Week in Western Australia

What a week! My third visit to Australia is over and done with. This one went by really quickly, just six days. This was by far my shortest visit yet to Australia. While a six-day visit from Colorado wouldn’t be worth it because of how expensive it is to get there and how long it takes to get there, a six-day visit from Singapore is worth it. Here’s a rundown of some of what I did and saw in W.A. (Sometime after I leave Diego Garcia I’ll post full photo albums on Facebook.)

Mon 17 Oct: South Perth
After my arrival in Perth and getting a chance to wash up and whatnot, Bob & I grilled some steaks at a park along the Swan River in South Perth. The river nicely reflected the city lights of the Perth CBD. I also made the discovery that jet lag + very little sleep in the previous 72 hours + about half a bottle of wine = EARLY bedtime. It felt so good to sleep though!


I’d also just like to say how much I prefer Qantas to United or almost any American-based airline, especially for longer flights. On my flights between Singapore & Perth, every seat had its own monitor and media controller, so I watched two movies instead of sleeping. The food is also actually decent on Qantas. As an added bonus, Qantas serves ice cream after dinner, too! So there are more reasons why Qantas is my favorite airline, beyond the fact that it usually means I’m flying to/from/within Australia. 🙂

Tue 18 Oct: Fremantle
On the 18th Bob & I drove down to Fremantle, a vital port city at the mouth of the Swan River (Perth is 20 km upriver). We went to the Western Australia Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum has a 1960s-era submarine on display, the HMAS Ovens, and we got a tour through it from a former submarine sailor with the Royal Australian Navy. That was pretty neat, and my first time ever in a submarine. The Maritime Museum also had a host of other ships on display too, including the Australia II which won the America’s Cup in 1983, and a boat on which some guy made three consecutive world circumnavigations (one westward, two eastward).


Bob went back to Perth to go to work, but I stuck around in Fremantle for lunch at a brewery called Little Creatures (selling shirts that said “Drink a Little,” haha). This is where I was once again reminded just how expensive eating out is in Australia. My pint cost A$10, and my pizza (intended for one person) was A$21 (A$ and US$ are roughly equivalent at the moment).


Then I also visited the Maritime Museum Shipwreck Gallery. The museum was all about shipwrecks off the WA coast, focusing on four Dutch East India Company (VOC) shipwrecks, the Batavia (1629), the Vergulde Draak (1656), the Zuytdorp (1712), and the Zeewijk (1747). Many artifacts from all four ships have been recovered, and a part of the wooden hull of the Batavia has been recovered and reconstructed as well. The story of the Batavia wreck and mutiny is really a fascinating one.


Wed 19 Oct: Cape Leeuwin & Cosy Corner
On the 19th Bob & I drove 3 hrs down to the South West, a top vacation spot for Perth residents. It’s an area filled with spectacular beaches, more than a hundred wineries, and more than 300 caves.

Our first stop was all the way down at Cape Leeuwin, the southwesternmost point in Australia, where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. The odd currents that this creates, combined with numerous rocks and islands off shore makes Cape Leeuwin one of the most dangerous capes in the world; almost two dozen known shipwrecks have occurred offshore there. Cape Leeuwin’s picturesque lighthouse is the tallest in Australia, and is still in use. I took a tour up to the top, which provided some spectacular views.


After Cape Leeuwin, we made our way back up the Indian Ocean coastline on Caves Road to Cosy Corner Beach, Redgate Beach, and Ellenstown Beach, before spending the night at a hostel in Margaret River, the main town in the region.


Thu 20 Oct: Yallingup & Cape Naturaliste
On the morning of the 20th Bob & I took a private surfing lesson at Smiths Beach near Yallingup. It was Bob’s first ever lesson, and my second. In my first lesson, which was almost exactly 7 years ago at Lorne, VIC, along the Great Ocean Road, I never managed to stand up on my board, and only successfully rode into shore on my knees once. This time I was determined to do better, and I did! It took me a few tries, but I managed to stand up a few times on my board! I still couldn’t get up to my feet every time, but I know I made big progress. And with only two of us in the lesson, our instructor gave both of us quite a bit of very helpful attention and suggestions. The weather was also fantastic for the surf lesson.


Following the surf lesson we popped down the beach a couple kilometers to a place called Canal Rocks. These are metamorphic rock outcrops through which the pounding surf has carved several canals, making several islands. This was one of those special places where I could’ve spent all day watching and listening to the roaring waves.


After Canal Rocks we swung by a winery called Windgate. In the Margaret River region you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a winery, there are so many. Apparently I was uncouth with the order in which I tasted the various wines, but oh well. I didn’t buy a bottle (since I only had a couple days left in Aus), but Bob did. Believe it or not this was the first winery I’d ever visited and done a tasting at (my parents and I drove into a winery in New Zealand in 2004 but didn’t pop in for a tasting). Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Colorado are not exactly prime wine regions, to say the least.


Then it was off to Ngilgi Cave (pronounced NIL-gee). The tour of Ngilgi Cave was semi self-guided, and was quite interesting. Ngilgi is especially known for its numerous shawl formations, which are stalactites that resemble sheets or curtains; Bob & I thought they looked like strips of bacon. Mmmm, bacon… I think that Ngilgi was the first cave I’d been in since Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with my parents back in 1994.


After being underground for an hour, we popped up to Cape Naturaliste for a bushwalk. I didn’t feel the need to get a tour of the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse since it’s short and well inland. On that walk the wildflowers were quite spectacular, and we spotted a few whales in Geographe Bay as well.


Then it was back to Margaret River for the night again. Here’s a funny story. While Bob was off swimming laps in the local pool, I was sorting through some photos on my laptop in a common area of the hostel. At one point this eccentric-looking girl walked up and asked if she could sit on the couch too. Before I could even move all my stuff off that side of the couch, she plopped down. She had long blonde hair, a hat, a backpack, a CD walkman, a long white flower, an Australian hymn book, and a big bottle (white wine?) that she kept drinking from. She really gave off the crazy vibe (or the hippy vibe, I wasn’t quite sure at first). She had headphones on listening loudly to music, and I noticed she was very frustrated that her computer wasn’t working. Eventually, out of the blue, she blurted that she worked for the CIA. That caught my attention. I decided to play along and asked several questions. I’ll sum up her rambling, incoherent story. She said she was 34 years old (she looked about 23), that she was from Margaret River, and that the CIA recruited her when she was 16 to be a typist. She also said that the hostel was on UN property, and that that meant that WA cops couldn’t come on the property. She said her house had also been broken into three times, all three times with only her U.S. passport (despite being an Aussie) being stolen and nothing else. She then started quoting her passport numbers to me, and started them all off with an ‘H’ (which they don’t). Then she said she had a New Zealand police badge, because her mother was once a secretary for two years for NZ PM Muldoon during his tenure. It was bewildering trying to keep up with everything, haha. Eventually she got up and walked off for a moment, and the hostel clerk asked me if I knew her. I said no, and that she was “bat-shit crazy.” He said he’d heard reports from other hostel employees and guests of a woman fitting her description that was becoming a problem. A minute later I saw the hostel clerk trying to escort her off the property. I heard him ask, “You have to leave, can I get you a taxi?” To which she replied, “I don’t do taxis.” That was the last I heard or saw of her, but I definitely got my fill of crazy for the night!

Fri 21 Oct: Penguin Island & Perth
Bob had to work on the afternoon of the 21st, so we hit the road back to Perth in the morning. Along the way we stopped in Rockingham, a southern suburb, to take a ferry over to Penguin Island. Penguin Island is quite small (only about 45-60 minutes to walk around), but is a sanctuary for many types of birds, including seagulls, pelicans, terns, and fairy penguins. There’s also a penguin centre on the island that is home to several rescued penguins. We checked out a feeding there before heading “back to Australia,” as the ferry operator termed it. (I’m pretty sure we didn’t need our passports for the 5-minute ferry ride to the island though, haha!).


After Bob went to work, I made my way down to the Perth Mint. Unfortunately I was 20 minutes late for the last tour of the day, bummer. I’d hoped to watch gold being poured into bars, and to touch a huge gold nugget. I wandered back through downtown Perth, and made my way to Kings Park, a huge 9 sq. km park just outside of and overlooking the city centre. It was already early evening, so I didn’t go too deep into the park, most of which is unlit. I did stick around for some nice nighttime views of the city, though.


Sat 22 Oct: Rottnest Island
I got up in the morning and took the train down to Fremantle, where I caught a ferry out to Rottnest Island, about 20 km off the coast. There I rented a bicycle, as that’s the best way to get around the island (only a few support vehicles and small tour buses are allowed on the island; no personal or rental cars). The weather wasn’t great that day, about 70 degrees with occasional sprinkles or light rain (and steady rain for the last 30-45 minutes I was on Rotto), so instead of lounging around on one of the many fantastic beaches, I decided to ride my bike around to see as much of the island as I could. I did a complete circuit of the island, including all the way out to the western end, Cape Vlamingh, where I sat and watched three pods of whales offshore for several minutes. All told I biked somewhere around 30 km, which made me quite sore since I hadn’t ridden a bike in about three years! My favorite beach of the day was Ricey Beach. There was absolutely nobody there, and I wanted to linger more than the 20 minutes that I did, but I was still several kilometers away from Thomson Bay with less than an hour until my ferry left. I did just barely catch the ferry on time.


I had a hankering for fish and chips, so when I got back to Fremantle I went to Cicerello’s, one of the most famous seafood places in W.A. Considering everything was fairly expensive, I decided to splurge a few extra bucks for the “Cicerello’s Delight,” a A$32 seafood sampler plate, plus salad and chips. I was in shock when I went to pick up my order from the counter because it was so enormous. It caught the attention of some other diners too, who asked what it was. There was a bowl of clams, about a dozen kalamari curls, a couple prawns, and a couple fish filets (not sure which fish though). It was a lot of food! I managed to finish about 80-90% of it though (all except for a few kalamari twirls and a few chips), which prompted the manager to say to me, unprompted, “That’s a good effort! Many people can’t even finish half of that!”


A little damper was put on the day when I found out that an American diver was killed by a shark off Rottnest Island that afternoon, probably about the time I went for a dip at Ricey Beach, and only a couple beaches over from there. Kinda freaky. It’s the third fatal shark attack in the last two months in Western Australia: one was in Bunker Bay two months ago, not too far from where Bob & I had our surfing lesson; one was a couple weeks ago at Cottesloe, a Perth suburb with a very popular beach that Bob frequents (and which I visited last year); and now the Rottnest one. All the cases happened with cloudy skies, because sharks have a harder time identifying distinct shapes when it’s overcast. Still, it’s not worth living in fear of a shark attack, because it’s more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning or killed in a car accident.

Final Thoughts
I flew back to Singapore on Sunday the 23rd. My six days in Aus went by so quickly. I always wish I could have more time in Australia, but I guess that just means I’ll have to come back for a fourth visit someday! I just wish it weren’t so far away. I still have several other places on my Aussie bucket list to visit, including Uluru, Kakadu, Ningaloo, and Tasmania. Oh darn, a few more trips worth of sightseeing!

So now i’ve been in Singapore for a couple days (blog entry coming eventually), and my flight to Diego Garcia is scheduled to leave this afternoon. There’s a decent chance the flight will be delayed, but whenever I get there I’ll be with only 128k internet for four weeks. I’ll update my blog here occasionally, but there likely won’t be too many photos accompanying them. Let the main act of my Indian Ocean adventure begin!

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