We flew from Singapore to Perth, Australia on February 8, 2020. The flight arrived at about midnight. The airport was extremely quiet. I was ready for an intensive customs check for which Australia is famous. Mostly, Australian customs officers are renowned for making sure you do not bring any food into the country. However, the guy we had was actually really chatty and was quick to move us through with no real check. That was fine by us given that it was late and we were tired. We asked a lady working at an airline booth to call our hotel for us and she was happy to help. However, we stood outside waiting for about a half hour or more before it arrived. Hotels in Australia have a check out time of 10 am which seems crazy to us. We are used to having a check out time of noon. We asked for a late check out and we were given until 11 am. This airport hotel was one of the cheapest ones we could find but it was pretty bare bones.
Nicola had been to Australia before but this was my first time. The last time she was here she visited New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and central Australia. We had decided to visit Western Australia (WA) because I have never been to Australia at all and Nic had not been to WA. Also, we know some people in WA that we could visit with. Rona and Colin live in Perth. We had visited with them in Dubai in 2013 when they were moving away. I wrote about that visit in my post entitled Arabian Nights and Days. Rona is a family friend from when Nicola, Moire and Haydn lived in Scotland. They now live in Freemantle (just outside Perth). Additionally, we met Jen and Peter (Frostie) earlier this year on our cruise from Italy to Mauritius. They live in Busselton, Australia on a farm. They gave us their contact information on the cruise with a very generous invitation for us to come and stay with them.
On our first morning in Perth, we took public transportation from our hotel near the airport to Freemantle. All of the busses and trains are integrated so for $5 AUD we bought a ticket into the Perth train station by bus and the train from Perth to the Freemantle train station. There was a big music festival happening in Freo (how Aussie’s refer to Freemantle – they shorten most names) and the train was filled with young Aussies, many of who were very drunk. Rona and Colin picked us up at the train station.
Instead of going right to their place, they dropped us off at the Weekend market in Freo. We wandered around for a while and I bought a cool sign for my gazebo. I also bought a pair of new sunglasses that had good UV protection. After the market we stopped into a pub for a beer and some local music. We also went to an Optus store to buy a sim card for our phone. We got an amazing plan that was $20 AUD for 45 GB for one month plus unlimited texting and calling. Again, it just makes us more and more frustrated with the cost of Canadian cell phone plans.
Rona and Colin have a beautiful home with a great swimming pool. We showered in an outdoor shower as it was such beautiful weather. We are so grateful for their hospitality. The cooked dinners for us and fed us breakfasts every day. When you have been on the road for 11 months a little feel of home and home cooked meals are so welcome. And they definitely made us feel welcome. We hope someday we can reciprocate and we can have them stay with them.
The next day we went back into Perth by train in order to pick up our rental car. We booked a small economy car from Thrifty for two weeks. We booked it on our BMO Rewards and the cost was about $19 AUD per day. It was a nice surprise to learn that Thrifty gave us a free upgrade to a brand new VW suv. It was large and roomy but likely used more gas than a small economy sized vehicle would. I was very glad to have the extra room.
In Perth, we went to the King’s Park and Botanic Garden. It is a large and beautiful park space in the centre of Perth. There are extensive walking trails throughout the park and we walked almost 10 km in and around the park. It has beautiful views of the city and river from above. We actually just laid on the grass for a while and had a snooze. It was relaxing and peaceful.
On another day we drove to Caversham Wildlife Park. It is about a half hour from Freo and costs $30 AUD per person. It is a wildlife park with animals that are native to Western Australia mostly as well as many that are native to Australia but not WA. There are kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, and many more animals I have never seen before. There are also many kinds of birds including emus, kookaburras, tawny frogmouth, penguins and more. There are also many reptiles and mammals including snakes, lizards, dingoes, and echidnas. They have a schedule of shows throughout the day including a farm show, meeting the wombats, meeting the koalas, feeding kangaroos, and the feeding of the penguins. At the farm show I went up and tried cracking a whip… see the video below. We got our picture taken with both a wombat and a koala. Unfortunately you cannot hold them but you can pet them with the back of your hand. It is a free-for-all when it comes to feeding the kangaroos.
One of the most popular things to do in the Perth area is to go to Rottnest Island to see quokkas. A quokka is a small marsupial about the size of a house cat. They are mainly nocturnal but Rottnest Island is a protected area for the quokkas so they come out and about and are not completely afraid of humans. The thing to do is to try to get the ultimate selfie with a quokka. You have to get down to the ground level and many of the selfies that you would find through a google search are quite hilarious. It almost looks like they are trying to photobomb your picture but trust me when I say it is a challenge to get them into your selfie and get them looking at the camera. See some of our photos below. To get to Rottnest you need to take a ferry and pay an admission fee. It can be fairly expensive but if you look online you might find a good deal by buying online. You have to make sure to be careful of where you are leaving from. A return ticket from Perth including island is $109 AUD but from Freemantle is $70 AUD (same day return). We bought the “telethon saver” online for $49 AUD from Freo. There is also a couple of ferry companies so check both for the best deal. On the island there are a few options including walking the trails or renting a bike. Research before you go.
After our visit with Rona and Colin we headed towards Busselton. Busselton is 223 km drive south of Perth. Along the way we stopped to go to Penguin Island. Penguin Island is 45 minutes south of Perth and is home to the largest colony of Ferry (Little) Penguins in Australia. The island is quite small and is only a 5 minute ferry ride to get to. There is actually a sandbar that extends from the mainland to the island and some people try to walk over to the island. However, it is very dangerous and people have drowned trying to do the walk. You can buy ferry-only tickets for $18 AUD or tickets for ferry + discovery centre for $27 AUD. We bought the ferry-only tickets but then decided to go to the discovery centre and bought the tickets there for $9 AUD. On the island you can walk around the whole island in about two hours. Note however that it is extremely rare to see the penguins out in the wild. They go out in the ocean during the day and come back after sunset. You cannot stay on the island and the last ferry is before sunset. Apparently, there are different times of the year when it is more likely but not for us in February. Additionally, the discovery centre has a group of penguins that are either being rehabilitated or were rescued. They do a show a few times of day mostly around their feeding time.
We continued on to Busselton to visit with Jen and Frostie. They used to farm asparagus but still own the farm. Every evening the fields are filled with kangaroos. Frostie took us out in his truck to see the kangaroos. These guys were very different than the ones in the wildlife park. You could not get anywhere close to them because they would bolt. There was also a female and her joey that came to their water well most evenings for a drink. These were red kangaroos and there were hundreds of them all over the place. During the day they hide out in the trees to stay out of the heat.
On the first day there, Jen and Frostie took us for a day of sightseeing in the Margaret River region. Apart from the natural beauty of the area, Margaret River is famous for its wineries. Since we are not big wine drinkers (although we think we should learn), we did not visit any wineries apart from driving into one for a view. We drove through the Karri Forest to see the towering Karri trees. We took some roads that clearly needed a 4-wheel drive to navigate. Jen packed us a lovely picnic lunch and we stopped for a while in the Karri forest. We visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse which is the most south-westerly point in mainland Australia. I bought a barmah hat which I am not sure if I will wear much in Canada but it was cool to have one. All in all it was a great day. Thanks to Jen and Frostie for being out tour guides. We cannot imagine a better way to experience the area than that.
On the next day, Nicola and I walked the Busselton Jetty. It is 1.84 km long and is the longest timber jetty (like a pier) in the southern hemisphere. A day pass for the jetty is $4 AUD. There are kids that jump into the ocean from the jetty many doing flips and dives. We saw a German guy jump in holding onto his GoPro camera. When he climbed out his head was bleeding. We suspect that as he hit the water the camera hit his head. From the jetty to the water seems to be about 15 feet or so. There is also an underwater observatory that you can pay to go in however we did not. After walking the jetty we walked around the waterfront and then went for a drive along the coast.
One morning we picked Emu Plums with Jen, Frostie and their two grandchildren. They have a number of large bushes on their property that get these fruits on them. They are picking them mostly to sell to the mines that use them to rehabilitate the lands they have mined. They get $100 per kilogram and we picked 6 kgs that morning. They also sell them to some of the local greenhouses that use them to start bushes that they sell to their customers. The plums themselves they use to make chutney but they can sell some of them to local wine makers. Nicola also picked some passion fruit off the vines. It was a great day.
From Jen and Frostie’s we headed towards Albany around the southern corner of WA. It is about 330 km southeast again passing through the Margaret River area. We stayed in a hotel right in downtown Albany. Parking is a challenge as they only have limited parking but there is free parking on the street after 5pm and before 9am. The Six Degrees Boutique Hotel also has a pretty good restaurant/pub and has specials for hotel guests. There was actually lots of sightseeing to do in this area and we kept ourselves quite busy for four days.
On our first day in Albany we went to Torndirrup National Park for the rugged natural beauty of granite rock formations along the coast of the Southern Ocean. We bought a park pass which was valid for five days. You can buy a one day pass which is good for the whole car load for $15 AUD or a five-day pass good for a car load for $25 AUD. We would be going to multiple parks over the next five days so we went for that pass. In Torndirrup there are a few must-see locations but perhaps the most spectacular are the Gap and the Natural Bridge. The coastal erosion has created a place where the water flows underneath a hole in the rock which is called the Natural Bridge. The Gap is a place where the water has forced its way in between rocks creating an inlet in the rocks where the water sprays up as it hits the water. There is a man-made walkway that takes you over the ledge allowing you to feel the spray. The walkway is quite an interesting feat of engineering as it is cantilevered by five large arms that are positioned in such a way to provide stability as well as mobility. Another natural formation to see is the blowholes. As you hike out on the rocks for about 2 km, you are actually on rocks and the water persistently chisels away at the rocks from below. This has created vents through the cracks in the rocks and as the water creates pressure below, sprays of water emerge through blowholes in the rocks. It depends on time of day and tides so when we were there we did not see any sprays, however we heard some below that just did not make it to the surface.
On this day we also went to the Albany Wind Farm which is just a little further up the coast. There are 18 large wind turbines that generate up to 35 megawatts of electricity. When the wind gets to a certain speed and the rotational speed of the turbines hits its maximum, the turbine which shut itself off for safety reasons. There are instructions on how to determine what the speed is on one of the plaques there and from my calculation it seemed to be pretty close to its maximum. There are trails you can walk around the farm to take in the views of the wind turbines along the beautiful coast line. We walked some of them but to be honest they are quite loud and so it is not exactly a relaxing walk.
On another day we drove to the Valley of the Giant Tree Top Walk. It was about 110 km and we had passed it when we first drove to Albany but we were too late to do the walk because we had gone to Penguin Island that day. Regardless it was a nice day trip from Albany and we did more than just the walk. Situated in the ancient tingle forest between Denmark and Walpole in Walpole-Nornalup National Park, the Tree Top Walk is a walkway suspended 40 metres above the ground in the canopy of some of the biggest timber trees on earth, the tingle trees of Western Australia. It costs $21 AUD for admission which also includes entry to the Discovery Centre and a walking tour of the tingle forest. The walkway is about 600 m in length and with stops for picture taking is only about 15 to 20 minutes to go around. You can go around multiple times if you wish. On the tour of the tingle forest (or walking the trail on your own), you can walk through holes in large tingle trees. Overall a pretty cool experience that ate up only a couple of hours in total that day.
On the way back we stopped in Denmark. One of Rona’s grandsons had suggested that he liked Denmark better than Albany so we figured we should check it out. It is a small town that has a small town downtown area. We stopped and bought a couple of pies for lunch (personal sized pies, not big pies) and sat in a park to enjoy our picnic. I suspect that there are other nice things to do in Denmark but one of the biggest attractions of the area, Greens Pool, was closed for renovations. It is a sandy white beach protected by large granite boulders which prevent the large swells from reaching the shoreline. We did continue on and found another beach area that was quite lovely and virtually deserted. It was called West Cape Howe National Park. Again, our park pass was needed to stop here although nobody was checking for them. First we drove up above to view the cape from up high. This is a big place for paragliding/hang gliding as the cliffs provide a perfect place for people to launch from. Then we drove down to the beach to enjoy the pristine white sand. The sand is so powdery that your feet squeak as they roll over. I got down to my skivvies and went into the cold water. However, it was so rough that frankly I did not feel totally confident in my swimming skills. It only took a couple of minutes to dry off.
From Albany we went to Wave Rock. It is about 350 km and takes about 4 hours to drive. The nearest town is Hyden but there are not a lot of places to stay in Hyden. We booked a place at an AirBnB that is mostly for workers who are travelling or working in the area. There was a shared kitchen area that is an old abattoir. Western Australia’s most famous wave is not on a beach but far inland. It is a 110 metre long and 15 metre high granite cliff that is shaped like a wave. There are several walking trails around the area around, above and beyond Wave Rock. Hippo’s Yawn is a rock that looks like the mouth of a hippo. And Mulka’s Cave is a cave that contains hundreds of hand paintings on the rock walls. The flies in the desert were terrible. We saw at a shop in York that they were selling bug hats, but by this time we figured it was too late.
After one night in Hyden we drove back to the Perth area. It is about 300 km and we stopped in York for lunch. I had the lunch special which was a steak sandwich. It was huge. We actually stayed for two nights north of Perth at a place called Mullaloo Beach. We stayed at an AirBnB in quite a nice home with Karen. We chose this location so that we could go up north to the Pinnacles for a day trip. The beach is a very popular swimming beach in the city of Joondalup. It is also a very busy beach and especially on the weekend which is when we were there.
The drive to the Pinnacles is about 180 km and a little more than 2.5 hours long along Indian Ocean Drive. We decided to drive directly to the Pinnacles and then stop a couple of times on the way back. The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park is like walking on the surface of the moon. “Thousands of tall limestone spires rise eerily out of the yellow sand.” Again, our park pass worked for us and so it did not cost us anything to go into the Pinnacles for the day. We started out by hiking around the walking trails through the desert. Afterwards, we drove all of the roads through the desert. The biggest issue here is the flies; they are absolutely horrific. We should have bought the bug hats in York after all. We saw several kangaroos as we walked along and then when we were driving we saw an emu. Nic jumped out of the car and followed it through the desert to get some pictures. Some crazy French man was flailing his arms in what seemed to be either a way to scare them away or draw them closer. In the end we figured he was just swatting at the flies that were swarming around him.
On the drive back, we went to Yanchep National Park. Again, the park pass was our access to the park. There was some kind of music festival happening when we arrived but it was just ending. Yanchep has manicured lawns and several nice buildings around it. We went for two things: koalas and kangaroos. Firstly, there are dozens of kangaroos that live in the park and wander around for the most part oblivious to the humans. You cannot feed them or touch them but you can get pretty close to them. Unlike the red kangaroos at Jen and Frostie’s, these are grey kangaroos. There is also an area practically in the parking lot with a 240 metre boardwalk around eucalyptus trees. Yanchep has been home to a colony of koalas since 1938. There are about 10 of them or so. There was not a lot of activity, mostly they slept in the branches of the trees, and some were quite challenging to see.
The next day we returned to Rona and Colin’s place in Freemantle (actually Hamilton Hill but close enough). Along the way we stopped to see if we could find Blunnies (Blundstones) for Emily (my daughter) and Michele (my sister). Nic and I bought them in a work wear store called Work Clobber in Busselton. When we told Jen and Frostie how popular they were and how expensive they are in Canada, they suggested that they are much cheaper in Australia. In Canada, they are about $229 CAD per pair but in Busselton, we got Nic a pair for about $89 CAD and mine were about $105 CAD. When I mentioned this to Emily she immediately wanted a pair. However, it was Sunday when we were driving to Rona and Colin’s house and Work Clobber was closed. There was a mall open but the only Blundstones I saw in there were about the same cost as the ones in Canada. The next day, we went out to Work Clobber in Freemantle and they had a bigger selection of styles than in Busselton. I ended up buying pairs for Em and Mich. My bag however was now very full and very heavy.
We enjoyed a nice swim in Rona and Colin’s pool that afternoon. It was a warm day and the pool temperature was perfect. They fed us a delicious beef pie that they purchased from their butcher. It was nice to catch up with them again and share the highlights of our tour of WA. We were also able to get a load of laundry done before we took off for Sydney the next day. Their hospitality and generosity made our time in WA very memorable.
The next day we had an afternoon flight to Sydney in preparation for our cruise. With the time change, we arrived in Sydney at almost 11 pm. We booked a room in an AirBnB in Surry Hills. We booked a ride on Ola (an app like Uber). We learned about Ola from Karen in Mullalo Beach. She sent us a referral and then she got a credit of about $10 AUD. We also got a discount or credit on Ola for our first use. So, rather than it costing us the full fare, we saved a bit. My recommendation is to talk to a local and see about getting a referral like this. It will help you and it will help them. Anyway, we had a room in this AirBnB and shared the bathroom and common space with several others. One of the people that was also staying here was Cam Brown. Can is from Brisbane but had recently started a new job in Sydney. We spent a lot of time chatting with Cam and we even met him for dinner and beer one evening.
In total, we had four days and nights in Sydney before our cruise. It was not a lot but as I mentioned earlier, Nic has been here before. It was enough time to get a taste of some of the highlights of Sydney. On our first day we walked from our place down to the Sydney Harbour. We walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens and down to the iconic Sydney Opera House. The views of the Opera House are actually better from the other side (The Rocks) but the view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is great from the Opera House side. I considered doing the Bridge Climb but cheaped out given that it costs between $268 and $403 AUD. There were no tickets available for shows in the Opera House that interested us.
The next day we did a free walking tour of the downtown Sydney area. Apart from some of the places we had been the day before, this tour also took us to several other famous landmarks including: the Queen Victoria Building, Hyde Park, the Sydney Tower, the underground tunnels, hidden bars, and the site of the Hilton bombing.
On our third day, we ventured out a little further. We were going to get a bus pass for the day but we learned that you can get on any bus, train or ferry and tap your credit card. There is a daily maximum of $16.10 AUD (on Sundays it is a daily maximum of $2.50 AUD) and a weekly maximum of $50 AUD. The only hitch is that each person must have their own credit card. Otherwise you can get what is called an Opal Card but again you need one per person. You have to put a deposit down on the card as well. From our place we took a bus down to Circular Quay and then got on a ferry to Watson’s Bay. We did a good walk around this area and then shared some fish and chips for lunch. From Watson’s Bay we took another bus that went to Bondi Beach. Bondi is the best place for surfing in the area; not that we surf. It was a nice place to sit and enjoy the beach though.
Our fourth day was the day we boarded the Norwegian Jewel for a long cruise that would be our journey home. We had been looking at this cruise for a long time as a relaxing way to enjoy the adventure back to Canada. I won’t get into too much detail about the cruise as I think this warrants a post of its own. However, as the first stop from Sydney was Brisbane, I thought I would include that portion into my post about Australia. Just as a bit of a teaser though, the Coronavirus (COVID 19) Pandemic was just becoming a problem beyond the borders of China. The day before we embarked for our cruise, we received notification from Norwegian that we would not be going to Vanuatu and as a result we were going to be in Brisbane for two days instead of one. Also, when we were boarding the ship, they checked our temperature and if we had transited through China or Hong Kong in the last 14 days, we would not be permitted to board. If you had transited through Singapore in the last 14 days, you would not be allowed off the boat in New Caledonia or Fiji. Furthermore, Italians were told they could not get off in some ports. This was just the beginning of the situation. Little did we know how bad it would get.
I had researched where we would come into Brisbane but apparently I was mistaken. I thought we would be going right into Hamilton but in reality we did not get nearly that far up the river. In fact, we were docked at some industrial port far from the Brisbane CBD. The ship had a bus from the ship to the CBD for $15 USD per person. Luckily our excursion credit covered this for us so there was no cost. We wandered around a botanic garden and along the waterway. One thing interesting about Brisbane is that the busses and some of the ferries are free. We took the City Hopper ferry that bee bopped its way back and forth along the river. Then we got off at South Bank which is a really happening area. There is actually a man-made beach at South Bank. By the time the day was done I think we had walked about 12 km. On our second day in Brisbane we just stayed on the boat. We used our cell phone data to do research into all of our ports of call throughout the South Pacific. As it would turn out, most of that research was for nothing… more about that in my next post.
That is all for now about Australia. I am really glad we experience WA the way we did. The hospitality of R&C and J&F was overwhelming. I know I will be back in Australia someday. There is so much more to see and do.