One of the highlights of the Margaret River Region about 300 kilometres south of Perth, Australia is a series of caves stretching from Dunsborough to Augusta. There are over a hundred of them and four have been developed as tourist attractions. These are the Ngilgi Cave near Yallingup, the Mammoth and Lake Caves not far from the town of Margaret River, and the Jewel Cave down towards Augusta.
On our recent visit to Margaret River we visited the Mammoth Cave. The name is ironic because, as caves go, it is on the small side. It runs 500 meters with a depth of 30 meters, although there is a side passage to explore as well. The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, by contrast, has the longest network of surveyed passageways in the world – 640 kilometers of them!
But despite its compact size, this is an interesting cave to visit. It is the most easily accessible of the four public caves in the Margaret River region and we had no trouble trekking our two year old grand daughter with us. The trail through the cave consists of wooden boardwalks with steel handrails. The first chamber is accessible by wheelchair, though subsequent chambers and passages require the navigation of stairs.
The four public caves are all connected by the aptly named Caves Road. You can get tickets for a single cave or for two or more of them. The distance between the two farthest apart, the Ngilgi Cave and the Jewel Cave, is 83.8 kilometers so all are easily accessible in one day. And Caves Road is one of the nicest drives in the region passing by rolling meadows and sheep and cattle farms in the North to magnificent marri and karri forests in the south.
The Mammoth Cave is one of the few in the region to have fossils and was an active paleontological dig in the early 1900s for its record of the Pleistocene era. This includes the Zygomaturus, a pre-historic marsupial that looked like a pygmy hippopotamus. There is a fossil of a jawbone of the creature in the cave but I had a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding rock.
Inside the cave, on the other side of the first chamber, you’ll find a set of stairs leading to an upper chamber.
All along the cave walls beautiful stalactites hang down like icicles.
The cave is interesting in that its stalactites and stalagmites do not all point straight up and down. This is because parts of the cave ceiling have broken off and fallen to the floor below over the years and, of course, they didn’t land straight.
One interesting formation in the cave is a yellow-orange flowstone. You can only see it from a distance but such sheet formations are not uncommon. The colours derive from tannins in the water flowing over the rock.
I was at a bit of a quandary taking pictures in the cave as the cave is fairly well lit and you can take pictures with flash off. But pictures using flash show up quite differently. Most of the pictures I took with flash off. This is what you actually see when visiting. But using a flash removes the effects of the artificial lighting and shows the rock formations in their actual colour – a whitish-grey. Note the difference between the picture above, taken without flash, and the one below of the same flowstone with flash.
The Mammoth Cave is a bit different from the other three publicly accessible caves in that the others are all single access – you go into the cave, explore it, and come back out. The Mammoth Cave is a through cave. You go in one end and come out at a different location.
It used to be a single access cave but a collapsing sinkhole created an egress about a half a kilometer from the entrance.
The sinkhole is a deep one and a series of stairs go up 160 steps to the top.
The sinkhole covers a large area and you can see the limestone formations surrounding the hole.
Emerging from the cave we arrived at an exit gate and found out we had come out on the other side of Caves Road. We crossed and had a choice of two walks back to the visitor center, a long one – 600 meters, and a short one – 200 meters. With a toddler in tow we opted for the shorter one. Both take you through a beautiful expanse of marri forest, a lovely walk to end an interesting visit.
We enjoyed our tour and on a return visit, I’d like to explore the other caves as well. This was the first cave I had seen since 1980 when my wife and I visited the Oregon Caves. Some day I’d like to see some of the really big ones, like the Carlsbad Caverns or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave.
Be sure to check out the Photo Gallery for more pics.
Back in 1984, Perth businessman Dallas Dempster had a smart idea. Let’s get rid of this dump! Burswood Island, an island in the Swan River just a couple of kilometres from Perth’s city center, was the site of a large landfill. Dempster suggested to the Western Australian government that the site could be better used for a resort casino. The government agreed and Dempster and a Malaysian business partner were granted a casino license in 1985. The plans called for a casino, a 400 room hotel, a golf course, a convention and exhibition centre, an amphitheatre and more.
The casino, of course, was finished first and opened in December 1985. The third largest casino in the world at the time, it was an immediate success, so popular it netted $1 million a day in gross profit in its first two months of operation! The rest of the complex was finished over the next two years. This included the ultra-modern Burswood Island Hotel.
The casino was expanded and the theatre renovated in the 1990s. Further expansion in the 2000s saw another hotel added (a Holiday Inn, now the Crown Promenade) as well as some residential apartment complexes nearby. The complex underwent various ownership changes as well, ending up in the hands of Crown Limited in 2007. In 2011 the resort was rebranded as Crown Perth to coincide with the building of the Crown Melbourne resort. $750 million was pumped in to refurbish the resort. And in 2012 a third hotel was announced, the Crown Towers, which opened in December 2016. (The photo heading this article is of the Crown Towers and Crown Metrepol as seen from across the Swan River.)
Crown Perth is the jewel in Perth’s entertainment business and Janis and I had the pleasure of staying a couple of nights there recently to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. The place is world class with over thirty restaurants, several convention centres and ballrooms, a first-class theatre, spas and swimming pools, several upscale shops (including Paspaley Pearls and Rolex Watches), a night club and, of course, the casino. We had dined at three of the restaurants on previous trips, the top-notch Silks Japanese restaurant, the Merrywell and the fabulous Epicurean which serves a buffet on par with the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, maybe even better. During our stay we dined at three more including the Modo Mio Italian Restaurant and a couple of moderately priced restaurants. For an inexpensive but superb meal, I recommend the 88 Noodles oriental restaurant which is inside the casino. We also had drinks a few times at the Lobby Lounge in front of the Crown Metrepol.
We’re not much into gambling but we did spend an hour at the slots coming away ahead by $30. Not bad since we only played two cent slots.
The best part of our stay was the production of Disney’s Aladdin at the Crown Theatre. In its previous incarnation as the Burswood Theatre, it has featured a wide array of entertainers as well as major productions like Cats. Aladdin was a Broadway touring company production and was amazing. The staging and choreography were excellent.
The theatre itself is on par with Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre and similar venues. I liked it a bit better, actually, because each seat has a generous amount of legroom.
Not far from the Crown Perth complex there used to be a domed stadium known as the Dome at Crown Perth, formerly the Burswood Dome. This venue had a long history of performances by such stars as AC/DC, Kiss, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Pink, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Iron Maiden, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, The Black Eyed Peas, Guns N’ Roses, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Roger Waters. It also hosted major sporting events. The Dome was demolished in 2013 to make room for a parking lot for the new Optus Stadium which opened on January 21, 2018.
The stadium was built on part of the old golf course. The remaining part of the golf course now forms a park between the stadium and Crown Perth. It is about a twenty minute walk to the stadium.
Part of the stadium project included the building of a pedestrian bridge across the Swan River connecting the Burswood Peninsula to East Perth. The bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture. Three interlacing arches of white and black form the bridge. The Matagarup Bridge, after an indigenous name for the area, was opened to the public on July 14, 2018 so we were fortunate to have arrived back in Australia just after its opening.
Some have said the arches resemble swans. In any event, each arch has a staircase going up it and plans call for the stairs to be open to the public. The center span soars 72 metres (256 feet) high and is about half a kilometre in length. Scaling bridges must be an Aussie thing as the Sydney Harbor Bridge is famous for its accessibility by visitors. (See my earlier article on Sydney for pics) There will likely be a charge to scale the bridge but I’d certainly do it. Maybe on my next visit it will be open for climbing! Oh…I should mention that they are also considering adding a zipline from the top of the bridge to the ground! Wouldn’t that be cool!
Perth’s downtown business district is served by several free bus services known as CAT (Central Area Transit). There are two lines that run along Waterloo Crescent just up Nile Street on the other side of Gloucester Trotting Park. About a ten minute walk from the stadium, a half hour from Crown Perth. Crown Perth and the Stadium are both also accessible by train on the Perth-Townslie line though the Stadium Station is only open when events are on at the stadium. If the weather is nice, it is a great walk and free. The train will set you back $3.20.
Here are a few more photos of Crown Perth and the bridge.
Australia is a biologically distinct continent with many species of both plant and animal life that live nowhere else in the world. These include, of course, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the koala, the Tasmanian devil, the emu, and a wide variety of snakes and insects.
Some of these flora and fauna are particularly limited in their range. One of these is the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a large cat that looks something like a miniature kangaroo. The quokka is found only in Western Australia, and only in a limited range in the southwest of the state.
The largest population group, estimated to be between 8,000-12,000 is on Rottnest Island. A smaller group of up to 1000 live on Bald Island near Albany. And about 4000 live on the mainland in scattered colonies in the Margaret River region.
Rottnest got its name because in 1696 the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, thought the creatures were rats and called the island Rotte Nest (rat’s nest). Its native name is Wadjemup.
Today Rottnest Island is a nature preserve with about 100 permanent residents, but it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists with around 500,000 visitors annually. It can be reached by high speed passenger ferries from downtown Perth, Fremantle, North Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Visitors are not restricted to day visits as there is a hotel on the island as well as cabins for rent.
The island lies 18 kilometres off the coast from Fremantle. The nineteen square kilometre island has three plant species endemic to the island including the Rottnest Island Pine. The only predators that prey on quokkas on Rottnest are snakes, including the poisonous dugite. The mainland population was decimated with the introduction of dogs, cats and foxes.
The fast ferries land at a pier in Thomson Bay. On shore you’ll find the visitor center and a small collection of shops and restaurants. You can walk to many of the sites popular with visitors or you can book a bus tour of the island. You can also rent Segways, take guided walking tours and even board a small train.
On both of our visits we opted to walk around taking in the scenery before embarking on a bus trip to the other end of the island.
Our first priority was to see a quokka and we did not have to wait long. They are everywhere. They are not afraid of people and it is easy to approach them, though feeding them is prohibited. Local businesses sometimes find them a nuisance and one shop featured a sign with a stylized picture of a quokka with a “No” slash across it.
Not far from the town is the Bathhurst Lighthouse, one of two on the island. The lighthouse overlooks a spectacular beach and the shoreline is a beautiful melange of sea and wind sculpted rock.
The island has a varied history. It was at one time a penal colony, a military installation, and an internment camp for enemy prisoners during both World Wars. The island also has several salt lakes and was, at one time, the largest producer of salt in Western Australia.
The penal colony was used to house Aboriginal prisoners and closed in 1902. About 3700 prisoners aged from eight to seventy had been housed there over the lifetime of the colony. 369 died there including five who were hanged.
After exploring the area between the dock and the lighthouse, we hopped on the bus that takes you around the island. It’s a hop on, hop off affair with a number of stops along the way. We were only there for a day each time so we got off at the far end of the island near Cape Vlamingh.
This is a spectacular venue where you easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There are two sites to visit here. One is Cathedral Rocks. These are a series of small rocky islands just offshore that are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals.
These playful creatures love to frolic in the water, often swimming on their backs with their flippers in the air, doing rolls and otherwise cavorting in the waves. We also saw a king’s skink on one occasion.
A few hundred yards away is Cape Vlamingh. A wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout that commands a spectacular view of Fish Hook Bay as well as the open ocean at the west end of the island. The surf is strong here with rolling breakers crashing on the reefs and pounding through various nooks and fissures carved into the shoreline.
After catching the next bus back, we headed along the north shore of the island, passing the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes before arriving back at the town.
In town we passed the old salt house, once a center of commerce on the island. And we passed the Rottnest Island Hotel, which used to be the summer home of the Governor of Western Australia.
We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the island on our first trip. The cafe had netting surrounding the large patio to keep quokkas out. While we were eating, the little fellahs would poke their noses up to the netting at our feet begging for handouts. One managed to get through the netting at one end and a waitress spent some time chasing the critter around trying to shoo him out. I asked her why she didn’t just pick the animal up and carry him out since they were relatively tame. She replied that it’s best not to touch them as they can carry salmonella. Oops – we had petted one earlier. Good thing we washed our hands!
On our second trip to Rottnest we encountered a special treat along the shore of Thomson Bay. Lots of boats tie up here, and the beach is popular with tourists. We saw a bit of a commotion nearby and went to check it out. It seems a stingray had swum right up to the shore, which amused a crowd of onlookers.
There is a lot more to see and do on Rottnest and one could easily spend a week or two here checking it out. There are, in fact, 37 beaches on Rottnest. There are two military installations with fortifications and big guns at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, both open to visitors. There is a golf course and a wind turbine. And there are lots of cabins as well as campgrounds and the hotel for visitors wanting to stay longer. It even has an airport if you’d rather fly in.
A wildlife refuge and a summer playground, as well as a step back into history, Rottnest is a terrific venue for the explorer. Check out the additional photo galleries linked below as well as the official Rottnest Island website. You can just scroll down to the photo galleries if you are on the front page.
How many oceans are there and can you name them? Most people can come up with three – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They are, in fact, the largest. But there are two more – the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.
The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. It is so-called because it blankets the southern hemisphere, encircling the continent of Antarctic. The boundaries, however, have shifted over time.
The first map published by the International Hydrographic Association in 1928 had the northern boundaries touch Cape Horn, the southern end of Africa and the entire southern portion of Australia. That’s the area marked as the Great Australian Bight on the map. Since then the boundaries have been progressively moved south. Australia, however, still considers the body of water to their immediate south as the Southern Ocean.
In any event, the last place we visited on our Margaret River road trip in March 2016 was to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse near Augusta. This historical beacon was opened in 1895. Today it is a fully automated lighthouse. While the tower itself is closed to the public, the grounds are not. For a nominal fee you can get headphones for a guided audio tour.
The colorful history of the site is related on the audio tour as well as on signs along the way. The numerous outbuildings are explained. They include the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
But what is of particular interest is that Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly point in Australia. It marks the point where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. Like the folks who denounced the deplanetification of Pluto, the Australians will tell those who deny the Southern Ocean borders their country, “Bight me!”
Although you can walk around the lighthouse, you cannot go up the tower. But there are walkways all around. And signage describes the history and the landmarks to note.
We took the steps down to the rocks below. Access is blocked but it is easy to get through the fence. The wind and the waves are a beautiful sight.
On our walk back we once more passed an interesting piece of pop art – a cow with a telescope. It’s called Moorine Marauder. A nearby sign tells the story: From March to June 2010, 85 cows were positioned across the Margaret River Region as part of the world’s largest public art event “Cow Parade”. In July 2010 the cows were auctioned off with the proceeds going to regional beneficiaries and charities.
Similar pop art festivals have been held in Vancouver and other cities. Of the 85 cows, a great many ended up in the town of….. Cowaramup, of course. Pictures will show up in a future post.
And always with an eye out for the weird and whacky, it seems their were some hippy wannabes visiting the lighthouse. At least if their van is anything to go by!
The lighthouse marked the end of our road trip and we headed back to our rented house for the night and back to Perth in the morning. But we encountered one more interesting sight on the drive back. Tree huggers! Literally! We were driving through a heavily forested area and came across several dozen people standing in the woods hugging trees.
We didn’t stop to chat, just snapped a couple of quick pics as we passed, so I don’t know what this was all about. There was a parking lot with some cars and a bus. A school outing perhaps? Some eccentric back-to-nature group? We don’t know.
We’ll close off with a few more photos. We enjoyed the drive out to Augusta. It’s only about 50 kilometres from the town of Margaret River but much of it is windy road. And there are other stops along the way. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a berry farm that sells home-made jams. More on that with pics in a later post.
Although Margaret River is actually a small town located on a broad spur sticking out from the southwestern end of Western Australia, that whole region is widely known as Margaret River. It is wine country. It’s also an area of rolling hills, farms, forests and some great surfing beaches.
On the north end of this spur is the town of Busselton which has a claim to fame all its own. It is the home of the Busselton Jetty, the second longest wooden pile jetty in the world and the longest in the southern hemisphere. Built in 1865, it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015.
Originally entirely made of wood, it consists of a long pier into Geographe Bay and then extends twice as far again at a fifteen degree angle. Geographe Bay is quite shallow so the pier had to be long so deep sea vessels could tie up there.
The pier is a staggering 1.841 kilometres long. And it is well worth the visit. We first visited in May of 2015 and again in March of 2016. A comfortable walk on a nice day, although there is a train that runs the length of it with a stop at the elbow as well as the end. There is a $3 admission to the jetty and an additional fee for the train.
The pier was only 176 meters long when first opened in 1865 and it was continuously added to, reaching its final length of 1841 meters in the 1960s. It was in commercial use until the last ship docked there on October 17, 1971. The jetty was then closed and fell into disrepair. Cyclone Alby in 1978 destroyed the shore end of the pier.
In 1987, the Jetty Preservation Society was formed. Battling more storms and fires over the years, it managed to raise both public and private funds to rebuild the pier, culminating in its declaration as a heritage site. The $27 million project was completed in 2011 and it is now a popular tourist destination.
It features a small museum and interpretive center close to shore and an underwater observatory and gift shop near the end. The observatory opened in 2003.
Along the way there is a long line of plaques commemorating people whose ashes have been scattered from the pier. They contain messages like “In memory of so and so whose ashes were scattered by his family from the 300, his favorite spot. Gone fishing.”
You’ll also see a number of large signs along the way detailing some of the history of the pier as well as featuring some poems and interesting facts.
There are also a number of platforms off to the side along the way. Stairs take you down to a lower level for different view. And these platforms are popular with fishermen.
We did not go down to the underwater observatory – there is a fee to do so, but we walked beyond the gift shop to the last 140 meters of pier. This is the very end of the pier – 1.841 kilometres out. Daughter Sarah and her fiancé Jamie, both yoga enthusiasts, struck a few poses with the Indian Ocean as a backdrop.
When we came out ten months later, more additions had been made at this end. A sign showing the distance from various city centers among them.
Also new were some large murals of whales on the floor of the pier. Created by local artist Ian Mutch, these drawings were life-sized. Mutch’s website includes an aerial video of his amazing renderings of these denizens of the deep.
Another striking difference between our May visit and our March visit was the great increase in the amount of wildlife we saw. We hit the jackpot with many bird sightings and a pod of dolphins.
On the shore there is a visitor’s center as well as a nice park, a swimming area, a waterslide and a penned off swimming area. We saw wild cockatoos on both our visits but a lot more in March than the previous May.
So if you’re ever out visiting the Margaret River area, do check out the Busselton Jetty. It’s a colorful venue steeped in history.
There is something foreboding about prisons. There used to be two large ones, right smack in urban settings in Vancouver, the old B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster and the Oakalla Jail in Burnaby. Both now torn down. Before they tore it down, Oakalla was open for tours. We took the kids and it was grimly fascinating.
One large historical prison that is still standing is the Fremantle Prison in Fremantle, Western Australia. Australia was originally a penal colony and the Convict Establishment, as it was then known, was built by convict labour between 1851 and 1859. It is a large prison built to house up to a thousand prisoners. It operated as a maximum security prison until 1991.
Now the prison is a World Heritage Site, one of eleven sites that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. A sign outside the prison says “Fremantle Prison contains major evidence of the physical apparatus of an imperial convict public works establishment and of its adaptation for subsequent colonial use. The establishment is the most intact such complex in Australia, and is an outstanding symbol of the period in which Western Australia was developed using convict labour.”
And it is open to the public offering a variety of tours including a Great Escapes Tour, a Tunnels Tour (not escape tunnels, but an extensive series of water mains that ran under the prison – some are navigated by boat on the tour), an Art Tour (some convicts were talented artists) and the Torchlight Tour, a tour of the prison at night by torchlight (actually small flashlights).
We came for the Torchlight Tour which run on Wednesdays and Fridays. After waiting around a bit, we were finally led to a doorway where we each fished a small flashlight out of a bucket before entering. Inside our tour guide, an enthusiastic woman named Janine, gave us a short rundown before we headed out. We passed through the reception area where prisoners were checked in and given their prison garb, though the prison kitchen and then through a gate into the large courtyard.
Here we paused as Janine told us an eery story. First she asked us if we could imagine walking through these grim doors, a prisoner, even though we were innocent. In 1961, a 20 year old deaf-mute named Darryl Beamish was convicted of killing a young socialite, Jillian Brewer, with a tomahawk and a pair of dress-making scissors. Authorities had coerced a confession from him and so he stood before the judge as he pronounced those dreaded words, “You are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.” Fortunately his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Fast forward two years to 1963. John Button was convicted of manslaughter for running down his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, with his car. Button was a stutterer and the police interpreted this as nervousness. According to Wikipedia, “Button was refused access to his parents or a lawyer and was hit once by an interviewing police officer before finally confessing to killing Anderson after 22 hours of interrogation.” He was sentenced to ten years.
Meanwhile serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, nicknamed the Night Caller, had been arrested and stood trial. In September 1963 he confessed to killing Jillian Brewer, the woman Beamish was convicted of killing. The police rejected his confession because Cooke was “an utterly worthless scoundrel” and a “palpable and unscrupulous liar”. In November that year, Cooke was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.
Ten minutes before he was to be hanged on October 26, 1964, Cooke, unprompted, grabbed the Bible from the chaplain’s hands and cried out, “I swear before Almighty God that I killed Anderson and Brewer.” He was then led to the gallows and dropped into oblivion. He was the last man hanged at Fremantle Prison.
Button ended up serving five years despite Cooke’s deathbed confession. The deaf-mute Beamish served fifteen. It was not until 2005 that he was finally acquitted of the murder, the longest gap between a conviction and an appeal acquittal in Australian history.
Thoroughly chilled by this story, we now entered the main prison. Janine led us to a grim row of cells, three tiers high. A net spreads across the open space above the first level. Too many convicts attempted suicide by jumping from the upper levels.
Janine pulled out a bucket and told us this was the prisoner’s toilet. Guards learned quickly to walk under the catwalk above the first level. Neophyte guards walking in the open space were likely to get a bucket of excrement dumped on them.
As we left, we heard a scream and a body fell into the netting. A dummy. Part of the show, folks! We went out into another courtyard on the other side of the prison. Here we saw a large vat where prisoners would come to dump their buckets. Through a gate to an exercise yard. Prisoners sometimes became unruly here and there was a gated hut where guards could go if they feared for their safety.
We continued on our tour which is an hour and a half long, entering another cell block where we went through a cell and back out to another courtyard.
This courtyard was a punishment area. We were shown a frame on which prisoners were tied to be flogged. Janine described the ritual in gruesome detail. The flaying of the flesh with the cat ‘o’ nine tails. Man’s inhumanity towards man, which was common then. And sadly, still common today. (See my review of Johann Hari’s book Chasing the Scream on another of my blogs. In it I describe the cruelty of punishments still inflicted in the United States of all places.)
Further along we came to a barracks-like structure. This was the solitary confinement building. There are no windows here. When the doors close, there is no light either. Pitch dark. Men were known to go a bit crazy here. The first cell of this building was also the holding cell for the condemned.
The death chamber was a short walk back to the main building and through another door. We entered and took a sharp left and up two steps. Some of the group went a bit further and entered from a different door, to the witness viewing area. Janine told us that it was not something for the squeamish. Many a witness fainted at the sight.
We left the death house and soon found ourselves in another cell block. We came to one cell where a prisoner, an artist, had received permission to paint his walls. A sign outside says, “The walls of this cell were painted between 1988 and 1991. Prison rules did not allow inmates to deface their cell walls but this prisoner was given special permission for therapeutic reasons.” The result was fabulous.
We then went through the prison theatre which had an old black and white movie showing and through to some stairs down to a storage area.
We saw several areas where foodstuffs and other goods were stored. Big underground bunkers.
Finally we emerged back outside again, our tour at an end.
It was fascinating trip back in history. A grim reminder that the veneer of civilization is thin. Indeed, around the time of our visit, there was a scandal in Australia over revelations of the maltreatment of juvenile offenders in Australia’s north.
Below is a link to a gallery of additional photos. Click on the link or scroll on through if you are on the main page. There’s also a link to the prison website.
We flew home from Perth on Friday with a stopover in Sydney. The layover was 23 hours so we booked a hotel for the night and spent a good half day checking out the sights. Wanting to see the landmark Sydney Opera House, we booked a hotel within a kilometer of the famed venue.
Upon arrival however, we had no idea exactly where it was so we hopped on a shuttle bus. Few of the hotels have free shuttle service from the airport so it cost us $30 for the two of us. There was a train service to downtown but we didn’t know exactly where the two downtown stations were with respect to the hotel so we opted for front door delivery.
As the above map shows, the opera house stands at the end of the center point of three points that, with their two bays, form a W. The left bank of the left side of the W is an old section of downtown Sydney called The Rocks. Our hotel was the Holiday Inn on George Street, just a block from the Overseas Passenger Terminal. And, we found, everything is only a short walk away.
The opera house is connected to the cruise ship terminal by a broad pedestrian walk called the Circular Quay. At the center of the quay are five ferry wharves that are home to ferries plying the waters to many different areas of the city. Old Sydney is at the center of a waterway marked by many inlets.
As we emerged from the side street leading to the bay, we found ourselves on the quay. To our left was a cruise ship terminal. Behind and above that was the Sydney Harbour Bridge, noted for welcoming in the New Year every year with a spectacular fireworks display. And across the bay was the opera house, its iconic sails jutting into the sky.
Although we arrived on a wet, rainy, and fairly miserable day, we decided we wouldn’t let the weather dampen our spirits. We started to walk along the quay and came across a circular plaque in the ground. Joseph Conrad it read and featured a short quote from the man and noted his relationship to Australia. Very cool. A short distance further we came across another plaque about another author. Then another. It turns out the entire quay is dotted with such plaques, part of the Writers Walk.
Halfway along the quay is a plaque explaining it. Dedicated in 1991 by the Minister for the Arts, Peter Collins, it reads “What we are and how we see ourselves evolves fundamentally from the written and spoken word. The Writers Walk demonstrates that this evolutionary process continues to channel the thoughts and perceptions, the hopes and fears of writers who have known this great city and its people.”
As a blogger and writer I was quite fascinated by this and snapped photos of sixteen of the two dozen or so authors. Mostly writers I knew of or whose works I had heard of and one I had never heard of but whose quote I found particularly moving. I’ll post a separate photo gallery of the sixteen plaques I shot, authors that include such notables as Mark Twain, Jack London, Germaine Greer, James Michener and Arthur Conan Doyle.
We walked along the quay past the wharves and a selection of restaurants to the other side. Above the complex of restaurants and shops is the Circular Quay train station. Sydney Trains is a private-public partnership between the government of New South Wales and the Reliance Rail Consortium. $3.6 billion of modern rolling stock was acquired in 2006.
We followed the trail of writers, passing many shops and restaurants along the way. Sidewalk patios were everywhere. The harbour bridge stood out across the water.
And then, as we passed the last of the high-rise apartment buildings flanking the quay, we saw the opera house again.
We were struck by how different it looked live than in pictures. Photos always seem to show it with dazzling white sails. In fact, the tiles are alternating white and beige. And they are an off-white, a sort of creamy white. However, in photos, including the ones I took in the rain, the sails appear white.
On the shuttle bus ride to our hotel, we heard an ad on the radio for the show at the opera house and we thought it would be great fun to actually attend a show. A new production of My Fair Lady was on. However, it just happened to be opening night for the show and it was completely sold out.
But we were able to go in to the ticket sales wicket and did see some of the grand interior. Tours of the complex were available but we thought it a bit pricey at $37 person so we declined.
We wandered back out to walk around the opera house. Off to the left and circling the bay was the Royal Botanic Gardens, celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, and the Domain, a large 34 hectare park. With nicer weather and more time, we would certainly have walked through it. As it was, we just looked at it from afar.
Circling the opera house we ended up at the rear which faced the water. The larger wing here is the main concert hall. It is the largest of the sails.
Continuing around the opera house we catch an excellent view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge again. I noticed some little spikes along the curved summit of the bridge. They were moving. People? I changed to a zoom lens and took a couple of pics and a movie. Indeed, people were walking at the top of the bridge.
I looked it up afterwards and there is a company called BridgeClimb. They offer a variety of bridge climbing experiences including an evening walk as well as a sunrise walk. If you’re fearful of heights, you can get a package that only goes half way up. These excursions don’t come cheap. Prices range from AU$158 for the Sampler Climb (half way to the top) to AU$383 for a twilight or dawn climb. Cheapest climb to the top is $278. Prices are less for children. Despite the price, it’s on my bucket list. If I’m ever back in Sydney, damn it, I want to walk along the top of that bridge. What a rush that would be!
Continuing along we came across a lot of restaurants along the lower concourse, many with outdoor patios. Prices at the restaurants vary though we were told that they get more expensive the closer you are to the opera house.
It was around 4 PM now so we stopped for a bite at a little Italian place across from Wharf # 6.
After dinner we headed back towards the opera house again to visit a few shops. One called Aboriginal Art Galleries specialized in aboriginal art and had a massive display of didgeridoos, the long pipelike instrument with a very distinctive sound. Not as easy to play as you think. My daughter’s fiancé had gotten me one for my birthday on our last trip. I got the shop keeper to demonstrate for me on tape.
Did you play that video? Did you listen to that sound? Isn’t that amazing?
It was getting darker as we left the shop so we walked a bit further to get a glimpse of the opera house lit up at night. It was spectacular.
Then we headed back around to the cruise ship terminal. There was a large crowd of teenagers there, many dressed to the nines. Some sort of grad party maybe. A couple of gals were standing nearby as we walked past. Two young guys approached them and one of the girls opened up her jacket and showed the mickey sticking out of her inside jacket pocket. These kids were ready to party!
We decided to walk past the terminal to see if we could get to the bridge. The rain had let up so we could close the umbrella. The temperature was mild and pleasant. We passed a long row of restaurants. In front of them were masts – a nautical theme to the whole row. The dinner hour had just started and we could see tables with white cloths inside. The upper floors had large open doorways with people casually standing in them even though they opened on empty space.
To our right was the Park Hyatt Hotel with the Sydney Harbour Bridge showing behind and above it. Large colour slides of footy (soccer) players were being projected on one of the bridge supports.
We walked around the hotel and came to a small park which commanded a great view of everything, the bridge, the opera house, the city.
We headed left and followed a narrow road beside a steep wall with large ivies growing up it. At the end was an old building with a large smokestack above it. The building was a power station from 1902-1908. Today it serves as the Arts Exchange. It is “an operations hub for Sydney’s major festivals and key arts organisations”. Tenants include a dozen different arts groups.
We soon came to another grand old building in this historic section of the city. It stood at the edge of the parking lot for the cruise ship terminal. A sign at the front indicated one of the tenants was Emerge Capital, a large investment bank.
We walked a short distance more and found we had come full circle back to our hotel. Not planned. Just serendipity.
We got a good night’s sleep and in the morning took the train to the airport. The train is slightly more expensive than the shuttle bus, but the bus took us an hour to get to the hotel in all the crazy traffic. The train takes just fifteen minutes to get to the airport. The train is a much better option.
It was a bright sunny day. Too bad the previous day had been so rainy. So I grabbed a few sunny pictures from the station platform to round out our visit.
Sydney is spectacular. The old part of the city around the Rocks and the Circular Quay is very accessible. The architecture and scenery is amazing, even in the rain. We will definitely visit Sydney again. Hopefully for a longer visit next time.
There are two additional photo albums for you to check out. Just click on the links below or scroll on down if you are on the main page. I’ve included additional links of interest as well.
Here are some of the plaques marking the Writers Walk along Sydney, Australia’s Circular Quay. The last three were taken at night with a flash and appear to be a little different in colour. Those colours are actually more accurate. These are just sixteen of the two dozen or so writers with plaques. The others were writers I am not familiar with. I was not familiar with Oodgeroo Noonuccal below, but I really liked the quote. The others below I had heard of or heard of some of their works, though I have not read all of their works, if any. I have added the quotes below the picture if the picture is smudged or partly illegible.
With a population of just over two million, Perth is Australia’s fourth largest city as well as the largest city and the capital of Western Australia. It was founded in 1829 as the administrative center for the Swan River Colony. Today it is a bustling modern city that headquarters most of the mining companies that are the mainstay of Western Australia’s economy.
Getting there from the suburbs is pretty easy as the Perth Metropolitan Region has an extensive modern rail transit system. Perth serves as a central hub with rail lines going out in five directions like spokes on a wheel. The system extends all the way from Butler in the North to Mandurah south of Perth, a distance of 109 kilometres and from Fremantle in the West to Midland in the East. You’ll find a bit more on the TransPerth rail system in my post about Mandurah.
While Perth Station is the main hub, if you want to visit the downtown, it may be better to get off at the Perth Underground Station. It’s only a few blocks from the main station but comes out right at the Murray Street Mall.
Perth has two pedestrian malls – streets from which vehicles are barred and pedestrians can walk around freely. They are parallel to each other and run three blocks from William Street to Barrack Street. These two malls form the central shopping district of Perth. You’ll find lots of shops and restaurants here. And buskers. Lots of them in the summer.
On our first visit in May 2015, there was a demonstration happening, a protest about aboriginal rights. Officers on horseback patrolled to keep order. The picture was taken from an elevated crosswalk at the midpoint of the mall. Northeast is an open plaza, Forrest Place, which has a large fountain you can walk through on a hot day as well as an interesting sculpture.
Proceeding northeast along the elevated walkway brings you to a pedestrian overpass that takes you to the main Perth Station.
Beyond Perth Station is an older section of the downtown which includes the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Across James Street from the art gallery is the Western Australia Museum which has been closed while a new museum is being constructed. But outside the museum is a fascinating children’s playground, an audio workshop. No swings or slides. Just xylophones and percussion instruments for kids to bang away on.
Down the street is an older section of town where you’ll find some old New Orleans style architecture, like the Brass Monkey Hotel. There are some modern plazas in the area as well.
Perth’s Youth Hostel is in this area and it is where my daughter stayed for a while on her first arrival in Perth.
Heading back over the tracks we head up Williams Street towards the Hay Street Mall. Williams Street has a number of excellent restaurants as well as a superb book store.
The Hay Street Mall and Murray Street Mall are connected by a couple of arcades, passageways with shops on each side, as well as a larger indoor mall called Carillon City. This mall features an actual carillon on the Hay Street side.
Hay Street Mall includes some of the more upscale shops including Pottery Barn. You’ll also find a sculpture of a busker doing a hand stand, hat by his side. But the most interesting thing on Hay Street is the London Court mall connecting Hay Street with St. Georges Terrace.
The mall is an open air affair that looks like an old London street. There are a variety of shops along both sides, including some excellent souvenir shops, one of which has a nice collection of hand carved boomerangs and digeridoos.
At either end of this mall are two statues, one of William Shakespeare and the other of Dick Whittington and his cat.
Heading towards Barrack Street you’ll pass an overhanging mirror, great for a selfie. And at the corner of Barrack and St. Georges you’ll see Stirling Gardens kitty corner. The entrance to this beautiful garden features a statue of Alexander Forrest, one of the early explorers of the region who also served as mayor of Perth.
More interesting are a few statues near the park just up St. Georges a bit, brass statues of a family of kangaroos.
Stirling Gardens itself is a beautiful garden that includes many native plants as well as a bamboo grove. I’ll include some pictures in a separate photo gallery. Behind the garden is the historic Supreme Court of Western Australia.
A little bit past the court and garden is the Barrack Street Jetty on the bank of the Swan River. This is the home of Swan Bells, more commonly known as the Bell Tower, a landmark 82.5 metres or 271 feet high. The tower was built at the end of the last century and opened in 2000 to celebrate the millenium. It came about as the result of a gift of the historic bells from St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London in 1988 for Australia’s bicentenary celebrations.
The twelve St. Martin bells date from the 14th Century. They were recast during the reign of Elizabeth I and again in the mid-18th Century. They were due to be recast once more leading up to 1988. But, Wikipedia tells us, “instead they were tuned and restored at London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry and donated to Western Australia, on the initiative of local bellringer and businessman Laith Reynolds. The bells are known to have rung as the explorer James Cook set sail on the voyage that founded Australia.”
The bells stayed in storage as Perth did not have a belfry large enough to house them. They stayed in storage until the millennial project was decided on. Six more bells were added to the original twelve.
The tower is open to visitors for a fee but we haven’t toured it yet. However we did dine at one of the restaurants on the jetty.
The Swan River widens out to the size of a large lake at Perth. And during our first visit, a large part of the waterfront adjacent to the jetty was blocked off for a major redevelopment of the area, the Elizabeth Quay. When we returned in February 2016, the public spaces at the quay had just opened. They include a magnificent footbridge across the water of an artificial inlet, public squares and a children’s water park, currently closed for repairs as children recently got sick from the water.
Part of the area remains behind construction fences while commercial and residential construction continues. These include the centerpiece Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a luxury residential complex called The Towers. The project, when completed in 2018, will have nine buildings with 1700 residential apartments, 150,000 square meters of office space and 39,000 square meters of retail space.
Perth is a vibrant and exciting city to visit with shopping malls, restaurants and parks to visit and explore. We’ve been several times and will be back again. Perth is also home to the Perth Zoo in West Perth and to King’s Park, ranked as one of the world’s ten best urban parks in the world according to Trip Advisor in 2014. I’ll write about King’s Park in a separate post some time in the future. Meanwhile, check out the additional Photo Gallery for more pics. Click on the links or if you are on the main page, scroll on down.