Him Indoors and I had not been there before, so we took advantage of being only 5 hours from Perth to pop over and have a look. If five hours is popping – well, compared to a lifetime from the UK it is.
From Perth, we took the train to Fremantle which was warm and low rise and pleasant. Nice food, and a comfortable hotel although we hadn’t realised that the bathrooms were down the corridor so there was much padding down in dressing gowns at dead of night – we have reached that certain age…
We took a ferry to Rottnest Island, a delight. A hot clear sunny day is still a novelty for a Brit, and from our pushbikes we enjoyed views of small coves, the turquoise ocean, old buildings from the time when it was a prison and when it harvested salt. Under a bit of undergrowth we spotted a quokka, one of those round fluffy animals which don’t do muc, very slowly. A while ago unpleasant types used them for a barbaric pastime they called quokka soccer – yes, they kicked them about and tried to score goals. I cannot see the pleasure in tha (and I doubt the quokkas were thrilled either), but it was apparently popular for a while.
There were holiday houses and apartments of varying degrees of comfort, a campsite, shops and restaurants. It felt small, and it wouldn’t have been difficult to get all the way round, but we took our time and pottered back to catch the 2.30 ferry.
Fremantle is rather cool. It has old (19th century) buildings and market selling crafty things like clothes and candles and pottery. Perth was different. Tall buildings and nothing that particularly made us want to stay there any length of time, but I expect there’s something interesting about it –guidance welcome.
We flew on to Adelaide to stay with a friend. I liked the city – it was sedate with pretty buildings, parkland and good restaurants (you will spot a recurring theme in this article) and I enjoyed the State Museum with the biggest collection of Aborigine artefacts in the country, the art gallery and the library. We spent a day at a country festival (more food, got it?: olive oil, bread, cheese, cold meat, wine – all scrumptious) in the hills outside, and another day at the beach (with a picnic – of course) watching birds and people rootling for shellfish and a couple of seals lying on their backs and letting the water swish them about.
Then Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at a B&B in pretty leafy Mossman Gorge. A Kookaburra sat on the balcony railing while we had breakfast, and burst into loud throaty cackles before it flew away. At a small private zoo, I cuddled a koala (briefly – they can only work for 30 minutes a day, and I was one of many. A cliché I know but I have wanted to do this since I was about five). I avoided a baby crocodile and a python, but made friends with Max the red tailed cockatoo who loves human company. We became very close. He snuggled under my chin and made friendly little squawking sounds, and I stroked his feathers. It was hard to leave and I like to think he missed me when I went!
The Reef was an hour and 40 minutes away on a fairly big boat. We snorkelled three times and were interested by the pretty fish and the large coral outcrops, although, of course, people said it had been much MUCH better the last time they had come. It is impressive, but I am happy with Sabah’s underwater offerings. And the journey back was horrible – the wind changed and the waves swelled and we roared back through them at the rate of 20 knots and I was not happy at all – but proudly not sick either.
Sydney was our next stop. I am not sure what I was expecting. The views of the harbour and the Opera House are lovely, and of course oddly familiar. The ferry ride out to Manly was interesting and made us realise how much water there is in Sydneysiders’ lives. The restaurants in The Rocks, where we were, were very expensive, but pretty good. And my biggest thrill was reading Cap’n Bligh’s logbook from the Bounty, presumably before the crew mutinied. We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (tick) and the Library (tick) and the Museum of Art (tick – I have decided I like nineteenth century Aussie paintings and note the number of female names) and we walked through the Botanic Garden and Hyde Park, both of which were fresh and airy and full of hearty runners. I would have liked to go to Kings Cross and Paddington etc but there was no time. Another day, and then probably another sense of Sydney.
We had two weeks and we got about a bit, but I couldn’t claim to have more than a superficial sense of the continent. I expected Australia to be more American in flavour, and it wasn’t. It is big, it feels big, and the land at this season is pale beige, dry and crispy dusty. The aboriginal artefacts tell many tales, none of which we knew. We stopped by the side of the road to see the Canoe Tree; a good few years ago, bark was taken off to make a canoe, leaving a tree that had seen better days, with an oval scoop out of the trunk. No sign, no information though – we were lucky our host knew about it.
Kookaburras chortled, kangaroos bounded about as we drove along. There was no doubt where we were, and I hope we have the chance to go again.
Apologies for all the photos of me, but I wanted to show relative sizes of animals etc. The picnic on the beach is just a jolly photo.