Monday 27th March 2017

Fremantle

We had yet another 'bumpy' night, with seas rising and falling six metres. At times the ship rose steeply and then plunged with a shudder into a trough. It was nothing to worry that much about, but it did mean that we kept stirring and nodding off again.

So, it wasn't altogether surprising when it was announced at breakfast-time that, due to adverse weather conditions', the captain had decided that we would stay in port overnight and have a second day in Fremantle tomorrow. This therefore also meant that we would miss Wednesday's visit to Esperance, and that when we leave Fremantle tomorrow night we'll now have three straight sea days before arriving in Portland on Saturday. We assume that there's a nasty weather system of some sort to the south of us that's worse than the conditions we sailed through last night. This morning the railing on our balcony was caked in sea salt – we've never seen that before.

There were a few groans as the announcement was made, but once it sank in that we could make more of Perth I suspect that most people felt that this enforced change of schedule worked quite well.

Sirena was 90 minutes late in arriving in Fremantle, Perth's port, and this was a problem for us. Gill had booked us ferry tickets for 11.30 to cross over to Rottnest Island, where we were intents on seeing quokkas, one of this amazing continent's indigenous animals. We didn't finally disembark until midday, but the ticket office happily exchanged our tickets, and we're now going to Rottnest tomorrow morning.

The trains here are new, very clean and nicely air-conditioned, and we arrived in the city after less than half an hour. Unwisely, we'd failed to pick up details, as we disembarked, on Perth's sightseeing bus, which meant that we spent time wandering around looking for stopping points, but at least we saw something of the city centre as we did so. Evntually, we found the start point, opposite the Tourist Centre, and only had ten minutes to wait for the bus.

Fremantle and Perth are said to have a Mediterranean climate, with a cooling breeze that arrives at midday each day, providing welcome relief from the summer heat. The sun was pleasantly hot today, but when the breeze got going and we were out of the city and out of the sun Gill needed her cardigan.

Perth, like Sydney and Brisbane, is a modern city that still has architectural remnants of its past rubbing shoulders with shiny modern skyscrapers. As we saw from the bus it has some modern constructions, some still being built, that can rival anything that we have in the UK. It's clearly grown quite rapidly, but with a degree of planning control that has worked well, at least as far as the Botanic Garden is concerned. This covers 400 hectares, two thirds of which have been left as natural bushland, and the views down across the Swan River to the city are gorgeous. It's studded with memorials to the dead of the various conflicts that Australia has been involved in during its short history. It also has a memorial to the sixteen Western Australians who died in the Bali bombing, and that seemed a bit odd – why not to ALL the Australians?

And that brought us back to an interesting point that the on-board lecturer made yesterday about Western Australia. In 1933, having only been a member of the Commonwealth of Australia since 1901, it held a referendum on whether to withdraw from the federation. The vote went massively in favour of secession, and the Westminster Parliament's permission was then sought. After some time this was denied, but it seems that discontent rumbles on even today. One argument is that Perth is geographically closer to Jakarta than to Canberra, which seems a pretty poor excuse to me.

On the bus tour the commentary kept making little asides about how much better Western Australia is than the other states, e.g. their concert hall has the best acoustics in the country. Really? Better than the Sydney Opera House? Can you prove this? It's certainly true that Western Australia is incredibly remote from the east coast, which is three time zones and well over 2,500 miles away. Also, waiting for the String Quartet the other night we fell into conversation with an elderly Australian couple. When asked if they lived near Sydney, which is, after all, where we set out from, the old boy got shirty and indicated that he held Sydney in contempt. No, they lived in Perth, thank you very much. Interesting!

On the city tour we saw the very modern Bell Tower, which had been purpose-built to house the bells that previously hung in St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square. They're said to have rung out at the time of the Spanish Armada, and as James Cook set off on his voyages of discovery. The bells were due to be re-cast in 1988, but instead they were re-tuned and donated to Western Australia. They are rare in that, 'they are one of the few sets of royal bells, and the only set known to have left England'.

We took a train back to Fremantle and made it on board in time for the latter part of Afternoon Tea :o)

Tuesday 28th March 2017

Fremantle/Rottnest Island

This evening the captain told us a little more about his reasons for lingering a day longer in Fremantle.

Apparently, a weather front was approaching Western Australia from the south-west and he wanted to let it get ahead of us, which it now has. That was the good news, but then came two bits of bad news; firstly, that when we sail this evening we'll be hitting the tail end of the bad weather, and we'll need to expect rough seas, again; secondly, another weather front is approaching from the south-west, so it seems we'll be chasing one and running in front of another.

We had a wonderful day today though that more than made up for the loss of a day in Esperance. We were on the 10.15am ferry to Rottnest Island, which we reached 30 minutes later. The island was discovered by the Dutch in the 17th century, who assumed that the local creatures were rats and therefore named it, 'Rats' Nest Island' in Dutch. Of course, what they saw weren't rats at all but Quokkas, and our trip today was entirely with the objective of seeing them for ourselves.

A couple of weeks before we set off for this cruise we saw a series of programmes on ITV featuring Martin Clunes visiting islands around Australia. A section of one of them was about Rottnest, or 'Rotto' to Australians ;o) He had clearly been bowled away by the little things, and the sight of him getting down on the ground to take a 'selfie' with one of them stuck in our minds.

We weren't at all concerned that we wouldn't see any, because it was clear that the little things have the little island (7.3 square miles) pretty much to themselves, with no predators. We took the island's hop on hop off bus service that takes an hour to circle the island, and halfway round we saw a quokka charming a group of people who were waiting for the bus. Quokkas are marsupials, about the size of Ollie, with kangaroo-like hind legs and a mouse-like head with little shiny black eyes. They're pretty much irresistible.

They're officially nocturnal, but on Rottnest they've learned that tourists might feed them, so they come out during the day. Visitors are instructed, with a threat of a $150 on the spot fine, NOT to feed them, to clear up any food remaining from meals and deposit it in one of the many bins. Gill, however, wasn't to be deterred, and smuggled some hazelnuts and walnuts off the ship, on the basis that these, at least, were 'real food' and not chips or bread.

We 'hopped off' the bus once at a café and general store and entered a supposedly 'quokka-free zone', but two of them were already in residence and scooping up scraps dropped by humans. They were amazingly tame, and would even let you stroke and tickle them, displaying every bit of enjoyment that our cats show. When they stare up at you imploringly, hoping for food, it's very hard to ignore them.

We arrived back at the bus' start point by the quay in time for an icre cream before joining the 'Quokka Walk'. There are over 200 Rottnest Visitor Guides working voluntarily on the island, with a dozen of them present on any one day. We were waiting for the guide to take us on a walk to see more quokkas and hear all about them when an ABC TV camera crew turned up. They explained that they were making a programme about quokkas and what makes them so attractive to visitors.

They asked if they could interview members of our party on camera. There was a Canadian couple nearest to them, and Gill and I were next. We were asked our names, where we were from and if we'd known about quokkas before visiting the island. It was only a short interview, but we both got to speak, so maybe in a day or two we'll be famous in Australia! ;o)

This was a wonderful day spent amongst intriguing and unique little animals – they're only found on one other island. We took the 4.25pm ferry back to Fremantle and our ship, and prioritised a cup of tea as soon as we got there! We now have three consecutive sea days, and I imagine there'll be a couple of lectures laid on to keep us amused. We're also hoping for another cookery demonstration.





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