PERTH – DAY TRIP TO ROTTNEST ISLAND

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Our fourth and last day in Perth we had taken advice from Trailfinders and pre-booked places on a day excursion to Rottnest Island.  At 7.25 am, the bus was on time and by 8.30 am we were glad to be in the queue to board the Rottnest Express.  The hour and a half boat journey passed quickly.  After such an early breakfast we were ready for a snack and were soon disembarking at the main jetty in Thomson Bay.

Thomson Bay Main Jetty Rottnest Island
Thomson Bay Main Jetty Rottnest Island

This fortuitously brought us to a variety of cafes, bars and shops with good quality offerings.  Keen to explore and not waste any time on the island, we chose a tasty take-away of freshly baked bread and home-made filling.  We ate perched on a low wall in the shade of an overhanging tree, at the same time taking the opportunity to gaze at the pedestrianized shopping and eating areas.

A popular way to get about is to hire a bike.  Cars are not allowed on the island.  There is a bus service but we decided to stretch our legs by taking the road to Thomson Bay North.  The path led us past single storey buildings, reminiscent of the holiday camp chalets on the Isle of Wight.  Cyclists wheeled by as we stopped to see what a small group of people were doing.  One lady had taken pity on a small animal we later learned was one of the unusual Quokka marsupials on Rottnest.  The summer had been unusually hot and dry and the Quokka looked very flea-bitten, certainly I would not have been so generous as to share my water bottle with him.  Quokka carry their young in a pouch, as wallabies, but I thought they looked more like large rats. We walked on.

Quokka

Quokka 

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I admired the aquamarine and blue sea on our right as we continued uphill.  Catching up with a group of walkers in front, we realised it was our Brazilian friend Haroldo with his cousins, whose company we had enjoyed during our evening dinner in the Dubai desert.  He turned, immediately recognising us.

‘Hello my friends!  How good to see you again.  This is our sister, you remember, the reason we travelled from Brazil, to be in Perth with her for New Year.’  We hugged, exchanged pleasantries and discovered we had all visited Kings Park the day before – New Year’s Day – taking advantage of the over 30 degrees centigrade temperature to meander about and make the most of the grassy areas in the sunshine.

‘You must come visit us in Brazil,’ said Haroldo.

‘Thank you, that would be great, but not sure when.  Meantime perhaps your next holiday could be a visit to us in England.’  Cards were exchanged and I’m sure we all were wondering whether we would meet again sometime.  We did seem to have an affinity as we walked together, admiring the seascape and rocky outcrops with natural vegetation.

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Arriving at a fork in the track towards the top of the hill, we left the Brazilians to continue to the Bathurst Lighthouse.  We returned towards the settlement, exploring the back streets with the Chapel, Museum and Library, and Salt Store dating back to the days when salt was used to trade in the mid 1800s.

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We passed the Dome café and continued by a well-kept lawn leading to the Hotel Rottnest.  Resting on a bench shaded by the spreading branches of a giant tree, the enticing aroma of plated lunches – carried by smartly dressed waiters – encouraged us to find a seat.  All the outside tables were busy so we sampled their white wine.  The wait was worthwhile – the chef knew his trade.  The burgers were perfectly cooked to our taste, delicately spiced with accompaniments. Our friendly efficient waitress kindly posed to show off her shirt.  Unfortunately we mislaid the paper serviette with her email details during our subsequent travels, so are sorry not to have sent her a copy.

Hotel Rottnest
Hotel Rottnest

‘That will keep us full until later this evening,’ said Paul.  ‘Delicious, that’s better,’ I replied.

Looking up the timetable for the Rottnest Island bus tour, we discovered many different activities are available.  Cycling, walking, camping, backpacking, bird-watching, swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, or lying in the sun on one of the sandy beaches, all are available on Rottnest.  The bus tour allowed time at a variety of viewpoints, including the Bathurst Lighthouse.  We thoroughly recommend you include at least one day on Rottnest Island when you visit Perth in Western Australia.

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PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA – Exploration and Settlement

View of Perth from Kings Park
View of Perth from Kings Park

Perth on the Western coast of Australia.  With no idea what to expect and time being limited, we had booked ourselves onto a coach tour of the city and surrounding area.  A furious ringing from the bedside table disturbed our sound sleep.  7.15 a.m. local time:  reception saying a coach driver and coach load of people were waiting.

‘No, no,’ I said in dreamlike state, ‘that’s tomorrow, Wednesday,’ replacing the phone.  Our brief return to the land of nod again was disturbed by shrill ringing.

‘The driver assures you it’s today, today is Wednesday.’  Oh, no!  ‘We aren’t ready.  Please send our apologies and ask the driver to continue without us.’

Forty-five minutes later we were climbing into a taxi outside the hotel.  The driver was as good as his word, delivering us to the cafeteria in Kings Park within twenty minutes.  Here we breakfasted on coffee and pastries, strolling to admire the views of Perth below, before uniting with the early-bird coach driver and his passengers.  An interesting history, including ancient trees and shrubs found only in the southern hemisphere, made us resolve to return another day and explore at our own more leisurely walking pace.

Perth from Kings Park
Perth from Kings Park

Between the Carey world-wide chauffeur service – whose welcoming driver had met us at the airport – the taxi and coach drivers, we learnt Perth’s history.  The coach stopped at St Martins Centre.  Located on the site of the first businessmen’s club of WA it was the inspiration for an unusual sculpture group.

FOOTSTEPS IN TIME  commemorates the 175th anniversary of Western Australia and recognises the involvement of businessmen in significant historical moments during Perth’s development.

1697 (back) and 1829 (front)
1697 – Dutch exploration, discovery, mapping, naming of the Swan River. 1829 – Anglo Celtic settlement of Swan River
Central figure - 1885-95 - The discovery of gold
Central figure – 1885-95 – The discovery of gold
1945-55 Post World War 2 European Immigration. 2004 The millennium man
1945-55 – Post World War 2 European Immigration. 2004 – The millennium man

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The coach arrived in Fremantle with time to appreciate some of its large collection of heritage listed buildings, before boarding a boat for our ride up the Swan River.

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The indigenous hunters and gatherers of South West Australia were aborigines of the Noongar tribe, who called the Swan River area, Boorloo.  A few years after the arrival of the first settlers in 1829, hostilities – including executions and massacres of the Noongar people – caused them to retreat from the area, moving to the swamps and lakes north of the river.

As we cruised up-river, I imagined the first Dutch explorers travelling along the river estuary in 1697 and their disappointment at finding the soil infertile limestone and sand, interspersed with large flat swamp-lands.  Black swans gave rise to the name ‘Swan River.’  Later explorations by the French and British in 1801 and 1822, found little change:  the land was infertile and unsuitable for settlement.

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In 1827 Captain James Stirling was searching for a settlement in Western Australia, to aid relatives in the British East India Company who were seeking to establish Indian Ocean trade.  In a positive frame of mind, Captain Stirling did not travel far enough upriver to see the mainly sandy soil around the estuary, reporting that the area would provide good quality agricultural land.  Lobbying for a free settlement, unlike the other penal settlements, the British Government was persuaded that such a colony would incur negligible cost, and permission was granted in 1828.

Paddle boat on the Swan River
Paddle boat on the Swan River

Today’s fertile green riverbanks and smart residences along the river estuary are vastly different to the raw emptiness that greeted the first fleet of settlers.  Having disembarked with their possessions in June 1829, they found that no land had been allocated or buildings constructed.  Captain Stirling’s Surveyor-General, Septimus Roe, demarcated the fertile locations close to the Swan and Canning Rivers and upstream, where the district of Guildford had the best quality soil and was settled in the first year of the colony.

The town sites of Perth, Fremantle and Guildford were laid out by Septimus Roe. Perth’s site with access to fresh water, river transport and building materials, was to be the administrative and military hub. Fremantle was the port city, with Guildford the loading point for agricultural produce.

Poor soil around Perth inhibited agricultural development, its slow expansion contributing to Perth becoming a penal colony in 1849.  Over the next sixteen years the large convict workforce – comprising over 9,000 convicts – brought expansion in the form of infrastructure and colonial inspired buildings.  Despite being proclaimed a City by Queen Victoria in 1856, Perth remained a garden city with scattered residences.

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In the last quarter of the 19th century, a telegraph line from Adelaide to Perth improved intercontinental communication and was followed eight years later by the first weekly newspaper, the Western Mail.  Impressive government offices were built and the railway line from Fremantle to Guildford was completed.

Fremantle Railway Station
Fremantle Railway Station

The location of the central Perth railway station, with railway lines acting as boundaries, created a vibrant central walking area.   Today this pedestrianized area is being enlarged and improved by the construction of underground tunnels to run trains beneath the city.  Residents and tourists will be able to reach all parts of the city on foot, without the hindrance of finding designated crossings or bridges to traverse the railway lines.   It was a fifteen minute detour from the Four Points Sheraton hotel, to reach a part of town containing excellent restaurants and promising New Year celebrations, so we thoroughly appreciate the improvement these changes will bring once completed.

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Perth 2014-15
New Years Eve Perth 2014/15
New Years Eve Perth 2014/15

Before joining in the musical celebrations to sing in the New Year, we found an outside table where we ‘whispered sweet nothings’ over an excellent dinner for two.  Thinking of the cold wind, and often rain, that heralds in our English New Year, we appreciated the deep warmth we were enjoying here in Perth.

Cheers!
Cheers!

We can luxuriate in a lie-in tomorrow, I’m sure nothing is booked (!) so we won’t have reception ringing our bell with a loud wake up call.

Our plan is to return to Kings Park for a leisurely day, before catching a boat to the unique Rottnest Island, the day after.  I hope you’ll join me for Part 2 of tales about Perth.