I look at the date on my computer and it reads August 18. I pull at my wet ponytail, reminding me of the days’ swim and kayak and wonder how the space can already be so wide between my feet landing in Perth and getting used to home soil. That’s a stretch, though, I’m not used to it – not at all – but it’s already been nearly two weeks since I came home. The place that I called home is now 16,000km away, and I am a bit scared to wonder if or when I will go back. Instead, I will focus on covering the fun things I did in my last weeks to finalize this portion of life’s ‘Australia Chapter’.
At the end of June, I found myself pretty busy. I had been living in St Kilda East for about six weeks, a part of the city I had grown to enjoy after living there with Melissa as our first Melbourne home in October. The apartment was really more of an ‘in-between’, so I didn’t get attached, and mostly spent any time at home watching shows on my tablet. Still, nearby Balaclava was a good location for transit, home to some great little eateries (Gattica, Las Chicas, and the $8.50 egg roll and coffee Nick and I would grab) and a prime location for jogging to the ocean. The school term was ending June 30 so I thought it a prime time to take off for my last trip of the year, Western Australia. My friend Jon had said if I didn’t make it over there my second time I would come to regret it, so I made sure it got done.
June was a really wonderful month. Even though it was technically winter for Australia, it felt like spring to me, and I believe we had one or two days of rain at most. Many of my friends had moved on or away, but I kept busy. I re-joined boxing which was tough but really rewarding. I went to trivia nights at Lucky Coq, met people for brunch, visited different restaurants and wine bars, and spent time with Nick. His roommate Ella hosted a big bash for her 30th birthday which ended up being a lot of fun, but unfortunately my birthday the next day was a quiet one as we’d gone all out. The weekend before I left, Nick helped me move my stuff out and was kind enough to keep it while I took off for three weeks out west. He drove me to the airport on a Friday, and off I went to explore my last stop in Oz.
The first day in Perth worked out fairly well. My friend Rimma was in town for a mining conference so she let me stay with her at her hotel, and we went out for dinner in the area. We later met up with my future couch surfing host, Ben, who showed us to some cool bars in Mosman Park. Rimma left the next day and I spent the afternoon relaxing with Ben before going out to a Canada Day party at the Aviary. There was a good showing, and it felt nice to be in the company of Canadians, but the beers were overpriced and the poutine was shameful. Still, I got to meet a guy named Chris, who I’d heard about through my friend Meg in Melbourne! Such a small world, and it’s great when more connections form.
I didn’t have a big night so I was prepared for the hike Ben and his friend took me on – 16 km up in the Perth Hills. Ben does multi day hikes and runs a club in the city so he knows his stuff. It was a nice leisurely afternoon that rewarded us with great views over the distant city.
For the next few days, I checked myself into Old Fire Station Backpackers in Fremantle. I spent the first day exploring the old suburb, which is mostly known for cute buildings, museums, restaurants, and the Little Creatures Brewery. This was one of my first stops, and I was not disappointed. I paid for the tour which came with samples…many, many samples. After the brewery, I sat with an Irish coffee and watched the winter festival underway. It was extremely cute to watch the locals zipping or tumbling around on skates, and they had plastic life-size penguins available for the kiddos to help balance themselves. I took a brief gander at the Maritime museum and met a couch surfing guy named Lee to wander the remaining streets of the area. The night was a relaxed one, eating some takeaway and indulging in the hostel Netflix.
Tuesday was probably one of my favourite days of the trip. I boarded a morning to ferry to Rottnest island, known for its famous critter, the quokka. The early Dutch who first discovered the island named it so, Rotte Nest, for rat’s nest, the creature they could closest link it to. I met a nice American family who was going over with their Australian friends, and they were kind enough to let me bike the island with them. The mother came to Perth on a student exchange in the 80s, and had been visiting her host family every few years since. The Aussies with her were the host brother and his daughter. I found the idea so heartwarming I vowed to keep coming to Australia for the rest of my life, no matter what it takes. We grabbed our bikes and headed into the ‘town’ on the island, if you could call it that – really just a bunch of shops and a restaurant. We were only a few minutes in but the quokkas were EVERYWHERE. The joke is that you can’t leave the island without getting a quokka selfie, and I was not disappointed. They are extremely cute and also tame, so you can truly get up in their face and snap that souvenir photo. Once everyone completed the challenge, we made off for the trails.
I soon discovered just how beautiful Rottnest is. Even though we were faced with a mixture of threatening cloud and brilliant sun, the ocean never changed its cerulean blue colour. The white sand beaches jut in and out along the shore, and as the bike trail follows the extremity of the island, it makes for quite a wonderful ride. The family I was with only opted to stay half the day, so they soon made their way home. I decided to do the whole 25 km trail and had a great time exploring the many bays and inlets scattered around the island. It was all fun and games until I was ¾ of the way done and the heavy, dark clouds finally broke and boy…did it rain. I began to fear for my camera and the few precious things in my bag because the rain poured down for a steady half an hour or more. It got so bad I couldn’t see, then finally, a picnic area. I huddled under the shelter, accompanied by one lone quokka, and within minutes, sunlight peeked through again. Figures. I made my way back to the ferry area and journaled with a glass of wine before calling it a day.
Two happy coincidences happened during the first week in Perth. Back in 2015, I hosted Kade, a guy I’d met in the Whitsundays in 2013, and his friend Daniel, back at my home in Ottawa. As luck would have it, Dan saw that I was in Perth and shot me a message to catch up. We had a wonderful night checking out a few drinking establishments in the area with his friend and it felt so good to see a familiar face. Secondly, I’ve been a CS user for a few years now. In 2014, a guy named Sam (who lived in Hobart) was only the second person to ever host me. I use his story as an example to this day of the kindness of strangers. Sam not old hosted Sini and I, but he also lent us his camping gear for a road trip when he’d only known us a day. Anyways, it was Sam who saw my name on the app and messaged me, asking if I needed a place to stay. I ended up spending time with him before and after my trip, and it was so wonderful to catch up with an old friend. He was even kind enough to drop me off at the hostel where my tour started, and to let myself and my new friend Hannah stay with him when we came back.
The bus rolled up on that Saturday morning and I was quite surprised to find a wild looking man driving a Budget rental bus walk up to greet me and two other German backpackers. I had read that we would be a cozy group of 14-16, but must have been lost in translation, as we were a rather intimate group of 24 crowded onto this little bus. I was fairly sleepy from the sendoff at Sam’s the night before, so I found a window seat and dozed off until we hit the Pinnacles. The first few days felt like mostly getting adjusted to the early mornings and long hauls – getting up around 5.30-6.00 every morning in total darkness, fumbling with your things and making it to the bus just to snooze again during the long drives. We hauled hundreds of kms every day because that’s what Western Australia is, massive, barren and full of open road. With cell service being a bit of a joke, you either had to sleep, read, or rely on the company of good people, and that’s where I lucked out. I had the good fortune of meeting Alice, Jaineka, Mikaila, Yvonne and Hannah early into the tour, five girls from the U.K. We hit it off like a house on fire and soon became the six musketeers, bunking, eating, laughing and sticking together throughout the tour. In hindsight I know the tour would not have been the same without them. So many deep conversations, inside jokes, girlish moments and advice was given over the 10-14 days we were all together. We’re in cahoots to have a Canada 2018 road trip together, and I would love to see it happen.
I suppose this is the part where it might be appropriate to discuss what I actually did during those two weeks. As I said, our first stop was the Pinnacles. They’re these limestone formations that dot the land as far as the eye can see once you enter the park. No one really knows how they formed, but they’re unlike anything you may have seen which sets a good tone for the beginning of a trip.
On our way to our first overnight accommodation, we stopped to check out the HMAS Sydney monument in Geraldton. It honours those who lost their lives on the ship during WW2.
We had our first taste of rural WA at a farmstay not too far from Geraldton. We were 4-5 people to a room and there wasn’t much going on save for a firepit where a few other travellers were crowded as night crept in. We all ate together in a shed where the owners had a sort of stew prepared, then I grabbed some wine and sat by the fire with Alice. This is where we had our first heart to heart, and I knew we had some of the same things going on in our lives. Our tour guide had a mandolin and played some great music before we all called it to prepare for an early rise.
Day 2: This day we headed to check out Nature’s Window, Z-Bend Gorge and Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park. We also stopped at Hamelin Pool to see where stromatolites were formed. They were composed of cyanobacteria, and though I wasn’t listening much (too many photo opps) I did hear something about how they created life. Oops. Maybe I should have listened? We departed for Shark Bay where we’d spend our second night. The girls and I dropped our stuff quickly and headed for the beach to enjoy the sunset and get some group snaps.
Day 3: This was a nice day. We were up to head to Monkey Mia, a place where you can feed or swim with wild dolphins. We were a bit disadvantaged because we went during the school holidays which meant the beaches were burgeoning with eager tourists, so visibility was an issue. However, I somehow lucked out – the volunteers pick 4-5 people to step forward and feed the dolphins. The whole thing only lasts an instant, but I got picked, so that was fun. After Monkey Mia we drove to shell beach, a place consisting only of, you guess it, shells. We had big drives that day and managed a few great sunset shots on the way to Coral Bay before packing it in.
Day 4: This was the first relaxed day of the tour. Yvonne went off on a snorkel tour while the rest of us headed for the beach to swim and tan. The water was so refreshing and such a beautiful shade of aquamarine! By 3pm everyone had met up and we went for drive to Cape Range National Park. Think slowly easing sunset, great big scooped-out canyons, deep pinks and burnt umbers colouring the sky. It was beautiful. We had a quiet moment here before returning to Coral Bay for a great dinner, I journaled and spoke to locals, then off to bed.
Day 5: Today we drove up to Turquoise Bay for another relaxation session. You had the option to snorkel but many said it wasn’t as good as Coral Bay. I went for a few swims and they had silver fish swimming right close to the shore. We explored the beach of the Mildura Sinking, and a few of us collected sand dollars, sea shells and other beach detritus. We rested for the afternoon at our accommodation (a fairly nice holiday park) then drove out to Vlamingh Head lighthouse for another fine sunset.
Day 6: I’ve written down that this was the day we visited Kununurra, but I can’t remember what it was. I do believe this is simply where we picked up groceries, had old plain pasta, and I sent a postcard to Nick (ha ha). The whole point of this day was simply making the big drive to Karijini Eco resort. The place is actually pretty decent as far as camping goes – we had an 8 bed tent akin to Kenyan safaris, except there was no light… If they had even put one little lamp in the middle of the ceiling I think we would have loved it. Still, there was a little deck with a few chairs, and we were literally surrounded by outback. The girls and I had some of the funniest conversations that weekend… that poor Dutch-German couple never saw it coming.
Day 7: We had two major hikes this day. We did the Hancock Gorge and Handrail Pass. I will say that these hikes are beautiful – deep orange cliff walls, deep blue water, and cerulean blue skies, but they’re not exactly easy. It’s hard to describe, but at a certain point you have to ditch your shoes, even your camera, because you have to wade through deep, freezing water, or scale the gorge walls. The gorge walls are a series of uneven and rough edges with barely enough space for your feet in some cases. I managed most of the first hike before nearly having a panic attack – it’s not that the water is particularly deep, but there are sharp rocks. One misstep and you could be reeling backwards to fall and hit goodness knows what. I did the best I could, but between that and the portions where you had to cross sharp rocks barefoot, I didn’t love it.
The rail pass was better, except for another scary part where you have to avoid slipping on black moss and hold a bar to shimmy down into a waterfall. Again, you’d have to be there to understand, but I was again terrified. I’m a wuss. There were many portions where I didn’t want to scale the walls so I simply swam across 2 degree water. By the time we got back to camp, I was happy to have a hot shower, have a drink at the Eco Pub with Yvonne and Alice, and relax.
Day 8: One more hike before moving on – Dale’s Gorge. I actually thoroughly enjoyed this one. There was a deep descent into the gorge and an even steeper climb back up, but it had a really nice change in terrain and it wasn’t as intimidating. The sun was high and we nearly got baked, but the hike was only a few hours before we made it back to the bus and en route to Pardoo. This was our first night sleeping in swags. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up camping and get on fairly well with a tent and a good sleeping bag. The problem was our swags – Mikaila and I, anyway – were broken, and I believe both of fairly froze during the night. Talk about the most miserable sleep ever. Still, surviving the night meant going on to better things – Broome.
Day 9: The day into Broome was a good one. We stopped Mango Place – an eatery service fresh pizza, mango wine, liqueurs, honeys and smoothies. I won a trivia question on the bus which allowed me a few free samples. We took the afternoon at our hostel to do laundry, hang by the pool, and get ready for dinner. The group had a final farewell dinner, then most people went their separate ways. Jai took off that evening back to Melbourne to see family. Mikaila was around one more day before heading back to Sydney. Alice and Yvonne were heading up north to Darwin on another tour, but were around another two days. Hannah would be heading back to Perth with me.
Day 10: We spent one day on the beach in Broome. Long, endless white sand, and high, high heat awaited us. We explored Broome town for the afternoon then relaxed by the pool.
Day 11-: We had another pool day then got ready for our evening camel ride. I had ridden camels in Alice Springs, but this was a whole new experience. There was something so beautiful about riding as the sun was fading and so many people were out enjoying the same sunset. We also got a small pair of pearl earrings and a drink voucher, so all in all, totally worth the experience. It was the last thing I got to do with the UK gals before we said our goodbyes.
Day 12-14: This was the long haul back to Perth. Flights from Broome to Perth were really expensive so Hannah and I were both in the same boat in thinking it made more sense to just drive it. The first night we stayed in the middle of nowhere – no power or facilities, just swags, in Mairie Pool. It wasn’t the best night, but we did have a good chat, drinks, and music with our guide, and I did get a few hours sleep.
It was a sweet relief to arrive back in Perth on day 14. My friend Sam was so kind, he offered to host the both of us for the weekend. He had some friends over for board games and drinks one night, and we also finally tried poutine in Perth! I was so glad to spend the time with him before heading back to Melbourne, and he was great enough to drive me to the airport on the Sunday night. My flight had been cancelled at 6 pm and moved to 1 am. I arrived at the airport and was settled in for the flight when they cancelled the flight again. I got put onto a 6am flight and had a sleepless night in Terminal 2, then boarded the Virgin flight and sat for a further two hours before they kicked us off due to technical problems. I finally, finally made it to Melbourne at 4 pm the next day and collapsed into Nicks’ arms, tired and grateful. There are still a few more updates beyond that, but I think I will leave it there for now. If anyone reads this, thank you, and if it’s just me a few months from now, bored at work – don’t feel sad – remember and embrace the adventure, knowing there’s always a new one around the corner.
Love from WA/Melbourne/Canada,