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Published: March 29th 2023
We are in Busselton for our next stop.
We are up early for our trip to the lighthouse and Ngilgi caves. It’s a gorgeous day with blue skies and not a cloud in the sky. The azure sea is twinkling in the sunlight. We are to tender ashore and over the tannoy the captain tells it’s the longest tender, 3 miles, because the sea is so shallow. Thank goodness the sea is much calmer than Kangaroo Island!
It takes us just over 30 minutes to reach the land, passing the mile long wooden pier, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. The beach goes on for miles and is pure white,wonderful!
We are taken to the light house on a coach and our guide is a former headteacher from the city of Busselton. Now you are probably imaging a sprawling metropolis with high rise buildings like I was when I heard city. Well you’d be wrong, the population is 42,000 and there is unrest because a hotel chain is building a hotel with 5 floors the tallest building ever built in the city! It is in fact a rather pleasant seaside town.
It transpires that a town can become a city when the population reaches 28,000. Busselton to me is more like a sleepy seaside town. An Aussie fellow traveller describes it as a “one Macca place”, which apparently means it can only support one MacDonalds restaurant.
Our guide tells us that he was born in Busselton before it was a city and couldn’t wait to leave the town to experience the bright lights.He went to university and studied to be a teacher, eventually becoming Head Principal in Busselton primary school, the one he attended and more remarkably the same one his father had been Head principal at.
Busselton wasn’t colonised until the mid 19th Century as the land was poor for farming as it was characterised as an arid swamp. (Arid swamp ????) Still seemingly the French were showing interest in colonising the area and given that the east coast Australian settlements were so far away (5.5hours today by jet) it was decided it would be a good idea to have a few towns to fully claim the area. Growth didn’t really start until the 1960 - 70’s when the region became a wine producing area and more recently important for mining. Until that point the main industries had been farming (drainage was put in during the depression of the 1930’s) and tourism.
Our coach takes us first to Cape Naturaliste (named after a French surveying ship, you see the danger!) lighthouse. Built in 1903 using a flat pack lighthouse built in Birmingham. Think IKEA for colonies. (Imagine discovering you have two support beams 3 but no arch member 6 and the Alan key is missing.) To be honest it is a pleasant enough place on top of a headland but we aren’t allowed in the lighthouse which we are told is still using the original Birmingham lens magnifying the light from an LED cluster by one million times. There are kangaroo droppings all over the place but no kangaroos in sight. So not really a lot to see beyond the view which is hidden as we are 100m above the sea and several hundred metres from the edge so all you can see is sea.
The second stop is the Ngilgi caves. Discovered by Europeans at the start of the 20th century and became a major tourist draw. A day train journey from Perth, followed by a day on a horse carriage before you even got there, they must have really liked their caves.
Anyway today you descend down a steep stairway into the system. Part is accessed via a steel tube (think water flume but no water) that you wriggle through feet first using your heels to pull you along. Fine when it is down hill but the last 12 feet or so is an up gradient. Ian has to grab my ankles and pull. I like to think I did however maintain dignity at all times. It transpires there was an alternative route using stairs, but that was only for wimps.
You the explore the various caverns. The formations are the same as most caves, stalagmites, stalactites and columns. It is good but not as impressive as other caves we have visited, Cheddar etc. Still the steps and paths are more crude than would be allowed in the UK so it adds to the sense of adventure. A good but not exceptional stop.
We are then returned to Busselton. The sea looks so blue and inviting and the sand so white. I take my shoes and socks off and go for a paddle (Mr Sensible / Boring watching from the wave edge.) I get to mid thigh depth when I stumble and fall in completely. Elsewhere this would have been terrible, here the water is warm and fortunately I am not hold my camera and my phone wasn’t in my pocket. I struggle a little to regain my feet before I can wade out. As I said earlier, dignity at all times!
We walk (squelch) back to the pier for the ride back to the ship. All in all a really nice day in a lovely place. If we’d known how good the beach was we would probably just have brought towels and spent the time there.
A short night cruise brings us to Fremantle, the port city for Perth and our last stop on the trip around Australia. We are moored up by 07:30am and the local Western Australian Brass Band is on the quayside. They entertain the whole ship (well us at least) with a medley of contemporary pop and rock tunes. The Monkees, AC/DC, Kiss, Petula Clark etc have some of the ship singing along, clapping and cheering each time they end a song. What a brilliant way to start a day.
We are booked on an excursion to see a little of both Perth and Fremantle. The first stage is along another golden beach which seems to run on forever. About 100yards out to sea are yellow buoys, placed approximately 100 yards apart. These we are told are anti shark buoys. Sharks are captured and tagged, when they then swim cross the buoy line an alert is triggered and swimmers get out of the water. A great humane plan which involves minimum harm to sharks. The only slight problem being that it rather relies on tagging all sharks in the ocean, which as the guide notes is rather problematic. So they still have constant shark patrols as well as netted off areas.
The first stop in Kings Park. An area of 4,000 hectares more or less in the centre of Perth overlooking the Swan River. Most of the park has been left with bush vegetation, although part is the Botanic Garden of Western Australia. It is the typical Australian gardens, beautiful and wonderfully maintained.
The Gardens are also the site of the State War Memorial. This is at the highest point of the Park and is visible from much of the city. The Monument is a tall stone column at the end of a straight avenue with a pool holding an eternal flame at the other end. 18 small stone plaques hold the names of the Victoria Cross recipients from the state. Underneath the Monument itself is a chamber holding the names of all those from the State who have been killed in war since 1914 to the present day. Additionally many of the trees are marked with small signs remembering one or two named individuals or units / ships. Australians take their war memorials very seriously indeed.
We only have about 40 minutes to wander around and we could easily have spent the rest of the day here, ah well. Then it is off through the city, much the same as other Australian cities we have seen. Huge modern glass towers, many homes to mining companies, with some diminutive (by comparison) colonial period buildings that seem entirely lost in the new city scape.
Part of this trip is then a ferry ride down the river back to Fremantle. Gathering by the pier side I can see dozens of large jellyfish moving in the water. I am sure they are deadly, this is Australia after all. The ferry takes about 90 minutes to make the journey, with a guide providing a running commentary on the sights. As you might expect riverside frontage is prime real estate and it is where the rich and powerful congregate. Many of the houses are large with the parts visible being mainly composed of glass to give what must be stunning views. The biggest mansion pointed out to us was bought for A$57m fifteen years or so ago. Now the owner wants to demolish it and build something (bigger and) better in its place. The surrounding locals (who are similarly fantastically wealthy) are apparently very unhappy with the planning application and are protesting vigorously. No doubt the lawyers are rubbing their hands and helping both sides. To me the existing mansion looked good and I would have been perfectly happy to live in it is. But then again the constant urge to rip down something and replace it with something even bigger and better (allegedly) might explain why the owner of that palace could afford it in the first place and I can’t.
We pass numerous yacht clubs and boating centres. Fremantle benefited enormously when it won the Americas Cup in 19??. It is claimed to be the spur which regenerated the entire city, attracting tourists and investment.
Returning to the shore, a mere hop and a skip from the Queen Mary 2 we re board the bus for a final leg through Fremantle. Lookout Hill unsurprisingly is the highest hill in the city and is our stop. It is another park and war memorial. This one is surrounded by various ‘sub monuments’ commemorating one or another branch of the armed forces. One of the interesting ones is a 21” torpedo presented by the US Navy to remember the fact that Fremantle was a major USN submarine facility during WWII. It was considered safer for the submarine fleet than Pearl Harbour, certainly in the early years of the war. Again there are good views over the harbour and city. A giant car carrier is entering the port. But big as it is our ship seems larger.
On the drive back to the ship we pass the prison. Fremantle was not a convict colony, all the original arrivals were free people. But with labour shortages etc it was ultimately decided that a few convicts were required to build the necessary facilities. Humorously one of the first things they now needed to build was a prison to house the prisoners when they weren’t working. Seems a little unfair to have to build your own cell. Anyway they did a really good job because the prison was in use until very recently.
As we sail away we are told that we have completed 19,970 miles of the journey and will now be sailing across the southern Pacific for seven days to Mauritius. It is nighttime and locals have gathered on the breakwater, they us their phones to light up our departure and we can hear then shouting greetings to the ship. We respond in a similar fashion and the ship’s horn is blown. (Interesting fact - the starboard horn on this ship is originally from the first Queen Mary and is now approaching 100 years old. )
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