Our last two days in Australia were spent enjoying some of Western Australia's (WA's) best beaches and coastline. On Saturday, we took the Rottnest Express down the Swan River and into the Indian Ocean, to the small island known to the locals at Rotto. The island is recognized for its beautiful coast (warm clear water for snorkeling, and fantastic waves for paddle boarding and surfing), and for its main inhabitant - the quokka (rhymes with mocha).
There are only a few sanctioned vehicles on the island, and most visitors choose to bike their way around (although there were a fair number of walkers). The main sights on the island are its lighthouses (and the views from them) and the beautiful rocky coastline. As we biked from the main lighthouse around the southern coast and back to the main town, there were so many spots to stop and admire the views. We definitely wished it was warm enough for a swim and a snorkel! But our bike ride was perfect.
Then there were the quokkas. These animals are famous on Reddit for being the cutest, friendliest creatures on the planet, but what makes them even more special is that they are only found on Rottnest Island. When the island was first being charted by William de Vlamingh in the 1650's, he mistook the small marsupials for rats and named the island what he thought was an apt name: Rottnest (rat's nest). Can you imagine this cute face being mistaken for a rat?
On our way back to the mainland, we couldn't help but think about how this beautiful setting would be so inspirational to write a book, render a sketch or simply ponder and let time pass by... it would have been wonderful to spend more time there.
Instead of taking the boat all the way back to Perth, we decided to stop in Fremantle to take in the town at night. We were struck by how desolate the town was, and it wasn't until we passed a very energetic and vibrant pub that we remembered it was Derby Day and it appeared all of Fremantle was watching their football team in the western derby. While the rest of the town watched their team win, we took the opportunity to watch the sunset at the marina and fishing wharf.
On our last day in WA, after packing up and checking out of the hotel, we headed to Cottesloe beach to take in a little more paradise, and we weren't disappointed. It was only a 20 minute drive from downtown to this small beach town, but it's one of the most popular beaches in Western Australia, famous for being WA's birthplace of surfing and having been named the world's second best family beach by Lonely Planet.
And now we’re at our first volunteer assignments in China! So far we’ve learned how to navigate the public bus system, how to use the keys to the flat, and how to determine the difference between shampoo and dish soap in the local grocery store. Because we don’t have terribly good access to wifi, we will probably only be able to update once a week until we leave!
Our second day in the Perth area we decided to stay a bit closer to home and we took a ferry down the Swan River to Fremantle. The ferry took us by some interesting sights including the most expensive home in Australia ($57 million) and a search boat that was currently on break from looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Once there, we took a tram tour around the city and up to the Fremantle Prison, which was built in 1859 by the convicts who were meant to live in it. The prison was operational until 1991 when it had to be closed due to improper bathroom facilities, and since it’s closure has been open to the public.
The downtown area of Fremantle was small but richly steeped in history. And despite it’s small size, is the largest port in Western Australia. In addition to the very large cargo ships, there were many personal yachts and sailboats; today, one in three citizens of Fremantle own a personal vessel.
The ferry ride back afforded us great views of those sail boats, the sun lighting the skyline of Perth, and Perth's Bell Tower.
We decided to venture East by road tripping to Hyden, to see the infamous Wave Rock and white kangaroos at the wildlife park.
Yesterday once we arrived at our hotel and noticed the sight of a nice, cozy bed, we immediately fell asleep for 13 hours, though we woke up in 2-hour increments. Waking up at 4:30am this morning, we hoped to see sunrise on our drive north. After getting distracted by free internet in the lobby, we missed sunrise and did not leave our hotel until well after 7.
We set out for the Pinnacles, a natural limestone phenomenon about 2 hours north of Perth. These structures are well over 25,000 years old and despite having been researched for 50 years, are still a geological question mark for researchers. Some believe they are petrified trees, and others believe that the structures are left over deposits of seashells, which the wind has exposed over the years.
As we rounded the first corner of the park it left us speechless for a moment, as we took in these intriguing formations, which varied in shapes, sizes, and colors. It didn’t take long before we were too curious to stay in the car, and had to walk about in the thousands of pillar-like rocks.
Pictured above are stromolites, microbial communities of the earliest organisms to appear on Earth that produced oxygen for subsequent life forms.
Curious to see the rocks from above, we chose to take a helicopter ride in possibly the cutest helicopter I’ve ever seen. It was fabulous. We got to see the Painted Desert, parts of the Pinnacles not accessible to pedestrians, and then as we flew up the coast, we got to see Hangover Bay. Our helicopter pilot, Brad (whose name we just made up), pointed out a fisherman’s village, just south of Hangover Bay, where all the families that live there choose to live without electricity.
We enjoyed lunch in the small town of Jurian at a cute, beachside café, before heading back south. We stopped for a walk around Hangover Bay, where we spotted our first set of kangaroos.
When we got to the beach, we decided to walk to a large rock that we had spotted on the helicopter ride. As we got closer to the rock that we had dubbed ‘Bird Rock,’ we saw this pelican, which was possibly the largest bird either of us has ever seen.
On our walk back to the car, we wandered right into a swarm of massive ant-wasp hybrid things, and as Taylor freaked out, she spooked the two kangaroos from earlier, which sent them running (or hopping) and Ann captured this photo despite the ensuing chaos:
In an effort to hide from the bugs, we decided to continue on south, where we easily found the entrance to Grey, the small fishing village that Brad had mentioned earlier. The roads were sand, the settlement was off the grid, and its homes were made almost entirely of scrap materials.
We left Grey as a slew of nine trucks came rushing down the sand road (we assumed that they were the fishermen arriving home), and we rushed off ourselves to find a lookout point that we had stopped at earlier to see sunset over the Indian Ocean.
Despite the early sunset (5:30pm), we were exhausted as we finished our drive, but not too exhausted to stop and (attempt) to photograph the stars.
After what feels like days of traversing airports and countries (Charlotte, Chicago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth), we finally arrived in Australia!
It wasn’t the worst trek, I suppose, and it could have been worse, but it certainly was the longest consecutive airplane/airport combination either of us have ever taken. From the time we left Asheville on the 22nd to when we arrived at our hotel was a total of 45 hours. Charlotte to Chicago was a quick, uneventful flight that we both slept through. Chicago to Hong Kong was the longest single leg of our whole trip (16 hours!) and was filled with confusion (Taylor lost her phone to the deep dark recesses of the overhead bin for a bit), sleep, and a few movies. Hong Kong to Singapore was fairly uneventful and the 3.5 hours felt incredibly short, and we fit in another movie before landing. We then spent another 7.5 hours in the Singapore airport (thank goodness for the availability of sleep space and showers). Before taking the wonderful amazing 5-hour flight on Singapore Airlines to Perth. Seriously. I’ve never felt more pampered on an airplane. Even the food was good. But they had freshly squeezed orange juice, knew our names, and opened the lavatory door!
And now we’re here!