Week 2 with Ah Mike and family, Perth (16th - 22nd July 2007)

Monday, 16th July: We headed to AQWA – The Aquarium of WA today at Hillarys Boat Harbour, Sorrento Quay (about 20 minutes drive from Perth city) and spent about 2 hours in the aquarium discovering the incredible and unique marine life of WA, as well as watched a sea lion show. Here, you could experience swimming with sharks (but snorkelling or scuba diving in a tank with sharks didn’t feel very ‘real’ to me so I didn’t join in). Kids could also have the chance to touch some sea creatures at the touch pool.

We lunched at Sorrento Quay on fish and chips (again??) with a Mango Magic smoothie recommended by Ivan from Boost Juice Bar. A very nice and refreshing drink, not to mention large too :) There were many people around the area - lots of little retail shops and eating outlets.

On our way home, we stopped by the ferry terminal on Barrack Street to find out more about Rottnest Island and booked ourselves (me, mum and Ivan) on a day trip for Thursday. Weather forecast didn’t look very good but hopefully the rain will go away by then. Ivan and I made a quick stop at Boost Juice Bar at St Georges Terrace (he was too full from lunch to get one earlier) and I got to take a few pictures along our walk. Photos from our day out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601498975506/detail/

Tuesday, 17th July: We went to the The University of Western Australia (also known as UW, pronounced ‘u-dub’) to drop Ivan off for his Open Day. Ah Mike showed us around the grounds of the university where we snapped a few pictures of the old buildings. There is a garden here called the Sunken Garden that is very popular among newlyweds to hire out for wedding receptions.

Across the street from UW is Matilda Bay where mum, Ah Mike and I went for a stroll (it was breezy) and morning tea. Ah Mike told us that this place gets filled with families and groups during the summer periods – you could picnic and even have a BBQ by the bay.

After our morning tea, we followed Ah Mike back to TAFE and waited for Ivan to come meet us. Mum and I have not yet tried the trains in Perth so the 3 of us went on a train ride to Joondalup. There wasn’t much to do at the Joondalup stop, except have our lunch at the nearby shopping mall and rode back to Perth to meet Ah Mike. Still, it was an interesting experience. Did you know that the trains in Perth run on tracks in the middle of the highways? Yep, and it felt weird seeing vehicles pass by on both sides of the window…

Tonight, we went out for dinner in a Chinese restaurant at Victoria Park (yummy crabs!!) and after dinner, Uncle Meng Ling drove us to Kings Park to see Perth city at night. Photos from our day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601508801075/detail/

Wednesday, 18th July: One of the highlights of my trip to Perth has to be our visit to Fremantle Prison. Ivan and I were ecstatic when we found out the tunnels tour was about to commence in 5 minutes - we quickly paid our entry free and gathered with the others as we await our guide to turn up. Mum and Ah Mike decided not to come along and took a CAT ride around Fremantle instead.

The prison is one of WA’s most fascinating and significant cultural attractions. In 1894, prisoners completed construction of the 1km labyrinth of tunnels located 20 metres beneath the prison. The group of 6 people (me and Ivan, a young and another older couple) followed our guide, Lewis, through the gates and tunnels of the prison. Lewis was a real funny guy who gave fantastic commentary and took pleasure in teasing me a lot :P He had thought that Ivan and I were siblings!

We had to go through an alcohol breath test prior to our tunnelling! It was so strange blowing into a small hole in the machine with a straw. Once we all passed the test, we were given our gear (overalls that felt tissue-like, boots, life-jacket that wasn’t really necessary as the water level was low, hardhat with headlamp, harness with a big clip that works with the ladder locking system which we were taught to use before descending). I had all the small sets but still looked a bit big for my size :) Lewis didn’t allow us to take the camera – he didn’t want to be blamed for another lost camera during the trip. What a bummer…

Before we headed into the tunnel, we had to watch a short clip about the place and learn how to use our equipment. Ivan and I climbed down the parallel stairs right after Lewis – we climbed down one person per ladder (there were 2 on each level, 4 levels in total), facing each other. Once we cleared the ladder only could the next pair climb down. Ivan being taller was moving faster than me, skipping rungs as he went. Hey, wait up! The ladder was made for visitors i.e. not the original ones – sturdy and safe but I wouldn’t recommend it to those who have weak knees.

We trekked through sections of the labyrinth on foot. Some of the paths were muddy, and the tunnel passages were of differing heights (sometimes we had to crouch down and walk through). We passed through small dams made to prevent water flow, bores, old artifacts, blast holes – you could also hear the noise from above just standing below one of the blast holes! There was a spot full to rubbles which were never unearthed – the guides believe it holds the bodies of the prisoners who died in the tunnels.

We then boarded replica punts to explore the submerged passageways accessible only by boat. Ivan and I shared one boat – we had a few small ‘accidents’ hitting against the tunnel walls but managed to paddle along behind Lewis. We probably chipped a bit of the sandstone…ops. We even had a taste of the water – don’t worry, it was fresh and clean. If you put your hand into the water, you will see some ‘smoke’ coming out – shows you how warm and humid it was down there. More blast holes along the way, some with tree roots showing. Punting through the tunnels reminds me of a Phantom of the Opera scene, where the passageways are lighted by old oil lamps, dim and quiet…

Ivan and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and hope to return 2-3 years later to explore the northern side of the tunnel which has still not been made accessible to the public. A recommended tour for those who are fit and able to climb, duck and dodge during the 2.5-hour tour – good exercise for us! Plus, you get a certificate at the end to mark your accomplishment!

Ah Mike and mum came to pick us up after our tour for lunch at Cicerello’s, the famous fish ‘n’ chip shop at Fremantle (said to be WA’s No. 1 fish ‘n’ chip place). True enough, the fish here taste fresher though their mussels are tiny compared to the New Zealand greenshell mussels. The place was packed with patrons and as you order, you get given a black disc beeper. It beeps (imagine a ticking bomb) to indicate your order is ready for pick up. Interesting…Oh yeah, while we were there, Ivan and I were trying to check out this man working behind the counter. Hearsay that he used to be a crush of one of ladies (mum and her friends) we were with last week during their highschool years. Hmm, wonder which one? We did manage to catch a glimpse of him – he was moving so much that we couldn’t take a picture as evidence. I don’t know if he was a hottie when younger but the man I saw was balding and rather old (mum agreed too!)…Photos from our day trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601512405596/detail/

After lunch, we headed back to UW for Ivan to complete his enrolment. While we were in the waiting area in Winthrop Hall, I decided to check out the Clock Tower on my own. There were about 10 flights of stairs up the narrow, winding stairway to the top. Eerily quiet – lots of locked doors along the way up and when I peeked through the window panes, the rooms were bare with little to no furniture. Seemed to me they have been left unused for sometime. From the top, you could see the view of the campus grounds, and a view of Matilda Bay towards the city. Unfortunately the top door was locked so I couldn’t get out for a better view.

Thursday, 19th July: Mum, Ivan and I booked ourselves on a Full Day Rottnest Discovery Package with Oceanic Cruises (costs AUD139 per person) to Rottnest Island which includes return ferry rides from Perth to Rottnest, buffet lunch and a 2-hour bus tour on the island. Rottnest Island is WA’s most popular holiday playground, measuring 11kms long and 4.5kms at its widest point. It is well-known for quokkas, small marsupials who roam freely in the island. The island takes its name from the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh who discovered the island and called it 'rotte-nest' meaning rats nest, mistaking the quokkas for rats. Today, Rottnest is better known as Rotto.

The cruise is 90 minutes from Perth and 30 minutes from Fremantle. We boarded our ferry from Perth, swapping to a larger ferry in Fremantle. Today was the first day we experienced dark clouds, strong winds and rain, making the journey on the 2nd ferry a rough one – all 3 of us felt like throwing up!

We arrived at Rottnest around midday and visited the Settlement Precinct which included places such as the visitor centre, shopping mall, museum and salt store before heading to Rottnest Lodge for a very nice lunch. There are free tours within the island that runs regularly by volunteers, most of them senior citizens with much knowledge and stories to share about life on the island. The island has no cars, just buses and cyclist. You could rent a bike to explore the island on your own.

After lunch, we went to the Main Bus Stop at the Settlement Precinct to await our tour bus for our trip around the island. Our bus driver was funny and very knowledgeable but I would have enjoyed the tour more if it wasn’t for the weather. It started to pour heavily during our tour and most of us stayed in the bus at stops we were meant to stop to take photos. I braved the rain to get a few snapshots. Photos from our day at Rottnest: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601521055871/detail/

Personally, I feel that you need to spend a good 2-3 days on the island to really enjoy the beauty of this natural reserve. There are so many beautiful, unspoilt beaches full of marine life and I believe, given good weather, you will be able to see the tropical coral reefs filled with colourful fish from just ashore (we could already see some colour in the water from the bus despite heavy rain). An ideal place for snorkelling and scuba diving – I definitely need to make a trip back here again to do so!

Friday, 20th July: Ah Mike took us to the Western Australian Maritime Museum situated in Fremantle. The international landmark building at Victoria Quay (the arch) houses the museum’s major exhibits, while next door in Slip Street is the fascinating decommissioned submarine Ovens. We visited both areas but I was most fascinated with the submarine tour – we got to go into an actual submarine! The submarine tour goes every half hour in groups of ten people, and guided by a volunteer guide who explained to us the intricacies of life beneath the sea. Entry into the submarine is by the bow of the vessel (but you have to climb a set of 9 metre high stairs to get there) and exit by a similar set of stair located at the stern of the vessel. Again, like the prison tour, you need to step over bulkheads and move through small areas, ducking through at times. One of the other tourists said to mum that it was probably difficult for Asians with short legs to cross the bulkhead but that wasn’t true. The height of the passageway wasn’t really high anyway. Even the guide agreed – he said that submariners from certain regions are recruited because of their height.

This particular submarine carried tornados and harpoons. As we walked through the narrow and confined compartments, we all wondered how those submariners lived in such an environment for months. They saw no light of day and their living and working spaces were so small. They couldn’t drink much water since the vessel could only store a limited amount of drinking water. You could still smell the diesel in the engine room. And so many clocks and gadgets for one to learn to use! I don’t think I would like to be stuck inside here in event of an emergency underwater…According to the guide, if an emergency happens underwater and the crew had to abort ship, the most senior crew member would be the last to leave (I guess the most senior fellow has more survival skills). Photos from our tour: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601516646046/detail/

Mum and I caught up with Sylvia and the Perth girls again in the evening for our last dinner together at Jenny’s place. Everyone (except Jenny and Angie) gathered at Sylvia’s place beforehand for afternoon tea and Kitty was most delighted to see us :) It was another night of feast at Jenny’s. Photos of the group:

It was hard for us to say goodbye at the end of the night not knowing when we’ll all meet again. We really appreciate the hospitality of the Perth group – thank you all so much! Hey, perhaps the next time we come by, mum would be a new addition to the Perth group :)

Saturday, 21st July: Today was our last day in Perth - Ah Mike and Uncle Meng Ling brought us to Subiaco, another upper-class suburb and shopping area. Our first stop was at the Vietnamese market for lunch. Lots of people bustling in the market, buying fresh fish, vegetables and fruits or just trying out the assortment of food stalls available. We had Vietnamese chicken noodles for lunch – hmm, my favourite noodle soup with mint leave and lots of bean sprouts. Great for a cold winter’s day. There’s live entertainment too while you eat – Ah Mike and mum enjoyed listening to the songs played by the solo guitarist (songs from their time such as Simon Garfunkel and The Beatles). After lunch, we walked down the main street, Rokeby Road for shopping and coffee.

We went back to Kings Park again, this time to walk the Lottery Federation Walkway, the spectacular elevated 52m glass and steel arched bridge suspended amongst a canopy of tall eucalypts. On a sunny day, the view from Kings Park of the river and the city is breathtaking. We also did a brief stop at Applecross on our way home. Photos of our day out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601525509049/detail/

Sunday, 22nd July: Ah Mike and family went to the airport with us to send us of this morning. Photos of us just before we said our goodbyes:

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay with them and appreciate their kind hospitality, bringing us to so many places in Perth within our short stay (just look at the number of places we went in 2 weeks!). It was really great to see them after so many years. Thank you all so much!

There are lots more to see and do in Western Australia but you need to spend more time to cover the vast land. Perth is a wonderful place with generally constant sunny days though it is probably not the place for me at this point in time. I found it rather slow-moving, perhaps more well-suited for those wanting to start a family or retire. It is definitely booming since it has now become Australia’s most expensive real estate region. For more information about Perth and Western Australia, go here: http://www.westernaustralia.com/sg/Pages/Welcome_to_Western_Australia.aspx

The flight from Perth to Singapore took only 5 hours (that’s less than the amount of time flying to Perth from Wellington). Wow, what a holiday – I felt rather tired by the time I got to Singapore. Just wanted to rest and recuperate before my week travelling in the country but I just don’t have much time to spare! Every minute counts :)


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