On our flight from Alice Springs to Perth we flew over Uluru/Ayers Rock and got one last glimpse with a birdseye view. On our arrival in Perth it was very hot and sunny as we made our way from the airport into the city and then out on a train to Rockingham, where we had arranged to pick up our campervan for the week. We drove South towards Margaret River but as darkness fell (and flies were hitting the windscreen so frequently it sounded like rain!) we decided to stop in Busselton, a popular seaside holiday resort. The next morning we continued to Margaret River and took a walk around the quaint shops on the main street, mostly targeting tourists (souveneirs, fudge & ice cream, cafes, bars and restaurants). As well as tourism, the Margaret River region is famous for wine making, with its climate being ideal for year round wine production and we saw many winerys in the area. We drove to the coast to Prevelly beach and walked along a series of boardwalks through sand dunes with many tropical plants growing in them and saw several locals taking a dip in the sea.
We drove South along a scenic coastal route through a Karri forest as far as Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, the point where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean meet.
In the evening we saw Margaret River beer gardens fill with tourists and holidaymakers in the evening sunshine.
The next day we awoke to see the weather had turned and we drove North towards Perth in rain. We had decided to take the ferry to Penguin Island to go 'Rolf Harris spotting' and as we boarded for the short crossing the weather started to improve with the rain having stopped. We enjoyed watching rescued penguins being fed at the sanctuary before taking a walk around the island, along a beach and over the cliffs. We had heard that there were three sea lions on the island earlier in the day but we didn't spot them on our walk. Just as we were about to leave we were informed by a guide that the sealions were in a series of caves close by. We dashed over hoping to get a glimpse. Nic cut across the beach and spotted a sea lion in a cave and with camera at the ready she was about to take some pictures, when she heard Chris shout "Nic!". Chris had cut across the cliff and seen that as Nic had spotted the sea lion in the cave, another sea lion which had been hidden in the undergrowth (Nic had passed) had bounded out right behind Nic. As Nic turned, she saw just how close this big sea lion was to her and that it had cut her off from her land exit route. After a quick curve around the sea lion and a little paddling in the waves Nic escaped and we were able to take some pictures of the sea lion on the beach, before running back to make the ferry back to the mainland. We didn't spot Rolf Harris, but Penguins and a couple of Sea Lions made the trip well worthwhile.
Once back on the mainland we drove to Fremantle, a port city just 19km Southwest of Perth and took a walk around. We found Fremantle to be a relaxed town with many boutiques / independent businesses and the people here dressed in a wide variety of fashions. We visited several art galleries seeking an Aboriginal canvas to export back to the UK and saw a couple that we liked.
The next morning we left Fremantle and decided to explore Perth city centre. We completed a walking tour around the city, taking in the Western Australia Art Gallery, major buildings, city park, the bell tower, the river banks and then we walked to the biggest city centre park in the world called Kings Park. Here we walked through some excellent gardens and around a tree-top raised boardwalk that provided great views of the park and the city. We liked what we saw of Perth city centre having found it to be modern, clean and big enough to know that you are in a city, but not too big a city to be able to walk around.
We decided to head North up the tourist sunset coastal road in search of a campsite for the evening. We drove through Scarborough while the sun turned pink with the falling sun but we couldn't find a campsite there. Despite stopping along the coast several times and asking locals, we could not find a campsite anywhere nearby - this was the first time that we had experienced this problem in Australia. We arrived at a town called Jondaloop - an area surrounded by modern housing estates containing lots of huge mansions. We found the local campsite on the coast at Jondaloop but it was full, so we decided to make our way into the town centre. It was Thursday night and late night shopping was in full swing at a huge shopping mall. Here we enjoyed a bite to eat at the busy foodhall before making our way back to the campervan. We chose a residential street close to the centre where overnight parking looked to be an option for us and decided to park and sleep there for the night.
The next morning we drove up the coast towards Jurien Bay. We stopped on route to see 'the Pinnacles' - limestone rock formations that stand on sandy desert with a 4km path circling between the rocks, very bizarre to see! On our arrival in Jurien Bay we popped in to the sky dive office where we were booked in for 7am the next morning. Here we watched videos of some of their sky diving and the owner informed us that he was looking forward to 'getting hammered' that evening (knowing that we were booked in at 7am - funny sense of humour these Aussies....)
We decided to have a barbie as our 'last meal ....' (before our scheduled skydives) and enjoyed the early evening sun. We popped to the local pub in an effort to calm the nerves and spoke to the barmaid about sky diving. She had been a few weeks earlier and although she had enjoyed it overall, she informed us that she struggled to breath at 14,000ft. This wasn't what Chris was wanting to hear! After a sleepless night in the campervan we arrived at the sky diving centre at 7am. Nic was ready for her debut skydive, but Chris was feeling sick at the thought of it. Nic met her sky dive instructor Dan, informed him that she was "his new best friend" and after no training (and only a tandem vest brace provided) Nic boarded the plane. On boarding Nic greeted the pilot with "hello Mr.Nice Pilot" and off they went. Dan showed Nic the altitude monitor that was strapped to his arm at 7,000 feet - and informed her that they were "half way up to the drop height" and on looking out of the window Nic couldn't believe that they were only half way as already the earth looked a very long way away. As the plane climbed Dan strapped Nic's vest to his and Nic then spent a few minutes moving around to check for herself that she was indeed fully attached. A few minutes later Dan informed Nic that they were at 14,000 and that he was about to open the door at which point there would be a strong gust of wind. The pilot informed Dan that it was 30 knots outside and Nic wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not, as Dan replied, "REALLY"...and a silent pause before the pilot said, "OK" and Dan opened the airplane door! After the door opened Nic was asked to swing her feet out onto the step and having been told not to grab Dan's arms at all (he needed them for the operation of the parachute) - arms crossed across her chest Nic looked down out of the plane, Dan pulled Nic's head backwards so that she looked upwards as they exited the plane and out of the plane they went. Nic describes her 60 seconds freefall as not feeling like you are falling at all, more like you are flying and that she remembers if feeling extremely windy. The parachute opened and Dan guided them over the coastline, offering Nic a go of the reigns - which she politely declined and they headed down to the flag on the beach where they landed exactly to plan, with Nic's first words being "I'm a Skydiver!"
After Nic's early morning sky dive experience we drove North and spent the afternoon in Fremantle. We had decided to purchase one of the pieces of Aboriginal art that we had seen should it still be available, however of course it had been sold a day earlier! The owner of the gallery took our details and contacted the painter to see if he would do a very similar piece for us that we could purchase via photographs on the internet, so we may yet get the Australia souvenir we wanted.
The next morning we drove to Rockingham and took a short Sunday morning walk down the beach that was busy with locals enjoying swimming and sunbathing. Afterwards we returned our campervan and took the train back into the centre of Perth. Our hostel in Perth had previously won awards for it's high standards and it was indeed very nicely decorated, albeit it was situated in Northbridge - an area of the city that we had been warned against, but we needed a central hostel so that we could get to the airport the next morning. We had walked passed a large Octoberfest event on our way to the hostel, so having checked in we decided to go and try and enjoy a few German beers, however unfortunately tickets had sold out for the Octoberfest. We walked around the bars and restaurants in the lively Northbridge area and passed a 'testosterone bar' that was full of lads that looked like they wanted to fight. We continued and found an Irish bar with 'backpacker offers on beer' and enjoyed a couple of pints whilst 'people watching' the locals who were having a lively Sunday evening! After a bite to eat nearby we started to make our way past the earlier mentioned 'testosterone bar', to see pockets of fighting in the group of drinkers outside it. Next minute a mass brawl broke out with what looked to be everyone in the bar joining in. It spilled out into the street and into another bar across the road, with police sirens following.... ah ha, so this is why we were warned against staying in Northbridge!
Despite this being the last we saw of Perth, overall we really enjoyed our time in and around the city centre and Fremantle and would have liked a little more time on the West coast to explore further.