Sharing a Home with Quokkas

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Monday, February 7, 2005

After a few days in Freo and checking out the sites of Perth proper, I headed out to Rottnest Island for three nights. Rottnest is about 20 km off the coast of Fremantle and is about 11 km long and 5 km wide: not very large at all. Cars are prohibited, so everyone gets around on bikes, which are available to rent (although I was glad to have my own when I realized that the rental ones aren't equipped with gears, so you're slogging up the hills and spinning on the flats). I thought for some reason that the island was basically all sand, but there's a bit more to it than that; the middle of the island is grey-green scrubby hills. The fringes are leafed with eucalypts and glossy-leafed fig trees that shade the wooden vacation huts, painted uniformly golden yellow, and the rock vacation lodges, made of a beautiful amber shade of stone.

Rottnest is entirely given over to tourism; the lodges and huts are available to rent through an accomodation lottery, they're so popular. I didn't have that problem as I was booked in to stay at the YHA, an old brick army barracks two kilometres out of the main settlement. Signage on the island is ridiculously bad and I wasn't the only one to become really lost trying to find the YHA. This made me mad because while looking for it, I got my shoelace caught in my chain and fell off my bike, scraping my knees up.

That night I zipped on my bike through the main settlement to have a look at some of the beaches on the north coast of the island as well as the lakes that polka-dot the centre. The beaches were beautiful: gleaming sailboats bobbing on aqua waters, white sands, sheltered in the harbouring arms of grey cliffs and high dunes. The lakes, however, due to some sort of salination process that started when the island was dug up for roadworks, are disgusting: filled with red sludge, heavily salty, smelling of sulphur, and producing a strange thick white foam that blows across the cyclepaths in the wind. Fortunately the lakes are easy to avoid when touring the outskirts of the island, where all the real excitement is.

Rottnest is known for its population of "quokkas," which look something like a cross between a rat and a kangaroo, and sometimes hop on two legs and sometimes drag themselves forward on all fours. They're about the size of a chihuahua. While you do have to look around a bit to see them on the island, regularly, they hang out in droves at the hostel, perhaps because backpackers are always leaving random bits of food lying around that they can scavenge. Everytime I open the door to the room, there's two or three on the porch, staring at me with pleading eyes. Forget it, rataroos: I'm too broke to waste crumbs on you.
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