Perth: sandboarding, quokkas, and discovering my favorite city yet!

The first day I was here, I immediately fell in love with the city of Perth, Western Australia. It surprised me, because I haven’t heard a lot of gushing about the city. Part of it is that most people who travel the east coast don’t make it over here. And the other part is that if they do come here, they may not spend a lot of time here, because it’s just a stop on the way to somewhere else. But after spending a week here, I better understand why I love it so much: a beautiful Mediterranean climate (average humidity, perfect temperature this time of year, mostly sunny days), lots of well-groomed parks, delicious markets, public art, fantastic selection of international cuisine, friendly people, and a lot of people who are doing well financially, so the city is growing and their taxes are making everything look new and nice. And I took a couple of day trips to see the amazing scenery outside the city, too! The perfect autumn temperatures (20-25 C, 70s F) have really helped. The heat and humidity of tropical Queensland, where I’d spent the last few weeks, is just not my favorite climate.

My first day in Perth, Saturday, I chatted in the morning with my hostel roommate, a friendly German girl (because of course she was German as so many travelers here are), and she gave me a ticket she had for a hop-on-hop-off bus pass: it included two days, and she had already done the tour the day before. I was happy to use it! I wasn’t planning on doing this bus tour to save money, but they’re often a great way to get a quick overview of some of a city’s highlights. So I spent the afternoon listening to the bus commentary about Perth, including a brief stop at King’s Park and Botanical Gardens. Walking around this big, gorgeous park overlooking the beautiful skyline and Swan River, that’s the moment I fell in love. And it was even raining on and off all day! But it stopped raining long enough for me to enjoy a walk in that lovely park. I vowed to go back and spend more time there (which I did a few days later). That evening, I got my groceries to eat most meals at my hostel for the week, a major cost-saving tactic that’s worked out really well.

 

Sunday was another amazing day. Upon recommendation from my hostel roommate, I took easy train ride to Fremantle, an older suburb right on the ocean. I wanted to make sure to go on the weekend because there was a weekend market, which I absolutely loved! Lots of crafty type things to look at made by locals, but the best part was the food. Lots of veg options. I settled on a vegetarian paella, because I’ve had a hard time finding veg paella for years, as it’s traditionally made with meat and seafood, and peach iced tea made with Aussie bush plants and garnished with fresh fruit. Yum!

 

While stuffing my face, a girl named Shelby joined me at my table, and I struck up a conversation with her (somehow this sort of thing has just been happening lately, even though generally I am not a small-talk-chat kind of person, but I have my moments). She turned out to be from a small town not very far from Portland, Oregon, and a fellow vegetarian, and it was easy to talk to her about traveling and food and random things. For instance, she recommended Couchsurfing (an online community where people open their homes to travelers for free), which is something I’ve long thought about trying but not met anyone who’d done it. We both like the same heavenly ice cream place in Portland, Salt & Straw. And so I ended up spending the afternoon with her – we wandered around town for a while, I caught my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean (I’ve now seen all three major oceans!!), and then we met up with a cool Aussie guy she’d recently made friends with. We had drinks and played cribbage at the pub, which I loved because I’ve not gotten anyone to play cribbage with me in years! So really a great afternoon. I’ve been amazed at how easy it’s been for my introvert solo traveler self to make new friends, though I’ve learned that they will be mostly temporary, it’s still fun to hang out with cool people for a while.

Monday made three awesome days in a row. I joined a day tour to the Pinnacles, a bunch of rocks a couple hours up the coast from the city. On the way there, we stopped at Yenchep National Park, where we saw tons of kangaroos, some koalas (which are not native to this area, they brought them here and stuck them in some trees, haha), and lots of birds, and ate some delicious cheese and local bush tucker (food from the bush) jams. I sat in the front of the big van (which I think holds up to 20 people, though there were only 13 that day). The front seat generally affords the best views, but on this day it rained most of the day, and the landscape wasn’t the most beautiful with the low clouds. But, I did chat away the 4-5 hours of driving with the tour guide, Richard, the owner of the small tour company, who was a very cool dude. He actually asked me to sit up front, as I was the last one on and no one else wanted to sit up there, so he’d have someone to chat with. And he basically asked me all about my life, to the point where he knows all about my brother’s eagle scout badges and how I dislike cows. And I got his recommendations on things to do in Perth, including getting the very earliest ferry to Rottnest Island before many people get there.

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The Pinnacles, a ton of rock formations in bright yellow sand, and rain

Because it was raining at the Pinnacles (I’m sure they’re more pretty when you’re not being poured on with lots of wind as well), my favorite part of the day ended up being sandboarding. It thankfully stopped raining a few minutes after we arrived at the sand dunes, and even though the sand was wet, he had excellent custom-made boards that still worked perfectly. My very first time sandboarding ever, I waxed the board and went super fast on the way down the dune, and it was such a rush! I squealed and ran back up and rode down several more times, and managed to get second place in a race we all had. So, sandboarding is a thing I want to do more. Also, before we headed home, Richard treated us all to a drink at the pub to make up for how crappy the rain was! That is for sure going above and beyond a typical tour guide. I decided he’s my favorite guide I’ve had this whole trip. There may be a theme of affection in Perth. All in all, a fantastic day. I think I even prefer all the rain to the blistering, sunny heat (40+ C, 100+ F) that would often be at the Pinnacles in the summer.

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Sandboarding!

Tuesday, I went on a free walking tour around the central part of the city, then did a bunch of walking on my own along the river and through King’s Park and its treetop walk. I enjoyed all this in pleasantly overcast weather until a steady downpour began. Ah well, still another day in the great city of Perth.

Wednesday was another absolute highlight of my week, though. I went to Rottnest Island! I was so excited, I didn’t have any trouble getting up at the crazy hour of 5am and leaving by 6. I caught the train to Fremantle to catch the first ferry at 7:30am, at Richard’s recommendation. And I was on a rented bike on the island shortly after 8am for a glorious day of riding with a lot of leisurely stops. My main reason for wanting to go to Rottnest was to meet quokkas, which are only found here, and which I think are the cutest marsupial (take that, koalas). When I did a big international scavenger hunt last summer, our team name was even the Quirky Quokkas. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t see any, because my friend Maja had visited during a crazy heat wave and only saw one on the whole island. So I was pleasantly surprised when, within ten minutes of setting off, I met my first one, and it hopped right up to me! They are the cutest, friendliest, gentlest little wild animals ever. Over the course of the day, I probably met at least twenty. Every time one caught sight of me, it would hop right up like a kangaroo, sometimes quickly and excitedly, and sometimes there would be a whole group, maybe a family, of 5-6 of them. I know they came over looking for food, because a lot of people feed them, but you’re not supposed to: they only eat leaves, mainly of the low, needled melaleuca tree, so human food is hard on their stomach and usually will make them sick. So, I didn’t feed them. Or pick them up, that would probably stress them out (I’ve seen pictures of people who picked them up, which bugs me – they’re wild and probably aren’t a fan). But they were so unafraid, they didn’t mind me petting them, just a brief stroke on a couple of extra friendly quokkas (and I was careful to wash my hands soon after), and a few of them even licked me a little, probably liking the salty taste of human skin, like a cat. It was just sweet and adorable.

In addition to the quokkas, I discovered what most people go to Rottnest for: the gorgeous beaches, bays, and rocky cliffs. Amazing scenery! At first, the sky was overcast, but soon it cleared up, and the bright blue sky was reflected in the clear, shallow coastal water. I would ride along, see a sign for another bay, stop, and enjoy it for a bit, wading in the chilled water, hanging out on a rock for a bit and enjoying the view. In several spots, I had the bay completely to myself, and I sometimes thought about going for a skinny dip (something on my bucket list, and something that Richard suggested as a possibility as well, as there wouldn’t be many people around), but there were a few people and they could show up at any minute. And the water was cold. There were more people than usual due to the fact that it’s the middle of school holidays right now – basically Perth’s autumn break – so there were a lot of local families staying in cottages on the island and doing snorkeling and other outings. My city guide the previous day, a volunteer, had even warned against going to Rottnest this week because it was so busy. But I think Perth people have a different view of what’s busy… I just came from the east coast, which is swarming with crowds of tourists even though it’s traditionally a shoulder season. So, compared to what I’m used to, Rottnest was super quiet. And I loved it!

Rottnest Island (named by Dutch explorers after the quokkas, who thought they looked like big rats) doesn’t allow outside vehicles, so it’s mostly bike riders, a few walkers or joggers, and the occasional tour/shuttle bus or ranger truck. But for the most part, it was a quiet ride all the way around the island, about 30-35 kms in all (21-22 miles or so). I also saw a lot of lizards and birds, but they were more shy than the quokkas. And a colony of New Zealand Fur seals, floating adorably on their backs near one spot next to the cliffs. Toward the end of my 6 hours of riding, I got a bit hot and tired (there are a lot of hills!) but before that, I really enjoyed the reward of diving down a hill after the climb up, speeding along the empty, scenic roads with the wind in my hair. I did a lot of smiling. Best bike ride of my life! I spent the last couple of hours on the island in the settlement, a village that included ice cream and cheerful visitors in swimsuits. And then enjoyed a beautiful ferry ride as the sun set, all the way back to Perth.

Yesterday and today, I’ve done a lot of walking around the city, one of my favorite things to do. I strolled around most of the central parks and gardens, browsed bookshops (tempted to buy 12 travel books, as usual), checked out the public art, took advantage of the free bus system a couple times, and visited the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Tonight, I went to a nearby street food market with a Belgian named Lucie, a hostel roommate. They have this amazing market every week with dozens of different stalls, wildly varying food from all around the world! I treated myself to bean and cheese papusas with a tomato, chili, cabbage sauce, and a locally made jam doughnut flavored ice cream bar. SO DELICIOUS, my mouth is watering again just thinking about the papusas especially.

Tomorrow, I’ll be flying to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, right in the middle of the country, in the Outback. That will be a different experience, for sure – hopefully a good one!

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