Part 5 - Perth and the Southwest
March 18 - 22, 2005
Friday, March 18th: Wedding Rehearsal in Perth
We got out of the hotel and to the airport in good shape for a 9:30 flight, but then realized as we parked the rental car that we'd forgotten to stop for gas, so we had to backtrack a bit to fill it up, then come back to the airport. Luckily, the airport wasn't terribly busy, so we still got checked in with plenty of time to spare, even though we got a bit of a run around because Qantas actually made us pay the excess baggage fee. Still, $11 Australian for the ton of bags we had was well worth the cost, I think.
Our flight left Cairns and traveled about halfway across the country to Ayers Rock Airport, where we had a plane change. This served as a preview of our return to Ayers Rock a week or so later. The airport there was nice, but very small and really in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the rock, the airport, and the one campground/resort area, there's really not much there. After a layover of about an hour during which I tried to choke down a bitter "sparkling" water because they were out of regular water (how do you run out of water at an airport, even in the middle of the desert, anyway?), we boarded another flight to Perth.
We arrived in Perth about 3:30, and the wedding rehearsal (remember, this wedding was ostensibly the purpose behind this whole trip) was supposed to start at 6 PM. The bride and groom were worried we weren't going to make it in time, but we didn't think it'd take very long to get from the airport to the park, perhaps by way of the hotel. While we were waiting on our bags in the Perth airport, a location as far from my home as I've ever been, and probably nearly as far from my home as you can actually get, what do I see? Yep, some old dude wearing a University of Georgia hat. If you know me, you know I'm a hardcore Georgia Tech fan that hates everything to do with U[sic]GA, so this was definitely an "it just figures" moment. I mean, once I went to a sports bar in Salt Lake City, Utah on a Saturday morning and it was full of U[sic]GA fans, so why shouldn't there be a U[sic]GA fan standing behind me in Perth, Australia?
Anyway, I recovered, and we got our bags and our rental car and headed into downtown Perth to find our hotel. It looked really simple on the map - two or three turns and we were there. But in reality, there's only one place in the whole of Perth where you can actually make a right turn, and it wasn't where we needed it to be. Also, there's a bunch of construction in the area. Also, the hotel was located on a narrow little one way street. So, we orbited around the area for quite a while trying to find the right combination of turns that would allow us to get where we needed to be. It was kind of like a logic puzzle, really. But we eventually found the hotel and got checked in. The hotel was really nice, and our room was a nice, big suite. There was only one problem: the A/C was nearly useless, so our room was really hot. Plus, Perth was having unseasonably warm weather, which made things worse.
We changed into marginally dressier clothes for the wedding rehearsal, and then headed out to the Harold Boas Gardens (not far from the hotel, but still somewhat challenging to get to thanks to the limited turning options available to us). Julie and I were the first people to arrive at the park, so we wandered around looking at the cool flowers and harassing the large duck population. Eventually, the rest of the wedding party showed up and we kind of had a wedding rehearsal. In point of fact, they really didn't tell the groomsmen much of anything regarding how to walk in, how to walk out, where to stand, how to hold our hands, and stuff like that. We were more or less left to our own devices, but we figured things out well enough, I guess.
After the rehearsal, we went back to the hotel for the rehearsal dinner, which was a new concept to the Australians in the party. Apparently the rehearsal dinner is an American tradition that they weren't familiar with. The food was pretty good, and the conversation was interesting - the bride's Australian family and friends were all really nice people, and we had a good time talking about various facets of American and Australian life with each other. The bride and groom introduced the members of the wedding party to everybody and gave us gifts. (I got a really nice pair of tiny Brookstone binoculars that have already proven to be pretty useful.) It was kind of funny when Rich, the groom, introduced me, because he pointed out that I'd known him longer than anybody in the room besides his parents - we used to play Cyberball in the arcade at Georgia Tech when we were both in school. I wasn't actually even supposed to be in the wedding - he's closer friends with Julie than me, and I was just filling in for somebody that couldn't make it, so the number of groomsmen and bridesmaids was equal. Still, it was fun, and it gave me a reason to travel to Australia, so it worked out well all around. Julie and I skipped out fairly early - we were suffering more jet lag from the cross country flight (kind of like a New York to LA flight by way of St. Louis, I think) than we suffered from crossing the Pacific.
Saturday, March 19th: The Wedding (aka "The Point of this Whole Trip")
We got up Saturday morning and had a good breakfast in the hotel. We sat around talking to the fathers of the bride and groom for a while, and then a few people decided to find a pool hall for some pre-wedding pool. The groom, the best man, the bride's brothers, me and Julie, and the fathers of the bride and groom drove around the corner from the hotel to a really quite nice pool hall, where Julie and I proceeded, against all odds, to dominate the table for a while. In the meantime, I was also receiving NCAA March Madness score updates via text messages on my cell phone from my friend Joe back in the states, which kept the conversation lively with all the upsets we were hearing about.
We then returned to the hotel to get dressed for the wedding. Putting on multiple layers of black tuxedo in a sweltering hotel room is not any fun - I was sweating from just trying to get dressed. We hung out in the groom's (mercifully air conditioned) room for a while, then sat in the lobby waiting on everybody to get together for the limo ride to the park. In the meantime, the flowers arrived, but nobody (groomsmen, parents, hotel staff) knew how to pin a flower on a lapel. That was really just foreshadowing for the rest of the day, it turned out.
Everybody was running late, so Julie and I walked down the street to a grocery store to pick up some cookies and water to snack on. It was going to be a long (the wedding was at like 3 PM), hot (96 degrees or so) day. Finally, quite late, a load of us piled in the limo for the trip to the gardens. There, the groomsmen were in charge (with very limited direction) of getting things set up. And it turned out that the groom didn't have an opinion on anything, the parents didn't want to get involved, and the other groomsmen were easily distracted, so I ended up basically being the wedding planner and telling the string quartet where to sit, setting up the guest chairs and the wedding paraphernalia, literally rolling out the red carpet, and carrying 50 pound potted plants around in the 96 degree heat in a black tuxedo. It was definitely another "I'd be more miserable if I didn't know what a good story this is going to make when it's done" thing.
Surprisingly, the wedding went off without any major problems - it really did have disaster written all over it, but the biggest problem that came up was the string quartet missing their cues a couple of times. After the ceremony (which was nice, if a little long, especially since I was the one member of the wedding party not standing in the shade), people mingled around for a while, the photographers took some pictures, and we stacked up the chairs for the rental guy to take away. Then we piled back into the undersized limo to be hauled all over Perth to various photo locations. The locations were nice, and I'm sure the photos came out well, but it kind of sucked sitting in the floor of a limo in a tux driving all over the city for a couple of hours. The final location was the best, across the Swan River looking back at the city at sunset, and the wedding party was mostly (like, everybody but me, I think) liquored up and having a good time by then.
Our final stop for the evening was at a restaurant near the waterfront for the reception. I really, really hate mingling and small talk and so forth, so I really wasn't looking forward to it. It was one of the more formal receptions I've ever been to - they introduced the wedding party and we had to walk in and take our seats one by one, and there was a lot of standing and toasting. We toasted President Bush, we toasted Queen Elizabeth, we toasted the people making toasts, there was just a whole lot of toasting. After all the toasting, we sat around making small talk with the people at our table. Everybody was quite nice, but a couple of things became apparent. One, the Australian folks thought the U.S. was a very leisurely country. They were shocked to find out how long our work week is, and how few holiday and vacation days we get compared to other countries. And two, the Australian folks didn't seem to travel within Australia very much. Julie and I had already seen more of the country than any of the Australians at the table, which was surprising to me.
After a mandatory awkward dance with my assigned bridesmaid, Julie and I again excused ourselves early (at, like, 11 PM) due to jet lag and headed back to the hotel. The room was still hot, but I've never been so happy to get out of a set of clothes in my entire life. Thus ended one of the more exhausting days on the trip, and we returned to our regularly scheduled tourism the next morning.
Sunday, March 20th: Rottnest Island
The beginnings of this day are a bit blurry to me at this point. I think we got up and had breakfast in the hotel again, and possibly tried to make arrangements for somebody to return my tux from the wedding. Julie was feeling sick again, so we found a nearby urgent care clinic that was open, and they got her fixed up after a visit to a nearby pharmacy. (The pharmacist, by the way, was named Myrtle Pumfrey, and was one of the rare individuals who looks exactly, and I mean exactly, like you'd imagine a woman named Myrtle Pumfrey would look.) We then returned to our regularly scheduled tourist activities. We strolled around downtown Perth until we came to a pretty park by the Swan River, where we saw a cool tree and a bunch of Rainbow Lorikeets. (I didn't get a good picture of the birds, but they were very pretty, and all over the place. They're apparently kind of a freak thing in Perth, because they occur naturally on the east coast of Australia, but there's a big, isolated population of them in Perth, too. This site (http://www.birdsnways.com/mowen/rainbows.htm) has a couple of decent pictures, but they look much prettier in real life.) We also saw the Swan Bells Tower down by the river. It's reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House (I guess both structures are meant to evoke sails or something). Apparently the bells in the tower were brought over from England and date back to the 1500s.
We wanted to catch a ferry out to Rottnest Island but weren't sure how to go about it, so we checked at a nearby ferry station. It turns out that the ferry doesn't run all that often, so we needed to haul butt down to the ferry landing in Fremantle, a few miles down the coast from Perth, and we only had about an hour to get there. So we ran back to the hotel, made rapid arrangements with the groom's parents to get my tux returned, jumped in the rental car, and headed for Fremantle. Unfortunately, in all the hustle, I left my camera behind in the hotel room, so all the rest of the photos for the day had to be taken on the older camera Julie borrowed from her dad. (It has a better optical zoom than mine, which is nice, but the color is off in the pictures it takes.)
Anyway, we found the ferry station, drove around in a bit of confusion looking for appropriate parking, then wandered around in a lot of confusion trying to find the location where we were to buy tickets and board the ferry. Thankfully, the ferry was running late, so despite all our bumbling, we ended up waiting for a few minutes for the ferry to arrive. As I'll explain in a minute, there are a lot of bikes on Rottnest Island, and the ferry had a rather clever system for loading and unloading bikes - they had a small V-shaped metal chute that they hung over the rail from the cargo area down to the dock, and the ferry workers were quite adept at rolling bikes up and down the chute to each other. It was pretty fun to watch them work.
Rottnest Island is about 14 miles west of Perth, and it's pretty, but also somewhat rocky and rugged. No pets or motor vehicles (aside from a few tour buses and park ranger trucks) are allowed on the island, so walking and biking are the preferred methods of getting around. The island is pretty small - the loop road around the circumference is only 16 miles long. The island is home to a colony of quokkas, small marsupials that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rat. The Dutch thought they were rats when they discovered the island, hence the name, which means "rat's nest" in Dutch.
When we arrived on the island, we went to the bicycle rental and rented bikes to ride around the island. I hadn't ridden a non-stationary bike in years, and Julie wasn't particularly experienced with using the gears to make pedaling easier. Plus, the midday sun was beating down pretty hard on us as we rode around the island. So, our Rottnest Island experience wasn't as great as it might have been, but it was still pretty fun. We rode up to the lighthouse at the highest point on the island, and found that we were too tired to really complete the whole trek around the island (my legs were a little tired, but the dreadful pain inflicted by the bicycle seat on my skinny butt was the deciding factor for me). So we took the scenic route past some partially dried up, very salty lakes back down to the small village where the ferry lands. Along the way, we saw a few friendly quokkas beside the road. You're not supposed to feed them, but they will come up to you and see if you've got anything to offer. This one was incredibly cute when he grabbed my fingertips with his tiny paws and peeked into my hand to see if I had any food for him. This one checked us out to see if we had any food, then got bored with us, walked under a bush, flopped down, and went to sleep.
We rode our bikes a bit more out to another lighthouse and a pretty beach, where I waded into the Indian Ocean for the first time. We sat on the beach for a while watching the waves and enjoying the cool water, then rode back to town to rest, watch the quokkas, and wait for the ferry. In the bathroom, I was greatly amused by the hand dryer. See, the national seal of Australia (visible on this page http://www.aph.gov.au/) features a kangaroo and an emu prominently. The logo on the hand dryer was a modification of the seal, with the kangaroo drying his hands under an electric hand dryer while an emu looks on. Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.
After the ferry ride back to Fremantle, it was nearly dark, so we wandered around the Western Australian Maritime Museum a bit (it was closed, but they had some exterior exhibits that you could see, like a submarine), and we tried to find the Round House, Western Australia's oldest surviving building, but the maze of poorly-mapped driveways around the port area thwarted our efforts, so we headed back to Perth and our nice, hot hotel.
Monday, March 21st: Perth to Margaret River
Monday, we got back into our traveling, touristy groove. We checked out of the hotel and drove around Perth for a bit, passing by a couple of landmarks en route to King's Park, a nice park up on a hill overlooking the city. The park was home to more of the very pretty but difficult to photograph Rainbow Lorikeets. Near the park, there's an insane staircase called Jacob's Ladder that the locals apparently walk up and down for exercise. We hiked down and back up the hundreds of stairs, then hit the road for a trip down to Margaret River, at the southwest corner of the continent.
As we passed through Mandurah, we drove the Estuary Scenic Drive, which was really just a road beside a large inlet and wasn't particularly scenic, but there were some nicely landscaped houses along the way. There seem to be a lot more varieties of flowers in bloom at any given time in Australia than I was used to seeing at home. Later, we drove around the town of Bunbury, but didn't come across anything that we felt compelled to stop and see. We continued down the road to Busselton, driving the scenic route through Ludlow Forest, supposedly the only natural tuart forest in the world. (Tuart trees are big eucalyptus trees.) Busselton is the home of the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, so they say. We walked out to the end of the jetty, which was indeed quite long - it was something like a 30 minute walk each way. At the end of the jetty, there's an underwater observatory, but we didn't go in, figuring it couldn't be better than the Great Barrier Reef that we'd visited just a few days before, so we looked around the shop for a bit, then hiked back. We ate a quick lunch (more wedges with sour cream and sweet chili) from a snack bar by the beach, surrounded by seagulls and some other noisy, colorful birds, and then got back on the road.
We arrived at the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse right at 4 PM, the time of the final tour for the day, and we were the entirety of the tour. A friendly park ranger told us about the lighthouse (which was pretty short, because it was situated on a pretty high point overlooking the sea) and took us up into the lighthouse. He told us about how the rotating lens mechanism is floated on a pool of mercury, so the whole giant lens can be rotated with a small electric motor. As he was talking, Julie was looking at the mercury container, and pointed out some mysterious substance outside the container that looked a lot like mercury. The ranger kind of blew it off, saying that it's a sealed system, it's just had its yearly inspection, it's been operating continuously for 100 years, and so forth. We persisted, and he came around to have a look, which led to a couple of expletives and an excited radio call to the other ranger down at the gate telling him what "a couple of eagle-eyed tourists" had noticed. So that was fun. We walked out on the catwalk around the top of the lighthouse, and I took a picture of our shadows on the ground below that I thought was pretty cool. The views of the surrounding coast were pretty, but it was very bright and somewhat hazy (smoke from a fire or something, not pollution), so it was hard to get good pictures.
We walked a hiking trail around the lighthouse through the brushy vegetation and sandy soil, but it really wasn't all that great a trail, because there really wasn't a whole lot to see (though I did take a picture of a dead tree that I liked), and because we got our first taste of being harassed by swarms of flies. The flies were a little smaller than house flies, and didn't bite (thankfully), but they were everywhere and wouldn't leave you alone. They were constantly landing on you, flying in your face, and generally being a completely maddening nuisance. We were more or less running back to the car by the end of the trail, just to get out of the flies.
On the way back out to the highway, we drove down a side road by some beaches that the lighthouse ranger recommended to us. The beaches were rocky, and pretty, and there were a few people fishing. Apparently it was the season for some sort of salmon to be swimming up the coast. As we walked out to the beach, we passed a guy carrying a big (like a foot or more long) salmon that he'd caught. He offered it to us; we declined. Back on the road, we stopped off near the town of Yallingup to find a place to watch the sun set. We sat on a rock looking out over the Indian Ocean, with a beautiful beach with a couple of surfers/fishermen to our left, and waves crashing on the rocks in front of us, and watched the sunset. It was really nice.
We then hustled down the road toward Margaret River before it got too late. The road was narrow and dark, and we were pretty paranoid about kangaroos running out in front of the car. We were passing bed and breakfasts and wineries constantly - apparently that's the big thing in this part of Australia - and wondering if we were ever going to find the turnoff to Margaret River. We finally did come to the turnoff, and as we did, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a kangaroo running across the road into the bushes, which would turn out to be the only sighting of a live kangaroo in the wild that we got on the whole trip. That was a little disappointing.
We found the hotel without much problem, and it can only be described as "charming." The rooms were simple but nicely laid out, with wood paneling everywhere, cute curtains, a back door to a patio next to a little interior courtyard, and a four poster bed with canopy supports at just the right height for me to bang my head on. It was probably the most comfortable room we'd stayed in to that point, so of course we were only going to be there for one night.
The town of Margaret River itself was also "charming," and it seemed more like a little mountain town than a town just a mile or two from the ocean. The main street (nearly the only street) was lined with little shops and restaurants, and we picked an Italian place with freshly made pasta for dinner. It was quite good. We stopped by a Coles grocery store, a full-sized grocery store located behind the row of shops that you accessed through a little archway between stores, which seemed kind of clever, to buy some water, some breakfast, and some candy, then headed back to the hotel for the evening.
Tuesday, March 22nd: Margaret River to Perth
First thing on Tuesday morning, we got up and drove a few miles down the road to the place where the Margaret River flows into the Indian Ocean. The river apparently wasn't flowing enough to make it all the way to the ocean on this particular day, so it kind of petered out before it got all the way across the beach. It did make a nice little freshwater pond on the beach, though. The beach itself was very pretty, with clean white sand and beautiful blue-green water. Apparently the surfing is pretty good, too - they had just had a surfing competition at the beach a few days earlier. When we were there, the waves were crashing on the rocks pretty good.
This region of Australia is underlain by a lot of limestone, which means there are caves, like, everywhere. Our next stop was Lake Cave, south of Margaret River. We arrived just in time to get our tickets, have a quick look around the displays, and meet up with our tour group. The entrance to the cave is down in a big pit that was formed when part of the cave roof collapsed, so you have to climb down a bunch of zigzagging steps to get to the entrance. (I think we climbed more steps on this vacation than in any other three week period in my life. If you're not young and/or in decent shape, you're kind of out of luck for a lot of things, it seems.) The collapse exposed a number of cave formations, so it was kind of cool to see stalactites and stalagmites out in the sunlight. The cave is called Lake Cave because it flooded some number of years back, leaving a shallow lake throughout a lot of the cave. Their coolest formation is called Table Rock. It's a double column that had grown onto the sandy floor of the cave before it flooded, and then the flood washed the sand away, leaving the flat bottom of the column suspended a foot or so above the surface of the water. If you look carefully at this picture, you can see the reflection of the underside of the formation in the water. This picture was taken as we ascended out of the cave. As we got ready to leave, Julie stood beside one of the giant trees growing out of the pit, to give a sense of scale.
We got back on the road and headed south to Cape Leeuwin, site of another lighthouse. We stopped at an overlook along the way that had a plaque indicating that we were 3398 miles from the South Pole, probably about as close as I'm likely to get in the foreseeable future. Then we stopped at an old waterwheel on the beach. This was one of the coolest things we saw on the whole trip, from a clever engineering perspective. It seems that when the lighthouse was built about 100 years ago, there was a freshwater spring near the beach. So they built a trough to keep the spring water elevated as it flowed down to the beach and over a waterwheel. The spinning waterwheel then pumped fresh water through a pipe about a mile up to the lighthouse. (The waterwheel is frozen up now because of the minerals in the water, and the spring has moved a bit so they have an electric pump circulating water through the trough, but it's still pretty cool.)
As this sign indicates, the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is situated at Australia's most southwestern point, where the Indian and Southern Oceans converge due south of the lighthouse. Apparently the waters are pretty treacherous, with rocks and reefs, rough seas, and nasty currents, so the lighthouse is pretty important. At some times during the year, they say the whale and dolphin watching is great. (The dolphins are clever - there's a temperature differential between the two oceans, so when the fish swimming in one ocean hit the colder water of the other, they're stunned momentarily and the dolphins hang out and eat the dazed fish.) We climbed up, you guessed it, a whole bunch of stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The guide told us that the visibility was much lower than usual because of a big forest fire somewhere in the area, but it was still quite nice.
The waves were pretty rough crashing up on the rocks, and they told us that if you fall in, you pretty much get pulled out to sea by the undertow. We walked around on the rocks for a while, trying to get good pictures of the waves on the rocks and mostly failing. We stopped at another nearby beach so I could stick my toes in the Southern Ocean, and that beach was littered with cuttlefish bones. Julie has birds, and I used to, so I'd seen the cuttlebones they sell for birds, but it was kind of random and cool to see them in nature, just washing up on the beach. I'm not really sure what happened to the fish that were attached to them, though.
We had to cut the afternoon a bit short (we'd wanted to visit another cave, but they all closed before we could get back to them) because we had to drive back to Perth for an early flight the next day. A little more time to see things in the southwest would have been nice, but we managed to get a good sampling, at least. We took a different, more rural route back, through some nice farmland and some small towns. Once we got back into town, we stopped at a Red Rooster (Australian fast food chicken joint) for dinner - not ideal, but it's decent and our choices were somewhat limited. Our hotel was on the south side of the river in Perth, and we found it and got parked without too much trouble. Like all our hotels, it seems, this one wasn't perfect. It was a high-rise, and it was nice enough, but looked like it was built in the 80s and hadn't really been updated since then. The central A/C didn't seem to work, but at least there was a functioning window unit, which was welcome. We got our bags shifted back to "flying mode" (got the neck pillow and the books and magazines and noise canceling headphones and put them in my backpack, moved all the travel books into the checked bags, got out the next set of flight/hotel/car printouts, and so forth) and called it a night.