Perth & Rottnest Island

Not originally on our itinerary, we ended up in Perth for a week when we began to change our travel plans due to COVID-19. It’s a really nice place, and was much lower key and warmer than Sydney or Melbourne.

I was kind of stupid to wait this long to write up the final major stop of our trip, some 15 weeks after the fact. I say major because there will still be one final chapter, low on tourist stuff and very high on drama and stress.

As I mentioned in my last post, our decision to visit Perth was a last-minute change from flying to Singapore for some backpacking in SE Asia. As such, there would be less sightseeing, no additional road trips or planned itinerary while there, as with most other destinations. It was essentially a way to see a bit more of Australia for a week while we figured out what to do with another couple weeks before returning home. It wasn’t our first choice, but caution due to COVID killed that.

We’d also decided to re-book our flights home from Bangkok through Seoul, to Brisbane. It was early COVID days and all of southeast Asia was beginning to look potentially dicey for travel. To keep costs down, at this point we would be returning to Vancouver a little earlier than planned, on March 25th as opposed to April 1st. That aside, in addition to relaxing in Perth we’d need to figure out what to do with the twelve days between March 13th and the 25th. More on that later.

Getting There & Accommodations

This was the longest domestic flight we took in Australia. Unlike the 90-120 minute hops between all the other cities we visited, Melbourne to Perth clocks in at about 4:15. Perth is a fairly isolated city, as there’s nothing but Indian Ocean west of it until you reach Madagascar, and the Indonesian archipelago close to four hours north. Oddly enough, we still paid more to “upgrade” to a shorter domestic flight from our seven hour plus Singapore flight.

Melbs to Perth

After we rebooked our flight, we also booked a week at Ibis Styles East Perth and were not disappointed. It’s considered a new budget hotel, but we found it delightful and reasonably easy on the pocketbook. Well appointed with incredibly comfortable beds, the only downsides you might find are compact rooms and a fair stroll to the action. Still in the downtown core, it’s at the far east end, so it meant lots of walking to get to the CBD. We didn’t mind, as this was nothing new for us and meant we could explore just by going out each day. It’s right on the Swan River at the east end of downtown, near the Perth Mint (a tour we would have liked to, but didn’t do).

Perth Map & CBD

Perth is on the Indian Ocean in Western Australia, latitudinally north of Sydney and Melbourne but south of Brisbane. The CBD is a little inland from the ocean and situated on the Swan River. On the map below you can see our hotel location pin and Perth CBD’s proximity to Fremantle to the southwest and Rottnest Island considerably further west still, as these were the areas in which we found ourselves for the week.

Our first couple days there were filled with getting to know the place. We also decided to work with Flight Centre in downtown Perth to see what we could do in terms of filling up the final twelve days of our trip before flying home, so we probably made the walk to their office three times. Again, more a little later. For now, a few random pics around the downtown area …

Two Bridge Run

Still very much part of my CBD exploration, one evening as the sun set I did a lovely 10k run that took me along the north waterfront of the CBD, across Mitchell Freeway Bridge through South Perth Foreshore Park and back to my hotel across the causeway to Riverside Drive. I didn’t run all that much on the trip, but I got at least one run in every major city. Under the Strava embed below are a few pics I took en route.


In addition to touring the CBD and waterfront over the first couple days, we took a first trip to Freemantle, but started too late to do the prison tour, so we’d end up getting out there a second time for a longer visit which included a prison two tour package.

Kings Park

As I’m saving all the Freemantle stuff for the next section, after our brief initial visit when we returned to town we hit Kings Park for a hike. It’s a really lovely urban park that houses some very natural scrub and the city’s botanic garden, with stellar views of the river and the CBD. The final pic in this set is the State Memorial, situated overlooking the Swan River from the park.

Killer vegan sushi at Aisuru in Perth
And, while I don’t usually include much food in these photos, we were thrilled to find some of the best vegan sushi we’ve ever had, in Perth’s Northbridge neighbourhood. If I ever visited again, I’d probably try to stay closer to the area, as evening happenings are much more plentiful there than in the CBD east end.

Fremantle

Fremantle is essentially a port suburb southwest of central Perth. Its mix of very limited tourist schtick and legitimate historical significance really hit the sweet spot for me. Between the two trips we spent close to a full day there. The prison aside, the city consists primarily of beautiful Bather’s Beach, low-rise two to four story 19th century buildings, lots of funky eateries, some shopping and at least one damned fine craft tasting room (right across the street from Freemantle Prison), Freo.social Brewshed features The Other Side brews (which we naturally tested). We also tested Little Creatures Brewing, which has a beautiful big brewery and tasting room on the water and pretty bad beer IMO.

Getting to Fremantle is very easy via either a 45 minute river ferry (above) or transit ride. We took both methods to/from. Originally considered a location for a British settlement, it ended up being a rather awful and notorious prison. There’s actually a lot to see in the area, so below just a few highlights.

The Town

Most of the town looks like this

Roundhouse

The precursor to Fremantle Prison, the Roundhouse was the first building in the Swan River Colony, opened in 1831. You could feel the history here, particularly with Whalers Tunnel underneath (not pictured). This was not nearly as grim as touring the prison.

Bather’s Beach

There are a few beaches in the area, but Bather’s is right behind the Roundhouse and kitty corner from all the waterfront eats.

WA Maritime Museum

We didn’t go in because we didn’t have time, but at the end of the pier that’s home to the passenger terminal for ferries to town and Rottnest Island, sits the Western Australia Maritime Museum. It’s quite striking from the outside.

WA Maritime Museum

Fremantle Prison

The tours we did were both fascinating and grim and while the prison is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a working prison up until 1991, fully a century past when it was first recommended to be closed. It was built by nearly 10,000 prisoners from Great Britain and Ireland.

From the website:

Fremantle Prison was built as a convict barracks in the 19th century and remained in continual use until 1991. The Prison was a place of hangings, floggings, dramatic convict escapes and prisoner riots. Inmates included imperial convicts, colonial prisoners, enemy aliens, prisoners of war and maximum-security detainees.

We didn’t really know what to expect when we signed up for the tours, but since our Perth trip wasn’t very researched prior to arrival, it regularly showed up as a must-see, so we did. While I would have liked to do the Tunnels Tour, we opted for the True Crime and Convict Prison Tours.

The front entrance

I have a ton of pics from the prison, so I’ve tried to include just a few that hopefully give a flavour of the place. Life was brutal for the prisoners and it was the scene of more than one riot over the years. Of the many unpleasantries, one which struck me most was the fact that right up until its closing in 1991, there was no proper sewage plumbing. Prisoners were still using buckets to manage their basic biological functions.

Main Courtyard

Outdoor Common Spaces

Cooking & Prayer

Cellblocks

Cells Over Time

Gallows

In all, 43 men and one woman were executed at Fremantle, the last one being in 1964.

Rottnest Island

After that, onto something nicer. Without a doubt, the best part of our Perth leg was the daytrip to Rottnest Island. We really wanted to see Quokkas and we weren’t disappointed. Ferries to and from Rottnest leave from both downtown near Elizabeth Quay and the pier at Fremantle, as the latter is en route for the former. We left from Elizabeth Quay fairly early and arrived on Rottnest mid-morning.

In addition to the trip to and from the island (which included bike rentals while there), we opted for the guided speedboat trip around the island. So, effectively our morning was getting there and the tour, the afternoon was a little bike sightseeing and Quokka spotting trip and getting back downtown, and we had lunch in between. The bike trip was shorter than we would have liked because, let’s just say my old three speed hub shift steed had seen much better days.

Interesting factoid regarding the origins of the name. 17th century Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh thought Quokkas were giant rats and originally called it ‘t Eylandt ‘t Rottenest (Rats’ Nest Island).

All aboard our perimeter tour speed boat


This should give you an idea of how fast it goes between stops.

As opposed to a blow by blow of the day, just a few sets of things we saw.

Beautiful Water

The water around Rottnest ranges from bright green to turquoise to deep blue.

Beautiful Things on Shore

Not just rocky outcroppings and interesting shapes, but New Zealand Fur Seals and a few birds.

Quokkas by Bike

Our afternoon bike and hike was mostly about spotting the little marsupials.

Where To Next

As I wrote earlier, mixed in with all the adventure above and just hanging out in the week long 30-35 degree heat, we worked with a really good travel agent at Flight Center in downtown Perth. We only found out how good in the last part of our adventure, which I won’t spoil now.

Anyway, when looking at our realistic options from Perth for 10-12 days, we needed to consider a few things. By this time (March 10th or so), some Asian travel was showing signs of becoming more difficult. Not only did we not want to accidentally wander into a COVID hotspot, but the risk of not getting home was a possibility. We didn’t really just want to try to kill more time in Australia, and since we were no longer going to have a meandering month in the southeast Asian heat, we figured if we could experience a small taste, that would be better than none at all.

As Indonesia had virtually no cases of COVID at the time, we landed on ten days in Bali. Our plan was to fly to Denpasar airport, spend three nights inland in Ubud to see some temples, rice paddies and experience some jungle, then hit the beach at Nusa Dua for a week of complete downtime before heading back to Brisbane for two nights, and flying home to Vancouver.

This seemed like a solid plan. We’d salvage a bit of Asian culture and not take too much risk by going too far from Australia, to a place that was by all accounts very safe. We both really wanted to see Bali too. Things didn’t quite work out the way we planned.