Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Into the Rat's Nest

I was having a nice life-maintenance day in Perth's trendy suburb of Fremantle when I came to the realization, even while sitting in a lovely café, that I’m ready to move on from Perth and the West Coast. It’s time to get this journey moving on its counter-clockwise push. But first, I had an essential day-trip to take.

The quokka has been dubbed the “happiest animal in the world” by Buzzfeed, who, hyperbole aside, knows its adorable critters. The only place in the world where quokkas live is Rottnest Island, a short ferry-hop from the Fremantle pier. In fact, “Rottnest” is Dutch for “Rat’s Nest,” because they mistook the little buggers for giant rats.

I was apprehensive on the ferry ride over. The wildlife experiences I looked forward to in Shark Bay turned out to be awfully touristy, and the ferry crowd threatened more of the same. As soon as we landed, I unloaded my trusty cheapo hybrid and took off for the island’s uninhabited West End, hoping to get away from the settlements and the crowds. But I wasn’t sure about my chances. Would I even spot a single one of these small, modest, nocturnal animals?

Not 500 yards from the pier, I saw my first quokka, right by the side of the road. 

About 10 minutes later, there was another, skittering into the bushes. Then, I spotted one taking some shade under a roadside picnic bench. I parked my bike on the road, keeping my distance so as not to spook it. Then, this happened.




“Inquisitive little fellars, aren’t they?” Another visitor remarked while his wife took photos of them crowding around her feet. ("There are heaps of them!" she shouted.) I don’t know how inquisitive they are, or, honestly, how bright. I think people feed them. And I don’t care. I touched one. I TOUCHED ONE. 

Unfortunately, they don't have the permanent "happy face" Buzzfeed sells you. They have your typical, albeit sweet, marsupial face. And they do have really ratty tails. But their stupid little ears and absolutely snuggly demeanor more than make up for it.

Rottnest has just one tiny settlement near its pier, and then nothing but windswept heath and sheltered coves for swimming, snorkeling, and fishing. I took a leisurely route home, stopping on deserted beach after deserted beach. 

 The summer heat has finally broken, and it was cloudy and too chilly for swimming, so I would either walk on the sand or just wade out. Standing knee-deep on an utterly deserted beach, I was startled by an American accented voice behind me, saying, “If you’re going in that far, you might as well just jump in!”

It was a nice young Canadian guy I’d noticed making a similarly speedy bike loop around the island. His name was Andrew, and he’d been living in Australia for a year, alternately working in the gold mines and traveling. We hit it off right away, and continued on our bike tour together, catching lunch at the one pub in town. While we were eating on the patio (having a conversation about what animals we would take on in a cage match--he wanted to fight an ostrich, and I'd take on a panda any day of the week), a quokka came up and started begging chips from the patrons right on the deck. So I was right about them being fed. Meanwhile, the sun had come out, and the day had warmed up enough for us to get in a quick swim before catching the ferry ride home.

It was an excellent last day in Perth. I've since traveled around the "corner" of Western Australia to head east, across the vast coast of the Southern Ocean. I have a lot of updates and photos to share, but it's mostly been camping, so I've been without internet. Look for more updates soon!

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