Rottnest Island, Australia
Named for the ‘rats’ spotted by an early visitor, Rottnest island is 18km from the port of Fremantle, served by ferries from there and Perth. It has variously, and interchangeably with changing times, been used as a resort, prison and military base and now takes 350,000 visitors a year.
Those ‘rats’ were and are in fact small marsupials called Quokkas. I took two walks to explore, one a left turn from the main jetty and one a right. On the former I didn’t see a single quokka, but couldn’t miss them on the second walk – my first was in front of the old cottages in front of the beach, the next two in the campsite and then a gaggle appeared on the road, allowing me to test how close I could get the camera. Close enough that I reckoned the next move would be for quokka Dave to take the camera and a picture of me.
I travelled on the 9.30 Rottnest Express ferry, which takes under 45 minutes. The boat looked too small for the number of people waiting, but we all got on. It was the first day of the school holidays for many, which may have made a difference, but this looks like a profitable route. I was reminded of the Arran island operators in Ireland, admittedly off-season, but all offering deals and discounts to try to get you onto their boats. This was quite different, just two operators and the cheaper deals are done way in advance.
The ferry across may have been busy, but once off the boat people disappeared into the island quickly-there’s plenty of space. No one else joined me on the walking route, and though I was delayed slightly by picking up a map and checking where the path started, I didn’t catch anyone else on the walking trail, passing only cyclists when I switched to the road. The path takes you out to the old barracks, parts of which still have barbed wire protection just off the path-leave it at your peril, the sign more or less says. Within 30 minutes I was passing deserted beaches, so hardly any travel is needed to find some solitude. The flies, though, were doing my head in.
Australian flies are persistent-wave one off your left ear and it’ll be round at the right before you know it – and happy to sit on you even if you’re moving. I’d learned at Fremantle prison that the ‘Aussie salute’ is a single-handed wave, popular because we’re all trying to be rid of the flies. They also ship in dung to draw in flies and let dung beetles rip, mercilessly consuming flies. Here’s hoping that intervention doesn’t cause another unexpected infestation, Australia suffers from enough as it is. My tour mates at the prison had been similarly plagued on Rottnest, but that warning does little good unless you either don’t go or take a netting mask of some kind-a few people had them. I was glad of a spare map to wave incessantly. It would have been entirely unnecessary if flies could be shocked by liberal use of the phrase “fuck off!” though.
After a quick, fly-free break in the dark of the old ammo store, I continued, with a fabulous view over the sea from the peak the barracks command. Leaving, I got a little confused about which track to follow and completed a small circle, so after a quick, fly-free break in the old-well, you know how that goes. I decided not to follow the full walk up to the lighthouse and nine inch guns, seeing as I’d seen the site of the six inch ones. They were put there in WW2 to protect the port of Fremantle. Again I was reminded of Ireland, and the Napoleonic fort there; grand, equipped with big guns, never used. The story is told with slightly more bombast here, though, which I preferred-less of a feeling of “oh well, maybe we shouldn’t have bothered” and more of a “we needed it! We built it! Now you can see some of it!”.
Returning to the settlement I wandered round the museum. It is small but perfectly formed, and gives an overview of the life of the island. I thought the photo books were the highlight, giving a view of prison, holiday and military life, though I was fascinated by the brief accounts of prison life from Aboriginals who had been locked up there.
For my afternoon stroll I headed north, away from the banging tunes of the hotel, which looks (sounds) as though it provides much of the nightlife. That route took me past the old colonial cottages-the originals, painted ochre when they realised that white was making everyone slightly blind. Most buildings are now used for holidays and I passed big cottages, small huts and a campsite. If not for the flies I’d go for a tent, myself; still, a big one would work as a refuge, I think, without being too claustrophobic.
Soon the road becomes a marked out cycle way, and the small hills on this part of the route looked tailor made for fun on two wheels. I cursed an injury that had flared up despite inactivity – I’d brought my running kit, aiming to explore that way, but it just wasn’t going to happen, so I carried it round all day instead. There are lockers in the settlement if you don’t fancy following in my footsteps, and a shower if you manage the run.
I’d seen mention of the road round-trip being 28km, so the place is perfect for an easy-to-follow long run. I found another quiet beach after a short descent and chilled out there before returning to the settlement for ice cream on a different beach. Lovely island, beaches everywhere. I don’t think I’d explored even half, was near the settlement where everyone lands and yet I still could have had a monastic retreat from life if I’d wanted.