Work sends me to Perth, Western Australia, and I always like to take advantage of going to a new place to check out the sights. Especially one this far away…
Perth is the capital and largest city in Western Australia. One of the most remote cities in the world, with the nearest large (>100,000 people) city being Adelaide, 2100km away. The greater metropolitan area includes several smaller cities, and is divided by the Swan and Canning rivers and boarders the Indian Ocean on the west.
The office and house that I’m staying in are within a ten-minute walk of Kings Park so I go there several times after work. At just over four square kilometres, the large and beautiful King’s Park has lots to see, and overlooks the Swan River. It’s a very popular place for folks to walk, picnic, photograph the Central Business District (CBD) and generally enjoy the mostly-beautiful weather.
Fremantle is the beautiful old port city on the coast, at the mouth of the Swan River.
Called “Freo” by the locals, it’s full of nice older buildings, pubs, restaurants, shops and the Fremantle Markets. On the water-front are two fish-and-chips restaurants, a harbour full of fishing boats, parks, a ferris wheel, beaches, and a Maritime Museum. Good touristy stuff, and a great place to wander about for a few hours.
Kings Park, in central Perth, includes a very interesting botanical garden, with examples of tress and other plants from all over Australia. For example, the Morton Bay Fig, is native to Eastern Australia. It’s not even the biggest species of tree in Australia, but this spectacular example is certainly the biggest tree I’ve ever seen!
Most of Kings Park (two-thirds) is natural bushland containing a wide variety of native plants, including plenty of the (mostly) uniquely Australian tree, the gum tree (Eucalyptus).
There are plenty of trails and a road network winding through the park, making it a great place to go for a walk or run after work, while enjoying the cool evening breeze that comes in regularly every evening.
North to Nambung National Park
On the first weekend I drove north from Perth to see the coast and the famous wilderness of Australia. On leaving the city, the landscape rapidly changes to trees and shrubs, with a mostly flat landscape and a feeling of remoteness, from the endless ocean to the west and the largely uninhabited land to the east.
Near the coastal town of Cervantes, about 200km north of Perth, is Lake Thesis, home to spectacular examples of structures, called stromatolites, formed by some of the oldest microbial lifeforms on Earth. There is fossil evidence of these microbial structures around dating back around 3.5 billion years. 3,500,000,000 years! The cyanobacteria, and other microorganisms that form these structures, are thought to be largely responsible for priming the very early atmosphere with oxygen, and therefore allowing all subsequent oxygen-consuming life (like us!) to evolve. The stromatolite structures are very slow to form, and these specimens, still alive and active, are around 3500 years old.
Stopping several times at the ocean when the highway veered toward the coast, or there was a town, I was amazed at the seemingly endless white sand beaches. To the far horizon each direction, beautiful white sand and the vast Indian ocean, and hardly any people to be seen, except for the fishing boats and wind surfers in the town of Lancelin and a few folks stolling around Cervantes.
The Pinnacles are a fascinating stop, and by a combination of luck and planning I got there in late afternoon, in time to catch the low light of the setting sun sweep shadows across the landscape.
These rugged limestone pillars rise up to around 4m high above the sandy desert floor. Several square kilometers in area, visitors are free to drive through on a marked loop through the area or just stroll around and explore.
Southern Night Sky
I hauled the Astro Tracker – a lightweight device that mounts on a tripod and turns very slowly to counteract the rotation of the Earth – on this trip, hoping to get some clear views of the southern night sky, and the weather did not disappoint! The center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, was high and clear, and the Large and Small Magellanic clouds were up and nicely visible, and the moon was new – perfect dark sky viewing conditions. The tracker allows long exposures of the sky to be made without the stars blurring.
It takes about 15 frames with a fisheye lens to capture the full sky – all 360 by 180 degrees – with each frame being exposed, in this case, for about two minutes, a process that takes at least one hour. Once that capture is made, all the frames need to be aligned so that they can be stitched together into a continuous, seamless image, and then the question becomes how to project that captured sphere onto a flat image. Like pealing an orange, you can’t flatten the peal without ripping or stretching it, and something always gets radically distorted if you want to show the whole 360 degree image.
Along the horizon can be seen a bit of sky-glow from the town of Cervantes, about 15km to the north, and once every 15 minutes or so a car would drive by on the highway, which I suspect was captured as a bit of green glow to the south-east. Not a big deal.
A bigger issue than the slight light pollution was my lack of being able to find true south. The tracker needs to be aligned to the celestial pole (north or south) in order to follow the Earth’s rotation. In the northern hemisphere, this is easy as we conveniently have a bright and easy-to-find star sitting very close to true north. Unfortunately, there’s no similar South Star, and I could only align it approximately south. This wasn’t too much of a problem with the fisheye lens doing two-minute exposures, but it wasn’t quite well-enough aligned to do one-minute exposures with a 50mm lens without showing some star movement.
Many thanks to Luke Marshall for loaning me a tripod on this trip, without which these shots would not have happened! One of the many super-friendly Australians I met on this too-brief trip.
Rottnest (Wadjemup) Island
This beautiful little (19 square kilometers) island of Rottnest Island lies 18km west of Perth, and is a popular day-trip destination for Perth locals and tourists reached by high-speed ferry. On the way to the island, the ferry goes past huge cargo ships queued up to dock at the industrial port in Freemantle. There is only one small town on Rottnest, called matter-of-factly The Settlement, which holds a few basic cabins and a small collection of shops and cafes.
A road network on the island lets visitors get around, but there are no private cars allowed on the island, requiring folks to either take a tour bus or ride bicycles. Most folks rode bikes, and at every bay, viewpoint or stop of interest there was a bank-stand or two with a dozen or more of the rental bikes attached. My kind of parking lot!
Touring the island is a simple matter of loading up a pack with lunch and water, sunscreen and camera, and then peddle until you see something interesting, which only takes a few minutes.
The island is home to a variety of unusual of wildlife, including numerous seabirds and some small lizards, and is one of the very few places in the world home to the small and very friendly Quokka. Quokkas can still be found here thanks to there being no introduced predators (dogs, rats, cats, foxes) on the island. The little marsupials have no fear of… anything, it seems, and if you stop your bike near a group of them they’ll come hopping over to say hi.
In ancient times, the island was connected to the mainland, and human artifacts show that it had been inhabited by humans for more than 30,000 years. Some 7000 years ago rising sea levels cut the island from the mainland, and when it was first re-discovered by Dutch explorers in the 17th century is was uninhabited by humans. Its current name came from one of those early explorers, who confused the local Quokkas for giant rats, Rotte in Dutch.
The King Skink, with a body about 30cm long, was an unusual beast. It looks like a lizard but moved like a snake – slowly and smoothly crawling over the bush. This photo was when I first saw it, and as I tried to closer for a better look it got shy and disappeared into the bush, coming out after a few minutes. Eventually he crawled off down the bank towards the shore. The island has several stunning bays of white sand and soft corals, and the swimming and snorkeling in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean is fantastic.
Darren Foltinek, 2012