Fremantle, in Western Australia
After arriving in the west onboard the Nullarbor Eagle (Indian Pacific), and spending a few days south in Margaret River we come to the lovely heritage precinct of Fremantle, or 'Freo' as it is locally known. Freo is about 15kms south west of Perth, located at the Swan river mouth. It is the commercial port for West Australia's capital city, Perth. Being on the shores of the Indian ocean, this lower part of the WA coast enjoys a balmy Mediterranean climate. There are a few ways to access Perth from Freo but the best is the Fremantle electric rail, then no need to worry about parking in Perth which can be an expensive mission.
We chose to stay in Fremantle, rather than Perth itself, because of its heritage status which is richly deserved. The first settlers arrived in the early 19th century and the City of Fremantle is a rich tapestry of well preserved C19 architecture. The Round House, a prison dating from 1831 on Arthur Head, is Freo's oldest public building. At exactly 1pm each day The Round House time canon fires and the time ball drops. This was an important nautical aid of its day, signalling to ships in the roads and in the harbour that the local time is exactly 1pm enabling them to accurately set their ships chronometers, needed for navigation. We are there at 1pm and catch the action. It's fun.
Freo has an eclectic and active cafe culture well represented in the Cappuccino strip where we visit Gino's, one of the most famous. Gino's long blacks are right up with the best, its popularity borne out by obvious longterm locals enjoying their morning coffees on the streetside. Walking on we come across many of Fremantle's bookshops, with preloved and new books, or an interesting combination of both. Later in the morning, one of the latter, near our accommodation, also has a small cafe, where we take time to decide on a purchase while drinking yet another long black and sharing a freshly baked cheese scone. Incredibly relaxing. A range of other small retail establisments specialise in unique items, from locally made art products to wonderfully fine Australian native timber furniture and small wooden treasures. We discover, at a wee shop called Remedy, what look like coloured paper cups but, on inspection, we find they are fine china modelled on a takeaway paper coffee cup. The local kiln where they are thrown and fired is completely solar powered. They are so unique we buy 4 and now they are home in New Zealand we love them all over again.
Time for some lunch and knowing Freo is the home of Little Creatures cidery we head down to the old wharf area where there are several eating establishments and a working fishing port. The main container port is slightly to the north. An amazing sand sculpture called 'just a sand sculpture' greets us at the door. It's huge and we spend a few minutes admiring it before we make our way down past the bar and out onto the large waterside verandah where we take the last table. As I said before, Indian ocean means balmy weather so sitting out in the open under wide umbrellas is almost tropical. Some grilled prawns, a prawn pizza, 2 glasses of Margaret River pinot and 2 long blacks leave us very satisfied.
The small maritime museum is close by and a visit to this interesting collection is a Fremantle must, to see hundreds of WA shipwreck relics including original timber from the 1629 wreck of the 'Batavia'. The ongoing restoration of the Xantho steam engine, recovered after more than 100 years under the sea is truly fascinating.
We had noted during trip research that there are several heritage streets in the Fremantle suburbs, featuring 19th century dwellings and some shopping precincts. With not so much time on our hands we could only select one which is George Street. The free CAT bus comes by mostly every 10 minutes and can get you pretty much anywhere within easy walking of your Fremantle destination.
George Street proves to be a very good choice, with a great mix of period dwellings, a wine store offering some hard to get French labels and a small but high quality food store combining a delicatessan, cafe and evening bistro. After enjoying a coffee there, we find some delicious bits and pieces from the deli section to take home for dinner. Not too much as we have a way to walk before the CAT can collect us. That doesn't however, stop us from visiting the wine store and buying a couple of Burgundy reds. Then it's a brisk walk to the Finnerty Street stop as we can see some ominous looking dark clouds closing in from the west. The CAT drops us by the central information centre on High St, a short walk from our apartment. Just in time with large drops falling as we unlock the front door. Our last night in Fremantle - in the morning we drive up to Perth airport for the Virgin 10:30 Melbourne flight.
Fremantle is a wonderful base from which to explore Perth / Cottesloe and the WA coast down to Mandurah. It offers historic precincts, close waterfront atmosphere, great bistro and cafe choices with the bonus being the enticing bookshops and unique boutiques.