Thursday, February 25, 2016

West Australia: Part 2

When I left off last, I had been to Monkey Mia/Shark Bay to swim with dolphins and be surrounded by emus. From there we headed back down the coast toward Perth.  Along the way we stopped off at Shell Beach, one of 2 beaches in the world made entirely of shells, just millions of tiny shells.  

The drive was incredibly hot again, so making stops was necessary.  We made another further down to see The Pinnacles.  These are natural limestone formations, the source of which is still under debate by experts.  Apparently if you go in the Spring, you can see wild flowers growing all around them.  I would also recommend either morning or evening, for better shadows.  But it's a cool thing to see whenever you make it through.

Back in the southwest, we checked out the suburb of Fremantle and several of its local breweries. I'm not a beer drinker, but I have come to enjoy a number of ciders in my travels, and there are usually some local wines available as well.  
First up was Monk Craft Bewery.  We sat out on a nice patio under an umbrella and sampled their wares -I opted for the apple and mango cider, which was really tasty. Others had the beer flight (called a tasting paddle here) to try all 6 of their current small batch beers. 
After that, we headed over to Sail & Anchor where we also had lunch (I'm starting to get used to Caesar salads that include a poached egg and bacon as standard ingredients). They also offered a tasting paddle of 6 brews, I opted for wine. 
Next up (and last for the day) was the best, Little Creatures Next Door. With a great location overlooking the harbor and a comfortable environment with chairs and sofas pulled up to coffee tables, as well as card and board games available to play, this was a highlight. We ordered a couple of bottles of white wine to share, ordered excellent chips (fries) and delicious donuts.  And then played a few rounds of Tumbling Blocks (off brand Jenga) which it turns out I'm terrible at, followed by some Uno, which I have strategy for, and quietly won twice. I know most people would have a lot to say about the beers when on a brewery tour, but that's not me, sorry! 
The next day was Valentine's Day, which it turns out is a holiday here to.  A few of us celebrated by watching Dead Pool (excellent movie, great action and just hilarious, but seriously, rated R, do not bring children; we watched a mom march her kids out during some explicit sex scenes early on). Following the movie, we played some games at Timezone, like a Dave and Busters in the US.  A little Big Buck Hunter, some Kung Fu Panda, some basketball, some air hockey, good times. Later on we caugh a really pretty sunset at the beach. 
Then finally the day I'd been waiting for this entire trip, the visit to Rottnest Island to see the Quokkas! In case you don't know, Quokkas are like a cross between a rabbit and a kangaroo, they are small and cute and only live 2 spots in the world, one of which is an island off the coast of southern WA called Rottnest (because early explorers thought they were giant rats). 
We took the fast ferry out from Hillarys, about a 45minute ride, and we took the first boat out in the morning to get a full day there.  Though under the impression that the cute little guys would be all over the place, it's actually a little harder to track them down.  In the morning there was one by the bakery where we stopped for breakfast, but the poor guy was a little mangy and had a sore on his tail.  So we decided to walk around the island, which is a really pretty place. It was the first time in WA it was a nice enough temperature to lie out on a beach without frying, and there weren't bugs swarming me everywhere.  
In addition to the Quokkas, you can stay on the island, beach, snorkel, bike around, whale watch, etc.  We found it nice enough to wander around the coast, then cut across the middle by the "pink" salt lakes, colored by beta-carotene (I think it's more of an orange/coral kind of hue than pink). After a long walk around the island, we stopped for a frozen refreshment at Riva Restaurant, a pina colada by the pool, and then grabbed some lunch at Dome (it's a chain deli/sandwich shop but all good food), and then one more cocktail in the shade with a breeze off the water at Aristos Waterfront. While we were sitting on the deck brainstorming ways to see Quokkas, which we'd been told tend to hide away during the heat of the day and come out in the evening, (but our ferry back was at 4pm) I saw one ducking under a walkway nearby.  That was a shady spot, and it seemed logical that if there was one, there might be more.  So we went over and peeked under the walkway, and low and behold, at least 5 of them.  Now, the rules they give you explicitly say not to feed the animals on the island, so by no means should you use Pringles to lure them out. 😉 Once they were out, they were everywhere, and suddenly getting a selfie was pretty easy, so I have about 50. I won't share them all, but here are a bunch. 
Seriously, how cute are these guys?
With the thing I wanted to do the most checked off my list, it was time for my last few days in WA.
To start, we went out in search of the ridiculous crazy milkshakes that have become a trend in Australia over the past year, as trumpeted by Buzzfeed
And we were able to find one at Babooshka, the Triple Donut & Chocolate Coated Bacon milkshake, absolutely as insane as it sounds. Two of us split it, or I would have been incredibly sick. 
That was followed by sitting still in air conditioning to watch Zoolander 2 while getting over the sugar coma (laughing the whole way through it, better that I'd anticipated). And later that night, after having a salad to try and balance out the milkshake, we did some some karaoke at a local pub, that turned out to have a bunch of regulars who were incredible singers, not the way I typically like to perform. I'm an extreme amateur who shines among those who can't sing at all with my couple of songs I can pull off. These people sounded like they were practicing for Australian Idol. 
The next day it was off to check out the wineries and cheese of Swan Valley.  We started out at the Cheese Barrol for a selection of 5 delicious cheeses accompanied by bread, figs, honey, and meats.  I have had a shockingly small amount of cheese while traveling, what with not having a refrigerator most of the time, and eating out a lot.  This was exactly what I needed. 
Fully sated on cheese, we went to check out a few wineries in the area.  Most do free tastings of a selection of whites and reds.  Usually I am a red drinker, and some roses, but not a fan of whites.  Maybe it was the heat, or maybe these really were better than most white wines I've tried before, but for the first time, I really liked Chardonnays, especially from Ugly Duckling Wines, such a wonderful lingering taste, I didn't want to drink anything else after.  Before that, we tried Talijancich, a small cute place with just a few to try, but nothing that blew me away.  Twin Hill Wines is a family run business, they've had the place for decades, and had a nice Verdehlo white we enjoyed. Black Swan charged a few dollars, but you could try a large variety of wines, choosing what you like or don't (I'm not into very sweet wines, so I skipped a few at their recommendation). These were excellent and I really enjoyed them, though I can't remember now what my favorite was.  It turns out a lot of the wineries are not open this time of year Monday-Wednesday, so a few that we stopped by were closed, but we found enough to feel like we'd tasted what Swan Valley had to offer. 
That wound down my time in WA. About the only other things I did were to try Vegimite (on toast with lots of melted butter and just a smidge of the yeast extract that is so stereotypically Australian), and hit the beach again. As I said before, most travelers Down Under never make it out to WA, but there are some great things to see and do, and I'm glad I made the time to visit. 
Then it was farewell to WA, as I made my way back East for my Scuba course in Cairns (with some unexpected travel trouble along the way). 
More to come soon! 

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