Western Australia had been the only part of Oz I hadn’t seen yet, so I decided to take a quick trip over to Perth and see what it was all about. Perth is a really nice city, and I think my second favorite in Oz, after Melbourne. At night especially, I got the feeling a lot of times that I could be in Austin. The weather was similar, people were strolling around downtown, bands were playing, and there were lots of trendy restaurants with people dressed in all different styles from super casual to seriously dressy without much regard to any kind of convention.
With only a limited amount of time, not nearly enough to see all of the state, I decided to concentrate on the southwest corner. I hooked up with a tour company who had a three day bus trip from Perth, down to Margaret River, Albany and then returning back to Perth. The first couple days were nice with lots of beaches, caves, and small hikes around the area. We stopped at a bunch of rock formations including one called the blow hole that had been carved by wave action over the past several thousand years. Every few minutes the waves would hit the formation in just the right way that would force air thru all the cracks in the rock which would then escape at tremendous velocities, usually with a huge rush of water that soaked anyone in the group that let their attention lapse.
Our third day was my favorite of the trip. We drove thru some forests that had some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in my life. Australia has a couple hundred varieties of eucalyptus trees, and the Karri and Tingle are two of the largest varieties. There’s a famous Karri tree called the “Gloucester Tree” that used to be a fire lookout back in the 1930s and its been preserved as a tourist attraction. It’s got a platform at the 61 meter level that you can still climb up to and look out over the forest. To get to the top you have to climb on iron bars sunk into the tree trunk in a spiral pattern all the way up. It’s an amazing view, although apparently only about a third of the people who attempt the climb actually make it. Of course I had a blast climbing it, and an even better time watching people chicken out about halfway thru the climb!
After coming down from the tree, we had lunch at a picnic area in the area. It started out pleasant enough, but then we got attacked by about 50 parrots swarming around begging for food. Eventually we realized that we were outnumbered, and we’d have to share our lunch with them if we wanted any for ourselves! We spent about an hour playing with the birds, posing with them for photos and feeding them sunflowers that the tour driver had tucked away on the bus.
Following lunch, we headed back to Perth, stopping for an hour or so at a couple of wineries in the Margaret River area. This part gets a little fuzzy (as do most winery visits!), but I do remember sampling several excellent varieties, including an interesting un-oaked cabernet, and a very nice shiraz. I’m guessing that Raytheon had always shipped some of the cheaper Australian wines down to the South Pole, so it was nice to see that Australia can actually do the wine thing quite well!
When I got back to Perth I still had another day to explore before I headed back to Canberra for a friend’s birthday party. I decided to take a ferry over to Rottnest Island a few miles off of Perth’s coast. It’s a fairly small island and is fairly unique for its lack of automobile traffic. There are a set number of cars allowed on the island, so the majority of road traffic is bicycles. It’s pretty easy to rent a bike when you arrive, and then the island is the perfect size for a relaxed day long ride, stopping off at a few beaches, and some nature areas. Rottnest was named by some Dutch sailors who landed on the island and thought it was infested by huge rats. It turns out that they’re called “quokkas”, and they’re little marsupial critters that have become tame as the number of tourists have increased on the island. I had one guy that followed me around for about a half hour while I toured a little nature boardwalk area….every time I turned around to take a look at him, he’d freeze, and then he’d hop forward everytime I took a few steps forward. I got a bunch of photos of the little dude before he finally got bored with posing, and wandered off into the bushes looking for something to eat.