We flew out of Dubai in the dead of the night for the 45 minute flight to Doha, the capital of Qatar and the hub for all of Qatar Airways’ flights out of the Middle East. While the new airport is stunning, particularly for its sculptures,

Dubai 2014_13

it was hard to hang out for two hours and then board the flight to Perth, Australia knowing that it was going to be 11 ½ hours long. We did sleep well, however, and managed to be semi-alert when we arrived there at 5:30 in the afternoon.  We were there in large part because of our dear friends Wendy and Ken. We first met them in 2004 in the back of a pickup truck in Thailand on our way to the Mekong River, and then spent two days with them as the slow water taxi took us downstream to Luang Probang in Laos.

DSCN0319

We then traveled with them through Laos and have always treasured the bond we felt with them. It had been too long and we found the bond still there when we saw them again. As you can see, they haven’t aged at all!

DSC01326

They are now back in Perth where Ken grew up and have a lovely home with an absolutely stunning backyard, complete with a wonderful huge porch and barbeque

DSC01263

and a pool and hot spa to die for.

Perth, WAustralia

In addition, their home is graced by Zuri, their lovely chocolate lab, here caught enjoying a midafternoon siesta under her blanket.

DSC01267

We spent a lot of time just enjoying them and their home, but also did some serious exploring as well. Perth itself is described as the wealth capital of Australia as most of its mining is in the west and the mining concerns are based here. As this shot from the waterfront demonstrates, it has a downtown sparkling and new.

DSC01268

Early on we took a boat out to Rottnest Island, about twelve miles out into the Indian Ocean from the mainland and free of all cars. It was discovered by de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, and was then crowded with small marsupials called quokkas, which he took to be rats. Thus the island’s name in Dutch.

DSC01276

These aren’t the only animals on the island, however, as these fellows, descendants of those brought from Arabia more than a century ago, are still around nuzzling each other.

DSC01295

And the birds of Australia are just amazing. We see so many that are unlike any we have ever seen before that we will try to do a gallery of them in a later blog, but here is a lorikeet eating a fig from a tree as a preview.

DSC01300

We rented bikes and spent most of the day riding around the island and loved the waters surrounding it—vibrant blues varied by the depth of the sand and reefs close by.

DSC01277

DSC01282

We also had a marvelous day with Wendy and Ken in neighboring Fremantle, richer in history perhaps than Perth and still a very important port. Most of it dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century and while it went through a period of deterioration a couple of decades ago, it is now being renovated with many of its historic buildings preserved and introduced to new uses.  The photo at the top of this blog is an example of what Fremantle looks like today.

Central to the city is the Fremantle Market, built in the late nineteenth century with a lovely brick exterior.

DSC01311

Inside it is alive with activity and life with throngs of shoppers buying every kind of food.

DSC01380

We also took a long walk along the boardwalk lining the harbor and which features a wonderful sculpture of fishermen bringing their catch ashore

DSC01333

and a number of restaurants, our choice for lunch being the Little Creatures Brewery, absolutely crammed with people inside and out. It is a serious major producer of beers and ales in Australia which we are still drinking here in the heart of the East Coast.

DSC01337

Fremantle’s other major attraction, and its only Unesco World Heritage Site, is the Fremantle Prison, on a limestone hillside first leveled by convicts and then built of the same limestone and finished in 1859. Since Dave is a bit of a prison aficionado, we toured it in the afternoon.

You enter through the main gatehouse

DSC01378

and then through the gate itself, beautifully crafted of wrought iron.

DSC01377

You are then in the prison yard, surrounded by the thirty foot walls, and dominated by the blockhouse which contains nearly all of the prison cells. This part of the yard was often used to grow vegetables to feed the inmates.

DSC01375

At places where steps lead up to the top of the wall and its guardhouses, signs warned convicts against approaching and razor wire effectively blocked access.

DSC01351

If a convict continued to approach, three warning shots were fired and then the guard was to shoot to wound.

Inside the blockhouse the cells line the outer walls on four levels and are almost all meant to hold individuals, though in later years some of them were combined into cells that could house as many as six convicts.

DSC01358

As prisons go it is a particularly grim one as most built in the nineteenth century are, and was finally closed in 1991 after a serious riot a couple of years earlier left the building seriously damaged by fires set by convicts, and the only gate into the prison was too small to admit fire engines from Fremantle itself.

We also took several days to drive south to the Margaret River region, famous for its surfer beaches and vineyards. While some of the vineyards on the eastern side of the continent date from the mid nineteenth century, those in the Margaret River area were only started in the 1970’s, but their quality is such that they have a broad following among wine experts.

They are also renowned for their gardens and ‘cellar doors’ as their tasting rooms are called. Here is the entrance to one

Lewin Winery, Margaret River, WAUS

and part of the rose gardens at another.

Margaret River, WAUS

They also often plant rose bushes at the end of each row of vines, since like canaries in a coal mine, they show the signs of disease before the grape vines do.

Margaret River, WAUS_2

As we left one vineyard we also had our first kangaroo sighting—a mother with baby hopping around her and then jumping into her pouch.

DSC01415

The beaches are spectacular as well, famous for drawing surfers from all over the world. This is the beach at Surfer’s Point where a major surfing contest is held each year.

Margaret River, WAUS_3

But there is frequently danger lurking just below the surface and accounted for the total lack of surfers in the water even though the surf seemed to be excellent.   When we arrived this was the sign that greeted us, the sighting having taken place just forty minutes before.

Margaret River, WAUS_4

The details in red felt pen state that a shark three and a half meters long (about 10 feet) of unknown species had been sighted at 12:30 PM about 250 meters (270 yards) from the Lineup at the Main Break.

Back in Perth we enjoyed a last evening with Wendy and Ken before flying five hours across the continent to Sydney. We always think the United States is so large. Australia could swallow it in one bite.

DSC01485