therefore John and Yvonne took us to Yanchep National Park, 50 Km North of Perth for a chance to see these iconic Australian cuties. Koalas only eat Eucalyptus leaves and they sleep between 18 to 20 hours per day, since this type of diet requires a lot of energy for digestion. Yanchep has had a colony of Koalas since 1938. The park has many walking trails, but we headed straight to the raised Koala boardwalk and we spotted the cuddly creatures sleeping amongst the branches of the Eucalyptus trees. A sight to behold!
When we first spotted this little fella it was sound asleep, but we could not believe our luck when he woke up and started slowly and gently climbing down from the tree branches in search of his breakfast. It did not care about us there staring at him mesmerised.
Chasing Koalas and walking bush-land trails can get very exhausting. We stopped for tea and scones at the charming tea house overlooking the lake, listening out for the noisy birds and watching them flying around us. We kept looking out for Kangaroos which can be seen here in abundance, but they often avoid the hot midday sun and prefer to come out early or late in the day.
One of the highlights of our trip to WA was our day trip to Rottnest Island, “Rotto” as the local’s call it and a chance to meet another of their endemic wildlife. The Quokka is the only mammal which is native to “Rotto”, belonging to the Wallabies and Kangaroos family, it has black eyes and nose with the cutest little round ears. There is a population of 10,000 to 12,000 living in Rottnest Island, although they are mostly nocturnal animal’s we spotted plenty during the day we visited.
We caught the early 7:30 am ferry from Hilary’s Harbour, just a few minutes down the road from Yvonne and John’s house on a fresh and sunny Monday morning. The journey takes about 45 minutes and we were lucky to have pleasant and calm seas. It was lovely that their teenage daughter Lexie managed to come with us. Our party of five arrived at the Island Harbour and made a beeline for the coffee shop, where it did not take very long for a curious Quokka to start sniffing around looking for some crumbs of food.
Very few people live in the Island, since it is a nature reserve. Although accommodation is limited and there is high demand there are a range of holiday chalets, cottages and hotels or more basic accommodation such as small bungalows, cabins and dormitories, I believe prices take a hike in the high season and due to limited availability booking ahead would be necessary. The Island is mostly car free, most people get around by bicycle, by foot or making use of the hop-on-hop-off explorer bus service that stops at many off the unique bays, beaches and coves around the Island.
We bought a day ticket (which comes with an Island map) for the hop-on-hop-off bus from the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre soon after arriving in the Island and we did not have to wait long for a very friendly driver to welcome us into the bus and drive us to our first stop at Little Salmon Bay. The bus circumnavigates the Island, with about 19 stops to explore. Little Salmon Bay is a great place for snorkelling and very safe to swim, we managed to see pretty coral, shoals of small fish and some larger fish in the shallow and crystal clear waters of this secluded bay. The water was on the cool side, but we lucked out again with a sunny and warm day.
Next we stopped at West End, the wild and windy side of Rottnest with beautiful views of the turquoise water. From bus stop 11 it is about a 5 minutes walk to Cape Vlamingh, with some dramatic cliffs and rock formations, a viewing platform. and a board walk from where you can spot wildlife such as lizards, seals, humpback whales, and dolphins (we did spot dolphins, wohoo!).
Parakeet Bay was another great spot for snorkelling although we mostly relaxed and enjoyed the warm sun lying on the white sandy beach, too lazy to move or do anything more energetic than applying the sun-cream, although John did venture out to sea for a spot of snorkelling.
We finished the day at the main Island settlement for a bite to eat and refreshments, again the wild life around us were a great source of amusement as we watched a fight between a peacock and a Quokka for scraps of food. Feeding them is not allowed, but they walk around unfazed by the tourists and grab food at every opportunity.
Perth Central Business District and Elizabeth Quay
From John and Yvonne’s house in the suburb of Mullaloo it was just a 20 to 30 minutes drive into the centre of Perth’s business district and Elizabeth Quay via a main highway. Perth is the capital of Western Australia, set on the banks of the Swan River, and it is known as the sunniest state capital averaging 3, 000 hours of sunshine per year. We got a birds eye view of its skyline from the 6th floor of the Bell Tower located at Elizabeth Quay. The tower was custom built to house the historically significant bell’s of Saint Martin which date back to the 14th Century, one of the largest musical instruments in the world. The 360 degree view from its open air observation deck offers a great way of getting your bearings of Perth’s CBD area, the Swan River and King’s Park in the distance.
There is a lot of new leisure development and construction work going own in this area, the harbour area is looking modern, with lots to do, great places to eat and hang out.
Kings Park and Botanic Gardens
Another must visit when in Perth is the Botanical Gardens at King’s Park offering great views over Perth’s city centre and the Swan River. The park also offers some great trails on its more than 400 hectares of botanical gardens and wild bush-land on Mount Eliza. It is one of the largest inner city parks in the world, and we enjoyed going for a stroll over the tree top boardwalk among the gum trees and trying to spot the unique wild life. There is also a State War Memorial here dedicated to service men and women who died in World War I and WWII. Mount Eliza was known as Mooro Katta and Kaarta Gar-up by the Aboriginal tribes who inhabited this area long before the European settlers.
A major Australian port city and the gateway into Australia for many of the early European settlers, it has great significance to Yvonne and her family, since it was here that they first arrived after a long sea voyage from Scotland to Australia in the early 1960’s. We parked by the WA Maritime Museum at Victoria Quay to visit the “Welcome Wall” , it features over 400 panels commemorating the names of migrants who arrived by sea to begin a new life in Australia.
The Wright family spent about 6 weeks aboard the Fairsea to finally arrive in Fremantle. Yvonne tells us that it was a difficult journey for her, her mother Rita, father Alec, her older sister Carol and younger brother Bill. After arriving in Fremantle they eventually settled in Geelong near Melbourne where her father found work at Ford. Yvonne returned to Perth many years later after meeting John. They both decided that a new life in Western Australia was the perfect start to their life together as a couple. Her older sister Carol also left Geelong to pursue a new life in Queensland, she settled in Caloundra, near Brisbane (we later had the pleasure of staying at her lovely home and get to know her, her son and one of her granddaughters). Younger brother Bill got married and started a family of his own, he lives in Melbourne (unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit Melbourne and meet Bill and his family, something we would love to do in a future visit to Australia).
Fremantle is a great port city, buzzing with street life, trendy cafes and bars, in many ways it reminded us of the UK, with it’s Victorian architecture and old England charm. We stopped for coffee and a quick bite to eat in the town centre. Before heading home we stopped at one of Australia’s first craft brewery, inside the Sail and Anchor pub set on the water front at Fishing Port Harbour. Apparently it was in the year 2000 that “Little Creatures” started brewing here in a old warehouse, that used to be a crocodile farm and the Australian craft beer was born.
Little Creatures brews a variety of award winning craft beers and ales on site and also serves some good pub grub, we are told the beer garden is one of the top 10 in Australia, but we choose a cosy corner upstairs with port views instead.
Sadly our Western Australia adventure was coming to an end, it totally exceeded our expectations, both in the beauty of these area and the warmth of its people. Our Aussie cousins could not have been more welcoming and generous, to meet and hang out with them was a highlight of our trip Down Under.
Thank you Yvonne, John, Lexie and Maddie for making our stay so memorable, we hope to meet up again in the very near future.
The next leg of our journey will take us to Queensland, where we stayed with cousin Carol in the pretty coastal town of Caloundra. We were delighted that Yvonne was also coming with us and the three of us flew together with Qantas Airline to Brisbane. We used the Qantas “Walkabout pass” for all our Australian internal flights, something that worked well for us both financially and practically. Stay tuned for my next blog post.
Have you been to Western Australia? What is your take on it?