Rottnest Island

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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 quokka, a rare marsupial found only in Western Australia

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.

One of the fast ferries to Rottnest Island

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.

Walking along the streets around Thomson Bay

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.

Daughter Sarah petting a quokka while Janis snaps a photo

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 sculpted shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Janis and Sarah on the beach near the Bathurst Lighthouse

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.

Lomas Cottage was used to house just one prisoner, John Lomas. His is an unusual story.

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.

New Zealand fur seals on the Cathedral rocks

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.

Cavorting for the tourists

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.

Surf crashing onto the shore at Cape Vlamingh

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.

One of the salt lakes with the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the background

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.

The Rottnest Island Hotel

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!

This restaurant’s patio is surrounded by netting to keep the quokkas out.
But that didn’t deter them from visiting diners seated near the edge of the patio. I think they know how cute they are and use it to advantage.

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.

A tourist checks out this stingray that swam up to the edge of the beach.

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.

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Our Cabo Adventure

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The iconic image of Cabo San Lucas is the famous arch, El Arco, a rocky outcrop on the tip of the peninsula not far from the town of Cabo San Lucas. But Cabo is more than just the town and the rock formations. A plethora of large resort hotels dot the coastline between that town and the town of San José del Cabo. And, of course, there are lots of golf courses and a national park near by.

Our first visit to Cabo was to the town. It was the first port of call on a cruise we took in 2007. Although there were excursions available, we opted to wander around on our own. We were surprised to see heavily armed soldiers on duty on the docks.

Along the waterfront in Cabo.
Along the waterfront in Cabo.

Cabo is a pretty little town and we stopped at a place called Margarita Villa for the largest Margaritas we had ever seen.

Janis and I knock back a couple of giant Margaritas.

Our second trip to Cabo was in 2013 when we spent a week at an all-inclusive resort about half-way between the two towns. The Dreams Resort, like many resorts along the strip, has fabulous amenities – a large swimming pool with a swim-up bar, several fine restaurants, and entertainment.

The Dreams Resort at Cabo San Lucas

Sandy beaches spanned the front of the resort and off in either direction past many other resorts. Every morning we would start our day with a walk along the beach for an hour or so. The ocean here is a deep blue and the surf is quite fierce. There are warnings to be careful of undertows and riptides. Swimming is at your own risk.

At one end of the long beach along the Cabo peninsula are these rocky outcrops. You can see the ferocity of the waves as they crash.

One time we were walking along talking and maybe closer than we thought because a large wave crashed and pounded up to where we were. The water swirled around our feet and Janis lost her footing. As she fell, her new hat flew off. I quickly grabbed the hat and was surprised to see her sliding down the sand flat on her back away from me into the sea.

I followed her out and as the wave settled she struggled to her feet and I grabbed her hand and we raced back up the sand out of reach of the next wave. It was a bit of a scare and she lost her glasses in the process. But hey, I saved the hat!

The picture of me that serves as the header for this blog was shot on our Cabo vacation in 2013.

One day we took the bus into the town of San José del Cabo. It’s a picturesque village with a large church and a central plaza. We wandered around and visited a few shops but there is not a lot to do there.

San José del Cabo, a pretty little town but not really a lot to do here.

The resort often had entertainment and one evening show featured acrobats twirling batons of fire as well as a lot of dancers on the beach.

Of course, a lot of time was spent just lounging by the pool reading, or going for a swim. Who wouldn’t want to take a dip when the pool has a swim-up bar!

Sipping Margaritas at the swim-up bar. Life is good!

Later in the week we booked a sunset sailing excursion in town. We took the bus to the city and boarded the boat, a large sailboat. This was a terrific adventure, the surf, the wind, the sail flapping in the breeze.

Heading out on the sailboat.

The ship took us past the famous El Arco and along the way we saw a narrow strip of sand between two imposing cliffs. The beach, we were told, led to another beach on the other side. The beach on this side was called Lover’s Beach. It is safe to swim here as this is the sheltered side.

The gap leads to the Pacific side of the Land’s End and Divorce Beach. Swimming there is dangerous. This side, on the Sea of Cortes, is quite safe.

The other side is called Divorce Beach. Here you are exposed to the open sea and the surf is unpredictable and dangerous. Rogue waves, strong undertows and riptides have claimed lives here. Swimming is not recommended. When we returned home I found a few stories on the Internet of drownings and narrow escapes.

We were served a tasty meal aboard and then we sailed into the sunset. A gorgeous sight. We enjoyed this sailing adventure a lot.

Sunset at sea.

And while we had a great week what with the sea and surf, the swim-up bar at the pool, the fabulous restaurants, and the sailing adventure, we had an unexpected surprise on our last day there.

Dreams Resort is part of a sea turtle rehabilitation program. Five species of sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches of Cabo every June. Some are protected and sheltered until they hatch and return to the sea, but many of the eggs are gathered and taken to safe hatching grounds. When the hatchlings are large enough, they are returned to the sea.

bin of sea turtles-e
A large bin full of baby sea turtles.

On our last day there, the resort announce that they would be having a turtle release in the evening just before sunset. Everyone eagerly gathered on the beach to watch.

Hundreds of little sea turtles were placed on the sand and they crawled eagerly out to the sea. As they got closer, the surf pulled some in, and also washed some back up onto the beach. People were eager to help the little critters make it back to their home. It was quite a sight to see.

After a week in Cabo we flew back home and had another adventure, an emergency landing in San Francisco as one of the engines on the plane failed. So we got home a day late, but very happy to have spent a week in fabulous Cabo San Lucas.

Be sure to check out the additional photo gallery for more pics and vids. Either click on the link or if you are in the main page, scroll on through.


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