© 2012; 2001-2004 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Jeanell Buckley. Information
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Walkabout Perth, Western Australia – A Solo Travel Report

By Jeanell Buckley

Perth, Western Australia's vibrant capital city, is a long way from anywhere. The closest major city is Adelaide in South Australia – some 2700 kilometers away. Visitors to Perth are either on a grand tour of Australia by air, or they've crossed the desolate Nullarbor Plain by road, rail or bus. Frequently they are wilderness freaks headed for bush-walking adventures in numerous national parks close to the city or farther afield in the remote frontier regions of northwestern Australia.

Without a thought for bush-walking, I easily spent a few days moseying in and around Perth on foot or using the excellent public transport system. Transperth even operates two free bus routes – Central Area Transit – RedCat and BlueCat – with stops convenient to shopping, dining and entertainment venues.

The compact city center straddles the banks of the meandering Swan River, which links Perth to its port, Fremantle, about 19 km to the southwest. Bordered by riverside park lands, the city's steel and glass business towers overlook pleasantly walkable shopping malls and arcades where a bit of Mother England is preserved in buildings like His Majesty's Theatre and the London Court Shopping Arcade. The street scene is always lively with musicians, jugglers, magicians, and buskers mingling among browsers along Hay Street.

Kings Park

Perth City SkylineThere is no need to leave town to experience Western Australia bush country. From city center you could hop on a RedCat and make a short walk to King's Park from the stop on Orb Street. Instead, I went on foot, a zigzagging 30-minute hike up the hill behind Mounts Bay Road, which was close to my motel. The reward for this exercise was to begin my sightseeing with the best of all possible views of Perth. Kings Park is basically a big tract of Australian bush kept intact, except for built-in walking and bicycle trails and the odd bicycle rental or ice cream kiosk. The adjoining Botanic Gardens feature unique desert shrubs. Volunteers conduct guided tours year round, but I preferred to wander along licking an ice cream and listening to the cicadas singing.

Beach? Casino? Kangaroo?

From Kings Park, I could have taken the Perth Tram further up the Swan River to the University of Western Australia, noted for its golden stone Spanish architecture. The campus has much worth checking out: gardens, museums, theaters, and sporting facilities. From there it would be a short jaunt to popular Cottesloe Beach, one of many sandy beaches along Perth's Indian Ocean coast that rival those anywhere in Australia. Cottesloe, the Bondi Beach of the West, is the place to swim and stroll under the Norfolk Island Pine trees before burger and chips in the Cottesloe pub where I'd heard I would be welcome as a single woman – not always the case in Australia.

In the opposite direction I had a choice of getting off the tram in town or going on to try my luck at the Burswood Resort & Casino . I put off both the university and the casino for another day and opted for lunch at the Deanery, an 1850's de-consecrated church downtown on the corner of St George's Terrace and Pier Street. There the coffee is good, and you have lovely stained-glass windows to gaze at over a soup of the day.

I thought about whiling away the afternoon in the adjacent parks and gardens sweeping up from the Swan River surrounding the Supreme Court, Government House and the Esplanade. At Barrack Square, I checked at the Swan Bells tower to see if a bell-ringing concert were scheduled, which happens most days at varying hours.

Heirisson Island

As no bell-ringing was on till later that day, I decided to walk east on Riverside Drive then crossed the causeway to Heirisson Island, a kangaroo reserve in the middle of the Swan River. It was mid-afternoon by the time I got there and, as kangaroos love their afternoon naps, I spotted only a few dozing among the trees. But being only 30 minutes walk from downtown Perth, it was a thrill to see any wildlife at all.

Another green haven worth visiting in East Perth is the Western Australian Cricket Association grounds – even if cricket is a mystery to you. For some Australians cricket borders on a religion. The WACA (pronounced "wacker") is the home of cricket's demon-fast bowler Dennis Lillee, among other sporting legends.

Also legendary are the Indian Ocean breezes that sweep across the WACA in the afternoon. It is well-known that the "Fremantle Doctor" has brought defeat or victory to many a cricket team, and I had to feel it for myself. I did, but unfortunately no matches were scheduled that day, and having had enough walking for one day, I jumped aboard the RedCat at stop 6 and headed back to town.

Evening at Northbridge

Should I, I wondered, get off the RedCat at stop 17 and see if anything was happening at His Majesty's Theatre, a plush Edwardian style venue that features performances of opera, ballet, and musicals? Or should I get off at William Street, transfer to the BlueCat and head for the clubs and restaurants of trendy Northbridge?

I decided on Northbridge where I would wind down with a relaxing dinner at popular Simon's Seafood Grill & Garden Restaurant (73 Francis Street), but by then the free buses had stopped for the day (6:20pm), and as it's about 30 minutes on foot from downtown Perth, I hailed a taxi. My main course cost, and as a bonus, I sampled from their reasonable range of half-bottles of wine, just what a lone diner needs for company: Western Australian wine. After that hard day's relaxation I called it quits and took a taxi to my motel.


Just up the Swan River from downtown Perth, the port of Fremantle is only a half hour by car or train, and ferries leave from the Barrack Street Jetty every hour or so. I took the train from Wellington Street (Red Cat stop 30). Although a free CAT bus runs a circuit of Fremantle, I visited most of the main attractions on foot within a couple of hours.

A stone's throw from the train station, I hit Phillimore Street and the core of Fremantle. Oozing prosperity, Fremantle's sparkling harbor is lined with bobbing yachts, cafes, and Victorian colonnades.

Australia's convict heritage is on display at the old, twelve-sided Round House. Built in 1831, it was Western Australia's first prison. It's located on Arthur's Head at the foot of High Street. From here you have picturesque views of the harbor and up High Street.

Freo is a town for boat nuts. All paths lead to the harbor, and all conversations lead to the 1987 America's Cup yachting race, which Australians won from this harbor. I heard that a brand new Maritime Museum scheduled to open in 2002 will have the winning yacht Australia II as its centerpiece. I visited the present museum (admission by donation) on Cliff Street – also called the Shipwreck Museum.

Gary, a museum volunteer I got chatting to, assured me that I needed the whole afternoon just to see the Batavia, a 17th century Dutch shipwreck excavated by archaeologists in the 1970's. Not being much of a "boat nut" myself, I doubted this, but his lively enthusiasm persuaded me to have lunch first, then devote the afternoon to the ship. I had no indecision about lunch – fish and chips from Cicerello's on the Esplanade while dangling my feet in the water beside the yachts at Fishing Boat Harbor.

In fact, Gary was right, I did enjoy a long visit pondering the Batavia's magnificently preserved skeleton and other artefacts.

This part of Fremantle is full of maritime curio shops, and browsing for souvenirs was a fine way to finish off before heading back to Perth by train, but you could easily stay longer for an evening of seafood and people-watching on the South Terrace restaurant strip.

Rottnest Island

Eleven miles off the coast of Fremantle, "Rotto" for short, is a largely undeveloped wildlife reserve, famous as home to the quokka, a small kangaroo-like marsupial. Ferries leave the Barrack Street wharf every hour or so. There's no need to book, but I made an early start because I wanted to explore fully.

During the ride the captain pointed out the mansions of the rich and famous who live along the banks of the Swan River, and from the deck you get a good view of the Botanical Gardens in passing.

With beaches even Australians drool over, Rotto is a paradise for water sports – swimming, snorkeling, diving, and sailing. Thomson Bay has all the creature comforts, and overnight lodging is available.

Many day-trippers just mosey around, maybe take a tour by bus from the Visitor's Center then have a hearty lunch at the island pub, the Quokka Arms. Some pick up a Heritage Trail pamphlet and learn a little of the island history on a self-directed walking tour.

Oliver Hill has some historic military buildings, grim reminders of the convict and Aboriginal prison which used to be here in the bad old days. There is even a narrow gauge railway to ride there.

I wanted to explore the azure bays that etch the island and do some snorkeling, so I hired a bicycle at the main wharf, bought a sandwich and a Mars Bar at the island kiosk, and rode off to Salmon Bay on the west of the island, which was recommended by a local.

Having sandy soil, there are no tall trees on the island, but there are some glistening tea-colored lakes and a variety of shrubs that thrive on desert conditions. Disappointingly, I didn't spot the furry local, the quokka. Dutch explorers mistook these marsupials for rats and so the name Rottnest – the rat's nest island – stuck.

The quokka emerge at dawn and dusk and the National Parks and Wildlife people run educational eco-tours featuring bird, whale and quokka watching.

Snorkeling at Salmon Bay revealed fish of every color under the rainbow. I was so absorbed in the spectacle I ignored a couple of teenagers waving at me from shore. Only after leaving the water did I get it. A nice fat shark had been swimming within a few meters of me, attracted no doubt by my bloodied knee, which I'd damaged coming off the bike on the way across the island. This part of Western Australia is shark territory, and caution is wise, especially for solo travelers who haven't a second pair of eyes to rely on.

It was a close call, and that thought was still with me when I boarded the last ferry to the mainland at 5:30pm. But I'd seen some fantastic stuff at Salmon Bay, and the shark episode would, after all, be a pretty good addition to my collection of solo travel tales.

>> JB

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