Aussie farniente and prison break in heaven

‘G’day, mate! How are you today?’  

In the highly unlikely event that you were stricken by a lightening and awoke in an unknown room on an unknown bed, realising that you were suffering of amnesia, hearing a voice uttering this sentence would definitely help you to be 100% sure of at least one thing - you have somehow ended up somewhere in Western Australia! And be relieved because this one certainty is everything that would actually matter in the world at that moment as you would definitely be at one of the happiest places on earth.

Western Australia is the largest state of Australia, covering one-third of the continent (that is about the size of Western Europe!), but is scarcely populated - only one-tenth of the Australians live there. What is even more interesting is that this part of Australia remains quite a mystery for the rest of the world, which is at the same time a shame but also a blessing for those who have uncovered its hidden gems!

Western Australia is for us the quintessence of the Australian way of life with its nonchalant and relaxed pace and Mediterranean climate with loads of sunshine, vineyards, honey and olive trees. It feels in a way like you were somewhere in the south of Europe but at the same time some strange animals like kangaroos, emus and quokkas, together with lots of surfers and dreamy beaches, had appeared as per magic in the picture making things even more idyllic. The blue of the water and the giant waves are omnipresent - the Indian Ocean to the north and west is meeting the Southern Ocean to the south.

  

The best thing in Western Australia compared to other parts of Australia is that you can watch the magic colours of the sun sinking into the ocean from the beach almost every day and this will be one of the most romantic views and one of the most precious moments of pure beauty and peace on earth.

  

Even though the first European visitors of this part of Australia were a few Dutch sailors in the 17th century, the first European settlement only occurred in the 19th century when rumors that the French were about to establish a penal colony there made the British sent from Sydney a major with 20 troops and 23 convicts to claim Western Australia for the British Crown.

Immediately after that, in 1829, the first European colony - the Swan River Colony - was established by settlers coming on dozens of ships from Europe. It was a free settlement and during the first years there was no question of accepting convicts but the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops and the slow growth of the population leading to labour shortages (there were only around 6,000 people in 1850) made the settlers change their mind and 9,000 convicts were sent from Britain in a few years.

  

The convicts, who were mostly first offenders in the final years of their terms and spent very little time in prison, are responsible for building all the beautiful 19th century buildings in the state. Even though it used to be considered a shame to have a convict as an ancestor, nowadays it seems that this has become a kind of a pride which is understandable! If your ancestor was sentenced for stealing a tablecloth in London (yep, some ‘crimes’ were of this ridiculous type unfortunately!) and exiled for life for this to a continent with harsh conditions in the other part of the world, and, besides that, here you are today because of the efforts of this guy, I would definitely be proud too!

  

Perth, the current capital of the state, is located where the Swan River Colony was established, surrounding the beautiful Swan River.

  

It is a huge city but hopping on and off the free local buses or walking around the old buildings blended with pieces of modern architecture, like the futuristic spire of the Swan Bell Tower, will mislead you as to the size of the city. You will feel like you were in an ordinary small town with lots of green parks and beautiful beaches. The black swan - the bird emblem of Western Australia - is not only in the name of the river and you will see pictures and sculptures of it, and the bird itself, almost everywhere in Western Australia.

    

You can only get an idea of how large Perth is from the air.

   

Only 19 kilometers off the city lies the most gorgeous small piece of paradise you have ever seen - Rottnest Island. Flying there on an air taxi was in itself an amazing experience.

  

After some twirls above Perth, its white sand beaches and the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean invaded by lots of black dots (the surfers of course!), a courtesy from our cool Aussie pilot, we landed in the smallest airport in the world!

    

Rottnest Island (which means ‘rat nest’ in the 17th century Dutch language - yep, not very glamorous, I know!), affectionately called Rotto by the locals, was named by a Dutch explorer who thought that the amazing gently quokkas on the island were giant rats…

  

Actually, the quokkas are the native small marsupials found only in this part of the world. They look like the mini cousins of the wallabies and the kangaroos and are extremely friendly, curious and not afraid of people at all. They also look like they are smiling at you all the time with their cute cheeky grins, which earned them the reputation of the happiest animals in the world!

  

And you will meet lots of these amazing buddies on Rotto, which would be enough to make your trip unforgettable. But there is so much more on the island…

  

First of all, it is completely car-free except for emergency and service vehicles and therefore a paradise for bicycle-lovers.

  

You can just ride your bicycle around the island and dismount whenever you see a picturesque bay with a desert paradisiacal white sand beach and a patchwork of pristine turquoise and navy blue water, which happens basically every 5-10 minutes!

  

There are more than 60 beaches, 20 bays and many coral reefs on the island! It is gorgeous!

  

You can just lay on the beach enjoying the gentle cuddles of the sun and, when you decide to open your eyes, realise that a cute quokka has been staying next to your towel watching you, actually more interested by your red backpack used as a pillow under your head. 

  

It is exhilarating!

    

A little further along on your bicycle tour, you will see the gorgeous white and pink salt lakes, as well as many birds like seagulls, wild ducks and a less wild peacock trying to read the menu in front of a local café!

    

After a lunch break at a stunning spot along the cliffs surrounded by an absolute tranquillity, you will also spot a beautiful old white lighthouse and a huge gun installed during World War II for the defence of the important port of Fremantle.

  

Finally, you can (and you should) stay overnight on the island in one of the 19th century white cottages along the beach and enjoy the stunning sunset from the cosy veranda.

    

It is the perfect spot for relaxation!

  

Back to Perth, still awed by our amazing Rotto nature experience, we decided to explore the southern surroundings of the city with a first stop at Perth’s most iconic beach - Cottesloe Beach.

  

It is affectionately known as ‘Cott’ by the locals (yes, they have a cute name for everything!) and it is more than a beach! Of course, you can just sunbathe on the white sand or swim in the turquoise crystal water, or simply watch the surfers glide on the waves in the amazing light of the sunset.

   

However, the real appeal of the beach is Sculpture by the Sea, the exhibition which each March transforms it into an incredible outdoor gallery of modern beach art.

  

The dashing sculptures and the vibrant colours on the background of the white beach and the blue ocean look like a giant gorgeous masterpiece. It is a real carnival for your senses!

    

Our second stop, a thirty minutes drive south of Perth’s centre, is the charming and colourful port town of Fremantle (affectionately known as ‘Freo’).

    

It is the favourite weekend and happy hour getaway for the locals and home to the University of Notre Dame, which makes it a dizzy place mixing with an incredible harmony 19th century streetscapes with amazing colonial remnants and heritage pubs and 21st century lively bars and casual street cafés.

  

We decided to stay overnight at the Fremantle Prison which was closed as a correctional facility in 1991 and part of it, the Women’s prison, has been transformed into an affordable hostel for backpackers. It may seem a little bit morbid but we found it quite interesting from a historical perspective and in a way exciting to spend the night in a cell in this unique and imposing 19th century institution.

  

The Fremantle Prison was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010 and is the only built World Heritage site in Western Australia. 

    

Our ‘cell’ was at a corner next to the towering walls and was actually quite comfortable as a result of the renovation works. There were backboards on the prison walls telling the stories of famous prisoners and describing the difficult jail conditions and regulations, including the death penalties. The experience is worth it but will leave a dose of sadness in your heart.

  

You need to make a few steps outside the prison gate and you will fall directly from hell into heaven!

     

The colourful streets are buzzing with life and excitement.

    

You can have an early breakfast on the wharf and then wander for hours during the day browsing the bookshops and admiring the elegant old buildings...

  

...or drag your bare feet along the endless beaches and grab a fish and chips in a waterside restaurant at the Fishing Boat Harbour.

  

Fremantle becomes even more alive in the evening, inviting you to stop for a cool locally-brewed beer at one of the old warehouses transformed into giant pubs, like the Little Creatures Brewery.

  

The ale, which is a beer with a sweet and fruity taste, and the food were delicious and being surrounded by students drinking their beers dressed in Halloween and manga clothes or walking around the building on stilts was a lot of fun.

      

The incredible sunset on the beach of Fremantle closed this part of the journey in the crescendo mode of a Beethoven symphony.

  

See you for our next trip a little bit further to the south of Perth for an unforgettable winery tour to the meeting point of two oceans!

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