Rockingham Time

As a guest of Quest Apartments and Rockingham tourism operators, my family enjoyed a very busy weekender out of Perth.

Great weekenders, and the much savoured long weekend, often mean we try to travel as far as we can to somehow ensure the best time possible because we’re as far as we can be from home.

For so much of the Australian population, the state capital cities are our homes and these cities all have fond traditional weekend destinations. In Melbourne, the locals love Daylesford while in Sydney it might be the Blue Mountains.  In Brisbane there’s the Gold Coast while Adelaide has the Barossa Valley and Hobart has just about the whole island of Tasmania to choose from to get away for the weekend.

In Perth, Margaret River is the big one to head for. Close to four hours from Perth it is renowned for its opportunities to indulge and excite.

What about if I told you that south of Perth, just 45 minutes away, or north of Bunbury, just 90 minutes away, is a seaside community that offers high quality accommodation less than five minutes’ walk from the most remarkable beach and boardwalk in Western Australia and has a well-coordinated suite of tourist activities to interest anyone with a heartbeat?

For a breakaway with the family, and to shake off the beguiling summer laziness of the weeks immediately following Christmas, we headed to Rockingham to have an adventure and try out the Christmas presents, including the snorkel sets, boogie boards and beach towels.

For two days my family of four experienced the brilliant freshness and vibrancy of the Quest Apartments, a Rockingham Wildlife Encounters tour of Shoalwater Bay with dolphins, seals, ospreys and pelicans surrounding us for over two hours, a stand-up paddle board lesson tailored for all ages and dining experiences along the Palm Beach foreshore to rival and largely outdo the most popular Perth beachside eateries.

On top of this, I took the opportunity to experience the Jetpack experience available on Rockingham Beach and my son Tom enjoyed a ride on one of the jet skis available for tour group hire.

On a recent trip to Rockingham by a very different route I had arrived on Rockingham Beach after jumping out of a perfectly operating aircraft at 14000 feet.

As I had swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem skydiving instructor, I had looked around. We were high enough that there was curvature to the horizon and I could see Penguin Island and the smaller islands of Shoalwater Bay and the broad, thin white stretch of Palm Beach that marks the Rockingham foreshore.

It was at the Penguin Island jetty, where Shoalwater Bay meets Safety Bay that our weekend began. By mid-morning we were on the waters of Shoalwater Bay, within the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.  Just past Seal Island we encountered a pod of ten dolphins.  Watching them graze on the sea grass below and lazily rise to breathe was remarkable but then the pod must have realised a few of us had cameras.  Sliding behind the wake of the boat they suddenly leapt from the water, spinning and splashing with what I am absolutely sure were smiles on their faces.

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Dolphins of Shoalwater Bay

We make our way around the bay and find some seals basking in the sunshine on Seal Island. All males, these seals get down to Rockingham from the islands around Lancelin to the north of Perth to escape the females and enjoy a bit of fishing and lazing about doing nothing on the beach.  Oh for the life.

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Dolphins of Shoalwater Bay with Seal Island in the background

It’s a tour with so much to see and while I probably am not usually too keen on commentaries, there is a lot worth listening to as well. After a quick stop on Penguin Island to successfully locate some little Fairy Penguins it’s back to the mainland, about a kilometre away, to complete this first adventure that has surprised and thrilled us all.

We make our way to the Quest Apartments and the kids are immediately impressed by the spaciousness of two adjoining rooms but before they can grab the remote control for the television it’s time to hit the beach and try out the snorkelling gear and boogie boards. Palm Beach has to be the best beach in Western Australia for a child to learn how to snorkel and Waikiki Beach, with the sea breeze in your back, has to be one of the best boogie boarding beaches.

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Quest Apartments Rockingham; new, fresh and close to all the action

That evening, we are sun blasted and salt encrusted and even though the kids are fading they don’t want to miss an opportunity to walk along Palm Beach once the sun has set and with torches and nets in hand they catch some prawns as they flick along the surface the water. It’s strictly catch and release as we’ve booked into Rustico’s, a popular tapas bar on the foreshore and with a big day deserving a big meal we suitably indulge and then walk back to our rooms for the evening where salty heads sleep soundly.

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Rustico’s Tapas on the Rockingham foreshore

The following morning after a great foreshore brekky we meet up with Bill at Surf Mania who is keen for us to have a go on a stand-up paddle board. I wish I had a few photos of us falling in after overbalancing but we are all surprised with how stable the boards are, particularly on the still waters of Palm Beach.  Just watch out for local resident, Bluey, when you’re walking through the water (see pic below).

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A very mean and bold blue manna crab, called Bluey, stopping me from getting closer to my family in the background.

We all take our turn and while I was obviously the best at standing up and paddling I don’t say anything to the family, choosing to wait until I can write and brag about the experience.

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Up and about on a Stand-Up-Paddleboard

Having completed the slow, calm and relaxing activity of stand-up paddle boarding we make our way a few hundred metres down the beach, about halfway between the café strip and where the skydivers are starting to land on the beach. We’re at one of Rockingham’s newest adventures, the jetpack experience.  The device works through a water jet propulsion system with arm levers that determine the direction you travel.  The controls are surprisingly sensitive and as Jetpack and Flyboarding Adventures operator Edward explains, you need to learn quickly how to vary your direction and altitude to avoid being dunked in the water.  It’s tough to get the hang of and you swallow a bit of water but it is something completely different and completely enjoyable.  With a bit of practise I’m sure I could be put to use doing stunts for the next James Bond movie.

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Up and about, and down with a splash, at Jetpack and Flyboard Adventures on Rockingham Beach.

Checking out of Quest Apartments later that afternoon I notice my daughter Matilda on the balcony taking a last look at the sea view. She turns and tells me that she is thinking about what I always tell her; if you’re sorry to leave it means you’ve had a great time.  She says she is very sorry to leave.

As we drive back to Perth I think about a family weekender we recently made to Broome, near the top of Western Australia. Broome is often described as being on ‘Broome Time’. I guess it’s meant to convey a slowing down, a lack of rushing about and taking it easy.

Is it possible we can enter a new description in the lexicon of Western Australian travel?

Rockingham Time.

Let Rockingham Time be a very Western Australian description for making the most of every minute. Let Rockingham Time be more than the traditional view of Rockingham being a pleasant day trip from Perth.  Let Rockingham Time be a weekend, or even better a long weekend to explore and indulge yourself, your friends and your family at full speed.

Whatever your age, whether it is a taste for dining or a thirst for adventure let Rockingham Time guide you through at least two days of exquisite time well spent.

Get to Rockingham. Get stuck in to what it has to offer.  Be exhausted and be alive.

Fact Box

Rockingham is 40km south of Perth and is home to the Royal Australian Navy’s biggest fleet base at Garden Island.

Quest Apartments Rockingham features 96 fully self-contained studio and one and two bedroom apartments with rates starting from $199 per night. Call 08 9591 0600 to enquire about their summer packages.

For information on tours, adventures and equipment hire in Rockingham call the Rockingham Visitor Centre on 9592 2778 or email enquiry.rtc@westnet.com.au

January 2017

The West Australian newspaper: Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

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Originally published by the West Australian newspaper and the writer was a guest of Skydive the Beach.

Disappointment. Now there’s a strange emotion to have in the middle of a skydive from 14,000 feet. The parachute opened, ending my freefall. I felt disappointment. It was a mixed emotion to be sure. I would have been more disappointed if it hadn’t opened.

The freefall had been an explosion of enjoyment for a full minute. I’d smiled for the Go-Pro, whooped for joy and as my cheeks were being blasted I looked skyward, drenched my face in the sun and quoted some lines from one of the most beautiful poems ever written, High Flight, by John Magee.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue…

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God…

In 1969, astronaut Michael Collins had a copy of this poem on the Apollo 11 mission and looking down on Earth had remarked that if Magee could write such a poem from the cockpit of a Spitfire, imagine what he would have written from a rocket ship in space.

John Macgee joined the Royal Air Force in June 1941, wrote High Flight in August and was killed in December. He was 19.

As I swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem partner Dan, I looked around. We were high enough that there was curvature to the horizon and I could see Penguin, Garden and Rottnest Islands just about as they appear on a map, from a top down view rather than from the view from shore.

The beautiful blue sky, the ‘delirious, burning, blue’ as Magee described it, contrasted lightly against the darker blue of Cockburn Sound, Shoalwater Bay, Safety Bay and the vastness of the Indian Ocean beyond.

Even the industry of Cockburn Sound looked spectacular. Silver networks of pipes, tanks and smokestacks with the black hulls of ships waiting offshore to come and collect whatever it is they’re refining, smelting and storing.

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, Cockburn Sound was a mess. I was lucky to spend school holidays by the sea. A little house in Shoalwater Bay was home to my family every school holidays and from the family runabout, the Red Witch, we would pull in King George whiting and revel in the silver flash in the water that would announce the arrival of the herring. I was also lucky enough to have a dinghy with a 1942 Seagull outboard engine which was responsible for disturbing the sleep of the local sea lion population for many years. We spent most of our time in Shoalwater Bay and Safety Bay because of the reputation Rockingham had for polluted waters.

The pollution of Cockburn Sound coupled with the rise of the bogun on land led to Rockingham developing a reputation it’s only recently shrugged off. Over the past few years, from a travel perspective, there has been a surge of interest in this area that has largely been bypassed by southern travellers for Mandurah and the communities further south.

At the beginning of 2015, Gemma Nisbet wrote in West Travel about Manuel Towers, a B&B in Shoalwater Bay. Gemma mentioned that it’s, ‘people from the city looking for a break that’s not far away’ who are coming to stay.   What a change has come over Rockingham! There have also been recent travel stories about Penguin Island, the local kayaking opportunities, swimming with dolphins, the new jetpack riding adventure and a beachfront promenade of dining opportunities that is hard to beat on the west coast.

Entering from above into this new world is Skydive Rockingham, an adventure tourism company that is catering to adrenalin junkies as old as 91 and as young as 12. On my jump, 13 year old Brandon-Lee had been presented that morning, as a surprise birthday present, the news that he was going skydiving. I would have loved to have got a wonderful quote from Brandon-Lee about how he felt about the experience but like you have to be when you’re a 13 year old boy, it’s all about actions not words. He didn’t say much but he can say he jumped out of an aeroplane.

Skydive Rockingham started dropping out of the sky over Rockingham in 2013 and have been frequent fallers above York (Skydive York) since 1996.

Arriving at the office on the foreshore at 0630 the level of staff enthusiasm was closely matched by the level of professionalism. While all the while smiling and asking how I was feeling, the paperwork was being checked and signed, scales confirmed I wasn’t lying about my declared weight and fitment of the harness and a firm introductory handshake with Dan were all accomplished without fuss.

“Do you have a nickname Dan? Diver Dan perhaps?”

“Nup. Just Dan.”

“Got it.”

After the short drive to Jandakot airport there’s no mucking about, we walk out to the aircraft which I’m told is an old crop duster from New Zealand. Less use of the word ‘old’ in the description of the plane would have been appreciated. Expecting to see an aircraft like Dusty in the movie ‘Planes’ I’m surprised to see something that looks more like a big green bean than an aeroplane. Never speak ill of a plane though, you don’t know what bigger plane it might be related to. Suffice to say, it was very narrow and I was already looking forward to getting out of it.

Dan, sitting behind me, starts clipping buckles and pulling straps and pushing me around like a hairdresser; tipping my head over to the side, pulling it up, pushing it down. As I feel him pulling straps I can’t help thinking of loads on my car or trailer that I always seem to loosen accidently as I try and tighten them.

I was about to ask him to shave the back of my neck when all of a sudden the two blokes in front of me just disappeared, they’d jumped out. Gone. No scream. No final questions to determine final agreement to embark at 9.8 metres per second per second towards the ground below.

Suddenly, unlike a hairdresser, Dan is pushing me towards the door. He reminds me to put my arms across my chest before exiting the aircraft. The funny thing is, I’m already outside the aircraft. He’s still inside with me stuck on the front of him.

Suddenly the plane isn’t there anymore.

Freefalling, or skydiving, only really became achievable once aircraft were able to operate at a high enough ceiling to allow time for falling before the deployment of the parachute. While jumping out of aircraft with parachutes and cloth buckets (not recommended) has been going on since not long after the Wright brothers first took to the skies, it wasn’t until the end of World War II that skydiving became a pursuit for adventure. Surplus aircraft and parachutes become available and ex-military parachutists wanted to do it for fun rather than being shot at as they descended.

As I’m falling, I’m doing what Dan has taught me, my arms are held out to keep my position stable. There’s not much else I have to do but enjoy the ride. I’m confident that Dan is checking his wrist mounted altimeter. I could tell him with a fair degree of certainty that we’re falling but I’m not aware at the time that our speed is closing quickly on 200 kilometres per hour. My car can’t do that.

After the parachute has deployed Dan grips my hand and tells me what a great job I’ve done. I’ll take praise most anywhere, most anytime but over the skies of Rockingham I found this a bit too difficult to take. Coming from the bloke who has literally shouldered the responsibility for our lives, it’s a great gesture to congratulate me but all I’ve done is grin my face until it hurt and quote the guts out of a 75 year old poem.

I’m given the opportunity to take the controls and I pull down hard on the right to begin our slow spiral towards the beach below. I focus on three dots below that I know are my family. I knew where they would be standing and I knew the colours of their clothing. With every second I drop closer to them. Dan snaps me to attention and reminds me to lift my legs up so that his feet touch down on the sand first. I stuff up. I don’t quite get my legs up high enough and as we hit the sand we end up looking like a sneaky couple seeking romance in the dunes.

As Dan unclips me from his harness our tethered relationship is at an end. As I leave his arms I am back in the arms of my family. I introduce them to Dan like he is God himself.

“Family, this is DAN.”

Next to the Skydive Rockingham office is the perfect venue to debrief the family, the well named, ‘Coffee by the Bay”. With fresh, warm muffins and a great coffee I regale the family and field their questions. The staff in the café have seen it all before. They’ve heard the descriptions and seen coffee cups go flying as gesticulating arms get out of control in the story telling moment.

Well I’m having my moment.

“So, kids, what did you think when you saw me coming in to land?”

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